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Thread: The Oh-So-Fun Middle East!

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  1. #91
    The narrative plot against Syria

    By Barak Barfi

    9:14 pm | Sunday, October 13th, 2013

    ANTALYA—When President Richard Nixon visited Syria in 1974, Syrians lined the streets of Damascus to greet him. Not all were delighted by his visit, though. “Isn’t that Nixon the same one you have been telling us for years is an evil man who is completely in the control of the Zionists and our enemies?” an eight-year-old boy asked his father. “How could you welcome him and shake his hand?”

    Today, that boy is president of Syria.

    Though the United States is currently focused on destroying Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal, its long-term goal is to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. To do so, however, requires understanding the xenophobia that reigns in Syria. America must focus its efforts on unifying the bickering rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and find a charismatic leader who can lead the drive to topple Assad. Only this approach can persuade Syrians that the campaign to destroy their country’s chemical weapons is not aimed at imposing a neocolonial order, but rather at protecting them from a regime run amok.

    Indoctrination in Syria begins at a young age. From the first day of school, Syrians are taught that America and its ally, Israel, are mortal enemies seeking to keep Syria weak. According to the ruling Ba’ath Party’s dogma, Syria is being targeted because it will not capitulate, remaining steadfast to the Arab and Palestinian cause. It is the last line of defense holding back a US-Israeli stampede over Arab rights.

    When Assad declared in a recent speech that, “Western powers sent al-Qaida terrorists to turn Syria into a land of jihad… to weaken Syria,” Westerners chuckled incredulously. But such talk resonates with Syrians, who have been taught to see a foreign plot behind every move.

    It is a game that the regime plays when its back is against the wall. When the government’s mea culpa and promise of reform failed to quell an Islamist rebellion in 1980, it shifted tack, portraying its opponents as the fruit of an Iraqi-Jordanian conspiracy. After the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005 led the international community to finger Syria as the culprit, Assad stonewalled a United Nations tribunal investigating the matter and silenced domestic critics by once again conjuring foreign bogeymen scheming to weaken the country. The United States, which had hoped to use the episode to pressure Assad, was forced to relent, eventually offering him an olive branch.

    Indoctrination is strongest in the military. Since it came to power in 1963, the Ba’ath Party has endeavored to create an ideological army reflecting its pan-Arab values. The line between military and party has always been blurry. Syrian officers have traditionally served in the Ba’ath Regional Command, the party’s highest body. One of the books used by the army’s political department, which I found at the infantry school in Aleppo after it fell into rebel hands, illustrates how the regime indoctrinates its officers.

    “Political and Psychological Preparation for Enlisted Officer Candidates” lists Syria’s enemies—from the Muslim Brotherhood and the “Arab right” to the “racist Zionists.” It explains how “imperialists” and “Zionists” have historically colluded to prevent the Arabs from achieving unity and economic integration. Chapters close with the role that the Ba’ath Party has played in thwarting such plots.

    It is a narrative that Syrians know well. From the 1940s to the 1960s, Syria was the playground of neighboring powers. Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia all competed to draw the country into their orbit, while scheming to keep Syria weak and divided. Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, ended their intrigues, transforming a regional backwater into a Middle East power.

    The onset of civil war in 2011 opened a new chapter in the struggle. Syria’s neighbors are again pouring money and weapons into the country to topple the regime, enabling Assad to invoke the foreign genie plotting to destroy the last revolutionary Arab regime. As Assad’s narrative gains traction, fence-sitters will gradually embrace it, thus strengthening his societal support. For this reason, Western military intervention would not precipitate Assad’s immediate downfall.

    Libya witnessed such a turn. In former leader Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, residents told me that they ceased fighting with the rebels and joined Gadhafi’s forces when Nato intervened in their revolution.

    Turning the Syrian population away from the regime will require much more than destroying the country’s chemical weapons and dangling the threat of a Western bombing campaign. Washington must find a Syrian military leader known for his pan-Arab bona fides to take charge of the FSA and mold it into a cohesive fighting force with a strong chain of command. Without a homegrown George Washington, the government will continue to depict its opponents as conspiring against Syria for its devotion to the Arab cause. No amount of threats will change that.- Project Syndicate

    Barak Barfi is a research fellow at the New America Foundation.

  2. #92
    The U.S.-Saudi crackup reaches a dramatic tipping point

    By David Ignatius

    October 23 at 6:12 pm 467Comments

    The strange thing about the crackup in U.S.-Saudi relations is that it has been on the way for more than two years, like a slow-motion car wreck, but nobody in Riyadh or Washington has done anything decisive to avert it.

    The breach became dramatic over the past week. Last Friday, Saudi Arabia refused to take its seat on the United Nations Security Council, in what Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, described as “a message for the U.S., not the U.N,” according to the Wall Street Journal. On Tuesday, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence, voiced “a high level of disappointment in the U.S. government’s dealings” on Syria and the Palestinian issue, in an interview with Al-Monitor.

    What should worry the Obama administration is that Saudi concern about U.S. policy in the Middle East is shared by the four other traditional U.S. allies in the region: Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. They argue (mostly privately) that Obama has shredded U.S. influence by dumping President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, backing the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, opposing the coup that toppled Morsi, vacillating in its Syria policy, and now embarking on negotiations with Iran — all without consulting close Arab allies.

    Saudi King Abdullah privately voiced his frustration with U.S. policy in a lunch in Riyadh Monday with King Abdullah of Jordan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the U.A.E., according to a knowledgeable Arab official. The Saudi monarch “is convinced the U.S. is unreliable,” this official said. “I don’t see a genuine desire to fix it” on either side, he added.

    The Saudis’ pique, in turn, has reinforced the White House’s frustration that Riyadh is an ungrateful and sometimes petulant ally. When Secretary of State John Kerry was in the region a few weeks ago, he asked to visit Bandar. The Saudi prince is said to have responded that he was on his way out of the kingdom, but that Kerry could meet him at the airport. This response struck U.S. officials as high-handed.

    Saudi Arabia obviously wants attention, but what’s surprising is the White House’s inability to convey the desired reassurances over the past two years. The problem was clear in the fall of 2011, when I was told by Saudi officials in Riyadh that they increasingly regarded the U.S. as unreliable and would look elsewhere for their security. Obama’s reaction to these reports was to be peeved that the Saudis didn’t recognize all that the U.S. was doing to help their security, behind the scenes. The president was right on the facts but wrong on the atmospherics.

    The bad feeling that developed after Mubarak’s ouster deepened month by month: The U.S. supported Morsi’s election as president; opposed a crackdown by the monarchy in Bahrain against Shiites protesters; cut aid to the Egyptian military after it toppled Morsi and crushed the Brotherhood; promised covert aid to the Syrian rebels it never delivered; threatened to bomb Syria and then allied with Russia, instead; and finally embarked on a diplomatic opening to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s deadly rival in the Gulf.

    The policies were upsetting; but the deeper damage resulted from the Saudi feeling that they were being ignored — and even, in their minds, double crossed. In the traditional Gulf societies, any such sense of betrayal can do lasting damage, yet the administration let the problems fester.

    “Somebody needs to get on an airplane right now and go see the king,” said a former top U.S. official who knows the Saudis well. The Saudi king is “very tribal,” in his outlook, this official noted, and in his mind, “your word is your bond.” It’s that sense of trust that has been damaged in the kingdom’s dealings with Obama. One good emissary would be John Brennan, the CIA director, who was station chief in Riyadh in the late 1990s and had a good relationship with the Saudi monarch. Another would be George Tenet, former CIA director, who visited the kingdom often and also developed a trusting relationship with Abdullah.

    For much of the past two years, the closest thing the U.S. had to a back channel with Saudi Arabia was Tom Donilon, the national security adviser until last June. He traveled to the kingdom occasionally to pass private messages to Abdullah; those meetings didn’t heal the wounds, but they at least staunched the bleeding. But Susan Rice, Donilon’s successor, has not played a similar bridging role.

    The administration’ lack of communication with the Saudis and other Arab allies is mystifying at a time when the U.S. is exploring new policy initiatives, such as working with the Russians on dismantling chemical weapons in Syria and negotiating a possible nuclear deal with Iran. Those U.S. policy initiatives are sound, in the view of many analysts (including me), but they worry the Saudis and others—making close consultation all the more important.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  3. #93
    ‘Our feet were chained’

    6,000 OFWs face arrest as ‘Saudization’ begins

    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    12:17 am | Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

    Thirty Filipino workers deported from Saudi Arabia arrived home on Monday and alleged they were abused amid a crackdown on illegal migrants in the Middle Eastern kingdom.

    The deportees were among an estimated 6,700 Filipino workers stranded in parts of Saudi Arabia where an amnesty for undocumented foreigners ended on Sunday.

    “They treated us like animals,” said domestic helper Amor Roxas, 46, who burst into tears while narrating her ordeal.

    She claimed Saudi police rounded them up and placed them in a crowded cell for four days before they were paraded from the immigration center to the airport.

    “Our feet were chained,” added Yvonne Montefeo, 32, in between sobs.

    Saudi Arabian Embassy officials in Manila did not want to comment on the allegation of abuse.

    The Philippines had asked Saudi Arabia for an extension of an amnesty for illegal migrants, but Vice President Jejomar Binay said Monday that King Abdullah did not respond to the Philippine request.

    With the deadline lapsing on Sunday, Binay said the Philippine request for an extension was considered moot.

    And that means undocumented Filipino workers will be arrested in the crackdown on illegal migrants in the oil-rich kingdom.

    But Binay, also the presidential adviser for migrant workers’ affairs, said Filipino workers in the kingdom had nothing to worry about, as those who were already being processed for repatriation would not be arrested.

    “Those who will be arrested are [the illegal migrants], those still working and have not yet applied [for repatriation],” Binay said in an interview on Radyo Inquirer 990AM.

    Stranded in Jeddah

    But Migrante International, a support group for overseas Filipino workers, said 1,700 other workers remained stranded in Jeddah waiting for their documents to be processed so they can return home while about 5,000 more were scattered in Riyadh, Al Khobar and Dammam and also needing consular assistance.

    Migrante warned that the Filipinos “are in danger of being violently dispersed, arrested and detained by Saudi authorities” as the kingdom cracks down on illegal migrants.

    The Filipinos are among tens of thousands of mostly Asian unskilled workers likely to be expelled, the group said.

    The crackdown started early this year, but the Saudi government offered an amnesty to allow the workers to legalize their stay.

    Binay said more than 4,000 Filipinos had been repatriated since the crackdown was announced, while 1,716 are waiting for their exit documents to be processed even as the deadline expired on Sunday.

    Waiting for papers

    Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz gave a slightly lower figure on Monday. She said 1,488 Filipinos had yet to be issued exit visas by the Riyadh government.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said 4,420 Filipino illegals had been repatriated from Saudi Arabia while 1,500 were still waiting for immigration clearance to fly home.

    Information from the Commission on Overseas Filipinos showed that as of December last year, 108,000 of the 1.27 million Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia were undocumented.

    Baldoz gave the assurance that the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Riyadh and Jeddah were “ready to shelter illegal” Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.

    “As of Nov. 2, 727 Filipinos—428 women and 299 men—had called up the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh regarding access to shelter,” Baldoz said in a statement.

    As of Monday, 206 Filipino illegals were sheltered in the Migrant Overseas Workers Resource Center in Riyadh, Baldoz said.

    Supplementary budget

    Baldoz also called for a P50-million supplementary budget “for the needs of those who will be affected by the Saudi crackdown against Filipino illegals.”

    DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah and the branches of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office across Saudi Arabia would provide assistance to undocumented Filipinos who might be arrested.

    The assistance includes issuing the illegals “travel documents, if necessary,” Hernandez said.

    ‘Saudization’

    Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Hassan earlier told the Inquirer that the Saudi government would strictly enforce its immigration laws once the extension of the deadline for illegals to correct their status lapses.

    “[After] the expiry of the grace period deadline, the penalty or punishments prescribed in the law shall be applied strictly on any violator among foreigners and their employers,” Al-Hassan said.

    Undocumented workers in Saudi Arabia had been given up to July 3 to correct their status, but on the request of the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, King Abdullah extended the deadline to Nov. 3.

    Al-Hassan said the four-month extension was “deemed enough time for those who are serious in correcting their status or in returning to their countries.”

    He said the Saudi government doubled working hours at immigration centers to process the papers of a heavy volume of applicants.

    With the lapse of the deadline on Sunday, “Saudization”—a policy giving priority to Saudi Arabians in hiring—goes into full swing in the kingdom.

    About a tenth of the Philippines’ population live and work abroad, and their dollar remittances are a vital pillar of the economy.

    A vast majority of them work as unskilled laborers or maids, and are exposed to situations where they are prone to abuse.—Reports from Tarra Quismundo and Jerry E. Esplanada; Kristine Angeli Sabillo, Inquirer.net; and AFP

  4. #94
    In the Know: ‘Saudization’

    Inquirer Research

    4:40 am | Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

    MANILA, Philippines—Saudi Arabia extended the deadline for the regularization of the stay of illegal Filipino workers and other foreign migrants to Nov. 3. Beyond this date, the illegals should return to their countries or they face arrest as the government enforces its “Saudization” policy, giving priority to Saudi Arabian nationals in hiring.

    The Saudization, officially known as Saudi nationalization program, or Nitaqat system in Arabic, requires Saudi private companies to allot job slots to Saudi Arabians up to certain levels.

    This program aims to improve the employment participation of Saudi Arabians in the private sector and ultimately deal with the kingdom’s unemployment problem.

    Saudization has been in effect since June 11, 2011. According to previous reports, the policy has been promulgated since 2006, but the cap on foreign workers has never been strictly enforced.

    “From this date, all Saudi companies, estimated to number around 300,000, are required to nationalize, or populate their workforce with Saudi nationals (for those who have not done so) or speed up the hiring of Saudis (for those who are slow to comply or are not complying),” a July 2011 advisory from the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh said.

    There have been crackdowns on illegal migrant laborers. But on April 6 this year, the Saudi government delayed the deportations of displaced and undocumented workers for three months to give foreigners in Saudi Arabia a chance to legalize their stay.

    King Abdullah set July 3 as the deadline for immigrant regularization but granted the foreign workers a four-month grace period until Nov. 3 in response to appeals from foreign governments whose nationals would be affected by Saudization.

    The Commission on Overseas Filipinos recently released a 2012 stock estimate of Philippine citizens overseas, counting 1.27 million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, nearly 108,000 of whom were listed as “irregular,” or undocumented.

    Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said late last month that the government had repatriated 4,302 undocumented Filipinos and issued travel documents to around 9,000 others.

    Some 1,500 who had signified their intent to return home are waiting to be issued immigration clearances.

    The DFA, however, could not say how many undocumented Filipinos remain in Saudi Arabia who might fail to correct their immigration status in time for the deadline.

    Those who miss the regularization deadline face fines and penalties, including detention, Hernandez said.

    Sources: Inquirer Archives

  5. #95
    Turkey's Cleavage Crackdown Goes to College

    By Marc Champion Nov 13, 2013 12:42 PM GMT+0800

    I hate to admit it, but the paranoid secularists who for a decade have been saying Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan harbored a secret agenda are being proved right.

    For years I've been gently pointing out to those paranoid secularists that Erdogan has been in power a long time already, and if he was really hiding an Islamist master plan -- as opposed to his declared conservative agenda -- he was doing a good job.

    Besides, didn't you hear the man tell Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood leaders they needed a secular state and constitution? (They wouldn't now be wearing white jumpsuits in jail if they'd listened to him.)

    I used to say Erdogan might have a majoritarian view of democracy and no regard for the civil rights of opponents, but he's way too smart a politician to break up the coalition of ex-Islamist conservatives, nationalists and liberals that made him powerful. The partnership enabled the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to capture 50 percent of the vote in 2011, up from the 21 percent its Islamist predecessor, the Welfare Party, won at its peak in 1995.

    Well, things have changed. Not, I think, because Erdogan suddenly feels liberated to impose his inner-Islamist -- though there is a little of that. Rather, he has decided the best way to maximize his vote in Turkey's first direct presidential election next year is to polarize the electorate. He wants to force Turks to choose between two options: You're either with Erdogan, or against him. And if you are against him, you are with the old, wooden-headed, military-backed, secularist system and its decadent offspring.

    "Those who are neutral will be disposed of," Erdogan told AKP parliamentarians today. The response was equally scary: "Everywhere is Tayyip, Everywhere is Erdogan!" It was an echo of the chant anti-government protesters used during the demonstrations that began in Istanbul's Taksim Gezi Park and spread across the country earlier this year: "Everywhere is Taksim, Everywhere is Resistance!"

    This megalomaniacal approach began after Erdogan's overwhelming victory in the 2011 election, at which point he declared that this third term in office would be his "master period." When his autocratic policies triggered the backlash in Gezi Park, he became even more uncompromising and aggressive.

    The latest example of Erdogan's usefully divisive initiatives is a proposal to ban co-ed housing at universities. That may sound like social conservatism, but it's more than that. Erdogan said he was implementing the constitution's requirement to protect "the youth," but college students are adults. So Erdogan wants to override the constitution, which protects privacy in the home, to impose his idea of the behavior that Islam demands. That's a pretty good definition of Islamism and has made a lot of people angry, which was the purpose.

    Erdogan's acolytes in the AKP have since been casting around for other ways to legally justify the move. The result was Interior Minister Muammar Guler's pronouncement that "terrorist organizations have started to significantly abuse the relationships between the boys and girls, those among the university youth. They use it as a recruitment base.”

    Today, party spokesman Huseyin Celik went on to express concern that student dormitories were being used for prostitution. He also said that while his party was broad and diverse, he personally didn't approve of Christianity or Judaism. A few weeks ago, Celik got a TV talent show host fired by complaining that she showed too much cleavage.

    Erdogan sees secular students and women who dress provocatively on TV as a useful enemy. Just as he labeled the Gezi Park protesters terrorists, he and his supporters are demonizing opponents to galvanize and solidify his support, not least against moderates from his own party, such as President Abdullah Gul, who will compete with him for power until next year's election and beyond.

    Erdogan has already lost the liberals from his coalition. Even supporters such as the columnist Mustafa Akyol, who believe strongly that Islam and liberalism are compatible and have bent over backwards to measure Erdogan's transgressions against his contributions, are now giving up on him. In a country with a conservative majority, however, Erdogan doesn't seem to care about losing the liberals. He hopes to scoop up the rest.

    The hope to nurture now is that Erdogan will go so far in personalizing state power and promoting social conflict that more moderate party leaders, in particular the AKP's two other founders, Gul and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, will split with him. There are signs this could happen. “I am not responsible for the remarks of the prime minister,” Arinc told state-run TRT television after opposing Erdogan's dormitory crackdown. “I am not just a minister. I represent the past, future and the vision of the party. I should not be ignored."

    I still don't agree with secular Turks who say Erdogan is turning Turkey into Iran or a Gulf state. He isn't capable of moving Turkey to a new location or undoing the last 100 years of history. Erdogan can, however, change Turkey's direction. After a decade in power he is now, without question, doing more damage than good to the country he rules.

  6. #96
    Israel’s Netanyahu calls Iran deal ‘historic mistake’

    By William Booth, Published: November 24 E-mail the writer

    JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders denounced the interim Iranian nuclear pact signed by the United States and five world powers as a “historic mistake” that does little to reverse Iran’s nuclear ambitions and instead makes the world a more dangerous place.

    Israeli officials stressed that they would spend the next six months — the time frame for the interim agreement — seeking to push their friends and especially the White House to reach a deal with Iran that not only curbs Iran’s nuclear ambitions but also dismantles its program.

    Officials here say that means a final comprehensive deal that would require Iran to dismantle its centrifuges, remove its enriched uranium and decommission its heavy water reactor in Arak, among other things, in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Sunday that Israel was not a party to the talks that ended with a deal in Geneva early Sunday morning and therefore was not bound by the agreement that provides for the temporary, limited lifting of economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran halting or scaling back parts of its nuclear program.

    “What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, but a historic mistake,” said Netanyahu in remarks before his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning.

    “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world,” the prime minister said.

    Netanyahu repeated a reference to his own red line by stating, “Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability."

    President Obama plans to speak with Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss the agreement, according to a senior administration official.

    Iran says that its nuclear program is peaceful, that it has a right to enrich uranium, as other nations do, and that its nuclear projects are designed only for energy production and medical research, though many in the international community say otherwise. While Iran has put in place elements of a military program, U.S. officials say Iran has not made the decision to move ahead with a nuclear weapon.

    If Iran does reach a critical point where it could decide to quickly sprint forward with the construction of a nuclear device, Israeli leaders in the past have warned they could be forced to strike Iran, alone if necessary.

    “The last-second amendments put into the agreement are far from satisfactory,” Israel intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz said. “The current deal, like the 2007 failed deal with North Korea, is more likely to bring Iran closer to having a bomb.”

    Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the deal “brings us to a nuclear arms race.”

    “The world has to understand that this is the biggest diplomatic victory Iran has had in recent years,” Lieberman said. “There's no doubt the agreement recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium.”

    The White House described the interim deal as “the first meaningful limits that Iran has accepted on its nuclear program in close to a decade” and said that these first concessions by Iran — to halt all uranium enrichment above 5 percent, not to install or use additional centrifuges, not to commission its plutonium reactor — are coupled with increased transparency and intrusive monitoring of its facilities by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    “With respect to the comprehensive solution, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” read a fact sheet from the White House detailing the deal. “Put simply, this first step expires in six months, and does not represent an acceptable end state to the United States” or its partners.

    Since the first details of an interim deal were revealed three weeks ago, Netanyahu has been on a nonstop public diplomacy campaign designed to convince world leaders, and the U.S. Congress and the American public, that the United States and its five partners were about to sign “a bad deal.”

    In the past two weeks, Netanyahu has made that case in person to Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President François Hollande.

    Netanyahu’s public denunciations of the interim deal have strained relations with Washington, especially Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

    Isaac Herzog, the newly elected leader of Israel’s main opposition Labor party, said, “Netanyahu must do everything in order to fix the damage that was caused from the public clash with the U.S. and return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders.”

    Israel defends its vociferous campaign against the deal by insisting that Israel is the object of Iranian taunts and that a nuclear Iran is not only a geopolitical challenge for Israel but represents an existential threat.

    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, last week referred to Israel as “the rabid dog of the region” and promised “the Zionist regime is doomed to destruction.”

    “This is the real Iran. We are not confused," Netanyahu told the Russian Jewish community leaders during his visit to Moscow last week.

    Asked whether the interim deal might lead to military strike by Israel, Lieberman said Israel “would need to make different decisions.”

    “This brings us to a new reality in the whole Middle East, including the Saudis. This isn’t just our worry,” Lieberman told Israel Radio. “We’ve found ourselves in a completely new situation.”

    Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economic minister and a key member of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, said, “if a nuclear suitcase blows up in New York or Madrid five years from now, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning.”

    “If there will be a deal which would allow Iran to have the ability to ‘break out’ and build a bomb within six weeks, we cannot sit idly by in this situation, and we will examine all the options,” Bennett told Israel’s Channel 2 on Saturday night.

    Bennett said that Israel would now engage in a tough fight to make a final deal with Iran one that would dismantle its military capacities. “There is still a long campaign ahead of us,” he said. “We will continue to act in every possible way.”

  7. #97
    The Middle East and the return of history

    By Joschka Fischer |

    12:46 am |

    Monday, July 7th, 2014

    BERLIN—Ever since Francis Fukuyama argued, more than two decades ago, that the world had reached the end of history, history has made the world hold its breath. China’s rise, the Balkan wars, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the global financial crisis of 2008, the “Arab Spring,” and the Syrian civil war all belie Fukuyama’s vision of the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy. In fact, history could be said to have come full circle in the space of a quarter-century, from the fall of communism in Europe in 1989 to the renewed confrontation between Russia and the West.

    But it is in the Middle East that history is at work on a daily basis and with the most dramatic consequences. The old Middle East, formed out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, is clearly falling apart, owing, in no small part, to America’s actions in this conflict-prone region.

    But it is in the Middle East that history is at work on a daily basis and with the most dramatic consequences. The old Middle East, formed out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, is clearly falling apart, owing, in no small part, to America’s actions in this conflict-prone region.

    The United States’ original sin was its military invasion of Iraq in 2003 under President George W. Bush. The “neoconservatives” in power at the time were oblivious to the need to fill the power vacuum both in Iraq and the region following the removal of Saddam Hussein. President Barack Obama’s hasty, premature military withdrawal constituted a second US failure.

    America’s withdrawal, nearly coinciding with the outbreak of the Arab Spring and the eruption of the Syrian civil war, and its persistent passivity as the regional force for order, now threatens to lead to the disintegration of Iraq, owing to the rapid advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), including its capture of the country’s second-largest city, Mosul. Indeed, with Isis in control of most of the area northwest of Baghdad, the border between Iraq and Syria has essentially ceased to exist. Many of their neighbors’ borders may also be redrawn by force. An already massive humanitarian disaster seems certain to become worse.

    Should Isis succeed in establishing a permanent state-like entity in parts of Iraq and Syria, the disintegration of the region would accelerate, the United States would lose its “global war on terror,” and world peace would be seriously threatened. But even without an Isis terror state, the situation remains extremely unstable, because the Syrian civil war is proving to be highly contagious. In fact, “civil war” is a misnomer, because events there have long entailed a struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional predominance, powered by the age-old conflict between Islam’s Sunni majority and Shia minority.

    The Kurds form another unstable component of the Ottoman legacy. Divided among several Middle Eastern countries—Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey—the Kurds have been fighting for their own state for decades. Nonetheless, they have shown great restraint in northern Iraq since Saddam’s fall, contenting themselves with building up their autonomous province both economically and politically—to the point that it is independent in all but name, with a strong and experienced army in the Peshmerga militia.

    The advance of Isis and its capture of Mosul have now resolved, in one fell swoop, all territorial disputes between the central government and the Kurdish regional government in favor of the latter, particularly regarding the city of Kirkuk. Following the Iraqi army’s retreat, the Peshmerga promptly took over the city, giving the Kurdish north ample oil and gas reserves. Moreover, neighboring Iran and Turkey, as well as the United States, will urgently need the Peshmerga’s support against Isis. Thus, an unexpected window of opportunity has opened for the Kurds to achieve full independence, though their dependence on good relations with both Turkey and Iran for access to global markets will moderate their political ambitions.

    Moreover, with its invasion of Iraq, the United States opened the door to regional hegemony for Iran and initiated a dramatic shift in its own regional alliances, the long-term effects of which—including the current nuclear negotiations with the Iranian government—are now becoming apparent. Both sides are fighting the same jihadists, who are supported by America’s supposed allies, the Sunni-ruled Gulf states. Though the United States and Iran remain opposed to official cooperation, the wheels have been set in motion, with direct bilateral talks becoming routine.

    One key question for the future is whether Jordan, which plays a key function in the region’s equilibrium, will survive the geopolitical shifts unscathed. If it does not, the entire balance of power in the traditional Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians could collapse. The consequences would most likely be far-reaching, if difficult to assess in advance.

    For Europe, developments in the Middle East pose two major risks: returning jihadi fighters who threaten to bring the terror with them, and a spillover of their extremist ideas to parts of the Balkans. In the interest of their own security, the European Union and its member states will be compelled to pay much closer attention to southeastern Europe than they have until now.

    Project Syndicate

    Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader of the German Green Party for almost 20 years.

  8. #98
    Airstrikes by U.S. and Allies Hit ISIS Targets in Syria

    By HELENE COOPER and ERIC SCHMITT

    SEPT. 22, 2014

    WASHINGTON — The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.

    American fighter jets and armed Predator and Reaper drones, flying alongside warplanes from several Arab allies, struck a broad array of targets in territory controlled by the militants, known as the Islamic State. American defense officials said the targets included weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings the militants use for command and control. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from United States Navy ships in the region.

    The strikes are a major turning point in President Obama’s war against the Islamic State and open up a risky new stage of the American military campaign. Until now, the administration had bombed Islamic State targets only in Iraq, and had suggested it would be weeks if not months before the start of a bombing campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria.

    Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took part in the strikes, American officials said, although the Arab governments were not expected to announce their participation until later Tuesday. The new coalition’s makeup is significant because the United States was able to recruit Sunni governments to take action against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State. The operation also unites the squabbling states of the Persian Gulf.

    The strikes came less than two weeks after Mr. Obama announced in an address to the nation that he was authorizing an expansion of the military campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

    Unlike American strikes in Iraq over the past month, which have been small-bore bombings of mostly individual Islamic State targets — patrol boats and trucks — the salvo on Tuesday in Syria was the beginning of what was expected to be a sustained, hourslong bombardment at targets in the militant headquarters in Raqqa and on the border.

    The strikes began after years of debate within the Obama administration about whether the United States should intervene militarily or should avoid another entanglement in a complex war in the Middle East. But the Islamic State controls a broad swath of land across both Iraq and Syria.

    Defense officials said the goal of the air campaign was to deprive the Islamic State of the safe havens it enjoys in Syria. The administration’s ultimate goal, as set forth in the address Mr. Obama delivered on Sept. 10, is to recruit a global coalition to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militants, even as Mr. Obama warned that “eradicating a cancer” like the Islamic State was a long-term challenge that would put some American troops at risk.

    American warplanes had been conducting surveillance flights over Syria for more than a month in anticipation of airstrikes, but it had been unclear just how much intelligence the Pentagon had managed to gather about the movements of the Sunni militant group in Syria. Unlike Iraq, whose airspace is controlled by the United States, Syria has its own aerial defense system, so American planes have had to rely on sometimes jamming the country’s defenses when crossing into Syria.

    The strikes in Syria occurred without the approval of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose government, unlike Iraq, did not ask the United States for help against the Sunni militant group. Mr. Obama has repeatedly called on Mr. Assad to step down because of chemical weapons attacks and violence against his own people, and defense officials said Mr. Assad had not been told in advance of the strikes.

    But administration officials acknowledge that American efforts to roll back the Sunni militant group in Syria cannot help but aid Mr. Assad, whose government is also a target of the Islamic State.

    The United Arab Emirates announced three weeks ago that it was willing to participate in the campaign against the Islamic State, and administration officials have also said they expect the Iraqi military to take part in strikes both in Iraq and Syria. If both nations are in fact participants, the strikes on Tuesday could mark a rare instance when the Shiite-dominated Iraqi military has cooperated in a military operation with its Sunni Arab neighbors.

    Combined with a French airstrike last week on a logistics depot held by Islamic State militants in northeastern Iraq, the allied participation in the strikes allows Mr. Obama to make the case that his plan to target the Islamic State has international cooperation.

    In addition, Saudi Arabia recently agreed to a training facility for moderate members of the Syrian opposition, whom the United States hopes to train, equip and send back to Syria to fight both Mr. Assad and Islamic State militants.

    On Wednesday, Mr. Obama is expected to speak of the international coalition in an address to the United Nations General Assembly.

    In his Sept. 10 speech to the nation, Mr. Obama drew a distinction between the military action he was ordering and the two wars begun by his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush. He likened this campaign to the selective airstrikes that the United States has carried out for years against suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, few of which have been made public.


    The airstrikes in Syria, so far, come without the benefit of a large ground force to capitalize on gains they make. While some Syrian opposition groups fighting the Islamic State militants may be able to move into a few cleared areas, administration officials acknowledged on Monday that it was doubtful that the Free Syrian Army, the opposition group most preferred by the United States, would be able to take control of major sections of Islamic State territory, at least not until it has been better trained — which will take place over the next year.

    That could leave the forces of Mr. Assad in perhaps the best position to take advantage of any American bombardment. An administration official on Monday acknowledged that that was a worry, but said, “We don’t plan to make it easy for Assad to reclaim territory.” He declined to say what methods the United States would use to prevent the Syrian leader from capitalizing on the American aerial bombardment.

    Although the full scope of the airstrikes was not immediately clear, they followed an urgent appeal from Hadi al-Bahra, the president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, for American military action. He said the United States needed to act quickly to stop militants from the Islamic State from pressing their attack against the Kurdish communities near the Syrian border town of Ayn-al-Arab, as it is known by Arabs, or Kobani, as it is called by the Kurds.

    And Representative Eliot L. Engel, a New York Democrat who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement urging “targeted American airstrikes” to protect the Syrian Kurds and prevent a “potential massacre.”

    Obama administration officials asserted that they were having success building an international coalition to confront the Islamic State, but Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said on Monday that France would limit its military operations to Iraq.

    “The French president has said we do not have intention to do the same in Syria, I mean by air,” Mr. Fabius said in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, adding that France would support the moderate Syrian opposition.

    “I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, using an alternate name for the Islamic State.

    “Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time,” Admiral Kirby said in a statement Monday night in Washington. “The decision to conduct these strikes was made earlier today by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. We will provide more details later as operationally appropriate.”

    Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from New York.

  9. #99
    The Reign of ‘Terror’

    By TOMIS KAPITAN OCTOBER 19, 2014 8:00 PM

    The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.

    When President Barack Obama spoke to the public in September about his decision to use American military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria he used familiar language. ISIS (or ISIL as the White House and others refer to the group), the president said, “is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.” The man picked to manage Obama’s strategy, General John R. Allen, wrote in the publication Defense One that “the Islamic State is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated.”

    It is undeniable that many of the tactics being used by ISIS — executions of civilians and well publicized beheadings of hostages — do violate accepted standards of conduct in conflict (detailed in an evolving legal and philosophical code known as just war theory.) And understandably, those moved by language of the sort used by the president and his staff are in no mood to consider softer tactics like negotiation with ISIS, nor to ponder the complex causes contributing to its rise. Obama’s stated policy of removing the “cancer” threatening the established political order in the Middle East is already underway, and is facing little resistance.

    This is merely the latest example of a powerful rhetoric centered on the word “terrorism” that has shaped — and continues to shape — popular conceptions about contemporary political conflicts, making it difficult to speak intelligently about their real sources.

    If individuals and groups are portrayed as irrational, barbaric, and beyond the pale of negotiation and compromise, as this rhetoric would have it, then asking why they resort to terrorism is viewed as pointless, needlessly accommodating, or, at best, mere pathological curiosity. Those normally inclined to ask “Why?” are in danger of being labeled “soft” on terrorism, while the more militant use the “terrorist” label to blur the distinction between critical examination and appeasement.

    *

    Part of the success of this rhetoric traces to the fact that there is no consensus about the meaning of “terrorism.” While it is typically understood to mean politically motivated violence directed against civilians, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Defense, for example, describe terrorism as the unlawful use of violence to achieve political goals by coercing governments or societies. The State Department cites a legal definition of “terrorism” as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.” It adds: “The term ‘noncombatant’ is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed or not on duty.” Thus, by means of linguistic gerrymander, members of uniformed government military forces acting under government authorization are incapable of committing acts of terrorism no matter how many civilians are ground up in the process.

    Even when a definition is agreed upon, the rhetoric of “terror” is applied both selectively and inconsistently. In the mainstream American media, the “terrorist” label is usually reserved for those opposed to the policies of the U.S. and its allies. By contrast, some acts of violence that constitute terrorism under most definitions are not identified as such — for instance, the massacre of over 2000 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps in 1982 or the killings of more than 3000 civilians in Nicaragua by “contra” rebels during the 1980s, or the genocide that took the lives of at least a half million Rwandans in 1994. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some actions that do not qualify as terrorism are labeled as such — that would include attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or ISIS, for instance, against uniformed soldiers on duty.

    Historically, the rhetoric of terror has been used by those in power not only to sway public opinion, but to direct attention away from their own acts of terror. Yet, to the fair-minded, the attempt by governments to justify bombardment of residential districts, schools and hospitals in the name of fighting terrorism is outright hypocrisy. Government forces have long provided outstanding examples of politically-motivated violence against civilians, the very thing they allegedly oppose. Claims about not “targeting” civilians ring hollow when it is quite obvious that high-tech explosives are aimed at buildings known to contain civilians.

    If what is insidious about terrorism is its callous disregard for civilian lives in pursuit of political goals, why is there not an uproar about state terrorism? Why do so many reserve their venom for people whose destructive capacity pales in comparison with those who command tanks, artillery and warplanes?

    It is easy to lose sight of inconsistencies in wartime hostilities. Instead, the emotional impact of language tends to triumph at the expense of accuracy and fairness. By effectively placing designated individuals or groups outside the norms of acceptable social and political behavior, the rhetoric of “terror” has had these effects:

    1) It erases any incentive the public might have to understand the nature and origins of their grievances so that the possible legitimacy of their demands will not be raised.

    2) It deflects attention away from one’s own policies that might have contributed to their grievances.

    3) It repudiates any calls for negotiation.

    4) It obliterates the distinction between national liberation movements and fringe fanatics (for example, during the 1990s, the “terrorist” label was applied to Nelson Mandela and Timothy McVeigh alike);

    5) It paves the way for the use of force by making it easier for a government to exploit the fears of its citizens and ignore objections to the manner in which it responds to terrorist violence.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  10. #100
    ^ Continued

    This is not just a strategy of the United States government. For decades, Israeli leaders have used such language in their attempt to discredit Palestinian nationalism and deflect attention away from their own policies in the occupied territories. In the 1986 book “Terrorism: How the West Can Win,” Benjamin Netanyahu, the book’s editor, who is now Israel’s prime minister, encouraged pre-emptive strikes “to weaken and destroy the terrorist’s ability to consistently launch attacks,” even at the “risk of civilian casualties.” Addressing the origins of terrorism, he surmised that “the root cause of terrorism lies not in grievances but in a disposition toward unbridled violence” traceable to “a worldview that asserts that certain ideological and religious goals justify, indeed demand, the shedding of all moral inhibitions.” Other contributors to the volume voiced similar sentiments in portraying the terrorist as a carrier of “oppression and enslavement,” having “no moral sense,” “a perfect nihilist,” and whose elimination is the only rational means for the West to “win.”

    RELATED
    More From The Stone
    Read previous contributions to this series.
    More careful assessments were made by scholars like Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, who has stressed that foreign military interventions and nationalism are the primary causes of terrorist violence. In his book “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” Pape argued that desires for national self-determination and an end to military occupation were at the root of nearly every instance of suicide terrorism from 1980 to 2003, and that while religion was used a tool for recruiting and procuring aid from abroad, it was rarely the cause. While some took issue with Pape’s analysis, he at least employed a more dispassionate, analytical approach in attempting to understand this form of violence.

    *

    Obviously, to point out the causes and objectives of particular terrorist actions is to imply nothing about their legitimacy — that is an independent matter — nor is it any endorsement of a particular method for dealing with the problem of terrorist violence. Yet, to ignore these causes and objectives is to undermine attempts to deal intelligently with terrorism, since it leaves untouched its motivating factors, and paves the way for blind reactions of the sort that are likely to exacerbate rather than resolve the problem.

    To put it bluntly, by stifling inquiry into causes, the rhetoric of “terror” actually increases the likelihood of terrorism. First, it magnifies the effect of terrorist actions by heightening the fear among the target population. If we demonize the terrorists, if we portray them as evil, irrational beings devoid of a moral sense, we amplify the fear and alarm generated by terrorist incidents, even when this is one of the political objectives of the perpetrators. In addition, stricter security measures often appear on the home front, including enhanced surveillance and an increasing militarization of local police.

    Second, those who succumb to the rhetoric contribute to the cycle of revenge and retaliation by endorsing military actions that grievously harm the populations among whom terrorists live. The consequence is that civilians, those least protected, become the principle victims of “retaliation” or “counterterrorism.”

    Having been desensitized by language, the willingness to risk civilian casualties becomes increasingly widespread. For example, according to a CBS/New York Times poll of 1216 Americans published on September 16, 2001, nearly 60 percent of those polled supported the use of military force against terrorists even if “many thousands of innocent civilians may be killed,” an echo of the view taken by Netanyahu in his book.

    Third, a violent response is likely to stiffen the resolve of those from whose ranks terrorists have emerged, leading them to regard their foes as people who cannot be reasoned with, as people who, because they avail themselves so readily of the rhetoric of “terror,” know only the language of force. As long as groups perceive themselves to be victims of intolerable injustices and view their oppressors as unwilling to arrive at an acceptable compromise, they are likely to answer violence with more violence. Their reaction might be strategic, if directed against civilians to achieve a particular political objective, but, with the oppression unabated, it increasingly becomes the retaliatory violence of despair and revenge.

    In “1984,” George Orwell described doublethink as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them,” and portrayed it as a device for destroying the capacity for critical thinking, for controlling populations, and for perpetuating the political status quo. Something like doublethink is occurring as the rhetoric of terror continues to immerse us in a nightmare of skewed reason and perpetual warfare. In condemning terrorism, we think of it as something to be eliminated at all costs. Yet, in sanctioning the use of modern weaponry to achieve this end, regardless of its impact upon civilian populations, we are effectively advocating the very thing we condemn, and this is closer to doublethink than we should ever wish to be.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI


 
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