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Total number of comments: 207 (since 2015-04-13 20:25:16)


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  • Emails and Groping: Our Halloween Election keeps Scaring us to Death
    • " A puritan people who drove Gary Hart from politics for some hanky panky on The Monkey Business and impeached Bill Clinton even though he never got to third base, is now all right with making president someone who groped a porn star and then offered to drop $10,000 when he couldn’t get his way."

      President Bill Clinton's actions during the White House, if completely consensual, really don't merit anyone's time. However, women have stepped forward and stated that President Clinton's actions were not consensual. If this is true, he really is no different to Donald Trump with regards to harassing women.

  • Another Saudi War Crime in Yemen as 43 Prisoners dead in Airstrike
    • If one is going to call for the ICC to try the Saudi government for war crimes in Yemen, then one should also state that US, Europe, and the rest of the world should place an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.

      Also, it is a bit convenient and negligent to solely focus on Saudi actions and not acknowledge that through alliance US and UK are also responsible for the war crimes that have taken place in Yemen. The ICC will never indict the Saudi royal family for their actions in Yemen, but our government could sever its military support of Saudi actions in Yemen.

  • Trump Campaign: The Donald's 5-Point Plan to Defeat Islam
    • @rbtl The department of state classifies Iran as a "state sponsor of terrorism." Not as a terrorist group.

    • "The best five point plan to defeat Muslim radicalism would be to stop using Muslim radicals (as the US is still doing in Syria) and to stop screwing Muslims over."

      Thank you. So simply stated. I hope this plan comes to fruition.

    • This is an extremely confused comment. Saudi Arabia calls itself an Islamic country. It doesn't look towards Iran for inspiration or motivation for spreading its ideology. It has invested huge sums of money in backing extremists in countries all over the muslim world. To blame Iran for Saudi actions is factually incorrect and logically incoherent. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan had nothing to do with Iran, but had everything to do with Saudi Arabia. The same story holds true in most of the middle east. The extremists that are committing atrocities in Syria and Iraq look get funding and training from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

  • Were Kansas White Terrorists Self-Radicalized? or was it Trumpism?
    • I'm pretty sure Dave Baldwin is aware of that history, which is why he has the phrase "at least in the usual sense." His point is that to lump Native Americans (American Indians as you refer to them) with European immigrants and later immigrants is not quite right. They came first, and did not commit genocide by coming here. Nor, did they disturb any people's way of life by coming to the Americas. The Europeans immigrants did commit genocide against the Native Americans. One can call the Native Americans immigrants, if you wish, but that completely belies our history. Native Americans are far more "native" than the other immigrants. They had a way of life, social norms, and laws that they formulated while living here in the Americas, which we completely upended by coming here.

  • Dylan, the American Left, and What We have Lost
    • I'm a bit younger to fully appreciate Bob Dylan. That said his music and lyrics are more meaningful to me than other legendary artists of Bob Dylan's generation. Phil Och's though was incredible. His protest songs were inspired, and incredibly well delivered.

  • How Far will Americans take anti-Muslim Hate? Making them wear Green Stars?
    • I regret a sentence or two in one of the comments I made earlier (to William): I was getting impatient thinking that what I was writing really should be self-evident, and my tone was off. That was wrong on my part.

      I don't see how attaching "Islamic" to "Art" to define a collection of historical or present work is nonsensical. No, not all artists that worked in "Islamic Art" were muslims: I'd imagine that an overwhelming majority were, but even if they weren't the case that doesn't negate the argument for attaching the "Islamic" adjective to "Art." Some of the that art was motivated or inspired or imagined in the artists minds by ideas from the Quran, the life of the prophet, or whatever Islam might think is sacred. If you don't want to attach "Islamic" to it, you'd still in an exposition or summary of this collection of artwork, have to write about how the artists were inspired by ideas from the Quran, life of the prophet, etc, or that they were contemplating these types of "Islamic" ideas.

      If one can buy that attaching "Islamic Art" isn't a misnomer, then surely the arguments for "Islamic cinema" are similar. With regards to "Islamic science," it is a different argument. One that to me... I think there are more important things in life. But, if you want it, some of the technology, mathematics, and engineering that muslims or even non-muslims innovated during the various Caliphates, were motivated by problems faced from muslim piety (for example, finding the direction of Mecca when you are in Damascus or much further away). See, here:

      link to

    • @Sufi Muslim

      I wouldn't quite put it that way that Al-Khwarizmi and Al-Kindi were only or primarily popularizes of zero much like Steve Jobs. If you define a new symbol that stands for "null" or "void," but don't define how this symbol operates in the number system, have you really said what this number is? Fine, you have said that this number represented by a dot or some other mark is "null." Great, now, what? How do you use this number?

      To a mathematician, defining an object involves giving the rules or axioms under which this object behaves or operates. So, when Brahamagupta writes that zero plus a number gives another number, or that zero times another number gives zero, this is a part of defining the number zero. To a lay person, just simply stating that the number zero is "null" or "void" might appear to be superficially enough to define what zero is, but to a mathematician the definition is incomplete. You have to say how zero is different from the other numbers. No, you cannot just deduce that zero times another number gives zero, or that zero plus another gives another number through defining zero as "null" or "void." These axioms are key as part of the definition of zero. You cannot erase them. If you did, your definition of zero is incomplete.

      So, what Al-Khwarizmi and Al-Kindi did was really complete the definition of zero. Otherwise, you'd have to attach what they did to the work of the Indian mathematician Brahamgupta plus the "null" definition of zero to call it a day. Yes, the definition of zero started with the placeholder definition in many civilizations, but, any way you parse it, it has to end with the defining characteristics of zero. And, those defining characteristics were given by Al-Kindi and Al-Khwarizmi.

      Al-Khwarizmi's other major accomplisment other than algorithm that you define was to be the first mathematician to use really use algebra in the modern sense of the word. At least that's what I had heard... He was the first to abstractly posit a value or variable, say x, to stand for some unknown quantity.

    • @William

      I am afraid you are mistaken: the larger accomplishments with regards to zero were the discovery of the algebraic rules that made 0 a useful number. This mistake reveals your lack of training in mathematics, engineering, or history of mathematics.

      What you write is actually an accomplishment that Indian mathematicians shared with mathematicians from other civilizations: "It was the Indian concept of giving “zero” a value that was incorporated into mathematical calculations that was the seminal achievement."

      This accomplishment of giving a number the value of "null" or "void" was an accomplishment that was achieved by different civilizations: Mayan, Sumerians, Chinese, and Indians. Just as a rough timeline: Aryabhata describes zero as "void" or "null" in the 5th centuary; Brahamagupta describes elementary notions of addition and multiplication with zero in the 7th centuary; in the 9th centuary, al-Khwarizmi describes how to carry out arithmetic in the base 10 number system, and so does al-Kindi. It was the discovery of how to use zero in arithmetic and in algorithms operating under the base 10 number system that was crucial for engineering. It is this part that is the real discovery of the number 0.

      You should talk to a real historian of mathematics, and not consult wikipedia where people completely untrained in the history of mathematics edit pages to fit their prejudicial viewpoints.


      To me, it really doesn't matter what ethnicity you call al-Khwarizmi. His training and work was done in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. All of his works were in Arabic. Modern Iranians probably wouldn't recognize al-Khwarizmi as Persian. He was born in Uzbekistan. As for al-Kindi, he was Iraqi. But, really all of this, oh, they were Arab, oh, they were Persian, oh, they were blah, blah... how silly...

    • @William

      You write, "The Arab contribution was the oval symbol we know as “zero,” but the concept of the value of “zero” as being “null” was an Indian invention."

      The Arabs did a lot more with regards to the development of zero than simply providing an oval symbol for zero. A point that is firmly established in the history of mathematics, which is very cursorily remarked upon in my comments directly above.

    • @William

      Again, simply stating that Indians labelled zero as "null" in the number system does not invalidate what I wrote earlier. Your comments are extremely uninformative with regards to the history of mathematics and how mathematicians developed zero and used it in the modern number system. As I said earlier, Brahmagupta's contribution to zero was seminal. Simply stating that there is a number that stands for "null" does not give mathematicians a mechanism to use this number in the number system. It was only when zero was incorporated into the number system, and rules were defined on how to use zero that mathematicians could fully make use of the concept. It is this latter part of defining mathematical rules on how to use a new number called "zero" that is crucial to it's innovation.

      It was only when Brahmagupta wrote what zero times an arbitrary number yields zero, or zero plus an arbitrary number gives another number that we are now on the track of providing rules on how to use zero in the number system. This was only the beginning. Al-Khawrizmi and al-Kindi's work on zero was needed to fully incorporate zero into what we now regard as the base 10 number system. The "invention" of zero is a lot more than what you are describing as labeling a symbol as zero. Until you move beyond your prejudicial viewpoint that the first group of people to label zero as "null" have invented the number zero, you really won't be able to appreciate the full history of the development of number zero.

    • By the tenth centaury, Arab mathematicians were well aware of all six trigonometric functions and had already tabulated their values. The famous law of sines and law of tangents were proved by al-Tusi. William Ougtred was responsible for the notation of "sin" and "cos" abbreviations of sine and cosine, but he didn't introduce trigonometric identities. These trigonometric identities were around for many, many centuries prior. The notion of multiplication predated Oughtred by many, many centuries. He introduced the rotated cross symbol that is used for multiplication in elementary school.

    • We have been bombing so many Muslim countries for so long that it's now no longer just the domain of the right to demonize Muslims. In fact, it's our aggressive foreign policy that necessitates the ongoing demonization of Muslims as sub-humans. If we conferred Muslims their full humanity to which they are entitled under human rights laws, then we could no pursue those aggressive policies that bring death and destruction.

      How else is it possible to keep supporting Saudi Arabia in their actions in Yemen, when the parts of Yemen are undergoing starvation as a result of Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign? This loss of rights that are originally conferred by our constitution has first targeted American-Muslims, but we are also beginning to see the loss of constitutional rights for all Americans.

    • The modern notion of zero has been advanced by both Indian and Arab mathematicians. Brahmgupta introduced notions of multiplication and division of zero. He was incorrect about dividing a number by zero, but right about addition and multiplication of a number by zero.

      Al-Kindi and Al-Khwarizmi contributed by providing a complete system of how to work with zero in arithmetic in the base 10 number system. It isn't exactly right to say that Arabs "borrowed" it. They advanced what was done with the number zero, placing it firmly within the modern number system and not simply as a placeholder.

  • Syria: Russia warns of Mideast Apocalypse if US attacks al-Assad's military
    • @rbtl . . . The views that you ascribe to me are not mine, and the quote that lies embedded in your comment is also different to mine. You changed it sufficiently enough that the meaning is completely different to mine. If you are going to quote someone, do it accurately.

      In my post, I never once said that I believed that the United States deliberately or intentionally targeted the Syrian base, which is a view you ascribe to me when you write, "You and others overestimating US strategy as long as long as you believe the US is continuing to push for Assad’s overthrow by messing up the peace talks and intentionally bombing Syria."

      No, I never once said anything of the sort that we deliberately targeted the Syrian base...

      International law requires my government compensate Syria for those losses regardless. International law also requires that government not fund or train mercenaries or extremist groups in foreign countries.

      ... My secondary point is that if our government officials are upset about Russian comments, they should cease to support extremist groups in Syria. Saying this, does not make someone 'conspiracy minded.' All it acknowledges is that our actions in Syria have been against international law. The same is true in Yemen, where we support Saudi with logistics and arms in committing war crimes. That Saudi Arabia is using white phosphorus and cluster munitions is against international law, but will never go acknowledged in most press.

    • I agree on this. Reducing the deaths of 62 troops to dozens is insulting and demeaning. If Samantha Power were truly regretful about accidentally targeting a Syrian base, she would ensure that the US government pay reparations to the families of those deceased or wounded to which they are entitled under international law.

      "Moreover, people in Washington are understandably upset that the Russians are openly saying they think the US has sloughed off in the fight against Syria’s al-Qaeda, or are secretly allied with it."

      Our government has supported with arms and training extremist groups that are openly allied with groups that are currently on a US Department of State list of groups that commit terrorism. This is such a blatant contradiction, but is completely ignored in this IC post.

      "The Russians and the Syrian regime are all up on their high horses about what was likely friendly fire and a simple mistake."

      A government lost 62 men in an accident for which the US government offered only a statement of regret, but no compensation or apology. What is happening in Syria is catastrophic, and you hint as much as when you write:

      "If the US-, Saudi- and Turkey-backed fundamentalist militias swept into Damascus and took over Syria, there would likely be immediate reprisals..."

      Except, the possibility that you admit could happen in Damascus, has already occurred in other parts of Syria. US, Turkish, and Saudi-backed militias have already committed pogroms of minorities all over Syria. That the US actions, even accidentally, made continued pogroms even more likely is not something Syrians or Iraqis take lightly. But, then, Syrians and Russians like to be on their "high horses."

  • RIP Shimon Peres: Last Great Israeli leader to believe in 2 State solution
    • "But he was also a dedicated Socialist and at one point headed the Socialist International, and that stance gave him an appreciation of the need for human rights for all human beings."

      This is directly in contravention with what you write directly above. You can't write that Peres had appreciation for human rights for all human beings and simultaneously write: "He had helped get arms for the Jewish community to prosecute the 1947-48 war, during which Israel won its independence but ethnically cleansed some 740,000 Palestinians." This is patently obvious, but you can't call yourself a believer of human rights (or be called a believer in human rights), and then ethnically cleanse an entire population.

      "Peres was the last decent man to rise high in Israeli politics."

      A decent man does not engage in a defense portfolio that perpetrates the Qana massacre or defend the blockade on Gaza that makes children food deprived. Peres was a war criminal that perpetrated atrocities on Palestinians and Lebanese. To call Peres a great or decent leader or a believer in human rights is wrong, and it ignores and insults all the victims of his actions. The only thing Peres was great at was killing humans. I really can't understand why so many people engage in hagiography of people that are so depraved. In this case, the result is particularly unseemly.

  • Why the Boeing & Airbus Sales to Iran are a Big Effing Deal
    • The sanctions on Saddam-era Iraq were monstrous, inhuman, and disgusting. That at least half a million children died due to the sanctions is alone enough reason to negate any imagined salubrious consequence--there were no real positive consequences--of the sanctions. The ones imposed on Iran have some similar problems. Prior to the nuclear deal, import of medicines to Iran were also affected.

      While you make the erroneous argument that air travel is not a fundamental human right, in the case of medicines you cannot make this fallacious argument. Iranians should enjoy the ability to travel like any other people (that is they should be able to buy planes and travel on them). To say that air travel is a human right: sure it is, why not? It's the converse that needs to be justified: why should we have the right to restrict other countries from trading with Iran, and selling them airplanes. If Europe's airbus wants to sell them planes and so does our Boeing, what license does our government have to restrict the sale of civilian planes to Iran.

      Before, one could argue that Iran was not following the NPT, and as a result should be sanctioned. Even that weak argument just does not hold true anymore after the signing of the nuclear accord. So, what is your argument now for the continued sanctions of civilian technology imposed on Iran?

  • In Massive Intel Error, US Kills 80 Syrian Troops, Helps ISIL Advance
    • Thank you for the example.

    • Alas, I don't think we will ever pay reparations to those deceased in Deir al-Zohr even though we should. If Samantha Power were actually regretful for the loss of lives in this accident as she claims, she would ensure that our government pay reparations. Absent this action, it is difficult to believe her words of contrition.

    • "So that leaves us to support anti-regime forces, either via materials supply or air power."

      So many of those anti-regime forces happen to be Daesh or groups aligned with them or Nusrah Front. Turkish and Saudi support (with US consent) of these extremist groups allied with AQ or Daesh is every bit as disgusting as the invasion of Iraq: every bit as illegal and immoral. It is just that we have become so accustomed to deaths in the middle east that it just doesn't register anymore.

    • If the attack was deliberate, then the US government owes reparations to the families of those killed in the attack. If it was not deliberate, the result is still manslaughter, and still under international law families of those deceased are entitled to compensation. So, regardless of situation, our government owes the Syrian people monetary compensation for the events outlined in this post.

    • "Russia immediately took propaganda advantage of the error, suggesting archly that the United States must covertly be supporting Daesh."

      It is curious that Informed Comment does not write exactly what Russia is charging. Not providing the specific Russian charge and calling it propaganda does your readers a profound disservice. In previous columns, Informed Comment also faulted the CIA, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia for supporting terrorist groups allied with Daesh that have done untold damage on Syria.

      Now, that Russia is making the exact same charge that Informed Comment made previously, and demanding that the United States stop supporting groups affiliated with Daesh, Informed Comment calls it propaganda. Russia might be engaging in hyperbole, but the charge that our government has supported extremist groups allied with Daesh is a deeply painful truth: one that Secretary of State John Kerry has also acknowledge on occassion. If Russia plays its cards right, and manages to get the United States to cease supporting extremist groups allied with Daesh the world would be a lot better place for it. As a US citizen and taxpayer, I would be relieved if my government was not using tax revenue in this way.

  • US and Russia plan Joint Air Command to hit Terrorists in Syria
    • "(Why the US is supporting allies, even allies of convenience, of al-Qaeda 15 years after 9/11 I’ll never understand; apparently you’d have to ask John Brennan at the CIA)."

      There is so much that we eviscerated in our constitution with the Patriot Act and then subsequent legislature in name of combating terrorism. We also detained people in Guantanamo without due process for years on end. So, much was done in the name of combating terrorism. Actions that can be rightly condemned on civil liberties or human rights grounds.

      Here, now our government is making a complete mockery of our government's stated commitment to combat terrorism. Our government is funding groups that actually give support to Al Qaeda. Even in the most Orwellian of worlds such actions defy credulity.

      So much nonsense has created so much grief and human loss for Syrians and Iraqis. If our government just desisted from giving support to these extremist groups, the situation in Syria and Iraq would be far better.

  • Saudi Bigot-in-Chief Declares Iranian Shiites "Not Muslim"
    • "The fact is, most countries support some terrorist group or another as part of their statecraft (consider the Reagan administration’s alliance with the Mujahidin and al-Qaeda against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s)..."

      This is a difficult sentence to stomach: it is certainly falsifiable. One could go through a list of countries systematically, and if one counted strictly on the number of countries that did not financially support terrorist groups, verily this number would be larger than those that actually do support terrorist groups. Too many countries simply do not have the resources to actually engage in material support of foreign terrorist groups. If one instead went by largest countries in the world by population size, well, China does not appear to support terrorist groups worldwide. India, too, does not engage in deep material support of terrorist groups the way Saudi Arabia supports terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. What Reagan did in the 1980s should not provide cover for Saudi Arabia is doing now. That Saudi Arabia is engaging in deeply perfidious activity in Syria and beyond is really beyond question.

      While I personally would avoid calling the government of Saudi Arabia 'terrorist masters,' I think the activities they engage in are far worse. They are responsible for ethnic cleansing of a large swath of the Syrian population through their support of terrorist groups in Syria. Surely, forcefully transferring Syrians out of their country is worse than the label of 'terrorist master.'

      It is disheartening to read Informed Comment mitigate the actions of Saudi Arabia in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Saudi support of terrorist groups in Syria (terrorist groups that are openly allied with Al Qaeda). The depth of their material support is far greater than what other countries engage in. To state that Saudi's activities are simply like any other country is just false: too many families of dead Syrians know this to be the case.

  • Saudis bomb Sanaa during "Million-Person march"
    • "Its fighter-bombers targeted downtown Sanaa in the midst of the demonstration, which arguably was a war crime (you aren’t allowed to endanger large numbers of civilians in war if you don’t have to). "

      The qualifier 'arguably' is gratuitous: international law is clear that targeting of civilians is a war crime. There really should not be any equivocation in calling it as such. Saudi Arabia's targeting of hospitals and schools also amount to war crimes.

      "But too late– most Yemenis see the US as behind the GCC effort."

      The Yemenis are not wrong in their assessment. Our supplying of all of their military equipment and logistical support give solid evidence that we have more than supported Saudi Arabia in their war crimes in Yemen.

  • The Haunting Image of a Syrian Boy Who's Only Known War
    • That Assad has inflicted death and destruction upon Syrians is beyond doubt. For which he should be tried in court for war crimes. We might not be able to get him to desist in his actions, but there are other actors that have also inflicted enormous casualties and harm. These extremist groups are funded by Saudi Arabia and Turkey with backing of the United States.

      We are not ultimately responsible for Assad. We are responsible for our support of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and in turn what they do with this support. This support has enabled Saudi Arabia and Turkey to funnel the most sophisticated military equipment, heavy armaments, and munitions to extremist groups. That this support has killed and destroyed Syria is also beyond doubt. While we are not likely to change Assad, we can change our support of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. It is time we place an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, and tell Turkey that we will no longer tolerate funding of extremist groups in Syria. Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham should both be placed on US Department of State lists of terrorist organizations.

  • Does this Change Everything? Russia's first strikes on Syria from Iran Airbases
    • "Actually the US is already de facto allied with Iran against Daesh, but no one is willing to admit it."

      After 5+ years of strife, if the US were to align more closely with Iran and Russia to defeat Daesh, this would definitely be a salubrious outcome Syrians, Iraqis and everyone on this planet. Logistically, we must have some relationships with Iranians and Russians, but we do ourselves a profound disservice when we simultaneously allow and support Saudi Arabia and Turkey in their funding of extremist groups in Syria and Iraq. The longer we continue this strategy of supporting Saudi Arabia and Turkey in supporting extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, the more we allow for the situation to further deteriorate. It is difficult to understand just what we are doing in Syria. Our politicians and statesmen in words suggest that Daesh is an organization that must be defeated, but our support for Saudi Arabia and Turkey for their policies in Syria are in complete odds with our stated positions.

      After 5+ years of strife, our statesmen should be able to tell Saudi Arabia and Turkey that their positions on toppling Assad are just simply unfeasible and not in our interests. He's a war criminal that deserves to be tried, but Saudi and Turkish policies to bring about the toppling of Assad have had enormous costs for Syrians, Iraqis, everyone in the Near East, and Europeans too. Syrians and Iraqis must just want to get on with their lives and not be in the middle of greater schemes inflicted on their countries.

      President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have done a tremendous service to the world and America by completing the Iranian nuclear deal. If only they could break with the worst of Saudi and Turkish excesses and lawbreaking, the world would be a far better place for it.

  • Top 5 Ways Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad is a Better American than Trump
    • I thought so. Just wanted to double check!

    • Being hyphenated American doesn't make anyone less American. Also, I struggle tremendously to see how having a longer line of American ancestry makes one a better American. That Ms Ibtihaj Mohammad is an exemplary role model for all Americans, and Mr Trump is an example of what not to be in life is really beyond dispute. I just wish the arguments for such an easy conclusion would not include erroneous arguments that stigmatize those of us that are new immigrants or hyphenated Americans.

  • ISIL fighter number falls to 15,000 as Manbij capture Cuts off Route to Europe
    • It's not the guys so much as the equipment they get from Saudi Arabia and Turkey. If all this equipment and munitions were to cease coming from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, there would be a rapid de-escalation of conflict. Instead, we have the result we see today.

  • Monsters to Destroy: Top 7 Reasons the US could not have forestalled Syrian Civil War
    • Thank you for writing this comprehensive and persuasive article. I hope the New York Times op-ed columnist that you mention reads your article. In his op-ed, the columnist bemoans the lack of intervention in Syria and writes that the general excuse against intervention in Syria the American people make is: "It’s horrible what’s going on over there, but there’s just nothing we can do."

      He reduces the entire argument against the intervention to one false sentence and then argues against this one sentence. If one feels for the people of Syria and wishes to help them during this strife, there is plenty that can be done, which does not the require intervention that he advocates for. The most important action is stop selling any military equipment and munitions to Saudi Arabia. This would be a concrete step that would have important consequences for the people of Syria. Saudi Arabia has funneled munitions to extremist groups in Syria. These actions have resulted in empowering groups that have commit terrorism worldwide and have committed pogroms in Syria. Our ability to negotiate a comprehensive settlement in Syria is not curtailed by lack of bargaining chips as the op-ed columnist argues, but through the presence of extremist groups in Syria that presumably would negotiate with Assad to reach a settlement.

      Saudi and Turkish empowerment of extremist groups in Syria has eviscerated the ability of Syrian people to form a unified, secular and democratic opposition. Syrians are no different to anyone else in the world, they too can form such an opposition. There are plenty of people in Syria that could form a democratic civilian government that could govern Syria justly. However, these individuals have been completely sidelined and drowned out by extremist groups in Syria that are supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. If we force Saudi Arabia and Turkey to stop supporting extremist groups in Syria, this would greatly improve the lives of Syrians today through a de-escalation of hostilities in Syria. In turn, this action would also allow Syrians to form an opposition movement that is free of extremism and beholden only to it's citizens.

  • Looming Aleppo Battle indicts both sides of Civil War for breaking Cease-Fire
    • Those parties you highlight are responsible. Most of us though are responsible for what our taxes pay for, and our taxes are financing the shipment of munitions to extremist groups in Syria. We may dislike what Iran, Russia, Iraq, and Syria are doing to the people of Syria and Iraq, but ethically and legally we are not responsible for their actions. We should rightfully speak out about what they are doing, but suggesting that our actions in Syria are justified through other's misdeeds is faulty logic.

      On the other hand, we are directly responsible for selling munitions to Saudi Arabia which then end up in Syria and Iraq with extremist groups that commit pogroms. We could stop many of the atrocities that are occurring in Syria and Iraq simply by stopping or stemming the flow of munitions from Saudi Arabia and Turkey into Syria.

    • This post is largely balanced, but the balance belies an underlying truth of this 5+ year strife. The two sides are not the same, and nor can the legal process to try the opposing sides is not the same. If any of the two sides 'win,' as you note, there will be huge losses for the losing side (though I do not think as this site seems to imply that the two losses would be roughly the same).

      Moreover, this site has called the actions of al-Assad as 'state terror,' and I have argued that this phrase has no legal definition or meaning. What the government al-Assad has done is war crimes, and should be tried in a war crimes tribunal for such actions. This site has also argued that the legitimacy of the Syrian government is in question. Except, this site fails to acknowledge by whom is this legitimacy in question: the United States, Europe, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Informed Comment? In failing to address how legitimacy of a government is conferred and by whom, it skirts around legal responsibilities the ICC has to the people of Syria. As a governing authority in Syria, al-Assad could be tried for war crimes.

      International law provides a vehicle to redress injustices to aggrieved parties that cannot be tried in our domestic court. In a fair world, Syrians who have seen their loved ones killed by munitions supplied by Saudi Arabia and Turkey (through the backing of the United States) would be able to lodge their suits in our legal system against Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the our government. In the same capacity, al-Assad should be tried in an international tribunal for war crimes.

      Calling the two sides equal or the same obfuscates the legal procedures through which a crisis could be resolved. The Syrian crisis appears to look less and less like any of the failed Arab spring revolutions and more like the Sri Lankan civil war.

      Resolution of the Syrian crisis could end in many different ways, some much worse than others.

      You write,

      "And if the regime took back over the east, it would round up thousands of rebels and put them in mass graves after it tortured them.

      This fate is what al-Assad, Iran and the Russian Federation wanted for East Aleppo and its hapless residents, whose crime was to be poor and to have been disadvantaged by the regime and to hate it, and to have been conventionally religious as Sunni Muslims."

      Sri Lanka resolved it's crisis through negotiated settlement after capturing most of rebel territory. A similar situation could happen in Syria in that your worst case situation of thousand of rebels ending up in 'mass graves' does not occur. The alternative of mass pogroms of Alawis, regime-loyal Sunnis, Christians, if the rebels take over West Aleppo, is certain: it's just a continuation of the rebels genocidal polices all over Syria and Iraq. The two sides have not engaged in the same sectarian rhetoric. Al-Assad, Iran, and Russia have not engaged in rank sectarianism that the extremist groups and Saudi Arabia have engaged in.

  • ISIL Captures Thousands trying to flee it in Iraq, Executes a Dozen
    • Resolving the strife in Syria does not require huge sums of money. Though money to take in refugees wouldn't hurt either.

      Resolving this crisis will require the US Department of State formally listing Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam as terrorist groups, and penalizing Turkey and Saudi Arabia for giving these groups munitions and support. These groups have committed terrorism in Syria and Iraq, and have assisted Nusrah front in pogroms in Syria. Kerry did call these groups terrorist groups, but the department of state did not go onto formally designating these two groups terrorist groups. So, there you have it, an open secret that even our Secretary of State declares: Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham are terrorist groups that Saudi Arabia and Turkey openly support.

      We can curse al-Assad all we want (till we are blue in the face)--curses that he undoubtedly deserves, but none of this cursing is going to actually do anything. We do, however, have traction with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and our own secret services that no more support is given to Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam. Instead of attempting to resolve this conflict and stopping these groups from imprisoning and executing Syrians and Iraqis, we pretend as if it is all completely out of our control!

      Of course, it's not... The calculation that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and by alliance the US have made that these extremist groups can be used to topple al-Assad is doing untold damage in Syria, Iraq and everywhere.

  • Nagasaki, 1945: “The world did not need your experiment”
    • Thank you for this post. That these bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is beyond belief, and as Dr Hynes writes Japan was already in peace negotiations with the Soviet Union. So, their use amounts to genocide. In a just world, reparations and an apology should be issued by our government, but I doubt this will happen. I hope that we do not see further use of these weapons.

  • Dear Trumpists: Khizr Khan is not 'Muslim Brotherhood' and it wouldn't matter if he Were
    • The labeling of Syria and Iran as "state sponsors of terrorism" without explaining why they merit such a designation is problematic. If one is going to suggest that Syria is a "state sponsor of terrorism" for the war crimes the Al-Assad has inflicted on it's population, then the application is flawed. What Al-Assad has inflicted on the Syrian population is war crimes. This crime can be tried in court, but instead we try to obfuscate the issue.

      As for Iran, we should also explain why it merits such a label. If this label solely stems from guidelines of the Department of State, then your readers would benefit from such knowledge. If, on the other hand, you actually believe that only Syria and Iran are true "state sponsors of terrorism," again your readers would benefit from knowing where Informed Comment stands. So, does Informed Comment believe that Iran and Syria are "state sponsors of terrorism?" If so, is Saudi Arabia not a "state sponsor of terrorism" or are there no other "state sponsors of terrorism" in the region? When does this label matter? If these countries are allied with us (USA), can they support extremist groups in Syria and Iraq that commit pogroms without being called out on it?

      What is remarkable is that the 9/11 report directly implicates Saudi Arabia in terrorism. Further, Saudi Arabia openly supports groups that are affiliated with Nusrah Front. Yet, on your map, it is labelled a "Other key ally/partner." Turkey too has supported extremist groups in Syria.

  • Arab nationalist press Reacts to Erdogan's Crackdown with cries of "Dictator!"
    • "But actually, of course, the coup by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt and the counter-coup by Erdogan in Turkey look very similar in the firings, jailings and other tactics used."

      These similarities are troubling. However, there are important differences in the events: the coup in Egypt and the foiled coup in Turkey. In Egypt, the military succeeded in toppling a democratically elected government (the first democratically elected government in Egypt). In Turkey, the military failed in toppling an increasingly authoritarian, yet sill democratically elected, government. This is an important distinction. Moreover, the coup attempt was roundly condemned by all Turkish parties, governing and opposition.

      What Saudi Arabia and it's GCC allies (Egypt, UAE, Qatar) are doing is an unabashed attempt to impede democracy from taking hold in any middle east country. In the case of Bahrain and Egypt, the meddling of Saudi Arabia has been direct and evident.

      I always believed that the people of the middle east were willing to accept promises of stability in lieu of democratically elected governments, which is why Egyptians have not come out to strongly protest against the human rights abuses of the Sisi government. However, it seems to be the case that Saudi Arabia and it's GCC allies are now not even willing to allow for stable governments in neighboring countries as they might provide some challenge to Saudi dominance. This is does not portend well for ordinary people in the middle east.

  • Is Kerry Right? Are Freemen of Syria and Army of Islam Radical Terrorists?
    • Again, purely from a legal perspective state terrorism does not have a definition or interpretation. You can use words without meaning, but the other party at the end of the conversation will not be able to understand what you are saying. The word terrorism has legal meaning, even if the definition is far looser than desirable. In the case of 'state terrorism,' not only does it not have meaning, it does not have any legal interpretation.

      "Jaysh Al-Islam and Ahrar Al-Sham have committed war crimes and allied themselves with AQ but at least they are Syrian and rule over 4 million Syrians who refused to leave or join Assad..."

      How lovely that Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham are Syrian (please read my sarcasm). Playing into sectarianism does not help the situation. What Iran is doing is not right, but is operating at the government of Syria. Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh Al-Islam, AQ are committing terrorism in Syria, Iraq, the entire middle east, and Europe.

    • "They have also shown a relatively moderate tone and a willingness to cooperate with local and international powers."

      Evidence? Both on record Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham have had leaders who have said some pretty nasty things, including but not limited to ethnically cleansing Shias and Alawis. Jaysh al-Islam has also engaged in war crimes in Syria: use of human shields and far nastier stuff. If you are going to make such assertions as your quote above, you should back it up with quotes or examples. The record of these two groups in Syria and Iraq runs completely contrarily to your assertion.

      "...these groups are in such a position that any practical or meaningful stance against the Assad regime requires supporting, or at least, not alienating them, let alone dehumanizing them and branding them as terrorists as the Assad regime does."

      Umm... They are terrorists. Just because you dislike Assad and these two groups happen to want to Assad, does not give you the license to negate facts on the ground. These two groups are responsible for the actions that Professor Cole highlights. One may dislike Assad and rightly call out the Assad government for war crimes, as well as human rights abuses, and still coherently argue that these two groups have committed terrorism. What actually is dehumanizing to the people of Syria is failing to call out terrorism by groups that Turkey and Syria support.

      "...they are, among others, the dominant rebel groups on the ground, and have popular support in the areas they hold."

      Again, where is the evidence that these two groups hold popular support? They have held territories in Syria and Iraq at gunpoint against the wishes of the population. Maybe it isn't obvious, but some of the towns that these two groups held that were ethnically cleansed and depopulated did not wish these events to happen to them.

      "It is stuck in an icky position that has prolonged the war and cost thousands of lives."

      On the margins, the US is hopefully changing positions. Giving munitions and financial support to these groups is in contravention of international law. Kerry's signalling indicates that the US is ready to work with Russia to put this carnage to a hold. Turkey too is about to normalize relations with Syria (hopefully). The situation becomes less "icky" if the US stops supporting extremist groups in Syria.

    • Kerry is right. Those two groups have committed terrorist attacks in Syria, and should be labelled as such.

      You write, "It is true that the regime is also a state terrorist on a massive level. That is why it has provoked a tremendous revolution against itself. But these anti-democratic radical religious groups just give the alternative to the regime a bad name."

      State terrorist: this phrase has no meaning. Certainly does not have any legal meaning. It's better to write that the Assad government has committed war crimes. Here, there is a legal meaning that clearly has enforceable repercussions (at least in theory).

      The strife in Syria started just like every other quashed Arab spring revolution: a broad, at times youth-based, movement that demanded full democratic and civil rights. Saudi Arabia quashed every single revolution: in Bahrain, in Egypt, in Libya, in Yemen, and finally in Syria. Instead, Saudi Arabia either backed the ruling dictators or funded the most extremist groups in order to impede non-violent protesters from bringing republican democracies to the middle east.

  • Is Iran winning their Mideast Cold War with Saudi Arabia?
    • This article is deeply problematic: it is a series of unsupported assertions that are largely false or at a minimum exaggerated. Let us briefly examine three problematic sentences:

      "Meanwhile, they [Saudi Arabia] fear that the chaos in neighboring Iraq has exposed them to chronic strategic risks."

      Saudi Arabia continues to fund and support extremist groups in Iraq and Syria that are affiliated with Al Qaeda. If they were so concerned about chaos coming from Iraq, they would cease to arm extremist and mercenaries in Iraq and Syria. Failure to do so indicates they are far more preoccupied with their hegemony over regional security or stability. Their funding of these extremist groups and mercenaries is in contravention of international and human rights law, which is left unstated in the article above.

      "Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record – including the denial of elementary rights for women – is under constant scrutiny."

      Where is it under scrutiny? In the UN? In US Congress? Has their been any repercussions of their denial of rights to women, minorities, and religious minorities? No... At a minimum, we should place an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.

      " Iran and Russia, by contrast, need a barrel of oil to be worth at least $70."

      Saudi Arabia does not collect income taxes, or for that matter any taxes. The bulk of their government revenue stems from oil revenue. Saudi Arabia is largely just an oil company that has a seat in the United Nations. Failure to generate the same oil revenue of years past has now resulted in cutting of government programs in Saudi Arabia, and is fueling domestic criticism and opposition. In contrast, Iran and Russia collect income taxes. The international monetary fund suggests that Iran's fiscal break-even price of oil is significantly lower than Saudi Arabia's.

      Let us now examine two controversial assertions:

      "Meanwhile, Iran’s creeping de facto annexation of parts of Iraq – astonishingly, with American acceptance – continues because no one except the so-called “Islamic State” has the stomach to stand up to it."

      What is this nonsense? Does the PM of Iraq complain about Iranian annexation of Iraq? Where is the evidence that Iran has annexed parts of Iraq, and embedded in this quote is the odious assertion " one except the so-called “Islamic State” has the stomach to stand up to it." What? So the "Islamic State" isn't committing mass pogroms in Syria and Iraq against the Yezidi, Shias, Christians, and Kurds, but rather standing up to Iran. The author of this article has swallowed too much Saudi propaganda.

      "But the Saudi oil offensive has helped convince Iran and Russia to drag Assad, kicking and screaming, to the negotiating table."

      Iran and Russia were present at negotiations (without preconditions) prior to the fall of oil prices. It was Saudi Arabia and United States that placed preconditions on negotiations, which they later rescinded.

  • The Real Problem with the Iraq War: It was Illegal
    • On opposing the Iraq war: "Those who argue that the Iraq War has been a disaster are correct, but that in and of itself is no reason to have opposed it." and "So you can’t argue that Blair did the wrong thing because the outcome has been a disaster."

      Are the US of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere legal? Harold Koh thought so, and the the arguments for illegality are definitely weaker than the Iraq war. Yet, the use of drones remains deeply problematic from a moralistic perspective.

      Even if the Iraq war were perfectly legal, that is if China, Russia, and France, acquiesced, and let the US topple Saddam through a Security Council resolution, the decision to invade would still have been immoral. The enormous loss of Iraqi civilian lives in the initial invasion was clear from the outset. To the Iraqis, it is not illegality of the Iraq war that crushes them, but rather the predictable evisceration of their lives and the entire country. There are numerous examples of completely lawful activities that remain deeply problematic from any moral perspective. One can also object to a war based on illegality, and simultaneously object to the same war based on morality or pragmatic reasons. One factor (legality) in of itself does not restrict or mitigate the application of the other (morality).

    • If the main reason for objecting to the Iraq war is illegality, than similar arguments apply to the actions of the US and US-supported allies in Syria and Libya. In Libya, there was a Security Council resolution, but Russia and China both objected strenuously to the manipulation of that resolution in order to topple Gaddafi. In the case of Syria, there is no security council resolution that gives Turkey and Saudi Arabia to arm and financially support extremist groups. Arguments that Saudi Arabia and Turkey have rights to a riposte under the right of self-defense also do not hold sway, because such a riposte could only carried out through the national army of the aggrieved party against the actor (Daesh) committing the crime. It does not give Turkey and Syria the license to fund, train, and arm extremist groups or merceneries. If Syria were to use the exact same methods that Turkey is applying in Syria, we would not hesitate to call Syrian actions illegal. The double standard is apparent. Saudi Arabia is illegally bombing Yemen, and spreading murderous sectarianism throughout the middle east. Yet, we never hear anything about the illegality of Saudi actions.

  • How ISIL's attacks on Saudi Arabia aimed at Undermining the Monarchy's Legitimacy
    • When Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen with banned cluster munitions under US auspices to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe, I think it is more than fair to call those calling the shots in Saudi Arabia as "acting wild like beasts."

      In this conversation, the entire point is completely lost. Fine, the royal family and judicial authorities in Saudi Arabia are not Daesh, but they is so conservative, so unjust, so utterly debased that if you compare them to any authorities in other countries, Saudi Arabia comes of worse. Yet, Saudi Arabia enjoys tremendous support from the United States, while regional neighbors that are far more advanced and progressive from a human rights or international law perspective are routinely sanctioned and vilified. We have tremendous soft power to insist that Saudi Arabia amend it's ways, but will always ignore human rights violations in Saudi Arabia for economic gains.

    • Putting 2 shias or a handful of women on a council that has no legislative or executive authority is not progress. This is particularly true when Saudi Arabia severely curbs speech and religion for both religious minorities and women. All this amounts to is just tokenism to allay Western grievances. Unfortunately, it seems to be effective at curbing valid criticism of Saudi Arabia.

    • "It is not completely impossible that the Daesh thinks visiting the tomb of the Prophet is a form of idolatry and that the pilgrims should be punished. Some Daesh extremists may go so far as to want to destroy the Kaaba, the cube-shaped shrine in Mecca around which pilgrims circumambulate, seeing even it as idolatrous."

      This could be true, and highlights just how incredibly perverse Daesh is. If hajj, a central pillar of Islam is idolatrous, then just what exactly is left in Islam that is not idolatrous? These people are so ignorant and debased that it simply defies credulity.

      "The charge sometimes made that Daesh or ISIL is just a form of Wahhabism is incorrect; Daesh is to Wahhabism what David Koreish at Waco was to Protestantism– a violent cult."

      This is also correct; yet, it is important to highlight that Saudi Arabia's financing of extremist groups in Syria and Iraq has also played a role in enabling Daesh conduct pogroms. The sectarian language that Saudi Arabia uses in it's media and international affairs also plays a role in dehumanizing religious minorities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere.

      On the monarchy's legitimacy, purely from a political science perspective, Saudi Arabia is an aberration. It is one of seven absolute monarchies in the world, and the only remaining geographic entity that practices gender apartheid. Saudi's royal family might be able to rule without much opposition in the short to medium-term, but the longer term outlook does not look too rosy. One can hope that Saudi Arabia transitions to a more democratic, tolerant, and just society. We should also place an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia for their actions in Yemen.

  • Clash Looming? Russia-backed Syrian Army heading for ISIL's al-Raqqa in race with US-backed Kurds
    • "gaining support in the international community" obfuscates the situation. The international community was always divided: Russia and Iran supporting Al-Assad (with China neutral) and the United States hoping to depose Al-Assad. Following international law and not illegally sending financial and material support in the form of arms shipment to extremist groups in Syria should not be called "gaining support in the international community." It should only be called following international law.

      So much of this is not about "bad guys" or "good guys," but important political actors (the United States, Europe, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) eschewing international law for what they believe to be geopolitical gain. After more than five years of strife and Syria, hopefully they will realize that such geopolitical gain will not materialize and it's time to pursue different strategy. On the margins, we are already beginning to see this happen: Europe and the United States are now starting to not support Saudi Arabia and Turkey in sending unlimited munitions to extremist groups. This shouldn't be called "gaining support," but just following international law.

  • Syrian Gov't Troops enter ISIL-held al-Raqqa Province, racing against US Allies
    • I am sorry: I did not mean disingenuous, and I did mean false or wrong.

    • "The Baath government of Syria, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has been been seen by some observers are reluctant to spend a lot of energy on fighting Daesh."

      Which observers? Could we please have some evidence to support this position? If this is the position of Informed Comment, it should be written as such.

      "The existence of the brutal terrorist organization is a propaganda coup for al-Assad, since he argues that Western governments have a choice of supporting him or supporting ISIL. Since the latter blew up Paris, whereas al-Assad has only tortured and massacred his own people, he may be winning that argument in some European capitals."

      This is disingenuous. It creates the impression that Daesh is not massacring or torturing Syrian and Iraqi people. Daesh and similar extremist groups, such as Nusrah Front, have erased entire villages of their male populations and sold the women to slavery. Sitting here in the United States, far away from Syria and Iraq, our positions are so heavily skewed against reality.

      If Washington still intends to topple Al-Assad, it should describe a realistic plan for the next day to ensure that the country is not overrun by Nusrah Front and Daesh, or the extremist groups that are allied with them. Considering that all our interventions (Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) in the Near East have turned sour, maybe we could pursue a more prudent and peaceful strategy: stop supporting Saudi Arabia and Turkey in flooding Syria and Iraq with munitions that end up in the hands of Daesh and Nusrah Front. Is there any reason on earth why we have not pursued an arms embargo with Saudi Arabia? Their actions in Yemen and Syria are completely contrary to international or humanitarian law.

  • Sufi Boxer Muhammad Ali's last fight was against Extremism & Politicians' Islamophobia
    • It's difficult to appraise Muhammad Ali's contributions to society, when we have changed so dramatically. What Muhammad Ali accomplished is no less than extraordinary. African Americans and People of Color are demonized, but back then it was far worse. Then, the mere idea that someone non-White could be beautiful or handsome would be derided outright. Muhammad Ali proved that assumption false. He was the most photogenic person on television, and in real life he was unquestionably handsome. In this regard, his mere existence as a sportsman was enough to give support to stigmatized individuals.

      This is not where it ended though. His insistence on not going to fight the Vietcong galvanized the civil rights movement. It demonstrated that one should not forfeit one's moral code for political expediency. He could have easily cut a deal with a US government, and entertained troops outside the battlefield. However, this went against Muhammad Ali's moral code, and had positive effects on the civil rights movement. The idea that the political climate or political expediency should negate the civil rights of African Americans and non-Whites was clearly not supported through Muhammad Ali's actions and speeches. Since he was willing to take such personal losses for his moral beliefs, then others were able to follow in his example and realize that some sacrifice would be necessary to uphold one's moral code and fight injustice perpetuated by the elite and government.

  • ISIL counter-attack in Fallujah: can Iraqi Forces maintain momentum?
    • It's difficult to see how the situation could become even worse. However, given how nefarious Daesh has been, the possibility of a even worse future is still there. If as you write the Iraqi army is able to retake Fallujah, then there might be some promise of a more inclusive Iraq. Iraq is a diverse set of people that have all suffered tremendous losses as a result of foreign policies of regional neighbors (namely Saudi Arabia and Turkey) and the United States. Internal conflict has also been a major factor that has destroyed the social fabric of Iraq. If Iraqis realize that no one group will be able to dominate the other and that each faction will have to have a say in the future of Iraq, then there is the possibility of growth and reconciliation.

  • Modern Mongols: Sunni Arabs outraged at Iran role in Iraqi Gov't Fallujah Campaign
    • @William

      Let us very crudely compare:

      (1) United States: Illegal invasion of Iraq that resulted in tremendous loss of civilian lives. Extensive occupation of Afghanistan for more than a decade that likewise resulted in a tremendous loss of civilian lives. Drone strikes in numerous countries in the Near East that also resulted in loss of civilian lives. Supporting Saudi Arabia and Turkey in funneling munitions to Syria, which in turn have effectively enabled extremists to overrun entire sections of Syria and Iraq. Supporting Saudi Arabia in the destruction of Yemen with the supply of cluster munitions, advanced military technology, and logistical support.

      (2) Saudi Arabia: Funneling munitions and financial support to extremist groups in Syria. Bombarding Yemen to the point of humanitarian catastrophe. The use of US-supplied cluster munitions goes against international and human rights law. Of course, Saudi Arabia and the United States are not signatories to the ban of the use of cluster munitions: another example of exceptionalism.

      (3) Iran: Shia militias in Iraq and Lebanon, which receive some training and material support from Iran.

      Who exactly is engaging in hegemony in the Near East?

    • @William Regardless, my point still stands that Iran's interest is in deterring Daesh from morphing into a central governing authority that could attack Iran--which is left unaddressed in your response. American troops must have been coordinating with Iran to avoid attacking each other's positions, reflecting the reality that both sides are fighting against Daesh. Besides the Kurds (with US support) and and Syrian Arab Army, who else is fighting Daesh on the ground?

      As for Iran being a regional hegemon, there is scant evidence to back that position. Iran has not illegally invaded any country in the middle east in recent history. Our main ally in the Near East, Saudi Arabia, has bombed Yemen to pieces, creating a humanitarian catastrophe with our supervision. In addition, they have flooded Iraq and Syria with munitions that are used by extremist groups. Syria has seen a fifth of it's population forcibly transferred from it's borders as a result of Turkish and Saudi foreign policies. If we were to engage with Iran economically and diplomatically, we might have some leverage with the government of Iran.

      We have considerable leverage with Saudi Arabia. We could get Saudi Arabia to desist in it's actions in Yemen and Syria. Instead, we do nothing, and the result is what you see today.

    • @William

      It is not absurd to think that Iran would like to see Daesh curtailed. Daesh has carried out terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Europe. If Daesh and it's backers are able to topple Assad, not only will Daesh be able to further their sectarian strife in the region and complete pogroms of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, they could very well topple the Iraqi government, which would put them in a strong position to attack Iran or carry out terrorist operations in Iran and globally.

      The second point that you raise needs to be addressed. Iran has very little hard-power in the middle east in comparison to the States. What they do have is soft-power in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. With the religious demographics of Iraq and Lebanon it is difficult to envision a scenario where they would not enjoy such soft-power. It was our invasion that tilted Iraq away from Saudi Arabia to Iran.

    • The point is that the original comparison that the Arab newspapers are making is false. Iran today is not Genghis Khan's Mongolia. In addition, despite the excesses, Iran's role in Iraq and Syria is not comparable to the Mongolian invasion of the Near East. The comparison is just shoddy propaganda.

      Iran largely operates at the request of the Syrian and Iraqi governments. Human rights organizations are right to point out that Iranian operations in Iraq and Syria are not following human rights law or international law. With the case of the Mongolian invasion, no governing authority in the near east requested their invasion. As a result, the comparison is extremely faulty. It is just an attempt to 'otherize' or stigmatize Iraqi and Syrian attempts to curtail Daesh as a barbarian onslaught through linking it to Mongolian invasion of the Near East.

  • This is America! Man Facing Jail For Ripping Veil Off Muslim Woman
    • TYTs presentation of the topic covered all the salient points: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, assault, and Islamophobia. They rightly point out that forcefully removing someone's hijab is obstruction of religious freedom and is antithetical to the American constitution. This cannot be stressed enough: we have quickly eroded our national pride in our constitution. Nominally, we revere our constitution, but actual tenets, freedom of religion and freedom of speech, in the constitution are very quickly forgotten.

      The victim in this incident should be able to recover, but the incident reveals some worrying trends. Had this incident happened to another religious minority group, would it have received greater media coverage? The larger context also needs to be addressed: Islamophobia has created the environment which situations like these can occur.

      The editorial page editor of NYT has previously noted that there exists "an essentially separate justice system for Muslims." He goes on to write that there are examples of "... Muslim-only legal system abound." Trump's insistence of precluding Muslims from entering the country, if realized, would only be one extreme example of this reality. The victim in the fight incident will hopefully recover from her discomfort, but the larger erosion of civil liberties and rights that has specifically targeted Muslims will continue unabated. The sad situation is that while this discrimination will disproportionately harm the Muslim community, it will also erode the civil liberties of all groups as this situation creates the precedent of removing rights from the individual and bequeathing unnecessary and reckless powers to the government.

  • Can Iran sue the US for Coup & supporting Saddam in Iran-Iraq War?
    • What is scary, and simultaneously salubrious, is that in 30-40 years from now it is likely that we will not be able to dictate global foreign policy. We could have built international institutions (UN, ICC, etc) in a manner that would have been tailored for human rights and our ideals, instead we willingly chose to deliberately weaken these institutions for dubious short term gains. This was a massive loss.

      China does hold substantial US assets and so does the rest of the world. We will have to adjust very quickly to a world where not only we are unable dictate global events, but instead are fined for our actions. In thirty years, there will be markets that are equally or more impressive as ours. If we pull stunts like this in thirty years time, other countries will simply choose to invest in our rivals to avoid our capriciousness.

  • Trump's Politics of Whiteness and the CIA tip that Jailed Nelson Mandela
    • I lived in South Africa for about three and a half years, and have now recently returned home to the states. When I first arrived in South Africa, I was worried about racial politics in South Africa and the apartheid legacy. South Africa has a way to go to fulfill Mandela's promise of a country that can provide for all of it's citizens and provide justice for what was done to it's majority citizens. That said, I now realize that in some ways, South Africa today is far head of United States in terms of fulfilling it's promises to it's citizenry and humanity in general. Truth is most of our neighborhoods and school systems in the United States are de facto segregated: not by strict laws separating racial groups, but through economic disenfranchisement of minority groups that effectively delineate geographic areas by race. In terms of how both of these countries behave at the international stage, the contrast is even starker.

      The jailing of Nelson Mandela is horrific, and the apartheid regime was ghastly. What has happened for the past 15 years in the United States has been a complete evisceration of our constitution. Rendition of American suspects to Syria that underwent torture under US auspices was horrific, and now under the ostensible cover of Syrian human rights abuses, we are letting and abetting Turkey and Saudi Arabia funnel munitions to Syria that are destroying the country. The entire thing reeks of hypocrisy. On this website, I have seen Saudi Arabia referred to as an apartheid state for women. It's true--it's impossible to deny that Saudi Arabia is the most awful state in terms of medieval law for women. Yet, just as we abetted and supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, we continue with the same spirit by abetting and supporting the House of Saud. We also duplicate the same racist and imperialist policies nearly everywhere: in most of the middle east, South and Central America, and Asia. You write the same thing when you write:

      "Americans have a fairy tale that they tell themselves, that they have been a force for democracy and human rights. But in fact, sometimes they haven’t. A lot of the time they haven’t. The US has made coups against elected governments (1953 in Iran) and supported dictators instead, when it suited Washington elites..."

  • Surprise! Despite Syria-Iraq Turmoil, Major Mideast Economies growing 3-4%
    • Hopefully, most mideast economies will transition away from being economies based primarily on oil sales. Iran made some progress in that direction under the sanctions. They appear to have a nascent automobile industry, and have different industries that generate revenue. In addition, their government and government programs are largely financed by taxes, which cannot be said of other oil-producing nations in the middle east.

      Longer term growth in the middle east, will depend somewhat stability in Iraq and Syria. China would like the new Silk route to go through Iran and end in Europe. The only way this can happen is a resolution of the strife in Syria.

      The decline of oil prices cannot come soon enough for some development in the middle east: it would herald an end to middle eastern despots that throw money at every problem that comes there way. As a result, the only resolution would be internally produced democratic reforms.

  • Sadiq Khan and Trump: Why KKK Donald's values are Unacceptable
    • The latter is in contravention the constitution, and therefore is legally dubious. The former is probably more morally repugnant, but apparently is not in contravention of the constitution.

  • Top 4 Reasons Iran will stand by Syrian gov't despite High Casualties
    • The second point is actually the more important reason why Iran has backed the Syrian government. Iran likely could care less about a supposed 'rivalry' with Saudi Arabia. Iranian diplomatic corps in interviews say that they back the Syrian government to deter extremists groups taking over Syria and also out of some loyalty for Syrian support for Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. American troops have also lost there lives fighting against Daesh. The Iranians understand the harm stemming from Saudi support of extremists groups in Syria and Iraq.

      It's hard to understate the harm that has come from Daesh and related groups in Syria. The past two years have made it abundantly clear that Iran has a reason to worry about these groups that are operating in Syria and Iraq.

      Iran and Russia have always demonstrated that they were willing to compromise during negotiations to draw the Syrian strife to a close. The real intransigence comes from Saudi Arabia, which has stymied every attempt to negotiate a solution to the ongoing strife in Syria. The Saudis continue to flood extremists groups in Syria with munitions in contravention of international law.

      In twenty years, will anyone really think there was much of a 'rivalry' between Iran and Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia might be good at throwing money at politicians to buy influence (to deter what they perceive as Iranian influence in the middle east), but in terms of actual development Saudi Arabia has not accomplished much. They don't have a constitution or any real form of law. Iran can be criticized on many grounds: most importantly human rights. However, Iran does not promulgate sectarianism or extremism in Syria, unlike Saudi Arabia.

  • Russia declines to ask Syria to halt Bombardment of East Aleppo
    • "The legitimacy of the al-Assad government is in profound question. It isn’t fair to dismiss the entire opposition as terrorists."

      After more than 4 years of strife in Syria and the population transfer of more than a quarter of the entire Syrian population, that the international community cannot agree of a practical way to allow for a closure of the strife is beyond worrying. Our backing of Saudi Arabia's contention that the al-Assad is illegitimate only continues to propagate the same failed policies that led us here. It also fuels the justification for Saudi Arabia and Turkey's support of extremist groups in Syria. Is al-Assad's government any less illegitimate than the House of Saud? We continue to back the House of Saud with munitions and logistical support that have done untold damage in Yemen. In addition, Saudi Arabia routinely denies its citizens the most basic human rights.

      Yet, there is no cry over the illegitimacy of the House of Saud. A larger and more important practical point needs to be addressed: even if there are opposition groups that aren't terrorist groups (which your post above contends), would these groups gain politically ascendancy in a post-Assad Syria? How would such a transition take place when the country is flooded terrorist groups that have an ample supply of munitions via Turkey and Saudi Arabia? Considering what has taken place in Yemen and Libya, the idea that we can manufacture or steer Syria a peaceful transition away from al-Assad to a more stable and democratic seems beyond fanciful: it is actual outright deception. The Syrian people deserve better from our government, we should stop supporting Saudi Arabia's failed policies in Syria and Yemen. An arms embargo on Saudi Arabia would be ideal.

  • Reinventing Saudi Arabia after Oil: The Prince's $2 Trillion Gamble
    • Of course, all of this is suggests that it need not have been this way. Almost any other expenditure or investment would have been better than Saudi's wasteful conduct in Yemen and Syria. Your analysis on Saudi's plan is also correct. The IPO of Aramco and the resulting interest of the base investment $2-2.5 trillion would only help to mitigate their current budget deficit of near $100 billion dollars. After oil, Saudi Arabia would still be a major energy producer, shipping excess solar energy to Europe and the rest of the world. However, the trade dynamics with solar energy would be far different to what is currently done with oil.

      Your concluding sentence is probably also apt. "It has been a great party since the 1940s; it is going to be a hell of a hangover." For the world economy, global warming will unfortunately have severe negative consequences, and perhaps irreversibly so. Some countries (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, DR Congo) will pay a far larger consequence of global warming. Saudi, itself, will probably not lose much as a direct consequence of global warming, but will lose out in other ways.

      Saudi Arabia should invest in it's people. The idea that it forever live like royalty off the interest of some oil savings is laughable. The world is already moving on, and if Saudi Arabia does not actively change trajectory, it will be left behind. On a brighter note, the potential end of Saudi dominance in middle eastern affairs is almost surely a salubrious outcome for us and residents in the middle east.

  • 6 Policies Obama wants Saudi Arabia to Change
    • "Riyadh, as President Obama advised, needs to reconcile itself with the Iran deal made by the UN Security Council, and with Iran’s reemergence as a country with which the region and the world does business... King Salman and his crew seem to want a fight, whether proxy or direct. It is not a fight they will win, and negotiating with Iran would be a more successful strategy."

      I hope President Obama convinces King Salman that what you have written directly above is the case. A more prosperous and stable future for all residents in the middle east, free of misguided Saudi policies, has enormous dividends for us too. The short-term and misguided policies that King Salman has pursued in Syria and Yemen are calamitous for Syrians, Yemenis, Iraqis, and also have not been salubrious for any of the residents in the middle east (not even Saudi Arabia).

      The Saudis may actually ostensibly "win" a few perceived direct or proxy fights against Iran, but what they fail to realize is that Iran does not appear at all interested in being dragged into the Saudi game. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran does not appear to wish to create or play zero-sum games, where potential stakes and resulting losses are significant. Instead, Iran appears to shrewdly concentrate on becoming the most developed and stable country in the middle east.

      Saudi Arabia has long believed that they could indefinitely mold the middle east as they saw fit: (1) depose any popular semi-democratic Arab regime (in Egypt), (2) cultivate puppet regimes (Bahrain and Egypt), and (3) bribe Pakistan and other countries into their misguided foreign policies. Saudi Arabia will need to learn to accommodate rising regional powers (Egypt and Iran). If it doesn't learn, it will simply burn through it's near bottomless coffers of foreign exchange reserves and material wealth and lose any regional influence it once had, which is fine.

      I wonder if President Obama will follow proposed legislature in the Senate that will preclude selling arms to Saudi Arabia until they follow human rights and international law with regards to their intervention in Yemen.

  • Is Hillary Clinton responsible for rise of ISIL, as Bernie's Campaign Manager Alleged?
    • @Juan Cole

      Where we capable of "establishing a new postrevolutionary military?" Presumably, the "new" military would not have elements of the former military that remained loyal to Gaddafi? It would be simple to just keep the former salaried workers and and simply change their allegiance, but the way Gaddafi was tortured in executed, seems to suggest none of the Libyan rebels would have acquiesced to having Qaddafi elements embedded in the new military.

      We tried for several years to create a new Iraqi military, but doesn't seem as though they are very capable. Nor has the Iraqi military played much of a role in the nation-building of Iraq. Does any of this suggests that we could have helped in the creation of a new and capable Libyan military?

      Even if all successful revolutionary transitions "have depended on the establishment of a new military," there is no indication that such a military could have been created with US or European support.

      These comments of "if only Bremmer hadn't dissolved the Iraqi military" or "if only the US and Europe were more involved in post-Gaddafi Libya (in creating a new military)" have the ring of hollow excuses to mitigate the disaster that has plagued Iraq and Libya. We have repeated them long enough to believe them, and stay beholden to our "just" intentions. We use these excuses to assuage our moral conscience that we have good intentions, and, more importantly, keep believing that our initial impulses of military hawkishness aren't responsible for any of the resulting mess.

    • One does not need to think of Assad as a benign dictator or "gentle or genuine" as you suggest to argue that regime change with US support whether in Iraq, Libya, or Syria (hopefully not) is catastrophic. None of the rulers in the Arab world have been pursuing policies that have been in favor or the majority of the residents of their countries (with the possible exception of maybe Tunisia now). However, given that we have seen the consequences of Iraq and Libya, why should we now follow the same broken policies that have led to the rise of ISIS?

      There was one paragraph that I completely missed in this post on former Secretary of State Clinton:

      "Although Clinton did vote to authorize the Iraq War, it wasn’t the war per se that created Daesh there but rather the US backing for Shiite policies of political reprisals against the Sunnis. Clinton did not have anything to do with policy-making in Iraq."

      This is a very confused paragraph. It is very sad to see Informed Comment obfuscating the the effect of the Iraq War. Simply put, had we not invaded Iraq, there would have been no Daesh. Therefore, our invasion of Iraq was a cause of the creation of Daesh. In the same capacity, one can admit that US policies in post invasion Iraq created conditions that led to the creation of Daesh (as you argue). These causes aren't mutually exclusive: both can perfectly well be causes for the creation of ISIS.

      There is a similar gripe that I have when Informed Comment argues:

      "Clinton backed a no-fly zone in Libya and exulted when Muammar Gaddafi was ejected. Her main fault there, I would argue, however, was that she set in motion no international help to reestablish the Libyan military."

      This is mere speculation on the reestablishment of the Libyan military leading to a more stable Libya. How do you know? There is no possible way you can know this with any certainty. This is just simply peering into a crystal ball, attempting to find justifications for the disastrous consequences of our policies in Libya. Former Secretary of State Clinton said, "We came, we saw, he died." And, unfortunately, residents of the middle east have to every day live with the consequences of our hubris (whether in Iraq, Libya or Syria). We (US) invaded Iraq, bombed (Libya/Yemen/others), and supported rebel groups with money and arms (in Syria), and then when things don't quite go right, we say, oh, if only we didn't do this afterwards... This is getting tiring. I would just like my democratically elected leaders (Bush, Obama, and presumably Clinton) to stop invading countries, bombing countries, or supporting rebel groups.

    • "She continues to have a very, very hawkish foreign policy that has led to the rise and expansion of ISIS throughout the Middle East.”

      Former Secretary of State Clinton did break with the Obama administration and called for increased funding and support for the rebel groups in Syria to specifically depose Assad. One would think that after admitting her mistake with deposing Saddam, she'd hesitate with deposing other leaders.

      She also supported the programs that funneled financial and technical support via Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the rebel groups that were allied with ISIS. That support did benefit ISIS. They looted US-manufactured armaments that were brought into Syria via Turkey for other rebel groups. In addition, rebels that were supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey with US backing (or technical expertise) defected to ISIS.

      This does indicate that her militarism has played a role in the expansion of ISIS. Jeff Weaver's larger point about former Secretary of State Clinton's hawkishness is largely correct. You argued the very same thing, when you suggested that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are only marginally different with respect to their foreign policy views regarding the middle east.

      It's not very democratic to have two presidential candidates that are only marginally different to George W Bush with regards to foreign policy.

  • Hillary Clinton goes full Neocon at AIPAC, Demonizes Iran, Palestinians
    • I still can't figure out what's the long-term goal of our policies. In the short-run, we can continue with these policies of supporting settler-colonialism in the West Bank, and the associated policies of military interventions across the middle east. In the next decade, when West Bank has been almost completely annexed with the exception of a few segregated Palestinian enclaves, will we support a forced population transfer of Palestinians from West Bank to Jordan? That appears to be the only logical conclusion of our policies, given that the alternative of giving Palestinians in the West Bank Israeli citizenship appears anathema to the current Israeli government. Or, maybe, for the medium-term, we plan on turning Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank into Gaza-type Bantustans. This outcome, however, also does not seem sustainable.

  • How Bush-Cheneyism made Mideast in its Image: Wars, WOT, With us or Against Us
    • Thank you for this timely post. Hard to find such analysis elsewhere.

      Two minor points are raised with regards to the status quo: (1) the long term sustainability of Bush-Cheneyism, and relatedly (2) what comes next?

      On the first point, we are beginning to see that on the margins our foreign policy is slowly beginning to change, reflecting that interventions with US troops in mid-east countries is not in our interest. The Iranian deal also reflects a recognition that diplomacy is almost always preferable to the warfare of Bush-Cheneyism. As you note in your next post, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forcefully argues for military intervention across the middle east. Regardless who is elected to the oval office next year, unfortunately, we probably will see (1) an increased US presence in middle eastern countries and (2) a continued erosion of domestic civil liberties. In the short run, Bush-Cheneyism is feasible, if monetarily costly. In the long run, given the abject failure of Bush-Cheneyism, whether pursued by US or it's middle eastern allies, to produce any salubrious outcomes, one begins to wonder what's next?

      Hopefully, at some point, we'll disengage military, and engage in real diplomacy. We still retain significant soft-power, and would only increase our soft-power if we were to economically engage with Iran. Cultivating relationships with all regional powers in the middle east would be far more salubrious for us and the residents of the middle east, than our current policies.

  • Beyond Syria: Saudi Arabia's Strategies for Dealing with Iran
    • Saudi Arabia burned through nearly 100 billion USD of its foreign currency reserves last year: some of it misspent in their actions in Yemen and some misspent on arming extremist groups in Syria. In five years, the IMF predicts they will burn through all of their foreign currency reserves, if they continue their profligacy and the price of oil remains depressed.

      Given their loss of oil revenue and no real domestic gains from their foreign policy, one might think they would reconsider their actions. A more accommodating policy vis a vis Iran would be more in their interest than creating and promulgating sectarian strife.

      Do any of the Saudi alliances in this post amount to much? Do they make the Saudi citizenry economically productive? Beyond oil wealth, there's really nothing going for Saudi Arabia. If the price of oil stays depressed, even that luxury doesn't amount to much.

  • ISIL kills 70 in bombing of Shiite Area, Damascus, in bid to derail Talks
    • "The Bashar al-Assad regime and its Russian backers see the Army of Islam as a terrorist group no different from Daesh or al-Qaeda, and refuse to negotiate with it."

      If one believes in human rights, then one needs to be deeply distressed by the likes of Army of Islam and Muhammad Alloush. It's not about being a "regime" apologist or a Russian "backer," just a simple acknowledgement that this group has committed pogroms.

      After nearly five years of strife in Syria and the forced population transfer of a quarter of the civilian population, negotiations with tangible objectives need to occur. However, if we refuse to acknowledge that these groups have committed war crimes, then there is little space to ameliorate the continued disintegration of Syria. Instead, we will continue to look the other way, when Saudi Arabia and Turkey funnel arms and financial support to these groups that commit pogroms.

  • Tahrir 5 Years Later: The Hurdles to Democratization & Arab Youth Revolts
    • "Finally, the right wing authoritarianism of many of the Gulf oil states, especially of Saudi Arabia, meant that they were willing to bankroll extremist authoritarian groups..."

      This is probably the least abstract reason as to why the trajectory of the popular revolts did not lead to democratic transitions. So many of the revolutions were hampered by all the factors you mentioned in your article, and in each one Saudi Arabia directly intervened in some capacity.

      Yesterday's NYT article on Saudi financing of rebel groups in Syria is staggering in describing the scale of their involvement. Saudi involvement in Syria turned a popular uprising for democracy into a protracted strife in which extremist groups are depopulating entire sections of Syria.

      In Bahrain, they directly intervened with their army to put down the largely peaceful protest movement for democracy. In Libya, they funneled arms that now remain with extremist groups and have destabilized Libya. In Egypt, they prodded the Egyptian military to not only depose Morsi, but to violently crush any form of protest.

      Saudi actions have been extremely shortsighted and counterproductive. Their interventions have certainly not been in the interest of the residents of the middle east, and in the long run will also not be in the interests of the Saudis. One begins to wonder, with the price of oil plummeting and subsequent Saudi's financial woes, they would rethink their strategy of throwing money away at extremist groups. From a moral perspective, what they have been doing is unquestionably wrong, and now from a pragmatic perspective, surely they can't continue this foolishness.

  • Daesh/ ISIL carries off 400 Women & Children from Deir al-Zor to a fate worse than Death
    • Incidents like these do not fully describe the horror of what is happening in Syria: however, horrific they might be. It is the everyday scare that this very incident could happen to anyone that makes life in Syria unbearable. It is the everyday humiliation that so many civilians have suffered living under the control of extremist groups that has done untold suffering.

      After nearly 5 years of strife, Syria has been emptied of a quarter of it's population. Before the war, Syria had a population of 22 million; it now stands less than 16.6 million. One begins to wonder will anyone in Syria be left at the end of this strife?

      What Daesh and the dozens of other extremist groups have accomplished in Syria is nothing less than ethnic cleansing. Instead of bringing this ongoing strife to a close, we seem to double down on the failed strategy of tacitly allowing Saudi Arabia and Turkey in supporting extremist groups, which then go on to commit the atrocities as described in this article.

  • Noam Chomsky slams Turkish Pres. Erdogan for Arresting Academics, supporting Extremism
    • "I doubt if Erdogan’s government is helping Daesh."

      Three questions: (1) As Professor Chomsky eluded to, are Nusra Front and Army of Conquest significantly different to Daesh? (2) If yes, is Saudi and Turkish support of these two groups justifiable? (3) If Turkish and Saudi support of these groups has been shown to indirectly help Daesh through stolen armaments and defections, is continued support of these extremist groups other than Daesh implicit support for Daesh?

      No matter how one attempts to analyze Saudi and Turkish actions in Syria and Iraq, their actions amount to material support for terrorism. If one is not willing to acknowledge this, one should still be able to acknowledge that after nearly 5 years of strife in Syria, their policies have been extremely detrimental for the people in Syria and Iraq.

  • Iraqi Shiites up in Arms, claim Saudi "Spying on behalf of ISIL/Daesh"
    • "There is no evidence that Saudi Arabia has backed Daesh, and the kingdom has been attacked by the group."

      This is true, but there are important caveats. Saudi Arabia funded the Taliban and the 9/11 report also contains sections that deal with Saudi financing of terrorist groups that have attacked Saudi Arabia. We know also that Saudi Arabia has funded other extremist groups in the carnage that is taking place in Syria and Iraq. Groups that are directly allied with Daesh. Consequently, they are indirectly providing support to Daesh. The Saudi foreign policy has certainly been detrimental to it's neighbors, and have also had negative repercussions at home.

      The Iraqis that are upset with Saudi Arabia over their influence in Iraq and Syria are correct. They might be engaging in hyperbole, but Saudi Arabia's actions in Syria and Iraq have been extremely detrimental.

      Too many countries in the middle east are now openly feuding or on different sides of major issues. Turkey disagrees with Iran and Russia on Syria. Saudi Arabia is on different sides also to Iran and Russia. None of this portends well for any of the residents in the middle east.

  • Top 7 Middle East Foreign Policy Challenges in 2016
    • Thank you for this timely and insightful post. Your comment quoted below is particularly insightful:

      "Although there are no good military options for the United States in Syria, that the civil war has increasingly taken on the character of a proxy war between Russia & Iran on the one side and Saudi Arabia-Turkey on the other presents opportunities for diplomacy. "

      Pretending that we can change the middle east as we see fit through military operations has been particularly damaging for our interests. The Iraq war demonstrated this irreversibly (we have lost so much in this war and gained absolutely nothing), and the Libya intervention also showed that we are too quick in relying on military means. As you further note, we do not engage the people of the middle east. If we were to rely on our soft-power and truly engage in diplomacy (as was done during the Iran nuclear deal), we could further our interests tremendously.

      We gained so much from the Iran nuclear deal. The prospect of an outright war severely curtailed, if not completely shelved. Similar breakthroughs are possible, and hopefully will be realized in 2016. It is time to move on from militarily intervening at the slightest opportunity, and engage in diplomacy.

  • In Retrospect: A Year of Sharpening Contradictions
    • All that suffered in San Benardino and in Paris deserve our thoughts and prayers. Innocent victims that rightfully deserve to be named and honored.

      Victims of our/US drone strikes all over the world; victims of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; victims of Saudi bombing of civilian centers in Yemen (we provide logistical support and weaponry); victims of Saudi financing and support of extremist groups in Syria, Iraq and everywhere else--does anyone know any of these victim's names? Maybe, Aylan Kurdi, but that's about it... By the end of March 2016, the Syrian civil war will reach 5 years. We are reaching 5 million refugees from this civil war, countless dead and still no end in sight. With regards to the strife in Yemen, you wrote in the Nation that Yemen too might produce a refugee crisis. Instead of getting Saudi Arabia to cease it's belligerence, we pretend that the victims of this belligerence simply do not exist. Or, maybe, they don't matter.

  • Top 5 Things for which We should be grateful to Arabic Writing
    • The vast majority of the works of al Tusi's work were written in Arabic, only a few in Farsi. In the case of al Khwarizmi it is very likely that all of the written work was in Arabic. He lived in the Abbasid empire and was a member of the group of scholars called House of Wisdom.

      None of this diminishes the fact that both al Tusi and al Khwarizmi are both more broadly of Iranian origin-the historical version, not today's. Just that the overwhelming majority of scientific and philosophical writing in the Islamic Golden Age was in Arabic.

  • Against Trump: 9/11 Muslim Candlelight vigils Sympathizing with US
    • As you note, muslims all over the world were appalled and frightened. American muslims in particular were no different to their fellow American citizens in feelings of sadness and remorse.

      There is one point that deserves some consideration: Saudi Arabia currently supports groups in Syria that are currently allied with ISIS. Their support of these groups is both financial and ideological. Vice President Biden mentioned in a speech that gulf states financed extremist groups in Syria and Iraq; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also mentioned in a memo that Saudi Arabia financed extremist groups across the middle east; European politicians have all made note of this reality. As you have argued, this current situation mirrors parts of the history of Afghanistan that gave rise to extremist groups there. This presidential campaign will probably sink to further lows in stigmatizing muslims and other minorities. If we were truly interested in stemming extremism, we'd place arms and economic sanctions on Saudi Arabia for their funding of extremist groups. Their actions in Yemen have on several occasions pushed the country to humanitarian catastrophe. They crushed a nascent democratic revolution in Bahrain. They are one of the most autocratic (if not the most) regimes on the planet with almost no regard for human rights for their own citizens. All of this goes against our interests here in the United States, and makes life completely miserable for the people in the middle east. I'm not going to hold my breath till a presidential candidate criticizes Saudi Arabia's policies, but such criticism (along with the sanctions on Saudi Arabia outlined above) is long due from our politicians.

  • With Ahmad Chalabi's Death, Passing of an Age of Lies
    • We are now pushing the doctrine of self-defense beyond any recognizable scope of it's definition: self-defense is limited by time, geographic scope, and proportionality. That said, even if were to grant that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are entitled to some limited form of "reposte" under the rubric of self-defense, no "reposte" could take the form of arming and funding mercenaries, terrorists and other non-governmental groups to destabilize another country (here both Iraq and Syria). The "reposte" could only be carried out by the military of the aggrieved country: not non-state actors. The actions of funding, arming, and providing vocal support of terrorist groups remains illegal, regardless of whether or not the country was aggrieved or not.

      Saudi Arabia claiming entitlement to a reposte under the rubric of self-defense is patently absurd beyond the arguments presented above. It's citizens funds ISIL; Saudi Arabia is a dictorship, their secret service knows full well that their citizens are funding terrorism. As you pointed out earlier, groups that the government of Saudi Arabia supports materially and vocally are now calling for an alliance with ISIL. The attacks ISIL carried out in Saudi Arabia were carried out against Shia places of worship. The Saudi state has deeply repressed their minority population, and might actually behead a citizen for an alleged crime as a minor. That Saudi Arabia is entitled under international law to a reposte against targets other than ISIL, which it's actions have supported (if not created), with non-governmental mercenaries completely shreds any semblance of logic in international law, forget about the spirit law: that is completely torn asunder.

    • If one opposes the Iraq war on illegality (no UN security council resoultion) and aggression (loss of civilian life), as this article argues, then the parallels to the ongoing strife in Syria require some elucidation. Currently, Saudi Arabia and Turkey materially support groups with tacit support from the west that can only be called terrorist groups. This is illegal under international law; just like the invasion of Iraq. The parallel between Saddam and Assad is also worth writing about: both are war criminals and in both instances should have been tried under international law. If one opposed the Iraq war (which only is the only sensible choice), then one should also deeply oppose what Saudi Arabia and Turkey are doing in Syria.

  • Al-Zawahiri Calls for al-Qaeda- ISIL Axis against Russia & US
    • Hard to come up with a more grim picture: 250,000+ people dead in Syria after 4+ years of conflict, and all there appears to be is more carnage. Your parallel with Afghanistan is particularly apt. That said, with the lessons of Afghanistan, you'd think we would be wiser.

      If either of these two groups that now appear to be cooperating, actually topple the Assad regime, would the world really be a safer place? Would the Syrians be safer, and would we be safer? I can't see how this scenario is anything but a major catastrophe. Our short term policies of tacitly allowing Saudi Arabia and Turkey to support these groups is costly in terms of money and human lives for the Syrians and the greater middle east. It belies our idealistic vision of a just society, and it also foments discord and strife. The Syrians deserve better and so do we. Extremely difficult to understand why we haven't levied sanctions upon Saudi Arabia. Their destruction of Yemen; their material and vocal support of extremist groups everywhere; all of this are against international law, human rights law, and are deeply against in the interests of of the people in the middle east as well as ours.

  • Why ISIL is a Vast Exaggeration: & No, it can't Shoot down Planes
    • I also wonder how long Sisi will be able to keep the lid on Egypt. I think Professor Cole is right that for the medium term things do look stable in Egypt, and Sisi has probably delivered some economic relief to the population. The the structural issues that led up to the Tahrir square protests are all still present: Egypt has youth unemployment that is shockingly high (35-40%), a gdp per capita that is far lower than it's regional compatriots (which was also lower to the Syrian gdp per capita prior to 2010), and human rights is severely lacking in Egypt. Maybe, the recent gas discoveries will allow Egypt to improve existing social services... However, if Sisi plans to be Mubarak-lite, which appears to be the case, then in the long run it's difficult to see how this won't lead to more upheaval.

  • Syria: Is Bashar al-Assad winning the Diplomatic War? Rebels Fret
    • Being against war crimes in Syria, as anyone should be, does not require supporting rebels. The past four years have made it abundantly clear there were no good actors in Syria. The purportedly "good" FSA has also committed war crimes in Syria, and also does not merit support.

      There are many things that can be done to advance human rights across the middle east: sending weapons and financial support to rebel groups is not one of them. If we are burdened by the human toll by the Syrian civil war, then we ought to be burdened also by the Saudi bombing of Yemen, the government and Saudi crackdown in Bahrain on civilian protesters, and the rising autocracy across the region. In none of these recent events are we bystanders. We could simply stop shipping weapons to these regimes that insist upon committing these atrocities.

      The empty idealism that caused Western governments to support rebels in Syria resulted in four years of death and destruction. If we truly cared about the the people of the middle east, there's so much that could be done instead of training rebel groups.

  • 14 Years after 9/11, US, Israel Tempted to ally with Al-Qaeda in Syria
    • The main conclusion is correct: the idea of an alliance with these groups is odious. We are currently supplying Saudi Arabia with technology to commit war crimes in Yemen. Under the last two White House administrations, severe war crimes were committed in Iraq. Our continued use of drones is also in contravention of international law, and really can only be seen as a war crime. The idea that we unilaterally should decide when leaders of other countries should be deposed reeks not only of hypocrisy but more importantly of imperialism. If we were serious about creating a world without war crimes, we would strengthen international institutions (for example ICC) that would try individuals and governments who commit such crimes. In the 21st century, we were in a prime position to shape such institutions, but instead we abrogated our duties to human rights law by undermining such institutions for short term folly.

  • Pope Francis' call to host Refugees contrasts w/ anti-Immigrant US "Religious Right"
    • In 08/19/11, you wrote a column titled "Obama demands Regime Change in Syria." Last time I checked, "regime changes" across the middle east have not been peaceful events (Iraq and Libya). It is difficult to resolve your comment above with the earlier post.

      In the case of Iraq, US troops were needed to overthrow Saddam. In the case of Libya, had it not been for NATO strikes and logistic support, Qaddafi would likely not have been overthrown so violently. In the case of Syria, had we told Saudi Arabia and Turkey not to funnel weapons and money to terrorist groups to Syria and Iraq, this conflict would have come to a diplomatic resolutions years ago. Instead, nearly four years into this conflict, there appears to be no end in sight. If people care about the refugees (which they should), they should insist upon negotiations tomorrow (without preconditions). I only hope next year we aren't writing about the same misery.

      We hold considerable sway over Saudi Arabia and Turkey. After nearly four years of conflict in Syria has any external country gained anything? Turkey's ruling party probably lost some seats due to their policy in Syria. Saudi Arabia has only spent money for nothing, and probably only caused further instability (at home). Iran and Russia have not lost a patron or geographic access, and, yet, they are on the same side as USA in Iraq. If we really wanted to, we could do a lot more to stop the conflict in Yemen and stop the carnage in Syria. Instead, our dubious calculations prevent us from making a horrific situation even more catastrophic.

    • In 08/19/11, you wrote a column titled "Obama demands Regime Change in Syria." Last time I checked, "regime changes" across the middle east have not been peaceful events (Iraq and Libya). It is difficult to resolve your comment above with the earlier post.

      In the case of Iraq, US troops were needed to overthrow Saddam. In the case of Libya, had it not been for NATO strikes and logistic support, Qaddafi would likely not have been overthrown so violently. In the case of Syria, had we told Saudi Arabia and Turkey not to funnel weapons and money to terrorist groups to Syria and Iraq, this conflict would have come to a diplomatic resolutions years ago. Instead, nearly four years into this conflict, there appears to be no end in sight. If people care about the refugees (which they should), they should insist upon negotiations tomorrow (without preconditions). I only hope next year we aren't writing about the same misery.

      We hold sway Saudi Arabia and Turkey. After nearly four years of conflict in Syria has any external country gained anything? Turkey's ruling party probably lost some seats due to their policy in Syria. Saudi Arabia has only spent money for nothing, and probably only caused further instability (at home). Iran and Russia have not lost a patron or geographic access, and, yet, they are on the same side as USA in Iraq. If we really wanted to, we could do a lot more to stop the conflict in Yemen and stop the carnage in Syria. Instead, our dubious calculations prevent us from making a horrific situation even more catastrophic.

  • Top 4 Issues Saudi King Salman will discuss in first visit to Obama's White House
    • The wikileaks cables demonstrated that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote about Saudi Arabia being the largest financier of the Taliban, LeT, and al-Qaeda. The last group has committed terror attacks in Saudi Arabia. That the royal family may or may not have directly funded ISIS is of less relevance than their material and logistical support of groups allied with ISIS. This implicates Saudi Arabia in the terrorism committed in Iraq and Syria. We should be incensed with Saudi Arabia, and have them tried in a war crimes tribunal for the atrocities they are funding and committing.

    • On all fronts our interests run contrarily to current Saudi actions. Saudi actions in Yemen are destabilizing and bring a humanitarian catastrophe right to Saudi's doorstep. Saudi financing of terror groups in Syria and Iraq (or groups that ally with terror groups) is again deeply against our interests. Despite all of this, we sell weapons to Saudi Arabia. According to NYT, Saudi Arabia spent 80 billion USD on weaponry last year (my rough calculations seem to indicate that is more than 10% of their GDP: that's crazy, considering they do not add much to the world output other than the sale of oil). The US government has arranged for the delivery of weaponry worth 39.6 billion USD since 1990 (according to Federation of American Scientists). Considering how Saudi Arabia uses these weapons in Yemen and their financing of destabilizing groups all across the Middle East, it is time we consider an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia. In any event, a revaluation of our relationship with Saudi Arabia is most likely inevitable, considering the deep disparity in interests.

  • Obama: Opponents of Iran Deal are Warmongers
    • Having a double major in mathematics and chemistry in undergraduate studies does not make one a mathematician; in the same capacity, I don't think having a major in history, entitles one to the title of historian. Paul Wolfowitz went on to do graduate studies in Political Science, and ended up getting his PhD in Political Science from University of Chicago. He had no graduate training in mathematics. One also doesn't need a PhD in mathematics to do the accounting that is needed make an estimate of the the eventual cost of the Iraq War. Accounting and mathematics are quite different disciplines. I do not consider Paul Wolfowitz a mathematician. His father, Jacob Wolfowtiz, was a statistician or mathematician, who made many seminal contributions. Paul Wolfowitz made absolutely no contributions to the field whatsoever.

      I agree wholeheartedly with the conclusion: one that I believe I've read here for several years. In addition to the in-exorbitant cost (humanitarian and financial), a strike, multiple strikes, or war on Iran would also be illegal under international law (just like the Iraq War).

  • Actually, Oldest Qur'ans are in Sanaa, Yemen & in Danger of Saudi Bombing
    • Saudi actions in Yemen are in contravention of international law. No argument in your racist diatribe annuls the illegality of Saudi actions in Yemen or Saudi Arabia's more severe war crimes of targeting civilian populations in Yemen.

    • 'In fact, the Birmingham pages, like the page in the David Museum in Copenhagen, were likely from the Sanaa manuscript collection, and were among a handful of leaves that were sold off by a corrupt official. '

      The Birmingham collection came from Agnes Smith Louis taking (looting) them from Egypt. I'm not sure as the the provenance of the page from Denmark. The Mingana collection has palimpsets that have scripts inferior (text that were washed over) which are quranic texts, and script superior that are gospel. As a result, I'm more inclined to think the Birmingham collection does not come from the Sanaa manuscript collection. There were probably a few old quran manuscript collection sites spread out over the middle east, or old qurans whose pages that were washed over and used for other purposes. It's possible that Birmingham's collection originally does come from Sanaa's manuscript collection site, but I'm a bit skeptical of such claims.

    • I mean arms embargo...

    • 'These authors turn out to have been wrong, but this is how science progresses, by people making bold hypotheses and then seeing if they can be knocked down.'

      Science is contingent on application the scientific method. Most hypotheses actually tend to be circumspect and not grand theories changing the landscape dramatically. Most science requires the researcher to validate his or her set of hypotheses or at the very least assemble a team of scientists that run experiments related to the set of hypotheses. Once the experiments have been run, methods from statistics can be used to invalidate those set of hypotheses that are not amenable to the experiments that have been run. This is the standard Popperian paradigm, owing some influence from Descartes.

      "Hagarism" from the outset wasn't plausible. It amounted to not just a skepticism of traditional source material, but also a positing an alternative history. The sources that Patricia Crone and et al used to construct that alternate history didn't receive the same skepticism the authors ostensibly reserved for muslim sources. The type of "research" that "Hagarism" engaged in has less to do with modern scholarship that requires skepticism all around, but resembles the antiquated "research" of alchemy. The scholarship of Behnam Sadeghi and Mohsen Soudarzi on the Sanaa codex is more in the vein of modern scientific method: conducting a set of experiments and then analyzing the results.

      On the more important issue of Saudi Arabia's war crimes in Saudi Arabia, this should receive more than condemnation from Western governments (which actually have not been forthcoming). An arms blockade on Saudi Arabia is in order.

  • Fatal Triangle: Saudi, Iran, US Tensions spike over continued Yemen Airstrikes
    • Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain in March 2011 to put down a popular protest movement against the Khalifa regime. In Syria, Saudi Arabia has allowed Saudi citizens to fund the most despicable groups, bringing Syria to the precipice of a complete humanitarian disaster and destruction. It is likely the support goes beyond just citizens; the government also likely supports these groups, just isn't willing to fess up to it quite yet. Elsewhere, their funding for madrassas that espouse Wahabhi idealogy has made normally more tolerant regions deeply intolerant.

      At home, the House of Saud is the most regressive and repressive regime on the planet.

  • Rand Paul: GOP Hawks are Obama's "Lapdogs;" McCain: Paul 'Worst Candidate'
    • “it is a little difficult to see the difference between bombing Iraq to stop Daesh from taking it over and bombing Libya to stop Gaddafi from winning out”

      Top Differences:
      (1) The UN security council has not endorsed a no fly zone over Syria, the way they endorsed a no-fly zone over Libya. Russia and China did voice strong criticism the way NATO used the UN security council resolution to bomb military targets in Libya. [They are unlikely to to support such action in Syria, considering the way things went in Libya and their own political considerations of the state of affairs in Syria currently.]

      (2) Daesh is a non-state/governmental entity (that commits terrorism). The Assad dictatorship is still the representing government in Syria. Yes, Assad's government has committed war crimes, but Saudi Arabia has definitely committed war crimes in Yemen, and nobody in Washington is talking about regime change there.

      (3) Qaddafi probably had few/some supporters till the every end, but at he likely had comparably far less supporters (as a percentage of the national population) than the Assad government has currently. Is there a credible opposition movement in Syria that will not wreck havoc on the minority population (Druze, Alawite, Christian) in Syria? The Libyan opposition movement likely also committed human rights abuses against racial minorities in Libya, but the order of magnitude of human rights abuses is certainly different (comparing Daesh to the Libyan opposition movement).

      (4) Effect on neighbors: targeting Assad's military apparatus would empower Daesh, not just in Syria, but also in Iraq and elsewhere. This would be destabilizing for the region. In comparison, the Libyan intervention did not live up the expectations set by commentators (for Libya internally), but the effect of the Libyan intervention on neighbors was nowhere near as horrible as a potential intervention in Syria.

      Has there been a single intervention in the middle east that has been in the interests of the United States or the population of countries where we have intervened?

  • President Hillary Clinton's Middle East Policy: Interventions, Wars, More of Same
    • Her comments during the last primary against Obama about obliterating Iran in a hypothetical situation were scary and reprehensible. They may have been made to pander to elite constituencies, but that did not mitigate their effect. Her stated affinity for the Mubarak family also reveal an anti-democratic inclination for the middle east. Her verbal support for arming 'rebels' was also scary given how destabilizing (if not illegal under international law) that action would have been.

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