Sanity Injection

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Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ Category

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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Missing the point of Iraq election

Posted by sanityinjection on March 11, 2010

The diplomatic world awaits with baited breath today the announcement of the results of Iraq’s election. Columnists are in a tizzy over what outcome would be best for Iraq or for Western interests.

But all the speculation is missing the essential point: Nobody knows who is going to win. That in itself is the key victory for democracy – a hotly contested election whose outcome is not a foregone conclusion. What other Arab country can boast of this? Lebanon, perhaps, no other. And it’s a far cry from the days when Saddam Hussein used to be “re-elected” with 98% of the vote. And don’t think that the significance of this is lost on Iraqis themselves. With all the hardships they have faced over the last seven years, this at least is one tangible benefit: proof that the destiny of their country lies in their own hands.

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Two Rant Tuesday

Posted by sanityinjection on March 9, 2010

Following up on last week’s TRT in which I complained about Americans’ increasingly poor driving…Today I got to witness someone trying to back out of their driveway into a busy state highway. At first this appeared to me to be merely annoying rather than idiotic, until I drove past and realized that the driveway in question was big enough to land the space shuttle on. In other words, this driver could easily have turned his or her car around in their own driveway before trying to pull out into the highway, but was too lazy to do that. Instead, they insisted on backing out, creating a hazard to themselves and everyone else and also causing a backup of cars.

Something tells me this jackass was not the only such offender in my area this morning. I would put this in the same category as people who realize at the last second that they’re going to miss their exit. Instead of accepting the consequences of their mistake by going to the next exit and turning around, they swerve across multiple lanes of traffic, heedless of the danger to themselves and others. They would rather risk their lives and the lives of others around them than be even slightly inconvenienced by their own actions. Stop making everyone else cope with the consequences of your own failures! The only person who should be inconvenienced by your laziness on the road is YOU.

…and in a totally unrelated development, the family of American Rachel Corrie is suing the Israeli government for $324,000 in damages for Corrie’s alleged wrongful death in the Gaza Strip in 2003. Ms. Corrie was inside a militant as it was being bulldozed by the Israeli army, and died when a concrete slab fell on her. Corrie’s family claims the Israelis must have seen her. Of course, Corrie was there for the specific purpose of protesting Israel. She apparently ignored the tear gas and stun grenades that the Israelis had fired to clear the area of idiots like her. How are you supposed to spare the life of someone who is doing their best to get killed?

While I can of course sympathize with parents who lose their daughter – no matter how stupid she may have been – this is a ridiculous lawsuit. If your daughter is in the Gaza strip hanging out with terrorists and getting in the way of army operations to take them out, you’re a damn fool to be surprised if she gets killed. Corrie was 23 when she died, so her parents may not have been able to legally prevent her actions, but how much do you want to bet she was doing it all with Mommy and Daddy’s money? (Not too many people who work for a living have time to protest in war zones.) Call me harsh, but if Corrie had lived, she would most likely have fallen in love with some dashing Hamas terrorist, eventually becoming disillusioned, but not before breeding one or more future terrorists. It’s sad that Corrie didn’t have time to realize the error of her ways, but the fault is entirely her own.

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Iraqi election snapshots: Baghdad

Posted by sanityinjection on March 9, 2010

I recommend to you this piece in the New York Times by veteran Iraq journalist Bartle Bull. Mr. Bull’s interviews suggest that there is – at least in Baghdad – a movement in this election away from sectarianism. If that’s true, it’s the most positive sign yet of a potentially stable and peaceful future for Iraq.

One of the things that seems to stand out in the interviews is the Baghdadis’ sense of pride in their democratic elections as putting them far ahead of their Arab brethren or even their Iranian neighbors. Of course, Iraqis have long viewed themselves as being more educated and modern than other Arabs. But it bodes well if Baghdadis’ attitudes gradually spread across the rest of the country.

I’m not sure why this piece was buried by the Times in their Op-Ed section, unless it simply wasn’t anti-American enough to qualify as “news”.

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Obama’s Middle East policy encourages America’s enemies

Posted by sanityinjection on March 8, 2010

Great column up by Barry Rubin explaining how the Obama Administration’s limp-wristed pursuit of “more sanctions” against Iran has convinced America’s enemies in the Middle East that we are weak:

http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2010/03/08/obamas_mideast_horror_show_98842.html

I wish that the President would wake up and realize that Russia and China have no real interest in supporting sanctions against Iran, Hezbollah, or any other violent Islamic groups. On the contrary, to them Islamic terrorism within their own borders is a perfect excuse to repress their own people.

The US has had multiple levels of sanctions in place against Iran for 30 years. Sanctions only work if the majority of the world’s economic powers observe them.

How about we get serious? Declare Iran and Syria to be “state sponsors of terrorism” and get all NATO countries to agree to revoke diplomatic immunity so that any Iranian or Syrian diplomat can be arrested on charges of supporting terrorism. Then arrest the entire Iranian and Syrian delegations, put them in jail, then deport them – by slow cargo freighter.

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Asylum for homeschooling families?

Posted by sanityinjection on March 5, 2010

An interesting political question is raised by the case of the Romeike family – German citizens now living in the Unites States after being granted asylum by an immigration judge.  What makes the case interesting is that the Romeikes’ reason for leaving Germany is that they are homeschooling their children – which, in Germany, is illegal.

The question is whether this is sufficient cause for the Romeikes to be granted asylum here in the US. Generally, people from western European countries rarely are granted asylum because they have to show that they could reasonably expect to be persecuted in their home country. Since Germany has a well-established justice system based on Western norms of human and civil rights, that is a high hurdle indeed. But the Romeikes pointed to a 2007 ruling by the German Supreme Court that parents  who insisted on homeschooling in defiance of the law could lose custody of their children.

Personally, I am supportive of the right to homeschooling, provided that there should be some curriculum and testing oversight by the government to make sure that homeschooled students are held to the same standards as other children. While I believe that most children will be better served in a school setting, I think ultimately it is the parents’ right and responsibility to control their children’s education.

But there is a larger issue here. If the Romeikes are allowed to stay, it could set a precedent for any of the thousands of people in other countries where homeschooling is illegal to apply for and be granted asylum. I do not believe we should be forced to open our doors in this way simply because other countries’ laws differ from our own. German free speech laws also differ from ours – must we also offer asylum to German neo-Nazis when they are prosecuted for using banned Nazi speech and symbols? Then of course there is a reciprocal issue – we do not want the Germans, for example, to offer asylum to any US criminal who may be facing the death penalty, which is illegal in most European countries and viewed as a violation of human rights. For these reasons, the US government is appealing the ruling in the Romeikes’ case. And while I sympathize with their quest to give their children what they believe to be the best education for them, I have to support the government’s push to have them sent back to Germany.

What do you think?

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Spanish judge exposes hypocrisy of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez

Posted by sanityinjection on March 1, 2010

Honestly, sometimes I think I could write a whole blog just about Venezuela’s strutting thug of a caudillo, Hugo Chavez. I’m sure others have done just that. Whether it’s trying to rule Honduras through one of his bullyboy stooges or declaring that the United States somehow deliberately engineered the Haiti earthquake as a pretext to take over that country, Chavez is a headline news writer’s dream – always good for some copy.

 For now, let me just comment on one aspect of Chavez’ foreign policy. As even the most casual follower of international issues knows, Chavez casts himself as the chief opponent of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. Everything in Latin America is the fault of US imperialism, according to Chavez. Chavez reserves particular spite for neighboring US ally Colombia. Relations between Venezuela and Colombia have deteriorated drastically since Chavez gained power. Chavez frequently accuses the US of planning to invade Venezuela with Colombian help to overthrow him, while at the same time denying accusations that Chavez’ Venezuelan military and intelligence services have provided aid to the FARC rebels in Colombia.

In fact, it is Chavez, and not the United States or Colombia, who is actively engaged in attacking other nations by funding and training rebels and terrorists. Support for this comes from a judge in faraway Spain, whose recent indictment accuses Chavez’ government of not only harboring terrorists from Spain’s ETA and Colombia’s FARC, but actually presiding over explosives training involving both groups.

Of course, allegations of this type have been coming from the US and Colombia for a while now, but this comes from an essentially neutral source (personal friction between the Spanish King and Chavez notwithstanding.) It will be much harder for Chavez to brush this off as US propaganda, though it is unlikely to have any direct consequences.

Meanwhile, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has members from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile as well as the US, has issued this 150-page report detailing the systematic way in which Chavez has undermined democracy, freedom, and human rights in his country. Again, not new information, but when you put it all together in one place it’s a staggering condemnation. The Commission, of course, like its parent group the Organization of American States, is toothless, but in Chavez’ world, sometimes propaganda counts for a lot. It is getting harder and harder for Chavez to present himself and his government as victims when the evidence is mounting that they are the victimizers.

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Germany backs words with actions

Posted by sanityinjection on February 26, 2010

If you follow foreign policy, you know the drill when it comes to NATO missions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan – places where actual fighting takes place. America’s NATO allies (with notable exceptions such as the UK) usually make big promises about sending troops, but once the bleeding starts they have a tendency to cut and run.

With this in mind, I salute the German Parliament, which today overwhelmingly approved the government’s plan to send 850 more German soldiers to Afghanistan. Granted, many of these will be focused on training Afghan soldiers and won’t be serving on the front lines, but that is in fact the type of assistance that is needed at the moment. The increase represents a 19% increase in the size of the German force currently in Afghanistan.

Obviously no country likes to send its young men and women into harm’s way. But clearly Germany is committed to doing its part in the shared fight against Islamic terrorism. I hope other NATO countries will follow the German example and send their additional troops where their mouths have been.

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UNICEF needs Tony Lake now!

Posted by sanityinjection on February 18, 2010

The Obama Administration is supporting Tony Lake to be the new Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund – better known as UNICEF. I cannot state strongly enough that I am 120% in support of this nomination!

For those not familiar with Mr. Lake, he is a long-time leftwinger who served as the National Security Advisor under President Clinton fron 1993 to 1997. Yes, Mr. Lake was the single American primarily tasked with safeguarding the security of the United States of America during the years when Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, Iran, and North Korea were allowed to increase their weapons capabilities unchecked by American action. In fact, it was Lake who was primarily responsible for the failure to adequately follow up on the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. To the extent that there is one individual who bears the most responsibility for failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks, it is Tony Lake.

That’s why I am proud to support Mr. Lake’s candidacy for the important position of Executive Director of UNICEF. I have full confidence that Mr. Lake will do a much better job look after the welfare of children around the world than he did looking after the security of the people of the United States. Furthermore, I expect that his duties as head of UNICEF will take up enough time and energy that he will be unable to offer any of his wisdom on national security issues to anybody from now on.

UNICEF needs Tony Lake….but possibly not as much as the rest of us need UNICEF to need him.

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