Category - Middle East

A Philosopher Looks at the Syrian Refugee Issue

One of my favorite blogs is Justin Smith. He’s always worth reading but this is particularly good.

One of the memes circling around the French Internet shows the mayor of the town of Roanne telling a huddled group of refugees that they cannot stay, since they are not Christian. “Neither are you,” is the reply.

Yes, some people are so ignorant as to believe that all Syrians are Muslims, but the most relevant clarification is not that some are not, but that that is irrelevant to the refugee crisis.

At the popular level in Europe, there is both dispiriting xenophobia and its opposite, a seemingly unprecedented preparedness to welcome the refugees and to take responsibility for their well-being. State officials have so far tended to play to the interests of the xenophobes, mostly not by expressing outward xenophobia (with plenty of exceptions of course, as with the mayor of Roanne, or with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán), but by classic buck-passing, insisting that the crisis is someone else’s problem. This is particularly the case for the poorer countries of the EU to its south and east, which are of course also the countries that are so placed as to first receive the refugees travelling by land (and, more perilously, by water). The absence of any obvious authority, either at the union-wide level or in each individual member state, reveals, like no other situation has since the EU’s expansion to include former Soviet Bloc states, that transnational body’s utter impotence and irrelevance.

American liberals and progressives love to fawn over the great liberal democracies of northern Europe with their advanced welfare states and their commitment to fair distribution of resources to all citizens. Yet as long as these societies continue to adhere to a sharp political and moral distinction between citizens and outsiders, between those who are in the system and those who are outside of it, what they have accomplished is scarcely any more worthy of praise than the sort of ‘socialism’ we see practiced within major corporations. European social democracies that extend medical care and education to everyone who has theirpapers in order, while expelling irregular migrants in nighttime raids and strong-armed police operations, are not truly egalitarian societies, but protection rackets. The extent that European citizens are today, en masse, resisting this arbitrary distinction between citizen and non-citizen, in order to come to the direct aid of the Syrian refugees, is precisely the extent to which Europe is living up to its claim to be Christian.

Israeli forces storm courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

RT, September 13

Dozens of Israeli police and soldiers carried out a morning raid on the Al-Aqsa mosque in occupied Jerusalem. Witnesses said concussion grenades and tear gas were used and several Palestinians were injured. Police said the raid was part of a “security operation.”

According to the latest reports, the mosque and the premises have now been sealed off. The decision follows a morning of fierce clashing between various elements and the Israeli police.

During the raid, the Israelis surrounded the compound, detaining two guards and entering through the Chain Gate. Scores of worshipers were inside the mosque at the time.

Amid the ruins of Syria, is Bashar al-Assad now finally facing the end?

As Isis surges ahead and the Syrian regime teeters on the brink of collapse, our Middle East correspondent, winner of the 2015 Orwell prize for journalism, reports on the deadly struggle for dominance in the region.

The Guardian, By Martin Chulov, May 23

One evening at the end of March, a Syrian rebel leader returned from a meeting across the border in Turkey and called an urgent gathering of his commanders. The five men turned up at their boss’s house in Idlib province expecting to receive the same pleas for patience that they had always heard and more grim news about cash and weapons being hard to find. This time, though, they were in for a shock.

“He arrived looking eager,” said one of the commanders. “That caught our attention straight away. But when he started to speak, we were all stunned.”

The leader, who asked that his unit not be identified, said he told his men that the grinding war of attrition they had fought against the Syrian government since early 2012 was about to turn in their favour.

“And the reason for that was that I could now get nearly all the weapons I wanted,” he told the Observer. “For the first time they were not holding anything from us – except anti-aircraft missiles. The Turks and their friends wanted this over with.”

As hundreds of civilians killed, Saudis propose pause in Yemen fighting

CNN, By Hakim Almasmari, Jason Hanna & Josh Levs, May 7

Sana’a, YemenSaudi Arabia proposed a five-day ceasefire Thursday in Yemen so that humanitarian aid can be distributed.

The nation of more than 27 million people, to Saudi Arabia’s south, has been racked by war. A Saudi-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes to assist the ousted, but still internationally recognized, Yemeni government in its fight against Houthi rebels.

“There will be a ceasefire everywhere (in Yemen) or nowhere,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Thursday, sending the message to rebel leaders that violence anywhere in the country could end a ceasefire.

Houthi leadership will meet and discuss the proposal, two senior Houthi officials told CNN.

At a news conference in Riyadh with al-Jubeir, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United Sates welcomes the proposal and that work is being done to determine the details. Kerry said he believes more would be announced Friday, when he and al-Jubeir are expected to be in Paris.

Asia Times Online: Rejoice with the ‘new’ House of Saud
Empire Burlesque: Murder’s Loophole: US Cluster Bombs Rain Mass Death on Yemen
Empire Burlesque: Sham and Shame: Saudi-US Slaughter in Yemen Shows Truth of Terror War
CounterPunch: Saudi Arabia’s Attack on Yemen
CTV: Saudi-led airstrikes batter rebel stronghold in Yemen
Gannett’s Military Times: Saudi intensifies bombing of Yemeni rebel stronghold

Barack Obama: Two Time Nobelist?

You’ll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this — and here I’ll agree — premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being “not Bush”.

Six years later and I think it’s time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he’s kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting “Obama bad, BRAWK!” Read More

Saudis Said to Aid Israeli Plan to Bomb Iran

Exclusive: As the Obama administration is rushing to complete a nuclear agreement with Iran and reduce regional tensions, the Israeli media is reporting on a deal with Saudi Arabia to let Israeli warplanes transit Saudi airspace en route to bombing Iran, reports Robert Parry.

Consortium News, By Robert Parry, February 25

According to an Israeli media report, Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli warplanes fly over Saudi territory to save fuel while attacking Iranian nuclear sites, the latest indication of how the two former enemies have developed a behind-the-scenes alliance that is reshaping geopolitics in the Middle East.

“The Saudi authorities are completely coordinated with Israel on all matters related to Iran,” a European official in Brussels told Israel’s Channel 2 in a report broadcast on Tuesday and described in other Israeli media outlets.

Riyadh’s only condition was that Israel make some progress in peace talks with the Palestinians, a stipulation that may be mostly cosmetic so the Saudis can save face with other Arab states without really interfering with an Israeli flyover to strike Iran.

Disclosure of this Israeli-Saudi military cooperation comes as the United States and five other world powers rush to finish an agreement with Iran to curtail but not eliminate its nuclear program, which Iran says is only for civilian purposes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to appear before the U.S. Congress on March 3 to undercut President Barack Obama’s negotiations.

The reported Saudi permission for Israeli warplanes to take a shorter route to bomb Iran also suggests that Netanyahu may be laying the groundwork for his own plans to attack the Iranian nuclear sites if the international negotiations are successful. Netanyahu has denounced a possible deal as an “existential threat” to Israel.

Snow breaks Istanbul record in Mideast cold snap

Al Arabiya, February 20

Parts of the Middle East continue to grapple with blizzards as heavy snowfall breaks a chilling new record in Istanbul and a third snowstorm in Lebanon prompted the education minister to order all schools in mountainous areas to shut on Friday and Saturday.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality said Thursday that the snowfall in Istanbul has broken a 28-year record in the Turkish city, with snow reaching as high as 75 cm in the Çatalca district, in the westernmost region of greater Istanbul, The Hurriyet Daily reported.

“Our teams used 18,543 tons of salt and 926 tons of [chemical] solution to keep the roads open,” The Hurriyet Daily quoted Istanbul’s municipality as saying in a statement.

Despite the efforts to melt the icy sheets, the record snowfall is said to have paralyzed many areas of the city, and many locals took to social media to complain that the 1987 snow storm did not hurt Istanbul as much.

Hagel Stepping Down as Defense Chief Under Pressure

New York Times, By Helene Cooper, November 24

Washington – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and a beleaguered national security team that has struggled to stay ahead of an onslaught of global crises…

The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

Related, Andrew Bacevich on the Middle East: Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Perpetuate Our Middle East Policy Train Wreck.

Dmitri Orlov: How to start a war and lose an empire

I somewhat infrequently read Dmitri Orlov. He’s Russian born, but moved to the US as a child, was educated here and wrote a book called Reinventing Collapse which I found illuminating. He recently penned a piece about our indelicate handling of the rest of the world, taken from his Russian perspective. I don’t necessarily share all of Dmitri’s beliefs, but I do think it important to understand how the world looks from the vantage points of others. How to start a war and lose an empire.