Saudi Arabia

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Here’s an excerpt from my most recent article in the Huffington Post.  You can read the full article here.

A bloodbath of civilians, torture and murder of children, willful starvation of millions, forced displacement of a greater population such as the Middle East has never seen, a global jihadi festival. That is Syria today. In far less horrific environments, the world’s major powers demanded ceasefire for warring parties, but not here.

Why? Conscience demands it, but not geopolitics. War, as has been said so often, is a failure of imagination, imagination of alternatives. The major powers (I will not call them “great”) are backing opposite sides in this war, as is well known, with Russia and Iran the main allies of the Syrian regime, and Saudi Arabia, the government of Iraq, and especially Qatar backing the jihadi influx into Syria. To a tepid degree, the Western countries are backing

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Diplomats Discuss Bashar al-Assad’s Future as Syria Fights Rebels – NYTimes.com.

 

This is an important article on the stage we find ourselves in of the Syrian revolution. Russia’s defense to the last of the Assad regime is a significant political reality that points much more deeply to the problem and challenge of global, that is, Security Council consensus on matters of global governance when massive human rights abuses are occurring. We are still at a kind of Cold War impasse when it comes to the spheres of influence of the United States, Europe and Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other. The United States political narrative on such matters, and in such crunch times, runs something like this:

We the United States stand for human rights and democracy, and Russia and China only care about defending illiberal states and their sovereignty because …

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Ineffective tightening of sanctions on Iran

by mgopin on December 12, 2011 · 7 comments

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This article originally appeared on the Al Jazeeera English website on Dec. 12, 2011.  You can view it by clicking here .

Washington, DC – There is a long record of the grim effects of sanctions in international struggles against those states deemed as “rogue”. Sanctions are seen as righteous instruments, a non-violent way to pressure problematic regimes to change. But when you really don’t care about a country or its people, then your true attitudes emerge in the way in which you use the sanctions instrument of policy.

Let’s take Iraq. Based on estimates of the massive increase in child mortality rates through the years of the sanctions in the 1990s, anywhere from 300,000 to a million people lost their lives. But no one in Saddam’s inner circle, none of the wealthy, and none of the killers, died from those sanctions. Such sanctions were touted as an enlightened and …

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Get on the Right Side of History

by mgopin on September 24, 2011 · 0 comments

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(A version of this essay was recently published in The Jerusalem Report.)

Across the world in the last 40 years politically organized religious forces have played an increasingly important role in national politics. From India to Indonesia, from Lebanon to Israel, from the United States to Russia, organized religion has increased its impact on politics.

We are also aware of the frightening rise of very violent religion, expressed through terror groups. For this reason, it is easy to misunderstand the relationship between religion on the one hand and between states and ethnic groups and their very secular interests, on the other hand.

Precisely because so many millions of people care about religion, religion has become an essential tool of secular state and ethnic interests. Indeed, what may seem to be a religious issue often turns out to be very secular state interests. Missing this relationship, it becomes easy

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AP: New al-Qaeda leader lived in U.S. for years – USATODAY.com.

— A suspected al-Qaeda operative who lived for more than 15 years in the U.S. has become chief of the terror network’s global operations, the FBI says, marking the first time a leader so intimately familiar with American society has been placed in charge of planning attacks.

Adnan Shukrijumah, 35, has taken over a position once held by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was captured in 2003, Miami-based FBI counterterrorism agent Brian LeBlanc told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. That puts him in regular contact with al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, including Osama bin Laden, LeBlanc said.

Shukrijumah (SHOOK’-ree joohm-HAH’) and two other leaders were part of an “external operations council” that designed and approved terrorism plots and recruits, but his two counterparts were killed in U.S. drone attacks, leaving Shukrijumah as the de facto chief and

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Note this extremely well-argued realist piece from Robert Pelletreau and Ed Walker in the Boston Globe. All of my experience in Syria suggests to me that most of their points are accurate and should be appealing to the more rational side of the Bush team in its last months. It can only help the reputation of the Republicans to aggressively pursue a new approach to Syria right now. It could be the foreign policy success that has eluded them for eight years. Here is an excerpt:

Dr. Sami Taki, a close associate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said in late July that Syria might change its alliance with Iran if Syria achieves peace with Israel.

The United States stands to gain a great deal from an Israeli-Syrian agreement. Having served as US ambassadors to five Middle East countries, we are convinced that a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace is essential to

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Pakistani students recite the Koran in an Islamic school in Peshawar

A young Pakistani man who I met recently said to me, “If Pakistan is safe the world is safe, if Pakistan is in danger then the world is in danger, because we have “atom.” And Pakistan is in deep danger.” He was sincere, persuasive, brilliant, but also blunt in that special way that survivors whose lives are in danger tend to be. He was also on a mission to rediscover the religion of his youth, an Islam he could be proud of. He watched helplessly in his lifetime as the contest for Pakistan and Afghanistan that ensued between the Soviet Union, Iran, the United States, and Saudi Arabia morphed into a bloody battle in the name of religion.

The young man, who we will call Malik, has been searching to restore the earlier Islamic culture to his native Pakistan, but the forces arrayed against him are enormous. This is what …

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The Israeli-Saudi Common Interest

by mgopin on August 7, 2008 · 3 comments

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Dr. Moshe Maoz, one of the most senior Israeli authorities on the Islamic world has this to say recently on common Saudi and Israeli interests:

The interfaith conference King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia convened in Madrid on July 17 is the first such conference held by this religiously strict kingdom. Jews were among the participants, including a rabbi from Israel. In 2002, when Abdullah was still crown prince, he made a significant move toward Israel that was adopted by the Arab League’s 22 members: recognizing Israel, including diplomatic relations, if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders and a Palestinian state is established with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Indeed, the Saudis’ realistic attitude toward Israel’s existence is not new. Back in May 1975, King Khaled told The Washington Post that his country was prepared to recognize Israel’s right to exist within the 1967 borders on condition that a Palestinian state

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Wahabism is generally a short-hand expression for conservative Saudi Arabian religion. It has become synonymous in the West, but also in the Islamic world, with a very repressive form of Islam that is responsible, at least in part, for the growth of militarism in the name of Islam. I must confess that over the years I generalized about Saudis and their religion, while actually knowing very little about their culture or their religion. I heard many bad stories from Muslims and non-Muslims alike, but I did not really take the time to ask Saudis themselves. In truth, Saudi Arabia is an extremely conservative society with many religious laws in place that I do not agree with. But that did not give me the right to malign a culture in its entirety. That was reverse bigotry in the name of tolerance.

Imagine the cognitive dissonance of an entire hall full of

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Read Alex and Qifa’s important analysis of Syria’s next steps, especially if it wants to neutralize its dangerous conflict with Saudi Arabia, and if it wants to continue its positive momentum as a regional player. And note further down Alex’s important responses to Joe M.’s cogent critiques. Alex writes some interesting words of advice:

In politics, the tail may indeed often wag the dog, but grass-roots support never hurt a political cause. Syria’s reputation in journalistic, academic, NGO, policy, and think tank circles is among the worst in the region, this despite the fact that her neighbors are hardly a confederation of Jeffersonian democracies. The extent to which this reputation is justified remains a hot topic, about which people can agree or disagree. However, there is no doubt about the fact that the Syrian government — historically — hasn’t done itself any favors in the publicity department. By accelerating reforms

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