Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fools Rush In Where Statesmen Fear to Tread

By Barry Rubin

Washington DC

"Four years after the revolution and the old king's execution....
He still recalls the old battle yell
Down with all of the ruling class
Throw all the generals out on their arse."  --"Marat/Sade"

Actually though, many Egyptians are yearning that the generals would stage a coup.  

On the fourth anniversary of President Barack Obama's Cairo speech--setting the United States on a course of U.S.-backed Islamist revolutions in the Middle East, we've come a long way. Well, not so longer as it should have been. 

There has still not been anything close to an agonizing reappraisal of what has been done, said, and thought.
So  let's see: Is the United States supporting an unpopular dictatorship? Yes. Is it backing a country that is making a mess of development and impoverishing the nation? Yes. A country threatening its neighbors? Oppressing minorities and women? Yes. Are truly pro-democratic people marching in the streets denouncing the United States for selling them out? Yes. Is it a policy for which an American president will apologize in future? Yes.

As one Egyptian Christian tweeted: "I must confess this: One of the most painful moments for us was when we discovered that Official U.S. did not support us but the Islamists." 

And this time it is also on top of all that backing a regime that hates the United States, even as it sends it hundreds of millions in weapons and aid, too!

Here is an editorial from the 2011 New  York Times:

"We sympathize with the frustration and anger that is drawing tens of thousands of Egyptians into the streets of Cairo and other cities this week, the country’s largest demonstrations in years. Citizens of one of the Arab world’s great nations, they struggle with poverty — 40 percent live on less than $2 a day — rising food prices, unemployment and political repression."

Where is this sympathy now? 

 There has still not been anything close to an agonizing reappraisal of what has been done, said, and thought.
I am personally very happy because one of the world's leading Middle East experts helped me figure out what my task is. He explained: "You say what everyone else sensible thinks." So be it.

Several friends who work on the Middle East and have good sources of direct information in Congress and the government spontaneously told me that it is striking how clueless the Obama Administration officials and the foreign policy bureaucracy are about the Middle East. I think you would be shocked to hear about how little people know no matter which side the officials and experts are on. And I'm talking about people whose job it is to know about the region.

In professional intelligence circles, officers read things that conflict with the official line but most of them are scared about losing their jobs. They know what they are supposed to say. And it isn't the "I" word in any of its permutations.

But then my friends added an interesting point, in almost identical words: It’s remarkable how America’s enemies fool them and the mass media, too.

How many of those enthusiastically cheering on giving arms to the Free Syrian Army really comprehend that they are going directly to the Muslim Brotherhood? Even though they should know this, they don’t really seem to comprehend who these people are and what this means. (We cannot say it too often: the Muslim Brotherhood are unrepentant Nazi collaborators, among other things.) There are about 300 nationalist officers in Turkey but all the soldiers in the field pretty watch are Brotherhood types (though not necessarily under the Muslim Brotherhood's direct discipline.

One of my friends recounted how during the Libyan operation, some leading rebels praised Usama bin Ladin and al-Qaida in interviews with Arab newspapers, then the same day were praised as moderates in American ones and portrayed favorably in interviews.

A lot of American reporters in Egypt genuinely like the Muslim Brotherhood and have called them “nice guys” personally. In Lebanon, we’ve seen a similar phenomenon with Hizballah, though there is an edge of fear, too.
More productively, the BBC has suddenly discovered that for a dozen years what they and others ignored previously: Prime Minister Erdogan is a very nasty elected dictator. They never seemed to have noticed that Turkey has more reporters in prison than any other country; they never saw and  reported the intense intimidation of the mass media also.

[As an aside, in researching this article  I accidentally discovered for the first time that I had written a book translated into Turkish entitled Radikal Islam which was the first I ever heard of it. Guess this publisher just pirated and translated it. As a friend told me many years go, "You are lucky they left your name on it. " I've been pirated in Iran, Turkey, and Lebanon which I guess is a good thing but it would be nice of they told me about it. )

One of the problems is that Americans with influence and power simply seem incapable of comprehending that anyone can be a radical, a militant, an ideological extremist, someone who really believes in religion.
A good example is the ridiculous claim that Iran is now moderate. Read the embarrassing naiveté of Doyle McManus, The cutline for the story is:

It's hard to know how much of a moderate new President Hassan Rowhani will be, but there are ways the U.S. could help him reach a nuclear accord.’’

Actually, it is not at all hard. Rowhani is a veteran national security official from the main faction of the regime which has now ruled Iran for 34 (!) years. Sure, he’s moderate compared to his predecessor, Ahmadinejad, but that’s not saying much.

The way things are going nowadays, though, perhaps Rowhani will get the Nobel Peace Prize even before he does anything like some other world leader did.

As a public service let me give a short list that will save much time:

--The Iranian government does not want the United States to help them reach a nuclear accord.

--The Palestinian regime does not want the United States to help them reach a two-state solution.

--Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad does not want the United States to help him reach a diplomatic solution to who rules Syria.
--The Syrian rebels does not want the United States to help them reach a moderate democratic state in Syria. Here's my favorite recent quote from a rebel commander: "Throughout history, nobody has suffered injustice under the state of Islam – the state of truth and justice." With that attitude I'm sure that things will be fine. Islam, he adds, must be the sole source of law. His important group has been eligible to receive weapons according to U.S. guidelines though it won't be trained and armed directly by the U.S. government.

Moderate is an over-used word to say the least. The Free Syrian Army has about 300 moderates sitting in Turkey and will now get arms to distribute among its about 30,000 radical Islamist soldiers in Syria.

Incidentally, the mass media is really baffling and pitiful. On June 22 the New York Times reported that the Syrian rebels are getting arms from Libya. I reported that more than eight months ago and there were two UN reports discussing that in detail last year! Maybe they should start reading the blogs. In fact, during the Stalin era, it was said in hindsight, you got a better picture of the USSR's social conditions from reading the Reader's Digest than from reading the New York Times. That's certainly true for the contemporary Middle East regarding the good blogs and sites.

In other matters, a reader asks about my recent writing on Egypt:

”Barry, A good piece! I grant that the West too often misread the Mid-East. But what of the present 
troubles/demonstrations and fierce critique towards [Egyptian President] Morsi and the MB? Is it only 'futile' rear-guard action from some liberals/reformists? Or are there more people ‘out there' truly seeing reality and wanting change accordingly you think?”

My response is this: The problem is that the Egyptian opposition—like the Turkish, Lebanese, Tunisian, and Syrian moderate forces--is very disunited, very disorganized, and lacking support from any powerful institution, namely the army.

They do, however, have some significant backing from the courts which are about to rule on the legality of the past elections. But I am very pessimistic about the moderate opposition in all these countries, especially because they can expect no support from the Obama Administration. Unless the army decides that things are really getting out of hand and I think it is going to take more than the present situation to get them to go into action.

And remember that a large share of the army is Islamist and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. If the generals secretly know that intervention would lead to a civil war within the army they will not act.

What the heck is the U.S. line on Egypt? To support the elected repressive, anti-American, anti-Christian, antisemitic, anti-woman, anti-gay regime which cannot even decide on taking billions of dollars from international banks which would never be paid back?

Unhappiness is when you know that Iran’s regime is smarter than the U.S. government.

Maximum unhappiness means knowing that Iran's, the Muslim Brotherhood's, al-Qaida’s, and Turkey's leaders are smarter than America's.

 This story is published on PJMedia.

"I told you! i didn't break the Middle East! I think it was Obama, and Hillary, and Panetta, and Kerry and Powers, and Hagel, and of course Brennan. Did I mention Obama? Now let me go back to sleep like most of the American public! "

Maisie Rubin photo by Judy Rubin

Thursday, June 27, 2013

It’s Time to Tell the Truth About the “Peace Process”

"He who tells the truth is driven from nine villages."--  Turkish proverb

By Barry Rubin

Has it become time that the absurd paradigm governing the Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict as well as the “peace process” be abandoned or challenged?

After all, this narrative has become increasingly ridiculous. Here is what is close to being the official version:

The Palestinians desperately want an independent state and are ready to compromise to obtain that goal. They will then live peacefully alongside Israel in a two-state solution. Unfortunately, this is blocked either by: a) misunderstanding on both sides or b) in the recent words of the Huntington Post, “the hard-line opponents who dominate Israel's ruling coalition.” Israel is behaving foolishly, too, not seeing that, as former President Bill Clinton recently said, Israel needs peace in order to survive. One aspect—perhaps a leading one—why Israel desperately needs peace is because of Arab demographic growth. The main barrier to peace are the Jewish settlements.

This interpretation has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with reality. People on both sides know this, even if they rarely say so publicly. For the Palestinian side, the pretense of peacemaking—which every Palestinian leader knows—obtains money, diplomatic support, popular sympathy, and pressure on Israel. Here's the dirty trick involved. If anyone raises in Israels raises issues about whether a "peace process" can really bring peace, concerns about how it would be implemented, and documented experience about Palestinian behavior in the past, the response is that Israel doesn't want peace. The actual arguments and evidence about these problems is censored out of the Western mass media and distorted in terms of political stances.

Is the peace process after 40 years (if you count from its origins) or 20 years (if  you count from the time of the "Oslo" agreement) at a dead end? Of course it is. That should be obvious.

In reality, the vast majority of Palestinian leaders favor establishing no Palestinian state unless it can continue the work of trying to wipe Israel off the map. They are in no hurry. They do not want to negotiate seriously. And, of course, in the case of Hamas, which controls or has the support of about one-half of the Palestinians, this violent and genocidal intention is completely in the open. You can't negotiate seriously with those who are not--to recall the old PLO slogan--the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.  I say this with deep regret but it is the truth.

On the Israeli side, the pretense is kept up because there is already enough Western hatred or real and potential hostility to what is required for its own self-defense. Israel offered deep concessions and took great risks continually through the 1990s. The judgment on the year 2000, the reveling year on the “peace process,” was that this Palestinian rejection of a two-state solution proved that they didn’t want one.

Now, every few days Abbas comes up with a new trick. The latest one is that he really desperately wants to meet with Netanyahu BUT the Israeli prime minister must first meet his latest preconditions which keep changing. And every time Israel starts closing in on matching one of his demands he just changes them.
Meanwhile, it is common knowledge that there is a freeze on government permits for construction on settlements but Abbas doesn't care.

Kerry gives Israel no credit for that on the peace issue, though it does help U.S.-Israel relations in other ways. For example, Israel will be the first country allowed to deploy the new F-35 warplane and is getting advanced munitions that could be used to hit Iranian nuclear installations. The only condition on these weapons is, of course, that t hey not be used to hit Iranian nuclear installations.  Still, they might be handy some day. And that is precisely the reason Israelis play along and pretend that he might have a better chance at making peace than he does. Which is about zero,

Speaking of Iran, it contributes to a regional situation that ensures anyone on the Israeli, Palestinian, or other Arab side would have to be crazy to make compromises or concessions for peace right now.
At a time when Iran is proclaimed suddenly moderate and when the genocidally-intended Muslim Brotherhood is now a U.S. ally and when even the Taliban is being declared acceptable, why is it that Israel is being portrayed by many of the same people as intransigent and the source of problems?

Israelis generally—not just on the left—want peace and a two-state solution. Israelis generally—not just on the right—do not believe it is possible at present, and they can offer much proof on this point. Moreover, given the region’s rapid movement toward revolutionary Islamism, the atmosphere is totally unwelcoming to any progress toward peace.

Even if the Palestinian Authoritywished a different policy, it knows that with the hegemony of anti-peace Islamists such a move on its part would be suicidal. Just turn on your radio or pick up a Palestinian newspaper and you can see and hear the hatred, incitement, and rejection of Israel’s existence, the indoctrination of young people to carry on the conflict for decades, the celebration of terrorists and especially suicide bombers. A situation in which anyone who believed in moderation and compromise better keep his mouth shut or face the end of his career or even death is not one where a compromise peace can be made and implemented.

This is common knowledge in Israel.You’d be amazed at the names of left-of-center famous Israeli political figures that in private make clear their view that there is no two-state solution at present, no political solution, but they should keep saying the opposite in public to avoid claims that Israel doesn’t really want peace. As an example, one well-known left-wing leader whose name is associated closely with the peace process said privately that Arafat was an SOB who destroyed the peace process. Another famous dove said that nobody thinks that peace is possible but that we must still pretend otherwise.
There are two phony arguments raised on this issue of why Israel obstructs the peace it desperately needs: settlements and demography. It should take only one minute to dispel this nonsense. And that is why these arguments must be censored out of the mainstream debate by ridicule and insult.

Can settlements be blocking a successful peace process? Of course not. If the Palestinians were so discomfited by construction on settlements they would logically want to accelerate the peacemaking process. This is what King Hussein of Jordan warned them about at the 1984 Palestine National Council meeting. Hurry and get peace, he said, before the settlement process has gone forward too long. They ignored the advice; they weren’t in any hurry.

Again, though, if settlements are gobbling up the land perhaps to the point of no return, shouldn’t the Palestinians demand negotiations immediately instead of refusing to talk for a dozen years and setting countless preconditions that seem to become more demanding as any previous ones are met?

Then we have the bogus demographic issue. The Gaza Strip and West Bank are not part of Israel. Nobody today seeks annexation. Palestinians—except those who live in Israel’s borders—are never going to be citizens of Israel. Ironically, let’s remember, it is the Palestinians who demand that they will through the fictional “right of return” get to be Israelis.

Bill Clinton recently said, with total ignorance:

"Is it really okay with you if Israel has a majority of its people living within your territory that are not now, and never will be, allowed to vote?"

No. They do not live “within [Israel’s] territory.” Therefore, the question does not arise and it will never arise. Israel has not annexed and never will annex the Gaza Strip and West Bank. No one thinks the Palestinians there are citizens and they do not want to be citizens. In fact, they vote in their own elections, or at least once did so and live under their own government and laws. How could anyone not understand this?

Finally, there is the never-addressed issue of what I call, “the day after.” Let’s face it. The Obama Administration and its predecessors have made—how can I put this politely?—some mistakes about the Middle East . They have often urged on Israel very dangerous, even suicidal, courses. They have not always been faithful to allies.

Are these the best-informed, best-intentioned, and best-judgment people to heed? Perhaps it is possible that Israeli leaders actually do know more about the Middle East and their people’s interests than does Washington or Western journalists and “experts.” Perhaps Israel's people, as shown by their own repeated votes in free elections, are better informed than those thousands of miles away who never lived through this history an,d understandably, don't put Israeli interests first.

After all, these are policymakers who have just formed alliances with a former Nazi collaborator (the Muslim Brotherhood), and other groups which preach genocide against all Jews, hate the West, hate Christians, want to murder gays, and to make women second-class citizens. Would you listen to advice by people who do such things?

Moreover, what would happen the day after a successfully negotiated two-state solution? If cross-border terror attacks began would the United States act decisively to condemn the Palestinian regime? Could it “fix” the problem of a Palestinian state that did not live up to its commitments?

What about a state that was taken over by a Hamas coup or even a Hamas electoral victory, which happened in the last Palestinian election? Suddenly, Israel would be ringed by a Hamas-ruled Palestinian state that rejected peace; a Muslim-Brotherhood ruled Egypt and perhaps Syria; and a Hizballah-ruled Lebanon. Do you think that two-state solution or at least peace would long endure?

What about a Palestinian state that invited in the armies of neighboring Arab states or Iran, with their weapons or as large numbers of advisors?

In short, would Israel be better off from those who, on the one hand, have as little intention of implementing their agreements as they have often done before and, on the other hand, those who urge you to make such a deal but can and will do nothing significant to enforce it?

Clinton said that Israel needs peace to survive. Yet the situation is one in which a certain type of peace would endanger survival. What Israel wants is a two-state solution that brings real peace and that would enhance survival. Why is there never any talk about the quality of the peace?

But finally here is the key concept, as voiced by the Huffington Post’s article on Clinton’s speech:
“It underscored a chasm between the country's official support for creating an independent Palestinian state and the hard-line opponents who dominate Israel's ruling coalition.”

The problem is the word “opponents.” Israel would be happy to create an independent Palestinian state that resulted in an end to the conflict. It was ready to do so at the 2000 Camp David meeting but the Palestinian leadership then, and since, has refused to say that even a two-state solution would
permanently end the conflict. It would merely initiate the next round of a battle pursing total elimination of Israel.

This is not an ideological but a strategic issue. Wishful thinking and arguments that if you don't work for peace you won't get it are fine for the words of bystanders. They would be disastrous for actual policy. Incidentally, the three most "soft-line" supporters of creating an independent state have been Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak. These men learned vividly the same lessons that their political opponents did.

The real blockage to peace comes from the Palestinian leadership (including Hamas’s open preference for massacring all Israelis) and by the realities of the strategic situation that.

Question: Is this a right-wing position?

Answer: No, it is just a recognition of reality. As I noted above, everyone knows it and if they don't there are three possible reasons:

1. They want to bash Israel and subvert Israel's relations with the West and they know what they are doing.

2. They are ignorant about the region or at least very much out of date. And this goes for those ruled by wishful thinking.

3. They think that by pretending peace is possible they can make the Arabs feel that the United States is trying to help the Palestinians and that therefore most Arabs and Muslims will think better of them and radical Islamists will like America.

Among Israelis they know that since this is a firm belief in the West keeping their mouths shut makes it easier to get along with those people who are in power in the West. And this goes for those ruled by wishful thinking, though proportionately far fewer than in the West.

It also goes for those who would gladly welcome a real, viable two-state solution but know that one is decades off and has been made more difficult by the radicalism unleashed by the supposedly moderating "Arab Spring."

Ironically, the current narrative was put in place in the 1990s precisely because an Israel that was striving for a two-state solution gave peace a chance. The effort proved to Israelis  that the Palestinian leadership wasn't ready to make peace. The effort made the rest of the world think that the Palestinians were victims, desperate for peace. Committing terrorism must have been a cry for help.  

Arafat rejected peace; Israel was falsely blamed for rejecting peace even though the facts were well known, to people like Bill Clinton who even said so at the times, in early 2000.  

Fixing this political disaster is not a matter for politicians but one for starting the difficult task of correcting the narrative which can make the necessary policy changes in the long-run.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Arab World War Two: Sunni versus Shia

By Barry Rubin

Domestic fury and fierce civil strife….
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds….
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war….”
William Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar"

This is not merely coincidental violence. True, the currently self-flagellating West used to have scenes like this but no more. Today, the West is an island of tolerance despite the orgy within it of self-blame and criticism. Meanwhile, other places daily show orgies of violence but not self-criticism.

Let’s take one little example from the daily situation of places from that vast expanse between Nigeria and Indonesia that coincides with Muslim-majority countries. Yet Muslims are also the main victim from the violence, due to the horror of radical Islamism and whipped-up-into-a-frenzy fanaticism which characterizes Arab World War Two.

In early June, Salafists stirred up hatred at the purported threat from a tiny minority of 30 Shia Muslims living in the village of Zawiyat Abu Muslim near Cairo. Shias are a microscopic portion of Egypt's population, far less than one percent. Until recently one was barely aware they existed at all. But then until recently the same was true of that 1 percent minority of real Shia Muslims in Syria (along the Lebanese border, the Alawites are about as Shia Muslim as the Catholic pope is Mormon)  which has done so much to prompt the Hizballah offensive in the Syrian civil war.

On June 23, a Muslim holiday, a leading Shia cleric named Hassan Shehata was visiting and spoke at a small religious gathering. A mob of up to 3000 regular people, the neighbors, marched on the house where the Shia were gathered. The guests were beaten up, three petrol bombs set the house on fire, and four Shia were murdered. Five Shia houses in all were burned.

Shehata, an inoffensive and apolitical religious scholar was stabbed to death and dragged through the streets.

Let’s not take any point for granted here:

--The attackers and killers were ordinary villagers.

--The attack was not spontaneous but deliberately organized.

--The Arabic-speaking world is gearing up for a massive Sunni versus Shia bloodbath as well as a Sunni war on Christians. The war on Jews is nothing new and if Israel could not defend itself what happened in that village would be our fate in this modern edition of the European Middle Ages. 

Generally, please note, the Christians cannot defend themselves. And Kurds, Druze, the Bahais in Iran also face such potential or actual problems.  In all cases these are wars of extermination or at least expulsion.

--The victims were not engaged in any violent or provocative acts. They were killed because of their religious identity and for no other reason.

--The villagers were proud of what they had done.

--The police did not try to stop the violence even when one Shia was killed in front of them as they stood by.

--The Egyptian government won’t do anything. Nobody who is not a conformist supporter of the dictatorship and in the right group can expect protection. (With occasional exceptions as with a single Muslim preacher brought to court because he burned a Christian Bible a few months ago.

--The government and police are on the side of the murderers.

--The police threw the victims into a pile, adding to the lack of respect for them.

--A Salafist television station and websites praised the killers and accused Shehata of having insulted Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Note that any non-Sunni or in other cases non-Shia can be falsely accused of doing something insulting to Islam and murdered.

--Certainly the government will not denounce this crime and the perpetrators probably won’t be arrested as those who attack churches and Coptic Christians are not arrested. This includes those who carried out the very public attack on the Cairo cathedral last month, during a service itself commemorating the earlier murder of Christians. Al-Azhar, the center of (Sunni) Islam religious authority did do so.

--An important principle in Islamic states is that the actual government, that is by the allegedly moderate Muslim Brotherhood, also unleashes and uses the more militant Salafists to do what they want as long as they don't challenge the regime.  You cannot just go by government behavior but by the vigilante activity the government permits. The recent upsurge in opposition activity has pushed the Brotherhood and Salafists together. A key point in an Islamist state is that there is no real government protection for the rights of minorities despite the promises based on Islamic texts.

Here's a Syrian Salafist commander in a typical such claim:

"We have been providing the minorities with their rights ever since the establishment of the state of Islam, since the beginning of the Caliphate in the days of the Prophet Muhammad, and in the days of the Righteous Caliphs, and to this day. Throughout history, nobody has suffered injustice under the state of Islam – the state of truth and justice."

Only now in recent years, that lie about minorities has been extended to Shia.

--Every day such crimes are committed by pogroms and terror attacks, especially right now in Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria.  Indeed, terrorism against Israel is a militarily sophisticated type of pogrom, complete with the frequent rationalization of Palestinian governments. (And this is an issue that the American elite thinks is on the verge of solution, especially if there are one-sided Israeli concessions?)

--Violence in Iraq on a Sunni-Shia basis (mostly Sunnis attacking Shia) is at a high point. Imagine what things will be like when a Sunni Islamist ruled Syria   hates and tries to foment unrest in s Shia-ruled Iraq which will no doubt push Baghdad toward the waiting arms of Iran! Two American "clients" at war backed by two anti-American backed alliances!

--Since this is such explosive stuff, the Western mass media and institutions put the main emphasis on playing it down on the off-chance that…what? Western citizens will go burn down houses and stab their Muslim neighbors? They assume that their audiences must be kept in ignorance lest they turn to prejudice and hatred. Even admitting that the contemporary American track record is better than the Middle East skirts the supposed edge of racism. Heaven forbid that Western civilization regard itself, at least today, as more advanced.

--The proper response would be to sympathize with the victims against the murderers and point out that, just as Germans oppressed other Germans during the Nazi era, sympathy and support should go to the victims against the political criminals and not to minimize the threat lest sausage shops or Lutheran churches be attacked.

--Iran condemned the attacks on Shias, saying it was contrary to Islam. But of course the whole central narrative of Islam is based on Sunni persecution of  Shia. Of course, don't try to find a Sunni mosque in Tehran, and Iran's ally, Syria, is treating Sunnis far more ruthlessly than the norm in Egypt. Have no doubt about the intensity of this conflict. Egypt and Iran may well eventually find themselves in a proxy war. In fact, they are now doing so in Syria.

--A high-ranking Hamas leader even said that overthrowing the Syrian regime is a higher priority than staging  jihad in Palestine. Of course, the Sunnis know that overthrowing Assad is a step forward on the jihad against Israel but he isn't supposed to say that. Still, it reveals the depth of hatred and antagonism toward the fellow Arabs and Muslims.

As a new report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center puts it:

The depth of the Sunni-Shi’ite schism can be seen in all the major arenas where regional conflicts are being waged. It is reflected in Hezbollah’s growing involvement in the fighting in Syria, the spilling over of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon, record-breaking sectarian violence in Iraq, and the aggressive stance taken by the Persian Gulf states towards Iran and Hezbollah. Thus, the Sunni-Shi’ite schism is emerging as one of the most influential factors shaping the Middle East in a time of regional upheaval.”

You can read about the modern history of the Sunni-Shia relationship in that report. It points out the new parallels with anti-Jewish thinking among Sunnis including the creation of a forged “The Protocols of the Clerics of Qom” which matches The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The Shia, for their part, reciprocate with their own hatred. How distant seem the days when Iran’s ambition to lead the Muslim Middle East seems credible or the Arab-Israeli conflict seemed central to the region!

As the report cited above continued:

“The meaning of that escalation is that, ideologically speaking, the fight against the Shi’a (and its representatives, Iran and Hezbollah) takes precedence over the fight against the West and Israel—although it does not mean that the fight will necessarily be backed by actual on-the-ground efforts. This coincides with the political and social reality brought about by the regional upheaval: a widening of the fundamental fault lines that run through the Arab and Muslim world.”

Here's my article on a recent report from a Muslim Brotherhood think tank that confirms this analysis.

Yes, that is the fruit of the “Arab Spring.” Not as the Western sorcerer’s apprentices’ expected love, peace, and democracy but the rise of Islamism and the Sunni-Shia war.

This does not mean--as the brilliant young analyst Phillip Smyth points out--that the Shia Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Sunni al-Qaida won’t soon be competing over how many Americans each group can kill in Syria. It does mean, however, that things have really changed in the region.

Forget the dreams of a new era of peace and democracy. The next several decades—and that’s the optimistic version—will be full of Zawiyat Abu Muslim’s writ large. Anyone who is sensible will avoid the wreckage and send out the lifeboats.

Note: Arab World War One was the nationalist era's equivalent of today's battle,what Malcolm Kerr called the Arab Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s between the radical nationalists and the more conservative traditionalist forces.

Rather than publish another horrendous scene of Middle East violence, Josie (sister, left) and Charles (brother, right) Rubin demonstrate a positive role of  peaceful coexistence. And, yes, they are good friends when they are awake, too. (Photo: Judy Rubin).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Unlike Madonna, the Middle East Isn't A "Material Girl"

In my article, “How to Understand Islamism: Read What Its Leaders Actually Say,” I wrote about how Sunni Islamist leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi:

“Does not talk about the need for urbanization, the equality of women, modern education, and greater freedom as the solution. Indeed, his view is totally contrary to a leftist or liberal or nationalist Muslim who would stress the need to borrow any ideas and methods other than purely technological ones, from the West in order to gain equality and even superiority. Think of how Asia has succeeded–Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and now even China–through eagerness to blend borrowings, adaptation, and its own historic culture. No, for al-Qaradawi the issue [of why the Muslim world hasn’t done better] is completely one of the abandonment of Islam."

A reader pointed out that in the West, it is assumed to be obvious that Arabs understand that material advancement is necessary for progress and power. For example, Tom Friedman talked about the UN Arab Human development report written by Arab liberals. In other words, the Arabic-speaking world is shaped by the failure of leaders to understand that Western pundits know far more about their society than they do.

Understanding that Friedman doesn’t understand the Middle East, though he has persuaded a big audience otherwise, is the beginning of wisdom on the region. He still insists:

“Read the U.N.’s 2002 Arab Human Development Report about what deficits of freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge did to Arab peoples over the last 50 years. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria are not falling apart today because their leaders were toppled. Their leaders were toppled because for too many years they failed too many of their people. Half the women in Egypt still can’t read. That’s what the stability of the last 50 years bought.”

But this is not the real issue. It is because—as happened in the USSR, Nazi Germany, and elsewhere in history—the problem is radical ideology in command on the sides of both leaders and the masses. As a result, the masses of the Middle East don't care about deficits but mainly about conformity, hatred of the "Other," killing, revenge, and--to borrow a term--what is Politically Correct, not Factually Correct. As for the rulers, they know how devastating in terms of stability the kind of policies naive Westerners are.

Remember, the West saw the fall of Communism as the blooming of democracy; the Middle Eastern leaders see it as the wilting of empires. The West remembers the passing of the Soviet bloc as the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Middle East leaders saw it as the fall of their counterparts, and the putting of Romania's dictatorial couple, the Ceausescu's, in front of a firing squad. Now, 20 years later, Mubarak is in prison and Qadhafi was killed.

Is Syria in a state of civil war because the regime failed its people or because it tried to ride the tiger by toying with the promotion of Sunni Islamism? Perhaps the regimes inevitably must fail their people because of a lack of resources, the state of their societies, the nature of the dominant ideas, and the era of anarchy that would have to be unleashed by even the best attempt to address the "deficits."

And perhaps there is a Western"deficit" in understanding the Middle East, a failure to take religion, ideology, and radicalism seriously; the inability to grasp truly that one is dealing with a different history and culture.

Often in this case I think of an incident that happened shortly after the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime after September 11, 2001. Pro-Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners rioted and an incredibly brave CIA man went in to try to deal with the situation. He said to one of the Arab al-Qaida volunteers, "Why did you come here [to Afghanistan]?" It was the typical Enlightenment question, an attempt to gain knowledge, the belief that dialogue leads to better understanding.

The al-Qaida terrorist replied, "I came here to kill you." He knew what he wanted and would not be reasoned with or dissuaded by an explanation that his real enemy was a deficit of women's inequality. The mob preceded to murder the American brutally.

Now, the United States is still trying to negotiate with the Taliban, to find its moderate wing; the Taliban and al-Qaida still want to murder Americans. And they do.

Think of the perfect symbolism of what happened on February 18, 2011, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square which shows where the locals think the West can physically insert its deficits. President Husni Mubarak had just been overthrown in the “Arab Spring.” There was the huge rally to greet al-Qaradawi with an estimated one million people, ten times what the “moderates” (many of whom were Muslim Brothers in disguise) had been able to muster.

Wael Ghonim, an executive of Google on leave who had been a leader of the revolt, a young man of about 30 and married to an American convert to Islam tried to get on the platform. He was thrown off. Since then, Ghonim has been a political zero.

And so Ghonim, the 30-something hero in the West, got to be in Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people; was presented by the JFK Profile in Courage Award (whose name was based on a book that had Kennedy’s name on it but was written by my PhD advisor, Professor Jules Davids) by Caroline Kennedy on behalf of “the people of Egypt.” He was listed as the second most powerful Arab in the world by Arabian Business magazine for leading Egyptian youth.

Yet perhaps it would have been more appropriate if the award had been given by a hijab-wearing Caroline Kennedy to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, who really represented "the people of Egypt."

What happened to the 80-something al-Qaradawi? Oh, he didn’t get any Western awards or plaudits. He just got Egypt.

Perhaps you remember the old joke about two guys fishing. One says: "I know everything about fishing because I've read all the books about it."

To which his companion replies, "But have the fish read the books?"

We need your support. To make a tax-deductible donation to the GLORIA Center by PayPal or credit card: click Donate button: Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.

Please be subscriber 32,264 (among about 50,000 total readers). Put email address in upper right-hand box:
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Interview on Turkey and Syria

Q: Are the protests in Turkey more Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street? 

A: The ideas that this is some far left thing is a slander by Islamists. Those involved include a wide front of social democrats, liberals, and conservatives (usually called center-right in Turkey), and all sorts of people who are tired of a ten-year-long march toward Islamism. This is the kind of thing we should be supporting. Instead, unfortunately, the Obama Administration is on the side of the democratically elected dictator, so to speak.

Q: What is this exposing about Erdogan? 
A: His vicious oppressive side. He’s the man who said that democracy was like a streetcar and you just decide where to get off. He has intimidated the once-free media, harassed the courts, and supported Iran and terrorist groups abroad. This week he was busy trying to destroy the Turkish republican tradition of beer-drinking. He is trying to undo 70 years of social progress in Turkey.

Q: How are words like dictator and tyranny not overdramatizing the situation?

A: Because the Western mass media has not covered what’s been going on in Turkey during the last decade. Listen to what millions of Turks say. The media-economic power of the regime is incredible. There are many anecdotes: A television journalist practically trembling while talking to me about repression in his office; the billing of a newspaper for hundreds of millions of alleged tax debts unless it toed the regime line, the women who fear to walk through Istanbul neighborhoods unless dressed in Turkish-style “Islamic garb,” the anti-American propaganda, the knowledge of government officials that you will be promoted faster if your wife wears a headscarf, the thousands of political prisoners, the Jewish family firm told that after almost a century of providing equipment to the government they shouldn’t bother to put in bids any more, the antisemitic website which behind the scenes was sponsored by the Ministry of Education, a retired general sentenced to a year in prison for telling a villager that the government had betrayed the country. A lot of the truth was reported by the U.S. embassy as we can see in the Wikileaks.
Q: How does this end? Is there any ending well? 

A: I don't think so. The army is finished; opposition politicians are fools at worst and incompetents at best. Maybe these demonstrations will mobilize a new opposition? Maybe it will make the ruling AKP go slower or maybe it will become more open and oppressive. Moderates and pro-Western forces in Turkey know they cannot depend on accurate media reporting or Western assistance

Q: Fools? Could you be more pessimistic?

A: That is the way a lot of Turks speak. The current demonstrations are the first sign of hope. The main opposition is the historic Ataturk party. I was in Istanbul in the last election and heard on television the speech of that party’s leader after that party’s defeat. He said they lost because the voters were stupid. The current leader raised hopes but wasn’t able to deliver.  

Q: How is this important in the context of the Middle East? 

A: Not at all really in terms of the larger picture. This is not changing international issues.

Q: But isn’t Turkey supposed to be a model secular state in the Islamic world?

A: It was in the republican, Ataturk era but that is long gone. A lot of people have an outdated view of Turkey

Q: What might this mean for the future of Turkey? 

A: Probably nothing. Either slower or faster Islamization is still Islamization. There is little or no chance of getting rid of Erdogan or of Obama changing policy. There has been much discussion of whether the Turkish economy will continue to do well or will crash. So far it has done acceptably to keep Erdogan as popular.

Q: What if the White House were to reconsider? What would be a helpful policy?

A: There are people in the State Department who are very unhappy with what’s been happening in Turkey, as you can see in the embassy reporting. There were high-ranking officials who wanted Obama to take a tougher line toward Erdogan, keyed to breaking away from his pro-Muslim Brotherhood policy in Syria. Up to now, U.S. Syrian policy has been made in Turkey. But Obama kept to his pro-Erdogan line. The government renewed the exceptions to Iranian sanctions for Turkey. If Erdogan goes to Gaza it will really throw a pie in Obama’s face and show he has no respect for U.S. interests but that this costs him nothing. Note that Erdogan has disregarded the supposed détente with Israel and broke all his commitments despite the fact that these were made as direct promises to Obama! But he paid nothing for this behavior.   

Q: Can the U.S. be of any help in Syria, as Obama administration officials – and John McCain --  meet with some leaders of Assad’s opposition? 

A: This is a big question. Remember that the Obama Administration courted the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship until it had to change course because of the rebellion. Then it backed the Muslim Brotherhood—this is easy to document—and as soft on the Salafist radicals. Now they have awoken too late trying to find non-Islamist moderates. Just as in Turkey, the Brotherhood types refuse to be flexible or listen to the United States but they still get the goodies. McCain understands nothing. He meets with the Free Syrian Army which probably has less than five percent of moderates among the armed rebels affiliated with it. (The outside commanders are defected Syrian army officers; the overwhelming majority of soldiers and commanders within the country are Muslim Brotherhood types.) The civil war will go on for years, wreck Syria, kill tens of thousands of people, create two repressive regimes, and be a big strategic mess. I prefer the rebels to Assad but the margin isn’t huge. This is a tragedy but it has become like the Iran-Iraq war. Neither side of good for U.S. interests and when it does finally end, watch out for more instability!

The problem is gloomy because it has involved so much Western wishful thinking. Every time I’m interviewed by a Western journalist they claim that these radical Islamist regimes will inevitably become moderate despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Q: What do the National Security Agency surveillance leaks --- Edward Snowden on the run – look like to you, from afar? 

A: As I’ve written, the main angle I have tried to show is that this is not the way to handle a counterterrorist policy. It really looks as if terrorism is an excuse for gathering information on U.S. citizens. This NSA approach is like the TSA approach to airport security: pretend that everyone needs surveillance rather than using profiles to focus on the likely threats. '

Thursday, June 20, 2013

New Moderates! Syrian Rebels, Iranian President, and the Taliban!

By Barry Rubin

Let’s say that you feel Iran is the bigger of the two evils and that Tehran, Hizballah, and Russia cannot be allowed to have a victory in the Syrian civil war. Therefore, the United States has to supply weapons to the rebels despite the fact that they are America-hating Islamists. I can understand that argument but let’s explore the adventure that the United States and European Union is about to embark on.

The cost is the U.S. backing for the Sunni Islamist takeover of much of the Middle East. The benefit is...denying Syria to Iranian influence after 30 years. Of course, it won't be under U.S. influence. And many wars may flow from this policy: A Sunni Islamist regime's war on Israel, Hizballah in Lebanon, the Syrian Kurds, and possibly Iraq (Sunni versus Shia) and Jordan (Islamist subversion to help the Muslim Brotherhood).

If the United States supplies enough weapons to just keep the rebels going, that would be one thing. But American policymakers are likely to be carried away--as often happens to Americans in this situation--and to see rebel victory as the equivalent of good, the heroic freedom fighters battling for the liberation of puritanical Sharia.

It is surprising that it doesn't seem to bother a lot of people to support an antisemitic, anti-Christian, anti-woman, anti-gay movement that has already committed atrocities, whose leading organization also once collaborated with the Nazis, and about 20 percent of which consists of al-Qaida supporters? 

Also we have just seen the proliferation of weapons and terrorists following the U.S.-sponsored support of Islamists after the Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan wars.

Moreover, don't count the rebels out yet despite the hysteria that Assad is winning. Five weeks ago everyone claimed the rebels were winning. Moreover, while I don't want the Syrian regime to win, let's remember that two short years ago the Obama Administration was courting Syria as a potential ally, treating what was still a dreaded dictatorship as if it was one step from singing, "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Visiting U.S. officials and members of Congress became apologists for the regime. For those remembering these events, the current scene is disgusting. Suddenly Syria became a ferocious dictatorship. It was always a ferocious dictatorship. Suddenly it became an ally of Tehran, a stance that the Obama Administration claimed two short years ago that it was going to reverse. In fact, it has been an ally of Iran for more than 30 years.

How short are memories. Analogies to other recent events are also often ridiculous--World War Two, the Spanish Civil War--made by people who know nothing about Syria. In Iraq, for example, there were viable democratic forces and the United States had real leverage over the situation. While one might want the overthrow of the Assad regime, that just isn't true in Syria.

In Syria, the United States has not just accepted but backed from the start an exile leadership that not only was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood but which refuses to even allow a significant representation by liberal moderates and the Kurds! If U.S. policy, soon to be paying the bills and giving the weapons, cannot achieve that then why give help without conditions? Again, one wants the Assad regime to fall but cannot Washington even extract any political price for this support of the rebels? From Turkey to get more support for U.S. policy toward Iran from Ankara? No.

Will the murder of Christians and other rebel atrocities incur any penalties on U.S. backing or not? Everyone should know that the United States cannot protect one Syrian civilian from murder and persecution by the rebels. Who is doing who a favor?

The strategic issues have also not been fully thought out. Iran is not Nazi Germany and it is going to get nuclear weapons no matter what happens in Syria. Its ability to project influence into the Arab world is limited to Lebanon--where the United States has always accepted it before--and to a lesser degree to Syria and a bit to Iraq. One can make the case that the Sunni Islamists, without a big source of money or arms, are less threatening than Iran. Yet that depends, too, on how Sunni Islamist policy, which largely means the Muslim Brotherhood, develop. What is needed here are cool-headed evaluations; what we see is bordering on hysteria.

There’s something in the U.S. military culture called “mission creep,” that means the task given the U.S. army is extended far beyond the original intention. Also, in military affairs nothing turns out to be as easy as you expect. If, for example, the rebels can't win otherwise will there need to be a no-fly zone? Or more intervention? All to produce a likely result of an anti-American terrorist-sponsoring dictatorship? Or perhaps it can be bought off for a while by sending billions of dollars of aid to subsidize a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship. Already we see the war hysteria building.

So let’s say that Obama sets a policy of sending only limited numbers of light weapons to moderate forces. Naturally, though, the U.S. trainers will not be able to vet every trainee. We know that’s true and there will no doubt be terrorist-minded and extremist soldiers whose skills will increase thanks to Uncle Sam. Many of them are young. Perhaps some of them won 't retire after the Syrian civil war ends.

But what’s really worrisome is the next step. Suppose the rebels still aren’t winning. The aides and experts and advisers then explain to the White House that unless more and better weapons are sent then “our” side will lose. That can’t happen, right? It will be an even more humiliating loss to the Russians, Iranians, Hizballah, and the Syrian regime that not so long ago—just over two years ago--was Obama’s good buddy.
At that point, there comes escalation: more weapons, more American involvement, better arms. That is going to be a big temptation and who is going to stand up and say, “No.”
Now think of the opposite outcome. The rebels quickly reverse the tide of battle and they are winning. In that case, the officials say, “Just a little more aid and we can have a big victory.” Once again, mission creep.

And what would the U.S. government do if and when the rebels start murdering civilians. Imagine, there are people who don’t support Israel and want the United States to reduce help because it is “immoral” doing certain things. But they are going to accept rebels cutting off the heads of people, wiping out dozens of civilians, shooting prisoners, and even eating a few body parts of murdered Syrian prisoners?

All of these things have already happened and will happen more. And, here’s the big thing, the United
States will have no leverage to affect this behavior. The leaders are not in control; the rebels don’t want to do America’s bidding. Will the aid be cut off at that point? No. Too many reputations will be on the line; too much political capital will have been extended.

Meanwhile the Sunni Muslim side and particularly the Sunni Islamist side will urge the United States on, promising it anything if it puts their friends in power. Obama will believe that the Arabs love America and will support U.S. interests. Until, of course, the day after they take over—or say several months afterward—when the Muslim Brotherhood turns on America and the Salafists attack Israel.

There is, however, one possible way out: if the United States can say Iran made us do it by escalating its own involvement in the war. There is something peculiar happening after the Iranian presidential election.  On one hand, the media throughout the West is proclaiming that Iran is now moderate, forgetting that the same thing (the election of a relatively moderate president 16 years ago) without changing anything. On the other hand, though, Iran seems to have become more aggressive and threatening after the election. The Iranian supreme guide directly insulted Obama, saying he was a puppet of Zionist interests and was only elected in a phony process, unlike the freedom enjoyed in Iran. The point is that Iran may have overplayed its hand, throwing away a wonderful opportunity to fool the West and get sanctions reduced while still building nuclear weapons.
At any rate, this is a big mess and it will not turn out well.

Speaking of big messes, to consolidate the Obama Doctrine--allying or engaging with Sunni Islamist extremists--the United States is now entering public negotiations with the Taliban.  The Afghan Taliban, you might remember, was a partner in the September 11, 2001, attacks and has been unrepentant. The supposed price will be that the Taliban, which is killing Americans on a daily basis in Afghanistan, may merely renounce al-Qaida. But since al-Qaida doesn't exist any more in Afghanistan this is  hardly significant. Mere words from the no-doubt-trustworthy Taliban--or will even an apology be required--will make up for the murder of around 3000 Americans.  According to U.S. policy, there is a radical and moderate wing of the Syrian rebels, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood regime, the Turkish stealth Islamist regime, probably now the Iranian regime, and several others as well no doubt.

The Taliban has been calling the Afghan government an American puppet and the Afghan government reacted to news of the talks angrily, with a feeling of betrayal, and broke off its own talks with the United States. Sound like a pattern? The U.S. government siding with enemies and subverting historical allies?

Oh, and four American soldiers were killed by a Taliban attack the same day as these diplomatic developments happened.

Finally, the new Iranian president has been declared a moderate by much of the Western establishment. First, it is assumed he is a moderate. True, he was the person out of desperation who was supported by the opposition but he has a long record as a key national security official who does not differ from the main political line. Second, he is powerless because the supreme guide is in charge.

Imagine a "Cold War" in which the United States would have taken the Communist side and you get a picture of current U.S. policy.

Please be subscriber 31,556 (among more than 50,000 total readers). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

 We’d love to have your support and work hard to earn it. See our new feature with 13 free books at Why not make a tax-deductible donation to the GLORIA Center by PayPal: click here.
By credit card: click here. Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line and send to: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.
For tax-deductible donations in Canada and the UK, write us here.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His next book, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, written with Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, will be published by Yale University Press in January 2014. His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, also published by Yale. Thirteen of his books can be read and downloaded for free at the website of the GLORIA Center including The Arab States and the Palestine ConflictThe Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East and The Truth About Syria. His blog is Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.