The Middle East: Are Ominous Clouds Forming?

 

It’s no surprise that disruptive situations are developing in the Middle East; that seems to be the normal state of affairs. Lately I’ve noticed some situations that independently would barely raise eyebrows; collectively, however, I’m concerned that the area is heating up more than usual, and I believe these events will affect not only the region, but will have implications for the US.

It’s been widely reported that Qatar supports terrorism, but you may not be aware of the level of that support.

As for the Qatari regime itself, it has massively financed jihadist groups for more than 20 years. Qatar is a major bankroller not only of al-Qaida and Hamas but of militias associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In a State Department cable from 2009 published by WikiLeaks, US diplomats referred to Qatar as the largest funder of terrorism in the world.

According to the Financial Times, the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Saudis and their allies was their discovery that in April, Qatar paid Iran, its Iraqi militias and al-Qaida forces in Syria up to a billion dollars to free members of the royal family held captive in southern Iraq and 50 terrorists held captive in Syria.        Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

As a result, the Saudis, UAE and Egypt have slapped economic sanctions on Qatar, demanding that it sever ties with Iran. President Trump has condemned the Qataris, only to have his comments soft-pedaled by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The most obvious difficulty is that Qatar spent more than $1 billion constructing the Al Udeid Air Base outside of Doha. The Qataris have assured us that base operations will not be interrupted and that the 10,000 US service members will not be affected. Time will tell.

Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon suggest that Iran’s response to these actions might push Iran to abandon the nuclear agreement and resume its efforts to “acquire a nuclear option.” The US now finds itself directly in a conflict between Sunni and Shiite factions.

Dealings with Qatar aren’t the only complications developing in the Middle East. Reports on the growing strength of Hezbollah are raising alarms. Ron Prosor, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, points to the military strengthening of Hezbollah and the relationship between Lebanon and the terrorist organization

Hezbollah is sponsored by Iran and has become increasingly brazen in the last decade. It is now more militarily powerful than most North Atlantic Treaty Organization members. It has 150,000 missiles and could launch 1,500 of them a day. From the ground, air or sea, it can strike anywhere in Israel. Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, hasn’t distanced the Lebanese army from Iran’s proxy. Rather, he has embraced it. ‘Hezbollah’s weapons do not contradict the national project,’ he said in February, but are ‘a principal element of Lebanon’s defense.’

Prosor is calling on the US to stop Hezbollah by sponsoring the revision of the ineffective U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which does nothing to stop Hezbollah from building up its military infrastructure. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon or Unifil must be empowered to disarm Hezbollah and demilitarize South Lebanon. I’m not optimistic that this will occur but if it doesn’t, the entire Middle East, not just Israel, could be at serious risk.

President Trump’s announcement that he would once again waive the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was greeted outside of Israel with shoulder shrugs; his decision, however, was seen as a betrayal by some in Israel. I suspect that the president sees this decision as a tactic to persuade the Palestinians to come to the negotiation table. He may also try to persuade Israel to stop building in the settlement areas (which was a useless strategy the last time this was done). This pressure will only create greater resentment by the Israelis.

Just following the President’s announcement, John Bolton spoke at an event in Israel. He was awarded the Guardian of Zion award, and in his acceptance speech, shared his vision  for resolving the Palestinian-Israel conflict, as described by Caroline Glick:

Bolton began his discussion Monday evening by rejecting the ‘two-state solution.’ The two-state model, he noted, has been tried and has failed repeatedly for the past 70 years. There is no reason to believe that it will succeed now. This is particularly true, he said, given the lack of Palestinian social cohesion.

Hamas controls Gaza. The PLO, which is supposed to be Israel’s peace partner, barely controls parts of Judea and Samaria. At a time when more cohesive Arab societies are unraveling, the notion that a Palestinian state would survive and advance regional peace and stability is laughable, Bolton argued.

Bolton then turned to his preferred policy for resolving the Palestinian conflict with Israel, which he dubbed ‘the three-state solution.’ Under his plan, Egypt and Jordan would work with Israel to solve the Palestinian conflict. Egypt would take over the Gaza Strip and Jordan would negotiate the status of Judea and Samaria with Israel.

At least John Bolton has a realistic view of the area’s conflicts. Although the president has said that Israel and the Palestinians must be the ones to decide the outcome of a resolution, I think he is unrealistic to think that negotiation is an option. I hope that he will eventually realize the intransigence of the Palestinians, and finally support Israel’s approach, whatever that may be. At some point, Israel will need to commit to a resolution strategy and require the Palestinians to comply, since the Palestinians are only interested in destroying Israel. Ironically, the president may be pushing Israel to finally act on their own. As Caroline Glick says:

The time has come, at the outset of the second 50 years of Israeli control over Judea and Samaria, for Israel to take matters into its own hands. Our leaders must stop beating around the bush. They need to use the powers they have to secure Israel’s military and civilian interests in Judea and Samaria for the next 50 years as best they can. And they need to stop waiting for someone else to solve our problems for us.

These are only a few areas of major concern. I haven’t mentioned Saudi Arabia’s fighting in Yemen, the Islamic State attack on Iran, the Syrian civil war, and Syria’s use of deadly sarin gas. We need to be paying close attention to the Middle East, because our own safety and security may be at greater risk than ever.

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  1. Gumby Mark Coolidge
    Gumby Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    or to this country, nor do I want to impose the American Way on them (unless you’re alluding to motherhood and apple pie).

    I am pro both. Also what’s wrong with peace, liberty and justice? Most people want that, it doesn’t need to be imposed.

    I like to think of Peace, Love & Understanding.

    • #61
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I Walton (View Comment):
    So part of what’s different is us, we’re back in the middle of a a lot we can’t control and will never understand and wont stick to? Hezbollah more highly armed, the Iranian government stronger and more aggressive and we’re aligning ourselves with weak states that are also actively hostile to us. Iran more consolidated at least in part because we did not do anything for the opposition when an opportunity presented itself. Obama washed our hands of Iraq and even Syria, so just getting out of the way doesn’t work for us. Is there enough to get a hold on in that part of the world so we could craft a coherent policy we could actually carry out? Turning to the peace process seems to mean when in doubt join the purposeless aimless process because it looks like we’re doing something when we don’t know what to do. On the other hand are we actually trying to destroy ISIS? If so that’s about all that might be open to us and if successful puts us into a position to have influence again which, if we had some notion of what to use it for would be a good thing.

    I think he’s got it! Well done, I. I think you’ve nailed an important part–we’ve found ourselves in the middle of something we can’t control. We probably couldn’t control anything before, but now it’s in our face. I’d love to hear thoughts about what a coherent US policy in the Middle East would be. Thoughts, anyone?

    • #62
  3. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):Okay, first things first. My “dear” to you was snarky, so I take it back. ? As I look at your comments, Zafar, I’m wondering why you project beliefs on me that I don’t hold?

    I’m not.

    You said something along the lines of ‘We [and I presumed this was America] don’t know what we want’

    I responded that I thought you [assuming America] wanted X because of Y.

    You say I’m projecting beliefs onto you that you don’t have

    You, Susan, or you, America?  I think that point got obscured

    Just because the rest of the world calls it colonialism doesn’t make it true.

    Indeed.

    And the “duck quacking” thing doesn’t hold water, either. At least not for me, in this case.

    That’s what I said. About America.

    I don’t think that most people want peace, liberty and justice; if they don’t have it, and don’t have a concept of it, why would they want it?

    I’ve never met a population where most people didn’t want this – however it looked to them.  In my experience most people want these things.

    I will close by clarifying that while I think you are a formidable lady, I don’t think of you as a nuclear superpower.

    [And also thank you, re dear, handsomely said.]

     

    • #63
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Zafar (View Comment):
    I will close by clarifying that while I think you are a formidable lady, I don’t think of you as a nuclear superpower.

    [And also thank you, re dear, handsomely said.]

    That is reassuring–not being seen as a nuclear superpower and having you accept my apology for snark! It’s always rewarding to dialogue with you Zafar. Thank you.

    • #64
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Gumby Mark (View Comment):
    I like to think of Peace, Love & Understanding.

    That’s what we need to do! Send this to every country in the Middle East! YaY! ;-)

    • #65
  6. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Susan, from what you wrote:

    “Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon suggest that Iran’s response to these actions might push Iran to abandon the nuclear agreement and resume its efforts to “acquire a nuclear option.” – it appeared that you thought Iran was not “acquiring a nuclear option”. If I misinterpreted your remarks I am sorry.

    However, to avoid a much larger war regime change one way or another has to happen in Iran. The Mullahs are hellbent on ‘acquiring a nuclear option” and as that day comes closer all hell is likely to break loose on the Sunni side of things. The Sunni cannot afford not to defend themselves.

    My own personal opinion is that King Salman, who is forcing the situation with Qatar,  is doing so because he believes now he has an American President he can trust, after being thrown under the bus far too often vis a vis Iran by Obama.

    In many ways Obama helped create ISIS, because as Obama coddled Iran and let it acquire more nuclear capability, one way or another there had to be response from the Sunni’s. And because as the Iranian threat grew more dire and destabilizing, the more radical factions of Sunni Islam were given the upper hand in the minds of the Sunni populace as that populace grew more fearful.  From here as this Sunni/Shia conflict grows and intensifies, the brutal, bloodthirsty aspects of Islamic warfare are likely to ratchet up  to match the fear being spread on both sides.

    Also as the military might of each side grows – and it is growing now – the temptation to strike at the Great Satan America also grows because we are the ultimate enemy of Orthodox Islam.

    • #66
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Unsk (View Comment):
    Susan, from what you wrote:

    “Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon suggest that Iran’s response to these actions might push Iran to abandon the nuclear agreement and resume its efforts to “acquire a nuclear option.” – it appeared that you thought Iran was not “acquiring a nuclear option”. If I misinterpreted your remarks I am sorry.

    However, to avoid a much larger war regime change one way or another has to happen in Iran. The Mullahs are hellbent on ‘acquiring a nuclear option” and as that day comes closer all hell is likely to break loose on the Sunni side of things. The Sunni cannot afford not to defend themselves.

    My own personal opinion is that King Salman, who is forcing the situation with Qatar, is doing so because he believes now he has an American President he can trust, after being thrown under the bus far too often vis a vis Iran by Obama.

    In many ways Obama helped create ISIS, because as Obama coddled Iran and let it acquire more nuclear capability, one way or another there had to be response from the Sunni’s. And because as the Iranian threat grew more dire and destabilizing, the more radical factions of Sunni Islam were given the upper hand in the minds of the Sunni populace as that populace grew more fearful. From here as this Sunni/Shia conflict grows and intensifies, the brutal, bloodthirsty aspects of Islamic warfare are likely to ratchet up to match the fear being spread on both sides.

    Also as the military might of each side grows – and it is growing now – the temptation to strike at the Great Satan America also grows because we are the ultimate enemy of Orthodox Islam.

    Very articulate response, Unsk. On the Benjamin and Simon comments, I wasn’t clear that I didn’t necessarily agree with them–just presently another point of view. I fear that your observations are frightening, but possible in these times. I wonder if we’ve lost the opportunity to influence regime change in Iran. Do you think it’s still possible? I don’t want us directly involved, but do you see an indirect role we could play, perhaps like the chance we already missed? Also do you think that kind of change would help to mitigate a conflict between Sunnis and Shias? Or is it too late for that?

    • #67
  8. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    \art–we’ve found ourselves in the middle of something we can’t control. We probably couldn’t control anything before, but now it’s in our face. I’d love to hear thoughts about what a coherent US policy in the Middle East would be. Thoughts, anyone?

    That’s what my questions were looking for because I haven’t a clue.   We have to understand ourselves and our interests and that is hard enough and we certainly do not and will never understand any foreign country well enough to have a finely tuned foreign policy based on knowledge of the country in question.   Even “we” isn’t even easy to define because it changes with the issue, the interests, the ethnicity and media and intellectual fads that come and go and just time.   The problem is we really do have to play a global role, to lead and that requires a foreign policy establishment composed mostly of adults and a political consensus which eludes us on all domestic and foreign policy issues.   The cold war took its toll on us, created an anti american left within our midst on the one hand and an exaggerated sense of what we can control on the other.   That anti american left is in charge of training our youth and keeping us from developing the foreign policy adults we must have.

    • #68
  9. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Susan,

    Michael Ledeen seems to feel that there is growing opposition to the regime in Iran, whether that is true or not, I don’t know. But if it is true, there is a shot at trying to undermine the  regime to force it to change.

    The Iranian populace outside of Israel and perhaps Turkey is the most sophisticated in the Middle East, and large factions seem to prefer a more western style of government. Here in Southern California there are tens of thousands of Iranian ex-pats, whether they be Persian Muslims, Persian/Armenians or Persian Jews, and generally speaking  their views align with American interests.  Most of them still have strong connections and ties to Iran.  That means America does have more influence in Iran than one might think. Clearly more than most Mid-East countries.

    If Iran was turned to a more western friendly non-terorist  government, then the whole mid-east equation tones down. Hezbollah would be neutered and their dominance  in Lebanon would erode greatly, freeing Lebanon to return to a more civil society.  Assad’s  power in Syria would be undercut, opening possibilities for greater Shia/Sunni reaproachment. The reason for being for much of ISIS radicalism and terrorism as a counter to Iran goes away.  A thriving free market Iranian economy with human rights freedoms could become a beacon of hope that shows the middle east a different approach to governance and could put pressure on other middle east dictators to change.  All those changes could avert the path we may be on right down to a terrible war.

    • #69
  10. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment)

    I don’t think that most people want peace, liberty and justice; if they don’t have it, and don’t have a concept of it, why would they want it?

    I’ve never met a population where most people didn’t want this – however it looked to them. In my experience most people want these things.

    It seems to me that southern and eastern Iraq is a pretty good example. They didn’t have it between ’68 and ’12 or so. The Iraqis who fought for it unsuccessfully in the 1990s or successfully in the following decade weren’t doing so because they had a lot of experience with it. Intuitively, though, they knew that not being starved, bombed, raped, tortured, gassed, and such would probably be kind of awesome. I think it’s probably true that most people share that intuition.

    Since AQ more or less gave up over the course of Obama’s first term (as a consequence of Bush’s second term), most of Iraq has been pretty peaceful; the Northwest (particularly the Kurdish parts) is, obviously, an exception, and there are terrorists who target Baghdad. Obviously, it’s too soon to tell for sure, but it seems likely that when ISIS is finally rooted out of Mosul they’ll give up on murdering kids in Baghdad, too. The purpose of the attacks on Baghdad is to relieve pressure on territorial holdings that will shortly cease to exist. That’s not to say that the attacks will shrink to zero quickly, or even that they’ll fall in the short term (there’s a strong incentive for ISIS to take actions that allow them to avoid admitting defeat). In a year or two, though, Iraq should be peaceful, with a decent helping of liberty and justice.

    Another example; Italian Americans were pretty opposed to peace, liberty, and justice for much of the early 20th century. Along with Jews and Eastern Europeans they formed a substantial terrorist, criminal, and radical series of movements that killed a President and substantially transformed the country. After the Palmer Raids and follow up from Harding and Coolidge, they stopped being anarchists and radicals. After efforts from FDR and Truman they substantially reduced their criminality. Today they’re as good as any other Americans. Most of them knew that they wanted to be normalized, but one of the problems with living in an organized criminal syndicate, even if one isn’t a criminal oneself, is that it can feel like a problem to be overly explicit in one’s disapproval of the syndicate.

    • #70
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Unsk (View Comment):
    Susan,

    Michael Ledeen seems to feel that there is growing opposition to the regime in Iran, whether that is true or not, I don’t know. But if it is true, there is a shot at trying to undermine the regime to force it to change.

    The Iranian populace outside of Israel and perhaps Turkey is the most sophisticated in the Middle East, and large factions seem to prefer a more western style of government. Here in Southern California there are tens of thousands of Iranian ex-pats, whether they be Persian Muslims, Persian/Armenians or Persian Jews, and generally speaking their views align with American interests. Most of them still have strong connections and ties to Iran. That means America does have more influence in Iran than one might think. Clearly more than most Mid-East countries.

    If Iran was turned to a more western friendly non-terorist government, then the whole mid-east equation tones down. Hezbollah would be neutered and their dominance in Lebanon would erode greatly, freeing Lebanon to return to a more civil society. Assad’s power in Syria would be undercut, opening possibilities for greater Shia/Sunni reaproachment. The reason for being for much of ISIS radicalism and terrorism as a counter to Iran goes away. A thriving free market Iranian economy with human rights freedoms could become a beacon of hope that shows the middle east a different approach to governance and could put pressure on other middle east dictators to change. All those changes could avert the path we may be on right down to a terrible war.

    What an excellent assessment! It sounds like a lot could turn on Iran’s being freed up. Let’s hope that the folks who support that change will act, and that we can support them. Thanks so much!

    • #71
  12. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):
    This puts Saudi signing that $110 billion arms sales agreement in context, yes?

    The chart is very helpful (as well as your assessment), Zafar. It sounds like our best option might just be to stay out of the way, do you think?

    If we think that we’re likely to interact with AQ in the future, it’s a good idea to make an effort to understand what’s going on there, which is easier if we’re somewhat closer up. Similarly, while the Houthis aren’t likely to be a problem, the people that the Iranians send to assist militant movements are often people with transferable skills that we should know more about. Furthermore, it is somewhat in our interest that AQ not maintain safe havens even now.

    There are arguments for non-intervention, but it appears to me that we’re better off working closely with other parties in the region than at arms length. What we don’t know can hurt us.

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I don’t think that most people want peace, liberty and justice; if they don’t have it, and don’t have a concept of it, why would they want it? And I don’t want to impose that on them. It doesn’t work, as @hangon suggested. You can’t make people want things, and you can’t force them to accept something they don’t want.

    The Free Syrian Army came into existence when soldiers in Assad’s army refused to shoot civilians and thus mutinied. It appears to me that this implies that they had a concept of peace, liberty, and justice and that they wanted it. They, and their supporters, have gone through unbelievable suffering in their pursuit of that aim. Again, the same was true of many of the Iraqis who died in the 1990s in their struggle against Saddam. It was true of many of the Libyans who were dying at a Syrian rate until the West intervened and stopped Qaddafi. It is true of many of the Iranians who support the Green movement at great risk to themselves and their families. It was true of many of the South Sudanese, and of the Darfuris.

    Substantial numbers of Rwandans and Congolese have been vociferous on a continual basis for the past few decades about their preference that some sort of order be imposed and fewer atrocities committed. Other than North Korea, I cannot think of a theater where Western intervention has been widely called for but where substantial local support for peace, liberty, and justice has not been in evidence. Sometimes it is as eloquent as Solzhenitsyn and Walesa, but generally not. Regardless, places that were believed to be impossible for those roots to take place have had cultures of liberty successfully imposed on them, from the Second World War toppled tyrannies to the Eastern Tigers to Poland and the Baltics. Despite millennia of hideously autocratic rule, it turned out that the Czech Republic could become a pretty wonderful place.

    • #72
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Of England (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment)

    I don’t think that most people want peace, liberty and justice; if they don’t have it, and don’t have a concept of it, why would they want it?

    I’ve never met a population where most people didn’t want this – however it looked to them. In my experience most people want these things.

    It seems to me that southern and eastern Iraq is a pretty good example. They didn’t have it between ’68 and ’12 or so. The Iraqis who fought for it unsuccessfully in the 1990s or successfully in the following decade weren’t doing so because they had a lot of experience with it. Intuitively, though, they knew that not being starved, bombed, raped, tortured, gassed, and such would probably be kind of awesome. I think it’s probably true that most people share that intuition.

    Since AQ more or less gave up over the course of Obama’s first term (as a consequence of Bush’s second term), most of Iraq has been pretty peaceful; the Northwest (particularly the Kurdish parts) is, obviously, an exception, and there are terrorists who target Baghdad. Obviously, it’s too soon to tell for sure, but it seems likely that when ISIS is finally rooted out of Mosul they’ll give up on murdering kids in Baghdad, too. The purpose of the attacks on Baghdad is to relieve pressure on territorial holdings that will shortly cease to exist. That’s not to say that the attacks will shrink to zero quickly, or even that they’ll fall in the short term (there’s a strong incentive for ISIS to take actions that allow them to avoid admitting defeat). In a year or two, though, Iraq should be peaceful, with a decent helping of liberty and justice.

    Another example; Italian Americans were pretty opposed to peace, liberty, and justice for much of the early 20th century. Along with Jews and Eastern Europeans they formed a substantial terrorist, criminal, and radical series of movements that killed a President and substantially transformed the country. After the Palmer Raids and follow up from Harding and Coolidge, they stopped being anarchists and radicals. After efforts from FDR and Truman they substantially reduced their criminality. Today they’re as good as any other Americans. Most of them knew that they wanted to be normalized, but one of the problems with living in an organized criminal syndicate, even if one isn’t a criminal oneself, is that it can feel like a problem to be overly explicit in one’s disapproval of the syndicate.

    I’m glad to know that there are examples of places where those qualities are appreciated, James. The key may be their commitment to establishing an infrastructure that can be supported and can thrive. Thanks for the information on crime in America; I had no idea that those groups were so destructive.

    • #73
  14. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Zafar and others who know the region

    Most political/economic movements, problems, chronic issues have some analytical core that one can understand. So is belief in an Islamist future driving this? Is it being driven by entropy, the belief that the monarchies have no future and yet so many different interests abound with nothing to cohere around other than the same old anti Israel anti west psychoses.

    This is one of the most important things to understand about the Middle East; when someone says that “Saudi Arabia” or “Qatar” is funding terrorism, or doing many other things, they’re almost certainly misleading you. This wiki page is a pretty good summary of the issues in Qatar with terrorist financing. You will note that the serious accusers (ie, not the anonymous sources who happen to agree with Russian interests) mentioned there talk about Qatar not doing enough to prevent Qataris donating to charities that support terror groups, or to prevent foreigners coming to Qatar and then doing so.

    This is because Qatar is not a monolithic entity. It’s tempting to learn that they are Sunni and so find it easy to treat them as uncomplicatedly pro-ISIS. When they launch air strikes against ISIS, though, they imply a certain lack of enthusiasm in their friendliness. Similarly, they have been pretty enthusiastic in their efforts to support American efforts against both ISIS and AQ. They’ve been at the forefront of logistical support for the American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syrians have been trained there to fight ISIS and AQ, etc. etc. etc.

    One of the more important problems facing the Gulf Monarchies is that AQ, one of the world’s largest terror organizations, sees it as a critical priority that they topple said monarchies. ISIS also wants to topple them, but it’s less of a priority for them. What makes this worse is that they do so in the name of Islam and most of the fundraising for them is in the form of joint fundraising for them and for other targets of, eg., Assad’s wrath, or for them and for the starving victims of a recent disaster etc.

    Imagine if the US really were like the Southern Poverty Law Center thought it was under Obama, and that we actually had substantial white supremacist terror movements closely entwined with churches. How carefully do you think the administration would have had to have trodden to minimize the degree to which they increased support by appearing to be anti-Christian? Heck, you don’t have to imagine too hard; the Episcopalians were a key backer of the FALN and it was a massive barrier to efforts to close them down. Thankfully, the movement substantially died off of its own accord (Puerto Rican separatism was always a stupid cause to die for, as a pragmatic manner).

    The Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari governments work about as hard as they can to defang AQ and ISIS while attempting to avoid raising their ranking on the target list. Or maybe they could work harder, but there’s certainly substantial efforts that are engaged in.

    Are the different terrorists networks competing for being the group that comes out on top, do they have some rational vision and knowable interests or is it some social psychosis?

    AQ, for a while, had a substantial chance of toppling the Saudi government and forming the basis for a future caliphate. They also had a reasonable chance of collapsing the government in Iraq. They’ve probably been defeated in both of those efforts, but there are now many AQ affiliates, each with their own axes to grind. The organization that became AQ was intended to take down Mubarak and replace him with a Salafi leadership; they’ve been pretty clearly defeated in that effort, too. With the affiliates hope is kept alive by the continuing struggles in which AQ is able to maintain a pretense of being a major player. Each affiliate’s defeat, then, is a substantial defeat to the plausibility of the AQ approach as a whole. It’s tempting to sacrifice your life to kill some kids if you think that by doing so you may be making a difference in replacing corrupt, authoritarian, and heretical regimes with godly, honest, and, well, still authoritarian regimes. It’s a lot harder to see the value in the sacrifice if you don’t believe that there’s a real gain to be had.

    [Jeremy Corbyn’s speech about how we should rethink our foreign policy in light of the Manchester bombings is probably the biggest jihadi victory in the last year. Shamefully, it appeared to be popular in Britain and the subsequent polls moved in his direction. Eugh.]

    ISIS had worse theology than AQ; people often make a big deal out of their leader having a doctorate in theology, but he got it from a degree mill run by Saddam with the explicit intention of turning Iraqi Islam into a fascist tool of the state. Deferring to their theology is like accepting that because some idiot got a diploma in Moscow in international human rights they must have a sound understanding of free speech.

    One of the key differences is that AQ said that they’d topple Saudi, then do some other stuff, then declare themselves a Caliphate, the rulers of all Muslims. ISIS decided to skip the hard step of actually ruling a substantial number of people and just declare themselves to be running an empire from the get go. ISIS’ aim, then, is to make the Caliphate work. Again, there have been moments when thoughtful people believed that they might be able to take and hold a chunk of territory in perpetuity, but those hopes have mostly faded. They allied with affiliates across the globe (if you rule all Muslim land, then you kind of have to accept the fealty of Boko Haram and such), but ISIS seems to me, and to most of the experts I’ve spoken to about this, to have a much shorter post-peak half life than AQ.

    Hamas and the PLO are Israeli focused terror groups; I expect you know their basic aims and have reasonable views on their futures. Hezbollah is a Shiite Lebanon focused group that divides its time between supporting Assad, engaging with domestic concerns and being jerks to Jews. Al Nusra and some other groups in Syria are, like the Free Syrian Army and such, fighting against Assad and ISIS, but have found that espousing radical jihadi views earns you more support than espousing secular democratic ones (the West did not cover itself in glory in contributing to those incentives). Their chief aim is to stop Syrians from being massacred, raped, enslaved, etc. by Assad and ISIS and to set up a more Islamic state in Syria. There are others, with other aims.

    Why do the billionaires related to the ruling monarchies play along?

    Which group? If you support Hamas, it’s probably because you’re upset about Israel. ISIS support in the Gulf is more like a lot of Reluctant Trump support; they don’t do everything great, but they’re the only people who are serious about taking on [x], where [x] can be a variety of things. Or because they really believe that ISIS is the caliphate (you have to be pretty dumb to believe this, but sadly much of the Western media is deeply unhelpful here). The biggest “support” complained about is ransom payments for kidnapped family members, which I assume I don’t have to explain. With AQ, it’s pretty likely that you really dislike the Saudi government, or the West, or some other group; if you hold the US responsible for most of the ills in the world and believe that terrorism will inspire isolationism, it’s not necessarily irrational to support them.

    I don’t understand what is driving all this insanity? Does the US have a policy? Should it? What could it be? It reminds me of the revolutionary groups in the Life of Brian, or the not so funny ones in Vargas LLosa’s Maytay. The only thing they had in common was their adolescent fantasies of a marxist future.

    Hamas, Al Nusra, Hezbollah, and others often have leaders with pretty plausible aims as well as leaders with more utopian aims; Hamas and Hezbollah have substantial governmental roles, which helps. AQ was always pretty utopian in its gaze, but came pretty close to achieving the sort of success that might have led to real power. ISIS is more in line with what you say. Boko Haram are just really, really dumb, but more of the criminal hoodlum sort of dumb rather than the Life Of Brian sort of dumb.

    • #74
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James, I appreciate your detailed analysis of terrorism in the Middle East. I’m trying to figure out, however, why you this wiki post is contrary to my condemnation of Qatar. In part it says:

    The Qatari government has a designated terrorist list. As of 2014, the list contained no names.[3] In general, in spite of its official commitment to a number of domestic and international initiatives centered on countering terrorist finance, Qatar remains non-compliant with international sanctions designating terrorists based on its territory, many of which still live with impunity on Qatari soil.[12]

    • #75
  16. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Robert Fisk sees it entirely as an economic and political rivalry between Saudi and Qatar:

    And there are growing suspicions in the Gulf that Qatar has much larger ambitions: to fund the rebuilding of post-war Syria. Even if Assad remained as president, Syria’s debt to Qatar would place the nation under Qatari economic control.

    And this would give tiny Qatar two golden rewards. It would give it a land empire to match its al-Jazeera media empire. And it would extend its largesse to the Syrian territories, which many oil companies would like to use as a pipeline route from the Gulf to Europe via Turkey, or via tankers from the Syrian port of Lattakia.

    ////

    I suspect that Aljazeera is a big reason the Saudis are so vexed.

    • #76
  17. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    James, I appreciate your detailed analysis of terrorism in the Middle East. I’m trying to figure out, however, why you this wiki post is contrary to my condemnation of Qatar. In part it says:

    The Qatari government has a designated terrorist list. As of 2014, the list contained no names.[3] In general, in spite of its official commitment to a number of domestic and international initiatives centered on countering terrorist finance, Qatar remains non-compliant with international sanctions designating terrorists based on its territory, many of which still live with impunity on Qatari soil.[12]

    Qatar takes action against some jihadis (eg, the ones they launched air strikes against, both Sunni and Shia groups), supports other American action against others, cooperates with Western efforts on others still. It doesn’t take action against all terrorists, and refrains from some kinds of action against any terrorists (I’ve no idea why they had an empty terrorist designation list, but since they take action against so many terrorists I’m sure that they have other, non-empty, lists).

    The mix of Qatar doing more than most to fight terror in some ways and of it doing less than most in others is a challenging mix to deal with, but it’s simply not the same thing as “As for the Qatari regime itself, it has massively financed jihadist groups for more than 20 years. Qatar is a major bankroller not only of al-Qaida and Hamas but of militias associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.” I mean, it’s true that Qatar has paid ransoms, but the regime’s relationship with AQ and ISIS is not a friendly one. Glick is pretty focused on Israel, and Qatar’s worst aspects are focused on Israel, but its efforts with Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and other core US fights have been focused on support for the US. Like, say, France, it pays ransoms even as it launches air strikes.

    • #77
  18. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Robert Fisk sees it entirely as an economic and political rivalry between Saudi and Qatar:

    And there are growing suspicions in the Gulf that Qatar has much larger ambitions: to fund the rebuilding of post-war Syria. Even if Assad remained as president, Syria’s debt to Qatar would place the nation under Qatari economic control.

    And this would give tiny Qatar two golden rewards. It would give it a land empire to match its al-Jazeera media empire. And it would extend its largesse to the Syrian territories, which many oil companies would like to use as a pipeline route from the Gulf to Europe via Turkey, or via tankers from the Syrian port of Lattakia.

    ////

    I suspect that Aljazeera is a big reason the Saudis are so vexed.

    Robert Fisk thinks it’s all about imperialism, oil, and classic commie issues? Are we not going to check to see if the Daily Stormer thinks it’s about Arab racial characteristics with maybe a dash of the Jews being at fault? Has anyone discovered if Thomas Friedman has any anecdotes with people in airports that might be relevant?

    Does anyone know if Fisk is aware of an issue in the Middle East that he doesn’t diagnose in a similar manner? Anyone think that this may be part of how his name became a verb?

    • #78
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