In recent years Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have waged crackdowns on local Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movements and their alleged sympathizers under the banner of combating “global terrorism.” These governments claim that the MB’s rhetoric, espousing peaceful democratic reform, is disingenuous, and that it is actually committed to violently overthrowing the Gulf’s monarchies.
Tag Archives | Syrian Civil War
On 15 March 2011, a peaceful group of demonstrators in Damascus, Syria chose to take to the streets protesting a stalled economy, lack of jobs, infrastructure, the rising price of essential commodities that were severely affecting their standard of living, and a growing unemployment rate. Instead of responding proportionally, the army opened fire, killing and injuring several people. Soon, the movement rapidly spread across Syria, and streets were thronged by massive crowds clamoring for change, and in some cases, Assad’s removal.
“So far as Syria is concerned, it is France and not Turkey that is the enemy.” – T. E. Lawrence, February 1915
It was a curious comment by the oddball, but unarguably brilliant, British agent and scholar, Thomas Edward Lawrence. The time was World War I, and England and France were locked in a death match with the Triple Alliance, of which Turkey was a prominent member. But it was none-the-less true, and no less now than then. In the Middle East, to paraphrase William Faulkner, history is not the past, it’s the present.
Apparently ISIS is a business, a bloody and illegal business, sort of like the Mafia. That’s what I gleaned from a McClatchy report by Hannah Allam on the group’s finances, revealed at least by a trove of documents captured by the US, turned over to RAND a few months ago, whose conclusions leaked into the public sphere today. “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria sprang from a largely self-funded, corporation-style prototype whose resilience to counterterrorism operations was proven by the time Abu Bakr al Baghdadi assumed command in 2010,” Allam reports.
Presidential hopefuls are nearly universally mocked for their non-committal prior to their official announcements. Stephen Colbert, famed for his tongue-in-cheek runs for the White House in 2008 and 2012, began his first campaign with the firm declaration that “I, Stephen Colbert, am officially announcing, that I am officially considering whether or not I will announce that I am running for President of the United States.”
From the inability to speak with one voice, a lack of shared norms, and being chronically conflict prone, one must wonder how the Arab League has managed to exist for as long as it has. Suspending, then either reinventing or dissolving the Arab League seems to be the best route in addressing future conflicts within the region.
Charles Dudley Warner’s oft-quoted suggestion that “politics makes strange bedfellows” is never better illustrated than the prospect of a rapprochement between Iran and the United States. Stimulated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) rapid military advances in Iraq, both sides find themselves on the same side – albeit for vastly different reasons.
Last month, two Saudi Shi’ites received death sentences for allegedly committing crimes that caused no deaths or injuries, marking the harshest punishments issued by Saudi Arabia’s government against Shi’ite activists in the Eastern Province (EP) since sectarian unrest erupted in this strategically vital region of the Kingdom during 2011. In an effort to quell its citizens’ aspirations for political and social reform, the government has since spent $130 billion on public sector programs throughout the Kingdom.
As President Obama looks across the beaches of Normandy for the ceremony commemorating the D-Day landings, he could be forgiven for feeling ambivalent. Certainly, these are sites of great tragedy and a reminder of times when the threats were truly impending. Yet, as President Roosevelt might have reminded him, they also were simpler times, when Europe yearned for American action, the enemy was transparent and the public at home was united in its support of America’s mission.
While in Paris this week someone asked me when the U.S. will take a leading role in helping to resolve any number of the world’s ongoing crises – from Syria to Ukraine to the Central African Republic. My reply was that this will not happen for several reasons, including a reticence to become more engaged among the American people, limited financial resources, and above all, the debilitating political gridlock in Washington. If the U.S. Congress cannot marshal the political will to extend benefits to the long-term unemployed, how on earth can it be expected to find the common ground necessary to pass resolutions to address such global concerns?
Amid the horrors of the Syrian conflict, the humanitarian response by Turkey has been nothing short of heroic. While Europe has largely closed its borders to Syria’s refugees, Turkey has presented an open door, reflecting its “zero problems with neighbours” policy and its obligation to the universal principle of non-refoulement. Turkey has also spent $2.5 billion on “five star” refugee camps, equipped with schools, clinics and community centres. As a result, Turkey has soared from 59th to 10th in the United Nations index of hospitality towards refugees.
Irrespective of how one feels about the direction taken by various Arab revolutions in the last three years, a few facts remain incontestable. Arab revolts began in the streets of poor, despairing Arab cities, and Arabs had every right to rebel considering the dismal state of affairs in which they live. Few disagree with these two notions. However, the quarrel, in part, is concerned with the cost-benefit analysis of some of these revolutions, Syria being the prime example. Is it worth destroying a country, several times over and victimizing millions to achieve an uncertain democratic future?
The overriding question is how will the U.S. clearly define moderate opposition groups operating in Syria? That has become a major difficulty as well in Libya. Rebel groups break down into tribes, clans, and broader religious factions—some with fundamentalist beliefs, while others have a more radical interpretation of Islam which includes armed jihad. In any event we do not know their ultimate goals. A Muslim diplomat once told me it is difficult to know the mission of a person carrying a weapon: “When they come, they also bring their behavior with them. There is one baggage that doesn’t weigh much–it is the behavior that is inside of them–the behavior in their mind–the attitude that they have. We can search their pockets for weapons–and see the one’s on their shoulders–but we cannot search their mind.”
Syria over the last three years has been in a chaotic civil war in which no one has clearly defined the “moderate” opposition that could rule democratically, if we take out President Bashar al-Assad. I have written articles suggesting, “regime change without an endgame plan is fraught with disaster,” as we witnessed in Libya after the U.S.-NATO incursion in 2011 that led to the downfall of the ruler Col. Muammar Gadhafi. Armed Islamist militias have since taken over large swaths of the country.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend an insightful talk by Professor Richard Tanter, a leading analyst on East Asia. In talking about the recent American “pivot” to East Asia and its imminent desire to consolidate an East Asian alliance, Tanter was emphasizing US’s ailing economy and its limited capacity for outreach as a challenge for US foreign policy.
Faced with severe and ongoing budget limitations, Tanter’s analysis struck an accurate chord in underscoring a qualitative change in US foreign policy abroad. Indeed, moving away from a neorealist practice of conducting international affairs, post-crisis economic hurdles are reflective of the current US government’s Liberalist turn. To put it into non-IR terminology: the US is increasingly shifting its focus to building and strengthening economic alliances, rather than military ones.
Last week, the Obama administration yet again imposed fresh sanctions on Russia. This time it targeted seventeen Russian institutions and seven individuals, two of whom are known to be from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Nonetheless, many Russia-watchers believe this latest round of punitive measures fails to match the escalating rhetoric of the White House. President Obama, however, signaled that there is room to maneuver should the Putin regime fall short of the universal expectation to leave Ukraine alone. Yet, the question remains: will this sanction regime effectively deter Putin?
It does not appear promising. Rather, it can backfire and therefore put U.S. President Barack Obama in a conundrum. Vladimir V. Putin, a former KGB agent who is obsessed with reclaiming Russia’s rightful niche in the post-Soviet unipolar world, has pursued a revisionist policy since he assumed power on New Year’s Eve, 2000. As a result, Putin has been able to solidify mother Russia’s image, in the global political landscape. Syria, for example, is a latest success of team Putin’s relentless effort in this regard. At the eleventh hour, Moscow’s chief diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, tabled the proposal to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons in order to bypass an imminent American air strike on Syrian military installations. Putin checkmated Obama’s war plan so deftly that its ripple effects soured the U.S. friendship with Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration is still trying to mend the troubled relationship with the Saudis.