Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for June, 2017

Middle East Update – Qatar, Iran and terrorism

Posted by sanityinjection on June 9, 2017

I find that it’s rather difficult for those of us in the US to find quality, up-to-date analysis of what is going on in the Middle East. As it has for thousands of years, what happens in this region disproportionately affects the rest of the world. So I’m going to try to post periodic updates summarizing what you need to know with my own analysis.

SAUDI – QATAR SPAT: Perhaps the biggest story this week was the intra-Arab diplomatic spat between the small but wealthy Persian Gulf state of Qatar and a group of countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. These countries not only have suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar but have cut off land and air travel access and ordered Qataris to leave their territory. This creates a serious problem for Qatar since they import most of their food from these countries and will now have to rely on Iran and Turkey for help. The seriousness of the Saudi-led group’s intentions can be understood from the fact that the Saudis will also suffer from the diplomatic break: Qatar supplies natural gas for the Saudis and other countries in the region, and the Qataris have been kicked out of the coalition military forces fighting the Houthis in Yemen. That war is not going well for the Saudis, so you can tell they are pretty pissed if they are willing to weaken their forces there over this dispute. So what is really going on?

Basically, Saudi Arabia and the other states believe that Qatar is not only too soft on Iran, but too cozy with Islamist groups like Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Shiite groups in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The Qatari media outlet Al-Jazeera has been a long time thorn in the side of the other Arab monarchies. But the last straw came recently when Qatar paid ransom money to both Iran and al-Qaeda, which of course will be used to fund more terrorism in the region.

Ultimately, the dispute amounts to an inconvenience for the US, whose military Central Command is based in Qatar. But if the Arabs are successful in pressuring Qatar to move away from it support for Iran and other groups, that could be a positive development from the US perspective. There are reports that a minor exodus of Hamas operatives leaving Qatar has already begun.

TERROR ATTACKS IN IRAN: Also this week, the Iranian capital of Tehran became the latest victim of terrorist attacks. The timing is somewhat suspicious, coming in the wake of the Saudi media campaign linking Iran with Islamic terrorism. What better way to prove that Iran is not in bed with Sunni groups like IS and al-Qaeda than for it to be attacked by them? I’m not going so far as to claim that Iran staged the attacks as a false flag operation on their own people, but I wouldn’t put it past the terrorists to have expedited plans to attack Shiite Iran (whom they view as heretics, in many ways worse than infidels) as a way of trying to counter the Saudi propaganda effort. It’s worth noting that these attacks are the first major terrorist attacks in Iran in over 25 years.

BATTLE OF RAQQA: In Syria, US-backed coalition forces have begun their assault on the IS capital of Raqqa, even as progress continues to be made in driving them out of their other stronghold of Mosul in Iraq. Most analysts expect these campaigns to be successful in essentially ending IS as a “caliphate” or territorial power in Syria and Iraq. However, IS-affiliated groups continue to operate freely in places like Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, so the threat of terrorist attacks is far from over.

PALESTINIANS CARE MORE ABOUT JOBS AND DEMOCRACY THAN FIGHTING ISRAEL: A poll conducted last month of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza produced surprising results suggesting that public opinion among Palestinians may be more open to compromises for peace than the Palestinian leadership would like to admit. Basically, the results showed that Palestinians are more interested in being able to find good jobs and having an honest, responsible government than about issues like whether the US moves its embassy to Jerusalem. From Israel, Palestinians most want freedom of movement and more job opportunities from Israeli companies more than they care about Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Perhaps most astonishingly, 62% of Palestinians in Gaza agreed that Hamas should quit calling for Israel’s destruction and accept the idea of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

These poll results may provide some ammunition for US efforts to broker a new agreement, by calling into serious question the claims of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that they would face a popular backlash if they compromised with Israel on their positions.

For more info on these and other Middle East developments, I recommend the Washington-based Al Monitor website. You can find there up-to-date reports from each of the regions within the Middle East as well as some of the most insightful and objective analysis to better understand what is really going on underneath the spin.

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UK Election Analysis: Expectations vs. Reality

Posted by sanityinjection on June 9, 2017

Yesterday’s UK parliamentary elections are being spun in the media as a disastrous result for Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, despite the face that the Tories remain by far the largest party in Parliament, losing 13 seats from their pre-election tally of 331. To understand what is really going on here, let’s look at the the difference between expectations and reality.

Elections are increasingly viewed not so much by the significance of the actual result, but by the difference between the result and what was expected going into the election. These expectations are themselves the product of media reporting and polling, which vary wildly in the accuracy of their predictions. In the case of this recent election, the Conservatives were originally expected to increase their majority, given the perceived unpopularity of Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. Against this expectation, losing any number of seats seems like a failure for May and the Tories. They no longer have an absolute majority in the Commons, although May should be able to count on the support of the small DUP party of Northern Ireland to create a very slim majority. (It is also important to note that Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein party refuses to actually take up their seats in Parliament, which reduces the practical number of votes on the opposition side.)

In reality, then, May will be operating in an environment similar to what has often prevailed in the US – a very narrow parliamentary majority in which a few defectors can derail the government’s initiatives. This forces the government to obtain at least some support among opposition MPs in order to get things done. It’s harder to pass legislation, but what does get passed usually ends up being better for having broader support. So the “disaster” for the Conservatives is really just business as usual in the US and many other countries.

Now, it’s certainly true that the result is a setback for May, particularly because the results suggest not so much a repudiation by the voters of Conservative values, but of May and her leadership team. A number of her ministers were among those who lost their seats, even while the Tories increased their percentage of the vote among working-class Britons. May is widely perceived to have run a poor campaign, alienating both older and younger voters with poorly explained social policy proposals. Meanwhile, Corbyn comes out as a winner despite his party still being in the minority. Not only did his leadership improve rather than worsen Labour’s numbers, he was particularly effective in motivating Labour turnout among students and young people. The results should bolster his position as Labour’s leader which had previously been on very shaky ground.

One bright spot for the Tories is in Scotland, where the party has been effectively reborn with its best showing since 1983. The Tories, as well as Labour and the Liberal Democrats, gained at the expense of the previous dominant Scottish National Party. The SNP’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, had been calling for a second referendum on Scottish independence, and will now probably have to shelve those plans for the time being.

A number of writers seem determined to try to interpret the results as being a referendum on Brexit. In fact, most voters seem to have been more concerned with domestic economic and social issues, understanding that whether “hard” or “soft”, some form of Brexit is now inevitable regardless of who resides at No. 10. It is also interesting that the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London do not seem to have greatly affected the results one way or another. My personal sense is that the typical gain that the “law and order” Conservatives would normally get among some voters was offset by the alternate view that the Tory government, being already in power, is responsible for not doing enough to prevent the attacks.

Speculation about Theresa May being unseated as Tory Leader and Prime Minister is probably extremely premature. This is not because May is beloved or will easily be forgiven by the party for the perceived election failure. Rather, there simply is no obvious choice to replace her, nor is there a significant ideological divide within the party from which a challenger could draw strength. Instead, May will have to make her leadership style more inclusive and put more effort into keeping her MPs happy.

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