Ever since the Black Lives Matter movement exploded into the headlines, violence by American police officers has come under fire from activists and ordinary citizens alike. Less discussed, however, is how the US government winks at the police brutality of its client states abroad.
The military government in Egypt, for example, is cracking down hard on its restive citizenry—harder than any time in memory. And the United States, which sends the country over a $1 billion a year in security aid, is looking the other way.
The cops on the beat in Egyptian cities are a menace. They demand bribes from motorists on any pretense and mete out lethal violence on a whim.
Negative stories about the Middle East dominated Western news headlines in 2015. It’s easy for Americans, especially those who listen to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters, to get the impression that the region is just one miserable homogeneous place of violence, terror, religious fanaticism and authoritarianism.
When Saudi Arabia executed the Shiite cleric and political dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday, the country’s leaders were aware that doing so would upset their long-time rivals in Iran. In fact, the royal court in Riyadh was probably counting on it. It got what it wanted. The deterioration of relations has been precipitous: Protesters in Tehran sacked Saudi Arabia’s embassy; in retaliation, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties. More severe fallout could follow—possibly even war.
As holiday shoppers empty their wallets to buy presents for family and friends, there’s been an outbreak of miserliness among our politicians—directed at some of the world’s most helpless people.
At least 30 Republican governors, and one Democrat, are vowing to bar Syrian refugees from their states. One family was actually turned away at the Indiana state line when the local resettlement agency got a nasty phone call from the authorities.
Imagine that 58 million Americans were streaming into Canada and Mexico, many with only a small satchel and the clothes on their backs. Picture another 102 million residents of the Eastern seaboard seeking refuge with relatives in the Midwest and West.
That terrifying mental exercise gives a sense of the sheer, staggering scale of the Syrian refugee crisis.
Half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million has been uprooted since the country’s horrendous civil war broke out in late 2011. Over 4 million people have escaped to neighboring countries and beyond, while an additional 7 million or so are displaced within the country.
The nuclear agreement with Iran is an extraordinary feat of diplomacy.
First and foremost, non-proliferation experts agree that the deal blocks all of the routes to making an atomic bomb. There are provisions for rigorous inspections—so if Iran cheats, the world will know.
Second, it isn’t just Washington to whom the Iranians are accountable. All five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany too, signed alongside the United States. The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, will monitor Iranian activities on the great powers’ behalf.
Twenty million people in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, are at risk of dying from hunger or thirst. That’s 80 percent of the country’s population, which according to UN agencies badly needs emergency supplies of food and water, along with fuel and medicine.
This almost unimaginable crisis sounds like something out of a disaster movie. But the cause isn’t an earthquake or a tsunami.
The main reason for all this suffering is months of merciless bombardment and blockade led by the richest Arab countries—Saudi Arabia and its neighboring petro-princedoms—and backed by the United States. Washington’s providing the attackers with technical assistance, intelligence and top-shelf armaments.
As we witness today the escalating horrors across the Middle East—acute insecurity, combined with varying degrees of violence, death and destruction, from Libya and Egypt, to Syria, Iraq and now Yemen, we may want to recall the Algerian experience of the 1990s and consider some lessons to be drawn from it.
Algerians today have certainly not forgotten those “years of lead”: indeed, the absence of an Algerian “Arab spring” in 2011 had much to do with painful memories, weariness and disappointments from that recent past. But for the governments and peoples of the countries of the region currently in turmoil, Algeria, which is so near, appears so very far away. Let’s bring the Algerian experience back into focus.
Abinet spent six years completing her national service in one of Eritrea’s ministries, but when she joined a banned Pentecostal church, she was arrested, interrogated, threatened, released and then shadowed in a clumsy attempt to identify other congregants. She arranged to be smuggled out of the country in 2013 and is now in a graduate program in human rights in Oslo.
Like Abinet, hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers are landing on the shores of Italy. Eritreans are second only to Syrians in the number of boat arrivals, though the country is a fraction of Syria’s size and there’s no live civil war there.
It’s tax season again. How about a little accounting?
Every year, Washington sends $3.1 billion of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to Israel. It’s only fair to ask what Americans are getting in return.
That seems especially appropriate now.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is busy badmouthing the tentative nuclear deal with Iran, a major diplomatic achievement for the United States. And a few weeks ago, he declared his opposition to a Palestinian state, a long-standing US priority.
There’s not much good news coming out of the Middle East these days.
But one reason to take heart is the progress of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. Even as new conflicts sprout up elsewhere, a three-decade standoff between Tehran and Washington could be heading for a breakthrough.
The talks have gone more slowly than many supporters had hoped, with negotiators twice having to extend their deadlines. But that should come as no surprise.
After all, there’s over 35 years of mutual antipathy to overcome, and the technical details are tricky. Plus, Iran’s domestic politics — like our own — are complicated, with hardliners always accusing the pragmatic president of going soft.
For a moment, four years ago, it seemed that dictators in the Middle East would soon be a thing of the past.
Back then, it looked like the United States would have to make good on its declared support for democracy, as millions of Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemenis, and others rose up to reject their repressive leaders. Many of these autocrats enjoyed support from Washington in return for providing “stability.”
Yet even the collapse of multiple governments failed to upend the decades-long U.S. policy of backing friendly dictators. Washington has doubled down on maintaining a steady supply of weapons and funding to governments willing to support U.S. strategic interests, regardless of how they treat their citizens.
Don’t tell anyone, but the United States and Iran are getting closer — perhaps closer than ever — to letting go of 35 years of enmity.
No, Washington and Tehran aren’t going to be BFFs or anything.
But they do share a common interest in rolling back the so-called Islamic State, whose well-armed militants have declared an extremist Sunni caliphate stretching across Syria and Iraq.
The United States is anxious to restore the Iraqi government’s authority in oil-rich Iraq, while Iran is eager to defeat a murderously anti-Shiite militia on its western flank.
Once again, a U.S. president vows to eliminate an extremist militia in the Middle East to make the region, and Americans, safe.
And that means it’s time again for a reality check. Having failed in its bid to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States is still trying to dismantle both organizations. Over the course of 13 years of war, that mission has spread to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and West Africa, as militant groups on two continents have adopted the al-Qaeda brand.
President Barack Obama got it right when he declared: "There's no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that is led by the United States."
But his Iraq track record doesn’t mark much of an improvement over the mess his predecessor made.
Whoever made the decision to open the National September 11 Memorial Museum just a few days before Memorial Day was both bold and intuitive. The theme of remembrance unites both events, but the 9/11 memorial is a departure because it is dedicated to those so often forgotten in the recollection of national sacrifice—civilians.
Among the would-be therapists of the foreign policy world, the alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia is a textbook case of a “loveless marriage.”
Though the values of the two states are at odds, or so the thinking goes, the great democracy and the absolute monarchy are bound together by mutual interest in the stability of the Persian Gulf, home to almost half of the world’s proven oil and natural gas reserves.
A six-month diplomatic dance with Iran is underway—each step as dainty as a minuet because any misstep is weighted with danger.
The issue is Iran’s nuclear research program and the UN inspections that are taking place as a result. And while each side has its own agenda, they’re suspicious of the other’s motives.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was full of tough talk when he visited the island kingdom of Bahrain in early December.
The United States, he vowed, will continue to guard “the free flow of energy and commerce” from the Persian Gulf and keep Iran nuclear-free, through the presence of 35,000 US military personnel or the (as yet unproven) regional missile defense system.
Hagel also trumpeted the American commitment to “political reform” in the Gulf region. But the Pentagon chief uttered not a word about the hundreds of Bahrainis languishing in prison — many without adequate medical care — for demanding the very rights he says they deserve.
Whatever comes next in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, the State of Israel is here to stay.
To acknowledge this fact is not to nod to Israel’s “right to exist” — people have rights, states are supposed to protect them — but to bow to the one-state reality in historical Palestine. There is but one sovereign entity in that territory and there is presently no combination of political forces that can produce a second or compel the first to surrender its sovereignty. Anyone who would see peace in Israel-Palestine must first grapple with the many implications of the one-state reality.