Surprise withdrawal of Syrian guerrillas from East Ghouta as Regime advances

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Syrian War is largely over, but the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers appear determined to mop up the remaining enclaves of rebel opposition, despite sweet talk of de-confliction zones and of negotiations in Sochi or Astana. It would be better at this point to come to a political settlement, since the regime has won but is still weak in many areas, and a compromise is not impossible.

Instead, Damascus is making a drive for the complete restoration of the power of the one-party Baath government, with all its fearsome police state tactics of torture and prison killings on a large scale.

Al Jazeera is reporting a sudden departure of opposition rebels from the East Ghouta enclave near Damascus on Friday night. The Saudi-backed Army of Islam (Jaysh al-Islam) fundamentalist militia in East Ghouta appears to have been holding captives from a rival militia, the Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Nusra Front, with alleged al-Qaeda links). The Army of Islam released its captives so that they could leave for Idlib.

The move comes amid an intensification of the assault on the enclave by the government of Bashar al-Assad in cooperation with Russian Aerospace Forces, which have intensively bombed it in recent weeks. Humanitarian organizations have decried the deaths in this bombings of nearly 1,000 persons, many of them civilians and children. International law forbids deliberate targeting of civilian sites or reckless disregard of civilian welfare during a military campaign.

The first batch of some 13 fighters from the Syrian Conquest Front were permitted to leave East Ghouta early Saturday and to make their way to the northern province of Idlib.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab Army, led by the Fourth Mechanized Division, has taken several city blocks in the Harasta suburb of East Ghouta away from fundamentalist militias. It appears to be attempting to cut a highway key to supplying the rebels.

One of the foremost military commanders of the Brigade of the All-Merciful was killed Friday, which the group acknowledged.


Bonus video:

EuroNews: “Opposition fighters leave Syria’s rebel-held Eastern Ghouta”

20,000 Scientists are Deeply Alarmed about Humanity and So should you Be

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The “Letter Warning Humanity” from scientists has now been signed by over 20,000 scientists, as The Independent notes.

The reason for this alarm is given in these charts:


They show alarmingly accelerating carbon dioxide emissions (we were up worldwide again last year), declining access to fresh water, and endangered species and other dangers facing the globe.

Only a redesign of our energy grid and the way we do industrialized society, including giving up most use of plastics and many pesticides and burning fossil fuels, can avert the catastrophes they describe.

So far, no sign they are being taken seriously.

The scientists explain the graphs this way:

“Descriptions of variables and trends in Figure

Ozone depletion, Figure 1a. During the 1970s, human-produced chemicals known as ozone-depleting substances, mainly chlorofluorocarbons, were rapidly depleting the ozone layer. In 1987, governments of the world came together and crafted the United Nations Montreal Protocol as a global attempt to address this issue. With protocol compliance, emissions of halogen source gases (ozone-depleting substances and natural sources) peaked in the late 1980s and since then they have significantly decreased (Figure 1a). Global ozone depletion is no longer increasing, and significant recovery of the ozone layer is expected to occur by the middle of this century (Hegglin et al. 2014).

Declining Freshwater availability, Figure 1b.Per capita freshwater availability is less than half of levels of the early 1960s (Figure 1b, AQUASTAT 2017) with many people around the world suffering from a lack of fresh clean water. This decreasein available water is nearly all due to the accelerated pace of human population growth.It is likely that climate change will have an overwhelming impact on the freshwater availability through alteration of the hydrologic cycle and water availability. Future water shortages will be detrimental to humans, affecting everything from drinking water, human health, sanitation, and the production of crops for food.Unsustainable marine fisheries,

Figure 1c. In 1992, the total marine catch was at or above the maximum sustainable yield and fisheries were on the verge of collapse. Reconstructed time series data show that global marine fisheries catches peaked at 130 million tonnes in 1996 and has been declining ever since (Figure 1c). The declines happened despite increased industrial fishing efforts and despite developed countries expanding to fishing the waters of developing countries (Pauly andZeller 2016, updated).

Ocean dead zones, Figure 1d. Coastal dead zones which are mainly caused by fertilizer runoff and fossil-fuel use, are killing large swaths of marine life. Dead zones with hypoxic, oxygen-depleted waters, are a significant stressor on marine systems and identified locations have dramatically increased since the 1960s, with more than 600 systems affectedby 2010 (Figure 1d, Diaz and Rosenberg 2008, updated). Forest loss,

Figure 1e. The world’s forests are crucial for conserving carbon, biodiversity, and freshwater. Between 1990 and 2015, total forest area decreased from 4,128 to 3,999 million ha, a net loss of 129 million ha which is approximately the size of South Africa (Figure 1e). Forest loss has been greatest in developing tropical countries where forests are now commonly converted to agriculture uses (FAO 2015).Dwindling biodiversity,

Figure 1f.The world’s biodiversity is vanishing at an alarming rate and populations of vertebrate species are rapidly collapsing (World Wildlife Fund 2016). Collectively, global fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012 (Figure 1f).Here, we display a diversity-weighted Living Planet Index that has been adjusted for taxonomic and geographic bias by accounting for the estimated number of species within biogeographical regions, and the relative species diversity within them. (McRae et al. 2017).Freshwater, marine, and terrestrial populations declined by 81%, 36%, and 35% respectively (McRae et al. 2017).Climate change,

Figure 1g, Figure 1h. Global fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions have increased sharply since 1960 (Figure 1g, Boden et al. 2017). Relative to the 1951-1980 average, global average annual surface temperature, in parallel to CO2 emissions, has also rapidly risen as shown by 5-year mean temperature anomaly (Figure 1h, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) 2017). The 10 warmest years in the 136-year record have occurred since 1998. The most recent year of data, 2016, ranks as the warmest on record.Temperature increases will likely cause a decline in the world’s major food crops, an increase in the intensity of major storms, and a substantial sea level rise inundating major population centers.

Population growth, Figure 1i. Since 1992, the human population has increased by approximately 2 billion individuals, a 35% change (Figure 1i, FAOSTAT 2017). The world human population is unlikely to stop growing this century and there is a high likelihood that the world population will grow from 7.2 billon people now to between 9.6 and 12.3 billon by 2100 (Gerland et al. 2014). Like the change in human population, the domestic ruminant population, which has its own set of major environmental and climate impacts, has been increasing in recent decades to approximately 4 billion individuals on Earth (Figure 1i, FAOSTAT 2017).”

Saudi Prince: Turkey, Iran & Extremists are ME “Triangle of Evil”

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Egypt’s al-Shuruq newspaper, which tilts liberal and secular, reports on the press conference in Cairo conducted by neophyte crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman, 32 on Wednesday.

Bin Salman said that the current “Triangle of Evil” [paraphrasing George W. Bush’s speechwriter David Frum] was Iran, Turkey and extremist religious groups. He alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood had exploited democracy, while the Turks a striving to revive the Ottoman Caliphate. He insisted that the Prophet Muhammad had never said anything about a caliphate, or prescribed any particular form of government. [This is true – JC].

He complained that the Ottoman sultans had destroyed the first Saudi state. Moreover, he averred, any enemy of Egypt’s is an enemy of Saudi Arabia’s.

The Egyptian journalists asked him when the Qatar crisis would end. He told them not to bother their heads with it. It might go on a long time, as with the US embargo on Cuba. It is not important, he said. All Qataris [citizen population 300,000], he said, could fit in one street in Cairo, and the Saudi official in charge of monitoring that conflict does not even have a cabinet level rank.

He said that Qatar had been stripped of its foreign policy influence. It still has plenty of domestic wealth, but its foreign agents had been revealed by the boycott imposed by his government.

He tried to psychoanalyze the country, suggesting that since Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa made his coup against his father in 1995, little Qatar had had an inferiority complex with regard to the bigger states around it like Saudi Arabia, and had therefore gone on a hunt for foreign influence. They found the Muslim Brotherhood willing clients and installed Brotherhood figures throughout their government at the highest levels [this is not true– JC].

He said almost no American officials cared about Qatar. Maybe one. (Both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis have called for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar).

He said that Saudi Arabia has invested $800 billion in the US economy, four times what Qatar has. (I don’t think that statistic is reliable- JC).

He said that Saudi-Egypt relations are excellent and form the linchpin of Middle Eastern politics, and what the two of them say goes in the region.

He also praised the economic progress he said had been achieved by the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and its anti-corruption efforts. ( Egypt’s GDP growth has improved slightly, inflation has lowered, and the tourism sector is recovering, but it isn’t creating the 700,000 new jobs every year it needs and any new wealth is not being well distributed). Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have propped up the government with tens of billions of dollars in grants and loans.

Crown Prince Bin Salman admitted that in the past, Saudi Arabia and Egypt had used the Muslim Brotherhood, in hopes of tamping down dissent from devotees of political Islam, but that the policy had backfired. Instead, he said, the Brotherhood had made trouble in schools and other social institutions. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, he said, the Brotherhood became convinced that it would provide the model for government in the Sunni Muslim world.

He said that Saudi Arabia had issued an arrest warrant for al-Qaeda leader Usamah Bin Laden in the 1990s, but that he was protected by Western interests who saw him as a freedom fighter [because of his role fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.]

My guess is that MbS has dirt on Western intelligence agencies in this regard, and this remark was intended to intimidate them. The US Congress has allowed Saudi Arabia to be sued over the September 11, 2001, attacks, although there is no evidence that the Saudi Government was involved, and there is ample evidence that Western agencies backed Bin Laden’s hosts and supporters in Afghanistan.

He also said that the Saudi government’s counter-terrorism efforts inside the kingdom had borne great fruit, with extremist sentiments falling from 60% to 10%.

The prince said that the Muslim Brotherhood had ridden on the coattails of the Hanbali school of law but that his government was changing that equation. He said that the Shiites of Saudi Arabia [some 12% of the population] live in security and are employed in all sectors, and that he has many Shiite friends, and that they fight in the Saudi army against the Houthis [Zaydi Shiites in Yemen]. Saudi Shiites, he said, are playing an important role in bringing Saudi Arabia and Iraq closer together.


Bonus video:

WION: “Saudi Prince arrives in Egypt: First ever public official trip abroad”

Top 4 myths about Electric Cars & why they should not Discourage You

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

China produced 680,000 electric vehicles last year, as much as the rest of the world combined. But by 2020 the Chinese hope to make and sell 2 million EV’s a year, and to go on up from there. The Chinese Communist Party is determined to reduce air pollution and cut China’s vast carbon footprint, for reasons of domestic harmony and international standing. And if the CCP wants to do it, it probably can. Chinese EVs have the potential to dominate the world market. That sort of development could accelerate China’s rise to the biggest world economy and the dominant superpower over the next two decades.

Making EVs on this scale has an impact on the rest of the world. Not only will other countries import electric cars from China, but the more it makes and sells the cheaper and better they will become. We are looking at everyone’s future here, not just China’s.

The propaganda against EVs from Big Oil is relentless and there are many misconceptions out there intended to discourage consumers from getting an electric vehicle. Here are 4 of the most pervasive and most pernicious myths:

1. Electric cars don’t have pick-up for merging on the highway. That is ridiculous. The Chevy Bolt, the Tesla 3, the Nissan Leaf all have plenty of pick-up and in fact the Teslas are almost like race cars. They handle nicely.

2. Electric cars have limited range and might leave you on the side of the road. Well, look, they do have a range. But the current generation get something on the order of 250 miles on a charge and 95% of the trips you make are more like 5 miles unless you are a long distance commuter. If you need to go farther than 250 miles, rent a car or take a bus. It likely isn’t that often. I used mine to commute into work in Ann Arbor when the ranges weren’t nearly as good, and never had any problems getting around town. Besides, the Tesla 3 in particular charges quickly and there are an increasing number of charging stations.

3. Driving an electric car just shifts carbon dioxide emissions from the exhaust pipe to the smokestack. This allegation is just untrue. All electric cars on the road today are less polluting than all gasoline and diesel cars, even in dirty grid states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. But there is more. The US in the past decade has gone from getting 8% of its electricity from renewables to 18%. As more wind and solar projects come on line, that percentage will rapidly increase (Iowa electricity is already 33% wind). Over the time you own the car, your electricity source will get cleaner. All the coal plants will soon be closed. And there is yet more. If you are a homeowner, you can put solar panels on your roof and fuel the car from them. The combined EV-panels will get paid off more quickly by saving on electricity and gas bills, and you’ll be driving on sunshine.

4. EVs are expensive. Sure they are for a lot of people, but they now range in the US market from $23,000 on up. Middle class families buy cars in that range all the time. You may be eligible for a tax break of several thousand dollars from your state or the Federal government, in addition. And, remember that the fuel is virtually free. The average American spends on the order of $2,000 a year on gasoline or other automotive fuel, which over a decade would be $20,000. In other words your $25,000 gasoline car is actually $45,000 over ten years. But especially if you have solar panels, your EV fuel costs are nothing, and they are negligible even if you don’t. And remember, your gasoline car is causing extreme weather, which could hit your house and family and be very, very expensive. Your EV isn’t endangering your life savings in the same way. It is much, much cheaper.

Besides, the cars will rapidly come down in price.


Bonus video:

Wall Street Journal from last fall: “Electric Cars Are a Hit With Chinese Consumers”

What is Missing in our Sunni-Shi’a Conflict Narrative?

Ali R. Abootalebi | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Sunni-Shi’a schism provides for different narrative and prescriptions for arriving at the ‘utopian Islamic society’ and the incoming of the Messiah, al-Mahdi. The theological, doctrinal and jurisprudential differences between the two main branches of Islam has translated into two different visions on the role of the clerics, the ‘Ulema, in religious and political arenas. Overall, the Shi’a ‘Ulema are better positioned to act as the custodian of the (Islamic) state in the name of the people. The hierarchical Shi’a version of the Sharia bestows its highest ranking ‘Ulema, the Ayatollahs, with religious (and political) authority in charge of the state. The Ayatollah’s counterparts in the Sunni tradition, the Muftis, on the other hand, are limited in playing such a role. For example, The Sunni community in Iraq today does not follow a single Marja (source of authority and emulation) that funds religious leaders independently, like the Najaf-based Shiite authority. The historical Sunni political doctrine of the Islamic state necessitates the presence of a Caliphate (Emir or Sultan), the last of who was the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and whose House of the Caliphate was abolished in 1924.

It is puzzling as to why intelligent people in the media and those in charge of the US foreign policy persistently ignore the need to pay close attention to the underlying ‘context’ in which events take place; to remain cognizant of socioeconomic, political, cultural, historical, and the international contexts in explaining human interactions and events in varying settings. This is something any of my undergraduates is expected to do.

Whatever the motivation behind such disregard and/or ignorance, there are important tailing consequences. The late Edward Said told of the “Orientalism’ disease that poisoned the mind of both the intellectual and the common observers of Middle Eastern peoples and societies: Designated as ‘the other,’ the Oriental people are marred with peculiar and traditional sociocultural values, setting them apart from the ‘rational’ Occidental mind, and are resistant to modernity and political democracy. The cultural essentialists, thus, claimed that Islam, traditionalism, and tribalism are central variables in explaining the prevalence of what is indeed structural. As such, historical colonialism and imperialism and persistent external covert and overt interventions in the Middle East and Northern African region (MENA) were largely ignored, downplayed, or justified. Political authoritarianism and social stagnation ‘must have been’ endemic to the Arab World, if less so in the westernizing Turkey and Iran.

North Africa and ME

North Africa and ME

The Sunni or the Shi’a understanding of the ‘proper’ social, theological/jurisprudential, and political framework promoting Islamic governance differ, but such disagreements cannot be understood outside its broader and prevalent national and international contexts. The last wave of Islamic revivalism of the late 1800s, for example, occurred when both the Ottoman and the Safavids dynasties were at the mercy of their European colonial powers and the existing socioeconomic and political environment were marred with severe levels of underdevelopment and poor governance. The mushrooming ‘Islamic’ question for revivalists and reformers like Jamal al-din al-Afghani or Muhammad Abdu or Muhammad Iqbal was, then, over the discovery of an ‘Islamic path’ to recovery in light of humiliation in the hands of the Christian West and the corrupt, incompetent rulers within. The burgeoning inquiry was over the question of effective (Islamic) governance and not the Sunni-Shi’a divide per se. This wave of Islamic movement differed from, for example, the al-Khawarij movement in the early Islam that reflected the turbulent years of civil war in the Islamic community over the question of succession and the legitimacy to rule in the years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (632—661AD). The political and social dissension and divide between the political elite in Damascus and the religious and spiritual leadership in Mecca and al-Najaf in Iraq had caused a political and religious gulf between a heretical vision the political and military leadership in Damascus and the opposition who demanded their share in the distribution of wealth and political power (later-known as the Shiite, or partisans of Ali–those followers of the bloodline heirs to the prophet Muhammad, led by Ali ibn Abi Talib).

The ongoing propagated Sunni-Shi’a divide narrative proposes the sectarian divide as the cause of both national and inter-state problems in the region. The Sunni-Shi’a divide has been a dominant theme in explanation of events in the MENA region since the Iranian Revolution, including the ‘root cause of the revolution—as a Shi’a-Islamic-revolution–to the Iraqi (Sunni-Arab dominated) invasion of a revolutionary (Shi’a) Iran, to the historical and modern sectarian divide causing conflict and war and underdevelopment in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, to the (Sunni) Saudi and (Shia) Iranian rivalry in the Persian Gulf region over a Sunni or a Shi’a alternative and vision for the future of Islam and Muslim societies. However, the root cause of the ‘constructed Sunni-Shia conflict’ in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Bahrain and other members of the Arab League, rests with poor governance, including the presence of illegitimate, authoritarian states. Sectarian mobilization and counter-mobilization is only a manifestation of the larger contest over political power and socioeconomic resources; in other words, it is over the control of the state and matters of governance.

The State and Governance

It is only natural to think of national governments once the question of governance arises. After all, national governments are endowed with tremendous power, legitimate or not, and resources to govern over matters of significance to the population, including law and order, national security, social and economic development, and the preservation of cultural heritage and overall social harmony. State capacity has two broad components: protecting the safety and security of people, and its ability to implement public policies, collect revenue and deliver basic goods and services to enhance social welfare and economic growth. (p. 30) But, governance is about power and it is broader than just the ruling government; it is about who has the political authority to make decisions and influence policy, and how resources and wealth are allocated within society. Good governance signals the ability of governing institutions to deliver the key public goods needed to maintain order and stability. Furthermore, governance is ‘good’ and also more likely to advance peace when “it is inclusive, participatory and accountable; when it is characterized by fair procedures and performs well in delivering necessary public goods.” (p. 47). Democracy is an essential element of good governance; its presence may not be a guarantee of peace, but its absence and attempts to suppress it are significant risk factors for war (p. 176).

Democracy is not about culture, religion, or religious sectarianism per se, but the management of political power and the competition over socioeconomic resources within agreed-upon normative principles and values and institutional arrangements, whereby individual citizens through elections and other forms of political participation determine their own choices through elected representatives. In other words, political democracy is (can be) an instrumental method in the resolution of ‘identity conflicts’ over cultural and nationalistic issues by providing legal and institutional venues for resolution of differences and conflicts to groups in competition over socioeconomic resources and political power. The competition among cultural groups in a given society is not so much about the superiority or inferiority of certain value system or way of life per se; e.g., designation of one’s identity as Sunni or Shi’a, but how the competition translates into control over local, regional and national resources while realizing the ambitions and aspirations of all cultural groups. This is especially true, where legal and institutional venues for dispute settlement and conflict resolution and power sharing among competing cultural groups are weak or are seriously lacking. In such cases, it becomes ‘natural’ for a dominant culture try imposing its ethos and belief systems, through cooperation or coercion, on minority groups, monopolizing control over socioeconomic resources and political power.

The inadequacies of the state and its institutions and bureaucracy and the presence of weak and divided society have been a prominent problem in the Arab MENA region. The state authoritarian rule and traditional value systems and institutions still pose serious challenges before Arab societies striving for democratic rule and social justice. The opposition in Arab countries also has failed to mobilize the populace around a common ideology to challenge the state. Instead, the state has manipulated ethnoreligious divisions to further divide and paralyze the opposition. Civil society in the Arab World remains underdeveloped. As Gilbert Achcar argues, the deep roots of the Arab uprising, for example, are manifold: First, almost all Arab states take their place on a scale running from patrimonial to neopatrimonial regimes, further accentuated by their rentier economies (p.59), and the state is merely a cash cow (p 63). Second, sociopolitical instability and the absence of any real rule of law in virtually all Arab countries means the development of speculative or commercial capitalism with the specific variant of a capitalist mode of production being politically determined. So, the peculiar modality of the capitalist mode of production—a mix of Patrimonialism, nepotism, and crony capitalism, pillaging of public property, swollen bureaucracy, and generalized corruption, against a background of great sociopolitical instability and the impotence or even nonexistence of the role of law—is dominant in the Arab region (p. 74). The Arab region on the eve of 2011lacked organized political forces capable of moving popular protest and stood little chance of peacefully overturning Arab patrimonial regimes that were protected by a praetorian guard with tribal, sectarian, and regional loyalties. (p. 142).

“Corruption is the antithesis of good governance; it undermines the conditions that favor peace: economic development, stable governing institutions, and social trust. (p. 130), and nothing does more to erode public trust and the legitimacy of government than public officials abusing their authority for illicit gain. Economic growth is dependent upon policies that protect and support free markets, but markets flourish best in governance systems that promote equality of access, provide social safety nets, enhance human capital, respond effectively to market failures and guard against exploitation and abuse (p. 193).On the other hand, As Marwan Bishara in ‘The Invisible Arab,’ observes, pillars of liberty and justice reconciled with religion and nationalism, form the bedrock that will allow stability and progress to flourish in the Arab world and beyond.

The state of The State in the Arab World is in turmoil. The rise of the so-called ‘the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (al-Sham)’ or the ISIL—the Daesh in Arabic—was (is) fundamentally the result of both the poverty of Arab Politics and the failure of the Islamic clerical leadership in formulating and institutionalizing the mechanics necessary for modern governance. This failure is more pronounced in the Sunni Arab countries. Arab politics experimentation with Ba’athism, Pan-Arabism, secular nationalism, and monarchism have all failed, paving the way for Islamic movements, mostly colored with radical solutions to empower society and to thwart foreign influence. Although some Arab states have done better than others in the promotion of socioeconomic change, they all have fallen short in the political arena. The failure of the Arab Spring movements since 2011 only testifies to the entrenched power of Arab political elites and their foreign supporters, who have thus far played the sectarian card and the ‘war on terrorism’ mantra to secure regime survival and maintaining the status quo.

The Shi’a clerics’ takeover of the state in Iran since the 1979 revolution has allowed them the opportunity to formulate, institutionalize, and practice an ‘Islamic Republicanism,’ with many successes and failures, but at least avoiding violent dissident religious movements. The simultaneous competition and cooperation between the religious and political establishment has resulted in tangible settlements or still evolving, of some seemingly ‘intractable’ issues involving Islam and the operation of modern society, economy, and polity. As Bruce Rutherford elaborates on Islamic democracy, the interaction between liberal constitutionalism and Islamic constitutionalism is likely to produce a distinctive form of democracy that resembles western democracy in institutional terms but differs about the purpose of the state, the role of the individual in politics and society, and the character and function of law. That is, the place and duties of the Islamic State remains controversial since it is the state that ‘must’ ensure the presence of Islam in society, sanctioning rules, and laws that can violate the individual rights of the citizen, e.g., hijab, minority rights, women rights, inheritance, family planning, testimonials, and role of judges, etc.)

The contemporary Sunni-Shi’a schism dates back to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Iran’s foreign policy prior to, and since the revolution, has been driven, for the most part, by pragmatism; the sectarian card is played as a reaction to the rise of militant Sunni movements in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the greater Arab world, to protect the new revolutionary state and its ethos. Recall, that Iran before the revolution and unlike Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan lacked any serious religious movement or religious political parties challenging the state, and it resembled more like its neighboring Turkey in its secular political orientation. Yet, the first 20th Century ‘Islamic’ revolution in the (Shi’a) Iran implied that Islam is indeed a potent sociopolitical contender in governance. The seizure of the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia in 1979 crystalized the threat of an ‘Islamic challenge’ in the Arab world that diverted a great deal of wasted Saudi national treasure to thwart a ‘Shi’a threat’ and promoting militant Salafism in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond, whilst protecting the prevailing sociopolitical and economic status quo. Hitherto, the sectarian card became currency in the ‘constructed debate’ over not so much the deficiencies of good governance but over the supposed threat of all Islamic movements as a terrorist menace to societies everywhere! Iran’s policy in support of national sovereignty and integrity of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen falls in line with its support of empowering the historically suppressed Shi’a political and religious establishments in Iraq and Lebanon, whilst its support for Syrian government and the Houthis in Yemen, though a limited one, eyes countering the United States’ and its allies’ hostilities and their not-so-secret push for regime change in Tehran.

Marwan Bishara contends how Israel, oil, terrorism and radical Islam have affected the interior identity of the region as well as Western projections upon it. Protection of Israel, Western imperial ambition, a thirst for oil, and fear of radicalism have caused many Western regimes and media to characterize Arab countries and people as unreceptive to democracy or progress. The question then must be asked as to why the West can perpetually manipulate Arab political leaders since the end of first-world-war? How far have the Arab politics really traveled in the past one hundred years? Are the Arab states and peoples truly victims of an Iranian-conspired sectarianism in the region? Or, whether the Arab peoples are a victim of archaic and parochial politics and manipulative and dependent foreign relations, perpetuating the status quo? In the end, let the evidence speak for itself: what is portrayed as the hallmark of relations between the leading western countries and the modernizing Arab political allies has brought the Daesh, civil wars, death and destruction and humiliation, unprecedented to the region since the Mongol invasion or modern colonialism.

Ali R. Abootalebi is Professor of Middle Eastern and Global Politics in the Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire (UWEC). He is the author of Islam and democracy: State-Society Relations in Developing Countries, 1980-1994 (Garland, 2000), and, coauthored with Stephen Hill, Introduction to World Politics: Prospects and Challenges for the United States, 2nd ed. (Kendall Hunt, 2018) and numerous articles on Iran, Arab Politics, Civil Society and Democracy and U.S. foreign policy.

Our High Schoolers as Assault Weapon Guinea Pigs

By Belle Chesler | ( | – –

“It was no surprise to anyone who knew him to hear that he was the shooter.”
Emma Gonzalez, Senior, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Over the past three weeks, the impassioned voices and steadfast demands of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have resounded across social media and through the halls of the large suburban high school where I teach visual arts. A group of senior girls, spurred to action by the horrors of the Parkland massacre and emboldened by watching videos of its protesting students, organized a walkout of their own. Though it was an uncharacteristically cold, snowy day in our part of Oregon, hundreds of students marched out of school, engaging in what was certainly, for many of them, their first act of civil disobedience. I positioned myself near the back of the crowd, listening as they shouted their demands for safer schools and an end to fear in the classroom. Standing on that icy sidewalk, I was overcome by waves of conflicting emotions. Though deeply proud of them for raising their voices and insisting on being heard, I was also forced to confront a stark and brutal reality: neither my students nor I feel safe in our school.

I still remember the cold December morning in 2012 when I first heard about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A colleague walked up to my desk, tears streaming down her face. She then recounted the grisly details of those shootings: a classroom of first graders and their teachers murdered on what should have been just another routine school day.

At the time, my daughter was a preschooler. In those school pictures that began appearing in the media of gap-toothed Sandy Hook first graders I saw her face. I began to think about her future in such a world and it looked bleak. From that moment on, I couldn’t bear reading the stories of what had transpired within those school walls and so found myself avoiding the impassioned, anguished speeches of the brave parents and teachers of those senselessly slaughtered children. It hit too close to home. It was horror on a level I had previously thought unimaginable and in a school not that different from mine. Naively, I assumed things would have to change, that nobody could look at those tiny little people and callously advocate for the status quo. How wrong I was. And as we all know, the shootings just kept happening.

So what was it about the Parkland killings that tipped the scale? Why hadn’t this happened after Columbine or Newtown? These are among the questions we teachers have been asking one another at my school recently. Perhaps what’s driving this moment is fear of the seeming inevitability, the not-if-but-when of it all. As teachers, we are forced to wonder: When will it be our turn? When will we bar the doors, fight, run, or hide? When will despair be given a physical form in the shape of a teenager with a gun and our school turned into a shooting gallery for the deranged?

At this point, we’ve been practicing lockdown drills for years. We lock and block the doors, then huddle on the floor in the darkest corners of our classroom, 36 teenagers and one adult trying to be as quiet as possible. No phones, no talking, no movement. We wait for the rattle of the door handle, at least one of us cries, and then it’s over. The all-clear.

We turn on the lights, stretch our cramped limbs, and return to our seats. I tell a joke, try to lighten the mood a bit, and resume class. One grim effect of these drills and procedures, though, is to normalize the threat of an act so heinous, so abnormal it’s hard to take in. We’ve essentially desensitized our entire school community to the true horror of what we’re playing out — a fight for our lives. We expect the routines of the classroom to resume once the lights come back on, hoping that the students will have grasped the seriousness of the drill but won’t have internalized the fear. That none of us will. When my students voice the fear that sits inside them in that darkened room, when they give the despair space to breathe in the light, we’re all forced to confront the twisted reality of what we’re doing.

At the beginning of the semester, I gave my new students a questionnaire about their lives. One of them answered the question “What is one thing that really stresses you out?” by writing: “What really stresses me out is the fact that I might die in this building.”

I had no idea how to respond because, honestly, I feel the same way. How do I convey what it feels like to walk into your workplace every morning wondering if today is the day you’ll die there? How do I explain the trepidation I feel when I have to confront that student — the one who’s been making the disturbing art, doesn’t smile or interact with his peers, and whose parents won’t return my emails or calls — to tell him that he needs to tone down the violence in his work? How do I share my deepest fear that this is the kid who will come back for me later, armed and ready to exact his revenge?

How do I express the complexity of the emotions I feel when I’m huddling in the dark with my students, thinking about what it would take for all of us to make it out of the building alive in a real version of the same situation? And how do I begin to think about the worst possible scenario, that the sixteen-year-old kid crouched next to me in the dark is the next school shooter? In the heightened paranoia of my classroom, my students are now suspects.

Teachers as Martyrs?

I imagine every new teacher arrives with some version of the story of the triumphant teacher who takes a ragtag group of students from disarray to academic excellence playing in the back of his or her mind. That cinematic dreamscape is often discarded as the years go by. If you’re actually going to survive in the system, tough it out for the long haul, certain illusions must be shed. Almost a third of all new teachers jump ship by year three when the challenges of the profession — the long hours, the constant planning, the never-ending grading, and the worries about meeting the intellectual and emotional needs of our students — begin to seem unsustainable.

In my first years on the job, the enormity of the psychological task of caring for the wellbeing of my students and a creeping awareness that I would never be able to fully support and know all of them could reduce me to tears. My commute home in the afternoon often felt like a therapy session sans therapist. I’d replay every missed opportunity, every interpersonal challenge, and then I’d cry. I knew that, despite what I’d been led to believe, the stark reality of the situation was that I couldn’t support all of my students. Part of teaching would always be about failure: failure to connect, failure to notice, failure to address the nuanced and specific needs of every one of those students. It was a numbers game that I would always lose and that was a truth I had to embrace in order to become a more effective educator.

By Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century

Nevertheless, the archetype of the teacher-martyr who toils late into the night, sacrificing her personal life in order to focus solely on her students, is one we’ve bought into as a culture. The story we tell is that teachers are superhuman, capable of reversing any tide, remedying any hurt, and counteracting the problems of our society by sheer focus, persistence, and care. If I just devote myself more, put in longer hours, and implement a better curriculum, I’ll ultimately save them all. Being this martyr is a badge of honor in the school itself, a symbol of who is doing the best work. I can’t help but wonder, though: Isn’t martyring oneself by taking a bullet for our students the ultimate expression of this archetype? Isn’t this what is, post-Parkland, now being demanded of us?

This uniquely American myth of the teacher who provides salvation for each student is the one we’ve now ascribed to the teachers at Parkland who threw their bodies in front of bullets to save their students’ lives. And while I’m awed by their bravery, I’m still willing to question the motivations behind those, including the president of the United States, holding them up as icons.

Perhaps valorizing teachers as heroes is simply another way of continually refusing to honor and respect the profession in the ways that actually matter. Heroes don’t need smaller class sizes, benefits or adequate retirement accounts. The truth is, those teachers should never have had to put their lives on the line for their students. It wasn’t their job. We are not warriors, we are teachers. We are not heroes, we are teachers.

When Dreams Fail

My last year of classroom teaching has been the most demanding. Not only because of the subjects I teach, my class sizes, or workload, but because of the mounting stress I feel from my students. Our children are the canaries in our American coal mine (an image that has new meaning in the Trump era). When I ask them about their mental health, I’m always overwhelmed by how many of them admit to depression and anxiety. They’re constantly exhausted and stressed out. So many of them express a simmering despair about their future. And how can I argue with that? When you’re huddled in the corner of a dark classroom, practicing for your own death, it’s difficult to feel as if there’s any hope for a decent future.

I’m no longer naïvely dreaming of changing the lives of each of my students. My goals have narrowed: to get the kids to invest in learning, to be an advocate for them, to listen to them, to create a relevant curriculum, to turn the classroom into a vital and thriving place. In any given semester, I make it a priority to quickly learn the names of my more than two hundred students, to check in with them as frequently as I can and attempt to attend to each of their unique and complex individual needs.

I try to put whatever extra energy and attention I have into working with my more marginalized students, knowing that, as a white, middle-class woman, they likely will see me as an agent of a system that reinforces preexisting layers of alienation. However, I no longer feel as if I can save any of them. I don’t even feel that that’s my job. My job is to provide a space for inquiry and expression.

If I do that job well, I’ll at least assist my students in finding their own voices. But believe me, it’s a Sisyphean task. They’re teenagers after all. Their emotional landscapes change minute by minute, day by day. They walk into my classroom with 15 to 18 years of lived experience, products of their family dynamics and their community. The hours I spend with them, no matter how impactful, cannot out-compete those actualities. Some of them will feel seen and heard in my classroom, and some of them, no matter what I do, will feel invisible, unseen, and lost.

Pulling the Trigger

School is the place where adolescents experiment with the lofty promises of the American Dream. We teachers deliver the message that you can be anything, do anything. Study hard enough and you’ll make something of yourself in your life, no matter the challenges along the way. Make friends, get yourself a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and you’ll climb that social ladder. Find your path and your talent and the world will be yours for the taking.

As educators we know that there’s no one more passionate and engaged than a teenager doing what she or he loves. Tap into that intensity and myopic focus and you have the potential for genuine pedagogical alchemy. But what if all the promises that we (and so many others) implicitly or explicitly make prove remarkably out of reach and those same students are increasingly aware of that? What if you’re a student of color or an undocumented student and the American Dream was never promised to you in the first place? What if you don’t make friends easily? What if the emotional stresses you carry with you are too heavy and all school represents is a relentless reminder of them? What if, like the society it’s part of, school becomes a place for failure, not possibility?

If teenagers excel at one thing, it’s sniffing out hypocrisy. Kids can see through the veneers of so many promises. And the kids any teacher now sees are likely to be wondering: What’s really there for them in this world we’ve built? What hurts have gone unnoticed, unattended?

Is it any wonder that the most disgruntled among them, those who feel most betrayed by the broken promise of that Dream, return to the place they feel failed them the most, the institution society promised would provide them with salvation and so obviously didn’t? They bring with them their failed social and familial relationships, their realization that the Dream was never for them in the first place, and — in a rising number of cases — AR-15s or other deadly weaponry. They cash that voided check by pulling the trigger, decimating that illusion, and possibly ending the lives of students and teachers while they’re at it.

Shooting that gun is the last act of personal agency these boys — and so far they are boys — have to offer. That myopia and total focus, which leads to death in our schools, reflects the despair and nihilism seen in many of these shooters. It’s something that, at least at a lesser level, should be familiar to any classroom teacher these days. Think of the nameless, faceless frustration and despair that drives a child to pick up weapons of war and wantonly kill as the failure of the American Dream played out in blood.

Dear America: You’ve given me an impossible task and condemned me for my failure to perform it. Now, you — or at least the president, the NRA, and various politicians — assure me that I can redeem myself by holding a gun, firing back, and so blasting away the despair. No, thank you: I do not want to hold that gun and cannot be that shield. Neither figuratively nor physically can I save my students.

What we are asking of our children, our teachers, and our schools is unlike anything we ask of any individuals or any institution. We are martyring our children on the altar of society’s failed promises and then we wonder why they keep coming back with guns in their hands.

Belle Chesler is a visual arts teacher in Beaverton, Oregon.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 Belle Chesler


Posted in Guns | No Responses | Print |

Tower of Jello: The Struggle of Russia and UAE over Tillerson’s helming of State Department

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The New Yorker reports that there was a further Steele memo, prepared by the same ex-MI6 intelligence officer who authored the notorious “golden shower” dossier, which reported Russian foreign ministry boasts that they had blocked Trump from appointing Mitt Romney as secretary of state.

Romney had been a fierce critic of Russia in his 2012 presidential bid. If the story is true, that stance, rather than his bashing of Trump himself, led to his sidelining as a candidate for the secretary of state position. We all remember the creepy picture of the dinner Trump and Romney had when the latter was under consideration, with Trump looking like the cat that just ate ten mice.

The point man on this sabotaging of Romney would have been Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Russia appears to have some sort of hold over Trump, possibly “kompromat” or compromising videos or other material.

The man who got the job, Rex Tillerson, is the former head of Exxon-Mobile. He had been involved in a proposed $500 bn. oil and gas deal with Russia before President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on the Russian Federation over the unilateral reclaiming of Crimea from Ukraine. Vladimir Putin and Lavrov may have lobbied against Romney and for Tillerson on the theory that Tillerson would have an interest in squelching the sanctions and reanimating the huge ExxonMobile deal, which would help the Russian economy. Tillerson had also had a personal investment jointly with a company working in Russia.

Russia may have gotten its way (it is only an allegation) on Tillerson, but he went on to disappoint Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because he did not approve of their June 5, 2017 attempt to take over little Qatar, the Gulf gas giant. In the wake of that crisis, Qatar offered to increase its gas production by a third, and it is expected that ExxonMobile among others will profit handsomely.

Then the BBC says it has received copies of hacked emails from US businessman Elliott Broidy, whose weapons firm has contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars with the United Arab Emirates. The emails reveal that Broidy told Trump to drop Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last fall, apparently over Tillerson’s refusal to help gang up on Qatar on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

He called Tillerson a “tower of Jello”

Just raising a question, but wouldn’t this sort of lobbying of the president on behalf of a foreign power require Broidy to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act?

Broidy also, the emails show, lobbied Jared Kushner against Qatar, but Kushner, who had sought financing for one of his troubled Manhattan properties from a Qatari investor last year this time, appears to have remained noncommittal.

Although Broidy was representing UAE interests, especially those of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (whom Broidy urged Trump to meet), he is also known as a backer of far right wing Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and may have in part been lobbying against Tillerson for the latter.

So it turns out that not only Kushner himself but the office of the secretary of state has been the site of a vicious international struggle between the UAE and Russia.

The Israel lobbies have often vetoed foreign policy appointees whom they felt to be less than sycophantic toward Tel Aviv, so this sort of thing is not entirely new. But I think the Russia-UAE maneuvering, if the reports are true, is unprecedented.


Bonus video

Wochit News: “Did Russia Block Trump on Romney Nomination?”

Netanyahu & Trump, both under Investigation, Meet on phony ‘Deal of the Century’

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Far right Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet Monday with far right white nationalist president Donald J. Trump in an apparent effort to hurry up Trump’s announcement of the “Deal of the Century” between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Arabic press is speculating that Netanyahu, who has faced large anti-corruption rallies at home and whose government may fall over his possible indictment on corruption charges, wants Trump to try to save his political career by making a splash over the Deal of the Century.

If so, it is a forlorn hope, since there is no deal to be had under Trump/Netanyahu terms.

The Palestinian-Israeli “Peace Process” is a charade that has the following sociological and political functions:

1. It provides a fig leaf to the Israeli far right as it daily steals more and more Palestinian land in the West Bank and continues to brutalize the civilian population of Gaza.

2. It allows the US government, which coddles Israeli expansionism on the West Bank, to have a form of deniability over Israeli colonialism and Apartheid, or at least something to tell reporters at press conferences, saying that all the disputes will be resolved in final status negotiations. This is like putting two people at a table with two big pieces of German chocolate cake, having one person dig in with a fork and gobble up not only his own share but begin attacking the other person’s plate as well, while the other dinner guest is tied to his chair with his arms behind his back. And then saying, don’t worry, in a few decades we’ll untie the second person and figure out how to get him back some of his now-disappeared piece of cake.

3. The “peace process” hopes to pacify the Palestinian population, which has been divided up into cantons on the West Bank and intensively policed by jackbooted Israeli troops and is increasingly encroached upon by armed, fanatical, supremacist Israeli squatters on Palestinian land. By continually reassuring this beleaguered and long-suffering population that their Apartheid occupation is temporary and there is hope for a state in the future, US and Israeli officials hope to tamp down the militancy that might ensue if Palestinians lost all hope.

4. It allows the Israeli and US governments to blame the victims, since Palestinians who point out that there is no peace process and the entire operation is a sham can be sidelined publicly as obstructionists and even terrorists.

5. It creates a corrupt Palestinian professional bureaucratic class that lives off the crumbs of the “peace process,” essentially acting as collaborators in helping police the Palestinian population for the Israelis and reassuring them about the future. This bureaucratic class receives substantial European, Arab and even US aid and its representatives can be trotted out as the face of the Palestinians, when in fact almost all Palestinians are invested in resisting Israeli expansionism.

Trump’s harsh rhetoric toward the Palestinians has ripped away some of the facade of the “peace process.” His announcement of a move of the US embassy to Jerusalem is a way of signalling that East Jerusalem will never be the capital of a Palestinian state and that there never will be a Palestinian state.

As a result, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and primary exemplar of the Palestinian bureaucratic class has said he will refuse to negotiate through the Americans.

Trump’s angry reply, that he will cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if Abbas defies him, threatens to decimate the Palestinian bureaucratic class that lives off the “peace process.” But without them, the full catastrophe facing the 4.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation or permanent Israeli blockade will become abundantly clear to that population, leading to substantial unrest.

Netanyahu hopes that Trump will go even further, and simply put the weight of the US government toward full Apartheid and accelerated Israeli squatting, bestowing Washington’s seal of approval on current Israeli policies and so making it harder for the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement in Europe to become ensconced as general European Union policy (about a third of Israel’s trade is with Europe and it receives substantial technology and weapons transfers from that quarter, which are all endangered if BDS spreads there).

That is the so-called “Deal of the Century,” which would whitewash Netanyahu’s fascist expansionism in occupied Palestine, and which he hopes in vain might give him back his political standing in his own cabinet.

It is a desperate ploy and the entire enterprise is likely doomed in the medium to long term, though the rest of us will suffer a substantial degradation in our quality of life and our basic human rights as a result of this desperate quest to prop up the world’s last colonial mini-empire.


bonus video:

Press TV: “Israelis demand: Netanyahu go home!”

Did an Emirates-Israel alliance Help elect Trump more than Russia?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

One of the surprises thrown up by the Gulf crisis and by the Mueller investigation is how entangled the United Arab Emirates is with Israel, and how the lobbies of the two states in Washington powerfully shape American policy. While the Israel lobbies have received scholarly attention from John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt and Kirk Beattie, the Emirates lobby has remained in the shadows until recently.

The NYT reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into the Emirates’ role in the 2016 campaign. He has spoken to George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman and adviser to Abu Dahbi crown prince and deputy commander of the UAE armed forces, Muhammad Bin Zayed.

Nader has visited the White House many times in the past year and met with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and with extreme white nationalist and former White House strategist Steve Bannon.

One question is whether the prospect of money from the Emirates, in the form of investments in Kushner’s business for instance, affected US policy toward the June 5 Gulf crisis, in which Saudi Arabia and the UAE attempted to mount a hostile takeover of Qatar. Trump and Kushner strongly backed it initially, but were gradually beaten back by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, both of whom had their own professional interests in Qatar and who opposed a break-up of the Gulf Cooperation Council that had grouped the three countries with Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, often in opposition to Iran.

Another question, however, is the possible UAE role in the 2016 Trump campaign itself, a role which, if it existed, would be illegal. The UAE has been accused of hiring hackers to defame Qatar, and could have directed their energies in favor of Trump. I have no evidence of such an intervention, I underline, and am only speculating because Mueller seems to be investigating in this regard.

Also on Mueller’s radar according to the NYT and Israel’s i24News is Elliot Broidy, a Jewish-American businessman with vast UAE investments as well as investments in Israel, who is a strong backer of far right wing Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The UAE is a small country on the Gulf, with a citizen population of only about 1.5 million and 8 million guest workers, many of whom are cycled out of the country regularly and replaced by others. The citizen population is thus smaller than Houston, but as an oil giant the country punches far above its weight in world affairs. Still, there is no intrinsic reason for it to be more powerful than say the Netherlands (one of the biggest investors in the US economy with twice the GDP of the Emirates). Rather, it may be showing up in Mueller’s investigation because it is engaging in particularly corrupt practices.


Bonus video:

PBS NewsHour: “Jared Kushner dealings raise new questions about conflicts of interest”

UN: War Crimes being Committed in Syria’s East Ghouta

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reuters reports that Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned Syrian (and Russian?) officials that there is credible evidence that they are committing war crimes in East Ghouta, and perhaps crimes against humanity.

A war crime is a single action that violates international laws on the conduct of war, typically involving atrocities against non-combatants. It is analogous to murder in civil law.

A crime against humanity is a systematic pattern of the commission of war crimes. It is more like serial killing.

Al-Hussein warned that the UN human rights commission is collecting evidence on the culpability of particular individuals, in hopes that eventually they can be brought to trial.

Al-Hussein is among the architects of the International Criminal Court, which is authorized by the Rome Statute that entered into effect in 2002, and the charter of which lays out what war crimes and crimes against humanity are. Some 123 countries have signed it, giving it the force of law in much of the world.

Commenting on Paragraph 1, which forbids deliberately targeting noncombatants, the statute specifies, “(a) “Attack directed against any civilian population” means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack…”

The ICC is only authorized to build cases against individuals, not against governments, and can only do so where the state to which those individuals belong is a signatory of the Rome Statute. The exception is where the UN Security Council forwards a case from a non-signatory country to the ICC, as it did in the case of Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya. Most former officials tried by the ICC have been deposed African dictators, which has provoked criticism from global South critics.

Since Syria has not signed the Rome Statute and since Russia has a veto on the Security Council, the likelihood of Syrian or Russian officials ever being tried for war crimes committed in Syria is slim. It is not impossible, however, that at some point some criminal official could be arrested in a third country. At least they won’t be able to vacation with any sense of safety on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

Al-Hussein’s forceful warning, however, is important, since states must not be allowed with impunity to starve out civilians, bombard hospitals and kindergartens with reckless disregard for noncombatant life, or even target civilians as a war strategy. If the world won’t intervene to stop crimes against humanity, at the very least we should forcefully and publicly denounce them.

Al-Hussein has Swedish and Jordanian heritage and is a member of the Jordanian royal family.


Bonus video:

AFP: “Medical facilities await aid in Syria’s besieged Ghouta”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 5 Responses | Print |