Middle East

Bahrain Expels an American Diplomat

By on 7.10.14 | 5:48PM

American diplomacy in the Middle East is starting to resemble a giant game of whack-a-mole. On top of everything else, the government of Bahrain has now expelled an American diplomat.

Bahrain told Tom Malinowski, U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, that he was no longer welcome at their game on Monday. Marlinowski had the gall to set up a meeting with leaders of a Shiite political party. Bahrain is one of the Middle East's rare, majority-Shia nations, so a friendly chat with the leaders of a legal party that has been in dialogue with the government since 2011 seemed natural. The ruling family, however, is Sunni, and they did not take kindly to Malinowski's efforts to be inclusive of the majority of the population.

The government of Bahrain says there are no hard feelings about Marlinowski though. Apparently it says nothing about how they feel about us.

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Israel’s Show of Force

By on 7.8.14 | 5:34PM

"We win every battle, but we lose the war," said Ami Ayalon, who once led the Israeli secret service. Ayalon spoke in the documentary "The Gatekeepers" about Israel's strategy for the Palestinians, one that was highlighted by events over the last month in Israel and the West Bank.

The two-week-long search by Israeli officials for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers in the West Bank was the most aggressive in decades. The search for three teens, it turns out, required Israeli officials to blow up two houses, arrest nearly 400 people, and kill five civilians, one of whom was sixteen, the same age as the young Israeli hitchhikers.

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The Kurds: Underdogs of the Middle East

By on 6.30.14 | 4:44PM

If after the World Cup anyone is looking for a new underdog worthy of support, I submit the Kurds as the most up-and-coming players of the geopolitical world.

The Kurds are the Middle East's classic underdog story: a swashbuckling ethnic group numbering 30 million and residing in pockets of Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Left out of the twentieth-century nation-making due to a PR problem, the Kurds have been the favorite pin cushion of their respective governments. After decades of being used as pawns in geopolitical power plays, the Kurds have used the recent distraction of terrorists taking over Sunni Iraq to improve their real estate options.

The Kurdish Peshmerga army is the only fighting force that has successfully retaken Iraqi territory from the Sunni militant group ISIS. The Kurds have taken over much of northern Iraq, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. They plan to make the move permanent, said Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, at a news conference Friday:

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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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Super Tuesday in the Middle East and the Continuing Story in Libya

By on 6.3.14 | 5:38PM

If you need a break from the congressional primaries, turn your attention to the Middle East, where the fifth Arab country is holding a major election since mid-April. Elections are already complete in Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt, and Palestine had a new unity government sworn in earlier this week. 

The democratic spirit has touched down even in Syria, where dictator Bashar al-Assad is running his most persuasive get-out-the-vote campaign ever among the remaining citizens who have not fled the country, taken up arms against him, or been killed. All the elective activity has led Paul Salem of the non-partisan Middle East Institute to reflect:

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Palestinian Groups Unite to Israel’s Dismay

By on 6.2.14 | 5:54PM

The reunion was highly unexpected, but governments can form quickly in the Middle East. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are back together for now, at least politically speaking. According to the AP:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a national unity government Monday, formally ending a crippling seven-year split with his Islamic militant Hamas rivals but drawing Israeli threats of retaliation.

The formation of the unity government and Israel's tough response are part of a wider competition between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for international support since the collapse of U.S.-led peace talks between them in April. 

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Trying to Outline the Obama Doctrine

By on 5.28.14 | 3:16PM

President Barack Obama outlined a four-point foreign policy plan emphasizing diplomatic leadership over military operations at a West Point Military Academy commencement address today.

The plan focused on moving away from American-led military actions and toward more efforts to support native forces fighting newer, more localized terrorism.

"You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan," he told the 2014 cadets in Annapolis, Maryland.

Obama outlined his vision for American foreign policy after the planned pull-out from Afghanistan at the end of this year. The United States will 1) use military force unilaterally only against direct threats to American lives and livelihoods, 2) continue to fight terrorism as the biggest threat to America without direct invasion, 3) work to strengthen and enforce international order through institutions and alliances, and 4) support human dignity, especially by encouraging democratic and capitalist nations.

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Constitutional Opinions

…And a Young Child Will Lead

By From the June 2012 issue

The wolf will live with the sheep and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp and a fatling [will walk] together, and a young child will lead them.

All rise. It would no doubt be set down as apocalyptic were a newspaperman to suggest that God is watching over the Supreme Court of the United States. But it’s hard not to think of Isaiah 11:6 when thinking about the case known as Zivotofsky v. Clinton, with which, on the order of the Supreme Court, the lower courts will be wrestling in the months ahead. It is a case in which an American infant, born in Jerusalem, rose up to challenge the secretary of state of the United States. And he may yet illuminate the path to peace in the Middle East.

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Libya: Gaddafi Forces Besiege Rebels in Ajdabiya

By on 4.10.11 | 9:44AM

The military situation in Libya has evidently gone from bad to worse for the Benghazi-based rebels fighting forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gaddafi. After being thwarted in their weeklong attempt to re-take the key oil port of Brega, the rebels have now been forced back 50 miles to Ajdabiya, which is now reported under artillery bombardment by the Gaddafi troops. Reuters reports:

Muammar Gaddafi's artillery heavily bombarded Ajdabiyah and his forces forced their way inside on Sunday . . .
Rebels cowered in alleyways from sustained artillery, rocket and small-arms fire and appeared to be losing control of the town, which is gateway to their stronghold of Benghazi 150 km (90 miles) up the Mediterranean coast to the north.
Ajdabiyah had been the launch point for insurgents during a week-long fight for the oil port of Brega further west and its fall would be a serious loss. ...
Gaddafi's artillery shelled the western approaches all morning and two rockets landed in the centre in the middle of the day. There were long exchanges of small arms fire.

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Bill Kristol Seeks Nomination for ‘Strange New Respect’ Award?

By on 2.5.11 | 5:20PM

We may need to dust off the trophy (named by longtime American Spectator correspondent Tom Bethell) for presentation to the Weekly Standard's editor who, in a column about the Egypt crisis, elbowed Charles Krauthammer and dissed Glenn Beck in such a way as to merit this headline from the Politico:

Kristol rebukes ‘hysterical' Beck,
conservatives on Egypt
 

My friend Professor Donald Douglas has written hopefully of "Egypt's Neoconservative Moment," but there apparently is a split among the neocons. My own Burkean view is that Egypt's future seems more likely to be rather paleo, if you catch my drift.

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