Monday, September 2, 2013

Twitter Links and Others -- September 2

This from The Economist made me feel better. I already have been following two of these three for some time. Karl Sharro is witty as well as well-informed. And Juan Cole has been doing heavy lifting in academia for years. 
What to read On the Middle East
Aug 26th 2013 
WITH so much happening in the Middle East it can be hard to keep up. Pomegranate is here to help. In a new weekly post, we suggest a selection of commentators to follow to stay informed on the region's disparate countries. This first post looks at writers on the Middle East in general.
These are not intended to be exhaustive lists. We have excluded the mainstream media and will favour commentators living in or from the countries covered. Please offer your suggestions in the comment thread below. 
Al-Bab A former Middle East editor of The Guardian, a British newspaper, Brian Whitaker has a smart take on the goings-on in the Arab world and is not afraid to be critical. Rather than focussing exclusively on politics, his blog offers insights into Arab culture and society, such as gay rights and cinema, too.; @Brian_Whit 
Informed Comment: Juan Cole is an American academic and veteran commentator. He blogs about Islam, the Arab world and their relationship with the West. In a recent post, he argues that bombing Syria is unlikely to make a difference to the war.; @jricole
Arabist: Run by Issandr Amrani, a Moroccan-American who has written for The Economist and is North Africa director at the International Crisis Group, and friends of his. It is particularly good on Egypt, and north Africa in general. Regular “link dumps” to articles provide a valuable guide to what Middle East aficionados should be reading.; @arabist 
Karl Remarks: An architect by day and side-splittingly funny commentator by night, the Lebanese-Iraqi Karl Sharro writes satirical posts about the region. He recently recreated the alleged phone call, between Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s boss, and Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of the group’s branch in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which led to the temporary closure of 19 American embassies.; @KarlreMarks

Jihadica: Run by a group of American academics, including Will McCants of the Brookings Center, Jihadica examines militant transnational Sunni Islam, and includes videos and lists of jihadist Twitterati.; @jihadica and @will_mccants
[I haven't time this morning for a lot of parsing and formatting. Here is a string of links. The reader is on his or her own...]
The administration’s proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for Syria provides:

(a) Authorization. — The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order to –

(1) prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons; or

(2) protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons.

There is much more here than at first meets the eye.

You get that? "detained in Syria" but connected with kidnapping an Iranian in Yemen. Don't ask for links. Just make a mental note and keep reading. I consider Diane an unimpeachable source.

To precisely gauge in advance the impact of a U.S. military attack, regardless of its scope and of efforts to carefully calibrate it, by definition is a fool's errand. In a conflict that has settled into a deadly if familiar pattern - and in a region close to boiling point - it inevitably will introduce a powerful element of uncertainty. Consequences almost certainly will be unpredictable. Still, several observations can be made about what it might and might not do: [Go to the link for more.]
==► Or, as one of my Facebook friends observed "This time the Coalition of the Willing appears to be USA, France and Al Qaeda." 

1. What is Syria?
2. Why are people in Syria killing each other?
3. That’s horrible. But there are protests lots of places. How did it all go so wrong in Syria? And, please, just give me the short version.
4. I hear a lot about how Russia still loves Syria, though. And Iran, too. What’s their deal?
5. This is all feeling really bleak and hopeless. Can we take a music break?

[Insert video here]
Hope you enjoyed that, because things are about to go from depressing to despondent.
6. Why hasn’t the United States fixed this yet?
7. So why would Obama bother with strikes that no one expects to actually solve anything?
8. Come on, what’s the big deal with chemical weapons? Assad kills 100,000 people with bullets and bombs but we’re freaked out over 1,000 who maybe died from poisonous gas? That seems silly.
[Insert Washingtonspeak here]
You didn’t answer my question. That just tells me that we can maybe preserve the norm against chemical weapons, not why we should.
Fair point. Here’s the deal: war is going to happen. It just is. [Insert more Washingtonspeak here.]
9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?

Great piece of sniping, but this jumped out at me...

Then we are back to the analytical frame, with the best and most memorable line in the report: [See previous link, also highlighted in yellow.]
To precisely gauge in advance the impact of a U.S. military attack, regardless of its scope and of efforts to carefully calibrate it, by definition is a fool’s errand.
But then ICG goes on to try to gauge in advance some of the possible impacts of a US attack, with no more success than its memorable line foreshadows.

Then we return to the policy frame, where ICG is not alone in calling for a diplomatic breakthrough based on a “realistic compromise political offer” and outreach to Russia and Iran. The devil is in the details:

The sole viable outcome is a compromise that protects the interests of all Syrian constituencies and reflects rather than alters the regional strategic balance;
This is sloppily over-generalized. Who are the Syrian constituencies? What regional balance? Is Al Qaeda a Syrian consitutency? Is Hizbollah? The regional balance of what? If it is conventional military balance, the US and Israel win hands down. If it is terror, advantage Al Qaeda or Iran. If commitment to a democratic outcome counts, I’d give the prize to Syrian civic activists who started the rebellion and have continued to try to make it come out right. All of the above? Show me the negotiating table that can accommodate them all and I’ll show you heaven on earth.

For an exercise in troll-watching, go to the link and scroll down to see all the responses to this message.  There are probably fifty or more at this point, and they're still coming in. 

I'm quitting here. There may be more on another post. 
This is by far the best analysis yet, copied in full. 
Sadly, I doubt there are more than a handful of elected Congressional representatives in both House and Senate who could read this with any degree of comprehension. 
Hitting Syria to deter Iran?
by Barbara Slavin
August 31, 2013

Iran may be a major factor in Obama's consideration of military action in Syria
Although President Barack Obama may soon launch a limited military strike on Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, a second Middle Eastern country has loomed large in his administration's calculations over the decision. 
One of the risks of "doing nothing" in response to the alleged large-scale attacks of Aug. 21 on the people of East Ghouta, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Aug. 30, is that "Iran, which itself has been a victim of chemical weapons attacks, will now feel emboldened, in the absence of action, to obtain nuclear weapons." 
The "hit-Syria-to-deter-Iran" argument is embedded in the notion that unless the United States acts forcefully after concluding that the regime has used chemical weapons, U.S. credibility will suffer -- possibly prompting Israel to strike Iran. But Tehran figures in the Syria crisis in a number of other ways, and there is evidence that the Obama administration's thinking about Iran's role is evolving -- as is Iran's own assessment about how to contain the Syrian civil war.
Proponents of tougher action against Tehran have long argued that muscular U.S. intervention to remove the regime of President Bashar al-Assad would deal a heavy blow to Iranian influence in the region. Syria, after all, is Iran's only durable ally among Arab nation states -- it was the only Arab country that sided with Iran during the 1980-88 war with Iraq. Syria is also the conduit for Tehran's delivery of weapons and money to Hezbollah, the most powerful pro-Iranian organization in the Arab world. 
As the civil war has dragged on, however, the notion that removing Assad would be a pure strategic win for the United States and its allies has become muddied. Ironically, if Assad were to be removed now, the biggest beneficiaries would likely be Sunni Muslim radicals who hate Iran as passionately as they do Syria's Alawite minority, Israelis and the U.S. 
Reaching out to Tehran

Then there's the fact that Iran is one of only two foreign countries with real leverage over the Assad regime -- the other is Russia. For the past two years, the U.S. has resisted calls to include Iran in multilateral talks on Syria's future, but that position appears to be changing as the Syrian crisis deepens and a less confrontational government has taken office in Iran. 
Russia and the United Nations have insisted for months that Iran, as a key outside player in the conflict, must be invited to any new peace talks in Geneva if there is to be any chance of progress toward a political solution. The Obama administration refused but later hedged, noting that the U.N. would be the one to issue invitations. 
In his interview with the PBS Newshour on Aug. 28, Obama appeared to open the door a bit wider to participation by Tehran. "We hope that, in fact, ultimately, a political transition can take place inside of Syria, and we're prepared to work with anybody -- the Russians and others -- to try to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict," he said. 
While Obama did not clarify whether "others" included Iran, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Jeffrey Feltman was in Tehran a day earlier meeting with Iran's new Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Feltman is currently U.N. Undersecretary General for political affairs, but the Iranian press identified him as a "senior U.S. official." 
"Mr. Feltman shared the U.N. position that Iran, given its influence and leadership in the region, has an important role to play and a responsibility in helping to bring the Syrian parties to the negotiating table," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said. 
It's a safe bet that Feltman would have informed his old bosses in Washington of Zarif's response. Sultan Qaboos of Oman, a long-time intermediary between the U.S. and Iran, was also in Tehran this week, and Syria was almost certainly discussed. 
Iran has strong historical and military reasons for continuing to support the Syrian government, but its commitment to Assad as an individual is not absolute. As the death toll has risen in Syria, Iranian interests in the region have suffered because of rising sectarian antagonism pitting Sunni against Shiite. 
Hezbollah, which sent fighters into Syria in June to help Assad's forces recapture the strategically located town of Qusayr, has lost popularity in Lebanon and apparently provoked bomb attacks on its home turf. Iran's support for Assad also prevented any reconciliation with Egypt while the Muslim Brotherhood was in power, and alienated the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, a long-time recipient of Iranian largesse. 
Then there is the domestic Iranian aspect. Support for Assad has never been strong among ordinary Iranians, who resent the use of increasingly scarce hard currency to back a foreign government. 
Secretary Kerry, in noting Iranians have been the victims of chemical weapons attacks themselves, was trying to push another Iranian button -- the memory of being on the receiving end of sarin gas during the Iran-Iraq war, when the world stood aside and did nothing to stop Saddam Hussein. 
It may be harder for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to defend Assad in light of a U.S. intelligence assessment released Friday that said the Syrian government targeted a dozen locations in Damascus's eastern suburbs with rockets tipped with nerve gas, killing at least 1,429 people, including 426 children. 
According to the granddaughter of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, former Iranian president Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- Rouhani’s mentor -- has warned that “a government that uses chemical bombs against its people will face hard consequences, just like Saddam, who earned eternal shame in the bombing of Halabja and suffered such a horrible fate.”

While some Iranian officials have threatened to retaliate against Israel and the United States for any U.S. strikes on Syria, it is doubtful that Rouhani would risk jeopardizing chances for progress in nuclear negotiations with the United States -- progress that could bring Iran urgently needed sanctions relief. 
And those working to mediate a political solution in Syria have urged the United States to openly support inviting Iran to new peace talks in Geneva, thereby acknowledging that Iran can have as much influence on stabilizing a volatile neighborhood as on contributing to violence -- and giving it more incentive to do the former than the latter.
So I'm not quitting.
This quick message is a very good point.  

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