World

Sectarian War Across the Middle East: A Matter of Semantics

By on 6.26.14 | 4:01PM

There is something going on that I may not have told you about.

It is really a matter of semantics, but it has turned out to be rather significant. You may have noticed the multiplicity of English translations for ISIS, the extremist Sunni group that has been terrorizing Syria and especially Iraq in recent weeks. The varied translations exist because the Arabic name—الدولة الاسلامية في العراق و الشام—contains a word, "the Sham," that only roughly translates into English. It refers to a geographic area that has not existed since the Ottoman era, but which includes all the land we now call Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.

This helps to explain the worrying scope of ISIS's ambition. Evidence of this was reported by Reuters:

The al Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades had urged Lebanese Sunni Muslims to attack the Iranian-backed Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah a day before Wednesday's suicide bombing in central Beirut.

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Ukraine Moves West

By on 6.25.14 | 5:05PM

The Associated Press reports that Ukrainian lawmakers will sign the European Union agreement that sparked February’s revolution on Friday. The trade deal requires a number of modernization and reform efforts with regards to Ukrainian economic policy, and Ukrainians hope it will spur growth and bring the country to economic par with other former Soviet bloc nations. Risks abound, however. While the Russian parliament has revoked Vladimir Putin’s right to intervene militarily on behalf of Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine, many remain concerned by the potential Russian backlash over Friday’s deal signing. Russia has repeatedly threatened to slap tariffs on Ukrainian goods.

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The Middle East Doesn’t Want America in Iraq

By on 6.23.14 | 3:32PM

It's official. Iraq is having a party for all the sects in the Middle East, and we're not invited.

Our Gulf allies were surprised to hear that we ever thought we were coming.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the awkward phone call, when the leaders of the Sunni Arab world met Secretary of State John Kerry with "expressions of bewilderment" about his plans to fight ISIS on behalf of the Iraqi government.

One diplomat said the United States may have misunderstood the purpose of the events in Iraq. "We felt the Americans were greatly misinformed," the diplomat said. "The insurgency isn't just about ISIS, but Sunnis fighting back against injustice."

The leaders from the Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan felt that since the United States had decided not to come to Syria at the last minute, they should not expect to be welcomed by Sunnis in Iraq.

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The War on Terror Spectator

Cancel Aid to Egypt

By 6.23.14

Much about the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been an embarrassment. Some of its failures, such as Iraq, must be shared with its predecessor. In Egypt President Barack Obama and especially Secretary of State John Kerry incompetently followed in the footsteps of several administrations.

Three years ago Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship ingloriously collapsed. Although student-led protests in Cairo triggered the regime’s demise, it was Mubarak's plan to move from military rule to family rule that led the generals to abandon him. The Obama administration was constantly following events, first embracing Mubarak, then calling for a negotiated transition, and finally endorsing his overthrow. The Egyptian people ignored Washington at every turn.

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The War on Terror Spectator

America’s Dilemma in Iraq

By 6.20.14

To think of mass graves is to think backwards in history—Babi Yar in Ukraine or the one million Jews still being unearthed from the Treblinka death camp. To see similar images today, shown in vivid color photos right down to the grains of sand in the makeshift ditch, is startling. Yet that’s exactly what the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has provided us, along with boasts that the dead are 1,700 Shias from the Iraqi army.

The country that once concealed Saddam Hussein’s mass graves is once again the site of anachronistic brutality, but this time with a modern twist. ISIS has proven savvy at using social media to broadcast its destruction across the world. Earlier this year they released photos of two men in neighboring Syria suspected of being spies, covered in blood and crucified on crosses.

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The War on Terror Spectator

In Search of a Strongman

By 6.19.14

A Middle Eastern proverb tells of a Bedouin chief who believed that consumption of fowl would increase his masculine dignity and bought a turkey. One morning, he found his turkey was gone from its usual place outside his tent. The chief called his sons together and told them that his turkey had been stolen by bandits. "Find my turkey!" he told them in rage, but they laughed and departed.

The next morning, the chief awoke to find that his camel had been stolen. His sons came to his tent of their own accord to make a plan for its recovery, but the chief just told them, "Find my turkey."

The next day, the leader's daughter was raped, and his sons descended upon his tent in rage. "How could this have happened?" they asked. He replied, "None of this would have happened if you had found my turkey."

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Lessons for Iraq Hawks Upon the Anniversary of the Raid on Medway

By on 6.18.14 | 11:45AM

In June of 1667, the British suffered the worst defeat in the history of the Royal Navy. The Dutch—then rivals to Britannia’s rule upon the waves—wreaked terror on the Thames Valley, burning capital ships and claiming prize. The loss of the Royal Charles, the British flagship, was particularly demoralizing. Her metal stern bearing the Crown’s coat of arms now hangs in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

Two hundred years later, Rudyard Kipling memorialized the defeat in his poem The Dutch at Medway. The elegy opens:

If wars were won by feasting,

Or victory by song,

Or safety found, by sleeping sound

How England would be strong!

It’s a fitting reminder that wars aren’t won by talking tough. Those who would send other men to fight their battles for them do no service for their state.

Kipling goes on to bemoan the extravagant spending at Whitehall, and the threat of debt to defense:

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Showing Restraint in Iraq is Nothing New

By on 6.18.14 | 10:44AM

Author and academic C.S. Lewis coined the term “chronological snobbery” to describe the logical fallacy of dismissing that which is old because it is old and embracing that which is new because it is new. Barry Posen, writing in Politico about American foreign policy, avoids this fallacy by avoiding history all together. Not dismissive of the past, he fails to acknowledge a geopolitical world before the Cold War at all, reducing his examination of evidence to basically his own professional lifetime.

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‘Don’t Be Hasty’ in Iran and Iraq

By on 6.16.14 | 3:29PM

The deterioration of Iraq into sectarian violence demands the same strategy espoused by Treebeard the Ent in Tolkien's The Two Towers: "Don't be hasty."

The al-Qaeda offshoot ISIS added the strategic Iraqi city of Tal Afar to its prizes Monday, and took another step towards its stated goal of establishing a Sunni Islamic state across Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry has said Washington is "open to discussions" for cooperation with arch-enemy Iran to return power to Iraq's Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to the AP.

The loss of Iraqi cities that Americans died to gain is painful, but that pain must not send us staggering into our next disaster. If we learned nothing else from the first encounter in Iraq, let us at least remember to make a plan before we go in—preferably a plan that considers the millennium-old forces of sectarianism that define so much of Middle Eastern politics.

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An Endless War: Sectarian Divides in the Middle East

By on 6.13.14 | 4:44PM

As Sunni ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, marches on Baghdad, Shiite Iran has promised to aid the predominantly Shiite Iraqi government in defending the capital and southern Iraq. In the sectarian Middle East, it has always been Iran and Iraq against the world.

The only majority Shiite countries on the planet alongside the tiny island nation of Bahrain, Iraq and Iran have been virtual islands in the sea of Sunni Muslim nations that is the Middle East. They have only each other, and as religious and ethnic violence grows in the Fertile Crescent, a conflict that began nearly 1,400 years ago is threatening to engulf the region.

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