New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs — 9-5-17

A grim verdict on the war on Syria, a thumbs down for Putin Syria policy by Russians, and problems ahead for Iraq post-ISIS. To subscribe to this daily roundup, click here. Assad has “won the war militarily,” says former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford in the Los Angeles Times. “And I can’t see any prospect of the Syrian opposition being able to compel him to make dramatic concessions in a peace negotiation.” But Russians do not support President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Syria, according to a poll summarized in Newsweek. “The latest Levada poll shows that around a third of Russians (32 percent) fear Syria could repeat the mistakes of the Soviet-Afghan conflict—Moscow’s quintessential example of a long and grinding military stalemate that ended with 15,000 Soviet deaths and Moscow’s inglorious withdrawal in 1989. For that reason the war is often called the Soviet “Vietnam.” Meanwhile, in Baghdad, an ISIS defeat is poised to lay bare the frittering of the Iraqi state, according to a substantial report by Continue Reading…

Gulf States Rethink Their PR Wars

In August 17, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash tweeted an observation in Arabic about the standoff between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt on the other, now about to enter its fourth month. “The Qatar crisis is a hornet’s nest,” he wrote. “Its weapons are money and weak souls. It is vital to reevaluate the high price of mercenaries, consciences, and pens, which are costly to the Gulf and the region.” Gargash’s comment refers to the formidable investment of all parties in winning over public opinion, both within the Middle East and among the Gulf States’ Western allies. A memorable 2014 New York Times investigative report showed that American think tanks receive millions of dollars annually in contributions from GCC governments. The NYT named, among others, the Brookings Institution ($14.8 million from Qatar over four years) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies ($1 million from the UAE to build a new headquarters). More recent reporting from the UK describes $32 million Continue Reading…

New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs

The Gulf States rethink their PR wars, a former Israeli official calls for a U.S. strike on North Korea, and To subscribe to this daily roundup, click here. Joseph Braude in The American Interest on the heavy toll of the Gulf states’ war of words: “It could well be that Americans who take an interest in foreign policy—as opposed to the large “don’t know” category of the survey set—put little stock in PR campaigns. Instead, they follow the news, weigh conflicting viewpoints, and render an independent judgment. … The result is an American public assessment of the Gulf standoff that turns out to be fairly accurate. Al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel is a hub of extremist indoctrination. The UAE, for its part, has earned its reputation as an American ally … This offers two lessons to the GCC as a whole—and a further particular lesson for Qatar. First, if all parties to the conflict slashed their heavy spending on American influencers, the outcome would not change much, if at all. Second, if Qatar Continue Reading…

New and noteworthy in Arab and Islamic affairs, 9-3-17

A regime change agenda in Qatar acquires an emir-in-waiting, a fraught encounter between Turkish and American justice in Washington, and a new assessment of how to resuscitate failed states. To subscribe to this daily roundup, click here. Seth. D. Kaplan in The American Interest on rebuilding failed states today: “The U.S. government [should] break the habit of focusing on the central state, and come to better appreciate that the disaggregation of power is sometimes essential to stability. Partnering with local leaders based on a deeper understanding of local landscapes and actors is essential. Diplomacy, development, and defense (3D) will all need to … recognize the importance of focusing on a wide variety of actors across a landscape instead of just those jockeying for power in capitals; that tradeoffs between competing goals (for example, political order and competitive politics) is necessary; and that progress is liable to be incremental at best. In many cases, nascent local efforts to end conflicts and establish political order will need to be better protected from outside Continue Reading…

New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic affairs – 9-1-17

Apple bans Iranian apps, the UN heralds victory in Raqqa, and a Qatari opposition group emerges in London. Paul Pilar in The National Interest on the unintended consequences of Iran sanctions: “Apple is attempting to shut down apps developed by Iranians for use on iPhones inside Iran [because] sanctions prohibit Apple from selling its phones in Iran. Impeding the full use by Iranians of their iPhones does absolutely nothing to weaken the Iranian regime. … As with many of the U.S. sanctions, the overall effect on the Iranian economy is to weaken portions of that economy that are outside the regime and to strengthen the regime’s influence over other parts, including the economic activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” The Guardian on a UN prediction that Raqqa will fall in October: “The last ISIS Islamic State stronghold in Syria, will fall by the end of October, allowing credible democratic elections to be held within a year, according to the UN special envoy for the country. Setting out a highly Continue Reading…

New and Noteworthy in Arab and Islamic Affairs – 8-31-17

New calculations in the Gulf on Iran’s nuclear deal, a new Iranian diplomatic play, and a double-edged sword in the war on ISIS. Arab Gulf States Institute’s Hussein Ibish on the implications of scrapping the Iranian nuclear deal: “Gulf Arab countries understand that the ideal scenario for Iranian hard-liners would be for the JCPOA to collapse in the near future, with Washington being blamed by most, if not all, of the international community. … Tehran would have reached the agreement and permanently undone the international sanctions regime under Obama, only to be freed from complying with its terms under Trump, with virtually no chance that the comprehensive sanctions, particularly as imposed by China and Russia, could be resurrected. [Accordingly, Gulf states have] urged the United States to rigorously enforce, but not scrap, the nuclear agreement.” “The Media Line” on Iran’s push for normalization with Arab Gulf states: “Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used the Munich Security Conference on Sunday as a platform to reiterate calls for the Sunni Gulf Continue Reading…

New and Noteworthy on Arab and Islamic Affairs – 8-30-17

In today’s roundup, a stinging indictment of the Trump administration’s Iran policy and a new book on jihadist returnees to Europe. MEMRI: Trump has come to accept Iranian regional expansionism under the cover of the war on ISIS: “In the first three months of Trump’s term, Tehran was apprehensive about what his Iran policy would be. It significantly dialed back its provocations — both its verbal threats and its naval forays against U.S. vessels in the Gulf — and even cancelled the launch of a ballistic missile, removing the missile from its launching pad on the eve of Iran’s Revolution Day on February 10, after the Trump administration announced that Iran was being “put on notice.” … Three months later, Iran has changed its approach: It is stepping up its naval provocations; its anti-U.S. discourse is again in evidence — including the “Death to America” chant; and its verbal threats against the U.S. are increasing. Additionally, the same missile which was taken off the launching pad last February was launched on July 27, 2017, in disregard Continue Reading…

New and noteworthy articles about Mideast politics

Here’s a roundup of new and noteworthy articles and interviews about political developments in the Middle East. TV Debate on Qatar’s restoration of full diplomatic ties with Iran On August 29, TRT World, a TV channel controlled by the Turkish government, hosted a debate about Doha’s decision to return its ambassador to Tehran. Mahjub Zuwayri, a professor at Qatar University, with a PhD from Tehran University, explained the decision as follows: “It’s the right of a sovereign nation to decide on its own foreign policy. … Iran showed a willingness to help Qatar on the blockade imposed upon it by its own neighbors.” Hisham al-Ghannam, a fellow at Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, replied, “Qatar is not Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Qatar is under the U.S. security umbrella. This is a tactical move rather than a strategic one. The goal is to send a message to the boycotting countries that Qatar is … aligning with Iran. … I want to ask your Continue Reading…

The Debate in Washington Over an Air Force Base in Qatar

I’m now in the midst of researching the American policy discussion about the future of Al-Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar, home to the largest concentration of American military personnel in the Middle East. It hosts more than 11,000 U.S. forces, the forward headquarters of the U.S. Air Force Central Command, the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, and the 379th Air Expedition Wing. It is the also the “Combined Air and Space Operations Center” from which the U.S. has been coordinating its air strikes against ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Amid the diplomatic crisis between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt on the other, a variety of voices have debated how a substantial U.S. army presence in Qatar may be affecting the crisis. The forthcoming paper is part of a series that has also included a publication about the new Chinese and Saudi bases in Djibouti. Among other aspects of the research, I’m gathering statements about the matter by current and former Continue Reading…

Murder in Casablanca: A Homicide Observed Up Close by Author Joseph Braude

In this excerpt from his nonfiction narrative The Honored Dead (Random House: Spiegel & Grau), Joseph Braude describes the characters in a homicide case which he studied while embedded with the Moroccan police in Casablanca. Muhammad Bari eased out of his bedroom and opened the creaking front door just enough to make his way outside. His wife deserved her sleep; she had to get up for work in an hour. Usually Bari’s best friend would be waiting for him in the alleyway and they would walk together to a nearby mosque for the dawn prayer. This morning, the alleyway was empty. Bari didn’t worry: Sometimes his friend slept in until sunrise. It was December in Casablanca, Morocco’s sprawling economic capital on the Atlantic coast of North Africa. An ocean mist chilled the lingering darkness. Bari’s teeth chattered as he took off his shoes outside the mosque and placed them in an empty cubby hole. He performed his ritual ablutions in the washroom and proceeded barefoot into the sanctuary warm with body heat: several hundred Continue Reading…