Iran

Nuclear Weapons Are Against Shiite Islam

By on 7.17.14 | 5:51PM

"Tales of 1001 Nights" (which, ironically enough, is not respected as fine literature in the Middle East itself) is the story of an ancient Persian king. In a fit of disillusioned anger, the king declares he will marry a new maiden every evening and execute her the next morning. He is thwarted when one bride distracts him with a story that never seems to end properly. The king is too eager to hear the story's end to kill the storyteller, and his wife saves her life by telling an endless spiral of stories for 1,001 nights. 

The land of Persia is now called Iran, and its nuclear negotiations with the West don't look any more likely to end by the July 20 deadline than Princess Shaharazad's stories were to end at daybreak. Iran has more than hinted at an extension of the planned six months of negotiations with Western powers in Vienna, reported Reuters. 

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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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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

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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‘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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Jews for Obama

By on 2.8.14 | 6:04PM

I have in the past been a small donor to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- the largest organization focused on the US relationship with Israel. As I explained several months ago, I abandoned AIPAC when they came out with an aggressive call for US military action in Syria.

This week we learned that AIPAC is opposing a US Senate vote on further sanctions against Iran, arguing that "stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure."

It is hard to imagine that it's a coincidence that AIPAC is simply parroting the Obama administration's line in both cases (though the administration quickly moved away from its militaristic rhetoric regarding Syria once the "red line" was actually crossed.)

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Obama’s Iranian Mess

By on 12.19.13 | 12:44PM

Writing for (believe it or not) the Aspen Times, my friend Melanie Sturm offers an excellent summary of the danger posed by the Obama administration's ill-conceived charm offensive with Iran:

http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/9400231-113/iran-iranian-nuclear-allies

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Senate Poised to Pull Trigger on Iran Sanctions

By on 12.2.13 | 4:39PM

Before Thanksgiving it seemed that certain key players on both sides of the Senate aisle were skeptical of the latest deal with Iran, which pulls back economic sanctions in exchange for concessions to Iran's nuclear program. Now it appears that both parties in both houses of Congress are ready to issue additional sanctions at the first hint that Iran is faltering in its agreement.

In what the Washington Examiner calls “rare bipartisan support,” key Democrat and Republican leaders are prepared to undermine President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts to negotiate with Iran. Even members of Congress who support negotiation over sanctions, such as Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer, argue that sanctions should be in place in case Iran does not make good on its nuclear promises.

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Schumer Critical of Iran Deal, Senate Likely to Do Sanctions

By on 11.25.13 | 4:05PM

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) thinks the recent deal with Iran, in which Tehran has agreed to freeze aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions, is a lopsided deal, with Iran getting the better part of the bargain. The senator released a statement on Sunday, calling the agreement foolhardy due to its relaxing of sanctions, which Schumer notes were putting substantial pressure on Iran to avoid dabbling in nuclear weapons development.

Schumer, an important figure in Democratic leadership, is in the position of having to choose between supporting the president’s agenda and supporting Israel. The senator, a Jew, surely recognizes that the safety of Israel is an issue that will resonate with a large segment of his constituency. Schumer was joined in his opposition by Republican senators such as Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested that the deal was a desperate attempt to take public attention away from Obamacare.

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