Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Gaza, Hamas, West Bank, and Fatah

June 22, 2007


It may just be that the West Bank is in a better position to work toward agreement than it could ever be when combined with Hamas and Gaza. However, the quick approval by the United States, Europe, and Israel of the West Bank alternative government can not help the image of the group with many Palestinians, or in the wider Muslim world.


The fighting between the two factions, and even within these factions, unfortunately reminds many of the internecine bloodshed that consumes Iraq and seems to be a precursor of the kind of factional infighting that may ravage Iraq if and when the Americans finally leave.

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Short Blog Vacation

March 24, 2007

Because of other commitments, the reader should not expect additional posts to this blog for the next two weeks.

Iran in Iraq

March 21, 2007

In the last few days the Times has given us a summary of the recent economic penetration by Iran into Iraq. We could view this negatively, as many in Washington are wont to do. But from the viewpoint of all but the hardest line Sunnis, it should be considered as a real harbinger of hope for the future.

The stores are full of Iranian produce, air conditioners, automobiles and much else. Several Iraqi cities, including Basra, depend on Iran for their electricity. Iran has loaned Iraq one billion dollars and is establishing a bank in Baghdad. Iran is helping to relieve a severe gasoline shortage in Iraq by bringing gasoline in from Turkmenistan. Iranian trade with the Kurdish region now amounts to one billion dollars a year. Iranian tourism, particularly to the shrines in Karbala and Najaf has added considerably to the economy in some areas. Iran has assisted in the building of tourist facilities in both cities.

Mideast and American Thinking

December 20, 2006


Today’s NY Times brings an Op-Ed by Thomas Friedman entitled “Mideast Rules to Live By”. He prefaces his remarks by saying that he had hoped so much for a good outcome in Iraq that he forgot what he had learned by covering Lebanon’s civil war in the past. My experience reinforces what Friedman has to say. Let me mention just a few of the “rules”.

(1) Although we are used to politicians lying in public and telling what they really believe in private, in the Middle East, they often tell you what they think you want to hear in private and say what they really think in public.

(2) If you can’t explain something with a conspiracy theory, don’t try, they won’t believe it.

(3) In the ME, the extremists go all the way and the moderates just go away.

(4) Civil Wars in the area are seldom about ideas. They are about which tribe (I would change that to “group”) gets to rule.

(5) (modified) ME civil wars end either with one side vanquishing the other, or someone taking absolute power and ruling with an iron fist.

(6) Our first priority is democracy, theirs is “justice” (as the competing groups define it). If democracy helps in getting what a group feels is theirs, fine; if not they will quickly set democracy aside.

(7) Finally (in my version) Friedman writes (condensed version): “The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. Israel’s existence is a daily humiliation to the Muslims. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”

The last point brings us back to the Iraq Study Group Report. The report insists that we have to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem before we can hope to have peace in Iraq or any place in the Middle East. This position is one of those most quickly rejected by the Report’s critics. It was rejected either because the critic could not understand the linkage or because he did not want to understand the linkage.

The essential linkage is based on the fact that too many Iraqis simply hate Americans and our apparent siding with the Israelis and/or our inability to solve what they see as the “Israeli problem”. Their dislike makes any cooperation they might give us provisional, dissolving quickly as soon as what we are doing to help them in a situation is no longer relevant. This is the essential reason why many good plans to find a way forward in Iraq are bound to fail. This, by the way, is the essential basis of General Abizaid’s criticism of the plan to bring in more troops to secure Baghdad.

Incidentally, we are fortunate to have Abizaid as Commander of the Central Command, which includes Iraq. Abizaid is of Lebanese background, and aside from the usual military training has a masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard (as do I incidentally) and was an Olmsted Scholar at the University of Jordan. Too bad, he is in a tough position that has not allowed him to really approach Iraq as he might have liked to.