Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

ISIS vs. Iran: which side should we be on?

June 7, 2017

The ISIS attack on Iran shows the alignment of alliances in the Middle East.

On one side, there are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and also Israel.

On the other, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

If the U.S. aim is to crush Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, why does the U.S. side with Saudi Arabia against Iran?

If you think Iran is the problem, ask yourself:

When was the last time that Iranian-backed terrorists attacked people in Europe or North America?

When was the last time that terrorists backed by Al Qaeda or ISIS attacked people in Israel?

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Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia

May 24, 2017

I came across this picture a couple of days ago and wondered what it was.

It is a ceremony conducted Monday in honor of the opening of the Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Saudi Arabia.

The participants touching the glowing orb are Egypt’s President Abdul-Fatah Al-Sisi, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and President Donald Trump.

The name of the center is ironic, because Saudi Arabia is the center for extremist ideology in the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia pays for missionaries to spread Wahabism (or Salafism), a highly intolerant version of Islam.  Wahabists believe that Shiites and other Sunnis are not true Muslims.

Hassan Rouhani

King Salman and his son, Prince Mohammad bin Salman, are  waging a bombing campaign against Shiite villagers in Yemen, is stepping up aid to rebels in Syria and is trying to organize a Sunni Arab military alliance against Iran.

Voters in Iran, meanwhile, have re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, the moderate reformer who negotiated the nuclear deal with the USA.

Rouhani is more democratic and peaceable than the hereditary Saudi rulers.  He has won honest and contested elections.  The range of choices in Iranian elections is limited because the ayatollahs vet candidates.  But you could say the same about U.S. elections, except that our candidates are vetted by big-money donors.

The Saudis seek regime change in Syria and Yemen; Rouhani seeks increased trade and investment.   In Middle East geopolitics, the Saudi monarchy is the aggressor, the Iranian clerical regime is the one on the defensive.

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Can the Saudis lure the US into a war with Iran?

May 19, 2017

Prince Salman meets with President Trump in March

The young new ruler of Saudi Arabia, Prince Salman bin Mohammad, is trying to organize an alliance of Sunni Muslim nations against Shiite Iran.

And President Donald Trump is expected to endorse an anti-Iranian “Arab NATO” during his forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.

This is a terrible idea.   It doesn’t benefit Americans and it risks a war that would be disastrous for both Americans and people in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is an enormously wealthy nation, but it is thinly populated and militarily weak.  It depends on the United States for its defense.  In return, the Saudis buy billions of dollars in armaments from American companies and pump oil in sufficient quantities to keep world oil prices low.

So the United States since the 1970s has sided with Saudi Arabia and also Israel against their geopolitical rivals in the region.   Once Saudi Arabia’s chief rival and threat was Iraq.  Now it is Iran.

This has nothing to do with making Americans safe from terrorism, and everything to do with promoting the strategic and economic interests of Saudi Arabia.

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Where ISIS gets its money

October 16, 2016

We finally know what Hillary Clinton knew all along — US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

What to do when the Saudi monarchy falls?

February 22, 2016
Secretary of State John Keller with King Salman bin Abdulazziz

Secretary of State John Kerry with King Salman bin Abdulazziz

Photo Credit: The Atlantic.

The United States, back to the times of Henry Kissinger and maybe Franklin Roosevelt, has based its Middle East policy on support for the Saudi Arabian monarchy.

Washington has treated the Saudi monarchy’s enemies (except for Israel, and maybe Israel is not that much of an enemy) as its own enemies—Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the ayatollahs in Iran, the Assad regime in Syria and even the Shiite community in Yemen.

In return, the Saudi monarchs have kept oil prices under control, charged for oil in dollars and deposited those dollars in U.S. banks, and bought billions of dollars with of weapons from American aerospace and defense contractors.

But Sarah Chayes and Alex de Waal, writing in The Atlantic, warn that the Saudi Arabian monarchy, like the rule of the Shah in Iran, cannot go on forever.   And like the Shah, the Saudi royal family is ripe to be overthrown  by militant, anti-American religious zealots.

The Saudi government has appeased these zealots by encouraging them to go wage jihads in foreign lands.  The best result, from the Saudi perspective, is that they die fighting and never come home.  The next best result is that their identities are known and they can be tracked.

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Saudi be-headings and Iranian hangings

January 13, 2016

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”         ==Bertrand Russell, in 1956

Execution in Saudi Arabia

Execution in Saudi Arabia

One thing to remember about the escalating Saudi-Iran conflict is that the two sides are more alike than they are different.   Both are countries in which you can be executed for expressing forbidden political or religious opinions.

The Iranian government has denounced Saudi Arabia for its execution of the dissident Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, along with 46 other opponents of the regime.  But the Iranian government in fact executes more people in any given year than the Saudi government.

Execution in Iran

Execution in Iran

The world death penalty leader is China, followed by Iran as No. 2 and Saudi Arabia as No. 3.

The Saudi government executes people by be-headings, which is gruesome but, if done by a skilled headsman, is relatively quick, even compared to U.S. electrocutions and chemical injections.

The main Iranian method of execution is by slow strangulation, which can take as long as 20 minutes.

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The recklessness of declining powers.

January 8, 2016

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, wrote the following for Al Jazeera America.

The escalating tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the story of a declining state desperately seeking to reverse the balance of power shifting in favor of its rising rival.

160104_saudi_iran-map_0History teaches us that it is not rising states that tend to be reckless, but declining powers.  Rising states have time on their side.  They can afford to be patient: They know that they will be stronger tomorrow and, as a result, will be better off postponing any potential confrontation with rivals.

Declining states suffer from the opposite condition: Growing weaker over time, they know that time is not on their side; their power and influence is slipping out of their hands. 

So they have a double interest in an early crisis: First, their prospects of success in any confrontation will diminish the longer they wait, and second, because of the illusion that a crisis may be their last chance to change the trajectory of their regional influence and their prospects vis-à-vis rivals.

When their rivals — who have the opposite relationship with time — seek to deescalate and avoid any confrontation, declining states feel they are left with no choice but to instigate a crisis.

Saudi Arabia is exhibiting the psychology of a state that risks losing its dominant position and whose losing hand is growing weaker and weaker. … …

Source: Al Jazeera America

The observations I quoted would be just as true if Parsi had substituted “the USA” for Saudi Arabia and “China” for Iran.  Since the Vietnam era, American political leaders have entered into conflicts just to prove that we Americans were strong and willing to fight, while the Chinese leaders have quietly made their country stronger.

I don’t know what the future holds for Iran or China, but I have no doubt that we Americans need to change direction or we will lose what power we have.

Saudi leaders heat up Sunni-Shiite conflict.

January 7, 2016

Saudi Arabia is heating up the Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East.  I think the U.S. government should think long and hard about letting the Saudis draw Americans further into it.

The Saudi Arabian government recently executed 47 opponents of the regime, including radical Sunni jihadists and the Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

I think this means that the Saudi government feels threatened by the radical Sunni jihadist movements, and wants to redirect their rage outward by stepping up the conflict with Iran and with Shiites generally.

Either Sunni jihadists are killed fighting in Syria and other places, or Saudi Arabia’s enemies—Iran and its ally Syria—are weakened.

Green indicates Shia predominance

Dark green indicates Shia predominance

The Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East involved families who’ve lived side-by-side in peace for decades.  Why are they at each others’ throats now?

I thinks that it is because the Sunnis and Shiites are used as proxies in a struggle for political power among Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Iran, Turkey and Israel.

And this is overlaid by an economic struggle for control of oil and gas resources and pipeline routes.   It so happens that Shiites, although a minority in the Muslim world as a whole, are a majority in the oil and gas regions.

And all this has been made worse by the murderous and ineffective intervention of my own country, the United States.

But the tragic conflict also is kept going by the need of the Saudi royal family to appease Wahhabi jihadist clerics.

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Who will fight for the U.S. against ISIS?

December 15, 2015

The Syrian situation reminds me of a remark by Adam Smith in (I think) The Wealth of Nations — about how masterminds who think of themselves as master chess players, using other people like pieces on a chessboard, will find the people they think they are manipulating are actually playing their own game.

image-931841-panoV9free-whwk-931841The aims of the U.S. government in the Middle East are, in no particular order, to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to counter the growing power of Iran and to destroy the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).

The bitter experience of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions means that the American people will not tolerate a large-scale intervention with ground troops, so American leaders, including the principal Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, look for pawns to carry out U.S. purposes.

Here is a rundown on these pawns and the games they are playing.

  • Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate governments, all predominantly Sunni Arab nations, fear the rise of Shiite Iran and Shiite power in Iraq much more than they do Sunni Arab ISIS or al Qaeda.   To the extent they fear ISIS and al Qaeda, it is more as an internal threat, and they are happy to see their local rebels go off to fight and maybe die for ISIS.   The Saudi government doesn’t crack down on individuals who contribute to ISIS because they reflect the beliefs of Wahabism (aks Salafism), the harsh version of Sunni Islam that rules Saudi Arabia.
  • The Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq are fighting ISIS effectively, but they are fighting to defend themselves and their goal of an independent Kurdistan, to be carved out of the existing territory of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, not as part of any overall “war on terror”.  They aren’t going to give up that goal just because it is inconvenient to the USA.
  • The Turkish government desires the overthrow of the Assad government in Syria and the suppression of Kurdish nationalism more than suppression of ISIS.  Oil from ISIS-controlled territory enters Turkey, and money and arms go from Turkey to ISIS.  Turkish politicians talk of the glories of the Ottoman Empire and of the unity of ethnic Turks across Asia.
  • The Iraqi government desires to prevent breakaway movements, whether ISIS, other Sunni Arab fighters or Kurds.
  • CQfwkI2WwAALwwnThe Sunni Arab militias and tribal leaders in Iraq blame the United States for overthrowing Saddam Hussein and setting up an Iraqi government dominated by Shiite Arabs, so they’re not willing to be U.S. proxies in a campaign against ISIS.
  • The Shiite Arab militias in Iraq hate ISIS, but their leaders distrust the United States and won’t work with Americans.
  • The “moderate Arab” rebels in Syria primarily desire to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and talk about fighting ISIS primarily to obtain U.S. weapons – many of which wind up in the hands of ISIS, al-Nusra and like groups.
  • The Iranian government desires to support Shiite Muslims against all enemies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey or ISIS, and to defend Syria and also Hezbollah, which represents the Shiite Muslims in Lebanon.
  • The Syrian government is an enemy of ISIS because ISIS is an existential threat to its existence.  But the Assad regime regards the other Syrian rebels and the Kurdish separatists as equally threatening

This leaves Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Putin justifiably fears the influence of ISIS and other jihadist terrorists on the large Muslim population in the Caucasus and other regions of the Russian Federation.  He also wants to defend Russia’s Syrian ally and keep Russia’s naval station in Syria.  But for him, the war against ISIS is a war of self-defense, not merely a means of extending Russian influence.

If fighting ISIS is the top U.S. priority, then the U.S. government should find a way to cooperate with Russia against ISIS.  If the U.S. government is unwilling to cooperate with Russia against ISIS, then fighting ISIS is not the top U.S. priority.

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ISIS law and Saudi law

November 21, 2015

Punishments_FINAL-01

LINKS

The Shared History of Saudi Arabia and ISIS by Madawi Al-Rasheed for Hurst Publishers.

Crime and punishment: Islamic State vs. Saudi Arabia by Rori Donaghy and Mary Atkinson for Middle East Eye.

Inhuman Monsters: Islamic State vs. Saudi Arabia by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

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Will Russia take sides in Shiite-Sunni conflict?

October 22, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

The Sunni-Shiite war is a tragedy, but it would burn itself out if Saudi Arabia and Iran were not using the two Islamic factions are proxies in their struggle for power in the Middle East.

The lineup is Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias on one side, and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Turkey and the Sunni militias on the other.

The U.S. government has inflamed the conflict further by taking the side of Saudi Arabia.  This has undermined our “war on terror,” because Al Qaeda and ISIS are among the Saudi-backed Sunni militias warring against Syria.

Now Russia is befriending Iran and giving military assistance to Syria, and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq is thinking of calling in Russian help.  All this is in the name of fighting ISIS, which is a good thing, not a bad thing.  But if Russia is lining up permanently with Iran’s proxies against the U.S.-backed Saudi proxies, this is quite another thing.

A U.S.-Russian proxy conflict would increase human suffering in the Middle East, and be of no benefit to the American or Russian peoples  It would be dangerous for the world..  Washington should open negotiations with Moscow to keep the conflict from escalating further.

LINKS

Isis in Iraq: Shia leaders want Russian air strikes against militant threat by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

The Return of the Syrian Army by Robert Fisk for The Independent (via Counterpunch)

Putin Forces Obama to Capitulate on Syria by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Turkish Whistleblowers Corroborate Seymour Hersh Report of False Flag Syrian Gas Attack by Peter Lee for China Matters.

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The truth about Saudi Arabia

October 15, 2015

Source: teleSur.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which punishes criminals by means of public be-headings, crucifixions, amputations and whippings.

Crimes include being a victim of rape, criticism of the Saudi ruling family and criticism of the Wahabi / Salafi sect of Islam, an extremist and radical form of Islam which is associated with terrorism and which the Saudi government is spreading throughout the world.

Saudi diplomats are in line to head the United Nations human rights commission.

All the American Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt through Barack Obama have pledged themselves to the defense of the Saudi royal family.

The reason:  Access to Saudi oil is considered vital to American national security.

The need for Saudi oil was shown during the 1973 oil embargo, when Saudi Arabia and six other Arab nations cut off oil shipments to the United States in protest of U.S. support of Israel during the Six Day War.

President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger soon persuaded the Saudi royal family that Communism was a greater threat than Israel.  Today Saudi and Israeli policy are aligned against Iran and Syria.

There is a resistance movement against the Saudi monarchy.  What will Washington do when and if it succeeds?

The documentary by Abby Martin of teleSUR is an excellent summary of the Saudi situation and the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

The passing scene – October 6, 2015

October 6, 2015

TPP: It’s Not a Deal, It’s Not a Trade Deal and It’s Not a Done Deal by Lambert Strether for naked capitalism.

Alabama Makes Photo IDs Mandatory for Voting, Then Shutters DMV Offices in Black Counties by Andrea Germano for Common Dreams.

It’s more dangerous to be black than to be a cop by Peter Moskos for Cop in the Hood.  Literally!

Saudi Arabia and the price of royal impunity by Richard Falk for Middle East Eye.  (Hat tip to my expatriate friend Jack)

Burundi’s solar plans forge ahead despite political unrest by David Smith for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to Jack)

The Radically Changing Story of the U.S. Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

CNN and the NYT Are Deliberately Obscuring Who Perpetrated the Afghan Hospital Attack by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  (Hat tip to Jack)

A story of hope: the Guardian launches phase II of its climate change campaign by James Randerson for The Guardian (Hat tip to Hal Bauer).

Glimpses of Asia – September 23, 2015

September 23, 2015

These are links from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.

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The-Palaces-Of-Memory-By-Stuart-Freedman-01-860x450_c

The Palaces of Memory by Stuart Freedman, review of a coffee table book of photographs of worker-owned coffee houses in India, by Peter Nitsch for The Cutting Edge of Creativity.

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Why the United States needs Saudi Arabia

September 8, 2015

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This chart, which I found on Ukraine’s Euromaiden Press web site, indicates how much Russia is suffering from the world decline in oil prices.

But why are oil prices falling?  It is because Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, is committed to pumping oil in large volume instead of shutting back in order to prop up the price.

What gives the Saudis so much leverage is that their production costs are low, and they can make a profit at a lower price than can Russians, Venezuelans or others.

That’s why the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, and why President Obama recently reassured King Salman that the U.S. will continue its cold war against Iran despite the agreement with Iran over sanctions and nuclear facilities inspections.

My question is whether it is in the U.S. interest to wage cold war against either Iran or Russia.  There is no moral issue here.  The Iranian and Russian regimes are bad enough, but everything bad you can truthfully say about them goes double or triple or maybe 10 times for Saudi Arabia.

Sanders’ progressivism stops at the water’s edge

September 3, 2015

Bernie Sanders is, from my point of view, very good on economic issues, pretty good on civil rights and civil liberties issues and not good on war and foreign policy issues.

He is a better champion of the interests of the American voting public than any other Democratic candidate, or any Republican.   He is not much of a champion of harmless people overseas who get in the way of U.S. military operations.

Bernie-Sanders-coverHe recently said that he’d continue President Obama’s drone killing policy, but in a kinder, gentler manner in which fewer people were killed.  He also has called for a more active military role for Saudi Arabia.

What I take this to mean is that he would continue the Bush-Obama policy of global military intervention, but in a way that minimizes American casualties.

The issue with drone killings is not the technology.  Drones can be highly useful in conducting military operations, and are preferable to dropping napalm bombs.

Drone killings, and Special Operations assassinations, are a Constitutional issue.  It is whether a President of the United States has the authority to sign a death warrant for anybody anywhere in the world, based on his sole authority without any accountability.

The secondary issue is that, as applied to poor, primitive, brown-skinned people in remote areas, the policy is to kill people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.   It is death by racial profiling.

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USA should join with Iran against ISIS

July 16, 2015

Israel and Saudi Arabia are not friends and do not even have diplomatic relations, but they work in parallel when it is in their national interest to do so.

Why should not the governments of the United States and Iran work together against our common enemies, the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) and Al Qaeda?

This would make more sense than trying to fight ISIS and Al Qaeda while making common cause with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates against the main enemies of ISIS and Al Qaeda.

axis.satan

Tom Jansson cartoon for The Cagle Post

Maybe this is what President Obama had in mind.  Maybe this is already U.S. policy.  If so, good!

Americans criticize the Iranian government for giving weapons and other help to armed factions in other countries, but that is no different from what the Saudis, the Gulf emirates, Israel and the United States itself does.  Iran’s current intervention in Iraq and Syria is at the invitation of the governments of those countries.

I think the violent conflicts in the Middle East, including the Sunni-Shiite conflict, would die down if Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, the USA and other countries agreed among themselves to stop giving weapons, supplies and money to the various battling groups.

Unfortunately that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.  But I have to say the such an agreement is more likely than other nations agreeing to be neutral while the US government continues conducting bombing campaigns and arming its own proxies.

Iran and the United States are neither friends nor enemies.  They are countries with their own interests, which sometimes overlap and sometimes conflict.

LINKS

Rethinking Iran by Kevin Schwartz and Arjun Singh Sethi for Counterpunch.

What went wrong in Afghanistan

May 19, 2015

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who makes connections that other people don’t see.

In his new documentary, Bitter Lake, he shows how Afghanistan has been a focal point of a three-way struggle among Anglo-American capitalism, Soviet Communism and Saudi Arabia’s radical extremist Wahhabist Islam.

While Soviet Communism has collapsed and Anglo-American capitalism is in crisis, Wahhabism is spreading and growing stronger.

Curtis doesn’t offer a policy for dealing with Wahhabism, but his documentary shows that mere firepower is not the answer, nor is providing money and weapons to prop up corrupt warlords and governments.   The First Rule of Holes applies: When you’re in one, stop digging.

The embedded YouTube video above is a history teacher’s abridgment of Bitter Lake which covers all the main points.  Click on Bitter Lake if you want to see the full version or if the embedded video doesn’t work.

Yemen intervention is dangerous for the US

April 21, 2015

The U.S. government should beware of being drawn into the conflict in Yemen.

The fight among Shiite Houthi militia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the government of Yemen are part of a wider Middle East conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

sunnishiitemap5_0

Source: Zero Hedge.  Click to enlage.

That religious conflict is overlaid with a conflict between two alliances of Middle East powers—Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Shiite militias on the one hand, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, the Sunni militias in Iraq and Syria and Turkey, with Israel as a silent partner, on the other.

Washington sides with Saudi Arabia and Israel.  I have come to realize that sanctions against Iran were never about the imaginary danger of nuclear weapons, but to keep Iran weak.   Now Iran has found an ally in Putin’s Russia.

This is a highly dangerous situation.  National governments are keeping the religious wars going by sending arms and money to the different religious factions.  But religious wars are not controllable.  Being drawn in to these wars serves no national interest of the United States, does not benefit the people of the region and puts the American people at risk of being drawn into a wider war.

The USA has had a strange relationship with Iran during the past 35 years.  While waging economic war against Iran, the U.S. government strengthened Iran’s position by defeating its main enemies, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.  A defeat of ISIS would further strengthen Iran.

By agreeing to end sanctions, the Obama administration appeared to accept Iran as a major power in the Middle East.  Now Obama is sending warships to checkmate Iranian power.

I’m by no means an expert on the religious and cultural geography of the Middle East, but I don’t see this ending well.

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The Saudi roots of extremist Muslim terrorism

January 13, 2015

A liberal blogger, Raif Badawi, has been sentenced by a Saudi Arabian court to 1,000 lashes, plus 10 years in prison, for “insulting Islam”.  He’ll receive 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks.  He got his first installment last Friday.

Raif BadawiHis crime was to critique interpretations of Islam by the intolerant Wahabi (aka Salafi) sect, which is the established religion in the Saudi

The Saudi ruling family lives in fear of terrorist Muslim extremists such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.  Yet the thinking of these movements is rooted in Wahabism, and the Saudi government spends hundreds of millions of dollars to spread its ideas through the Muslim world.

A few more thoughts about the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  If French don’t want their citizens of Arab origin to embrace radical Islam, they shouldn’t use Muslim as a synonym for Arab, any more than they would use Catholic as a synonym for native-born Frenchman or Frenchwoman.

Also, the Charlie Hebdo massacre has conveniently superseded the Senate torture report in the public mind.  The roots of extremist Islamic terrorism are also in Abu Ghraib and the graves of the more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians who died in the U.S. invasion.

This is not an excuse for terrorism or a plea for tolerance of terrorism.  It is a recognition of cause and effect.

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Global outrage at Saudi Arabia as jailed blogger receives public flogging by Ian Black for The Guardian.

The World Must Now Confront Salafi Teachings by Trudy Rubin for The Philadelphia Inquirer (via Crooks and Liars)

Moral Clarity by Adam Shatz for the London Review of Books.

 

The passing scene: Links & comments 11/17/14

November 17, 2014

What really happened in Beijing: Putin, Obama, Xi—and the back story the media won’t tell you by Patrick Smith for Salon.

Patrick Smith explained why the real winner in the new U.S.-Russian cold war is China.

Saudi Arabia is driving down the world price of oil, now about $80 a barrel, by putting oil on the market.  The main point, Smith wrote, is that the Saudis can make a profit so long as oil is priced at more than $30 a barrel, but the Russians, whose oil is harder to get, need a price of $104 a barrel.

The Saudis oppose Russia for supporting Syria and Iran, which are obstacles to Saudi influence in the Middle East.  Other oil-producing nations suffer collateral damage.  Venezuela is currently going through a political and economic crisis due to the fall in the price of oil.

Russia had helped the United States in its negotiations with Iran, by agreeing to reprocess uranium for the Iranians, which would remove the possibility that the reprocessing might be used to make Iranian nuclear weapons.  U.S.-Iranian negotiations also are collateral damage.

All this benefits China, which gets to buy Russian oil and gas at a bargain price.  China is expanding its influence in Asia offering attractive trade deals to nations that don’t want to be drawn into U.S. conflicts.

Ronald Reagan’s secret tragedy: How 70s and 80s cynicism poisoned Democrats and America, an interview of Rick Perlstein by Thomas Frank for Salon.

Rick Perlstein, author of the newly-published The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, said the roots of present-day politics go back to the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon governed based on short-term political gain, and candidate Ronald Reagan encouraged Americans to believe in the myths we tell ourselves.

Democrats meanwhile turned away from working people and New Deal liberalism and embraced an illusory non-partisanship.  This created a politics in which big-business conservatives can pose as  populists and the true representatives of working people.

Act of Faith: the Catholic priest who puts his life on the line to save Muslims in the Central African Republic by Sam Jones for The Guardian.

Father Bernard Kinvi is a true hero who lives up to the best teaching of his church.  His story is well worth knowing.

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/14/14

October 14, 2014

 Saudis Deploy the Oil Price Weapon Against Syria, Iran, Russia and the US by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

The Saudi Arabian government says it will allow oil prices to fall to $80 a barrel, an action that will hurt oil-producing nations such as Iran, Russia and the United States.  Saudis control so much of the world’s oil that they can set prices by increasing or cutting back on production.

This will be good for American homeowners and motorists as we face another severe winter, but it makes domestic oil and gas production, and also renewable energy, less competitive in the marketplace.  To the extent that the United States is increasingly dependent on its energy industry, this hampers the economic recovery.

Yves Smith quoted sources who think the Saudis are doing this to punish the U.S. for failing to overthrow the government of Syria.

Americans Face Post-foreclosure Hell As Wages Garnished, Assets Seized by Michaelle Collins for Reuters (via Business Insider)

Thousands of Americans lost their homes to foreclosures years ago, and thought they had closed the door on this part of their lives.   Now they find debt collectors coming after them for the unpaid balance.

The most aggressive of the debt pursuers are the two government-owned mortgage companies, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac).

Whose side is the government on?

Ebola Vaccine Would Likely Have Been Found By Now If Not For Budget Cuts by Sam Stein for Huffington Post.

Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said the NIH has been working on a vaccine for the Ebola virus since 2001, and would have found one if not for cuts in the NIH research budget.

Whether a vaccine really would have been discovered is unknowable.  But funds for research on infectious diseases should be increased, not decreased.  The Ebola virus will not be the last mutant killer disease that is invulnerable to known antibiotics.

 

The Saudi roots of ISIS and the 9/11 attacks

September 22, 2014

It is impossible for the United States armed forces to put an end to Islamic jihadist terrorism.

That is because Al Qaeda, ISIS and their ilk have their roots in a country that is off limits to American military action.

In the same of fighting terrorism, the United States has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, helped overthrow the government of Libya, is working to overthrow the government of Syria and has imposed sanctions on Iran.

President Obama visits Saudi Arabia in March

President Obama visits Saudi Arabia in March

Yet the U.S. government does not touch Saudi Arabia.   Osama bin Laden was a Saudi and so were most of the 9/11 hijackers.  Sections of a Senate report that allegedly implicate elements of the Saudi government in the 9/11 attacks have been blacked out and declared as classified information.

The Saudi government, along with Qatar and other Gulf sheikdoms, provided the funding for ISIS and the other radical jihadist groups now fighting  in Syria and Iraq.  All these groups are adherents of Wahhabism, the most radical and intolerant Islamic sect, which is based in Saudi Arabia and supported by the Saudi government.

Why would the U.S. government, through Republican and Democratic administrations, tolerate such a situation?

The U.S. “deep state”—the permanent part of the government that is untouched by elections—is committed to protecting Saudi Arabia in return for Saudi help in regulating oil prices and oil supply.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s richest countries, and one of its weakest.  The sparse Saudi population is incapable of defending the country against stronger nations such as Iraq or Iran.  But none of those nations dare attack Saudi Arabia so long as the nation is under the protection of the U.S. military.

The problem is that the source of the Saudi monarchy’s power, the force that enabled the House of Saud to conquer the Arabia peninsula in the first place, is the support of the Wahhabi movement, a highly strict Muslim sect which regards all other Muslims as untrue to the faith.

Wahhabi teachings are incompatible with the self-indulgent lives of many rich Arabs, including some of the members of the Saudi royal family, so the Saudis buy them off by subsidizing Wahhabi schools throughout the Muslim world, and supporting Wahhabi jihads, which, conveniently, are usually against nations such as Iran, Syria or the Shiite government of Iraq that are rivals to Saudi power.

The CIA on occasion found them useful tools as, for example, the overthrow of Qaddafi’s regime in Libya and the ongoing fight against the Assad regime in Syria.

Bandar-Rice-Bush-King-Abdullah

President Bush receives a Saudi delegation

The Saudis meanwhile have close ties with American politicians and business executives.  Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, was a leading light on the Washington social scene.  He was so close to the Bush family that his nickname was Bandar Bush.

Matt Stoller wrote an excellent article about this for the Medium news site.  He pointed out that the Saudi monarchy is not a unified government, but consists of different factions with different aims.  The Saudi leaders have to be concerned with keeping a balance of power between the different factions and are not in a position to act decisively against any one of them.

The same is true of the government of Pakistan, which he didn’t mention.  Evidently there are factions in Pakistan’s government that are pro-Taliban, factions that are anti-Taliban and factions that think the Taliban is useful in fighting proxy wars against India.

Such a balance of power cannot be maintained forever.  Sooner or later there will have to be a showdown the Saudi monarchy and radical jihadist fanatics. which the monarchy may not win.

Last week the top Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa condemning ISIS and calling for public executions of its members.  Saudi Arabia has staged public executions of ISIS members.  That’s a welcome change.  I wish I knew enough to judge whether the change is permanent and whether the crackdown applies to top people in the Saudi power structure.

I must confess I don’t know what to do to prevent a jihadist takeover of Saudi Arabia, or what to do when and if it happens.  But if we Americans can bring our covert foreign policy out into the open, and discuss what to do, we at least will not be taken by surprise.

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees free speech to all Americans.   Article One, Section 6, says Senators and Representatives cannot be called to account outside of Congress for anything they say on the floor of Congress.   It is high time they exercise these rights and powers.

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There’s nothing the U.S. can do to save Iraq

June 20, 2014

Here’s the lineup of forces in Iraq:

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ISIS militia.  Photo credit: Christian Science Monitor

 A  jihadist force known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  is conducting a successful rebellion against the Al-Maliki government in Iraq.

The Al-Maliki government is supported by the United States and the ayatollahs of Iran, and is hated by Sunni Arab Muslims in Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was supported by the United States and the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait when it was fighting the government of Syria, and is hated by the ayatollahs of Iran and by Shiite Arab Muslims in Iraq.

So the choices for President Obama are to align with a despised, corrupt (though legally elected) government under the influence of Iran, or to stand aside and do nothing to stand in the way of a murderous jihadist group sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

He either alienates the Shiite Muslims, who are the majority of Arabs in Iraq, or he alienates the Sunni Muslims, who are the majority of Arabs in the world.

And the only means he has to influence the situation are to provide military equipment to one side or the other or to wage war by means of killer drones.  We know how that has worked out.

I sympathize with President Obama in this situation.   He inherited the Iraq conflict, just as President Nixon inherited the Vietnam conflict.   Everything that has happened is a playing out of decisions made during the George W. Bush administration.  Even the timetable for withdrawal of American troops was set during the last days of the Bush administration.

I don’t know what the President thinks he can accomplish at this point, besides “security theater”—creating the impression he is doing something even though the actions are futile.  Whatever he does or doesn’t do, he will be blamed for “losing” Iraq.   Whatever he does or doesn’t do, the poor Iraqi people will suffer.

That’s how it seems to me.  What do you think?

LINKS

Why America Can Never Win in Iraq by Peter Van Buren for The Dissenter.

Who finances ISIS? by Andreas Becker for Deutsche Welle.   ISIS gets its money from bank robbery, extortion and sale of oil from wells in the regions it controls, but also reportedly from Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states.

The Gall of Dick Cheney by Charles M. Blow for The New York Times.  Hat tip to Hal Bauer for this link.

There Are No Good Guys in Iraq by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.  Well, there are good people in Iraq, as anywhere else, but none of them are in charge of the factions contending for power.

The Guns of Folly by Tom Engelhardt for TomDispatch.

ISIS Iraq Offense: Can the Empire Reassert Control of the Jihadists? by Glen Ford for the Black Agenda Report.

Lifelong Christian may die as a Muslim apostate

May 22, 2014

 A woman raised as a Christian, who has been a Christian all her life, has been sentenced to death in Sudan as an apostate from Islam, because her father was a Muslim.

Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced a week ago after refusing to renounce her religion and her marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian man born in Sudan and now a U.S. citizen.   She said her father deserted his family when she was a child, and she was raised by her Ethiopian-born Christian mother.  She said she never was a Muslim.

She is eight months pregnant.  Her husband, who is confined to a wheelchair, was allowed to visit her Monday.  He said she was shackled to a wall.  Her 20-month-old son, Martin, is in prison with her.

Sudan officials said the verdict is not final.  There has been a great international protest of the sentence, and I hope the Sudan government will force the religious court to back down.

What kind of a religion is this?  I believe that how you live is more important than your opinions about religion.  But suppose, for the sake of argument, that your soul is doomed if you do not believe that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet.  What is the point of forcing someone to give lip service to that belief, or any belief, against her will?

Does the court believe that God wants a hypocritical and unwilling submission?  Or do they think that God can be fooled into believing the conversion is sincere?

I do not believe that the Sudan religious court represents all Muslims.  History shows that intolerance is not an inherent part of the Muslim religion.  At certain times in history, persecuted Jews and heretical Christians took refuge in Muslim lands.

The problem is with a Muslim sect called the Wahhabis, who originated in Saudi Arabia and whose teachings are spread through the Muslim world by the Saudi monarchy.  They are among the few Muslim sects that persecute other Muslims.  Wahhabis are not necessarily terrorists, but Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda movement arose from Wahhabi teachings.

The rise of Wahhabism is a historical accident—the fact that the Ibn Saud family allied itself with the Wahhabi movement in its rise to power in Arabia, and the fact that so much of the world’s oil wealth is under control of the Saudi family.

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