Archive for the ‘religious belief’ Category

The missing elements in the war against ISIS — Taking down their websites and engaging in robust public diplomacy

Friday, June 12th, 2015

UPDATE June 23, 2015

Europe is setting up a special police unit to monitor jihadist sites and content, andd to remove it.

See

Richard Spencer, “Europe-wide police unit to monitor Islamic State social media; Europol to set up specialist unit in response to concerns not enough is being done to prevent Isil propaganda,” The Telegraph, June 22, 2015 (12:15 p.m. BST).

This is the kind of action that is needed, on a very large scale, not only in Europe but in many other countries.

*****

See Mark Mazzetti and Michael R. Gordon, “ISIS Is Winning the Social Media War, U.S. Concludes,” New York Times, June 12, 2015.

In a converstaion recently, a friend asked what The Observer would do to counter ISIS (or the self-denominated “Islamic State”).

From that conversation emerged crystalized thoughts from months of reflection.  In brief, I would suggest, at least for purposes of debate, that we consider the following:

The Enormity of the Threat

First of all, we must recognize the enormity of the threat to civilized nations represented by ISIS, and the huge progress they have made in waging a war for young Muslim minds. The existence and growth of a barbarian political and military power, in the heart of the Middle East, constitutes an existential threat to societies from the Middle East to Europe, the United States, and beyond.

The most daunting aspect of the threat is the rejection by ISIS and other jihadists of the fundamental moral and legal values undegirding European civilization for the last 400 years. These values have developed since the Peace of Westphalia and the birth of the modern nation state system and international law, following the ThIrty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution (including the revolutions in America and France).

These values spread through the rest of the world following World War II, with decolonization, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the universal recognition of governments’ legal obligations to protect fundmental human rights. They are now under attack.

International law obligations to protect fundamental human rights, refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state, and to comply with international treaties, customary international law, and the United Nations Charter itself, are all challenged by the growth of ISIS and other jihadists. The latter reject the values upon which the former are founded, retreating to the use of barbarism in fighting all who do not submit to their twisted and extreme vision of Islamic rule.

To date, the West and other civilized countries have not recognized the larger threat posed by ISIS and other jihadists, or at least not reacted in a manner commensurate with the nature and dimensions of the threat.

Responses have been limited in the main to defending against potential terrorist threats to the homeland, and to killing as many jihadists as possible in order to limit their territorial gains.

This approach, however necessary, has essentially failed to stem the growth of ISIS and others. It fails to adequately address the essential nature of the problem, which is that it involves a war for young Muslim minds, not only in Syria, Iraq, northern Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also in Europe, America and in many other countries throughout the world.

What more can be done?

Proposition for Debate #1: Taking Down Their Websites

First, we should consider whether to attack the capabilities of ISIS and other jihadists to spread their views and to use slick propaganda to gather new recruits.

We could take down their websites as fast as they pop up, and ensure that videos of beheadings and other acts of barbarism cannot be viewed, or viewed for long, on the Internet or social media. We could, perhaps in concert with other countries, prohibit their reproduction on television, in newspapers, or on social media. Italy successfully followed a similar policy in dealing with terrorists in the 1970’s.

We could use all of our military and intelligence capabilities to take down these sites. Freedom of speech is critically important, but it does not include the right to shout fire in a theater, or to incite others to join groups which commit horrendous acts of violence.

To be sure, there will be a need for judicial supervision and review, in some form, of such activities.

One suspects that the intelligence agencies, which probably glean important information about visitors to such websites, will strongly oppose taking them down. Yet a larger view is needed to inform decisions.

Does the intelligence gathered outweigh the benefit of crippling the recruitment and propaganda activities of the jihadists? Who will decide?

We should consider and debate these questions.

Proposition for Debate #2: Creating a much more robust public diplomacy

Second, we could mount a much larger and more effective public diplomacy structure and campaign, something on the scale of the U.S. Information Agency in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Obviously, a large effort would need to be made on the Internet and social media.

But we could also rebuild and build out our shortwave and medium wave broadcast capabilities, fund them, and greatly expand the schedule of broadcasts on the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, for example.

Before this idea is dismissed as obsolete, we should bear in mind that Internet sites can be blocked by those with territorial power such as the “Islamic State” or governments. Users and listeners can be tracked, as they were in Iran in 2009. One of the great advantages of older technologies like radio is that listeners cannot be tracked, and jamming is not always effective. Television can also be beamed by satellites or high-altitude balloons. In an authoritarian country in Africa or the Middle East, radio and broadcast television may still work as ways of getting through. One need only to have listened to a VOA broadcast in a country with no freedom of expression to appreciate this point.

What is clear is that the USIA, since it has been dismantled as an independent agency and wrapped into the Department od State, has lost much of its effectiveness. About all that remains are the VOA and RFE/RL broadcasts, on reduced schedules and to a much more limited number of countries.

Other partners in the battle against ISIS and other jihadists could be encouraged to bolster their own activities. Some form of coordination might be undertaken.

The separation between independent news, on the one hand, and opinion representing the views of the U.S. government, on the other, which flourished when the Agency was led by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950’s, should be strengthened.

Similarly, the laws prohibiting the U.S. government from directing its information activities at domestic audiences should be upheld.

There could be an issue here to the extent such a limitation limits the ways in which public diplomacy efforts can be directed at young Muslims in the United States. Other means of rebutting the jihadists will probably need to be found.

What is critical is that the intelligence agencies, or public diplomacy efforts, not be used to sell government policies to citizens in the U.S. This line has been crossed repeatedly since 9/11, but its strict observance going forward is absolutely critical.

Other Steps

Many defeats in the war for young Muslim minds may be attributed to the loss of respect the U.S. has suffered as a result of its use of torture at Abu Gharib and elsewhere, the conditions in which prisoners were held for years without trial or even military commission review at Guantanamo, the 2003 invasion of Iraq in clear violation of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the use of force, the use of drones outside war theaters in apparent violation of international law, and in general actions that do not sit well with America’s preferred view of itself as a city on a hill, where dedication to the pursuit of freedom and the rule of law, both at home and abroad, are the hallmarks of a democratic society and its government.

Improvement in these areas would in the long term help in the struggle for young Muslim minds, and also help reformers within Muslim societies win their struggle for the rule of law in their own countries.

But for now, two issues which urgently merit full discussion are those outlined above.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. strategy and leadership needed: The Middle East and other countries hurtle into the Vortex

Friday, March 27th, 2015

On some days, the news is so disturbing that you want to take a broader view of what is going on in a region, or the world.

The Middle East appears to be convulsed by civil war and situations that could lead to further civil and international conflict. At times it seems that everyone has forgotten about international law. States don’t bother to offer legal justifications for their actions, or sometimes even admit they are responsible for them.

Chaos in the Middle East

Shiite Houthis backed by Iran are taking over Yemen, provoking military responses from Sunni Arab states.

Did anyone offer a legal justification for the actions of the Sunni military coalition?

Barack Obama’s statements several years ago that we should pursue a “Yemen-like” solution to the Syrian civil war don’t look so good today.

Libya has become a failed state, ruled now by violence and near anarchy.

U.S. bombers join in Iraqi government attacks on ISIS in Tikrit, as Iranian-led Shiite militias engaged in the battle for the city stand down or adopt ambiguous postures. The United States is now participating directly in the confict with ISIS in Iraq, in what seems to be an open-ended commitment.

This may be required in order to counter Iranian influence in Iraq, but has not yet been the subject of much public debate in the United Stares.

Israeli-Palestinian relations are at their lowest point since the Second Intifada, following Banjamin Netanyahu’s scurrilous playing of the race card in the last days before the recent elections to the Knesset. After warning right-wing voters that the Israeli Arabs were turning out in droves for the elections, Netanyahu has lost all respect as a leader of Israel.

In the days before the elections, Netanyahu also promised right-wing voters that there would never be a Palestinian state so long as he remained in office. That sounded the death knell for the two-state solution, at least for now.

There are no negotiations underway, and it is hard to see how they can be restarted so long as Netanyahu remains prime minister.

Relations with the Obama administration are at an all-time low, putting the U.S. automatic veto against any U.N. Security Council resolution adverse to Israel into play.

Charlie Rose interviews Bashar al-Assad, giving a megaphone–once again–to a mass murderer guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria on a massive scale, where over 220,000 have been killed. With blood dripping from his hands, al-Assad wants to make a deal with the West to fight the Islamic State group or ISIS, leaving his regime and him in power.

In his diffidence to al-Assad, Rose refers to dropping barrel bombs and other war crimes and crimes against humanity as “actions that others look down on” or words to that effect.

Regarding Rose’s shameful interview with al-Assad in September, 2013, on the eve on an expected vote in Congress authorizing Obama to use military force against Syria–following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2013–see

See “CBS News and PBS: Network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and PBS, give al-Assad megaphone for propaganda to oppose Obama—ON MONDAY!,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2013.

The Islamic State group, the al-Nusra front, the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Western-backed so-called “moderate” rebels, and who knows who else mix it up in the meat grinder of Syria.

Threats Beyond the Middle East

An unsteady truce holds in the eastern Ukraine. Putin sits poised like a leopard, waiting for the West to be distracted and/or show disunity before he strikes at Mariupol and continues building his strategic land bridge to the Crimea.

The Greek prime minister suggests, on the eve of his trip to Moscow, that Greece may veto the renewal of EU sanctions against Russia when they come up for renewal later this year.

Putin is driven by a need to continually engage the West in conflict, in order to distract his population from their sinking economy and worsening living conditions. He also seems to be on the path of delusions of grandeur, as he would be the leader who restored the Russian Empire and its sphere of influence.

See John Simpson, “Vladimir Putin is fighting for political survival – by provoking unrest in Ukraine, New Statesman, March 30, 2015 (9:44 a.m)

Writing from Sevastapol, the BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson explains how Russia’s premiere is stalling. His Crimean coup is an attempt to distract the west.

No one refers to international law.

Endless war, including war between Sunni states and Iran, is highly possible.

Once the genie of a broad Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East is out of the bottle, who could contain it again?

In Washington, as in Europe and the Middle East, leaders are needed to deal with these situations effectively, pursuant to a coherent strategy. Yet such leaders are hard to find.

Into the Vortex we all go.

The Trenchant Observer

Civilization falters, as Russian aggression stands and Islamic terrorism explodes

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo massacre by Islamic extremists on January 7 underlines the failure of the West and other civilized countries to win the struggle in Muslim and other societies to control the violent extremists who, wearing jihadism as a cloak, wreak havoc upon the world.

Samuel Huntington’s warning of a “clash of civilizations” has become a reality, though its effects perhaps may yet be abated.

The U.S.and other countries have resorted to drone strikes outside the Afghan theater of dubious validity under international law. They have committed torture, and refused to bring those responsible to account.

Meanwhile, the defense of civilization on other fronts falters, as Russian troops stand astride their booty in a war of aggression, the Crimea, Russian-occupied territory of the Ukraine.

Civilization is falling apart, as the West no longer defends its deepest values. Russia occupies the Crimea and has forces in the eastern Ukraine, while French President Francois Hollande calls for an end to sanctions against Russia, two months before they must be renewed by the European Union.

President Barack Obama has stood by while 200,000 Syrians have been killed, seemingly unmoved by their suffering. The cost of that indifference is high, as suggested by Turkey’s turning away from the West.

What is to be done?

Something tells us we cannot kill all the young Muslims who are drawn to the terrorists’ cause, veiled as it is in Muslim religious belief.

Something tells us we cannot win the war against jihadists by using drones, by secret “black” prisons, by torture, or by simply trying to kill them faster than they are formed. We cannot win a war based on a strategy of cutting off the tentacles of a hydra-headed monster which gains strength from our very efforts to kill it.

Driving from the back seat, Obama has wrecked the world. Or at least failed to act effectively to correct its downward course.

No one has the answers, as few even ask the right questions.

There are no leaders. Civilization falls apart.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE II—A prayer for the children of Syria

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

First published December 24, 2012
REPRISE published December 25, 2013

Prayer for an Alawite Child

I understand,

Just like me, you want to be happy,
Just like me, you want to be free of pain,
Just like me, you want to be loved,
Just like me, you want to be free from anxiety,
Just like me, you want to be free from fear,
Just like me, you want to know peace.

May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you be safe,
May you know peace.

Prayer for a Sunni Child

I understand,

Just like me, you want to be happy,
Just like me, you want to be free of pain,
Just like me, you want to be loved,
Just like me, you want to be free from anxiety,
Just like me, you want to be free from fear,
Just like me, you want to know peace.

May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you be safe,
May you know peace.

Prayer for a Christian Child

I understand,

Just like me, you want to be happy,
Just like me, you want to be free of pain,
Just like me, you want to be loved,
Just like me, you want to be free from anxiety,
Just like me, you want to be free from fear,
Just like me, you want to know peace.

May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you be safe,
May you know peace.

And let us say the same prayer for all of the children, of all of the other minorities, of Syria.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama seeks to block publication of Senate torture report; Pillar of democracy at stake

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Background — See

(1) “Sicherheitsbedenken: US-Regierung bremst Veröffentlichung von CIA-Folterbericht,” Der Spiegel, 6. Dezember 2014 (19:55 Uhr).

Der US-Senat wollte umfassende Informationen über geheime Foltermethoden der CIA publizieren. Nun blockiert die Regierung in Washington in letzter Sekunde die Veröffentlichung – und begründet dies mit Sorge vor neuer Gewalt im Nahen Osten.”

(2) Reuters (Washington), “Kerry urges caution over timing of releasing U.S. torture report,” Reuters, December 5, 2014 (7:40pm EST).

(3) Matthew Lee and Ken Dilian, “Kerry to Feinstein: Consider timing of CIA report,” Associated Press (AP), December 5, 2014 (6:26 PM EST).

(4) “Obama: ‘We tortured some folks…It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks (our law enforcement and our national security teams) were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.’” (full transcript), The Trenchant Observer. August 1, 2014.

(5) “Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2013.

One of the fundamental pillars of any democracy is the right of the people, those who in the U.S. elect the president and members of the Senate and the House, to know what actions the government has carried out with their money and in their name.

To the extent secret laws, secret courts, and doctrines that prevent the adjudication of the constitutionality and legality of the government’s actions prevent the people, the electorate, from learning what actions the government has taken and what crimes it has committed, the very edifice of democracy is eroded as the structure that remains becomes a hollow shell.

Now we hear the wholly specious argument, from Secretary of State John Kerry no less, that publication of the Senate’s Torture Report must be “delayed” because it will cause violence in the Middle East and South Asia, and will expose American hostages to risks and other Americans to being taken as hostages by extremists. (See Reuters aarticle above.) Release of the Report has already been delayed, for years.

Let there be no confusion over the high probability that further “delaying” the publication of the Torture Report will mean blocking its release. When the Republicans take over control of the Senate in January, it appears very likely they will block dissemination of the Report, if it has not already been distributed.

Kerry’s plea for delay has all the markings of an artful maneuver by Obama to block publication of the Torture Report while claiming he favors its release.

The statement by Kerry’s press spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, that he had called Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ask for delay, came on Friday–well-timed to avoid coverage in the leading U.S. newspapers over the weekend.

So, the fault here according to the Obama administration is that those who want to learn and publish the facts regarding torture by the U.S. government, or extraordinary rendition to “black” prisons in places like Poland, in flagrant violation of human rights treaties, the laws of war, and customary international law, will endanger the country’s interests and its citizens abroad. The enemy, in short, is the truth.

It doesn’t seem to occur to President Obama or elected officials who acquiesce in such government secrecy that it is the government’s actions and crimes themselves that cause the damage to the nation’s interests. While the Islamic State and other groups are growing by the day, it doesn’t occur to these leaders that the torture itself has imposed an immeasurable cost on the idea of America in the world, and the country’s interests.

With John Brennan sitting as Director of the CIA, and the failure of the Obama administration to prosecute those responsible for policies and acts of torture, in flagrant violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, America has never made a clean break with torture.

The simple fact that  one of the key figures in the torture program has never been prosecuted for torture as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and publishes op-eds in newspapers like the Washington Post every time the there is a threat that the truth about the actions he led might come out, reveals how far America is from making a clean break with its policies of torture in the past.

See

(1) Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., “Today’s CIA critics once urged the agency to do anything to fight al-Qaeda,” The Washingtonn Post, December 5, 2014.

(2) “Key CIA official involved in Bush torture program criticizes “Zero Dark Thirty” for inaccurate depiction of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’,” The Trenchant Observer, January 7, 2013.

One can understand Rodriguez’ anguish over crimes he apparently was complicit in, believing he was acting in accordance with the orders of the highest officials in the country, without agreeing with his arguments and conclusions. He poses serious questions. The best answer to them is publication of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on Torture.

Publication of the Senate Report can begin to correct the government policies that led to torture and that tolerate the non-prosecution of those responsible for torture. If we are ever to diminish the hatred toward America felt by jihadists and many others in the world, it will not be by continuing to hide our crimes behind a wall of secrecy–which only confirms the worst fears and suspicions of the jihadists and those they seek to recruit–but rather by letting the light of truth uncover these crimes and point us down a path that will ensure that they will never happen again.

Barack Obama, in his typically cute way, is seeking to avoid personal responsibility for blocking publication of the report (actually only it’s Executive Summary), seeking through Kerry to block its release while putting out the word that he favors publication.

This is utterly disingenuous on his part.

This is what it’s like to live in a national security and surveillance state where the most important decisions for the life of a democracy are left in the hands of unelected intelligence officials who are themselves complicit in the commission of the crimes to be reported. CIA Director John Brennan is the leading case in point.

Who is in charge of the government, President Barack Obama and the Congress, or John Brennan and the other intelligence chiefs?

If Obama wants to publish the Executive Summary of the Senate Report, he should do so, taking broader considerations into account than those in the narrow purview of secretive intelligence operatives.

Moreover, as soon as possible after publication of the Executive Summary, the full report should be published.

The only redactions that should be accepted are those that are critically important to protecting present sources and methods, and not those aimed at avoiding embarrassment or the revelation of complicity in crimes.

The Trenchant Observer

The press acts as a megaphone for ISIS by showing pictures or videos related to beheadings

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

It seems that one important measure for limiting the effects of the fear ISIS or IS is trying to spread in the West, and the effectiveness of its recruiting campaign by engaging in terror, would be to simply not show any pictures or videos related to beheadings on television, YouTube, websites, or in the printed media.

The press should not be serving as a megaphone for ISIS’s terror propaganda.

Immediately, news outlets and Internet Service Providers should ban the publication of any such videos or photographs in media or websites under their control.

As soon as possible, legislation should be passed making the showing of terrorist propaganda such as beheadings on any media a crime.

At the same time, the terrorists’ web sites should be taken down by military or intelligence agencies’ cyber-warfare operations. Any argument of the intelligence agencies to the effect that they want to trace and identify everyone who comes to the site should be overruled insofar as pictures and videos of beheadings of Westerners, or indeed anyone, are concerned.

Why has this not already been done?

Don’t people in our government get the point that terror is spread through the media?

News stories, without the pictures, of course, are fine and should be published.

The Trenchant Observer

The spiritual dimension: Muslims find refuge, shared sense of humanity, in Christian church in Gaza

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Among the terror and warfare that seem to increasingly claim the world’s attention, we often lose sight of the deep religious values and sense of humanity shared by the three religions of The Book–Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. These values are also shared by other religions.

It is this sense of shared humanity, the value expressed in the sentiment, “I am my brother’s keeper,” that joins all human beings in one shared experience, one shared existence, on this speck of matter, the Earth, which may appear as but a tiny point of light in one remote corner of an expanding Universe of over 170 billion galaxies, in the portion that is “visible” to humans and their telescopes. Our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, has some 200-400 billion stars.

Men and women of all major religions believe that there are powerful spiritual forces (or a powerful spiritual force) and a spiritual dimension in the Universe. After the shattering experience of World War II, the representatives of the world’s nations came together to articulate the values and aspirations of mankind, which found expression in the United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

As war rages in the Gaza strip, in Iraq and Syria, in Afghanistan, in the eastern Ukraine, and elsewhere, we are reminded of the spiritual dimension of our lives, of our shared humanity, by a news story describing how a Christian church in Gaza has taken in Muslims fleeing the current violence there.

See AFP, “Muslims pray in Christian Church as bombs fall in Gaza, Dawn, July 26, 2014.

In Gaza City, one Muslim resident named Mahmud reported that it was a bizarre new experience to be saying his daily prayers in a church “beneath the gaze of an icon of Jesus Christ.”

But since the war in Gaza began, he has had no choice but to worship in a Christian house of God, where he took refuge after Israeli air strikes pummelled his neighbourhood in the north of the Palestinian territory.

“They let us pray. It’s changed my view of Christians — I didn’t really know any before, but they’ve become our brothers,” said (Mahmud), 27, who admitted he never expected to perform his evening prayers in a church.

“We (Muslims) prayed all together last night,” he said. “Here, the love between Muslims and Christians has grown.”

There is something special about this moment. The humanity of individual human beings shines through the bombs and destruction from which Muslims and Christians together seek refuge in a Christan Orthodox church, in Gaza.

Gaza’s Christians have dwindled in number to around 1,500 out of a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 1.7 million.

The Christian community, like elsewhere in the Middle East, has been shrinking due to both conflict and unemployment.

But the sheer terror of this shared experience appears to have fostered the feeling of brotherhood.

“Jesus said, love your neighbour, not just your family but your colleague, your classmate — Muslim, Shiite, Hindu, Jewish,” said Christian volunteer Tawfiq Khader.

“We open our doors to all people.“

One recalls the same sense of shared humanity expressed in Jean Renoir’s classic film, “La Grande Illusion”.

As we prepare to remember the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War I in 1914, the setting for Renoir’s film (one of the 10 greatest films ever made), we need to connect the dots.

The deepest obligations of all governments are to protect the fundamental human rights of their citizens–and all human beings, to avoid recourse to war to secure national objectives, and to act forcefully to maintain, or re-establish, international peace and security.

That is our common human enterprise, informed by the spiritual forces represented by all religions, in this vast universe.

Nations must act, forcefully, to halt wars of aggression.

Nations must act, forcefully, to halt and prevent the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

We, as individual human beings, can contribute to the achievement of these goals by drawing on the spiritual power that resides within each of us, and which links us to others through religions and the spiritual dimension of the Universe, and which calls on us to act in this world to defend humanity’s deepest values.

The Trenchant Observer

Text of draft Egyptian constitution in English and Arabic

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

The new draft constitution builds upon past achievements, and contains some notably progressive articles. It is being translated into English as quickly as possible. Articles 1-122 are reproduced in English at the following link.

“Text of constitutional amendments: First three parts (articles 1-83) of Egypt’s constitutional amendments adopted by the 50-member committee,” Islamic Societies Review Active Series, December 3, 2013.

Of course, no constitution can in and of itself, guarantee democracy. It can place strong tools in the hand of defenders of democracy and the rule of law, however. Close analysis of the emerging text in English translation is merited.

For an excellent summary of the entire text, see

Hend Kortam and Rana Muhammad Taha,”Divisions of power in the constitution under scrutiny,” Daily News Egypt, December 4, 2013.

For the full text of the draft constitution in English, see Nariman Youssef, Egypt’s draft constitution translated, Egypt Independent, December 4, 2013.

The Trenchant Observer

Iran, Syria, and the nuclear question

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

(Developing story)

Iran is within reach of achieving an expansion of its influence through solidifying an arc of Shia states or Shia-led states reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterrean Sea. Iran, Iraq, Syria under Alawite rule, and a Lebanese state where Hezbollah is the largest party, has its own well-trained and well-armed militia and blocking or veto power over the actions of the government, represent a formidable challenge to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which have significant Shia populations subject to the pull of Iranian influence.

Despite the obvious benefit of removing chemical weapons from Syria and greatly resducing the chances they might fall into the wrong hands, the chemical weapons deal does not signal an advance for U.S. interests in the region, for it leaves al-Assad in power and increasingly dependent on Iranian economic and military support (including troops and commanders), with Hezbollah providing battle-hardened troops from Lebanon to support al-Assad militarily, particularly in decisive battles.

Proponents of a much-touted potential nuclear deal with Iran need to keep these broader considerations in mind. A nuclear deal that doesn’t address the Syrian question or that leaves Iranian nuclear weapons break-out capabilities intact, could prove to be an illusory achievement. In particular, an accord that would allow work on the Awak heavy water reactor to continue during an initial six-month “freeze” on Iran’s nuclear program is viewed by experts as allowing Iran to continue its advance toward achieving a nuclear weapons capability while sanctions are loosened.

Moreover, we must ask what made Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei suddenly become willing to settle the nuclear issue with the group of P5+1, immediately following Obama’s military back-down on Syria and what must have appeared in Tehran as lack of resolve to use military power.

For recent commentary, see:

(1) Jackson Diehl, “John Kerry’s Middle East dream world,” Washinton Post, November 10, 2013.

(2) Raniah Salloum, “Teherans Mann für Syrien: Irans gefährlichster General,” Der Spiegel, 10 November 2013 (17:34 Uhr).

Er ist Teherans Mann für heikle Missionen im Ausland: Kassim Soleimani, Chef der Eliteeinheit al-Kuds. In Afghanistan und im Irak hat er den Amerikanern bereits schwer zu schaffen gemacht. Jetzt soll er Irans Einfluss in Syrien retten.

(3) Julian Borger, “Iran nuclear programme deal in danger of unravelling; US negotiator leaves talks to reassure Israeli prime minister after France sinks bid to seal temporary agreement,” The Guardian, November 10, 2013.

(4) Julian Borger, “Last-minute rethink stalled deal on nuclear Iran; Details have emerged of how talks with Tehran in Geneva broke up at 11th hour after France and US took a robust stance,” The Guardian, November 11, 2013 (13.06 EST).

The Trenchant Observer

Disillisioned with Obama’s chemical weapons deal with the Russians, 12 Free Syrian Army groups form alliance with al-Nusra Front in Syria

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Twelve “moderate” groups previously aligned with the Free Syrian Army, have given up on Obama and the West, forming a new alliance with the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front in northern Syria. After Obama’s deal with Russia on chemical weapons, now on the verge of being backed by a relatively good Security Council Resolution—according to news reports—many insurgents have lost hope. They have declared that they will not participate in any Geneva II peace conference in Geneva.

They feel they have been sold out, have given up on Obama and the West, and have gone over to the other side–the al Nusra Front, which is comprised of al-Qaeda jihadists dedicated to imposing their fundamentalist version of the sharia (Islamic law) as the only law in the territory they control. The new groups have accepted this stipulation.

This development makes a negotiated peace settlement seem more distant than ever, unless Obama and the West can persuade Russia and Iran to curtail their military and financial support for the al-Assad regime.

Georges Malbrunot, “Syrie: des rebelles modérés rejoignent le camp des islamistes radicaux,” Le Figaro, le 26/09/2013 (à 13:46).

The Trenchant Observer