Category Archives: Middle East

Make Iran Great Again!

Only one post for tonight. This one should be enough…
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WSJ 1/4/2018

Iran erupted last Thursday. By Friday, the protests against the government, which began in Mashhad near the Afghan border, had spread to dozens of cities. So when we traveled on Saturday to a movie theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to see “Darkest Hour,” Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill, imagine the jarring dislocation when the theater’s previews included a trailer for an admiring documentary of Barack Obama’s foreign-policy making, “The Final Year.”

The preview screen filled with expressions of earnest intent from Mr. Obama, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes and the Iran nuclear deal’s handmaiden, John Kerry. About 100 minutes later, we were watching Churchill shout at his war cabinet that you cannot do deals with dictators. That would have been about the time this weekend that protesters in Iran were shouting “Death to Khamenei!” It’s nice to see the Iranian people have a sense of humor.

Producing the past week’s protests against the Iranian regime was not the goal of the six-party Iran nuclear deal. Back then, the Khamenei-Rouhani regime was represented as America’s partner in a good cause. Now the governments of the U.S., U.K., France and Germany (Russia is a Khamenei ally, and China only supports crackdowns) have to decide whether their Iranian partner is the people in the streets or the government that is shooting them.

In the preview of “The Final Year,” the Obama team members convey confidence in the rightness of everything they did. But as we learned in November 2016, there was one big thing the Obama people never understood: how a real economy works. By real economy, I mean the private economy, not the economy of public spending.

A central element of the nuclear deal was that it would “help” the Iranian people by lifting sanctions and injecting $100 billion of unfrozen assets into Iran’s economy. This was much the same economic theory behind the Obama administration’s 2009 injection of $832 billion into the U.S. economy. Both flopped because both made the real economy essentially a bystander to state guidance.

The Obama $832 billion went up the government’s fireplace flue. The Iranian $100 billion went into ballistic missile production and for Iran’s proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

The moment has arrived for invidious comparisons.

Donald Trump is president because the Obama-Clinton Democrats forgot about hardpressed voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Khamenei-Rouhani regime is under assault because working- class Iranians began this week’s revolt in cities beyond the capital.

Come to think of it, isn’t that disconnect between the people running governments and the people trying to make a living in the real economy the core reason behind the worldwide burst of populism?

It’s the reason France’s working-class voters and young, underemployed college graduates sent Emmanuel Macron and a heretofore nonexistent party into the French presidency. It’s the reason workingclass Brits lunged for Brexit. This new global reality—perform or get shoved aside—is the reason Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman imposed reforms. The Iranians shouting, “Leave Syria, think of us!” are the West Virginia coal miners shouting, “Make America Great Again.” That’s not yahooism. It is anxiety directed at incumbent elites who tell the public that reduced levels of economic growth are the new normal. The world’s populations will not accept that.

Iran—like North Korea— has taken its best and brightest and stuck them inside a mountain to build atomic bombs, leaving the economy in the hands of Brussels-grade technocrats.

Besides calling for higher taxes in its recent budget, even as prices have spiked for basic foodstuff, Hassan Rouhani’s government has pursued import- substitution policies by imposing high tariffs on many imported goods. Needless to say, Iranians can’t get the clothing, appliances and electronics they want.

To combat a massive cellphone- smuggling operation, Iran recently slapped a 5% duty on them atop the 9% valueadded tax and required registration with Iran’s telecom user database. Now, millions of smuggled phones will make it harder for the ayatollahs to kill texting among protesters. The bazaar may prove stronger than the theocracy.

A theme now emerging in Western media is that if Europe’s leaders support President Trump’s “aggressive” posture toward Tehran, that will undermine both the sanctified Obama nuclear deal and support for “liberals” in the Rouhani government. This is where we came in, watching Winston Churchill convince a timid British establishment that an outward– moving dictatorship won’t stop at anyone’s border.

The moment has arrived to admit that Iran’s missiles, nuclear technology and armies won’t stay inside its borders until the people getting shot in the streets are recognized and supported by a too-timid world.

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A Trump Alliance Strategy

Let’s keep our allies.
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WSJ 4/20/2017 Henninger

After 59 Tomahawk missiles landed on a Syrian airfield, followed by the dropping of a 21,600-pound bomb on Islamic State’s hideouts in Afghanistan, the world has begun to ask: What is Donald Trump’s foreign policy? And so the search begins by pressing what Mr. Trump has done so far against various foreign-policy templates. Is he a neoconservative, a Scowcroftian realist or a babe in the woods?

We know this is a fool’s errand. There will be no Trump Doctrine anytime soon, and that’s fine. The Obama Doctrine, whatever it was, left his successor a steep climb in the Middle East and Asia. It is difficult to find doctrinal solutions for issues that everyone calls “a mess.” It is possible, though, to see the shape of an emerging strategy.

The place to look for that strategy is inside the minds of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Mr. Mattis said something that jumped out at the time. He called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “the most successful military alliance probably in modern history, maybe ever.”

This was in notable contradistinction to the view of his president that NATO was obsolete. Then last week, after meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump said of the alliance: “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

Let’s set aside the obligatory sniggering over such a remark and try to see a president moving toward the outlines of a foreign policy that, for a president who likes to keep it simple, may be described with one word: allies.

NATO emerged as a formal alliance after World War II. Less formally, the U.S. struck alliances with other nations to base troops and ships, as in the Persian Gulf.

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, foreign-policy thinkers began to debate the proper role of the U.S. as the world’s only superpower. Liberals argued that maintaining the U.S. at the apex of this alliance system was, well, obsolete. Instead the U.S. should act more like a co-equal partner with our allies, including international institutions such as the United Nations.

The idea of a flatter alliance structure, or leading from behind, came to life with the Obama presidency. It doesn’t work.

If indeed Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster are the architects of an emerging Trump foreign policy, their most formative experiences, in Iraq, may shape that policy.

After the Iraq War began in 2003, the U.S. tried to defeat the enemy essentially with brute force. Serving in different areas of Iraq—Gen. Mattis in Anbar province and then-Col. McMaster in the city of Tal Afar—the two men realized that force alone wasn’t winning. Instead, they sought, successfully, to gain buy-in from the local populations and tribal leaders. In return for that buy-in, U.S. forces provided security to their new allies.

The difficult and ultimately tragic question was, what happens after the U.S. leaves? In strategic terms: How does the U.S. stabilize a volatile world without becoming a permanent occupying force?

Last month, Gen. McMaster brought onto the NSA staff Nadia Schadlow, who has thought a lot about that question. Her assignment is to develop the National Security Strategy Report. The title of her just-released book, “War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success Into Political Victory,” summarizes its core idea: Unlike its pullout from Iraq, the U.S. has to remain involved— engaged—in the turbulent political space that always exists between conflict and peace, a space filled with competition for influence and power. What Gens. Mattis and McMaster learned in the wake of Iraq is that if you make allies, you should keep them.

Thus, Vice President Mike Pence stood at the DMZ across from North Korea reconfirming the U.S.’s alliance with South Korea. A day later, he did the same in Japan.

Mr. Trump met in recent weeks with King Abdullah of Jordan, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt and, most importantly, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Salman. This week, Mr. Trump called to congratulate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his referendum “victory.”

These are the Middle East’s “tribal leaders,” or allies, whose buy-in will be necessary if the U.S. is to consolidate gains from the military strikes in Syria and Afghanistan— possibly with the partition of Syria into three tribal sectors.

Russia has separated itself by choosing instead an alliance with Iran to create a Russo-Iranian Shiite crescent extending across the Middle East to the Mediterranean.

The Mattis-McMaster foreign policy taking shape looks like a flexible strategy born of military experience in fast, fluid circumstances—our world. It is based on both formal and mobile alliances with partners willing to use diplomatic, financial, political and, if necessary, military pressure to establish stable outcomes. The word “abandon” doesn’t fit here.

Some might say that sounds like the U.S. leading alongside. With one big difference: The U.S. is in fact leading.

Write henninger@wsj.com.

Mattis and McMaster learned in Iraq that if you make allies, you should keep them.

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Syrian Chemical Repeat

Ops, can’t bring that up…
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WSJ 4/5/2017

Just when Western leaders think they can forget about the Syrian civil war, Bashar Assad drags them back in. A suspected poison gas attack widely blamed on the Syrian regime killed at least 58 people in opposition-held territory Tuesday, including 11 children.

Syria’s army denied using chemical weapons, but then that’s what the regime said in 2013 when it used them against civilians in opposition territory in a Damascus suburb. This time bombs dropped by warplanes hit the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria, spreading an unknown gas that caused people to faint, foam at the mouth and suffocate, according to doctors and rescue workers.

“All pieces of evidence indicate that the raid was carried out by the regime,” said Raed Saleh, director of the White Helmets civil-defense organization that operates in rebel-controlled Syria. As far as we know, the Syrian opposition doesn’t have warplanes.

Such an attack isn’t supposed to be possible now because President Obama, John Kerry and Vladimir Putin claimed to have rid Syria of its chemical-weapons stockpiles. Mr. Obama took up the Russian strongman’s arms-control offer in 2013 after Mr. Obama flinched on a military strike to enforce his famous “red line” against Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

The two nations and the United Nations then made a great show of destroying the stockpiles that Mr. Assad claimed not to have. But U.S. intelligence believed the regime was holding some weapons in reserve, and the use of chlorine gas has become almost routine. Tuesday’s attack seems to have been a deadlier gas, perhaps sarin that was used in 2013. The Russian defense ministry, which is Mr. Assad’s military patron, dismissed reports of the attack as “absolutely fake,” but the victims on video from Syria look real enough. The attack again shows the folly of relying on arms-control promises from men like Messrs. Assad or Putin. The Russian is violating the 1988 INF treaty by introducing new missiles in Europe, so why would he fret about more poison gas in Syria?

A State Department official said the facts suggest the attack is a war crime, and White House spokesman Sean Spicer said “these heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence” of the Obama Administration’s “weakness and irresolution.” He’s right, but Donald Trump is now the President. The attack comes after the Administration has been publicly signaling that deposing Mr. Assad is no longer a goal of U.S. policy. It’s possible the regime took those comments as license to unleash more hell.

Mr. Trump inherited a mess in Syria, but if he doesn’t want to preside over endless civil war and more war crimes, he’ll need a better strategy than Mr. Obama’s default of moral denunciation and trusting Russia.

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Egyptian Christians Fearing Terror Flee

Notice who is protesting??
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Feb. 26, 2017 AP

ISMAILIA, Egypt—Egyptian Christians fearing attacks by Islamic State militants fled the volatile northern part of the Sinai Peninsula for a fourth day on Sunday, after a string of sectarian killings there sent hundreds packing and raised accusations the government is failing to protect the minority.

More than 100 families from the town of el-Arish and nearby have come to the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Cairo, since Friday, Nabil Shukrallah of the city’s Evangelical Church said.

Families arrive scared and in need of supplies, which are being stockpiled at the church via donations from several parishes, he said. They are then transported to be housed in and around the city, in private homes and now also accommodation provided by the government.

“They’re exhausted, with urgent needs for food and children’s clothing,” he said, as one father carried off a sick infant to be evacuated by ambulance. “They’re terrified of the violence and brutality of the terrorists.”

Northern Sinai has for years been the epicenter of an insurgency by Islamic militants, and the area’s few Christians have slowly been trickling out. But departures rose in earnest after suspected militants gunned down a Christian plumber at home in front of his family on Thursday in el-Arish. It was the seventh such killing in recent weeks and stoked panic among Christians.

Egyptian Christians fearing attacks by Islamic State militants are fleeing the volatile northern part of the Sinai Peninsula for a fourth day.
Egyptian Christians fearing attacks by Islamic State militants are fleeing the volatile northern part of the Sinai Peninsula for a fourth day. PHOTO: FAYED EL-GEZIRY/ZUMA PRESS
No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack. But Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate, which is based in north Sinai and which in December carried out a devastating suicide bombing against a Cairo church, vowed in a video earlier this week to step up attacks against Egypt’s embattled Coptic Christian minority. It described them as “infidels” empowering the West against Muslims.

The Cairo church bombing and the recent killings point to a shift in Islamic State’s tactics in Egypt, with the group now also attacking Christian targets that are less protected than military installations, in an attempt to isolate them and embarrass the government.

Before Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising, some 5,000 Christians lived in northern Sinai, but the number has since dwindled to fewer than 1,000, priests and residents say. Egypt doesn’t keep official statistics on the number of Christians in cities or across the country.

Many rights activists say the displacement is a clear sign the government has failed to provide a minimum of security for the embattled minority in the volatile region, where they have faced public threats before.

The government only agreed to put up the fleeing Christians in government housing in Ismailia after pressure on social media, which they underline as another disturbing sign.

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