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Author Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR  (Read 68429 times)
G M
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« Reply #150 on: May 13, 2011, 08:56:56 AM »

What? The UN/NATO didn't ride to the rescue?  What whappened to the "responsibility to protect"?  rolleyes
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #151 on: May 21, 2011, 12:21:26 AM »



Obama, Democracy and the Middle East

U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday delivered a much-hyped speech in which he tried to lay out a new strategic framework for dealing with the Middle East, one that takes into account recent unprecedented developments in the region. This was Obama’s second major speech on the issue, including his much-celebrated June 2009 address in Cairo. While the Cairo address concerned U.S. relations with the wider Muslim world, today’s speech was limited to the largely Arab Middle East — understandably so, given the wave of popular unrest that has destabilized the region’s decades-old autocracies.

Obama’s speech is significant in that it forwards the most comprehensive public-relations statement on how Washington is adjusting its policies in response to turmoil in the Arab world. The target audience was both the region’s masses, who have long been critical of U.S. policies supporting authoritarian regimes, and its states, which are concerned about how potential shifts in official American attitudes toward long-standing allies and partners threaten their survival. From the U.S. point of view, the evolution under way in the region needs to be managed so that unfriendly forces cannot take advantage of democratic openings and, more important, decaying incumbent states do not fall into anarchy.

Supporting democratic movements is thus not just an altruistic pursuit; rather, it is a tool to deal with a reality in which dictatorial systems in the Middle East are increasingly under threat of becoming obsolete. Supporting the demand for political reform allows Washington to engage with and contain non-state actors — even Islamists — that it has thus far avoided. Doing so, however, creates problems with the incumbent regimes, which cannot be completely discarded, since the goal is to oversee orderly transitions and avoid vacuums.

This would explain the president’s variance in attitude toward different countries. Obama spoke of financially supporting the transitions under way in Tunisia and Egypt, given that the situation in both countries is relatively stable, with their respective armed forces overseeing a gradual process toward multiparty elections. In contrast, the U.S. views the situation in Libya, Syria and Yemen, where regimes are using force to maintain power, as untenable. This explains Obama’s far more stern language toward the rulers in these three countries, though he recognized the significant variances between the three cases.

“Supporting democratic movements is thus not just an altruistic pursuit; rather, it’s a tool to deal with a reality in which dictatorial systems in the Middle East are increasingly under threat of becoming obsolete.”
But the real policy challenge comes in Bahrain, where the sectarian demographic reality and geopolitical proximity to Iran prevent the United States from seriously backing calls for change. Washington cannot afford to see a key ally in the Persian Gulf region turn into a potentially hostile entity. At the same time, though, the United States cannot sit around and watch Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, backed by forces from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, forcefully put down an uprising largely led by the country’s Shiite majority. That looks hypocritical, especially as Obama calls out Iran for supporting unrest in Arab countries while suppressing protesters at home.

Far more importantly, the United States fears that the Saudi-driven policy of forcefully putting down an uprising led by a majority of the population, while supporting the monarchy controlled by a Sunni minority, will eventually make matters worse and play right into the hands of the Iranians — hence Obama’s call on the Bahraini leadership (and by extension the Saudis) to negotiate with the opposition and engage in reforms that can help co-opt their opponents, rather than push them deeper into the arms of Tehran.

Clearly, there is a disconnect between Washington and Riyadh on how to deal with unrest in the region, especially as it pertains to Bahrain. The disagreement adds to the tensions between the two sides that resulted from the U.S. decision to effect regime change in Iraq, a move of which Iran has emerged as a major beneficiary. Given Saudi Arabia’s importance as a political, financial and energy powerhouse, the United States is prepared to largely overlook the lack of democracy in the religiously ultra-conservative kingdom. That would explain why, save the reference to women not being able to vote, Obama’s speech never addressed the Saudis directly.

For now, there is no serious movement calling for political reforms in the kingdom, which means the Americans can afford to be ambiguous about the Saudis. Eventually, there is bound to be some spillover effect in the kingdom, which is in the process of transitioning from a geriatric top leadership, and the United States will be forced to give up its ambivalent attitude. But even in the here and now, changes under way in the rest of the region — and especially on the Arabian Peninsula — and the need for the United States to reach an understanding with Iran as U.S. troops leave Iraq, will continue to complicate U.S.-Saudi dealings.

A speech stressing the need for reforms in the region could not avoid a discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The developing regional shifts have a direct impact on the chronic dispute. Here again, Obama could not avoid criticizing another close ally, Israel. The U.S. president said the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands threatens Israeli security.

Another notable shift in U.S. rhetoric was toward Hamas. Obama did not denounce the Palestinian Islamist movement outright as an irreconcilable force that could not be negotiated with. Instead, he pressed the Palestinians to respond to the question of how Israel could negotiate with a government that included Hamas, so long as the Islamist movement refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. This places the seemingly intractable problem in the hands of the Palestinians, not the Israelis.

Ultimately, the Obama speech was about navigating through an increasingly complex Middle East. It is unlikely to lead to any major changes in ground realities anytime soon. But the speech recognized that the status quo was unsustainable and that all parties concerned need to change their behavior to avoid further turmoil.

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #152 on: May 22, 2011, 08:52:28 AM »

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The revolutions and revolts in the Arab world, playing out over just a few months across two continents, have proved so inspirational to so many because they offer a new sense of national identity built on the idea of citizenship.


But in the past weeks, the specter of divisions — religion in Egypt, fundamentalism in Tunisia, sect in Syria and Bahrain, clan in Libya — has threatened uprisings that once seemed to promise to resolve questions that have vexed the Arab world since the colonialism era.

From the fetid alleys of Imbaba, the Cairo neighborhood where Muslims and Christians have fought street battles, to the Syrian countryside, where a particularly deadly crackdown has raised fears of sectarian score-settling, the question of identity may help determine whether the Arab Spring flowers or withers. Can the revolts forge alternative ways to cope with the Arab world’s variety of clans, sects, ethnicities and religions?

The old examples have been largely of failure: the rule of strongmen in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen; a fragile equilibrium of fractious communities in Lebanon and Iraq; the repressive paternalism of the Persian Gulf, where oil revenues are used to buy loyalty.

“I think the revolutions in a way, in a distant way, are hoping to retrieve” this sense of national identity, said Sadiq al-Azm, a prominent Syrian intellectual living in Beirut.

“The costs otherwise would be disintegration, strife and civil war,” Mr. Azm said. “And this was very clear in Iraq.”

In an arc of revolts and revolution, that idea of a broader citizenship is being tested as the enforced silence of repression gives way to the cacophony of diversity. Security and stability were the justification that strongmen in the Arab world offered for repression, often with the sanction of the United States; the essence of the protests in the Arab Spring is that people can imagine an alternative.

But even activists admit that the region so far has no model that enshrines diversity and tolerance without breaking down along more divisive identities.

In Tunisia, a relatively homogenous country with a well-educated population, fault lines have emerged between the secular-minded coasts and the more religious and traditional inland.

The tensions shook the nascent revolution there this month when a former interim interior minister, Farhat Rajhi, suggested in an online interview that the coastal elite, long dominant in the government, would never accept an electoral victory by Tunisia’s Islamist party, Ennahda, which draws most of its support inland.

“Politics was in the hands of the people of the coast since the start of Tunisia,” Mr. Rajhi said. “If the situation is reversed now, they are not ready to give up ruling.” He warned that Tunisian officials from the old government were preparing a military coup if the Islamists won elections in July. “If Ennahda rules, there will be a military regime.”

In response, protesters poured back out into the streets of Tunis for four days of demonstrations calling for a new revolution. The police beat them back with batons and tear gas, arrested more than 200 protesters and imposed a curfew on the city.

In Cairo, the sense of national identity that surged at the moment of revolution — when hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths celebrated in Tahrir Square with chants of “Hold your head high, you are an Egyptian”— has given way to a week of religious violence pitting the Coptic Christian minority against their Muslim neighbors, reflecting long-smoldering tensions that an authoritarian state may have muted, or let fester.

At a rally this month in Tahrir Square to call for unity, Coptic Christians were conspicuously absent, thousands of them gathering nearby for a rally of their own. And even among some Muslims at the unity rally, suspicions were pronounced.

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“As Muslims, our sheiks are always telling us to be good to Christians, but we don’t think that is happening on the other side,” said Ibrahim Sakr, 56, a chemistry professor, who asserted that Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the population, still consider themselves “the original” Egyptians because their presence predates Islam.



In Libya, supporters of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi acknowledge that his government banks on fears of clan rivalries and possible partition to stay in power in a country with deep regional differences.

Officials say that the large extended clans of the west that contribute most of the soldiers to Colonel Qaddafi’s forces will never accept any revolution arising from the east, no matter what promises the rebels make about universal citizenship in a democratic Libya with its capital still in the western city of Tripoli.

The rebels say the revolution can forge a new identity.

“Qaddafi looks at Libya as west and east and north and south,” said Jadella Shalwee, a Libyan from Tobruk who visited Tahrir Square last weekend in a pilgrimage of sorts. “But this revolt has canceled all that. This is about a new beginning,” he said, contending that Colonel Qaddafi’s only supporters were “his cousins and his family.”

“Fear” is what Gamal Abdel Gawad, the director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, called it — the way that autocrats win support because people “are even more scared of their fellow citizens.”

Nowhere is that perhaps truer than in Syria, with a sweeping revolt against four decades of rule by one family and a worsening of tensions among a Sunni Muslim majority and minorities of Christians and heterodox Muslims, the Alawites.

Mohsen, a young Alawite in Syria, recounted a slogan that he believes, rightly or not, was chanted at some of the protests there: “Christians to Beirut and the Alawites to the coffin.”

“Every week that passes,” he lamented, speaking by telephone from Damascus, the Syrian capital, “the worse the sectarian feelings get.”

The example of Iraq comes up often in conversations in Damascus, as does the civil war in Lebanon. The departure of Jews, who once formed a vibrant community in Syria, remains part of the collective memory, illustrating the tenuousness of diversity. Syria’s ostensibly secular government, having always relied on Alawite strength, denounces the prospect of sectarian differences while, its critics say, fanning the flames. The oft-voiced formula is, by now, familiar: after us, the deluge.

“My Alawite friends want me to support the regime, and they feel if it’s gone, our community will be finished,” said Mohsen, the young Alawite in Damascus, who asked that only his first name be used because he feared reprisal. “My Sunni friends want me to be against the regime, but I feel conflicted. We want freedom, but freedom with stability and security.”

That he used the mantra of years of Arab authoritarianism suggested that people still, in the words of one human rights activist, remain “hostage to the lack of possibilities” in states that, with few exceptions, have failed to come up with a sense of self that transcends the many divides.

“This started becoming a self-fulfilling myth,” said Mr. Azm, the Syrian intellectual.

“It was either our martial law or the martial law of the Islamists,” he added. “The third option was to divide the country into ethnicities, sects and so on.”

Despite a wave of repression, crackdown and civil war, hope and optimism still pervade the region, even in places like Syria, the setting of one of the most withering waves of violence. There, residents often speak of a wall of fear crumbling. Across the Arab world, there is a renewed sense of a collective destiny that echoes the headiest days of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and ’60s and perhaps even transcends it.

President Obama, in his speech on Thursday about the changes in the Arab world, spoke directly to that feeling. “Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else. But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore.”

But no less pronounced are the old fears of zero-sum power, where one side wins and the other inevitably loses. From a Coptic Christian in Cairo to an Alawite farmer in Syria, discussions about the future are posed in terms of survival. Differences in Lebanon, a country that celebrates and laments the diversity of its 18 religious communities, are so pronounced that even soccer teams have a sectarian affiliation.

In Beirut, wrecked by a war over the country’s identity and so far sheltered from the gusts of change, activists have staged a small sit-in for two months to call for something different, in a plea that resonates across the Arab world.

The Square of Change, the protesters there have nicknamed it, and their demand is blunt: Citizenship that unites, not divides.

“We are not ‘we’ yet,” complained Tony Daoud, one of the activists. “What do we mean when we say ‘we’? ‘We’ as what? As a religion, as a sect, as human beings?”
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #153 on: May 22, 2011, 12:23:43 PM »



Moving GM's post here from the Israel thread:


http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/05/the_middle_east_operational_co.html

May 21, 2011
The Middle East Operational Codes: Five Keys to Understanding
 By David Bukay

 


Understanding the ME, as tumultuous, anarchist, and violent as it is, does not require complicated pundit analyses and convoluted explanations.  Rather, in light of last month's uprisings, simplicity is the key, with five variables serving as instrumental in understanding the ME operational code.

The first key to understanding is that the Middle Eastern state, with its political institutions being a Western import, is weak and ineffective compared to the indigenous Middle Eastern social institutions: the clan, the tribe, and the religious community.  The Arab states have emerged under European imperialistic rule, and their borders have been delineated without political, territorial, or functional logic.  All Arab states comprise violent, hostile tribes and rival religious communities that stick together only by coercion from an oppressive authoritarian regime.  In the absence of institutional legitimacy and participatory systems, order and stability are overturned by political decay and antagonistic politics.  This means that operationally, when there is a crisis and the authority of the patrimonial leader weakens, the tendency is to revert to the secure, well-established frameworks of the tribe, the clan, or the religious community, releasing ancient rivalries that lead to chaotic violence.

The second key to understanding is that Middle Eastern leaders are not secure in their offices.  Threatened by rivals from the political military elite and by Islamist movements (which are the only organized opposition groups), the leaders of authoritarian regimes cannot rule unless they are strong, violent, and patrimonial.  This also means that democracy, as a consensual system with developmental stages, cannot emerge or exist.  Therefore, when the authority of a ME regime disintegrates, the outcome is not democracy, but rather anarchy as the most likely replacement.

The third key to understanding, and perhaps the most important one, is the central role of the army, being the regime's principal power and political supporter.  One can safely adopt the rule: "You tell me what the attitude of the army is vis-à-vis the regime, and I will tell you the longevity and survivability of the regime in power."  This is exactly what is happening in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.  This is exactly what will determine the fate of other regimes.  Indeed, the Arab military in politics holds the highest importance in the ME.

The fourth key to understanding is that the inhabitants -- the masses -- have never been a sovereign electing people; historically, they have been without influence in the political realm and the decision-making processes.  In the Arab world, there is no social contract based on trust and cooperation, as the foundation of Arab life is suspicion of the other and hatred of the foreigner.  The only thing that binds the population together is fear of and intimidation by the authoritarian ruler.  That is why the role of the ruler is so crucially important; one can say that it is almost demanded of him to conduct a reign of terror and intimidation on the population.  Otherwise, chaos and anarchy prevail.  Thus, when the barrier of fear is broken, as is happening now, the authority of the regime disintegrates.  The central state system is weakened, and the political process turns to the street.

The fifth key to understanding is that the alternative to the current regimes in power are other leaders coming from the same political elite or Islamic groups coming from the opposition.  Both are patrimonial, oppressive, and undemocratic.  It must be clearly stated that aside from anarchy, one of the most likely alternatives to the ME regimes is not democracy, but Islamism.  The Islamic phenomenon is not defensive and passive; it is an aggressive onslaught against modernism and secularism led by urban, educated, secular middle-class groups.  Western permissiveness and materialism are the forces leading to these groups' return to Islam and motivating them to bring the Islamic religion back to a hegemony (al-Islam Huwa al-Hall al-Waheed).

Examining these keys through a macro-level analysis enables us to understand the ME operational codes.  Thomas Friedman has praised the Arab revolution and accused Israel of being detached from the new realities (NYT, February, 2, 8, and 14, 2011).  In his delusions, Friedman has envisioned a revolution of the Facebook generation that leads to democracy and the denial of Islamism.  Likewise, other sources in Western media and many experts have celebrated the "emergence of the New ME," while in fact the opposite situation is the reality.  Now these same sources are lamenting that the democratic revolution went wrong and that all that remains is a violent power struggle.

We are witnessing the same old chaotic, anarchic ME, and the Arab people's uprisings will not lead to democracies and consensual regimes.  In fact, there is a high probability that the outcome of the uprisings will be either more oppressive authoritarian regimes and patrimonial leadership from the military or the emergence of Islamist groups under the Shari'ah.  The latter outcome would ultimately lead to the victory of either Iran and the Shiite version of Islam or al-Qaeda and the Salafi-Sunni version of Islam.

Regarding the ME, the next decade is more likely to witness the emergence of the Sunni Caliphate or the Shiite Imamate struggling for hegemony.  Both outcomes signal an imminent threat to the security of the West.  However, instead of concentrating on understanding the operational code of the ME, and instead of trying to maintain the status quo, Western leaders prefer to operate through delusional wishful-thinking policies.  This pattern is evidenced by Westerners' unwavering focus on the well-used scapegoat, the perhaps unsolvable "Palestinian question."  It is as if regional and international leaders are desperately trying to find comfort in this one easily characterized issue.

There are more than twenty-five current civil wars going on around the world; there are a billion poor, miserable and hungry people who earn a dollar a day; there are deep food crises and water shortages; there are huge unresolved political issues and hosts of nations without the opportunity to form an independent state (James Minahan, Nations without States, Westport, CT, 1996).  But the international community prefers to concentrate on the Palestinian issue.  Indeed, we can draw a direct line between the world's desperation to solve real problems and its eagerness to deliberately concentrate on the Palestine situation.

One can only marvel at how blessed the Palestinians are to have everybody dealing with their issue, as if they are the only orphans of the world.  One can only wonder how much political and financial support they receive at the expense of all those really in need.  One can only be amazed at the stupidity of the false belief that all other regional issues will disappear, will be gone with the wind, if only the Palestinian issue is solved.

The hard truth is that rather than heralding the dawn of democracy and prosperity, this misguided belief and the misunderstanding of the ME operational code are more likely the harbinger of the dark winter of Islam -- a catastrophic set of circumstances that may well lead to the demise of U.S. influence, the destruction of Israel, and general regional chaos besides.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #154 on: May 23, 2011, 07:42:19 AM »



One mystery of American foreign policy, in Administrations of either party, is the eternal hope that the Assad family dynasty in Syria will one day experience an epiphany and become a reforming, pro-Western government.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited Damascus more than 20 times in the 1990s in search of a concession to peace that never came from Hafez Assad. President George W. Bush refused to implement the stiffest sanctions on Syria legislated by Congress and sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to beseech current President Bashar Assad to stop being a highway for jihadists into Iraq. To no avail.

President Obama also bought into the illusion, sending emissaries to turn Mr. Assad away from Iran, stop serving as a conduit for heavy weapons into Lebanon, and other impossible dreams. Even after the regime's crackdown on political opponents and the murder of hundreds, Mr. Obama held out hope in his Mideast speech last week that Mr. Assad will come around: "The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way."

Mr. Assad long ago made his choice, and America's choice should be full-throated support for his democratic opponents.
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G M
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« Reply #155 on: May 23, 2011, 07:45:23 AM »

Except his opponent might even be worse, once in power.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #156 on: May 26, 2011, 09:58:50 PM »



By MICHAEL SINGH
Mohsen Chizari gets around.

A top commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Chizari was hit with sanctions last week by the Obama administration. Given his nationality, one might assume that he was sanctioned in relation to the Iranian regime's nuclear pursuits or its crackdown on dissidents. In fact, Chizari, the Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani, and the organization itself were targeted for abetting oppression somewhere else: Syria.

According to the U.S. government, the Iranians are complicit in the Assad regime's "human rights abuses and repression of the Syrian people."

If Chizari's name sounds familiar, it may be because he was arrested by U.S. troops in Baghdad in December 2006. According to media reports, Chizari was detained while inside the compound of Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim with another Quds Force commander. The two men were reportedly in possession of detailed reports about weapons shipments into Iraq, including of so-called explosively formed projectiles, which were responsible for the deaths of scores of U.S. soldiers. Chizari was subsequently expelled into Iran by the Iraqi government.

It should come as little surprise that Chizari has shown up in both hot spots. Wherever there's trouble, he'll be there to aid the troublemakers or stir things up himself.

The Quds Force reports directly to Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and it serves as the linchpin in Iran's regional strategy. Iran funds and arms groups like Hezbollah to threaten Israel and thwart democracy-building in Lebanon. And it equips terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan to stymie U.S. efforts to establish peace and security in those places. In all of these cases, the Quds Force is the regime's instrument of choice.

Iran's leaders crowed when popular uprisings unseated their old foes Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. But the travails of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad have clearly caused concern in Tehran. Assad is a longtime ally of Iran, and under his rule Syria has served as a conduit eastward for foreign fighters to enter Iraq to fight U.S. troops, and for Iranian weaponry to flow westward to arm Hezbollah and Hamas. Damascus is essentially the bar scene from "Star Wars" for terrorists in the Middle East, providing a locale where Iranian allies such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad can coordinate unperturbed.

View Full Image

Associated Press
 
Syrian President Bashar Assad
.Were Assad to fall, a key link in Iran's strategic chain across the region would be broken. While Iran could possibly find work-arounds to supply Hezbollah, such as by sea or air, it would lose both strategic depth and an eager ally. Furthermore, if protesters in Syria were to inspire Iran's own democracy activists to redouble their efforts, the Iranian regime would find itself in serious peril. Thus it is unsurprising that it has dispatched the Quds Force to help Assad stop the Arab Spring at his doorstep.

Iran's latest involvement in Syria should be a wake-up call. Iran's direct assistance in the Syrian regime's crackdown has attracted criticism from many quarters; it's even put Tehran at odds with erstwhile allies such as Turkey. Iran's actions have also contributed to a shift in the Obama administration's approach toward Tehran. In addition to imposing sanctions on Chizari and his ilk, on April 22 President Obama said that Assad was mimicking Iran's "brutal tactics."

Ultimately, tough words and sanctions will not be enough. Chizari and his exploits in Iraq and Syria represent one facet of the threat posed by Iran. If our hopes for freedom and stability in the region are to be realized, we must defeat Iran's efforts to expand its power and influence—above all by denying it the nuclear weapons that would further its destabilizing designs.

Mr. Singh is the managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration.

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #157 on: May 29, 2011, 10:10:43 AM »

ThE protesters who have toppled or endangered Arab dictators are demanding more freedoms, fair elections and a crackdown on corruption. But they have not promoted a distinct ideology, let alone a coherent one. This is because private organizations have played only a peripheral role and the demonstrations have lacked leaders of stature.
Both limitations are due to the longstanding dearth, across the Arab world, of autonomous nongovernmental associations serving as intermediaries between the individual and the state. This chronic weakness of civil society suggests that viable Arab democracies — or leaders who could govern them — will not emerge anytime soon. The more likely immediate outcome of the current turmoil is a new set of dictators or single-party regimes.

Democracy requires checks and balances, and it is largely through civil society that citizens protect their rights as individuals, force policy makers to accommodate their interests, and limit abuses of state authority. Civil society also promotes a culture of bargaining and gives future leaders the skills to articulate ideas, form coalitions and govern.

The preconditions for democracy are lacking in the Arab world partly because Hosni Mubarak and other Arab dictators spent the past half-century emasculating the news media, suppressing intellectual inquiry, restricting artistic expression, banning political parties, and co-opting regional, ethnic and religious organizations to silence dissenting voices.

But the handicaps of Arab civil society also have historical causes that transcend the policies of modern rulers. Until the establishment of colonial regimes in the late 19th century, Arab societies were ruled under Shariah law, which essentially precludes autonomous and self-governing private organizations. Thus, while Western Europe was making its tortuous transition from arbitrary rule by monarchs to democratic rule of law, the Middle East retained authoritarian political structures. Such a political environment prevented democratic institutions from taking root and ultimately facilitated the rise of modern Arab dictatorships.

Strikingly, Shariah lacks the concept of the corporation, a perpetual and self-governing organization that can be used either for profit-making purposes or to provide social services. Islam’s alternative to the nonprofit corporation was the waqf, a trust established in accordance with Shariah to deliver specified services forever, through trustees bound by essentially fixed instructions. Until modern times, schools, charities and places of worship, all organized as corporations in Western Europe, were set up as waqfs in the Middle East.

A corporation can adjust to changing conditions and participate in politics. A waqf can do neither. Thus, in premodern Europe, politically vocal churches, universities, professional associations and municipalities provided counterweights to monarchs. In the Middle East, apolitical waqfs did not foster social movements or ideologies.

Starting in the mid-19th century, the Middle East imported the concept of the corporation from Europe. In stages, self-governing Arab municipalities, professional associations, cultural groups and charities assumed the social functions of waqfs. Still, Arab civil society remains shallow by world standards.

A telling indication is that in their interactions with private or public organizations, citizens of Arab states are more likely than those in advanced democracies to rely on personal relationships with employees or representatives. This pattern is reflected in corruption statistics of Transparency International, which show that in Arab countries relationships with government agencies are much more likely to be viewed as personal business deals. A historically rooted preference for personal interactions limits the significance of organizations, which helps to explain why nongovernmental organizations have played only muted roles in the Arab uprisings.

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A less powerful business sector also hindered democracy. The Middle East reached the industrial era with an atomistic private sector unequipped to compete with giant enterprises that had come to dominate the global economy. Until then, Arab businesses consisted exclusively of small, short-lived enterprises established under Islamic partnership law. This was a byproduct of Islam’s egalitarian inheritance system, which aimed to spread wealth. Successful enterprises were typically dissolved when a partner died, and to avoid the consequent losses Arab businessmen kept their enterprises both small and transitory.


Arab businesses had less political clout than their counterparts in Western Europe, where huge, established companies contributed to civil society directly as a political force against arbitrary government. They also did so indirectly by supporting social causes. For example, during industrialization, major European businesses financed political campaigns, including the mass education and antislavery movements.

Since the late 19th century, commercial codes transplanted from abroad have enabled Arabs to form large, durable enterprises like major banks, telecommunications giants and retail chains. Still, Arab companies tend to be smaller relative to global norms, which limits their power vis-à-vis the state. Although large Western corporations have been known to suppress political competition and restrict individual rights, in Arab countries it is the paucity of large private companies that poses the greater obstacle to democracy.

Despite these handicaps, there is some cause for optimism when it comes to democratization in the Middle East. The Arab world does not have to start from scratch. A panoply of private organizations are already present, though mainly in embryonic form. And if the current turmoil produces regimes more tolerant of grassroots politics and diversity of opinion, more associations able to defend individual freedoms will surely arise.

Moreover, the cornerstones of a modern economy are in place and widely accepted. Economic features at odds with Shariah, like banks and corporations, were adopted sufficiently long ago to become part of local culture. Their usefulness makes them appealing even to Islamists who find fault with other features of modernity.

Over the last 150 years, the Arab world has achieved structural economic transformations that took Europe a millennium. Its economic progress, whatever the shortcomings, has been remarkable. If political progress has lagged, this is partly because forming strong nongovernmental organizations takes time. Within a generation or two, as the economic transformations of the past century-and-a-half continue to change the way citizens interact with organizations, insurmountable pressure for democracy may yet arise even in those corners of the Arab world where civil society is weakest.

A stronger civil society alone will not bring about democracy. After all, private organizations can promote illiberal and despotic agendas, as Islamist organizations that denounce political pluralism and personal freedoms demonstrate. But without a strong civil society, dictators will never yield power, except in the face of foreign intervention.

Independent and well-financed private organizations are thus essential to the success of democratic transitions. They are also critical to maintaining democracies, once they have emerged. Indeed, without strong private players willing and able to resist undemocratic forces, nascent Arab democracies could easily slip back into authoritarianism.
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« Reply #158 on: June 07, 2011, 05:03:30 PM »

Iran has reportedly deployed submarines to the Red Sea in what appears to be another highly symbolic and low-cost power projection move. The timing of this deployment comes at a particularly tense time in the region, but if you take a hard look at Iranian capabilities beyond the symbolic actions and rhetoric, you’ll find that Iran is still facing a number of very large limitations.

Iran state-run Fars News Agency reported today that Iranian submarines have made their way to the Red Sea and are being accompanied by the Iranian navy’s 14th fleet. Now, we saw a similar move by the Iranians back in February when Iran deployed two warships through the Suez Canal on its way to Syria in the Mediterranean. That was the first such deployment since 1979.

The U.S. response to these Iranian military maneuvers has been pretty consistent and can be summed up in as many words as “no big deal.” The United States is making a concerted effort to deny Iran the attention it’s seeking through these military posturing moves.

Obviously, Iran and has a big opportunity on its hands and are lying in wait to fill a power vacuum in Iraq once the U.S. leaves. The site of Sadrite militiamen marching through the streets of Baghdad sends a very powerful message by the Iranians to the Arab states as well as to the United States that it has militant proxies that are ready to go to war if the United States even thinks about extending its stay in Iraq. This is all about Iran calling dibs on the Mesopotamian sphere of influence.

At the same time, you have uprisings across the region creating very real problems for long-standing Arab monarchies. Bahrain is a prime example. Today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, and I’m paraphrasing, that the real problem in Bahrain is not between the people and the rulers of Bahrain, it’s with the U.S. military presence in Bahrain. Ahmadinejad added that Iran has a formula for the settlement of the Bahraini crisis, but it would only introduce that formula when the conditions were ripe.

Ahmadinejad is issuing a very explicit ultimatum to the GCC states. Basically he’s saying, “Look, you guys have internal problems. You accuse us of meddling in your internal affairs and inflaming those internal problems. That may be the case but let’s talk and we can help make those problems go away. The price of that is going to be for you to kick the United States out.”

Now the real question is: does Iran have the leverage to be making these kinds of threats and ultimatums? Certainly, Iran has a robust set of nonconventional capabilities to bring to bear and we seen after Hezbollah in Lebanon, through its militant assets in Iraq and even through its links to the Shiite opposition in Bahrain. But the GCC states, much less the United States, are not entirely convinced that Iran has what it takes to reshape the politics of the region.

Therefore, even as Iran is trying to coerce its Arab neighbors and the United States to negotiate on its terms and reach a solution that would aim to recognize Iran’s sphere of influence while limiting U.S. influence in the region, the more likely effect is that the GCC states, along with the United States, will band together in search of ways to try to keep the Iranians contained.

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« Reply #159 on: June 07, 2011, 05:20:30 PM »

Iran has reportedly deployed submarines to the Red Sea in what appears to be another highly symbolic and low-cost power projection move. The timing of this deployment comes at a particularly tense time in the region, but if you take a hard look at Iranian capabilities beyond the symbolic actions and rhetoric, you’ll find that Iran is still facing a number of very large limitations.

Iran state-run Fars News Agency reported today that Iranian submarines have made their way to the Red Sea and are being accompanied by the Iranian navy’s 14th fleet. Now, we saw a similar move by the Iranians back in February when Iran deployed two warships through the Suez Canal on its way to Syria in the Mediterranean. That was the first such deployment since 1979.



I don't think it would be much for a "limited kinetic military activity" to kill those subs. Might be a good lesson to teach.
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« Reply #160 on: June 20, 2011, 11:27:36 PM »

Wouldn't it be nice if this works out?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/a-king-a-speech-and-a-new-constitution-for-morocco/2011/03/29/AGSximcH_blog.html


A king, a speech, and a new constitution for Morocco

By Jennifer Rubin


On Friday Bashar al-Assad was slaughtering his own people. Iran continued to hold two Americans in prison. Moammar Gaddafi remained in power while the House of Representatives and President Obama bickered about the War Powers Act. And in Morocco a new “landmark” constitution guaranteeing equality for women, empowering an elected parliament and chief executive, and mandating an independent judiciary was rolled out. It’s a measure of just how much the squeaky wheel dominates the media and the U.S. government that there was virtually no U.S. coverage of the historic event, and that as of Sunday night the State Department had not issued a statement.
 
As CNN reported: “[The king’s] actions followed a series of unprecedented protests in this North African modern Muslim country, where street protests are normally tolerated by the state, unlike in most other Arab countries.”The speech delivered by King Mohammed VI provided a detailed description of a new constitution that will be put to a national vote on July 1. One Moroccan observer said the new government structure was similar to Spain — a monarch remains, but power is devolved to a democratically elected parliament, protections for minorities and women are concretized, and powers are spread to the judiciary, the parliament and to local government.
 
The king noted in describing the preamble, “The first pillar is the commitment to the Moroccan nation’s immutable values, the preservation and sustainability of which is entrusted to me, within the framework an Islamic country in which the King and Commander of the Faithful ensures the protection of the faith and guarantees the freedom of religious practice.” Yes it is a Muslim country and the monarch derives legitimacy in part from his role as the highest religious authority, but he also guarantees, in a constitutional document, the freedom to practice other religions.
 
The king also spelled out a constitutional protection for diversity:
 
Given the cohesion characterizing the various components of our unified, rich and diverse national identity — including the Arabic Islamic, Berber, Saharan, African, Andalusian, Jewish [emphasis added] and Mediterranean components — the draft Constitution confirms the status of Arabic as an official language of the Kingdom, and provides that the State pledges to protect and promote it.
 
It also provides for constitutionalizing the Amazigh [Berber] language as an official language as well, within the framework of a pioneering initiative which is the culmination of a course of action to rehabilitate the Amazigh language as a heritage belonging to all Moroccans. The official character of the Amazigh language will be gradually implemented through an organic law, which will specify the ways and means of integrating it in teaching and in basic public sectors.
 
In parallel, the draft Constitution provides for the promotion of all linguistic and cultural expressions in Morocco, particularly the Hassani culture, which is a characteristic feature of our beloved Saharan provinces.
 
I dare say that Jews don’t find a positive reference like that in any other Muslim country’s legal framework.
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« Reply #161 on: June 21, 2011, 04:32:48 AM »

 shocked

Please keep us apprised of further developments  smiley
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« Reply #162 on: July 01, 2011, 04:53:55 PM »

This is what comes of Baraq, Hillary, the rest of the Pooh Bahs of the Demogogue Party, and their running dogs in the Pravdas, sabotaging our efforts in Iraq under Bush.  angry angry angry
=======================

STRATFOR analyst Reva Bhalla discusses the emerging dynamics in the Middle East, where Iran waits to exploit the power vacuum left in Iraq by the U.S. withdrawal, while unrest simmers in Syria and Bahrain.


Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Colin: As the Obama administration frets about the prospects for Afghanistan, its relations with Pakistan, the diminishing options for NATO in Libya, the negative Israeli response to peace proposals and, of course, the U.S. deficit, a power vacuum is emerging in the Middle East. Unrest is simmering in many countries, especially Syria and Bahrain, and as Iran prepares to take advantage, countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey are uneasy.

Welcome to Agenda, and to look at the problematic power vacuum in more detail, I’m joined by Reva Bhalla, STRATFOR’s senior Middle East analyst. Reva, let’s start with Bahrain. More than three months ago, when the Shiite-led protests reached their peak, it looked as if there was a very serious confrontation building up between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain as the main proxy battleground. Where does that situation stand today?

Reva: Well if you look at the situation in Bahrain today as compared to, say, in mid-March, things certainly look a lot calmer, but the Bahraini government is certainly walking a political tightrope. Coming up we have a national dialogue that the Bahraini government is initiating on July 2 where it’s trying to show that it’s reaching out the opposition, bringing them into the political fold, and at the very least, listening to their demands. But, we are also seeing protests continue. On Thursday, tear gas was used against protesters. There are plans for more protests, and these are led by the majority Shiite opposition. This is especially concerning not only to Bahrain, but also to the Saudis who lead the GCC force that has a military presence currently in the island country. Now, going back to the origin of these protests, there are legitimate Shiite grievances there, but the real fear of these Sunni royal families is that Iran could bring its covert assets to bear and initiate larger uprisings that could seriously undermine the authority of these Sunni royal governments. That’s something that would certainly work in favor of the Iranians as they’re trying to expand their sphere of influence in eastern Arabia. Now while Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies were very quick to clamp down in Bahrain in mid-March and arrest most of the unruly elements that were tied to Iran, there is some indication that Iran has exercised some constraint and that they still have some assets that they could bring to the table and further destabilize these Sunni royal regimes, and so the GCC states are very wary of the fact. They’re also looking ahead at Ramadan, which begins in August, and you know, at this time you have an opportunity for Shiite opposition groups to organize. You have religious tensions particularly high at this time and the Bahrainis do not want to see a situation escalate that Iran could exploit further down the line.

Colin: So, what happens now?

Reva: We’re looking at a situation now where the rumors are circulating that the GCC forces are drawing down their military forces in Bahrain, saying that the situation is calm enough for us to be able to do this. Now, what we’re really interested in at STRATFOR is whether this drawdown of forces is a limited concession by the Saudis to initiate a dialogue with the Iranians. We’ve seen over the past couple weeks in particular the Iranians putting out feelers for negotiations with the Saudis, and the reason for that is because the Iranians want to show its Arab adversaries that it can compel them into negotiations and those negotiations would be all about getting them to recognize the Iranian sphere of influence in exchange for Iran taking a step back and putting an end to, or at least a cessation to, its meddling in internal Arab affairs. Now, whether this dialogue actually produces some results remains to be seen — we’re watching this very closely. But the Iranians made a point today to announce that they are very happy to see the drawdown of Saudi forces in Bahrain, so this could be the beginning of a broader negotiation there.

Colin: Right. Let’s move west to the Levant region where Syria is continuing its crackdowns: how does this fit into the Persian-Arab struggle you’ve just been describing to me?

Reva: Well you can see why Iran would be so worried about Syria right now. We don’t believe that the Syrian regime is on the verge of collapse, and that’s because we don’t see serious splits within the army. As long as the Alawites remain together in Syria, as long as the army holds together, we don’t see the type of splits that would indicate that this regime is in very serious trouble, at least in the near future. Now, the regime has a lot of complications moving ahead as it tries to pull out of this crisis, as it tries to manage its opposition. Especially as you have outside forces — like Turkey, like Saudi Arabia, like the United States — thinking about the alternatives to the al Assad regime. And that alternative would most likely be a Sunni entity, and you can see Turkey wanting to restore Sunni influence in the Levant region and, over time, allowing for such a political transformation. That is something that would work directly against Iranian interests because, remember, Iran, to maintain its foothold in the Levant, needs a crucial ally in Syria so that it can support its main militant proxy, Hezbollah, in Lebanon. And the Alawite Baathist regime in Damascus today, which has been in power now for the last four decades, allows Iran to do so. But if that regime falls, with time, Iran loses that very crucial leverage, and that is a key pillar in its overall deterrent strategy.

Colin: Let’s talk about Turkey. Its government is now at the start of its third term. George Friedman and I discussed the challenges for the foreign minister in a broad sense. But more specifically, does Turkey now have the ability to effect any kind of change in Syria?

Reva: Well it’s an interesting question and I think that’s one that Turks are actually asking themselves right now. You know, for a long time as Turkey has been coming out of its geopolitical shell in many respects, it’s been out of the game for the past 90-odd years. It’s now starting to see again what kinds of influence it can project in the region, and it’s starting to see that its zero-problems-with-neighbors policy is grinding against reality. And Syria is probably the best case example of this. In Syria, again, you have a situation where Iran is very worried about the sustainability of the Syrian regime, even if that regime is not about to collapse right away. The Turks have an interest in restoring Sunni authority in Syria and projecting its influence in that country. Whether Turkey acknowledges this public or not, it has a problem with its neighbors — it has a problem with Syria — and Syria is, in effect, an indirect confrontation between the Turks and the Persians. And so this is a very interesting dynamic, one that we’ve been expecting to come to light for some time as Turkey is the natural counter-balance to Iranian power in this region. And Syria is really not the only point of contention there. Really, the crucial area that we want to look at is Mesopotamia, and that’s where we have the U.S. withdrawing from Iraq leaving open a power vacuum that the Iranians have been waiting a very long time to fill, and then the Turks have been working very quietly to bolster the Sunni forces to balance against the Iranians. That’s sort of the natural proxy battleground between these two powers. So while publicly Turkey’s still trying to show that it does not have these big problems with its neighbors, that it’s downplaying any sort of confrontation, at a certain point it becomes very hard to hide the fact that these problems are coming to the fore.

Colin: Now, you mention the power vacuum as the Americans leave Iraq. In Washington, President Obama has much in his mind: Afghanistan of course, NATO’s problems in Libya, the deficit. So how much focus is there on the triangular issue that we’ve just been talking about?

Reva: I really don’t think that the U.S. can devote that much attention to these issues, as important as they are. And really the crucial issue for the United States is the future of Iraq, and what to do about the impending withdrawal there. How do you create an efficient blocking force against Iran, and if you can’t, can the U.S. actually engage in a fruitful negotiation with the Iranians, however unsavory that may be, to form some sort of understanding on a balance of power in the Persian Gulf region. Now that is something that, of course, is going to alarm the Saudis greatly. And that’s why, again, we’re looking at these hints of concessions in Bahrain to see if the Saudis are going to try to preempt the U.S. When the Saudis can’t depend on the U.S. fully right now to play that blocking role against the Iranians, and if the Turks aren’t quite ready completely fulfill that role, then will the Saudis try to move ahead and try to work out at least some sort of limited understanding for the short term to secure its interests at least until the U.S. can turn its attention back to these very important issues.

Colin: Reva, thanks. Reva Bhalla there, STRATFOR’s senior Middle East analyst. And in next week’s agenda, I’ll be talking to George Friedman about Iran — the first in a series of Agenda specials on world pressure points. I’m Colin Chapman. Until next time, goodbye.

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« Reply #163 on: July 01, 2011, 05:01:11 PM »

This is what comes of Baraq, Hillary, the rest of the Pooh Bahs of the Demogogue Party, and their running dogs in the Pravdas, sabotaging our efforts in Iraq under Bush.  angry angry angry
=======================

STRATFOR analyst Reva Bhalla discusses the emerging dynamics in the Middle East, where Iran waits to exploit the power vacuum left in Iraq by the U.S. withdrawal, while unrest simmers in Syria and Bahrain.




Senator Reid On Iraq: "This War Is Lost"
(CBS/AP)  The Senate debate on Iraq grew sharper Thursday when Majority Leader Harry Reid said the war had been lost and that President Bush's troop buildup is not stemming the rampant violence. That statement prompted Republicans to declare that Democrats do not support the troops in Iraq.

"I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and — you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows — (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday," said Reid.
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« Reply #164 on: July 02, 2011, 09:30:13 AM »

Iran steps up the pressure on Baraq.

One wonders, will there be a last flight out of Baghdad from the roof of the American Embassy?

=============================

By JAY SOLOMON
TEHRAN—Iran's elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has transferred lethal new munitions to its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, according to senior U.S. officials, in a bid to accelerate the U.S. withdrawals from these countries.

The Revolutionary Guard has smuggled rocket-assisted exploding projectiles to its militia allies in Iraq, weapons that have already resulted in the deaths of American troops, defense officials said. They said Iranians have also given long-range rockets to the Taliban in Afghanistan, increasing the insurgents' ability to hit U.S. and other coalition positions from a safer distance.

Such arms shipments would escalate the shadow competition for influence playing out between Tehran and Washington across the Middle East and North Africa, fueled by U.S. preparations to draw down forces from two wars and the political rebellions that are sweeping the region.

The U.S. is wrestling with the aftermath of uprisings against longtime Arab allies from Tunisia to Bahrain, and trying to leave behind stable, friendly governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran appears to be trying to gain political ground amid the turmoil and to make the U.S. withdrawals as quick and painful as possible.

"I think we are likely to see these Iranian-backed groups continue to maintain high attack levels" as the exit date nears, Maj. Gen. James Buchanan, the U.S. military's top spokesman in Iraq, said in an interview. "But they are not going to deter us from doing everything we can to help the Iraqi security forces."

In June, 15 U.S. servicemen died in Iraq, the highest monthly casualty figure there in more than two years. The U.S. has attributed all the attacks to Shiite militias it says are are trained by the Revolutionary Guards, rather than al Qaeda or other Sunni groups that were the most lethal forces inside Iraq a few years ago.

In Afghanistan, the Pentagon has in recent months traced to Iran the Taliban's acquisition of rockets that give its fighters roughly double the range to attack North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. targets. U.S. officials said the rockets' markings, and the location of their discovery, give them a "high degree" of confidence that they came from the Revolutionary Guard's overseas unit, the Qods Force.

U.S. defense officials are also increasingly concerned that Iran's stepped-up military activities in the Persian Gulf could inadvertently trigger a clash. A number of near misses involving Iranian and allied ships and planes in those waters in recent months have caused Navy officials to call for improved communication in the Gulf.

Iran's assertive foreign policy comes amid a growing power struggle between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Many of the president's closest aides have been detained on alleged corruption charges in recent weeks, raising questions as to whether Mr. Ahmadinejad will serve out his term.U.S. and European officials also say Iran has grown increasingly aggressive in trying to influence the political rebellions across the Middle East and North Africa. Tehran is alleged to have dispatched military advisers to Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad put down a popular uprising.

In recent months, according to U.S. officials, Iran has also increased its intelligence and propaganda activities in Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, countries where pro-U.S. leaders have either fallen or come under intense pressure.

Iranian officials denied in interviews and briefings this week that the Revolutionary Guard played any role in arming militants in Iraq and Afghanistan. They charged the U.S. with concocting these stories to justify maintaining an American military presence in the region.

"This is the propaganda of the Americans. They are worried because they have to leave Iraq very soon, according to the plan," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast. "They are better off going home and sorting out their own domestic problems."

Iranians officials have also accused the U.S. and Israel of interfering in Iranian affairs, including assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists and supporting opposition groups. The U.S. and Israel have denied this.

In recent weeks, Iran's leadership invited the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to Tehran to discuss regional affairs. Senior Iranian officials made it clear during those meetings that they wanted an accelerated exit of American forces from the region.

"Americans want to have permanent bases in Afghanistan, and this is dangerous because the real security will not be established as long as the American military forces are present," Ayatollah Khamenei told Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week, according to Iranian state media.

Iraq has in recent years been a proxy battlefield for the U.S. and Iran. U.S. officials in Iraq said the Qods Force is training and arming three primary militias that have in recent months attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces. Kata'ib Hezbollah, or Brigades of the Party of God, is viewed as the one most directly taking orders from Revolutionary Guard commanders in Iran. Two others, the Promise Day Brigade and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, are offshoots of the Mahdi Army headed by the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who currently lives in Iran.

Over the past six months, Kata'ib Hezbollah has escalated attacks on U.S. forces employing weapons called IRAMs, or improvised rocket-assisted munitions. The weapons are often propane tanks packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives and powered by rockets. Militiamen launch the weapons from the backs of flatbed trucks.

Kata'ib Hezbollah claimed credit for a June 6 IRAM attack that killed six American troops at Camp Victory, near Baghdad International Airport. This week, three more Americans were killed when an IRAM struck a desert base just a few miles from the Iranian border in Iraq's Wasit Province, according to U.S. officials.

"We believe the militias see themselves as in competition with each other," said Gen. Buchanan. "They want to claim credit for making us leave Iraq."

The U.S. believes Iranian involvement in Afghanistan is significantly lower than in Iraq. But U.S. officials said they have seen clear evidence that the Revolutionary Guard has transferred longer-range rockets to elements of the Taliban that significantly enhance their ability to target U.S. and other NATO forces.

In February, British forces intercepted a shipment of four dozen 122-millimeter rockets moving through Afghanistan's desolate Nimruz Province near the Iranian and Pakistan borders. The rockets have an estimated range of about 13 miles, more than double the distance of the majority of the Taliban's other rockets.

"It was the first time we've seen that weapon," said a senior U.S. defense official in Afghanistan. "We saw that as upping the ante a bit from the kind of support we've seen in the past."

U.S. officials stressed that most of Iran's influence in Afghanistan is channeled through "soft power"—business, aid and diplomacy. But these officials said the deployment of more U.S. and NATO forces along the Afghan-Iranian border as part of the Obama administration's Afghanistan "surge" appears to have raised Iran's sense of insecurity.

These officials said Iran's support for the Taliban appears to wax and wane in relation to how successful Washington and NATO appear to be in stabilizing Afghanistan. Shiite-majority Iran has traditionally viewed the Taliban, a Sunni group, with trepidation. The two sides nearly fought a war in 1998 after the Taliban executed Iranian diplomats based in the central Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

"They're supporting the Taliban because they want us out of here," said the U.S. official in Afghanistan. "If we're making gains, I can see them upping their support. If they're making gains, they'll probably stay quiet."

In large part because of the growing wariness over Iran's backing of Shiite militias in Iraq, the U.S. is considering altering its withdrawal plans from the country, say administration and defense officials.

All U.S. forces are due to depart at the end of the year, but senior American officials have hinted loudly that they would like Baghdad to ask the U.S. to keep a viable force in the country beyond that date. Some administration and military officials have talked about retaining 10,000 troops in Iraq.

Military officials and defense analysts cite Iran as a prime justification for extending the U.S. presence. They say Iran is trying to use its military, which is much more powerful than Iraq's, and Shiite proxy militias inside Iraq to pressure Baghdad to maintain close ties with Tehran.

Adm. William McRaven, the administration's nominee to lead Special Operations Command, told a Senate panel this week that he favors keeping a commando force in Iraq that would be available to counter threats.

—Julian E. Barnes contributed to this article.
Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon@wsj.com

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« Reply #165 on: July 08, 2011, 05:25:01 PM »


July 8, 2011


VIDEO: AGENDA: WITH GEORGE FRIEDMAN ON IRAN

In the first of a special edition of Agenda on world pressure points, STRATFOR CEO
Dr. George Friedman examines the tricky relationship between the United States and
Iran. He argues the risk of Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf is a more pressing
issue than Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology.
Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Colin: The great Satan and the axis of evil, several years ago the leaders of the
United States and Iran traded these insults about each other and its relations with
Tehran tend to be one of the most worrisome for the United States State Department,
made worse of course by Iran's nuclear ambitions and its territorial goals as
Americans leave Iraq.
Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman. George what is it about Iran that worries us
the most? Is it its steady move towards having nuclear weapons or the prospect of
Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf?

George: Clearly the issue is the changing balance of power in the Persian Gulf and
the possibility, if not of hegemony by Iran, then certainly increased power. The
withdrawal of the United States from Iraq has opened the possibility of Iranian
influence growing dramatically or even domination of Iraq. The events in Bahrain
where Iranian inspired demonstrators tried to topple the government and Saudi Arabia
intervened, the presence of Shiites throughout the Arabian Peninsula and the absence
of the United States, all taken together, have created a situation where Iran is
going to be the largest conventional military force in the Persian Gulf region. And
that would change the balance of power dramatically.

Colin: In other words, a serious problem.

George: The change in the balance of power is not necessarily a serious problem so
long as Iran and the United States and Europe, for example, reach some sort of
accommodation. Under the current circumstances, in which the West is hostile to
Iran, Europe differently than the United States, but still hostile. The growing
power of Iran over what constitutes a massive outflow of oil to the world opens the
possibility of the Iranians being able to interfere with that flow and profoundly
affecting Western economies. Right now the United States, in particular, is aligned
with Saudi Arabia, and it is through Saudi Arabia that it guarantees the flow of oil
to the west. Should Saudi Arabia become relatively weaker compared to Iran and Iran
plays a greater role in this, then the relationship between the United States,
between Europe and Iran becomes critical. Under the current configuration of
relationships, any growth of power in Iran threatens the interests of the United
States and Europe.

Colin: Turning to the nuclear issue how far is Iran from acquiring operable nuclear
weapons?

George: Here is what we know so far about the nuclear weapons. First, Iran has not
detonated a test. How far they are from detonating a test is unclear but the
distance between a testable nuclear device and deliverable nuclear weapon is
substantial. A nuclear weapon, it has to be small enough to sit on top of a rocket,
for example, rugged enough to withstand the incredible stresses of launch, entry
into a vacuum of space, high and low temperatures in space, re-entry and must be
able to work. That's a very complex thing; it's not easy to do. It is not easy but
relatively easier to simply detonate a test weapon but to go from there to a
deliverable nuclear device that is reliable, since it had better explode on contact
or there are consequences for the Iranians, that's even harder and it requires much
more than simply being able to enrich uranium. There are many other technologies
involved, most importantly quality assurance, making certain that each part works as
it does, testing and so on. And I suspect that is going to take the Iranians quite a
bit of time if they can do it all. I don't regard the Iranian nuclear program as
necessarily the extraordinary game-changer that others do. The real game-changer in
the Persian Gulf is the existing Iranian military force and its ability to operate
against any combination of forces native to the area if the United States leaves.
The nuclear program is a wonderful negotiating device which compels the West to sit
down and talk to them and they are in a position of strength it appears, but it is
far more than that than a military weapon. It is a psychological weapon, a political
weapon and in that sense it is almost irrelevant whether it ever exists.

Colin: Let's talk about the chasm between the United States and Iran. Does the
United States have any kind of strategy to bridge it?

George: Washington is of two minds on Iran. One is the ongoing belief that existed
since 1979 that Iran's government would face a popular uprising that will topple it
and there's always been this belief that it would happen. Washington and the media
got tremendously excited in 2009 during what was called the Green Revolution, which
STRATFOR's position was that it was a pretty isolated, relatively minor affair that
would be fairly easily put down by the government as it was. But there's still the
ongoing belief that there is tremendous dissatisfaction in Iran that would translate
itself to revolutionary action. The other idea is that there are political tensions
in the Iranian elite that will tear them apart. Well it will certainly be stressful
but there are stresses in the British government, within the American government. I
don't see the stresses in Iran even between institutions such as the presidency and
the supreme leader as leading to the same result. I think to a very great extent
that this fixation on internal evolutions in Iran has paralyzed American strategic
thinking.

Colin: So what you're really saying, George, is there is no strategy.

George: Well there is a strategy, I think it is a wrongheaded strategy but it's also
a strategy that allows the United States not to make any fundamental decisions. The
fundamental decision the United States has about Iran is the three. First, go to war
-- very dangerous. Second, negotiate with Iran -- politically very difficult.
Thirdly, hope for the best -- some sort of evolution in Iran. The American
predilection to hope for the best relieves any American administration of the need
to take unpleasant actions from negotiations to war and so it suits everybody's mind
to think that shortly you will have destabilization.

Colin: What could the Iranians do realistically; they are not going to give up their
nuclear weapons?

George: I don't really think the Iranians care about their nuclear weapon. To Iran,
the most important thing is the decision of the United States to withdrawal from
Iraq. Their historic fear has been another war with Iraq. That’s gone because of
what the United States did. Remember they lost a million casualties during the war
of the 1980s. They don't want that again, well that's gone. The Iranians are at an
extraordinary point in their history. For the first time in a very long time, it
appears that there will be a drawdown of a global presence in the region. This opens
the door for tremendous Iranian opportunities and I think one of the things that's
going on inside of Iran is a tussle, if you will, in the elite of just how much risk
to take. It's not clear who wants to take more or less risk but you're facing a
situation where Iran could emerge with its historical dream intact: the dominant
power in the Persian Gulf. And this is not simply an Islamic dream. This was the
Shah's dream; this was his father's dream. This has been the ongoing Persian dream
for a very long time. It's at hand, it's not a certainty but that is what they are
really focusing on: to be able to define the politics of the Persian Gulf, the oil
revenues of the Persian Gulf, the governments of the Persian Gulf, I mean this is
the real opportunity and I think the nuclear weapons is very much a side issue for
them.

Colin: Of course the United States was a participant in trying to help the Shah
achieve his dream. You would think there would be a greater upside in resolving the
conflict. Is there a chance, any chance, of that point being reached?

George: Remember that the United States in the 1960s and 70s had a dual strategy.
One was the support of Saudi Arabia; the other was the support of Iran. Although
there were tensions between the two countries many times, it fairly well worked.
The United States obviously didn't have support of the Iranians but the United
States actually, since 1979 and the release of the hostages at the embassy, did
fairly well with them. The Iranians blocked the Soviets as they hoped. Iranians were
hostile to the Taliban takeover in Iran, in Afghanistan I should say, there was a
lot of cooperation under the table between the two countries, not because they liked
each other because they had common interests. Out of that comes the fact that there
is a possibility of some sort of alignment, but the United States has to make a
historic decision. I don't think at this point it can be both aligned with Iran and
Saudi Arabia, and the decision the United States really has to make is whether or
not it is going to bet on the Saudis or the Iranians. The Saudis have been the
historic allies of the United States but frankly they are not particularly congenial
to either American culture or sometimes to American interests. The Iranians are
hostile to both but they have a great deal more power and potential are a more
reliable ally. So the United States faces a historic choice between Iran and Saudi
Arabia. Thus far, the administration has made it very clear that it stands with the
Saudis against the Iranians and that's understandable. But then it will really have
to decide what to do as Iran becomes relatively more powerful, the United States
weaker in the region, precisely what does it intend to do to contain Iranian power.

Colin: George Friedman, thank you. In next week's Agenda we will look at the United
States relations with Russia. Until then, goodbye.
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« Reply #166 on: July 09, 2011, 01:05:10 AM »


STRATFOR
---------------------------
July 9, 2011


TRIANGLE OF INTRIGUE: IRANIAN-SAUDI NEGOTIATIONS AND THE U.S. POSITION

On Thursday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast repeated a demand
for Saudi Arabia to withdraw its forces from Bahrain and "prepare the ground for
regional cooperation." He added that negotiations between Tehran and Riyadh would
benefit the region, but "the conditions should be provided" for such negotiations.
 
The idea of Iranian-Saudi negotiations developing over the future balance of power
in the Persian Gulf region does not seem to have caught the attention of mainstream
media, but STRATFOR is exploring the theme thoroughly and for good reason. We
spotted the first indication of this cooperation June 29, when rumors began
circulating that the GCC Peninsula Shield Force, which intervened in Bahrain in
mid-March to help put down a Shia-led uprising, was drawing down its forces.
Commander in Chief of the Bahrain Defense Force Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al
Khalifa denied rumors of a withdrawal of GCC forces in a July 7 interview. Al
Khalifa said the forces were repositioning while looking at ways to increase their
military capacity and coordination. Meanwhile, STRATFOR sources claim that the
1,000-plus force that deployed in mid-March has been pared down to about 300. We are
then left with two questions: Why the sudden confusion over the status of GCC forces
in Bahrain? And why have Iranian officials suddenly begun issuing near-daily
statements about the conditions for a fruitful negotiation with Saudi Arabia?

"As one Saudi source phrased it, if the Americans do not include the Saudis in their
own talks with Iran, then why should the Saudis coordinate their negotiations with
the Americans?"

 
The answer to both questions is related to a developing dialogue between Riyadh and
Tehran, driven by the fact that the United States lacks both a clear strategy and
the capability to prevent Iran from filling a crucial power vacuum in Iraq once U.S.
forces withdraw. Against the odds, the United States is trying to negotiate with the
Iraqi government an extension that would allow at least one U.S. division of 10,000
troops to remain in Iraq past the end-of-year Status of Forces Agreement deadline.
Washington is struggling to negotiate this residual force against Iran for one
simple reason: leverage. From the politicians in Parliament to Shiite leader Muqtada
al-Sadr's militiamen on the street, Iran has more means than the United States to
influence decisions made in Baghdad.

Iran could theoretically consent to a small U.S. military presence (far less than a
division) in Iraq, but Tehran would only do so if it felt confident it could hold
those troops under the threat of attack while remaining immune to an invading force.
The United States won't agree to a small and ineffective force that would be
vulnerable to Iran, so the negotiations fail to move forward. The pressure felt by
the United States was expressed Thursday when U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman
Adm. Mike Mullen told Pentagon reporters that "Iran is very directly supporting
extremist Shia groups, which are killing our troops" in Iraq. Any extension of the
U.S. troop presence, Mullen said, "has to be done in conjunction with control of
Iran in that regard."

The weakness of the U.S. position vis-a-vis Iran worries the GCC states, especially
Saudi Arabia. A strong Iranian push into Iraq, combined with the long-term threat
that Iran can provoke Shiite dissent in not only Bahrain, but more importantly in
Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province, creates a highly stressful situation for
the Saudis. Add to that the prospect of a weak and insufficient U.S. conventional
military deterrent against Iran, and it becomes easier to see why the Saudis might
feel compelled right now to open up a dialogue with the Iranians.
 
Saudi Arabia may not be able to accept the idea of recognizing an Iranian sphere of
influence in Iraq that extends dangerously close to the Saudi borderland. However,
the Kingdom could negotiate a temporary truce with Iran under the terms of which
Saudi Arabia would begin to draw down its military presence in Bahrain, while Iran
would cease meddling in the Shiite affairs of the GCC states. This
confidence-building conversation could then extend step-by-step to other strategic
matters, including the appointment of a Sunni (versus a Shia) to the defense
ministry in Iraq, the distribution of Iraqi oil revenues, the Sunni-Shia power
balance in Lebanon and so on.

While investigating this issue, STRATFOR learned that at least five bilateral
meetings between Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Turki bin Muhammad
bin Saud and Iranian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Muhammad Rida Shibani have
quietly taken place, suggesting that negotiations are proceeding, albeit slowly.
According to STRATFOR sources. Iran has tried to bring Kuwait into the talks as a
third party, a prospect Saudi Arabia has thus far rejected. Iran often confuses
negotiations by adding more participants, with the aim of sowing divisions in the
adversary's camp. They employ the tactic regularly when negotiating with the West
over Iran's nuclear program, trying to bring countries like Turkey and Brazil into
the conversation. However, Saudi Arabia seems to be making clear to Iran that it
intends to speak alone on behalf of the GCC -- excluding even its main patron, the
United States.
 
Given the current situation, the Saudis cannot be sure that the United States will
be able to buttress them against Iran. The Saudis also don't know whether the United
States and Iran will reach an understanding of their own that would leave Saudi
Arabia vulnerable. Such a rapprochement might see Washington effectively ceding Iraq
to Iran (which in many ways may be inevitable) while seeking guarantees that Iran
will desist from meddling in Saudi Arabia. Unable to trust U.S. intentions toward
Iran, the Saudis appear to be negotiating with Iran independent of the United
States. As one Saudi source phrased it, if the Americans do not include the Saudis
in their own talks with Iran, then why should the Saudis coordinate their
negotiations with the Americans?
 
This reaction could put the United States in a difficult position. Washington, in
trying to negotiate an extension in Iraq, needs to build up its leverage against
Iran. One-on-one talks between the Iranians and the Saudis would undermine the U.S.
negotiating position. Moreover, the United States cannot be sure how far a
Saudi-Iranian negotiation will go. Right now, preliminary steps like a truce in
Bahrain can be made between the Saudis and the Iranians, but what if the
negotiations move to discussing the eviction of the U.S. Fifth Fleet from Bahrain in
exchange for Iranian security guarantees to Saudi Arabia? The Saudi royals hope
these thoughts will compel the White House to commit to a more effective blocking
force against Iran, thereby precluding the need for Riyadh to strike an unsavory
deal with the Persians. The problem is that the United States already feels so
compelled but finds itself stymied. If the question now is one of capability, Iran
has already shown that it holds the upper hand in Iraq as Washington and Riyadh
contemplate their next -- independent -- moves.
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« Reply #167 on: July 15, 2011, 01:37:21 PM »

Many penetrating comments in here, but in the big picture ultimately do they matter?
===========
Administration Changes Tune on Syria
Better late than never, we suppose. This week the Obama administration finally decided that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently called "a reformer," has now "lost legitimacy." Was it the brutal repression of his own people, which in just the last two months has seen more than 1,600 Syrians murdered by regime goons? Nope. Was it inheriting his father's family business, and with it the guilt for as many as 100,000 Syrian and Lebanese lives lost to terrorism, torture and war? Nope. Was it Syria's covert pursuit of nuclear weapons, or its continued sponsorship of the terrorist mafia known as Hezbollah? Nope. None of these was worth calling Assad out for what he is -- an iron-fisted dictator with a regime propped up by brute force and fear, a leader hated by his own people, and an international pariah. But when you attack the U.S. embassy, even the Obama administration must take notice.

On Monday, Assad's security forces and their underlings orchestrated and carried out attack on the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus. The absence of Syrian police, which required the Marine security unit to eject the attackers forcibly, is an unmistakable indication the regime was behind the attack. It may seem easy to dismiss an action in which no Americans were harmed and which did no significant damage to U.S. property, but the fact that Assad felt he could safely attack the embassy of the United States without fear of serious repercussion speaks volumes.

Assad watched as the Obama administration did nothing during the 2009 Iranian protests. He watched as the Obama administration dithered for weeks before finally launching a half-hearted "kinetic military action" against Libya's lunatic dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. He then watched as Obama promptly stepped back and handed the Libyan tar baby to NATO, which appears no closer to finishing the job -- whatever it is -- than it was on March 23. What does Assad have to fear from an America that will not lead, or a NATO that cannot fight? Why not attack the U.S. embassy, and gain support from all those in the Middle East (and there are still many) who side with the dictators over democracy? So far, Assad's risk calculus has been proven correct.

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« Reply #168 on: July 15, 2011, 05:01:19 PM »

Sharks circle and bump before they attack for real unless it's an ambush. Human predators often follow the same M.O.
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« Reply #169 on: July 19, 2011, 11:28:53 PM »


Hugely important themes being discussed here.  The years of cluelessness of the Progressive faction in the US (the vicious opposition to the war in Iraq) now reify.  GM might add throwing Mubarak under the bus to the list too.
=============================


The U.S.-Saudi Dilemma: Iran's Reshaping of Persian Gulf Politics
July 19, 2011


By Reva Bhalla

Something extraordinary, albeit not unexpected, is happening in the Persian Gulf region. The United States, lacking a coherent strategy to deal with Iran and too distracted to develop one, is struggling to navigate Iraq’s fractious political landscape in search of a deal that would allow Washington to keep a meaningful military presence in the country beyond the end-of-2011 deadline stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, dubious of U.S. capabilities and intentions toward Iran, appears to be inching reluctantly toward an accommodation with its Persian adversary.

Iran clearly stands to gain from this dynamic in the short term as it seeks to reshape the balance of power in the world’s most active energy arteries. But Iranian power is neither deep nor absolute. Instead, Tehran finds itself racing against a timetable that hinges not only on the U.S. ability to shift its attention from its ongoing wars in the Middle East but also on Turkey’s ability to grow into its historic regional role.


The Iranian Position

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said something last week that caught our attention. Speaking at Iran’s first Strategic Naval Conference in Tehran on July 13, Vahidi said the United States is “making endeavors to drive a wedge between regional countries with the aim of preventing the establishment of an indigenized security arrangement in the region, but those attempts are rooted in misanalyses and will not succeed.” The effect Vahidi spoke of refers to the  Iranian redefinition of Persian Gulf power dynamics, one that in Iran’s ideal world ultimately would transform the local political, business, military and religious affairs of the Gulf states to favor the Shia and their patrons in Iran.

From Iran’s point of view, this is a natural evolution, and one worth waiting centuries for. It would see power concentrated among the Shia in Mesopotamia, eastern Arabia and the Levant at the expense of the Sunnis who have dominated this land since the 16th century, when the Safavid Empire lost Iraq to the Ottomans. Ironically, Iran owes its thanks for this historic opportunity to its two main adversaries — the Wahhabi Sunnis of al Qaeda who carried out the 9/11 attacks and the “Great Satan” that brought down Saddam Hussein. Should Iran succeed in filling a major power void in Iraq, a country that touches six Middle Eastern powers and demographically favors the Shia, Iran would theoretically have its western flank secured as well as an oil-rich outlet with which to further project its influence.

So far, Iran’s plan is on track. Unless the United States permanently can station substantial military forces in the region, Iran replaces the United States as the most powerful military force in the Persian Gulf region. In particular, Iran has the military ability to threaten the Strait of Hormuz and has a clandestine network of operatives spread across the region. Through its deep penetration of the Iraqi government, Iran is also in the best position to influence Iraqi decision-making. Washington’s obvious struggle in trying to negotiate an extension of the U.S. deployment in Iraq is perhaps one of the clearest illustrations of Iranian resolve to secure its western flank. The Iranian nuclear issue, as we have long argued, is largely a sideshow; a nuclear deterrent, if actually achieved, would certainly enhance Iranian security, but the most immediate imperative for Iran is to consolidate its position in Iraq. And as this weekend’s Iranian incursion into northern Iraq — ostensibly to fight Kurdish militants — shows, Iran is willing to make measured, periodic shows of force to convey that message.

While Iran already is well on its way to accomplishing its goals in Iraq, it needs two other key pieces to complete Tehran’s picture of a regional “indigenized security arrangement” that Vahidi spoke of. The first is an understanding with its main military challenger in the region, the United States. Such an understanding would entail everything from ensuring Iraqi Sunni military impotence to expanding Iranian energy rights beyond its borders to placing limits on U.S. military activity in the region, all in return for the guaranteed flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and an Iranian pledge to stay clear of Saudi oil fields.

The second piece is an understanding with its main regional adversary, Saudi Arabia. Iran’s reshaping of Persian Gulf politics entails convincing its Sunni neighbors that resisting Iran is not worth the cost, especially when the United States does not seem to have the time or the resources to come to their aid at present. No matter how much money the Saudis throw at Western defense contractors, any military threat by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council states against Iran will be hollow without an active U.S. military commitment. Iran’s goal, therefore, is to coerce the major Sunni powers into recognizing an expanded Iranian sphere of influence at a time when U.S. security guarantees in the region are starting to erode.

Of course, there is always a gap between intent and capability, especially in the Iranian case. Both negotiating tracks are charged with distrust, and meaningful progress is by no means guaranteed. That said, a number of signals have surfaced in recent weeks leading us to examine the potential for a Saudi-Iranian accommodation, however brief that may be.


The Saudi Position

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia is greatly unnerved by the political evolution in Iraq. The Saudis increasingly will rely on regional powers such as Turkey in trying to maintain a Sunni bulwark against Iran in Iraq, but Riyadh has largely resigned itself to the idea that Iraq, for now, is in Tehran’s hands. This is an uncomfortable reality for the Saudi royals to cope with, but what is amplifying Saudi Arabia’s concerns in the region right now — and apparently nudging Riyadh toward the negotiating table with Tehran — is the current situation in Bahrain.

When Shiite-led protests erupted in Bahrain in the spring, we did not view the demonstrations simply as a natural outgrowth of the so-called Arab Spring. There were certainly overlapping factors, but there was little hiding the fact that Iran had seized an opportunity to pose a nightmare scenario for the Saudi royals: an Iranian-backed Shiite uprising spreading from the isles of Bahrain to the Shiite-concentrated, oil-rich Eastern Province of the Saudi kingdom.

This explains Saudi Arabia’s hasty response to the Bahraini unrest, during which it led a rare military intervention of GCC forces in Bahrain at the invitation of Manama to stymie a broader Iranian destabilization campaign. The demonstrations in Bahrain are far calmer now than they were in  mid-March at the peak of the crisis, but the concerns of the GCC states have not subsided, and for good reason. Halfhearted attempts at national dialogues aside, Shiite dissent in this part of the region is likely to endure, and this is a reality that Iran can exploit in the long term through its developing covert capabilities.

When we saw in late June that Saudi Arabia was willingly drawing down its military presence in Bahrain at the same time the Iranians were putting out feelers in the local press on an almost daily basis regarding negotiations with Riyadh, we discovered through our sources that the pieces were beginning to fall into place for Saudi-Iranian negotiations. To understand why, we have to examine the Saudi perception of the current U.S. position in the region.

The Saudis cannot fully trust U.S. intentions at this point. The U.S. position in Iraq is tenuous at best, and Riyadh cannot rule out the possibility of Washington entering its own accommodation with Iran and thus leaving Saudi Arabia in the lurch. The United States has three basic interests: to maintain the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, to reduce drastically the number of forces it has devoted to fighting wars with Sunni Islamist militants (who are also by definition at war with Iran), and to try to reconstruct a balance of power in the region that ultimately prevents any one state — whether Arab or Persian — from controlling all the oil in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. position in this regard is flexible, and while developing an understanding with Iran is a trying process, nothing fundamentally binds the United States to Saudi Arabia. If the United States comes to the conclusion that it does not have any good options in the near term for dealing with Iran, a U.S.-Iranian accommodation — however jarring on the surface — is not out of the question.

More immediately, the main point of negotiation between the United States and Iran is the status of U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran would prefer to see U.S. troops completely removed from its western flank, but it has already seen dramatic reductions. The question for both sides moving forward concerns not only the size but also the disposition and orientation of those remaining forces and the question of how rapidly they can be reoriented from a more vulnerable residual advisory and assistance role to a blocking force against Iran. It also must take into account how inherently vulnerable a U.S. military presence in Iraq (not to mention the remaining diplomatic presence) is to Iranian conventional and unconventional means.

The United States may be willing to recognize Iranian demands when it comes to Iran’s designs for the Iraqi government or oil concessions in the Shiite south, but it also wants to ensure that Iran does not try to overstep its bounds and threaten Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth. To reinforce a potential accommodation with Iran, the United States needs to maintain a blocking force against Iran, and this is where the U.S.-Iranian negotiation appears to be deadlocked.

The threat of a double-cross is a real one for all sides to this conflict. Iran cannot trust that the United States, once freed up, will not engage in military action against Iran down the line. The Americans cannot trust that the Iranians will not make a bid for Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth (though the military logistics required for such a move are likely beyond Iran’s capabilities at this point). Finally, the Saudis can’t trust that the United States will defend it in a time of need, especially if the United States is preoccupied with other matters and/or has developed a relationship with Iran that it feels the need to maintain.

When all this is taken together — the threat illustrated by Shiite unrest in Bahrain, the tenuous U.S. position in Iraq and the potential for Washington to strike its own deal with Tehran — Riyadh may be seeing little choice but to search out a truce with Iran, at least until it can get a clearer sense of U.S. intentions. This does not mean that the Saudis would place more trust in a relationship with their historical rivals, the Persians, than they would in a relationship with the United States. Saudi-Iranian animosity is embedded in a deep history of political, religious and economic competition between the two main powerhouses of the Persian Gulf, and it is not going to vanish with the scratch of a pen and a handshake. Instead, this would be a truce driven by short-term, tactical constraints. Such a truce would primarily aim to arrest Iranian covert activity linked to Shiite dissidents in the GCC states, giving the Sunni monarchist regimes a temporary sense of relief while they continue their efforts in trying to build up an Arab resistance to Iran.

But Iran would view such a preliminary understanding as the path toward a broader accommodation, one that would bestow recognition on Iran as the pre-eminent power of the Persian Gulf. Iran can thus be expected to make a variety of demands, all revolving around the idea of Sunni recognition of an expanded Iranian sphere of influence — a very difficult idea for Saudi Arabia to swallow.

This is where things get especially complicated. The United States theoretically might strike an accommodation with Iran, but it would do so only with the knowledge that it could rely on the traditional Sunni heavyweights in the region eventually to rebuild a relative balance of power. If the major Sunni powers reach their own accommodation with Iran, independent of the United States, the U.S. position in the region becomes all the more questionable. What would be the limits of a Saudi-Iranian negotiation? Could the United States ensure, for example, that Saudi Arabia would not bargain away U.S. military installations in a negotiation with Iran?

The Iranian defense minister broached this very idea during his speech last week when he said, “the United States has failed to establish a sustainable security system in the Persian Gulf region, and it is not possible that many vessels will maintain a permanent presence in the region.” Vahidi was seeking to convey to fellow Iranians and trying to convince the Sunni Arab powers that a U.S. security guarantee in the region does not hold as much weight as it used to, and that with Iran now filling the void, the United States may well face a much more difficult time trying to maintain its existing military installations.

The question that naturally arises from Vahidi’s statement is the future status of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, and whether Iran can instill just the right amount of fear in the minds of its Arab neighbors to shake the foundations of the U.S. military presence in the region. For now, Iran does not appear to have the military clout to threaten the GCC states to the point of forcing them to negotiate away their U.S. security guarantees in exchange for Iranian restraint. This is a threat, however, that Iran will continue to let slip and even one that Saudi Arabia quietly could use to capture Washington’s attention in the hopes of reinforcing U.S. support for the Sunni Arabs against Iran.


The Long-Term Scenario

The current dynamic places Iran in a prime position. Its political investment is paying off in Iraq, and it is positioning itself for negotiation with both the Saudis and the Americans that it hopes will fill out the contours of Iran’s regional sphere of influence. But Iranian power is not that durable in the long term.

Iran is well endowed with energy resources, but it is populous and mountainous. The cost of internal development means that while Iran can get by economically, it cannot prosper like many of its Arab competitors. Add to that a troubling demographic profile in which ethnic Persians constitute only a little more than half of the country’s population and developing challenges to the clerical establishment, and Iran clearly has a great deal going on internally distracting it from opportunities abroad.

The long-term regional picture also is not in Iran’s favor. Unlike Iran, Turkey is an ascendant country with the deep military, economic and political power to influence events in the Middle East — all under a Sunni banner that fits more naturally with the region’s religious landscape. Turkey also is the historical, indigenous check on Persian power. Though it will take time for Turkey to return to this role, strong hints of this dynamic already are coming to light.

In Iraq, Turkish influence can be felt across the political, business, security and cultural spheres as  Ankara is working quietly and fastidiously to maintain a Sunni bulwark in the country and steep Turkish influence in the Arab world. And in Syria, though the Alawite regime led by the al Assads is not at a breakpoint, there is no doubt a confrontation building between Iran and Turkey over the future of the Syrian state. Turkey has an interest in building up a viable Sunni political force in Syria that can eventually displace the Alawites, while Iran has every interest in preserving the current regime so as to maintain a strategic foothold in the Levant.

For now, the Turks are not looking for a confrontation with Iran, nor are they necessarily ready for one. Regional forces are accelerating Turkey’s rise, but it will take experience and additional pressures for Turkey to translate rhetoric into action when it comes to meaningful power projection. This is yet another factor that is likely driving the Saudis to enter their own dialogue with Iran at this time.

The Iranians are thus in a race against time. It may be a matter of a few short years before the United States frees up its attention span and is able to re-examine the power dynamics in the Persian Gulf with fresh vigor. Within that time, we would also expect Turkey to come into its own and assume its role as the region’s natural counterbalance to Iran. By then, the Iranians hope to have the structures and agreements in place to hold their ground against the prevailing regional forces, but that level of long-term security depends on Tehran’s ability to cut its way through two very thorny sets of negotiations with the Saudis and the Americans while it still has the upper hand.

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« Reply #170 on: August 12, 2011, 07:55:07 AM »



Analyst Reva Bhalla examines the shift in the U.S. stance toward Syria, Turkish concerns and implications of Syrian instability for Israel.


Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Related Links
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Syria Becomes the New Arena for Turkey and Iran
Syria as a Battleground for Saudi Arabia and Iran
U.S. President Barack Obama is widely expected to make a statement calling for Syrian President Bashar al Assad to step down. The apparent shift in the U.S. position suggests that the United States has identified alternatives to the al Assads worth backing, thereby raising the potential for a military coup. However the number of unknowns in this crisis is deeply unsettling for Syria’s neighbors.

Obama calling for al Assad to go does not necessarily mean that the United States is about to engage in another military operation in the region and pull another Libya. That’s simply not likely at this moment. Instead, the United States is looking to regional heavyweights like Turkey to manage the situation in Syria. However managing the situation in Syria is not as easy as simply throwing support behind the opposition and bracing for the fall of the regime. It’s much more complicated than that.

There is still a key element sustaining the al Assad regime as the Alawite minority in Syria realizes what is at stake should they begin to fracture and create a vacuum in Damascus for the Sunni majority to fill. There are some indications that Alawite unity is under great stress and that the armed forces that are primarily commanded by Alawite officers are under extreme stress as this military campaign wears on. There have also been some serious signs of dissent among the senior military command and these are certainly all factors that need to be monitored closely in assessing the durability of this regime. At the same time, this is not going to be a quick and easy fall. This is going to be a bloody and arduous fight for the al Assad regime and it’s not one that Turkey is quite prepared for, even if in the long term it’s in Turkey’s interest to place Syria in the hands of the Sunni majority and eventually under Ankara’s influence.

Another country not quite prepared for this transition is Israel. The Israeli political leadership is under a great deal of pressure right now. Internally, large demonstrations have taken place in Israel over everything from high taxes, lack of access to public services and high levels of government corruption. Externally, Israel is bracing itself for a U.N. vote on Palestinian recognition that has the potential to unleash intifada-like violence on its borders. At the same time, Israel is watching very nervously as the military regime in Egypt tries to manage its political transition, and now most importantly and most urgently, Israel is watching the Syrian regime struggle and try to sustain itself. The Syrian regime may be hostile to Israel, but at least it was predictable. All of these pressures combined are leading the Israeli populace at large to question the legitimacy of the Israeli political leadership.

In Syria you can see very easily why a mostly Sunni conscript force does not really feel the need to risk their lives for the regime. There is a lack of unity and nationalism there that stems from the fractured demographics of the country, the nature of the regime itself among other things. In a state as tiny and as vulnerable as Israel, however, where military conscription is universal and where you have a traditionally strong military culture, the stakes are much, much higher if a serious chasm develops between the state and its people.

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« Reply #171 on: August 26, 2011, 01:21:01 AM »


Iran Monitors Turkey's Rising Regional Power

A high ranking Iranian cleric used some tough language against Turkey on Wednesday. Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi — recently appointed to head the newly constituted Arbitration Council— accused Turkey of promoting a Westernized version of Islam to advance its interests in the region. Shahroudi, who is seen as a possible successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Turkey’s claims to be the “guardian of the resistance movement” are tarnished by Ankara’s relations with Israel and alliance with the United States. He said that Iran, despite its support of the Palestinians and efforts against the West, has been pushed to the margins.

“The clerics’ remarks are the first time that Iran has used hostile language against the Turkish government since Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power.”
Shahroudi’s comments come a day after another high-ranking cleric, Naser Makarrem-Shirazi (a grand ayatollah who is very close to the Iranian political establishment) criticized the Turkish government for turning against Syria, accusing Ankara of being at the “complete disposal” of the West. Earlier on Monday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sought Ankara’s help in protecting the Syrian regime from Western pressure during a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that lasted more than thirty minutes.

The clerics’ remarks are the first time that Iran has used hostile language against the Turkish government since Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power . Ever since the AKP assumed leadership in 2002, relations between Tehran and Ankara have been fairly close. It wasn’t too long ago that Iran sought Turkish mediation on the nuclear issue and Turkey drew the disapproval of the United States on the matter.

Clearly, much has changed and fast. In many ways, this estrangement was bound to happen. STRATFOR has long said that despite the current warm relations, Iran and Turkey would ultimately clash as they both seek to emerge as regional players in the Middle East. The Syrian regime’s use of force to quell popular agitation has served as a trigger with Turkey leading the heavy international pressure against Damascus.

From the Iranian point of view, Syria is the only state actor in the largely Arab Middle East that is an ally of the Islamic republic. In fact, Tehran’s plans to assume the mantle of a major regional power are tied to the durability of President Bashar al Assad’s government. Thus, Turkey’s turn against the Alawite-Baathist regime in Syria represents a major threat to Iran.

STRATFOR recently highlighted how Turkey and Iran, given their respective interests in Syria, must engage with each other. The recent shift in the Iranian attitude towards Turkey suggests that those dealings may have taken a turn for the worse. Indeed, Syria is not the only factor that has generated Iran’s displeasure towards Turkey.

Tehran does not want to see Ankara emerge as the dominant power in the Middle East and the leader of the wider Islamic world. Iran’s efforts to be seen as the vanguard of Muslim causes are undermined if Turkey emerges as a model for other Arab and Muslim states.

Therefore, Shahroudi and Makarrem-Shirazi’s remarks are Iran’s way of sending a message to Turkey — that Tehran will not sit by and allow Ankara to take the lead and claim ownership of issues that are critical to Iranian national security interests. How Iran decides to confront Turkey remains unclear. What is certain is that Iranian-Turkish tensions will likely aggravate the situation in the region, which is already witnessing unprecedented instability.

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« Reply #172 on: September 02, 2011, 01:18:12 PM »


Summary
Continuing unrest in Syria is driving Hezbollah to prepare for a worst-case scenario in which it loses a key patron in Damascus and is left to fend for itself against a host of Lebanese factions that share an interest in undermining Hezbollah’s — and by extension, Iran’s — influence in the Levant.

Analysis
Related Links
Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis

The inability of Syria’s al Assad regime to contain unrest across the country is naturally of great concern to Hezbollah and its patrons in Iran. The geopolitical reality of this region dictates that any consolidated regime in Syria will also be the preeminent power in Lebanon. Should Syria’s majority Sunni community succeed in splitting the Alawite-Baathist regime, it is highly unlikely that a re-emerging Sunni elite would be friendly to Iranian and Hezbollah interests. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and others would have an opportunity to severely undercut Iran’s foothold in the Levant and dial back Hezbollah’s political and military influence in Lebanon.

This is not to say that the al Assad regime has reached the brink of collapse, or even that Syria’s Sunnis have the tools, backing and unity they need to fill a power vacuum in Damascus without first undergoing a protracted struggle with Syria’s minority factions (including Alawites, mainstream Shia, Ismailis, Christians and Druze who would much rather see Damascus in the hands of a minority government than under Sunni control). But the more vulnerable the al Assad government appears, the more likely Lebanon is to bear the brunt of the sectarian spillover from this conflict.

The Basics of Levantine Conflict
Whereas Syria’s current conflict can be described broadly as a struggle between the country’s majority Sunni population and a group of minorities, the sectarian landscape in Lebanon is far more complex. On one side of the political divide, there is the Shiite group Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran and allied politically with select Shiite, Christian and Druze forces. Collectively, this group is known as the March 8 coalition. On the other side is the Sunni-majority March 14 coalition, which is backed by the West and the key Sunni states in the region (most notably Saudi Arabia) and is also allied with select Christian and Druze forces. Hezbollah forcibly collapsed the Lebanese government in January, and since June the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah-led coalition has maintained a high degree of influence in the Lebanese Cabinet led by Prime Minister Nijab Miqati (a Sunni who is known to have deep business links with the al Assad regime).



(click here to enlarge image)
However, Lebanese politics is anything but static. The Saudi-backed Lebanese Sunni community sees an opportunity to tilt the power balance now that Hezbollah’s Syrian patrons are absorbed with a domestic crisis. In the middle of the broader Shiite-Sunni divide in Lebanon, the country’s Maronite Christian and minority Druze factions can be expected to shift between these two poles as they try to assess which direction the political winds are blowing.

Lebanon cannot escape either the volatility of sectarian politics or the shadow of its Syrian neighbor. So long as the government in Syria is secure enough to devote attention beyond its borders, Lebanon will be saturated with Syrian influence in everything from its banking sector to its militant factions to the highest echelons of the government. This also means that whenever Lebanon reverts to its arguably more natural state of factional infighting, Syria is the best positioned to intervene and restore order, relying on Lebanese fissures to consolidate its own authority in the country.

The picture changes dramatically, however, if Syria becomes embroiled in its own sectarian struggle and is thus unable to play a dominant role in Lebanon. In that case, Lebanon’s factions would be left to defend their interests on their own, and this is exactly the scenario that Hezbollah appears to be preparing for.

Hezbollah Prepares for the Worst
Because of what is at stake for Iran should the al Assad regime collapse, Hezbollah has been instructed by its patrons in Tehran to do what it can to assist the Syrian regime. STRATFOR has received indications that Hezbollah has deployed hundreds of fighters in the past several months to assist Syrian security forces — who are also being aided by Iran’s growing Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) presence in the country — in cracking down on anti-government protesters. As signs of Hezbollah’s assistance to an increasingly repressive Syrian regime grew more visible in the region, Hezbollah suffered considerable damage to its political image.

A STRATFOR source close to the organization claims that a split is emerging within Hezbollah over the group’s Syria dilemma. Older Hezbollah members apparently want Hezbollah to take a more prominent political role in Lebanon so the group can operate more autonomously and thus try to insulate itself from its external patrons, while the younger members are adamantly calling on the leadership to stand by Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The source added that many Hezbollah youth, who are heavily influenced by Iran’s IRGC, believe the Syrian president will survive because they also believe Iran will not abandon him. Many within the older Hezbollah generation, however, appear to be more skeptical of al Assad’s long-term chances for political survival.

While waiting for the situation in Syria to crystallize, the Hezbollah leadership has chosen to make a short-term tactical change in its operations. The group’s greatest concern at this point is that Lebanon’s Sunni, Maronite Christian and Druze communities, with Saudi and possibly Western and Turkish backing, could work together in trying to confront Hezbollah militarily should they feel confident that Syria and its proxies will be too distracted to intervene decisively. Weapons flows in Lebanon are already abundant, but as the situation in Syria has worsened, there have been increasing signs of Lebanese Sunnis, Maronite Christians and Druze bolstering their arsenals in preparation for a possible military confrontation. Hezbollah appears to be most closely watching the actions of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, as Hezbollah believes his Christian militia is most likely to lead an armed conflict in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

It is impossible to tell at this point which side would be more interested in provoking such a confrontation. Just as forces looking to weaken Hezbollah could attempt to trigger a conflict, Syria is also interested in instigating sectarian clashes in Lebanon to distract from its domestic crisis (the urgency for Syria to do so will increase the more Syria feels that NATO countries will have more resources to expend as the military campaign in Libya winds down). Toward this end, Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamluk recently summoned Jamil al-Sayyid, former Lebanese director of public security (and a Shiite) to Damascus, and instructed him to revive his intelligence apparatus and prepare himself for action against Syria’s adversaries in Lebanon. According to a source, al-Sayyid has been given the task of targeting leaders in the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition and instigating Sunni-Shiite armed conflict. The source claims Mamluk issued similar instructions to Mustafa Hamdan (a Sunni), another former officer who was jailed with al-Sayyid. Hamdan currently commands the al Murabitun movement, which has a small presence in Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon, and allegedly has orders to challenge Saad al-Hariri’s Future Movement in Sunni areas.

The rising threat of armed civil conflict in Lebanon has led Hezbollah to turn its focus inward. According to a source close to Hezbollah, the group has shifted the bulk of its operations from the South Litani conflict area with Israel northward to the Shiite-concentrated Bekaa Valley, where Hezbollah is busy developing an extensive communications network in the northern and central parts of the area. Hezbollah appears to be setting up its defense line in the Upper Matn and Kisirwan mountain peaks to protect the central and northern Bekaa against a ground attack from the Christian heartland to the west. Hezbollah is hoping to complete much of this construction by the end of October.

Hezbollah and its Lebanese pro-Syrian allies are also attempting to build up their defense in the predominantly Sunni Akkar area in northern Lebanon, where Sunni-Shiite tensions are on the rise following a deadly shootout at a Ramadan iftar dinner Aug. 17. The dinner, organized by the pro-Syrian head of the Muslim Clerics Association in Akkar Sheikh Abduslam al Harrash, was interrupted when unknown assailants opened fire and killed an attending member of the Alawite Islamic Council. Lebanese army forces then killed Sunni lawmaker Khalid al Daher’s driver. Al Daher responded by condemning the Lebanese military and accusing soldiers of operating as armed gangsters under the influence of Syria and Hezbollah. It is highly possible that the episode in al Ayyat was part of a Syrian covert strategy to instigate sectarian conflict.

The growing stress on the Syrian regime is, for a number of reasons, raising the threat of civil war in Lebanon. The range of political, religious, ideological and business interests that intersect in Lebanon make for an explosive mix when an exogenous factor — like the weakening of the Syrian regime — is introduced. Outside stakeholders like Iran will be doing everything they can to  sustain a foothold in the region while Saudi Arabia and Turkey will be looking for a strategic opportunity to bring the Levant back under Sunni authority. Caught in this broader struggle are the Lebanese themselves, whose preparations for a worst-case scenario are ironically driving the country closer to a crisis.



Read more: How a Syrian Crisis Will Affect Lebanon | STRATFOR
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« Reply #173 on: October 13, 2011, 12:29:20 AM »



A Dramatic Day in the Middle East
Two major events took place Tuesday in the Middle East. First, Israel and Hamas reached a deal in which captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in the Gaza Strip since 2006, will be exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel. Then within the hour of the initial reports about the prisoner swap deal, U.S. authorities announced they had charged two individuals allegedly working on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in a  plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington.
There is no evidence to suggest the two incidents are linked, but both illustrate the massive changes sweeping the region.
Indirect talks between Israel and Hamas to secure the release of Shalit have been taking place for years. In the past, all such parleys failed to result in an agreement largely because Israel was not prepared to accept Hamas’ demand that 1,000 or so Palestinians (many jailed for killing Israeli citizens) be released. But the political landscape in the region has changed immensely since 2009, the last time the two sides seriously deliberated over the matter.
“Like the prisoner swap deal, the revelation of an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi envoy to Washington on U.S. soil is a sign of the dramatic changes in the Middle East.”
The unprecedented public unrest sweeping across the Arab world in 2011 undermined decades-old autocratic political systems. From Israel’s point of view, the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the threats to the stability of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad represent serious risks for Israel’s national security, and Israel’s decision to agree to a prisoner swap deal is informed by the new regional environment.
It will be some time before the entire calculus behind the move becomes apparent. What is clear even now is that the prisoner swap deal has implications for Israel, Hamas, intra-Palestinian affairs and Egypt. Securing the release of Gilad Shalit will boost Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing at home. The move also could help Egypt’s military leaders domestically, who can claim their intervention brokered the deal (though with all the other turmoil in Egypt and November elections approaching, the Palestinian issue is a secondary concern). For Hamas, obtaining the release of more than 1,000 prisoners could help it gain considerable political support among Palestinians and as a result could complicate its power struggle with its secular rival Fatah. This kind of concrete result compared to any potential symbolic victory from Fatah’s recent bid for U.N. recognition could reflect unfavorably on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. And in successfully completing a deal with Israel, Hamas can also portray itself as a rational actor, nudging the Islamist militant movement closer to legitimization.
Like the prisoner swap deal, the revelation of an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi envoy to Washington on U.S. soil is a sign of the dramatic changes in the Middle East. The details of the alleged plot raise more questions than they answer, but already news of the plot has complicated the Islamic republic’s already-complex push for regional dominance.
In accusing the Iranian security establishment of plotting to murder the ambassador of Saudi Arabia, its biggest regional rival, on the soil of its nemesis the United States, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama may be showing it intends to take a harder line with Iran. We have already seen tensions between Riyadh and Tehran rise to unprecedented heights. Depending on the Iranian regime’s actual involvement, some in U.S. government circles may even consider the plot an act of war on the part of Tehran.
At this early stage it is not clear how Iran will respond to the U.S. allegations beyond strongly denying it was involved in any such plot, but it has a number of places where it can choose to escalate matters — Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon to name a few. Iraq is the most significant, and it is already a battleground for influence between Washington and Tehran. The United States has slightly less than 50,000 troops in the country and wants to leave behind a significant residual force after the end-of-2011 pullout deadline. Iran wants to see all U.S. forces leave by Dec. 31, and it can deploy both military proxies and significant political influence in its western neighbor to block American efforts.
Though it is too early to say what the long-term consequences (if indeed there are any) of the United States accusing Iranian government-linked elements of trying to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador on American territory and Israel reaching a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas will be, they demonstrate how rapidly the situation is changing in the Middle East at a time of enormous uncertainty.
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« Reply #174 on: October 13, 2011, 10:56:52 AM »

I agree that nothing in the story indicates why they would trade one person for a thousand.  There is more to that and we don't get to know what it is.
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Earlier in the year during the Arab spring there was a near-war between Iran and Saudi over Bahrain, a decades old dispute that I assume is still smoldering.  That Iran would want to kill off their enemy Saudi while he is negotiating assistance against them from their enemy America isn't is no surprise, nor is it new that our security is constantly thwarting off attacks like this.  It is a huge story, but not something new or changing as I see it.

Didn't this happen over the summer?  The surprise is that the Obamites went to press with it now instead of holding it a year for value in the general election.
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« Reply #175 on: October 13, 2011, 11:24:50 AM »

That is a point I hadn't noticed.  Exactly when was this plot foiled?


============
Stratfor

Iranian Assassination Plot on U.S. Soil

The U.S. revelation of an alleged Iranian plot to work with Mexican drug cartels to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., raises several issues. Such indictments are not always accurate or as significant as they first appear. If the allegations are true, would Iran even consider such a plan? How likely is this plot to hold up under scrutiny? What tools would the Iranians have should they want to carry out such an act on U.S. soil? Why did the U.S. government release this indictment now? How does this affect the U.S. plans to remove troops from Iraq, given that withdrawal would leave Iran the de facto power in the region? How does this shape or reflect the current status of U.S.-Iranian dialogue regarding Iraq? How do the Saudis react to this, and what options do they have at their disposal? How does this play out in Iran, both in its regional and international relations and in the internal dynamic of Iranian politics? Given the timing, how does this play into U.S. election dynamics?

The American accusation suggests Iran was looking to work with members or former members of Mexican cartels to carry out attacks in the United States. Why would any cartel agree to assist in such a plot, and why would the Iranians approach Mexican cartels in the first place? How does this affect U.S. policy toward Mexico, given the sensitivities of such a revelation, if proven accurate? The Mexican government reportedly assisted the United States in the operation to capture the accused. What is the status of U.S.-Mexican cooperation on counterterrorism and counternarcotics activities? Is there talk of increased U.S. activity with or even inside Mexico as a result of the alleged plot? How does this play into assessments of Mexico’s ability to handle its own internal problems, and the potential spillover to the U.S. side of the border?

« Last Edit: October 13, 2011, 11:31:02 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #176 on: October 21, 2011, 04:00:07 PM »


Iraq’s parliament speaker has proposed that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Iraq hold conferences on a regular basis aimed at forming an understanding on political stability and security in the region after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is complete. It is not clear yet whether the proposed summits will take place, but each party has its own interests it would like to secure in Iraq, and Iraq itself is hoping to avoid becoming the battlefield where regional rivalries play out. However, because of Iraq’s sectarian divisions, it will be difficult for the Iraqis themselves to agree on what an understanding should look like, and the country’s geographic location in the heart of the Middle East make it the natural battleground for influence for its more powerful neighbors. Iran is in the strongest position in Iraq, but the potential for regime change in Syria — Tehran’s closest ally — could put a damper on its aims.

Analysis
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi met Oct. 17 with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani on the sidelines of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Switzerland to discuss Iraq’s proposed initiative to host regular meetings with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey on security and political stability following the  U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Thus far, only Iran has committed to join the summits, and conflicting reports have emerged on whether Saudi Arabia and Turkey have even been formally invited yet.

The meetings would be intended to provide a forum for the countries to reach an understanding on the future of the region — one that Iraq hopes will enable it to be left relatively unmolested and free to pursue its interests, especially the development of energy resources, amid its neighbors’ competition for influence. However, this is unlikely for a number of reasons. First, Iraq is extremely fragmented and while the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds may be in agreement that they do not want Iraq to become the site of a proxy battle, they are disunited on what they want in a post-U.S.-withdrawal understanding. In addition, because of its sectarian links and other leverage over Iraq, Iran will be in a stronger position than Turkey and Saudi Arabia at least in the near term, and the other players know this. However, while Tehran may have gained Iraq for now, should the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad fall and a Sunni regime replace it, Iran could lose the country that has long been its closest ally in the region, setting back its ambitions and threatening its position in Iraq. The longer it takes Iran to consolidate its gains, the more it risks losing them to some unforeseen development.


Iraq’s Proposed Meeting

Al-Nujaifi proposed in September a vague initiative on solving Iraq’s domestic political impasse. Following a trip to the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Arbil in late September to meet with the Kurdish leadership, he announced the initiative would also include proposals to solve outstanding issues with Turkey, Iran and Kuwait. The latest manifestation of the initiative, which includes a rotating regional summit between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey came after al-Nujaifi visited Tehran on Oct. 1-3 to discuss Iran’s shelling along its border with Iraq and visit an annual Iranian conference on the Palestinian issue.

Nujaifi is a member of the al-Iraqiya List, the main Sunni political party in Iraq, and is a key player in drafting long-awaited and politically contentious legislation for the oil sector — the development of which is one of the most important reasons for Iraq to secure its autonomy and stability after the U.S. withdrawal. The details of the law are a critical component for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s goal of autonomy and the regional and sectarian balance of power in Iraq. The fact that Iran has agreed to participate in an initiative proposed by a Sunni party is significant and may encourage the Saudis and Turks to join in as well if they feel it is not only supported by Iraq’s Shiites.

Each of the countries has its own reasons for possibly joining the proposed summits. Saudi Arabia wants to limit Iran’s expansion and knows that the United States’ position in the region is too weak to help it — as Riyadh’s deployment of its own military forces to crush Bahrain’s uprising in March demonstrated. Turkey, like Saudi Arabia, is a predominantly Sunni country and eyes Iran’s regional rise with suspicion, though not the outright hostility of Riyadh. While it, too, wants to prevent a Shiite crescent from forming uninterrupted all the way from Iran through Iraq to the Levant over the longer term, its immediate concern is Kurdish militancy emanating from northern Iraq, which has escalated in recent days. To address this, Ankara needs help from both Iraq and Iran, and would use the proposed meetings toward this end if it participates. Iran, which has significant sectarian links to Iraq’s Shiite majority, wants to use its commanding influence in Iraq as a springboard to expand its power elsewhere, and in any case, such a solution follows Iran’s general foreign policy strategy of pushing for security frameworks to be decided by countries in the region without the United States.

If the Saudis feel the proposed series of meetings is the best way to maintain some influence in Iraq, they may participate in them until a more promising option avails itself. Riyadh understands, however, that it does not have the kind of leverage in Iraq that Tehran does — even attending the meetings will on some level be viewed as a victory for Iran, as it has often pushed for these sorts of regional gatherings that do not include the participation of the United States. With tensions between the two countries at an all-time high — especially in light of the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil — even if the meetings do take place, trust between the two powers will be in very short supply.


Regional Dynamic

Until the fall of Saddam Hussein following the U.S. invasion in 2003, Iraq was known as the “Shield of the Arabs” because it prevented Iran from expanding its influence westward. With Saddam gone, Iran was easily able to re-emerge and take advantage of its links to Iraq’s Shiite majority. Now, with the United States readying to leave the country by 2012, Iran will have a chance to fully consolidate its gains — and begin contemplating its moves beyond Mesopotamia.

To a degree, Riyadh has already accepted Tehran’s domination of Iraq, but it desperately does not want Iranian influence to push beyond it, especially in countries along the Gulf such as Bahrain, where Iran has already , and feels it must contain Iran’s influence in Iraq to do so.

One possible area for the Saudis to pressure Iran is Syria. During the Iraq war, Saudi jihadists often entered Iraq via Syria in order to attack U.S. troops in the country. As the opposition movement to remove the al Assad regime from power continues, Saudi militants could theoretically travel to Syria via Iraq to fight the minority Alawite regime. Syria has been a close Iranian ally for decades, so Tehran does not want to see the country fall — a development that would be all the more painful coming so soon after its main obstacle, the Saddam regime, had been removed. Iran needs Iraq to prevent these militants from entering the country and making matters even more difficult for the al Assad regime.

Turkey, too, has aspirations of regional leadership but has taken a more measured approach on Iran than the antagonism that characterizes Tehran’s relations with Riyadh. Like Iran, Ankara also does not want to see the Syrian government collapse, albeit for a different reason — it fears chaos along its border, not losing a steadfast ally. Iran has often used the issue of Kurdish militancy to  entice cooperation with Turkey on other matters. Though Turkey sees itself rising to a position of leadership over the course of the next decades, in the short term its main goal is to rein in Kurdish militants, which can be done easier with Iran’s support than its opposition. Thus, Saudi Arabia cannot really count on Turkey as a partner willing to do whatever necessary to constrain Iranian power, at least not at present.

Because Iraq’s factions have a difficult time agreeing among themselves on issues such as central government control versus regional autonomy, the distribution of oil revenues and political posts, expecting them to come together to broker a deal with these three other regional powers seems unlikely at best. It is difficult to envision an arrangement that would pacify regional players’ seemingly insurmountable differences and conflicting ambitions. Even if the meetings do take place, Iraq will be the epicenter of the Middle East’s internal power struggle for some time to come, and Iran will continue exploiting its leverage there.



Read more: Iraq's Attempt to Protect its Autonomy | STRATFOR
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #177 on: October 21, 2011, 04:34:48 PM »

Second post of the afternoon:

STRATFOR CEO George Friedman assesses the uncertainties of the Middle East, including the rise of Iran, and explains why U.S. military options are very limited.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Related Links
•   From the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush: Rethinking the Region
Colin: It’s a cliche, but the only certainty in the Middle East is uncertainty. There are many moving parts in the region and many of the unexpected events of recent weeks add to that uncertainty, along with planned developments such as the American troop withdrawals from oil-rich Iraq.
Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman, who joins me to give his latest assessment.
George: Well, the single most important thing to be concerned about and be watching is the withdrawal of the United States from Iraq, which we’ve talked about before, and the Iranian response to that. The Iranians have made it very clear that regard the American withdrawal as a vacuum and that they intend to fill the vacuum. We have seen some substantial tension emerge between Saudi Arabia and Iran — including of course the story that Iranian operatives were planning to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States and destroy the Saudi Embassy.
We’ve also seen, of course, the Bahrain events in which the Saudi army has occupied Shiite Bahrain to protect its Sunni ruling family, where clearly the Iranians have had some degree of control. And we’ve also had a report, about two weeks ago, about a shooting in eastern Saudi Arabia, in which gunmen wounded nine soldiers.
None of these by themselves is particularly troubling, until you take them all together and see that we have growing pressure from the Iranians to take advantage of the opening that’s been left to them, and that obviously creates tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and that the Iranians are increasing their position.
When we turn to Syria, where Assad still has not fallen — and for all the expectations that he would be unable to hold out, he has held out quite well to this point — we also see the possibility that if Iran manages to take a dominant position in Iraq and Assad does not fall, you will see a situation where Iranian influence moves through Iraq, through Syria, for Assad’s their ally, and into Lebanon where Hezbollah’s operating, on a continuous line, creating an Iranian sphere of influence to the north of Saudi Arabia and along the southern border of Turkey. This would be dramatic change in the balance of power in the region and it would also be something that would reshape the global balance, as the world is dependent on oil from this region and is going to cooperate with whoever has it.
So we are in a position now where the promised American withdrawal from Iraq is nearing its conclusion, where it’s pretty clear the U.S. is not going to be leaving very many troops, if any, in Iraq after the end and we are seeing the new game develop — the game between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Colin: I assume from what you’re saying, you don’t foresee much coming out of the backstage negotiations the U.S. has been having with Iran for some time.
George: Well, there have certainly been reports of that. I believe that there have been back channels to Iran. The problem is that, whereas it’s clear what the United States wants, which is that Iran should restrain itself in all its dealings, it’s not clear that Iran sees any reason to do that. This has nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear capability or lack of nuclear capability. The fact is that Iran is the leading conventional power in the region. With the United States gone it is able to assert itself, if not directly militarily then indirectly through covert forces and political influence, extensively. Why should the Iranians negotiate with the United States?
Well, one reason is that the Iranian perception of the United States is that the United States is utterly unpredictable, quite irrational and extremely powerful and that combination frightens the Iranians. The Iranians remember very well how they bet on Ronald Reagan and released hostages to Reagan that they wouldn’t release to Jimmy Carter and what a bad bet that was. So they’re aware of two things: that they don’t have that a clear of an understanding of American politics and secondly, that the United States being unpredictable could harm Iran in some way and that might cause them to want to reach some sort of understanding with the United States.
But at this point the American posture is simply one that is prepared to allow this evolution to take place. Last week we saw some very harsh words by President Obama concerning the attempted assassination in Washington. It’s not clear that that’s being followed up in any way, and the signal that’s being delivered to the Iranians is that the road is open to their influence.
Colin: This is a big worry for the Saudis.
George: The Saudis are deeply concerned about what would happen in a world where the United States was not there to protect them and the Iranians were quite assertive about it. But the Saudis are also ultimate pragmatists. The primary interest of the Saudi royal family is preserve the regime and the Saudi royal family. If what they have to do is reach some accommodation with the Iranians, they will do so.
And this is really one of the questions that confronts us in the region. The Iranians have staked their claim; we know what they’re doing. The Americans could attempt to reach some sort of accommodation with Iran. Or the Saudis might. If the Saudis do, the United States is completely frozen out and therefore it’s extremely important to figure out what the U.S. is doing. There’s also, of course, the military option. But the fact is the United States can’t possibly invade Iran and secondly the amount of air power it would take to truly suppress Iran’s military is enormous and probably greater than the United States has easily available.
Knocking out their nuclear sites would not in any way weaken their conventional power and wouldn’t really address the current issue. So the United States has only limited military options, assuming that the United States doesn’t want to go nuclear, which I don’t think it wants to and I don’t think it will. It has limited options against Iran militarily. It is not moving the Iranians to want to negotiate with the United States. The Saudis may be reaching out to the Iranians, whatever the hostility is, to see what sort of deal they may want.
So there’s a game being played that’s very complex, fairly subtle and the U.S., in some ways, is so subtle that it’s very hard to understand what it’s doing.
Colin: And given what you’ve said, the oil sector in Iraq is potentially exposed to Iranian ambitions. But you’ve seen western construction companies in the last few days signing contracts worth billions of dollars to develop that sector.
George: Well, the ability of the oil industry to make bad geopolitical moves is legendary. They are betting that in the end Kurdistan will be allowed a degree of autonomy from Baghdad, so that the contracts they’re signing in Baghdad - in Kurdistan - remain intact. They’re also making the assumption that in the end the Shiite community in southern Iraq will be resistant to the Iranians. All that’s possible, but it’s a serious bet.
It’d be interesting to look at those contracts and see, apart from the press release amount, how much is actually being committed now. I suspect that in these contracts, a great deal of the money will be committed later - six months or year down the road -and relatively little now. Everybody is holding their breath and waiting and all the announcements of increased activity, I suspect, are things that are going to be on hold for a bit.
Colin: And then we have the unexpected prisoner exchange between Israel and the Palestinians. What do you think is going to flow from this, given that significantly, the present Egyptian government was the broker?
George: Well I think what really has happened is first the military junta running Egypt has proved to be more resilient than was anticipated by some, although we never doubted for a moment that they were quite capable of holding onto power. The Egyptian negotiation of settlement has two sides to it: one, the Egyptians have always been cautious about Hamas and in negotiating the settlement it gives them a substantial political influence over Hamas, as their closest neighbor.
Hamas on the other hand faces a blockade from Egypt just as much as it does from Israel and really must listen to the Egyptians. It may be that Egyptian pressure on Hamas helped facilitate this exchange and it may be that Hamas will find itself under more political pressure from Egypt to make some other accommodations with the Israelis. After all, the Egyptian government does not want to see an uprising in Gaza that might initiate resistance in the streets to the Egyptian government and its treaty with Israel. And has, of course, no intention of abrogating that treaty with Israel and therefore it wants to diffuse the situation with Hamas. I think it was something like that that took place on this and I think the Egyptians may continue this process.
Colin: George will continue to watch this closely. George Friedman, there, ending Agenda for the week. Thanks for being with us. Goodbye.
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« Reply #178 on: October 25, 2011, 07:40:19 AM »

In Tunisia, the First Real Test of Democratic Islamism
Initial unofficial results emerging Monday from Tunisia’s Oct. 23 parliamentary elections show the country’s Islamist party, Ennahda, set to emerge as the winner. Reacting to preliminary tallies, the Progressive Democratic Party, Tunisia’s leading secularist party, conceded defeat in a statement to Reuters. A senior Ennahda leader told reporters that his group is ready to form a coalition government with two secularist groups: Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol.
“Even now, it is far from clear that Ennahda will be empowered by electoral victory.”
Ennahda’s electoral victory is significant because it means an Islamist party will have won the first elections held in the aftermath of the Arab unrest that started in this small North African state a little less than a year ago. In fact, this marks the first time that an Islamist party has ever come this close to coming to power democratically. Islamists have swept the polls in a number of places within the region in the recent past, but through elections held in circumstances plainly different than what we see now — and their election fell well short of empowering Islamists in the aftermath of the polls.
Algeria’s Front Islamique du Salut won by a landslide in the first round of the 1990-91 parliamentary elections, which were annulled by the military establishment in order to block an Islamist victory. In late 2002, Turkey’s Justice & Development Party (AKP) won a more than two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections — but the AKP’s room for action remained highly circumscribed by the secularist military establishment, and the AKP is not really an Islamist movement. It is rather a conservative centrist party, a successor to several Islamist parties. In 2004, the pro-Iranian Shia Islamist coalition, Iraqi National Alliance, won the first elections of the post-Baathist era, but Iraq has yet to display the characteristics of a traditionally defined state.
Two years later, the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas overwhelmingly won the 2006 polls to elect the Palestinian Legislative Council — a process that led to an intra-Palestinian civil war fought to control lands that do not constitute a country. That same year, in Bahrain’s parliamentary elections, the Shia Islamist Al Wefaq movement won 17 of the 40 seats, while two other Sunni Islamist groups collected another 15, but a Sunni monarchy continues to dominate the Shia-majority island nation. Each of these events preceded the recent unrest in Arab countries, and their impact was limited.
Even now, it is far from clear that Ennahda will be empowered by electoral victory, especially since the emerging legislature will only be a constituent assembly with a one-year mandate. Yet the electoral victory undeniably takes place in a context in which the grip of secular security states is loosening. For this reason, the rise of Islamist forces is seen as a core threat to the regional political order.
Ennahda, led by its founder Rachid al-Ghannouchi, is one of the few liberal Islamist forces in the Arab and Islamic world. Ennahda’s views are far more moderate than those held by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and are close to Turkey’s AKP. From the point of view of the West and of secular Muslims, however, Ennahda and other like-minded Islamists have yet to demonstrate their commitment to democratic processes — something that can only happen over time and after successive elections.
For now, however, it is not clear that Tunisia’s elections will lead to the emergence of a democratic polity, given that they are not the outcome of a regime change. Rather, elections were held under the auspices of the same security state over which ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali presided.
From a wider strategic and geopolitical point of view, Tunisia is a small country. What happens in Tunisia does not impact the region nearly so much as what happens in, for example, Egypt, where the emergence in coming elections of the Muslim Brotherhood — or of an alliance of disparate Islamist forces — as the largest bloc in parliament would have serious regional implications. In other words, the electoral rise of an Islamist force in Tunisia could lead to a controlled experiment in Islam and in democracy. That said, it is appropriate to consider that Tunisia was the country where the Arab unrest began and spread to the rest of the Arab world.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #179 on: October 25, 2011, 12:40:34 PM »

A number of us have commented on the incongruity of going after Kadaffy but not Assad in Syria.

Now that Kadaffy is gone, I gather that Sen. McCain (you remember him, most of us voted for him over Baraq) has called for going after Syria's Assad.

What say we?
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G M
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« Reply #180 on: October 25, 2011, 02:39:15 PM »

A number of us have commented on the incongruity of going after Kadaffy but not Assad in Syria.

Now that Kadaffy is gone, I gather that Sen. McCain (you remember him, most of us voted for him over Baraq) has called for going after Syria's Assad.

What say we?


So, instead of a Iran aligned Syria, we get a AQ aligned Syria?
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DougMacG
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« Reply #181 on: October 25, 2011, 11:58:27 PM »

"What say we? (on Syria)"

Tough, tough question.  One would like to think we could make a difference or that we already are covertly helping to make a positive difference.  It doesn't seem like we are although our new lead from behind signature is difficult to detect.

These regimes deserve to fall and it sure seems like we should help it fall if we stand for anything.  As already expressed by GM, will a new regime in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iraq or anywhere else be better (or worse) still remains to be seen.
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prentice crawford
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« Reply #182 on: October 26, 2011, 12:57:09 PM »

Woof,
 We seem to be focused on shaping geopolitical alliances out of this chaos when we should be countering the Islamic fascist who are shaping the future battlefield. Of course there are some that think letting Islam establish a caliphate, and bring all these Arab nations under one roof, would go a long way toward the United Nations goal of there being a one world government. The enemy, of my enemy, is my friend.
                  P.C.
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bigdog
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« Reply #183 on: October 26, 2011, 01:13:54 PM »

The enemy, of my enemy, is my friend.
                  P.C.

That'll get you another OBL. 
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G M
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« Reply #184 on: October 26, 2011, 01:25:25 PM »

The enemy, of my enemy, is my friend.
                  P.C.

That'll get you another OBL. 

Good point. We've tried that. I'm not a fan of how it all played out.
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prentice crawford
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« Reply #185 on: October 26, 2011, 04:42:55 PM »

Woof,
 I'm talking about the UN BEING FRIENDLY TO THE IDEA OF A ISLAMIC CALIPHATE just to gather up all these independent Arab states in a neat little package, much like the European Union. Good for UN's ambitions, not so good for the EU or us.
                                        P.C.
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G M
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« Reply #186 on: October 26, 2011, 04:45:03 PM »

Not good for the UN either, without the US to pick up the tab.
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« Reply #187 on: October 26, 2011, 04:52:01 PM »

I would remind us that backing bastards because they are our bastards tends to get us out on a limb too-- just in different ways.

I would remind us that a goodly percentage of us backed going into Iraq for reasons which included the Neocon analysis-- draining the swamp and establishing some sort of free republic/democracy in Iraq as an example of a non Islamo-fascist model.  Despite the determination of Baraq and the progressives to sabotage the mission, we sort of succeeded-- but now Baraq has succeeded in finally throwing it all away.
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bigdog
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« Reply #188 on: October 26, 2011, 04:55:43 PM »

Woof,
 I'm talking about the UN BEING FRIENDLY TO THE IDEA OF A ISLAMIC CALIPHATE just to gather up all these independent Arab states in a neat little package, much like the European Union. Good for UN's ambitions, not so good for the EU or us.
                                        P.C.

I see that you are trying to distinguish.  Could you you do me a favor and tell me what the UN's ambitions are, without the US or the EU?  (This is a serious question.  Since the US, UK and France are all permanent SC members with veto power, I am not sure what you mean.)
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G M
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« Reply #189 on: October 26, 2011, 05:00:55 PM »

I'll take a stab at it. The UN's goals are to get all the money and perks possible while providing cover to dictators and thugocracies worldwide.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #190 on: October 26, 2011, 05:23:31 PM »

while establishing global governance, with its own tax revenue stream e.g. cap & trade as a permanent intravenous tap into the US economy-- you know the one that is "1%" to the "99%" of the world.
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prentice crawford
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« Reply #191 on: October 26, 2011, 08:49:37 PM »

Woof bigdog,
  What they said. cheesy
                 P.C.
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bigdog
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« Reply #192 on: October 26, 2011, 10:34:41 PM »

I guess I don't understand, still, how this can be the case.  I fail to see the opportunities that would allow the UN to act outside the will of the US and two key EU nations.  Any chance there is a reference?  A how to manual?
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G M
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« Reply #193 on: October 26, 2011, 10:56:34 PM »

I guess I don't understand, still, how this can be the case.  I fail to see the opportunities that would allow the UN to act outside the will of the US and two key EU nations.  Any chance there is a reference?  A how to manual?

You are expecting rationality from an entity that places Cuba on it's human rights council?

Really?
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DougMacG
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« Reply #194 on: October 26, 2011, 11:48:52 PM »

I have this feeling someone may come to regret encouraging GM to provide links and articles that show the UN to be a group running in a direction counter to US interests.  wink

It was not just Cuba, but Libya and Syria were on the human rights commission.  And the Obama administration was 'self-reporting' Arizona for checking IDs with cause.

What was the agenda of the UN Oil for Food scandal?

Our pathological science thread chronicles quite a duplicitous agenda coming out of the UN IPCC on manipulated climate data and studies.  It wasn't 1 or 2 scientists.  It was a movement with an agenda and money, within the UN bureaucracy.  Yes the UN would like to have more power and bigger budgets.  Yes, they want global taxes and global regulations.  I know that sounds like I have a conspiracy problem, but I would only count what they say in their own words.  I will put few links down but these are easy to find.  I would be far more interested in seeing links that indicate otherwise.

http://www.aim.org/aim-column/obamas-global-tax-proposal-up-for-senate-vote/
http://www.cfif.org/htdocs/freedomline/un_monitor/in_our_opinion/global_taxes.htm

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=17102
 July [2004], Inter Presse news service reported that a top U.N. official was preparing a new study that will outline numerous global tax proposals to be considered by the General Assembly at its September meeting. The proposals will likely include everything from global taxes on e-mails and Internet use to a global gas tax and levies on airline travel. If adopted, American taxpayers could wind up paying hundreds of billions of dollars each year to the United Nations.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is among those leading the charge, having stated that he "strongly supports finding new sources of funding" for the U.N. through global taxes, according to Inter Presse. In fact, Annan made very clear his support for the imposition of global taxes in a 2001 Technical Note that he authored for a U.N. conference. "The need to finance the provision of global public goods in an increasingly globalized world also adds new urgency to the need for innovative new sources of financing," Annan wrote. The Note goes on to describe and evaluate the merits of several global tax proposals.
-----

Snopes took on the veracity of a pass around email that says a list of countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia vote against us 70% of the time and found out the truth was they were voting against us closer to 90% of the time: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/outrage/unvote.asp

Yet we host and we pay...
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #195 on: October 27, 2011, 01:53:46 AM »

Ummm , , , Thread Nazi here.  The UN has its very own thread and the posts here would fit there very nicely , , ,
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« Reply #196 on: October 30, 2011, 11:47:54 AM »



By MATTHEW KAMINSKI
"Most important is that democracy wins," said Mondher Ben Ayed, an IT executive in the Tunisian capital of Tunis about this North African country's electoral experiment. "But we'll also get to know who we are."

Elections are a great mirror to society, and for too long Arabs were denied a look. Ten months ago, Tunisians launched the Arab Spring by deposing dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and the elections on Sunday were the first to follow from this year of uprisings. The results, which were released last night, introduced Tunisians to themselves.

The Islamist Nahda Party won 41% of the votes, good enough for 90 seats in a 217-member constituent assembly, which will form a government and write a new constitution. Though the proof will be in its behavior in office, Nahda ran on a moderate platform, promising to keep religion (and shariah law) out of Tunisian politics. The outcome forces Tunisians to adjust their self-image. The country's old elites have for decades thought of Tunisia as overwhelmingly secular and Westernized. This isn't quite right. What also needs to be adjusted is an often condescending attitude among the better-educated toward poorer religious or more conservative citizens who got their say Sunday. Plaintive cries from those whose preferred parties lagged Nahda call to mind the reaction on the U.S. coasts when a Republican sweeps the red states to the White House.

The electorate was described in some quarters as too apathetic or culturally ill-suited to democracy. But Tunisians took to the vote with enthusiasm; turnout was around 90%. As well as Nahda did, the four leading so-called secular parties won 31% of the vote. These parties might alternatively be called left-of-center, particularly on economics, and the outcome suggests a typical left-right national split. Anyone associated with the old regime learned how deeply their countrymen hate Ben Ali: They got 5% of the vote.

The biggest surprise was the group led by Hechmi Hamdi, the London-based owner of satellite television network Al Mostakilla. His so-called Popular Petition promised free health care, generous unemployment benefits and a fantastic new bridge to southern Italy. Apparently 13% of Tunisians believe in such miracles, and made the party the fourth-largest in the assembly. The election commission ruled that Popular Petition broke campaign laws and took away six of their seats. The commission's decision, which seemed borderline legally and symbolically stupid, leaves a black mark on an otherwise well-run election. Violent protests broke out in several cities.

Many eyes now will be trained on the new ruling Islamist party. Yet the other message from Sunday is that Tunisia revealed itself to be a pluralistic society enthused, for the time being, about this opportunity to build a representative system of government.

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« Reply #197 on: October 30, 2011, 12:05:06 PM »

MacDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.
The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.

After unsuccessfully pressing both the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative.

In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.

With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.

The size of the standby American combat force to be based in Kuwait remains the subject of negotiations, with an answer expected in coming days. Officers at the Central Command headquarters here declined to discuss specifics of the proposals, but it was clear that successful deployment plans from past decades could be incorporated into plans for a post-Iraq footprint in the region.

For example, in the time between the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States Army kept at least a combat battalion — and sometimes a full combat brigade —  in Kuwait year-round, along with an enormous arsenal ready to be unpacked should even more troops have been called to the region.

“Back to the future” is how Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff, described planning for a new posture in the Gulf. He said the command was focusing on smaller but highly capable deployments and training partnerships with regional militaries. “We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was before we had a big ‘boots on the ground’ presence,” General Horst said. “I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical.”

Mr. Obama and his senior national security advisers have sought to reassure allies and answer critics, including many Republicans, that the United States will not abandon its commitments in the Persian Gulf even as it winds down the war in Iraq and looks ahead to doing the same in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
“We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq and to the future of that region, which holds such promise and should be freed from outside interference to continue on a pathway to democracy,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Tajikistan after the president’s announcement.
During town-hall-style meetings with military personnel in Asia last week, the secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta, noted that the United States had 40,000 troops in the region, including 23,000 in Kuwait, though the bulk of those serve as logistical support for the forces in Iraq.
As they undertake this effort, the Pentagon and its Central Command, which oversees operations in the region, have begun a significant rearrangement of American forces, acutely aware of the political and budgetary constraints facing the United States, including at least $450 billion of cuts in military spending over the next decade as part of the agreement to reduce the budget deficit.
Officers at Central Command said that the post-Iraq era required them to seek more efficient ways to deploy forces and maximize cooperation with regional partners. One significant outcome of the coming cuts, officials said, could be a steep decrease in the number of intelligence analysts assigned to the region. At the same time, officers hope to expand security relationships in the region. General Horst said that training exercises were “a sign of commitment to presence, a sign of commitment of resources, and a sign of commitment in building partner capability and partner capacity.”
(Page 2 of 2)
Col. John G. Worman, Central Command’s chief for exercises, noted a Persian Gulf milestone: For the first time, he said, the military of Iraq had been invited to participate in a regional exercise in Jordan next year, called Eager Lion 12, built around the threat of guerrilla warfare and terrorism.
Another part of the administration’s post-Iraq planning involves the Gulf Cooperation Council, dominated by Saudi Arabia. It has increasingly sought to exert its diplomatic and military influence in the region and beyond. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, for example, sent combat aircraft to the Mediterranean as part of the NATO-led intervention in Libya, while Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates each have forces in Afghanistan.
At the same time, however, the council sent a mostly Saudi ground force into Bahrain to support that government’s suppression of demonstrations this year, despite international criticism.
Despite such concerns, the administration has proposed establishing a stronger, multilateral security alliance with the six nations and the United States. Mr. Panetta and Mrs. Clinton outlined the proposal in an unusual joint meeting with the council on the sidelines of the United Nations in New York last month.
The proposal still requires the approval of the council, whose leaders will meet again in December in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and the kind of multilateral collaboration that the administration envisions must overcome rivalries among the six nations.
“It’s not going to be a NATO tomorrow,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations still under way, “but the idea is to move to a more integrated effort.”
Iran, as it has been for more than three decades, remains the most worrisome threat to many of those nations, as well as to Iraq itself, where it has re-established political, cultural and economic ties, even as it provided covert support for Shiite insurgents who have battled American forces.
“They’re worried that the American withdrawal will leave a vacuum, that their being close by will always make anyone think twice before taking any action,” Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, said in an interview, referring to officials in the Persian Gulf region.
Sheik Khalid was in Washington last week for meetings with the administration and Congress. “There’s no doubt it will create a vacuum,” he said, “and it may invite regional powers to exert more overt action in Iraq.”
He added that the administration’s proposal to expand its security relationship with the Persian Gulf nations would not “replace what’s going on in Iraq” but was required in the wake of the withdrawal to demonstrate a unified defense in a dangerous region. “Now the game is different,” he said. “We’ll have to be partners in operations, in issues and in many ways that we should work together.”
At home, Iraq has long been a matter of intense dispute. Some foreign policy analysts and Democrats — and a few Republicans — say the United States has remained in Iraq for too long. Others, including many Republicans and military analysts, have criticized Mr. Obama’s announcement of a final withdrawal, expressing fear that Iraq remained too weak and unstable.
“The U.S. will have to come to terms with an Iraq that is unable to defend itself for at least a decade,” Adam Mausner and Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote after the withdrawal announcement.
Twelve Republican Senators demanded hearings on the administration’s ending of negotiations with the Iraqis — for now at least — on the continuation of American training and on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq.
“As you know, the complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq is likely to be viewed as a strategic victory by our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime,” the senators wrote Wednesday in a letter to the chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #198 on: October 31, 2011, 05:50:02 PM »



Media Whitewash Ghannouchi's Radical Islamist Views
IPT News
October 31, 2011
http://www.investigativeproject.org/3262/media-whitewash-ghannouchi-radical-islamist-views
 
A recurring media theme in recent days is that Rachid al-Ghannouchi and his Ennahda Party, which won last week's Tunisian elections, are "moderate" Islamists despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

A few notable voices in the conservative blogosphere like Martin Kramer, Melanie Phillips and Raymond Ibrahim pointed out problems with this argument, including Ghannouchi's endorsement of jihad in Gaza, stating that "Gaza, like Hanoi in the '60s and Cuba and Algeria, is the model of freedom today." Ghannouchi has expressed support for suicide bombings and welcomes the destruction of Israel, which he predicts could "disappear" by 2027.

"There is no such thing as 'moderate Islamism,'" Phillips wrote. "It's as absurd as saying there were moderate and extreme Stalinists, or moderate and extreme Nazis, or moderate and extreme proponents of the Spanish Inquisition. You cannot have moderate fanatics."

That message apparently hasn't reached some U.S. media and political elites. Before and after Tunisia's election, news outlets provided a steady stream of stories portraying the group as moderate and committed to democracy.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed (which he republished on his Senate website) declaring that "Ennahda has been giving encouraging answers about its rejection of extremism and its respect for the democratic process, individual liberties, women's rights and the rule of law."

The headline of a front-page New York Times story referred to Ennahda as "moderate." The Times quoted Ghannouchi (the founder of the party) saying that Ennahda "is not a religious party" but one whose members "merely draw their values from Islam." The Times added that the group's win at the polls in Tunisia "was sure to embolden those who favor a more liberal approach, including some within Egypt's mainstream Muslim Brotherhood."

Another Times story began: "For more than three decades, Rachid al-Ghannouchi has preached that pluralism, democracy and secular Islam are harmonious."

These and other media accounts gloss over or neglect to mention Ghannouchi's many radical statements – particularly his calls for Israel's destruction.

The Arab Spring "will achieve positive results on the path to the Palestinian cause and threaten the extinction of Israel," he said in a May interview with the Al Arab Qatari website. "The liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation represents the biggest challenge facing the Umma [Muslim people] and the Umma cannot have existence in light of the Israeli occupation."
In the same interview, Ghannouchi said: "I give you the good news that the Arab region will get rid of the bacillus of Israel. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas, said that Israel will disappear by the year 2027. I say that this date may be too far away, and Israel may disappear before this."

This is consistent with Ennahda's platform, which declares that the group "struggles to achieve the following goals … To struggle for the liberation of Palestine and consider it as a central mission and a duty required by the need to challenge the Zionist colonial attack which planted in the heart of the homeland an alien entity which constitutes a (sic) obstacle to unity and reflects the image of the conflict between our civilization and its enemies."

In September, the organization stated that it "supports the struggle of peoples seeking liberation and justice and encourages world peace and aims to promote cooperation and collaboration and unity especially among Arab and Islamic countries and considers the Palestinian struggle for liberation to be a central cause and stands against normalization."
In June 2001, Ghannouchi appeared in an al-Jazeerah panel discussion in which he blessed the mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers:

"I would like to send my blessings to the mothers of those youth, those men who succeeded in creating a new balance of power…I bless the mothers who planted in the blessed land of Palestine the amazing seeds of these youths, who tought the international system and the Israel (sic) arrogance, supported by the US, an important lesson. The Palestinian woman, mother of the Shahids (martyrs), is a martyr herself, and she has created a new model of woman."

These inconvenient quotes have thus far been notably absent from media coverage of Ghannouchi and the Tunisian elections.

The Washington Post editorialized that Ennahda has forsworn violence and accepted "the rules of democracy and human rights." If "its success is accepted by secular Tunisians and Western democracies, its moderate model should get a boost in Egypt and Libya," the paper added.

The Post also ran an op-ed by John Esposito, a prominent apologist for radical Islam, who described Ennahda as advocating a national unity government based on "the desire to address common political, economic and social concerns." It "speaks of a government "that is inclusive of all parties, secular or Islamist, accepting equality of citizenship, civil society and women's rights," Esposito wrote.

The European media provided a similar picture. The British Daily Mail newspaper reported that Ennahda "believes that democracy is the best system to maintain people's rights."It quoted the party as "support[ing] Tunisia's liberal laws promoting women's equality – making it much more progressive than other Islamic movements in the Middle East."

The German newspaper Die Welt wrote that Ennahda's ascencion shouldn't trouble Westerners very much: "Success in founding a new state, even with a Sharia-oriented party in the lead, as long as it accepts the principles of plurality and human rights, will be an enormous step forward."

According to the German financial daily Handelsblatt: "We should get used to the fact that democracy in many Arab countries will create strong Islamist parties. There are worse things. For too long, fear of Islamists has led the U.S. and Europe to support terrible despots like Tunisia's…Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak."

People who toppled dictators through peaceful uprising deserve credit and a chance to show they can govern responsibly. But the United States and its allies should not see the changes through rose-colored glasses. Hardcore Islamists like Ghannouchi pose a host of new challenges and potential problems. It would help if the news media paid attention to those rather than invoking judgments about moderation in hopes they turn out to be true.
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G M
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« Reply #199 on: October 31, 2011, 06:12:31 PM »

"These and other media accounts gloss over or neglect to mention Ghannouchi's many radical statements – particularly his calls for Israel's destruction."

The NYT and the rest of the left don't see that as immoderate, but they hide it from those darn "biiter clingers" in flyover country.
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