Sabotaging Energy And Peace: Trump Moves To Undermine Iran Nuclear Deal (Forbes)

My latest article now on Forbes

Sabotaging Energy And Peace: Trump Moves To Undermine Iran Nuclear Deal

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

POST WRITTEN BY

Dr. Emran El-Badawi, Program Director and Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Houston

University of Houston Energy Fellows University of Houston Energy Fellows Contributor

Is sabotaging international agreements the “art of the deal?”

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would not “recertify” the Iran Nuclear Deal — fancy lingo for the U.S. government undercutting an international contract. Trump further designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist” group and authorized new sanctionsagainst them. Somewhere in the middle of this, the U.S. Congress is to decide the fate of the now-damaged deal with Iran.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is an Obama era policy limiting Iran’s nuclear program from ever including nuclear weapons, in exchange for much needed sanctions relief. Since the deal first took effect in July 2015, Iran has kept its end of the bargain and complied with the terms. One year into the deal, in 2016, analysts at the Brookings Institution concluded the JCPOA to be a “net positive” among supporters or a “new normal” compromise among detractors.

Even today Iran is “compliant.” Who says so? …CONTINUE READING

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Our Return to Perpetual War

The U.S. missile strikes against an airport military facility near Homs, Syria, has opened a new chapter in Syria’s bloody six-year civil war. A key question, even as the political and military fallout is still settling, is how dangerous this escalation will become.

The war already has claimed as many as 500,000 lives, and more than 12 million Syrians have lost their homes. The refugee crisis continues, along with the rise of terrorism and populism worldwide.

President Donald Trump ordered the airstrikes in retaliation for a chemical attack on April 3, an attack which claimed almost 100 lives, many of them children, and in which the Assad government and its Russian allies are implicated. Other reports, including from within the United Nations, claim it is likely opposition fighters in Idlib committed the atrocity, and so the blame game goes on as it has since the start of this conflict.

A number of concerns arise from these new developments. First, after six years of carnage, the Syrian people are increasingly the target of local and foreign governments in their own country. There seems to be no diplomatic or military solution that favors the Syrian people. Public discussion and analysis of the airstrikes and chemical attack are almost exclusively about assessing the merits or faults of Trump’s intervention, what Putin’s response will be, or to what extent the Assad government will be weakened.

At no point has there been substantive discussion or debate on how to throw all our weight behind diplomacy, twisting arms and non-lethal economic retaliation.

Second, how dangerous is this escalation? Will Putin tell Assad to take one for the team and bring down the conflict a couple of notches? Or will Russia come into direct conflict with the United States? The latter looms larger as the Russians have suspended the 2015 agreement “de-conflicting” Russian and Syrian airstrikes in Syria (whose originally stated enemy was ISIS).

Third, how much of this is a distraction from the altogether unstable Trump administration? With the sacking of Michael Flynn and the removal of chief advisor Steve Bannon from a coveted seat on the National Security Council and chief of staff Reince Priebus on apparently shaky ground, Trump can benefit from less attention on his unsteady first months in office. Or is this a distraction from the death toll in Mosul, where U.S. air strikes killed as many as 200 Iraqi civilians on March 24?

missile-strike-syria.jpg

(The Independant)

The GOP are, as expected, eager for war, as they were under George W. Bush and the catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Also, much of the media is spending its time juxtaposing the “action” of Trump’s airstrikes, versus the “inaction” of Obama’s attempt to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons. History teaches that either path – direct military engagement of Assad, or turning a blind eye – has large human and material costs.

The airstrikes come a week after Trump said removing Assad was no longer a priority. Supporters of the Syrian government claim the chemical was an act of sabotage by the opposition to frame Assad. The opposition claims that Assad was emboldened to get away with murder after Trump’s statements.

That doesn’t necessarily hold. Assad has been massacring the civilian population for years, before world’s own eyes. He could have been assassinated numerous times, but he was not. As in the chemical attack of 2013, it seems unclear to me why a brutal dictator already getting away with murder would need to switch from conventional weapons to chemical weapons. However, the fog of war is thick, and the patience of men has worn thin.

A last-ditch effort at diplomacy after the Syrian government and the Russians re-conquered Aleppo from opposition fighters in 2016 (and Homs in 2015) was squandered. This new round of airstrikes pushes the dream of a diplomatic solution even further afield. The U.S. is getting dragged into perpetual war in the Middle East once again, with no military strategy or intent for diplomacy.

My fear is that we as citizens of the most powerful country in the world are becoming inculcated in or addicted to war. Despite most Americans losing any desire for war after Iraq renewed threats of global terrorism and the rise of populism are once again feeding the Narrative of War. In this respect, the Trump Administration is merely following the unofficial handbook of American foreign policy, namely airstrikes and – if the political will permits – ground invasion. The Trump Administration does not appear to possess sophistication or imaginative capability to bring about a diplomatic solution.

Does this mean the only way to effect change on the world stage is through brute force? If we buy into this outmoded narrative – again – then the spread of global warfare and terrorism will become stronger and more inevitable.

Let us not forget one final mantra, perpetual war is good for perpetual business. Raytheon, producer of the Tomahawk missiles used to attack Syria, has seen its stock soar on the market. This is good for Trump, who owns Raytheon stocks, and all the other and other wealthy movers and shakers in the business of making war. This is to say nothing of energy and development contracts–the ‘spoils of war.’

In recent years, instability in the Middle East and deteriorating relations between Putin and Obama have made conflicts around the world a zero sum game. In the end, the U.S. or Russia and their so called allies will need to give up influence, cede territory and stop destroying sovereign nations if Syria is to have a future and the world a chance to stabilize. The sooner we all learn this the better.

Where are the Liberals in Syria & Egypt?

Conflict and reconciliation: “Arab liberalism” in Syria and Egypt 

By Emran El-Badawi

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Burhan Ghalioun, former Chair, Syrian National Council

“How did renewed autocracy in Egypt and civil war in Syria impact liberals differently? What lessons can be learned about the nature of liberalism in the greater Arab context from this comparative survey? This chapter seeks to answer these questions, first by following the reaction of liberals to the so-called Arab Spring, comparing a handful of intellectuals and academics in Egypt as well as Syria. The chapter goes on to focus on two of the most prominent liberals in each context, namely Gaber Asfour and Burhan Ghalioun. In each case, the role played by the armed forces vis-à-vis the public was critical to their rapid accession to power, and equally rapid fall….”

CONTINUE READING…

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Gaber Asfour, former Minister, Culture, Egypt

* Full article citation: Emran El-Badawi, “Conflict and Reconciliation: ‘Arab liberalism’ in Syria and Egypt,” Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism Illiberal Intelligentsia and the Future of Egyptian Democracy. Eds. Dalia Fahmy and Daanish Faruqi. London: OneWorld, 2017.

Religious Violence in the Middle East: Military Intervention, Salafi-Jihadism and the Dream of a Caliphate

In Spring of 2015 I delivered a talk in Colorado Springs to an audience of military service men and women, civilians and students at the University of Colorado. One year article the talk turned into this article. “Religious Violence in the Middle East: Military Intervention, Salafi-Jihadism and the Dream of a Caliphate,” Journal of Cultural and Religious Studies 4.6 (2016): 396-409 traces the root causes of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other Jihadist groups, offering some brief insight along the way.

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The Old Souk in 2007 (top) and 2013 (bottom) in Aleppo, Syria. (Guardian.com)

Religious Violence in the Middle East: Military Intervention, Salafi-Jihadism and the Dream of a Caliphate

By Emran El-Badawi, University of Houston, Houston, USA

Introduction

The so-called “Islamic State” (IS, ISIS, ISIL), by virtue of its name, forcibly imposed upon the world a religious as well as political agenda. Notorious for its gruesome execution videos, and sophisticated use of media propaganda IS killed over 9 thousand civilians in 2014 alone, the majority of which were Muslims. Yet IS asserts itself as the sole authentic carrier of Islam—an otherwise diverse religious body of 1.6 billion people, boasting fourteen hundred years of history. Its political agenda is realized with every city, province and territory it conquers from the all but collapsed governments of Iraq and Syria. Its signature claim and most salient undertaking has been the return of the Islamic Caliphate, fusing classical Islamic tradition with modern political warfare. However, as a state it is unrecognized by all its neighbors in the Middle East; and as an embodiment of Islam, it has been completely rejected by Islamic clergy and the public faithful.

One should, therefore, ask the question, from where does IS obtain its legitimacy for its approximately 30 thousand plus fighters? How Islamic is the so-called “Islamic State?” Why does IS justify barbaric violence against Sunnis, Shi‘ites, Christians and Yazidis is in the name of Islam? The fact that such minorities and still other more ancient as well as obscure groups have called greater Iraq and Syria home for two millennia is a living testament to the inherent tolerance and pluralism of traditional forms of Islam. So what are the “root causes” for the sprouting of IS’s poisonous ideology and how can we eliminate them? The answers to such questions are complex and hotly debated, among academics and policymakers alike. In order for us to get a complete understanding of IS we first need to examine the social, political and economic struggles that lead to the rise and menacing grip of violent religious fundamentalism in the name of Islam. This examination will take us through the Wahabi ideology of oil rich Arab gulf states, to the Salafi school which rose in the political and socio-economic turmoil of Egypt and greater Syria, and the spread of Salafi-Jihadism as a direct result of US military intervention.

Continue reading HERE!

After One Hundred Years — The Triple Entente Return to Syria

Triple Entente V Central Powers
Triple Entente V Central Powers

Despite vociferous opposition from British MPs and the clamoring protest of British protesters outside the parliament Prime Minister David Cameron has pulled it off — another vote by another western nation to make war and bring ruin to the Middle East that is. Its nothing new and this vote went forward before the world knowing, more than ever before, that bombing ISIS/ISIL targets in Raqqa, Syria irrevocably means killing civilians, and cannot ISIS anyway. The sheer criminality and foolish enterprise inherent in bombing Syria and Iraq has already costed over 4,000 civilians lives since the US and other wester nations started bombing there in 2011. After the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, Russia has been joined by France, and now the UK as the latest heroes of the “civilized world.”

And yet this does not tell the whole story. One hundred years ago (beginning 1915) it was Britain, France and the USSR who were bombing Syria and dismantling the Ottoman Empire into the highly volatile Middle Eastern states we have today. The trio was known as the “Triple Entene.” 1915 and the aftermath of World War I set the precedent for so many of the conflicts re-awoken in the region today: disenfranchising Sunni Arabs (by abolishing the caliphate), suppressing Kurdish independence and creating artificial borders now refashioned by ISIS.

Sykes-Picot, 1916
Sykes-Picot, 1916

History compels us to ask, what really are the trio doing in Syria? Bombing ISIS (and civilians) — sure. But, this new round of aerial bombardment in 2015 is part of a much larger context, one in which the UK, France and Russia are forcibly, violently — desperately — trying to put their century old Humpty Dumpty back together again. They scarcely notice, or care, that their belligerence in the region has created Frankenstein’s monster instead. What part of Frankenstein’s monster do we hazard to replace now? What border in Syria and Iraq does the New Triple Entente seek to erase and re-create? The game is doomed to fail.

Syria was lost years ago, when every single one of its neighbors penetrated her borders to make war. The questions now — from a historical perspective — is, what will the next Sykes-Picot (1916) looks like? When is the next Treat of Versailles (1919)? At what point will dividing and conquering the Middle East truly become the stuff of un-harming history text books, and not the most dangerous series of global military blunders in the 21st century?

A New Frankenstein? (muftah.org)
A New Frankenstein? (muftah.org)