The U.S. Should Not Accompany Saudi Arabia Over the Cliff

Beheading-in-Saudi-ArabiaLike other totalitarian regimes that have no legitimacy and no base of support, the Saudis are wrapping themselves in religion. Saddam Hussein in the 1990s and currently Bashar al-Assad – the heads of the Baath party in Iraq and Syria – both played the religious card. However, Baathist doctrine in Iraq and Syria is basically irreligious. The Saudis are using religion as their excuse now, labeling the recent mass executions as preserving their religion when they are actually a message to frighten their citizens into submission.

Early in the Arab Spring of 2011, out of fear of losing its grip on the country’s citizens, the Saudi government allocated $35 billion in open giveaways and services to Saudi citizens. Although this monetary inducement succeeded in tamping down any thoughts of revolution at the time, the Saudis only deferred the day of reckoning. The impulse to fight against the sense of injustice is strong among those who live in that police state, with no democracy, andobscene inequality (many Saudi residents are working residents, with no rights at all).

The Saudis began this new year by executing 47 citizens on January 2, some by the barbaric method of beheading. These executions came after a total of 158 in 2015. Presumably the Saudi government sought to begin the year with a warning that it will not tolerate the crime of opposing the Saudi regime. These executions, some of them for people who merely spoke out against the state, is a slap in the face of all those democracies in the world.

Most of those executed were Sunni, and the executions were designed to frighten the overwhelmingly Sunni population of Saudi Arabia into silence. At the same time, the inclusion of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr sent a similar warning to the Shiite minority. It also served to divert the attention of the world from the cruel executions to the conflict between Shia and Sunni and to drag in Iran as the guilty party. Sheikh Nimr’s crime was to actively oppose the Saudi regime and call for better treatment of the 20% of Shiites in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Sadly, Iranians fell for the Saudi trap and set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Although President Hassan Rouhani and many of the political and military leaders in Iran – with the exception of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – condemned the setting of fire of the Saudi Embassy, Saudi Arabia went ahead and closed their embassy in Tehran. Their strong allies Bahrain, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates closed their embassies as well to show support for the Saudi regime.

The Saudi effort to sustain the life of their regime is broad and profound. For decades, Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars for madrasas and mosques that spread their Wahhabi brand of Islam, and has funneled comparable sums to insurgents such as the al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and Jubhat al-Nusra directly and indirectly through covert operations. The Saudis support all those who oppose Assad in Syria. They seek to sway the outcome of Sudan’s civil war and install their puppet regime in Yemen.

The Saudis also claimed that the Houthis in Sudan are Iranian proxies, and even though much of the U.S. media accepts this claim at face value the evidence is slim. The Houthis are a different sect than Iranian Shiites. Iran has no troops in Yemen. Moreover, Iran is separated from Yemen by a large Gulf. Furthermore, Iran has not invaded Yemen as the Saudis did with support from the United States by positioning a carrier near Yemen.

The Saudis have contributed a great deal to fueling two civil wars — Syria and Yemen — without any consequences. And neither war has resulted from religious differences but rather because of Saudi efforts to fend off any challenges to their corrupt regime.

Saudi Arabia is on a dangerous path. Its fortunes are receding. The price of oil has dropped to 30 dollars per barrel. The country is spending $1 billion monthly on its reckless invasion of Yemen, while its citizens suffer from an economic downturn. The regime is attempting to bolster its authority by threat of death, rather than the promise of reform.

When President Obama took office in 2008, he correctly rejected the past policy of supporting non-democratic, corrupt, and abusive regimes simply because they are strategic partners of the United States. The Arab Spring of 2011 brought hope that democracy might just have a chance in the Middle East. But the task has proven to be exceedingly difficult, as events and policies in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Yemen have led President Obama to continually retreat from his policy of distancing the United States from these totalitarian regimes.

Saudi Arabia’s recent mass executions represent a significant test to the United States. Our founding principles of freedom and democracy are being torn to shreds in the last throes of the Saudi regime. The United States should not blindly march in lock step with Saudi Arabia to the edge of the cliff of fire and destruction in the Middle East.

 

Adil E. Shamoo is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, senior analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, and the author of “Equal Worth – When Humanity Will Have Peace, 2nded.” He can be reached at ashamoo@som.umaryland.edu

Dangers of U.S. Addiction to Regime Change

Adil E. Shamoo

On the last day of the Paris climate talks, President Barack Obama issued an ominous warning to Russian president Vladimir Putin against intervening in Syria’s civil war to preserve President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. To emphasize his desire for regime change, Obama declared that al-Assad must leave his office as a condition of any negotiation.

Coupled with the refusal to negotiate with any group as long as they do not accept the ultimate goal of Assad’s removal from power, this insistence for regime change makes it impossible for several important groups, including Russia, to come to the table. ISIS’s main territories are in Syria and Iraq. Many Americans believe that our primary mission in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East should be to destroy ISIS; regime change should not be an obstacle to that primary goal.

Obama elaborated on his remarks by reminding Putin of Russia’s defeat in Afghanistan and the large losses they encountered during their fight in the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s. (Obama left unsaid that Russia’s losses in Afghanistan were due primarily to the U.S. arms and training provided to the Taliban in their war with Russia. The Taliban’s most lethal U.S. weapon was the U.S.- supplied infrared guided missiles to shoot down Russian jets.)

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How U.S. Interventions Dismembered the Middle East

For the last few decades in the Middle East, the policy of western powers — led by the United States — has been to ensure the flow of oil; maintain stable and secure allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf States, Egypt, and Israel; and maintain military and economic influence when needed. Usually these ends were met through economic or military-to-military partnerships.

After September 11, however — with a big push from the neoconservatives — U.S. policy toward the Middle East lurched toward overt military intervention, such as the one in Iraq in 2003.

The goal was to spread U.S. influence and secure supposed U.S. interests by regime change. So U.S. policy planners looked for a weak and corrupt regime that enjoyed little support from its people (in this case, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq), and cooked up a justification for the military intervention (in Iraq’s case, the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction).

 

The invasion triggered tremendous sectarian violence and a violent insurgency against the U.S. occupation, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq and the overall destruction of a society of some 30 million people. The occupation also led to a surge in suicide bombings and the emergence of the Islamic State, two horrific developments that continue to plague the country to this day. The sectarian tensions between Shia and Sunni, meanwhile, combined with greater Kurdish autonomy, have led to the effective break-up of Iraq.

The United States supported military intervention again in Libya, four years ago. Although Washington claimed that it was intervening only to prevent large-scale civilian casualties at the hands of the Libyan government, it ended up supporting a full-scale regime change that culminated in the death of Muammar Gaddafi. Today, Libya is in chaos, with several political and territorial factions fighting for power.

Syria has had a corrupt and dictatorial regime for decades, first under Hafez al-Assad and then, since 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad. In 2011, Bashar al-Assad faced a nonviolent uprising from a large segment of his people. In the first year of the Syrian uprising, the rebellion was secular and nationalistic. But his violent repression of the protests ignited the country’s sectarian fissures, alienating the country’s majority Sunnis while driving minority populations like Christians and members of Assad’s Shia Alawite sect into the arms of the regime, turning a previously nationalistic uprising into a violent sectarian bloodbath.

Now the Islamic State, or ISIS, controls the east and much of the north. Assad controls the west. Kurdish groups control fragmented regions in the north and northeast. Dozens of other factions — such as Turkmen, the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and many other opposition groups — control smaller areas all across the country. Over 200,000 Syrians have been killed, and over half of the country’s 23 million people have been displaced.

The country, in other words, is ripe for dismemberment. Its military is weak, its central government is reduced to a rump state, and the regime enjoys ever-diminishing support from the (shrinking) populace.

Syria’s neighbors are all contributing to the centrifugal tensions within the country. Turkey, a Sunni country with a long border with Syria, has funneled money to anti-Assad rebels while also training its fire on the anti-ISIS Kurds. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated Gulf States, fearful of Shiite Iran’s influence in the region, have sent billions of dollars to anti-government rebels to establish a Wahhabi Sunni government. They’ve relied on Turkey to look the other way as money, arms, and trainers have poured over its borders to the rebels, including Islamic extremists, while Iran and Hezbollah have intervened on the side of the regime.

Enter Russia. Without a warm-water port of its own, Russia has maintained a naval base at Tartus, near Latakia, since 1971 — and intends to keep it that way. After arming and supporting the Assad regime since the beginning, Russia began targeting rebels with airstrikes earlier this fall as they closed in on regime strongholds along the coast. After ISIS downed a civilian Russian plane over the Sinai, leading to the death of over 200 passengers, Russia intensified its bombing of targets in Syria with heavy airstrikes, bombardments, and cruise missile attacks.

More recently, Turkey downed a Russian jet after it allegedly violated Turkey’s airspace for a total of 17 seconds. Local Turkmen militiamen shot one pilot and Assad’s forces rescued the second. Russia accused Turkey, and especially Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of planning the episode, and indeed many military experts were skeptical of a shoot down after only 17 seconds incursion. In response, Putin increased Russian hardware in Syria, including sophisticated missiles capable of shooting down any airplane over Syria, and also accused Turkey of buying ISIS oil. Recently, the Turkish government jailed two journalists who released a video of arm shipments from Turkey to Syria.

President Barack Obama won election in 2008 promising an end to “dumb wars,” and since then he’s vowed to avoid major troop commitments. Yet even after all the fallout from recent interventions — including, more recently, the spread of ISIS terrorism to Europe — foreign policy hawks keep pushing Obama to send ground troops to Syria.

He would be wise to reject their advice. Syria is in need of a ceasefire, not more bombing from the world powers. On the verge of dismemberment, the country needs a negotiator to bring all sides together without prior conditions. Are members of the UN Security Council ready to listen before it’s too late and Syria completely falls apart?

Adil E. Shamoo is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, and the author of Equal Worth – When Humanity Will Have Peace. He can be reached at ashamoo@som.umaryland.edu and blogs at forwarorpeace.com .

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Rise Of Islamophobia & Anti-Arab Racism In America

ADIL E. SHAMOO

Mosque Dar Al Taqwa (Credit: Huffington Post) December 1, 2015 – Segment 2

We look at the recent upsurge in Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. With: Zainab Chaudry, Maryland Outreach Manager, Council on American Islamic Relations; Dr. Adil Shamoo, Associate Fellow for the Institute for Policy Studies, Senior Analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, and author of Equal Worth: When Humanity Will Have Peace; and Dr. Steven Salaita, Edward Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut.

An immigrant crisis and a crisis in leadership

The family story goes like this: at 9 years of age, my great-grandfather left Russia, walked across Europe and made his way to a boat that took him to America. He raised his family in Baltimore, over his candy store. His fine family became contributors to our great American story: a doctor, an engineer, a nurse and my grandmother, all of whom raised their own families who went on to contribute to our nation of opportunity.

Who knows what terrors sent this boy to a new world? Russian Cossacks burning his village? The loss of a family?

It is the most American of stories. Pilgrims escaped to the New World to practice their religion as they wished. Waves of Europeans, Asians, Africans and more have followed, many escaping horrors in their home nations. Our nation of brave innovators, creative thinkers and hard-working families was built by those who knew the work was worth it, because it was here that a good new life could begin.

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International News Roundup: The Islamic State In Depth

Marc Steiner Show – NPT, Baltimore

Click:  http://www.steinershow.org/category/podcasts/ 

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In this June 23, 2014, file photo, fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo/File)October 6, 2015 – Segment 2

Our panel offers an in-depth perspective and analysis of ISIS. With: Dr. Adil Shamoo, Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, Senior Analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, author of Equal Worth – When Humanity Will Have Peace, and blogger at ForWarOrPeace.com; and Loretta Napoleoni,consultant to international organizations on counter-terrorism and money laundering, author ofIslamist Phoenix: Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East, and 2011 recipient of the Singapore National Critics Choice’s Best Nonfiction Award in Economics for her bookMaonomics.

The U.S. Is Betraying the Kurds — Again

Turkey’s offering Washington a fig leaf of cooperation against the Islamic State, but it’s turning all its firepower against the most effective anti-ISIS fighters in the region — the Kurds.

By , September 4, 2015

syria-kurds-pyg-pkk-kurdish-fighters-turkey

In the country’s last election, the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost its majority in parliament. Though it retained a plurality of seats, it was the party’s biggest setback since coming to power at the beginning of the century. Since then, it’s been unable to form a governing majority.

A major contributor to the setback was the newly formed People’s Democracy Party (HDP), a Kurdish-led party supported by a number of other liberal groups in Turkey. HDP won 13 percent of the popular vote, enough to establish a bloc in parliament opposite Erdogan’s AKP. Erdogan has complained bitterly about the result, and even attempted to strip the party’s leaders of their parliamentary immunity — because, he claims, they collaborate with terrorists linked to the Kurdish resistance group PKK.

Failing in this, Erdogan has called for a snap election in November, hoping to win a majority again by denuding HDP of its popular support. And to do that, he’s brazenly restarting Turkey’s war the PKK in a cynical bid to rally Turkish nationalists to his own banner.

All that’s bad enough. Even worse is that he’s marshaling U.S. support to do it — all under the banner of collaborating against the Islamic State, or ISIS. Erdogan’s government has promised to increase Turkey’s collaboration with the United States to fight the group, all the while directing its firepower against Kurdish positions in Turkey and Iraq.

In fact, Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic and outspoken leader of HDP, has accused Erdogan of helping ISIS by allowing the group’s members to cross the Turkish border with Syria. Demirtas has long fought for democracy and human rights for the Kurds and other minorities in Turkey.

If Washington goes along with this scheme, it won’t be the first time it betrayed the Kurds.

Back in the 1970s, the U.S.-backed shah of Iran encouraged and supported a Kurdish rebellion for autonomy in northern Iraq against Saddam Hussein’s regime. The U.S. promised to help the Kurds at the time. Yet soon after Iran and Iraq signed a border agreement, Iran cut off its support — and so did the United States. Hussein crushed the rebellion, inflicting over 100,000 casualties.

Foreign policy, the notoriously callous Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reflected at the time, “should not be confused with missionary work.”

Later, during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the U.S. government provided intelligence to Hussein’s government even as it knew he was launching gas attacks on Iranian soldiers, and later on Kurdish civilians — most notoriously in the Halabja massacre of 1988.

Despite this history, the Kurds are the most loyal and effective U.S. allies in the region, thanks to a number of shared rivals (and not least to Washington’s falling out with Hussein). Left-wing Kurdish fighters in Syria in particular are among the most daring and effective forces against ISIS. No less than U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has praised them.

There are 30 million Kurds in the Middle East, about half of them in eastern Turkey. The rest are scattered across Iraq, Iran, and Syria. In Iraq, they govern a semi-autonomous region with most of the trappings of an independent state. But Turkey has long vowed to crush any Kurdish state — whether in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, or Syria — because Turkish nationalists say it threatens the unity of Turkey.

Erdogan hasn’t always had such a toxic relationship with Turkey’s largest minority. Indeed, after coming to power in 2002, he allowed the Kurdish language be taught in their schools, encouraged Kurds to participate in parliamentary elections, and allowed them to express their cultural and religious beliefs. Erdogan received praise and support from the Kurds and other minority groups, even attracting significant Kurdish support for his past electoral bids.

The crowning achievement came two year ago, when Turkey negotiated a ceasefire with the PKK, presaging an end to a decades-long conflict with the Turkish state that had claimed tens of thousands of lives.

But it wasn’t to last. Unrest in Syria and Iraq allowed Kurdish fighters there, many of whom are tied to the PKK, to consolidate their power as ruling regimes melted away, sparking concern in Ankara. Combined with an increasingly ambitious Erdogan’s frustrated electoral prospects, it made for a deadly combination.

All it took as a spark, which came when Kurdish fighters killed two Turkish border guards in Suruc following a massive suicide attack by ISIS that killed dozens of Kurdish civilians. In response, Erdogan launched airstrikes on Kurdish positions in both Iraq and Turkey, prompting retaliatory attacks. Casualties are on the rise.

Why would Washington tolerate such attacks on the region’s most effective anti-ISIS fighters? Because Erdogan offered a big carrot: He’s allowing the U.S. to use his military base at Incirlik, near the Syrian border, to attack ISIS positions in Syria. Yet Erdogan himself has directed much more firepower at PKK forces in northern Iraq. Meanwhile he’s arresting left-wing and Kurdish activists in Turkey itself.

Erdogan even extracted a NATO pledge to battle the PKK and its affiliates, along with ISIS, on the ground that they’re all terrorists. It’s disturbing to see NATO becoming an instrument to suppress minority rights. Many question the sincerity of Erdogan in fighting ISIS when his efforts are primarily directed at his political opponents at home. Washington should ask itself whether opening a new front against ISIS is worth betraying a valued ally yet again.

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