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Reasoned Comments

Original essays, research notes, and reports

Jamal Khashoggi: Casualty of the Trump administration’s disregard for democracy and civil rights in the Middle East?

Jamal Khashoggi: Casualty of the Trump administration’s disregard for democracy and civil rights in the Middle East?

by David Mednicoff*

The international crisis over whether top Saudi Arabian leadership murdered U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a striking example of the consequences of Donald Trump’s blanket disregard for democratic politics and human rights in other countries. This departure from decades of American foreign policy rhetoric remains comparatively undiscussed.

However, in the Middle East, my area of expertise, I believe this Trump policy shift opens the door to exactly the sort of flagrant attacks on individual freedom and safety that likely recently claimed Khashoggi.

Most criticism of Trump’s foreign policy has focused on two other major departures from decades of past American practice.

First, Trump has rejected the cornerstones of the post-WWII international order largely built by the U.S.: deep alliances among Western democracies and global free trade. Second, Trump has shown an affinity for authoritarian rulers, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, which has undermined American interests.

Yet, the Trump administration’s abandonment of support for democracy and civil rights hurts the interests of both Middle Easterners and Americans.

Did the US walk the walk?
In the past, U.S. leaders and officials within the government have shown interest in political rights and government accountability in other countries. Such talk has nonetheless often taken a back seat to considerations of geopolitical power or resources. Continue reading

Hajj: how globalisation transformed the market for pilgrimage to Mecca

Hajj: how globalisation transformed the market for pilgrimage to Mecca

by Seán McLoughlin*

More than 2m Muslims are currently gathering in Mecca ahead of the annual Hajj, which begins on August 19. As long as they are fit and financially able, the pilgrimage is an obligatory act of worship that followers of Islam owe to God once in their lifetime. Reenacting the faith-testing ordeals of Ibrahim (Abraham, the Biblical founder of monotheism) and his family, Muslims believe that an “accepted Hajj” will cleanse them of all their sins. Their hope is to return home as pure as the day they were born.

But until the introduction of modern transport systems, most Muslims beyond the Arab world had little expectation of completing this fifth and final pillar of Islam. Before the mid-1950s, the number of overseas pilgrims rarely exceeded 100,000 and modern Saudi institutions were still developing. Yet by the early 2000s, the total number of Hajj pilgrims had passed the 2m mark, reaching a recent peak of just over 3m in 2012.

New opportunities for pilgrimage in the jet age have put immense pressure on the infrastructure of Mecca. Hundreds have lost their lives during periodic disasters including fires and stampedes, most recently in 2015. Undoubtedly, the Saudi authorities have invested huge sums in continually seeking to improve facilities and the overall management of the Hajj. Hajj organisers and guides I have interviewed compare overseeing the pilgrimage to hosting the Olympics every year.

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Terms of the #IdlibDeal: Copies of the official document released by the governments of Russia and Turkey

Terms of the #IdlibDeal: Copies of the official document released by the governments of Russia and Turkey

Leaders of Russia and Turkey have agreed to create a demilitarized Idlib buffer zone in Syria’s northwestern province to separate government forces from rebel fighters based there.

The Russian president said that under the deal, all heavy weaponry, including tanks, rocket launch systems and mortar launchers operated by rebel groups would need to be pulled out of the buffer zone by 10 October.

Copies of the document the

two leaders signed was forwarded to the UNSC are displayed below.

Cover letter
Terms of the Idlib Deal

_________

 

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Has the Syrian government used chemical weapons in ISIS -held territories?

Has the Syrian government used chemical weapons in ISIS -held territories?

With every military operation in areas held by the so-called moderate opposition fighters, Western governments accuse the Syrian government of having planned to use chemical weapons or of having used chemical weapons. In the latter case, they responded by bombing sites and assets that allegedly enabled the government to use such weapons. So has the Syrian government used chemical weapons and if so, why?

Western governments explain the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons this way. The chemical attacks occurred in areas where the Syrian government encountered stiff resistance. The Syrian government uses weapons of mass destruction to speed up military operations or to force armed groups to surrender. However, based on this reasoning, one would expect the Syrian government to use chemical weapons against the most hardened fighters, again, for speedy victory or to force surrender. 

Trump’s reflexive impulse to reach for superlatives will doom his Iran sanctions regime

Trump’s reflexive impulse to reach for superlatives will doom his Iran sanctions regime

Trump’s inclination to invoke superlatives to demean persons he does not like and to praise himself or persons he likes is well documented. Almost all his short and long statements would include some superlatives.
His tweet announcing the start of the Iran sanctions is no exception.

The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!

Logically, if these are “the most biting sanctions ever imposed”, how can they be even more so in November? Logical consistency aside, let’s assume that this round of sanctions is “very biting” and the next round will make them “the most biting” sanctions ever. The stated goal of the administration is to reduce Iran’s energy export (oil and gas) to zero. Of course, reducing the sales of something the Iranian government depends on to zero will be unprecedented, and will deserve the superlative descriptor should it be achieved. However, we already know that that will not happen because three of the top energy buyers, China, India, and Turkey have stated publicly that the sanctions are outside the UNSC and as such they are unilateral, they were imposed in contravention to a deal endorsed by the UNSC and signed by the P5+1, and they encroach on national sovereignty of other nations, and as such these states will not abide by the new and re-instated US sanctions. In other words, they will continue to purchase Iranian oil and natural gas, not to do Iran a favor, but to protect their own national interests.

As to sanctions related to other services and products (auto parts, banking, and gold, etc…), that, too, may not achieve the sated goals. In fact, it may backfire.


On the day the first round of sanctions took effect, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini, after having spoken to Iranian officials, said the following: 


“We are encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to increase business with and in Iran as part of something that for us is a security priority.”

This is very important. Aware that US secondary sanctions (sanctioning companies that deal with Iran) would discourage large companies with complex and large operations in the US from doing business with Iran, EU leaders are willing to offer added incentives to small and midsize companies to do business with and in Iran. This means that smaller companies that do not have no economic ties to the US or have no significant operations and investments in the US would be encouraged (through economic, financial, and legal incentives) to do business in and with Iran. Moreover, the EU leaders also threatened EU companies with sanctions if they abandon deals with Iran.

Should these sanctions last longer than the current term of the US president, the EU measure could offer larger companies the loophole they need to evade US sanctions. They could sell their interests and investments in Iran to these companies, or they could spinoff some operational divisions to avoid EU sanctions. 

Iran does not seem to have any interest in the US market or in US companies. Their priorities is to remain connected to the global market. The EU legal and economic measures such as increasing small companies (and privately held ones) to do business with Iran will allow the latter to remain connected to the global market, which would allow them to focus on their more reliable partners like China, Russia, India, and the Koreas. 


As Harley-Davidson, Inc. reminded us when it announced it was moving some production out of the US and into the EU to sidestep paying high tariff, large business companies have a responsibility to their shareholders not to politicians. They are, by nature, multi-national. In other words, they will seek profit wherever they can find it and move all or some of their operations to any country that would maximize their profit. 


In this particular dispute, it would seem that the world community’s interest in global security (limiting nuclear proliferation) favors upholding the Iranian deal. Given its track record thus far, this administration is motivated, in part, by undoing the legacy of its predecessor. That is not a basis for building and preserving international alliances and credibility. None of the signatories to the deal said that the Iran Deal was perfect, as are all other negotiated multilateral deals. Some Iranian leaders, too, were not happy with some of the terms of the deal. But this US administration is victim of its own quest for superlative goals. That may be a good business strategy. But it is not a practical political strategy. 


In the end, the all-or-nothing approach to Iran may lead to the only logical result: nothing. Because in politics, the domain of compromise, the quest for superlatives is a liability, not an asset.

_______
Ref. Iran Deal

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