Reward Jordan


Jordan is an increasingly important part of the pro-West Status Quo Bloc. It doesn’t have much money, but it has a king (but, sadly, not a population) that is willing to go out on a limb to support Western interests, including recognition of Israel, an anti-violence Islamic message, outspoken concern about Iran, and boots on the ground in Syria (well, bombers in the air) to back up its rhetoric. 

With few natural resources and massive Iraqi and Syrian refugee populations, Jordan has been struggling economically. Add to that its Palestinian population, there since 1948 and largely naturalised (though not really integrated), Jordan could have easily stayed on a populist Islamist, anti-Israel, anti-West path. But it didn’t, and so deserves as much financial and diplomatic support the West can muster. Australia could have a role by directing development aid to the country. Too often in the Middle East, bad behaviour is rewarded and good behaviour is ignored. This should be reversed, and Jordan is a country where it should happen.

Here’s a good backgrounder from the Washington Institute.

A test for Trump


Syria has allegedly used chemical weapons against civilians once again. When Obama was president, he foolishly said that such use would be a ‘red line’. When chemical weapons were subsequently used, Obama’s bluff was called, and he effectively did nothing. The episode substantially weakened the US in the Middle East, and helped Russia ease its way back in, a proc ss that continued for the remainder of Obama’s term.

Trump hasn’t said anything quite as specific about chemical weapons, but he has talked tough, and he has sought to differentiate himself from Obama. If he does nothing in the face of th s outraged, it will be perceived as weakness. I expect he will order a strike on some Syrian government or military facility to send a message. 

PS – the photo is from the 2013 attack

The Mainstream Media Is Still Missing the Point


Here’s an article that emphatically puts the argument that the political and cultural elite, including the mass media, is still misinterpreting why populism is rising; why people voted for Brexit and Trump, and why populist politics is on the rise in Europe and Australia (though the article doesn’t mention Australia).

The article is relevant to this blog because the policy ideas of populist politicians frequently lack nuance; they have short-term benefits but long-term negative ramifications. That applies to both domestic policy as well as foreign (including Middle East) policy.

The article focuses on America, but the lessons is offers are universal: It writes that for the cultural elite in America, 

the country was clearly better off in 2016 than it was in 2008. Yet in 2016, 63 per cent of their countrymen and women were one pay check away from economic ruin. That the media still does not understand how perilous life in the U.S. has become for most of our people, or that it continues to overlook that reality, is shameful. And in a political sense, it provides a massive space for Trump to continue to occupy with the coalition of the disaffected that he assembled to win the presidency.

Further, that 

Salena Zito observed a month before the election that Trump’s detractors take him literally but not seriously, whereas his supporters take him seriously but not literally. After everything that has happened since then, somehow, this is still the case. On both sides of the Atlantic, wherever that equation continues to rings true, right-wing nationalists will gain ground.

That said, it is always easier to be black and white when one is in opposition. Now that Trump is in power, his campaign rhetoric will likely not match his ability to enact policies that will make life easier for working class Americans. So, the question is, will Americans still support him (or, to put it differently, will Americans still hate everyone but him) in two years’ time, for the mid-term Congressional elections or, more importantly, in three years’ time, when the primary season for the next presidential election begins again? I wrote back in November that, as Republican congressmen realise that Trump is increasingly on the nose, they will do what they can to get rid of Trump; that he will be impeached (or gotten rid of in some other constitutional back-stabbing) and Pence will become president-by-accident. But even when that comes true, the question as to when the mass media will learn why populism is rising might still not have been answered…

An Example of the Continuum 


Here’s an article by a Turkish writer about the efforts of Hezb u-Tarir to re-establish the Caliphate. As the article points out early on, establishing the Caliphate—which is the goal of Islamic State, for instance—isn’t a goal limited to violent Islamist groups. Rather, it is the goal of all the groups on what this blog labels the Sunni Islamist Continuum. Hezb u-Tarir is a little further along the Continuum than the Muslim Brotherhood, but not as far along as Hamas, which isn’t as violent as al-Qaeda or Islamic State.

The Trump Doctrine?


Here’s a good article from the Washington Post. It shows the possible, embryonic formation of a ‘Trump Doctrine’, which will work to stop conflict in the short-term, but not in the long-term. After disastrous Obama Doctrine (appease enemies and distance friends, forcing them to work for themselves) and Bush Doctrine (militarily impose democracy on countries not ready for it) has created an extraordinary unstable and dangerous Middle East, this Trump Doctrine, if this is what is it, is more bad news.

Plan or coincidence?


I’m not sure if I agree with everything in this report, but it looks pretty interesting. It’s suggestion that a Russian-US-Arab (including Israel) axis is crystallising against Iran is a bit farfetched. For one, Russia would not join such an axis, but would cooperate with it (or, rather, stop cooperating with Iran) if it were to somehow serve Russian interests. Second, the Arab (including Israel) front against Iran crystallised quite a few years ago – the Status Quo Bloc that this blog keeps banging on about. The difference is that, at least according to this report, the US has recognised the strategic imperative of strengthening this bloc, and is acting on that need.

This is good news, as long as decent strategic thought has gone into it. And, given what we think we know about the Trump Administration, there doesn’t appear to be much strategic thought going on. So maybe this is just a happy coincidence?

A view from Saudi Arabia


A young academic in Saudi Arabia has written an impassioned and respectful open letter to Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Salman about the challenges he ought to address.

It’s worth a read, even if the remarks on co-opting Wahhabi Islamism to modernity is a bit hopeful, and he essentially avoids the third interest group in the Middle East—what this blog dubs the Sunni Islamist continuum (and that Sunni Islamist movements and militias obtain substantial private Saudi donations).

Still, the recognition that Saudi Arabia has to move away from an oil economy (and hints on how to do that), the need to confront Iran and entertain relations with Israel are all important.

Designating the IRGC?


This article, from a pro-Saudi source, explores the ramifications for Iran if the US designates the entirety of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation. While the article only focuses on the positive outcomes (for the West and Saudi Arabia), and entirely minimises the role the Saudis have played in cultivating Sunni Islamists across the region (which has culminated in Islamic State), it’s still worth the read.

I note that Australian law makes clear that any organisation that supports terrorist activity may be designated a terrorist group. The IRGC does that, and more.

But the negative ramifications of designating the IRGC should be kept in mind. Iran would seek to punish the US and its friends; cue attacks against Saudi Arabia and Israel, and on Jewish targets internationally, by Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. 

Iran would also use the move as an excuse to abrogate the nuclear deal, and quickly accelerate its march to nuclear capacity and weaponry. (Beyond a desire to export its Islamic Revolution and influence across the region, Iran’s rulers are also deeply suspicious and paranoid about Western designs on Iran; the nuclear option is seen as an excellent defence against such nefariousness.*)

* This has long been used as an argument by apologists for Iran that the West ought to cut down its aggression against the Islamic Republic. But no matter what Western policies are or have been, Iran since 1979 has seen them as being designed to attack Iran, so it makes no difference.

Worth watching


An article worth reading reveals Hezbollah fighters are growing tired of their Iranian overlords in Syria, and are causing problems upon their return to Lebanon. A way to fix the situation might be for the Hezbollah leadership to refocus the fight against Israel, as opposed to against fellow Arabs. Watch for increased anti-Israel rhetoric and maybe, if things from a Hezbollah perspective get bad enough, attempts to spark renewed confrontation with the Jewish state.

Trump is having a positive impact


Don’t get me wrong—I’m no fan of Donald Trump and, given his ego- and anger-driven foreign policy-by-Twitter, much could change. But… Trump policies are having a positive influence in the Middle East.

Take this article from an Egyptian daily, for instance. It shows that Arab media are recognising that Israel is not the priority of Arab states; Iran is. It also shows that Egypt will be halting its rapprochement with Iran, and that Trump recognises Egypt as a Middle Eastern leader. This should help shore up the Status Quo Bloc, especially given the announcement that US troops will soon fight in Syria. It shows that the US is no longer retreating from the region. It’s this perceived retreat under Obama that created the vacuum allowing for Iran and Russia, in particular, to become bolder.