Commentary Magazine


Topic: Oman

Could Oman be the Next Crisis?

In 1970, with British help and support, Qaboos bin Sa‘id overthrew his father and took the reins of powers in the Sultanate of Oman. Sultan Qaboos was an enlightened monarch, and firmly guided the xenophobic and isolationist state back into the modern world. Oman has since been a model of neutrality and tolerance, often acting as a bridge between regional adversaries (it is no coincidence that Oman served as the initial go-between for U.S.-Iran talks). Nevertheless, when push came to shove, Oman has done what is needed to combat terrorism. U.S. aircraft based in Oman launched some of the initial airstrikes against the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom.

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In 1970, with British help and support, Qaboos bin Sa‘id overthrew his father and took the reins of powers in the Sultanate of Oman. Sultan Qaboos was an enlightened monarch, and firmly guided the xenophobic and isolationist state back into the modern world. Oman has since been a model of neutrality and tolerance, often acting as a bridge between regional adversaries (it is no coincidence that Oman served as the initial go-between for U.S.-Iran talks). Nevertheless, when push came to shove, Oman has done what is needed to combat terrorism. U.S. aircraft based in Oman launched some of the initial airstrikes against the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Oman is also strategically important. For all Western policymakers fret about Iranian activities in the Strait of Hormuz, they often forget that Oman occupies one side of the important waterway. Should Iran gain a toehold on both sides of the Strait, the calculus of Persian Gulf security would change.

Alas, the status quo cannot last forever. Sultan Qaboos is aging. A “confirmed bachelor,” Qaboos has produced no offspring. Succession looms. And, perhaps never closer than now. ForeignPolicy.com today has an interesting piece speculating that Qaboos, who will turn 74 next week, may be on his deathbed. The Sultan has in recent weeks sought to dispel the rumors that he suffers from terminal colon cancer, but his frail appearance and his subsequent cancellation of his forthcoming national day appearance have added fuel to the fire.

In theory, when Qaboos dies, a new leader is supposed to be chosen by consensus among the leading factions of the royal elite. But if there is no consensus, then a letter that Qaboos will leave should help determine that successor. The problem is that surrounding countries have everything to gain and nothing to lose by disputing the authenticity of such a letter or by putting forward fraudulent copies favoring their own proxy. While it’s doubtful that Oman will make as radical a political shift as it did as a result of the last succession, the failure of the White House to adopt a proactive strategy toward the region does put its future in doubt. While Washington shouldn’t necessarily muck about in Omani royal politics, it is a vital interest to protect the integrity of the process and prevent Iran from doing so.

There are a few nightmare scenarios. One is that a pro-Iranian ruler will become Oman’s next leader. Another is an outbreak of fighting. This is farfetched, of course. Just as Saudi troops invaded Bahrain to prevent a Shi‘ite triumph over the Khalifa ruling family, it would not sit idly while another friendly monarchy fell to what it considers hostile forces. Then again, Oman is neither Sunni nor Shi‘ite, and so long as the monarchy isn’t threatened—and it won’t be—then Saudi Arabia might choose more subtle ways to interfere.

Herein lays another danger. Should both Iran and Saudi Arabia begin supporting proxy figures or movements, it might not be long before this undercut Omani stability in other ways. After all, Oman has been a pillar of stability for decades, but then again so was Syria; at least since Hafez al-Assad staged his 1970 coup. Oman could also face the resurgence of regional tension; it wasn’t too long ago in the scheme of things that it fought an insurgency against communist rebels in Dhofar.

Let us hope that Qaboos overcomes his current health crisis but, realistically, septuagenarian leaders do not last forever. The United States should hope for the best in Oman, but it’s long past time when U.S. officials should plan for the worst. Alas, planning for the worst case is something to which too often American strategists across administrations seem adverse. We should not be. Oman is too important to lose.

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Regional Reverberations of a Bad Iran Deal

In 1971, as Britain prepared to grant the United Arab Emirates its independence and as British forces withdrew from the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands and Abu Musa, Iranian forces swooped in and seized the islands. While legally the islands belong to the United Arab Emirates, the United States turned a blind eye and, as per the Nixon Doctrine of embracing pivotal states, may actually have encouraged Iran, the pillar of American policy in the region at the time. (An alternate academic argument sympathetic to Iranian sovereignty can be found here.)

What once may have seemed as a stabilizing influence turned disastrous for the United States after the Islamic Revolution in Iran because of the strategic location of the islands in the Persian Gulf, and how the extension of Iranian territorial waters impacts maritime traffic.

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In 1971, as Britain prepared to grant the United Arab Emirates its independence and as British forces withdrew from the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands and Abu Musa, Iranian forces swooped in and seized the islands. While legally the islands belong to the United Arab Emirates, the United States turned a blind eye and, as per the Nixon Doctrine of embracing pivotal states, may actually have encouraged Iran, the pillar of American policy in the region at the time. (An alternate academic argument sympathetic to Iranian sovereignty can be found here.)

What once may have seemed as a stabilizing influence turned disastrous for the United States after the Islamic Revolution in Iran because of the strategic location of the islands in the Persian Gulf, and how the extension of Iranian territorial waters impacts maritime traffic.

I am currently in the Persian Gulf and have spent the last week in various countries and have been fortunate to have a number of very senior meetings with diplomatic and security officials. Attitudes and concerns of course differ between countries, but there have been a few consistencies: First, a sense that the United States is being outplayed by Iran; second, a belief that the nuclear deal being negotiated will not resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse because of the loopholes which American negotiators have allowed and so will simply legalize it; and third, real anger that the United States did not consult its allies and instead seems prepared to throw them under the bus. On this third point, the argument is not against diplomacy, but rather how the Obama administration conducts it without a sense of the region’s history, its allies’ interests, and its allies’ experience.

Because American allies remain effectively in the dark, they feel they must make accommodation with Iran in order to prepare for a post-American order. The Iranians believe they are winning, and they are eager to extract the concessions they believe their strengthened hand deserves.

Enter the disputed islands. The Iranians have been negotiating with the Emiratis for the return of the islands to UAE sovereignty. Sounds good on the surface, but the coming deal is disastrous. While Iran might evacuate the islands—not a huge deal since their population consists only of small Iranian garrisons—the Iranians would win claim to their waters, and so would maintain their military exclusion zone. In addition, the Iranians would win a facility on Oman’s Musandam Peninsula, on the other side of Iran from the strategic Strait of Hormuz. According to ArabianBusiness.com:

“Iran will retain the sea bed rights around the three islands while the UAE will hold sovereignty over the land,” they continued. “Oman will grant Iran a strategic location on Ras Musandam mountain, which is a very strategic point overlooking the whole Gulf region. “In return for Ras Musandam, Oman will receive free gas and oil from Iran once a pipeline is constructed within the coming two years,” the source added.

Perhaps the United States believes, here too, that reaching a deal trumps the substance of a deal. But any Iranian presence on Musandam should be a non-starter: It doesn’t matter what the safeguards in the deal are: possession is everything. Sultan Qaboos, the leader of Oman, is progressive and pro-Western, but he is also is aging, has no children, and so no apparent heir. When he passes away, Tehran will not only work to influence his succession, but can simply create a fait accompli while any new leader consolidates control. UAE officials, however, feel that with the United States weak and Iran strong, this is the best for which they can hope. That is the tragedy of the situation.

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For Our Arab Allies, It’s “East of Suez” All Over Again

Evelyn Gordon is absolutely correct when she writes that the U.S. romance with Iran “terrifies” our Arab allies, but she hits only the tip of the iceberg. Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is only the latest in a long line of presidential statements, decisions, and actions which have antagonized America’s Arab allies.

Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman have quietly but steadily supported the United States for years. Bahrain and Kuwait host important U.S. military contingents (I write this from the Louisville, Kentucky airport where I am returning from a brief with a Fort Knox-based U.S. Army unit heading to Kuwait in a few months). The Sultanate of Oman has been a force for moderation and quiet backchannel diplomacy for years, and played a crucial role in the months after 9/11 as action neared in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has been at the forefront of the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, the most dangerous group to both democracy and stability in the Arab Middle East.

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Evelyn Gordon is absolutely correct when she writes that the U.S. romance with Iran “terrifies” our Arab allies, but she hits only the tip of the iceberg. Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is only the latest in a long line of presidential statements, decisions, and actions which have antagonized America’s Arab allies.

Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman have quietly but steadily supported the United States for years. Bahrain and Kuwait host important U.S. military contingents (I write this from the Louisville, Kentucky airport where I am returning from a brief with a Fort Knox-based U.S. Army unit heading to Kuwait in a few months). The Sultanate of Oman has been a force for moderation and quiet backchannel diplomacy for years, and played a crucial role in the months after 9/11 as action neared in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has been at the forefront of the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, the most dangerous group to both democracy and stability in the Arab Middle East.

Imagine how the “Pivot to Asia” sounded to Gulf Arab leaders who, in their childhoods, heard British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s “East of Suez” speech and then saw the British military promptly abandon their Arab allies. It was against the backdrop of the British withdrawal that the United Arab Emirates, for example, experienced Iranian aggression firsthand when the Iranian military (with President Richard Nixon’s tacit approval) seized the disputed Tonb islands and Abu Musa.

Then, early in Obama’s first term, Hillary Clinton floated a trial balloon to extend a nuclear umbrella over the Gulf states should Iran ever go nuclear. Privately, our Gulf partners asked how they could ever trust such a guarantee since Obama and Clinton had been so willing to abandon the previous rock-solid guarantee that Iran would never go nuclear.

The Obama doctrine is a doctrine of betrayal. Just ask Georgia, Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, Honduras, Poland, and every Gulf Arab ally. Maybe pundits can spin, but there is no denying it in the perception of our Gulf allies. Alas, the reverberations of so quickly dispensing with commitments to allies will last long after Obama retires, and will be an insurmountable burden for U.S. diplomacy for decades to come.

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When Israel and the Arab States Agree

The New York Times’s regular feature “Room for Debate” often brings together a fairly diverse and interesting group of commenters on the chosen topic, and today’s is no different. The topic this time is about American support for Israel, and whether that hampers American influence in the Middle East. The debate group features Aaron David Miller, Rashid Khalidi, Daniel Gordis, Daoud Kuttab, and others.

But the strangest part of the debate is not what any of the contributors said, but how the topic is introduced. Here’s the Times’s opening explanation for the debate:

The president of Israel is resisting calls for a unilateral strike against Iran, but it’s just the “unilateral” part that he finds troubling: “It is clear to us that we have to proceed together with America.” Even if this is just posturing, the statement shows one reason the U.S. struggles to make allies in the Arab world: Israelis and Arabs alike assume that the U.S. will take a side in Mideast conflicts, and that the U.S. will side with Israel. Are they right?

In light of the long history of lobbying (and junkets for members of Congress), is support for Israel so entrenched in American politics that the U.S. can no longer exert influence and broker peace?

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The New York Times’s regular feature “Room for Debate” often brings together a fairly diverse and interesting group of commenters on the chosen topic, and today’s is no different. The topic this time is about American support for Israel, and whether that hampers American influence in the Middle East. The debate group features Aaron David Miller, Rashid Khalidi, Daniel Gordis, Daoud Kuttab, and others.

But the strangest part of the debate is not what any of the contributors said, but how the topic is introduced. Here’s the Times’s opening explanation for the debate:

The president of Israel is resisting calls for a unilateral strike against Iran, but it’s just the “unilateral” part that he finds troubling: “It is clear to us that we have to proceed together with America.” Even if this is just posturing, the statement shows one reason the U.S. struggles to make allies in the Arab world: Israelis and Arabs alike assume that the U.S. will take a side in Mideast conflicts, and that the U.S. will side with Israel. Are they right?

In light of the long history of lobbying (and junkets for members of Congress), is support for Israel so entrenched in American politics that the U.S. can no longer exert influence and broker peace?

Using the Iran example to touch off this debate is nonsensical. First of all, including Iran in the “Arab world” usually leads to a misunderstanding of the Islamic Republic, since it is not an Arab state (though that doesn’t mean it has nothing in common with its Arab neighbors). But even more bizarre is the fact that the Times thinks Israel and the Arab states are on opposing sides on the issue. They are not. Last year, as Oren Kessler reported, the WikiLeaks cables proved what anyone with any experience with the region’s politics and history already expected: there was “unanimous” support for taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Kessler wrote:

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah urged Washington to “cut off the head of the snake,” and both he and then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak described the Islamic Republic as “evil” and untrustworthy.

An Iranian nuclear weapon, Mubarak warned, was liable to set off a region-wide arms race.

“Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb,” added Zeid Rifai, then president of the Jordanian senate. “Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.”

In the Persian Gulf, the rulers of Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were all reportedly in favor of a strike.

So too was the king of Bahrain, where a Sunni elite rules over a large Shi’ite majority and which officials in Iran have described as the country’s “fifteenth province.”

Mubarak may be gone, but there seems to be no other outdated exception to the story. This wasn’t the only such report, however. Saudi Arabia appears to be making preparations for any oil disruption caused by an attack on Iran. That is in their interest whether they support an attack or not, since they would still need to get their product to market safely, but it would also keep the price of their oil from skyrocketing, which dramatically reduces the harm to the West in the event of an attack or disruption.

And as Shai Feldman wrote with regard to the region’s Sunni Arab states, “None of these countries uttered a word when in 2007 Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor of Sunni-Arab Syria.”

So contra the New York Times, the Arab states are not only assuming the U.S. would support Israel on the Iran issue, but hoping and lobbying for such support.

As for the Times’s discredited and debunked suggestion that strong support for Israel works against American diplomacy, I suppose it’s worth repeating that Israel has proven time and again to be far more willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the peace process when U.S. support is strong and “daylight” between the two is minimized. But that’s the obvious part of this that everyone knows. The Iran aspect of the debate introduction, however, shows the Times to be strikingly unaware of what the Arab states actually want from the United States.

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Iran: Calculus Changing for the “Force Option”?

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

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On the Offense Against Israel’s Delegitimizers

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.’”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.’”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

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Yes We Can … Win in Afghanistan

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

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The Short List of Representative Arab States

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Daily Star in Lebanon, offers a tour d’horizon of the “modern Arab state” — the 22 members of the Arab League:

We also have broken states (Somalia), states that disappeared and/or returned (Kuwait, South Yemen), security-dominated states (Tunisia, Syria, Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein), erratic states (Libya), pirate states (Somalia), vulnerable states (Lebanon, Palestine), privatized states in the hands of small ruling elites (most Arab states), states that carry a specific family’s name (Saudi Arabia, Jordan), tribal states (Yemen, Oman), mini-states (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain), occupied states (Palestine, Iraq to an extent), and various degrees of client and proxy states, rogue states, gangster states, and others that defy description.

Khouri has a succinct description of what is missing from the above list:

Not a single Arab country can say with any certainty that the configuration of the state, the policies and values of the government, or the perpetuation of the incumbent ruling elite have been validated by the citizenry through any kind of credible, transparent, and accountable political process.

Well, there’s one — Iraq, which since 2005 has had successive elections whose outcomes were not preordained, involving a citizenry willing to risk their lives each time to go to the polls. A representative government replacing the most horrific Arab dictator in the region is a historic achievement — even if a fragile one, all the more remarkable in light of Khouri’s description of the other Arab states.

The “state” of “Palestine,” on the other hand, has been a failed one even before it was formed. It has rejected three formal offers of a state in the last decade. Half the putative state is occupied by an Iranian proxy pledged to destroy its neighbor. The other half lacks even the pretense of an elected government: its “president” is currently in the sixth year of his four-year term; its “prime minister” is an unelected appointee chosen by the holdover president; its funding comes primarily from the U.S., the EU, and Japan, not the 21 Arab states that supposedly consider it an urgent priority.

The Obama administration believes our strategic objectives should be to (1) withdraw from Iraq next year, and (2) form a Palestinian state as soon as possible. The first goal puts at risk the one Arab state on Khouri’s list with a representative government; the second seeks to add a 22nd Arab state on the unsupported assumption that it will live in peace with itself and its neighbors, but Khouri’s list suggests that the likely outcome would be otherwise.

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Daily Star in Lebanon, offers a tour d’horizon of the “modern Arab state” — the 22 members of the Arab League:

We also have broken states (Somalia), states that disappeared and/or returned (Kuwait, South Yemen), security-dominated states (Tunisia, Syria, Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein), erratic states (Libya), pirate states (Somalia), vulnerable states (Lebanon, Palestine), privatized states in the hands of small ruling elites (most Arab states), states that carry a specific family’s name (Saudi Arabia, Jordan), tribal states (Yemen, Oman), mini-states (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain), occupied states (Palestine, Iraq to an extent), and various degrees of client and proxy states, rogue states, gangster states, and others that defy description.

Khouri has a succinct description of what is missing from the above list:

Not a single Arab country can say with any certainty that the configuration of the state, the policies and values of the government, or the perpetuation of the incumbent ruling elite have been validated by the citizenry through any kind of credible, transparent, and accountable political process.

Well, there’s one — Iraq, which since 2005 has had successive elections whose outcomes were not preordained, involving a citizenry willing to risk their lives each time to go to the polls. A representative government replacing the most horrific Arab dictator in the region is a historic achievement — even if a fragile one, all the more remarkable in light of Khouri’s description of the other Arab states.

The “state” of “Palestine,” on the other hand, has been a failed one even before it was formed. It has rejected three formal offers of a state in the last decade. Half the putative state is occupied by an Iranian proxy pledged to destroy its neighbor. The other half lacks even the pretense of an elected government: its “president” is currently in the sixth year of his four-year term; its “prime minister” is an unelected appointee chosen by the holdover president; its funding comes primarily from the U.S., the EU, and Japan, not the 21 Arab states that supposedly consider it an urgent priority.

The Obama administration believes our strategic objectives should be to (1) withdraw from Iraq next year, and (2) form a Palestinian state as soon as possible. The first goal puts at risk the one Arab state on Khouri’s list with a representative government; the second seeks to add a 22nd Arab state on the unsupported assumption that it will live in peace with itself and its neighbors, but Khouri’s list suggests that the likely outcome would be otherwise.

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A New Sheriff in the Strait

In the flurry of mildly interesting disclosures from the Iranian military exercise this week, one is likely to be overlooked. Iranian state media report that on Friday, April 23, the Revolutionary Guard’s naval arm stopped two ships for inspection in the Strait of Hormuz. The ships, according to Iran’s Press TV, were French and Italian. The photo accompanying the story depicts a Kaman-class guided-missile patrol boat on which the boxy, Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship-missile launchers can be seen amidships. The stated purpose of the inspections was to verify “environmental compliance.”

The names of the foreign ships were not provided; sketchy details make it difficult to be certain exactly where in the strait they were stopped. But European ships — even private yachts — rarely venture outside the recognized navigation corridors in the Strait of Hormuz. If this news report is valid, it almost certainly means that Iran detained ships that were transiting those corridors.

That, as our vice president might say, is a big effing deal. That’s not because Iran has committed an act of war by intercepting these ships, as some in the blogosphere are speculating. The intercepts were not acts of war. The purpose of verifying environmental compliance is one Iran can theoretically invoke on the basis of its maritime claims lodged with the UN in 1993. Ironically, however, Iran has never signed the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), the instrument by which the terms of its claims are defined. Many nations, of course, have yet to either sign or ratify UNCLOS, America being among them. In the meantime, world shipping has operated in the Strait of Hormuz for decades on the basis of UNCLOS’s definition of “transit passage,” which has customarily immunized ships in routine transit through straits against random intercept by the littoral navies (e.g., Iran’s or Oman’s).

Iran would be breaking with that custom by stopping ships for inspection in the recognized transit corridors. But this venue for a newly assertive Iranian profile is chosen well: stopping foreign ships that are conducting transit passage is uncollegial and inconvenient for commerce, but it is not clearly in breach of international law.

What it is, however, is an incipient challenge to the maritime regime enforced by the U.S., which includes the quiescent transit-passage custom on which global commerce relies. Mariners take care to observe the law as it is written, regardless of their nationality or national position on UNCLOS; but the guarantee of their unhindered passage isn’t international law, it’s the U.S. Navy. Demonstrations of force are required only rarely. Reagan put down revolutionary Iran’s only serious challenge to international maritime order back in 1988, in the final months of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, Iran has refrained from unilateral action against shipping in the recognized transit corridors of the strait.

It’s ingenious to use environmental inspection as a pretext for establishing a new regime of unilateral Iranian prerogative. Iran is probing the U.S. and the West with this move. Fortunately, for the time being, diplomacy is the ideal tool for making it clear to Iran that the U.S. won’t tolerate capricious interference with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. This initiative of Tehran’s must be nipped in the bud promptly, however. It can only escalate — and without pushback, it will.

In the flurry of mildly interesting disclosures from the Iranian military exercise this week, one is likely to be overlooked. Iranian state media report that on Friday, April 23, the Revolutionary Guard’s naval arm stopped two ships for inspection in the Strait of Hormuz. The ships, according to Iran’s Press TV, were French and Italian. The photo accompanying the story depicts a Kaman-class guided-missile patrol boat on which the boxy, Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship-missile launchers can be seen amidships. The stated purpose of the inspections was to verify “environmental compliance.”

The names of the foreign ships were not provided; sketchy details make it difficult to be certain exactly where in the strait they were stopped. But European ships — even private yachts — rarely venture outside the recognized navigation corridors in the Strait of Hormuz. If this news report is valid, it almost certainly means that Iran detained ships that were transiting those corridors.

That, as our vice president might say, is a big effing deal. That’s not because Iran has committed an act of war by intercepting these ships, as some in the blogosphere are speculating. The intercepts were not acts of war. The purpose of verifying environmental compliance is one Iran can theoretically invoke on the basis of its maritime claims lodged with the UN in 1993. Ironically, however, Iran has never signed the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), the instrument by which the terms of its claims are defined. Many nations, of course, have yet to either sign or ratify UNCLOS, America being among them. In the meantime, world shipping has operated in the Strait of Hormuz for decades on the basis of UNCLOS’s definition of “transit passage,” which has customarily immunized ships in routine transit through straits against random intercept by the littoral navies (e.g., Iran’s or Oman’s).

Iran would be breaking with that custom by stopping ships for inspection in the recognized transit corridors. But this venue for a newly assertive Iranian profile is chosen well: stopping foreign ships that are conducting transit passage is uncollegial and inconvenient for commerce, but it is not clearly in breach of international law.

What it is, however, is an incipient challenge to the maritime regime enforced by the U.S., which includes the quiescent transit-passage custom on which global commerce relies. Mariners take care to observe the law as it is written, regardless of their nationality or national position on UNCLOS; but the guarantee of their unhindered passage isn’t international law, it’s the U.S. Navy. Demonstrations of force are required only rarely. Reagan put down revolutionary Iran’s only serious challenge to international maritime order back in 1988, in the final months of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, Iran has refrained from unilateral action against shipping in the recognized transit corridors of the strait.

It’s ingenious to use environmental inspection as a pretext for establishing a new regime of unilateral Iranian prerogative. Iran is probing the U.S. and the West with this move. Fortunately, for the time being, diplomacy is the ideal tool for making it clear to Iran that the U.S. won’t tolerate capricious interference with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. This initiative of Tehran’s must be nipped in the bud promptly, however. It can only escalate — and without pushback, it will.

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Andrew Roberts’ History Lesson

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

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Fresh Outreach

Iran this week has thrown a one-two diplomatic punch in the matter of Yemen’s insurgency problem. It remains to be seen if the Islamic revolutionary state is punching above its weight; that may depend on what, if anything, the U.S. does. But Arabs in the region have taken Iran’s initiative badly, seeing it as the continuation of a trend toward Iranian meddling in Arab nations’ affairs.

On November 5, Saudi Arabia launched a counteroffensive against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Shias with Iranian backing who have violated the Saudi border in the course of their fight against the central government in Sana’a. A Saudi officer was reportedly killed by the Houthis last week, and the Saudis are losing confidence in the ability of the Saleh government to quell the insurgency. On November 10, Iran — the Houthis’ supplier — warned “Yemen’s neighbors” against meddling in Yemeni affairs. Since “Yemen’s neighbors” amount to Saudi Arabia and Oman, this warning was quite pointed.

Today Al Jazeera reports that Iran has offered to “aid Yemeni security,” proclaiming Tehran ready to help restore peace to the insurgency-torn nation. Al Jazeera’s hostile view of this disingenuous initiative is a reliable reflection of sentiment in Arab capitals. The proposal is also a direct challenge to America’s network of partnerships in the region. Iran advancing itself as a moderator of an Arab nation’s internal affairs is, in fact, a power play, one that would not be mounted in an environment of American alertness and determination.

Iran has conducted its foreign policy for years through the sponsorship of terrorism against Israel and Lebanon. It’s through gaining an insidious foothold in other nations, through coming in the back door, that Iran has sought regional influence. Now the mullahs propose to be admitted through the front door in Yemen, and have their support to the Houthi guerrillas validated by a recognized diplomatic process.

With Iran already an established presence in Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, will the Obama administration discourage this fresh initiative with any level of firmness? Or will it leave the Saudis and Yemenis to make their own arrangements for resistance to Iran’s outreach? See what you think (from the Huffington Post piece linked above):

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters [on November 5] he had no information about whether the conflict had spread across the border but expressed Washington’s concern over the situation.

“It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” Kelly said. “We call on all parties to the conflict to make every effort to protect civilian populations and limit damage to civilian infrastructure.”

That doesn’t sound to me like a posture Iran would have to worry about colliding with. It probably didn’t sound like one to Iran either.

Iran this week has thrown a one-two diplomatic punch in the matter of Yemen’s insurgency problem. It remains to be seen if the Islamic revolutionary state is punching above its weight; that may depend on what, if anything, the U.S. does. But Arabs in the region have taken Iran’s initiative badly, seeing it as the continuation of a trend toward Iranian meddling in Arab nations’ affairs.

On November 5, Saudi Arabia launched a counteroffensive against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Shias with Iranian backing who have violated the Saudi border in the course of their fight against the central government in Sana’a. A Saudi officer was reportedly killed by the Houthis last week, and the Saudis are losing confidence in the ability of the Saleh government to quell the insurgency. On November 10, Iran — the Houthis’ supplier — warned “Yemen’s neighbors” against meddling in Yemeni affairs. Since “Yemen’s neighbors” amount to Saudi Arabia and Oman, this warning was quite pointed.

Today Al Jazeera reports that Iran has offered to “aid Yemeni security,” proclaiming Tehran ready to help restore peace to the insurgency-torn nation. Al Jazeera’s hostile view of this disingenuous initiative is a reliable reflection of sentiment in Arab capitals. The proposal is also a direct challenge to America’s network of partnerships in the region. Iran advancing itself as a moderator of an Arab nation’s internal affairs is, in fact, a power play, one that would not be mounted in an environment of American alertness and determination.

Iran has conducted its foreign policy for years through the sponsorship of terrorism against Israel and Lebanon. It’s through gaining an insidious foothold in other nations, through coming in the back door, that Iran has sought regional influence. Now the mullahs propose to be admitted through the front door in Yemen, and have their support to the Houthi guerrillas validated by a recognized diplomatic process.

With Iran already an established presence in Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, will the Obama administration discourage this fresh initiative with any level of firmness? Or will it leave the Saudis and Yemenis to make their own arrangements for resistance to Iran’s outreach? See what you think (from the Huffington Post piece linked above):

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters [on November 5] he had no information about whether the conflict had spread across the border but expressed Washington’s concern over the situation.

“It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” Kelly said. “We call on all parties to the conflict to make every effort to protect civilian populations and limit damage to civilian infrastructure.”

That doesn’t sound to me like a posture Iran would have to worry about colliding with. It probably didn’t sound like one to Iran either.

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“They Want to Destroy People”

“They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” said President Bush Wednesday, referring to Iran’s theocrats. The leader of the free world did not have to wait long for criticism. “That’s as uninformed as McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda,” remarked nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true.”

It is true that Iranian leaders have never publicly proclaimed their desire for the ultimate weapon in history. In fact, they have said exactly the opposite. So award a point to Cirincione.

Yet make that an exceedingly technical point. On the broader issue of truth, the President scores higher. In my book, a nation has essentially declared it wants the bomb when it, like Iran, hides parts of its nuclear program, possesses plans for nuclear warheads, conducts nuclear weaponization experiments, builds ballistic missiles, and voices a desire to wipe another country off the map. If I ever have an opportunity to talk to Cirincione, I will ask this: “Is there any room in your world for common sense?”

In any event, there’s none in Kofi Annan’s universe, at least judging from his comments reported by the Associated Press on Friday. The former U.N. secretary-general, in remarks summarized by that news organization, said he “didn’t have enough information to comment on the justification for the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.” Nonetheless, the retired diplomat felt confident enough to say this: “We cannot, I’m sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it.”

Well, I hope no one is contemplating listening to Annan. As a matter of logic, one cannot comment on military action if one is too ignorant to discuss why the U.N. has demanded that Iran stop enrichment in the first place.

Until Kofi catches up on his reading, we should take our advice from Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, while visiting Oman, the Vice President said that “Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.” Why? Because Annan is correct about one thing. In his recent comments he said that all Security Council members must live up to their “responsibility to protect.” If this noble concept means anything, it means stopping militant regimes like Iran’s from getting the capability to “destroy people.”

“They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” said President Bush Wednesday, referring to Iran’s theocrats. The leader of the free world did not have to wait long for criticism. “That’s as uninformed as McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda,” remarked nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true.”

It is true that Iranian leaders have never publicly proclaimed their desire for the ultimate weapon in history. In fact, they have said exactly the opposite. So award a point to Cirincione.

Yet make that an exceedingly technical point. On the broader issue of truth, the President scores higher. In my book, a nation has essentially declared it wants the bomb when it, like Iran, hides parts of its nuclear program, possesses plans for nuclear warheads, conducts nuclear weaponization experiments, builds ballistic missiles, and voices a desire to wipe another country off the map. If I ever have an opportunity to talk to Cirincione, I will ask this: “Is there any room in your world for common sense?”

In any event, there’s none in Kofi Annan’s universe, at least judging from his comments reported by the Associated Press on Friday. The former U.N. secretary-general, in remarks summarized by that news organization, said he “didn’t have enough information to comment on the justification for the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.” Nonetheless, the retired diplomat felt confident enough to say this: “We cannot, I’m sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it.”

Well, I hope no one is contemplating listening to Annan. As a matter of logic, one cannot comment on military action if one is too ignorant to discuss why the U.N. has demanded that Iran stop enrichment in the first place.

Until Kofi catches up on his reading, we should take our advice from Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, while visiting Oman, the Vice President said that “Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.” Why? Because Annan is correct about one thing. In his recent comments he said that all Security Council members must live up to their “responsibility to protect.” If this noble concept means anything, it means stopping militant regimes like Iran’s from getting the capability to “destroy people.”

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Re: Blair’s a Yale Man Now

Ted Bromund’s analysis of the benefits that Tony Blair will bring to Yale is well taken.  However, the former British Prime Minister’s sudden retreat to New Haven might represent something far more politically significant.  After all, Blair is currently serving as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East, which means his official purpose is to promote the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace—a job that could probably keep one employed forever.  By serving notice after barely eight months on the job, is the once-optimistic Blair signaling that Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects are nil?          

If so, this pessimism might be gaining traction within the Bush administration.  Today, the White House announced that, next week, Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank to discuss “issues of mutual interest.”  Just as Blair will soon be conspicuously absent from the Middle East, the word “peace” was conspicuously absent from Cheney’s press release . . .

Ted Bromund’s analysis of the benefits that Tony Blair will bring to Yale is well taken.  However, the former British Prime Minister’s sudden retreat to New Haven might represent something far more politically significant.  After all, Blair is currently serving as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East, which means his official purpose is to promote the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace—a job that could probably keep one employed forever.  By serving notice after barely eight months on the job, is the once-optimistic Blair signaling that Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects are nil?          

If so, this pessimism might be gaining traction within the Bush administration.  Today, the White House announced that, next week, Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank to discuss “issues of mutual interest.”  Just as Blair will soon be conspicuously absent from the Middle East, the word “peace” was conspicuously absent from Cheney’s press release . . .

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The Moderate Supermajority

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

Read Less




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