The second element shared by both revolutionary Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood is a model of political Islam that uniquely combined popular sovereignty and Islamic values in the paradoxical phrase, “Islamic Republic.” This hybrid theory departed from the long-seated Sunni model of functional differentiation between the political and the religious in Islamic history and has invited fierce opposition from both clerical establishment and the throne. In Saudi Arabia, Islam and the state are two separate entities that have come together only on the basis of the exigencies of practical politics. Hence, Saudi Arabia supports a minimalist, literal reading of Sharia law in which what matters are symbolic private laws and issues of personal piety including the hijab, abstinence from alcohol, marriage and divorce, and so on. According to this pattern of interaction between mosque and state, Islamic authorities don’t intervene in the larger political issues of foreign policy and macroeconomics, which goes against the version of Islam both Iran and the Brotherhood advocate.
Much more of interest in this short read.
You can read more here.
Excellent editorial by the NYT on what role Iran plays in American Middle Eastern “strategy.”
Trump administration officials worry that the Iranians, aided by the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, will seek control of enough territory in two adjacent countries, Syria and Iraq, so as to establish a land bridge from Tehran all the way to Lebanon. There they could resupply their Hezbollah allies, thus enlarging their regional influence.
I tend not to think that an emergence of a “Persian Crescent” is as big of a deal as other tend to make it be. Either way, without any conceviable strategy towards Iran in operation, the U.S. should cooperate with Tehran on overlapping interests (i.e. stability in Iraq, defeating ISIS, and frankly, keeping Assad in power) while the contrasting interests appear to be on the backplate (nuclear spread, Iranian meddling in Yemen (at least I haven’t heard of any Iranian meddling in the conflict as of lately) and state sponsored terrorism directed at Israel).
Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found.
Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.
As if America’s image in the Middle East needs any more damage.
And this is for a war that has zero importance for America strategy. The best thing for America to do is try to diplomatically resolve the dispute claiming humanitarian motivations.
You can read more here.
Post includes vivid pictures worth scrolling through.
A recent NYT piece reports
The United States spent up to $28 million more than it had to on camouflage uniforms for the Afghan National Army because of the sartorial tastes of a single Afghan official, an American government watchdog said on Wednesday.
A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstructionfound that the Pentagon needlessly spent millions to license a proprietary camouflage pattern that replicates lush forests. Most of Afghanistan’s landscape, however, is desert, and the Defense Department owns dozens of similar patterns it could have used free, the report said.
“They picked the pattern based on a fashion preference, not by experts, but by the minister of defense,” said John F. Sopko, the special inspector general. “That was a dumb decision.”
And we are sending 4,000 of America’s best and brightest to defend this lot.
Walter Russell Mead writes
So what is behind the new Saudi activism? Fear. It’s an emotion that comes naturally to an oil-rich kingdom with a relatively small population in a neighborhood full of predatory rivals. For years fear made the Saudis cautious, since they felt they could take shelter behind a strong and confident America. Now they aren’t so sure.
There is more here.
The Middle East will have the most interesting politics of any region in the near future. The piece doesn’t even mention the Arab Spring.
That is from the New York Review of Books
When Donald Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, was called before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week to testify about the conflict in Afghanistan, he was unusually blunt: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” he said. The Taliban have been on a dramatic offensive, he acknowledged, the security situation continues to deteriorate, and the Afghan government holds considerably less territory than it did a year ago. In other words, prospects for any sort of positive outcome are as remote as they have been in this sixteen-year war—the longest war in American history.
Yet Trump—and Mattis’s—solution to this unwinnable war seems to be once again to send more troops. On Tuesday, Trump announced that the military itself would be given full authority to decide how many troops it needs. (By leaving all decisions in the hands of the military, he has abandoned the usual inter-agency consultations, especially with the State Department.) And Mattis is talking about a review to be completed in July that could add as many as 5,000 troops. It may be too late.
What follows is a convincing laundry list of obstacles to the American mission of state building in Afghanistan.
You can read the rest here.
Hugh Eakin has a very informative piece at the New York Review of Books.
In fact, the battle for Libya is only one of several Arab uprisings this year in which Qatar has played a provocative part. In Tunisia and Egypt, no Internet and broadcast medium did more to spread the cause of popular protest than Al Jazeera, Qatar’s government-backed satellite television news network. In early April, the Qatari prime minister publicly called for the resignation of embattled Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh—a statement that departed from the more conciliatory position of other Gulf nations and led Saleh to charge that Qatar “has conspired against Yemen.”
But on Iran
Indeed, Qatar appears to have a decidedly different approach toward popular revolt in its own neighborhood. When Iranian security forces were condemned internationally for attacking protesters after the disputed 2009 election, the Qatari prime minister asserted that it was an “internal matter” and that “we must respect the right of each state to solve its own problems.” In March, as Bahrain began its violent repression of protesters in Manama’s Pearl Square, Qatar supported the controversial military intervention led by Saudi Arabia to prop up the regime.2
Perhaps terrorism, despite Trump’s tweets, are not the real issue but just a convienent scapegoat?
You can read the rest here.
Employing the same tactics of fear that he used to win 2016, Trump has encouraged public fear for political gain. See his Churchillian tweets below.
This was in response to the mayor of London notifying the public to not be alarmed to the increased police presence resulting from the recent attacks.
It would be assumed that proper leadership would reassure during a crisis, but the new normal in America is prepetuaing fear, whether of Mexicans, Iran, healthcare, or even Skittles.
You can read good analysis here and here.
These are sad times for America.
“Chemical safety isn’t the only failure. The Transportation Security Administration, our most direct answer to the 9/11 hijackings, missed 95 percent of weapons and mock explosives smuggled through in a 2015 test, and it now faces $80 million in cuts under President Trump’s proposed budget (flight security fees would increase, but the money would go to the border wall). The biodefense sensors DHS deployed after the 2001 anthrax attacks don’t work reliably, and as Steven Brill reported in the Atlantic, nearly half of the thousands of hospitals that hold radioactive materials suitable for a dirty bomb have inadequate security.”
Maybe the threat of terrorism isn’t as grave as we make it out to be? Maybe it is all threat inflation?
You can read the article here.
The title is “I write thrillers. My research showed me how easily terrorists can strike us.”
That is the title of James Palmer’s recent FP piece.
Here is one bit
Trump might have thought he was signaling a bold willingness to use force to his visitor, but China regards U.S. military might as early U.S. statesman Elbridge Gerry once did the prospect of standing army: “Like a standing member; an excellent assurance of domestic tranquillity, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.” China’s happy to gradually extend power elsewhere, especially in its own neighborhood. But it hasn’t gone to war for 38 years, since the last spasms of the Maoist era produced a blundering invasion of Vietnam in 1979. (In that time frame, the United States has gone to war in well over a dozen countries, and Russia in close to a dozen.) Beijing views Washington’s scatter-shot, flip-flop approach to foreign policy — especially in the post-Cold War era — as destabilizing, foolish … and useful.
As with all of American blundering in the Middle East, China is the biggest beneficiary of the recent airstrikes in Syria. Not only does it divert attention away from the “region of the future,” it also heightens the suspicions of potential regional rivals, Russia and China. If you want to know why geopolitics has returned, the American use of force in nonstrategic areas is a start.
You can read the rest here.