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International Affairs

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

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.

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Ref. Iran Deal

Continue reading

The disintegration of the GCC could create a True PGC

The disintegration of the GCC could create a True PGC

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

During the last of week of November, the Emir of Kuwait sent out formal invitations to all leaders of member states of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, originally and still commonly known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to attend the 38th summit (December 5, 2017). The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates, declined, sending instead political appointees of the 3rd order to represent them, which must have been seen as a personal insult to the elder Emir of Kuwait, Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah. I believe that this event will mark the unofficial end of this regional intergovernmental organization and perhaps the creation of a better intergovernmental organization in that region. This conclusion is not based just on the snub described above. Rather, it is based on the very reasons that led to the creation of the GCC in the first place and the motives that sustain it.

The GCC was born out of fear and bigotry among undemocratic authoritarian rulers who felt threatened by any event that introduces a political process that would diminish the legitimacy of their own form of government. Throughout its history, the creation of the GCC was motivated by fear, rooted in ethnicism, steeped in bigotry, and driven by elitism.

The GCC was founded in 1981, two years after the fall of the Shah and a year after the Iraqi invasion of Iran (1980), a war that lasted until August 20, 1988. Membership was limited to Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain but excluding Iraq. While one could presume that Iran might have been excluded from this organization on account that it is not an Arab country, the founders provided no logical explanation for the exclusion of Iraq, which borders the Persian Gulf as well. However, it is the original exclusion of Iraq and its exclusion from a 2011 proposals to transform the GCC into a Union that signal the sectarian bias.

The GCC was formed with the aim of protecting the clan or family rule. Iraq was not ruled by a clan or family. Jordan and Morocco are.

The GCC was formed to protect the interests of Sunni Muslims. Iraq was and still is a Shia-majority country.

The GCC was created to preserve the supremacy of ethnic Arabs. Iran is a majority-Persian country. In their pursuit for promoting Arab supremacy, the founders of the GCC intentionally removed the word Persian from the name of the Persian Gulf–the name recognized by the UN and all other international organizations. The adjective “Arab” is used to name the Arabian Sea, on which the Persian Gulf opens and Iran has the longest shores along the Gulf than any other country bordering it, justifying the naming of the body of water, the Persian Gulf.

The idea that the GCC was created out of fear and to preserve an outdated political order can be further supported by its rulers’ attempt to expand its membership when they were also threatened by the 2011 uprisings popularly known as the Arab Spring. Then, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain pushed a proposal to transform the organization from a cooperative into a union and invited Jordan and Morocco to join. Justifying the need for these changes, the prime minister of Bahrain explicitly stated that “current events in the region underscored the importance of the proposal. Oman and Kuwait resisted the proposal, causing it to fail.

Most recently, the failure of the Saudi interventions in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen forced its rulers, again, to seek tighter control over decision making within regional organizations–like the GCC and the Arab League–to protect the clan rule from challenges spurred from neighboring countries. The drive for tighter control ruptured the artificial bond that connected the GCC member states, when Qatar refused to surrender all decision making to Saudi Arabia.

While the GCC summit was under way in Kuwait city, the rulers of UAE announced that they created a “committee for military, economic, political, media, and cultural cooperation between UAE and Saudi Arabia.” This announcement is essentially a step towards the creation of an alternative, but much weaker, GCC, which would be limited to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain. This alternative is unlikely to bring peace and stability to the region for it is still based on the same irrational fears and self-serving goals of the rulers. However, its creation may nudge the other members of the GCC to create an alternative–one that is based on inclusion and mutual interest and respect.

Given the importance of the Persian Gulf to the world, not just to the region, nations bordering it should establish a new intergovernmental organization that will work to improve the quality of life of all the peoples in those countries and to safeguard the region against armed conflict and man-caused disasters. Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman should take the lead and work with the governments of Iraq and Iran to found the Persian Gulf Cooperative (PGC). Such an organization will be built on mutual respect and mutual interests, immediately bringing peace and prosperity to an estimated 100 million people living in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Iran, and Iraq. And when the rulers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE reconsider their bigoted beliefs and policies, they should be able to join in as full members along with Pakistan and Afghanistan as Observers. Together, these ten nations, would combine their abundant natural resources and vibrant, youthful societies to create better opportunities for their collective population of more than 320 million people.

Because many ethnic, racial, religious, and sectarian communities live in these countries, such an organization would reduce sectarian and ethnic tension, utilize natural resources and water ways responsibly, strengthen civil society and respect for human rights norms, and enshrine cooperative leadership in a region that has been struggling for too long under unstable governments and authoritarian regimes. It will be an organization that is good for member states, good for the region, and good for the world as it inspire cooperation, mutual respect, and shared future.

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia will cost them nearly $1/2 trillion; good economics?

Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia will cost them nearly $1/2 trillion; good economics?

Some Arab media commentary on Trump’s visit to KSA

The Saudi rulers relish heads of governments with legitimacy deficit. When the first wave of protest popularly known as the Arab Spring pushed out the Tunisian authoritarian, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, no other country in the world was willing to offer him a home. Saudi Arabia offered him a sanctuary and the rulers of the kingdom ignored repeated requests to extradite him to face charges in Tunisia. When Egyptians rose up against another authoritarian, Housni Mubarak, the Saudis offered to take him in, he refused, preferring to stay and die in Egypt. The Saudi rulers lashed out at the Obama administration for not doing enough to save their ally and “moderate” leader. Yemeni people rose up against another Saudi backed leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Saudi rulers intervened and engineered a deal that transferred the presidency to then vice president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, with the condition that he will be replaced by an elected president within two years. With the possibility of Saleh or some other figure winning the elections, an uncertain outcome for the Saudis, the elections never happened and the Saudis decided to keep Hadi as the only “legitimate” ruler of Yemen. The Houthis and their allies decided to overrun the capital Sanaa, forcing Hadi to resign and flee to Riyadh. The Saudi rulers launched a military campaign to reinstate his Hadi and his government. They are still working towards that goal. In Iraq, then Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki was considered by the Saudi rulers as being too close to the Iranian government. They pressured their Iraqi allies to replace him. Instead, Maliki’s coalition won the 2014 elections and he was set to start a new term in office as Prime Minister. Saudi Arabia pressed harder, forcing him to step aside in favor of Haider al-Abadi. In Syria, when the peaceful protest tuned into an armed rebellion, the Saudi rulers immediately took the side of the rebels, including UN-designated terrorist organizations like Nusra and ISIL. The pattern is clear: only rulers accepted to the Saudi rulers are legitimate. That position is reflected in their unprecedented generosity with an American president with the lowest public approval rating since such a record was first recorded. Sounds weird? It should not; it makes perfect sense: a regime that lacks legitimacy naturally gravitates towards like-minded regimes. Birds of the same feather flock together. In the long run, this Saudi approach is a terrible strategy for leading a nation in a rapidly changing world.

In return for the “honor” of being first stop for a US president, an honor perhaps no other country in the world wants to pursue, the Saudi rulers will have the US military and diplomatic protection that they did not lose in the first place. But they will have to pay for this sold-twice shield with money in the form of military hardware and services, investment in US “red states” economies, and propaganda for Trump as “Muslim’s Best Friend Forever”.

Which Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban?

Which Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban?

Neither the announcement of a nominee for the supreme court vacancy nor any other event were able to push down the Muslim Ban from the national and global news headlines. Even the man sitting in the White House could not avoid it. Three of his tweets on Saturday will create more problems for his administration than solve existing ones.
First, in support of the Muslim Ban, he claimed that “certain Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban.” We did the research: Only two countries, out of all Middle Eastern countries, made statements that could be construed as an endorsement of the Muslim Ban, United Arab Emirate and Saudi Arabia. 
 

Saudi Energy Minster defending Muslim Ban

These countries are neither model democracies nor can their rulers speak in the name of the majority of the peoples of the Middle Eastern countries, let alone Muslims. 
It is ironic that this administration, given its emphasis on the need to fight terrorism, would rely on a country that is implicated in the 9/11 attacks and that is the subject of a legislation from Congress about its possible connection to terrorist acts that killed American citizens.

  

The POTUS’ tweet could explain why Saudi Arabia was left out of countries whose citizens are barred from entering the United States. Given the fact that Saudi Arabia falsely presents itself as the defender of Sunni Muslims and its rulers as the “servants of the two holy places,” the POTUS may have thought that he can call on the rulers of the kingdom to issue a fatwa decreeing that the Muslim Ban is not  anti-Muslim. Apparently, even the Saudi rulers could not burn whatever “Islamic capital” they may have left among naive Muslims on supporting an order that American judges reject. Which takes us to the other tweet.
 

This administration has accused those who protest its actions and platform as sore losers who are attempting to delegitimize a legitimate president. Reasonable position, indeed. However, when the POTUS uses language that is intended to delegitimize a judge appointed by a president from his own political party, all credibility is lost. 

 Calling a judge who was appointed by a Republican president and who was approved without a single dissenting vote “so-called judge,” gives others reasons and license to call him, the so-called president.
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http://www.amazon.com/Contesting-Justice-Women-Islam-Society/dp/0791473988?tag=a0645739-20

 

Why are Western governments angered by those who compare the military campaigns in Mosul and Aleppo?

Why are Western governments angered by those who compare the military campaigns in Mosul and Aleppo?


Charred bodies of ISIL fighters suggest abuse
Over the last weekend of the month of November, Russian military leaders reacted to Western criticism of Russia’s support to the Syrian government to retake eastern Aleppo from armed groups. They countered by accusing the U.S. and its allies of double standard. They suggested, essentially, that what the Syrian government is doing in Aleppo is not any different from what the Iraqi government is doing in Mosul. On Monday November 1, the State Department “slammed Moscow’s comparison”, calling it “ludicrous” and “insulting.” Curiously, it was actually a Western media outlet, The Independent (see below), from UK, that first made the comparison on October 21, in one of its lead stories, Compare the coverage of Mosul and East Aleppo and it tells you a lot about the propaganda we consume.
Explaining the reasons the U.S. administration felt that such a comparison is insulting, State Department spokesman John Kirby said: 

“I mean, in Aleppo you’ve got the regime laying siege to a city with the support of their biggest backer, Russia. In Mosul you have an entire coalition of some 66 nations who have planned for months, so with the vast support and legitimacy of the international community, to retake a city from Daesh over a period of months in support of Iraqi Security Forces.”

It must be noted that, anticipating Western criticism, Russia had suspended its airstrikes on the city of Aleppo weeks before the Syrian government forces and their allies started their operation in east Aleppo. The Russian military insisted that it had halted its airstrikes in early October, “to allow civilians to leave the city through six humanitarian corridors established by the Syrian government.”
Resisting the comparison is purely political as it serves no real purpose in terms of ending the tragedy the Syrian and Iraqi peoples have endured in the last five years. Those who reject the comparison are also behind the selective use of violent armed groups to achieve political goals. There is no doubt that both the Iraqi and Syrian peoples are subjected to horrific conditions, most of which are not of their own doing. Their suffering is the direct outcome of activities by regional and global powers who are using destabilizing these two countries to pursue geopolitical and economic interests.
The comparison is sound, and it should unite all thse countries who claim concern for the Syrian people to focus on ending this crisis. The comparison of the situations in Mosul and Aleppo has merits. Here is why.
Aleppo                                                              ||     Mosul
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* Used to be the largest city in Syria                 || * Used to be the second largest city in Iraq
* Inhabited by predominantly Sunni Muslims   || * Inhabited by predominantly Sunni Muslims
* Taken over by predominantly Salafi militants || * Taken over by predominantly Salafi militants
* Being recaptured by government forces and    || *Being recaptured by government forces and  
allies including,                                                   || allies including,
# Syrian military units                                          || # Iraq military units
# Syrian security and police units                         || # Iraq security and police units
# Shia paramilitary units                                        || # Shia paramilitary units
# Palestinian paramilitary units                              || # Turkman paramilitary units
# Tribal paramilitary units                                     || # Tribal paramilitary units
# Kurdish paramilitary units                                   || # Kurdish paramilitary units
# Foreign governments’ military units                    || # Foreign governments’ military units
(authorized by the UN recognized Syrian            || (authorized by the UN Iraqi government)
Government                                                          ||
* Nusra and its allied control 225,000 civilians      || * ISIL controls 1,200,00 civilians in the city
in the city of Aleppo                                             || of Mosul
* US coalition not authorized by Syrian                || * US coalition authorized by the Iraqi government
government                                                           || but Russia not authorized by Iraqi government
* Civilians used as human shields by armed group || * Civilians used as human shields by ISIL
* Civilians are killed in the operation                      || * Civilians are killed in the operation    
* All sides might have violated international laws || * All sides might have violated international laws
governing armed conflicts                                     || governing armed conflicts
===================================================
The only difference between the Iraqi and Syrian situations is that, while there is a consensus among most world governments to support the Iraqi government retake its cities from terrorists, a handful of governments including current U.S. administration, the French government, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, have committed themselves to overthrowing Bashar Assad by any means necessary, including the use of al-Qaeda derivatives to achieve that main objective. It is this political goal, and nothing else, that is prolonging the carnage in Syria, which is, now, having some affect on neighboring countries.
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Headlines reacting to comparing Mosul to Aleppo:

Welcome to Trump’s America!

Welcome to Trump’s America!


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia *

Trump said many things that offended many people. Muslim Americans were among those offended by his comments on refugees, terrorism, and Islam. Now that he is elected to be the 45th president of the United States, should Muslims freak out?

To answer this question, I include this essay, which I drafted in June of this year in response to some of my colleagues’ comments. I said then that support for Trump was not a passing moment: Trump will be president. Here he is: President-Elect Trump and in about two months he will lead this country… to somewhere. I did not publish the essay then because it could have been perceived as an attempt to influence young voters, like the ones I have in my classes. Now that the elections are over, I will share it. It is still as relevant now as it was then. 

I should add one thought since we now know for sure that Trump is elected president: He is the legitimate president produced through the system as is. But his election and the process should not and cannot be allowed to legitimize and legitimate racism. The task of resisting falls on the shoulders of civil society institutions as understood in the broadest sense possible. A democracy is as strong as its civil society institutions.

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Electing Donald J. Trump president of the United States of America
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
June 9, 2016
Thus far, Donald J. Trump used some of his own money to finance his presidential campaign and he thinks that his support comes from outside the political establishment. With such real or perceived autonomy, he was able to make some of the most outrageous comments that allowed him to be the lead story in every news outlet–for free. Some conservative commentators thought that his campaign will eventually collapse because Mr. Trump does not represent the Republican Party. To his credit, he is now the presumptive nominee and that did not come easy. 

Unlike Mrs. Clinton, for whom the field was basically cleared–a decision Democrats might regret later, she faced just two other contenders. Mr. Trump beat sixteen other candidates. He earned the Republican nomination. Still, some thought that since he is now the GOP nominee, he will stop making inappropriate and racist comments to widen his base of support. Last week, he suggested that Hispanic or Muslim judges cannot be partial because of their heritage, drawing rebuke from many Republican leaders, including the person who stands third in line to become president of the United States, Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

He replied to Mr. Trump’s reported comment saying that “claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Then he added, “I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him.” In other words, Republicans want to have it both ways: condemn racist comments and embrace racists. That is why many people, including myself, believe that racism in America is unique, deep, and systemic. Such racism, exceptional as it is, cannot be addressed unless the institutions that originated and have sustained racism are purged. The lack of thus understanding racism is the reason why, I think, Mr. Trump will be elected president.
I resisted interjecting into a crucial political context. However, when colleagues and acquaintances who rarely talk about politics approach me these days to tell me how sorry they were to see politicians like Mr. Trump feeding the flames of prejudice against and hate of Muslims, I felt that I should say something. Then, when politically active colleagues use Mr. Trump’s example to suggest that Muslims will be safer with a Democratic president, I was even more frustrated. To use fear to create a default political position for Muslims is just as offensive, in my mind, as Mr. Trump’s comments about ethnic, racial, and religious disempowered social groups. Today, Muslims are facing systemic racism the same way all other disempowered social groups have faced it since the founding of this Republic. This is not a Republican problem. It is an American problem.
It will not be the end of the world if Mr. Trump were to be elected president of the United States, and I think he will be. He may not be America’s worst president because, unlike party-favorite presidents, Mr. Trump will be heavily scrutinized by both parties and every other civil society institution in the country. A democracy is as strong as its civil society institutions. It is values and rules enshrined in the Constitution, unfulfilled many of them still, that provide comfort to citizens, not the person sitting in the White House. It is the distribution of political power and role of civil society institutions that curb the hunger to grab more power and use it to destroy opponents that would allow American society to weather corrupt politicians, authoritarian presidents, and zealots. The presence of dangerous men in power should empower activists and civil society leaders to collaborate more, to unite, and to take their role seriously to overcome the power and violence unleashed by the state, which is controlled by power hungry persons.
President Trump will be just as capable or incapable of carrying out his personal agenda as President Obama. After all, candidate Obama promised to close Guantanamo, bring home the troops, stop bombing other countries, honor the Constitution respecting torture and extrajudicial killing, treat immigrants with dignity, insist on public option within a universal healthcare law, and rebuild the image of the country abroad. Eight years later, Guantanamo is still housing detainees. He sent more troops back to Afghanistan and Iraq. He played a role in creating two more failed and near-failed states–Libya and Syria, and he allowed corrupt rulers of so-allied nations from the Middle East to arm and supply Wahhabi genocidal fighters to overthrow the Syrian and Iraqi governments. He continued to appease and shield human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain. He carried out more drone-assisted extrajudicial killings of American citizens than his predecessors.  He deported more immigrants than his last three predecessors. And standing on grounds where the U.S. government dropped its weapons of mass destruction, he refused to apologize to the Japanese victims. 

This catalog of shortcomings were not due to a hidden agenda or his lack of trying to do the right things. They were due to the deep state that control the long-term strategic posture of the United States, slow moving wheels of bureaucracy, and the resistance from some civil society institutions, interest groups, and political expediency. 

So we expect a president Trump to fail to act on some of his threats the same way president Obama failed to deliver on many of his promises. If he succeeds, it is because civil institutions leaders and citizens failed to comprehend their role and act as a counterweight to those in power. It will be an opportunity to transform society and overhaul outdated institutions like the press, which has become a tool in the hands of the powerful, not a voice for the people.

Muslim Americans will not move to Canada or return to their ancestral homelands. They will stay here, at HOME, in their country where they sweat and bleed everyday, and resist bigotry, racism, and discrimination the same way millions of other Americans have done before them.  
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His teaching and research interests cover both classical and modern legal and political thought in Islamic societies. He is currently documenting and writing about the social movements and armed conflicts triggered by the events popularly known as the Arab Spring. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Why does the U.S. administration want its agreement with Russia on Syria to remain secret?

Why does the U.S. administration want its agreement with Russia on Syria to remain secret?

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) scheduled a meeting this week to create a legal frame for the U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria. The meeting was eventually cancelled when France and several other permanent members of the UNSC asked for a copy of the actual agreement instead of being briefed about it by the two countries representatives. Russia agreed with France and expressed readiness to make public the agreement reasoning that they can’t expect their partners to endorse a deal they don’t know its details. After the cancellation of the meeting, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said:
 

“Most likely we are not going to have a resolution at the Security Council because the United States does not want to share those documents with the members of the Security Council. We believe we cannot ask them to support a document that they haven’t seen.”

The U.S. administration refused to make public all the documents contending that doing so could put some lives at risk and jeopardize the success of the plan since it contains sensitive “operational details.” 
 
In any case, the Obama administration finds itself in a very delicate situation. The main sticky point that delayed the agreement with the Russian government was related to Russia’s insistence that the U.S. and its allies identify and separate the so-called “moderate” rebels from terrorists so that a political solution can be negotiated. Ostensibly, the U.S. administration eventually agreed to do so and its military and intelligence officials have provided their Russian counterparts with a list of names, without indicating their locations. 
It is likely that the named groups are members of the loose collective called the Free Syrian Army—FSA—which, in reality, was mostly crushed by al-Nusra and ISIL about three years ago. What is left of the FSA is either isolated in and/or near Turkey (and Jordan) and the rest are mingling with al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Fath. Those still mingling with Jaysh al-Fath released a statement criticizing the agreement and rejecting the part of the agreement that calls for joint U.S.-Russian military action against Jabhat Fath al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. They considered al-Nusra a legitimate rebel group. 
The FSA currently consists of these armed groups:
 

Faylaq al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, al-Firqa al-Shamaliyya, Jaysh al-Nasr, Harakat Nur al-Din al-Zanki, al-Ittihad al-Islami li-Ajnad al-sham, al-Jabha al-Shamiyya, Jaysh al-Tahrir, al-Fawj al-Awwal, Jabhat Ansar al-Islam, Kata’ib al-Safwa al-Islamiyya, Liwa’ Suqur Jabal al-Zawiya, al-Firqa 101, al-Firqa 13, al-Firqa al-Wusta, Liwa al-Hurriya al-Islami, Jabhat al-Asala wa-‘l-Tanmiya, Failaq Hims, Liwa’ al-Fath, Tajammu’ Fastaqim kama Umirt, and Jund Badr 313.

 
Nearly half of the above mentioned groups are also members of other coalitions, some of which include al-Qaeda affiliated Salafists, like Fath al-Sham and Jaysh al-Fath. These complex networks and affiliations underscore the administration’s real dilemma.

The U.S. administration is reluctant because, one the one hand, revealing actual names and locations of groups it supports would make it easy for terrorist groups to accuse them of collaboration with the “crusaders” and kill them, as they did with many individuals and groups in the past. On the other hand, revealing the actual names could expose the U.S. administration’s support for groups that might have committed war crimes, such as the case with al-Zanki, whose members self-documented themselves slaughtering a sick child near Aleppo not long ago (just this July).

 
Given the  atrocities committed by many of rebel groups, affiliated with the FSA, the U.S. administration prefers to leave its connections to groups that might be found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity secret to preserve deniability. However, the inking of the agreement with Russia made that task utterly difficult and the administration will be better served breaking any ties with groups suspected of committing crimes and working towards a solution that will stop the bloodshed and punish those responsible for some of the most gruesome crimes on both sides.
 

Assad and Erdoğan said to be preparing for face-to-face meeting in Russia

Assad and Erdoğan said to be preparing for face-to-face meeting in Russia

Assad and Erdoğan in 2009
It has been reported for sometime now that Turkish and Syrian intelligence officials have met on many occasions. Now, some sources are revealing that those meetings were not just about coordinating efforts to combat common threats to both countries, namely the Kurdish separatist, but to arrange for political leaders to meet. 
Turkey broke all diplomatic relations with Syria mere days after the start of the peaceful protest movement in Syria. Because of the lack of open channels of communication, the two countries relied on third parties to reach out to one another when necessary.
Earlier this year, some media outlets reported that Algeria played a key role in opening a communication channel between Syria and Turkey. Now, new reports are suggesting that Russia, after the surprising meeting between Erdoğan and Putin, is working behind the scene not only to transmit information between the two countries, but also to arrange for a meeting that will bring together Assad and Erdoğan in Russia. Importantly, the meeting is significant in that it will be part of a plan that could end the civil war in Syria.
Reportedly, the plan is based on some ideas from the Geneva and Vienna meetings, but more specific in terms of the fate of Assad and his role beyond the transition period.
The proposed plan will call for a unity government that will include members of the “moderate” opposition groups, with Assad still in charge of key ministries during a transition period. After about 18 months, a period during which the constitution will be amended, new presidential and parliamentarian elections will be held, in which Assad may choose to run. However, should he run and win, it will be his last term. Some of the opposition fighters will be absorbed into the Syrian army and officers who deserted  but did not take part in the war will be re-instated. Assad must work towards reconciliation by declaring a new amnesty for these officers who are now residing in Turkey with their families.
These are extraordinary events should they actually come true. But given the steps taken by Erdoğan when he apologized for shooting down the Russian jet near the Turkish-Syrian border, it is not at all impossible to see him take steps to reconcile with the Syrian government. After all, given that his troubles with Russia were over Syria, his normalizing of relations with Putin will be meaningless without addressing the main issue that caused the crisis with Russia in the first place.
It is clear by now that Turkey after the failed July 15 coup is very different from the pre-coup Turkey, albeit under the same president.

Will Erdoğan abandon Islamist armed groups now fighting in Syria?

Will Erdoğan abandon Islamist armed groups now fighting in Syria?

It is established that the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the party he founded, the AKP, are primary supporters of armed groups fighting the Syrian government. The AKP-led Turkish government opened its borders for Islamist fighters from all over the world to join the war against Assad’s forces.  It provided them with training, money, and weapons. The Turkish government also hosted the families of the Syrian fighters. 
Although its support went to all groups fighting the Syrian government because it prioritized the overthrow of Assad over all other matters, including fighting terrorism, the Turkish government offered special support to Islamists including al-Nusra Front and ISIL. It did so for sectarian and ideological reasons, but also for practical reasons: ISIL and al-Nusra were the strongest fighting groups in Syria and Assad’s government cannot be ousted without them. 
Five years later, and when Russia threw its military weight behind Assad, the Turkish government came to the realization that Assad is, and will remain, for the near future at least, a “key actor” who would play a role in any political solution for the Syrian crisis. That is when Erdoğan decided to adjust his strategy and work with Russia, instead of against it, to preserve some level of influence over the future of Syria. 
Syria is important for Turkey because of their shared problems and concerns: the status of the Kurdish people in both countries forced them to work together in the past, and will force them to work together in the future. In other words, Turkey has no choice but to remain engaged in dealing with the Syrian crisis. 
Adjusting the Turkish strategy will necessarily have significant effects on Turkish relations with Islamist fighters in Syria. Will Turkey abandon them?
The answer can be drawn from Erdoğan’s history. He is a very skilled politician who is willing to sacrifice old alliances in favor of better ones. If his alliance with Islamists becomes a burden, Erdoğan will dump them. Consider his alliance with Fethullah Gülen for proof.
Part of the credit for AKP and Erdoğan’s rise to power goes to the role played by Gülen and his movement. Yet, a decade later, when Erdoğan wanted to consolidate his power, he took steps to control that movement and its institutions. Gülen became aware of Erdoğan’s thirst for more power and he resisted him covertly at first. Erdoğan decided to bring him home where he can better control him. So on June 14, while speaking at a public event organized by a Gülen organization, he issued a public invitation, telling Gülen “it is time to come home.” Gülen, perhaps aware of the risks, tearfully declined the invitation on June 16, saying, in essence, not yet.
Four years later, Gülen stands accused by Erdoğan of being the mastermind of the failed military coup. Had Gülen accepted the invitation then, he would be in prison now, without creating a diplomatic and legal crisis with the U.S. administration, which is refusing to extradite him at this point.
Erdoğan, is the kind of politician who knows how to survive and will do whatever it takes to not just survive, but reverse losses and thrive. For this reason, Erdoğan is not only capable of abandoning his Islamist fighters in Syria, he could launch a military campaign to eradicate them altogether, and throw their Turkish supporters in prison. Justifying such actions will not be that difficult either. Terrorist attacks, like yesterday’s, are enough to turn the Turkish public against all Syrian opposition fighters and create a new path toward reconciliation with a Syrian government with or without Assad.

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