Tag: Middle East

Iraq: What Might Have Been


290165818_4058f117ce_bIn a previous thread, Ricochet member Majestyk expressed a major complaint that he has about libertarians, liberals and even conservatives who gripe about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: What is your alternate scenario?

If we could unwind the clock of history and place you inside George W. Bush’s head (a la Being John Malkovich) what is your preferred policy prescription for U.S. foreign policy in the days following 9/11?

I never hear that question answered and I barely hear it asked.

And Speaking in Praise of America: Netanyahu


369px-Benjamin_Netanyahu_2012When you shoot at the king, you better kill him. And when you try to silence a book, movie, or speech, you better succeed. Otherwise you’re just helping their PR.

It would be political suicide for Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu to cancel his speech to Congress. And President Obama’s words and actions have set the Prime Minister up to give exactly the speech the western world needs to hear.

The United States has done more than any other nation in history to increase life, liberty, happiness, and prosperity around the world. She has done more than any other nation to defeat totalitarian regimes. And she has done more than any other nation to help people of different religions work together.

Arabs And The Promises of Jihad


640px-Flag_of_the_Arab_League.svgI have intimate knowledge of Arabs. I was once the CFO of a venture group owned by some wealthy Kuwaiti and Jordanian nationals and our firm was well-salted with Muslim-Americans. This was in the ‘80s, so I learned of the Shia-Sunni divide before most Americans. My colleagues told me about the conservative movement in their Sunni homelands that was taking hold, Wahhabism. I learned about Shia extremists and the strange relationship among Persians, Indonesians, Pakistanis and the Arabs. They explained the antipathy for the Jews as rooted in an ancient rivalry among the sons of Isaac. They spoke of the effectiveness of the horrific corporal punishments exacted in their native countries. They explained to me their royalty/ancestry based system of governance, power, and wealth. I learned about Islam and Islamists from authentic — albeit, westernized — Muslims.

It was common knowledge, they said, that wealthy and powerful Arabs encouraged antipathy toward Israel and the West to distract the disenfranchised from criticism of the entrenched interests who monopolized power and wealth in their native countries. If this distraction failed, there was always the centuries-old (and unending) conflict between Shia and Sunni, between Arabia and Persia, to keep the anxious populace in check. This tried and true distraction strategy, they argued, was threatened by westernized development. It relied on the base ignorance of the people, their pride, and their prejudices. Western societies provided vision of a different path: of self-determination, tolerance, and republican democracy. These things were as much a threat to the House of Saud as they were to the Ayatollahs of Iran. So both doubled down on fundamentalist, born-again, Islamist criticism of the Jews and the West.

This turned out to be a very bad bet. Islam if practiced literally with its dark age code is, and always has been, a dark, violent, bellicose, intolerant, and vicious faith. It condones, even encourages, duplicity, murder, and intolerance. It has a particular and specific antipathy for the Jews. Its creed is, relent, convert, or die. Apostasy is punishable by death. Dishonor is punishable by death. Every slight, every criticism, every disrespect of Islam is punishable by death. To further make the point, executions are designed to be cruel in order to extract the maximum fear. Non-Muslims are nothing. They can be driven off, beaten, tortured, raped and killed without regard. Animals have higher status. And Muslims? You can be relegated to apostasy by a pointed finger, making you worse than non-Muslims. You are subject to the most egregious horror if you have turned your back on Mohammed.

How ISIS Will Finally Push Obama Over the Edge


Maraud through the Middle East capturing territory at a breakneck pace? The President’s going to throw some shade at you in interviews. Behead American citizens? We’ll bomb the hideouts you stopped using four months ago back to the stone age. But this, ISIS… this is how you get President Obama into King Hussein “I’ll fly the damn jet myself” mode. From Nabih Bulos, writing in the L.A. Times:

Beheadings have become commonplace in the territories held by the militant Islamic State, but the severed head reportedly found last month in the eastern Syrian city of Al-Mayadeen was nevertheless unusual — It had a cigarette placed between its lips.“This is not permissible, Sheikh,” someone had scrawled in Arabic on the decapitated corpse lying nearby, according to an account from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group. The body and head belonged to an Islamic State official, a deputy police chief.

Time To Dust Off Nuclear Deterrence


Dr._StrangeloveSince the Cold War ended a quarter century ago, we haven’t learned to love the Bomb, but we have stopped worrying about it. As the Obama administration insists on driving the entire Middle East toward nuclear weapons, we had better start worrying about it again. A good place to start may be to dust off the concept of deterrence and re-familiarize ourselves with it.

What is deterrence?

Deterrence is a strategy of using the threat of military punishment to dissuade an aggressor from attempting to achieve his objectives. A defender deters his opponent by convincing him that any expected gains from his aggression will be outweighed by the punishment he will suffer. A threshold assumption underlying the logic of deterrence is that the aggressor is “rational,” in the sense that his military means are reasonably related to his political goals and he acts based on a comparison of expected gains to potential costs.

What if Baghdad Falls to ISIS?


There are now reliable reports that ISIS forces are a mile or so from the Iraqi capital. While CNN, NPR, ABC, and the rest have been celebrating our president as the second coming of Douglas MacArthur — with his “gutsy” air strikes and his diplomatic skill in pulling together a coalition to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State — the Islamic State has been quietly gaining ground over the past several days, and closing the noose around Baghdad.

Although the U.S. and U.K. are desperately bombing away to keep ISIS at bay, it’s not clear who or what can stop them from taking the capital. “They said it could never happen, and now it almost has,” according to Canon Andrew White of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. His people face mass slaughter if the radical Islamists take over, as do thousands of others.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on the US to push Kiev into giving up its military campaign against pro-Russia rebels in the east and negotiate a political compromise, as an influx of support for the rebels from Russia began reversing Ukrainian gains on the battlefield. “It’s imperative to moderate the ‘party of war’ in […]

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The horrific images we’re seeing in the Middle East belie the larger truth. The Middle East is at its most promising moment since at least the fall of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Most in the MidEast are primarily concerned with protecting themselves from Jihadists. This includes the Sunni and Shiite Jihadists themselves, who […]

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Builders and Destroyers


The news from Iraqiraq_2986377b these past few weeks has been horrific.  Most of us have either seen, or heard descriptions of, the pictures of the massacres.  If for some reason you haven’t, consider yourself lucky: I was prepared for the blood, but it’s the boyish smiles I can’t un-remember.

In addition to the human carnage, there’s also been a consistent pattern of Islamists destroying buildings dating back centuries — even millennia — that they feel to be blasphemous.  Late last month, for instance, they destroyed the shrine believed to be the tomb of the Prophet Jonah, as well as a couple of dozen other religious sites and monuments.  These aren’t matters of collateral damage or simply the casualties of war: these are intentional operations involving dynamite and sledgehammers.

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Israel isn’t just losing allies. They are losing vital trading partners.  Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills and Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable announced this week that the United Kingdom would suspend the export licenses of 12 British firms which send Israel arms like radar systems, aircraft, and tanks if any new hostilities […]

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Unlike so many liberal leaders and reporters who love to lambaste straw men, I try to judge ideological groups by their best arguments and most representative members.  When considering Islam, one fair measure seems to be the character and leadership of its founding prophet, Mohammed. Not only does the whole belief system depend on his […]

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On this week’s podcast, Judith lamented the desire of many to make Israel like any other Western nation. Even on the Right, not everyone accepts the premise that Jews uniquely need a state of their own. Some would destroy Israel through demographics, Judith said. Indeed, Israel might even destroy itself one day through its acceptance […]

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Actions Have Their Consequences in the Middle East


shutterstock_169881086About a decade ago, most of my time was occupied with editing literature and teaching aspiring writers how to craft essays that didn’t put readers to sleep. For a short time, I had two students that were of Middle Eastern descent. I was working with one of them and asked why she didn’t associate with the other student from the same region. Her reply was simple and to the point: “My family hasn’t associated with anyone from that family in generations.”

I’m guessing that she chose the word “family” because she had been in America long enough to pick up the local vernacular. If we had been somewhere else in the world, maybe she would have used the term “tribe” or “clan.” The point remains the same, and it is an issue that makes dealing with political issues in the Middle East so difficult for Westerners. The arguments, battles, and wars in that region often have histories that stretch back hundreds of years.

The current situation in Iraq is not just about what has happened in that region in the past 20 years, just like the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein dated back to when a map was arbitrarily drawn by the British. Beyond the history that is driving the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), there are current religious and political issues in play that are intertwined throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The lines on the map are near meaningless to anyone except Westerners.

On Israeli “Apartheid”: A response to Zafar


In Judith Levy’s post regarding Secretary Kerry’s use of the word “apartheid” in the Israeli-Palestinian context, Zafar wrote:

Under Apartheid in South Africa the benefit from the  majority of the land and its resources was allocated to one ethnic group at the expense of another – one group had freedom of movement, the other didn’t.  One group basically controlled the other for its own benefit.

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In my pleasure reading I’ve been on something of a Near Eastern History binge, having recently finished both of Robert Lacey’s books on Saudi Arabia, Lord Kinross’s history of the Ottoman Empire, Michael Oren’s book on the Six Day War, and Tom Holland’s account of the origins of Islam. (This may sound like a lot, […]

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John Mearsheimer is Sober, Level-Headed, and Clear-Thinking . . . Except When He Isn’t


I recommend to everyone this piece on the present and expected future interplay between China, Taiwan and the United States written by my former professor, John Mearsheimer. It is exceedingly well-written, very hard-headed, and reveals that Mearsheimer has done his homework when it comes to the history of China and Taiwan. It doesn’t make for comfortable reading if one is Taiwanese, American, or a member of any Asian country that seeks to offset or balance against Chinese hegemony in Asia, but, if anything, the unsettling nature of the piece makes it all the more important.

Speaking of well-written Mearsheimerian articles, check out this recent one on the crisis concerning Russia and Ukraine, and the state of American policymaking. Again, Mearsheimer lays out the facts persuasively, accurately gauges each side’s interests and bargaining power, and then offers policy prescriptions that demonstrate a realistic understanding of the situation at play.