Thursday, October 11, 2007

Talking Turkey

Ok, I'm sorry that was awful.

Anyhow, title aside. Turkey has been a country that I have had my eye on for at least two years. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is manifold in its consequences. THis blog has explored some of these issues, but until now I have been quiet on the question of the Turkish border, and more significantly, the Kurdish population, that perhaps for the first time in a long time, has the momentum of history on its side. Its ironic that the ghosts of World War One now haunt a Turkish Government that itself is struggling with its own future and past. Timing is everything, as they say, and the clock seems to be ticking on the potential for an independent Kurdish state.

It has been my belief that the Kurdish issue is perhaps the most violatile in the region. This is for the simple reason that the Kurdish population is scattered throughout countries that have competing interests. Turkey represents a special case of course. Its unique history and contemporary EU ambitions have traditionally placed Ankara outside of the realm of Arab affairs. The so called War on Terror may have shifted Ankara's regional focus somewhat, forcing it to engage its neighbors in addressing the issues of cross border terrorism and Islamic extremism. However, by and large, the focus of the lond dominant Kemalist factions and Turkish Military establishment has been on the West and its special status as a Muslim Democracy.

Yet recent events are pulling Turkey deeper into the morass in the region. The PKK has increased corss border operations, operations which have Ankara chanting a self-defense against terror. The measured response of the US State Department betrays the impossible situation in which the architects of the Middle East project now find themselves. In fact, President Bush can do more than politely urge Turkey's restraint, amounting to no more than a pleading lacking foundation. To add to the tension, Congress passes a resolution recognizing The Ottomon culpability in the Armenian Genocide. Ankara swiftly recalls its ambassador from the US, and suddenly the single success story of Iraq - Iraqi Kurdistan - is put into peril.

PM Erdogan has thus far shown restraint, despite the public pressure to protect Turkish interests along its southeastern border. however, this restraint has as much to do with testing the US response as it does with attempting to approach the Kurdish issue with out having it spill out into Iran and Syria. Expect a flurry of dimplomatic interventions, awkward silence from Washington, and increasing attacks in the Mosul region.

From an economic standpoint, this could slow and even jeopardize natural gas shipments throught the Black Sea and Bosporous. However, it is possible that the Kurdish question was broached as a side bar during Turkish-Iranian negotiations concerning Natural gas trade routes.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tragic Timing

Just a day after American officials Petraeus and Crocker touted success in al-Anbar, tragedy struck the Sunni community when a car bomb took the life of Sheik Richa, a vital coalition ally. Of course, this horrible crime coincides with the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.

The death of Richa brings into sharp focus the deep struggle that will continue to plague the Sunni community in places like Al-Anbar province. Al-Qaeda's brutality and utter callousness will continue to put foriegn jihadists at odds with moderate Sunni and tribal leaders. However, the Sunnis currently find themselves in a position of such insecurity that reconciliation seems father away than closer. Look at it this way: The Sunnis cannot currently be guaranteed oil revenues which will constitute, at least in the near term, 90% of economic activity in the country. They will continue to be infiltrated by Salafists from abroad (as well as hardline Iraqis themselves) who will work with bloody and inhuman persistance to convince Sunnis that only al-Qaeda ideals can protect the Sunnis from the Shi'a dominated government. And finally, their position is further complicated by the fact that the only group that seems willing to bolster the position of the Sunnis is the least liked party of all. (yeah, I'm talking about us)

The complex dynamics that can be revealed when looking a little closer at the seemingly mundane events are more often than not glossed over in the mainstream press. I don't want to get into a hackneyed rant on the flaws of the media, at least not right now. However, I must point out that the complexity of the situation in Iraq (or in any conflict for that matter) cannot be easily parsed out with concepts like "stay the course" or "the surge has been successful."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Drawing Down

Compared to the House session yesterday, today's Senate hearing felt like a heart to heart. Its not that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker didn't attempt to evade and spin occasionally, but for such a critically hyped hearing, the top Americans in Iraq performed, well, honorably.

I don't want to give a rundown of every argument brought before the Senate committee. You should all know that is not my style. I, like a maverick stock investor, like to look into the dark corners of the stage to find the nuggets of light. Ok, maybe this isn't one of those dark corners, but I wanted to focus on the foregrounding of Al-Anbar as an example of "success" in Iraq.

Al-Anbar certainly remains a challenge to the Coalition. Patreaus' point, that the Sunni Tribes chose cooperation with the Coalition against al-Qaida elements, indeed is a success story. However, I would advocate caution in suggesting that these Sunni tribes are suddenly our friends. Rather, they are al-qaida's enemies. This is a mistake that American policy seems to make again and again. Perhpas it is an effect of that same sentimental vision of our role in the world that is offered in the media, and particularly in Armed Forces recruiting commercials. This view seems to wrap our 'allies" in the most precious and romantic robes. they are declared heroes, brave nationalists who recognize an idea called "Iraq" and see in al-Qaida a poisonous infiltrator. It is true that they see al-Qaida as a malevolent serpent, but I suspect that they feel the same about their American interlocutors. They know, however that the Americans will leave eventually, while foreign Arab elements will have to be eliminated, so it becomes a marriage of convenience, the type of which the Americans always seem to think is a good idea, and then come back with "it sounded good at the time."

Now that you think I am a cynical bastard, let me finish the point. What emphasizing al-Anbar does is effectively obscure the fact that the major struggle in the country is not defined by whether the Sunni tribes of Anbar decide to become Salafist jihadis, but whether or not they decide to point there guns at the Shiite's who intend to rule over them. Al-Anbar is vital, but it is a vital second stage, the main tragedy being the interconfessional conflict that will eventually tear Iraq asunder.

Which reminds me, my prediction was that Ambassador Crocker would make some allusion, however veiled, to Coalition and Iraqi plans to partition the country. Guess, I was wrong. But don't rule it out. One thing the hearings, both house and Senate versions, revealed - this thing is a long way from being done.

Get out of here. Go read a Hitchens post and feel good about things . . .

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Days of Sharab aur Gul . . .

It seems former Pakistani PM nawaz Sharif will soon retunr to the country from his coup-induced exile. Quite a bit to think about. I heard the editor in chief of Dawn on NPR this morning that he has yet to make sense of it. Why, the question is asked, would Musharaf accept the return of the man who he forced out of power? I myself can only speculate.

One of the critical things to remember about Pakistan is that it has always had this sort of love hate relationship with its own democratic institutions. Mohammad Jinnah Das envisioned a modern, secular, democratic state when he and the Muslim Leadue fought fot he foundation of Pakistan. India basically existed as a centrally controlled socialist state in its formative years, but has been a rather well functioning democratic state since. Pakistan's political history has shown a tendancy to cycle between military rule and nearly democratic rule. Long periods of stability in which the democratic institutions have prevailed tend to be the exception rather than the rule., with the military being by far the most powerful institution in the country. I often wonder if middle and upper class educated and western oriented Pakistanis look east across the divide with envy at their Indian counterparts.

Cosmopolitan residents of Karachi and Lahore, with ambitions to export Lollywood, create high-tech labour markets, and create a Pakistan that the world notices for being something other than a exporter of Islamic extremists Enter Nawaz Sharif. Musharaf has lost his credibility with the judiciary, is at constant threat from the Islamists, and is losing support among top military brass. Bottom line, as I have stgated in other posts, he is embattled. It seems that the time is ripe for Pakistan to retreat to its one political constant: sudden and abrupt change, initiated from the top down, replacing military leaders with civilian ones, until the time once more comes to dance the dance. Musharaf knows that his move culls favor with the mainstream, moderate democratic parties and their popular supporters. It is simultaneously an admission of the in creasing isolation that Musharaf is suffering at the hands of the myriad fractures currently disrupting the Pakistani landscape.

These guys are old hands. They know the drill, and Musharaf would much rather see his country in the hands of the likes of Nawaz sharif and Benazir Bhutto than the Imams of the Lal Masjid or the warlords of Wazirastan and Peshawar. Its the old Pakistani two-step, and its time to change partners.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Let me tell you a joke

One of these days I am gonna get in trouble for all this . . .

Anyhow, for the simple sake of not letting thje archive be ridiculously thin, I will post a passing thought.

Maximum Kuo of has put up a word of the week. This week it is quisling. A quizzical choice, not perhaps very quixotic, but mixed with quanine-crap it had to be a "q" word.

My word of the week is dour, as in dour demeanour, or more recently, dour Scotsman (Shout out to Brownie). Why dour? Well, I was originally planning on doing a post entitled "The five most important dudes in the Middle East." Top of my list was to be Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, a man who has been called both a menace to the west and the smartest man in the region. For those who haven't seen pictures of Nasrallah, he is a pudgy, sort of rolli-polli lebanese with a turban and beard. In fact, he looks a little like my father. Point is, that the turbaned beards are supposed to be these fiery, baneful and yes, dour mullahs. Not so with Nasrallah. Albert Brooks would have done well to stop in Beirut in his search for comedy in the Muslim world. Nasrallah tells jokes!

Ok, he's no Larry David. Hard to be funny when you are giving shout outs to Hamas in the middle of your joke. In the end, Nasrallah is in the position he is in now because he breaks the mold. Its not just this one joke, but this is indicative of his abilities as an orator, his ability to command a crowd and appear self-deprecrating and humble, while still being able to light a serious fire under the ass of his very disciplined and seemingly uncorruptable rank and file. The power of laughter I guess.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I thought we were friends . . .

Since the beginning of the Iraq war, the true patriots of this country have been pointing out the myriad failures and miscalculations this administration has made in its prosecution of the war. Some of the most important voices in our nation faced summary stonewalling from the mass media, which often held the loudest trumpet at the send-off party. Only when the ineptitude of the neocon agenda manifested itself in the form of thousands of dead Iraqis did mainstream politicians wake up and (most likely for polictical reasons) begin the chorus of dissaproval. People are starting to listen. People are starting to wonder.

Seymour Hersh (my hero) has spent at least the last two years decoding the administration's steady stream of accusations aimed at Iran, which at has variously been implicated in material support of "extremist groups" in Iraq, financial and arms support for the Taliban, and of course being an all around naughty nation. So it brings me to wonder if the chorus that now denounces the epic catastrophe in Iraq - particularly Democratic presidential candidates - will pick up on the events of this past week.

Since 9/11, the United States has invaded two nations. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, "democracy" has not seemingly abated the scourge of death being suffered by people whose fate was decided in Washington and London. Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, and an insistent and resurgent Taliban is again threaten the southern provinces of Afghanistan. Of course, we have Iran and the Shi'a mullahs to thank for this mayhem. Turns out, the democratically elected leaders of of both Iraq and Afghanistan don't seem to agree with that assessment, and have both said so while in press conferences with Bushie. Nouri al-Maliki and Hamid karzai have both stated that Iran is having a "positive and constructive" effect on their respective nations. So what gives? Is Iran really as mischevious as Bush would have us believe?

This entry is already too long, so let me sum up quickly:

1. Concerning Afghanistan: The Taliban's brand of extreme Salafi Islam is not exactly fun for the Shi'a. Quite simply put, anyone with the most basic understanding of the Shi'a/Sunni schism understands that the most orthodox Sunnis view Shi'a, not simply as a deviation, but outright heresy. Furthermore, Iran has nothing to gain from a Fundamentalist Militant Salafi governemt on its border. The mullahs in both Tehran and Qom have been weary of the Taliban since it first came on the scene, particularly because of ancient enmities between Pakhtun tribal identities and Persian ethnic identity. The Afghans and Persians have never been natural allies, and the confesional schism only widens this gulf.

2. On Iraq: this one is easy, and is again related to the Shi'a/Sunni split. Maliki, and his predecessor, Jafari are senior members of the Da'wa party, and both men spent years in Iran as exiles while the Shi'a opposition parties suffered under the iron fist of Saddam. Iran's overwhelmingly Shi'a population are co-religionsits with the newly empowered Shi'a of Iraq. So, is there any real surprise that the meeting between Maliki and Ahmadinijad would be "warm" as Al-Jazeera reported? Iranians have been in Iraq since before the war, mostly in the southern provinces. There is little doubt in my mind that some of this activity was centered around military and paramilitary training. It is also well known that this Iranian activities in Iraq have included financial investment, infrastructural development, and the creation of social services. Where is the Iraqi leadership goiong to look for friends in the region? Saudi Arabia, whose two primary exports are oil and Wahhabi Islam? Turkey, who wants to invade its Iraq's northern frontier to crush the PKK? Or the guys who celebrate the same holidays as you and who sheltered you from a brutal and blood thirsty tyrant? I think the point is clear.

Until next time, intrepid friends . . .

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I have maintained, since 9/11, that the most important countries to watch from the perspective of any sort of "war on terror" are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The most virulent enemies of both the West and East are incubated and harvested in the madrassas and local majids in places like Riyadh and Karachi. Wahabbism and Salafism stand at the frontline of the global jihad, and these jihadis seem real comfortable in Pakistan and Saudi.

The crisis, or series of them, currently facing Pakistan and its tightrope walker of a President, may perhaps prove to be a turning point in the war on terror. Furthermore, the problems that Pakistan currently faces expose the fractures that are emblematic of the countries within what is referred to as the Muslim world. It is a set of complex dynamics that are often oversimplified by Western commentators who would liek to simply explain instability as the result of islamic extremists. The deteriorating situation in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid fiasco is only one side of the assault on a fragile Pakistani establishment. There is still the ongoing crisis of democracy resulting from the firing of the Supreme Court Judge and the subsequent protests. What makes the apparent lack of transparency concerning Musharef's decision about the judge all the more troubling, is the fact that with an election upcoming, the President's posisiton is tenuous, and his mandate withering.

While the specifics of each case will differ, there are certain thematic consistencies to be found when comparing Pakistan to the Arab nations. All are dealing with a resurgent form of radical Islam, specifically a Wahhabi and Salfist based militancy (major exceptions being Lebanon and Iran), all have leaders whose popular legitimacy is questionable at best, and all have grassroots democratic and progresive movements that are challenging both religious fundamentalist and authoritarian leaders and are more often than not completely ignored by Western commentators. The so called Cedar Revolution in Lebanon got plenty of attention but no real critical coverage, and the same seems to be happening with the what I will call the barrister protests in Pakistan. The fact remains that expedience and convenience allow the West to ignore the complexities of these countries, complexities that are the product of histories that generally go ignored, as well as a present that finds nations dealing not only with internal change, but rapid and often jarring global change.

As for prognostication, the Islamists will increase their influence in Pakistan. NATO's handling of the situation in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military's (perhaps justified) heavy hand in dealing with the Lal Masjid will bring even more supporters into the fold. Meanwhile, as Musharaf struggles to put out so many fires, while simultaneously attempting to please his Western masters, the true needs of the Pakistani people will remain unattended to. And if the state cannot solve the problems of fully funded public education and social benefits programs, Pakistans poor will continue to send young men to the few places that can guarantee them a senblance of education, 3 square meals a day, and the sense of belonging: The Salafi madrassas built by Saudi petro-dollars.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I don't know what to say. The Guardian lead with the story, the headline something like "Nothing to celebrate in birth of Hamastan." Haniyeh meanwhile says that despite the dissolution of the government by Abbas, the cabinet and parliament wil continue to function within the bounds of the "law." The most important and perhaps telling moment of Haniyeh's statement involved the explicit denial that anything like a "Hamastan" is in the works for the residents of Gaza, and that the Islamic resistance movement has no intention of breaking Gaza off from the Fatah controlled West Bank.

Fatah is moving on Hamas in Ramallah and throughout the West bank as I write this. Fatah's dominance there hopefully will be enough to deter Hamas from attemtping a full scale engagement. However, as is too often the case in internecine strife, rationality and strategy often play second fiddle to the coefficients of revenge and vindication. as fatah moves on Hamas supporters and known Izzedine al-Qassam members in the West Bank, don't expect them to greet with hearty smiles and salaams.

Let's pray that the West Bank does not become a tinderbox. Let's hope no one strikes a match if it does.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

In my previous post, I said I would follow the situation in Gaza, and keep you dear reader apprised of my thoughts on the developments of those events. As someone who has spent the last few years learning as much about the Palestinian people as my time has, and continues to allow, I have nothing but sadness to share with you. For the last couple of hours I have been clicking through Reuters and AP photos, reading updates from the usual suspects, and my heart is made hollow.

Temptation. Tempted by frustration and anger to find someone, anyone to blame. Frustrated for all the times you tried to explain that a better possibility exists. Angry that the in your heart of hearts, you know verily no one will hear you when you say, "A people must find a way to express violence when violence is done to them, even when the pain is self-inflicted." There is no looking to Israel, there is no looking to the Western boycott of Hamas, there is no looking to a dying neocon agenda that holds Palestinian suffering as trite and irrelevant. Today, as brother spills the blood of brother, I can only look at Palestine and try to understand why, why is it that so often in the history of man suffering becomes an excuse for self-hatred, victimhood the prod of self-destruction. I can only try and understand how today the Palestinian is perhaps more like the Israeli than ever in their shared history, and I am all the more ashamed for being empty-handed and impotent.

Salaam / Shalom

Sunday, June 03, 2007

In the words of Andrew Marvell . . .

Ok, so there is a lot of catching up to do. i always do this. It has been what two or three damn months! Anyhow, I'm back.

I will spend this week on the ongoing situation in Gaza and of course Iraq. but I want to get a couple of items out of the way first. The last entry was about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, andI actually just got finished reading about further arrests, I believe 19 was the number. These wer supporters, rank and file guys. Mubarak hasn't gotten to the candidates themselves yet, but give it time. Dictatorships sometimes need a little time to grow. The governments timing of course, is perfect, as Egyptians will soon be heading to the "polls" for legislative elections. Expect some rough demonstrations in Cairo if the arrests continue up until election day. Also expect an increase in Ikhwan influence in the parliament. Repression will only make them stronger, and that may end up cutting both ways for ordinary Egyptians.

I need to toot my own horn for just a minute. One of the things I have done on and off with this blog is not just prognostication but prediction. I would to start betting people, sort of like that market scheme DARPA had tinkered with to evaluate intelligence as market commodities. The reason I bring this up is because Turkey's is moving on it's Iraqi border to launch possible cross-border operations against PKK elements in Kurdish Iraq. I called that! It was the reason I started looking for A Turkey expert to develop a book on Turkey's role in this "new" Middle East. Anyhow, still waiting for this one to play out. The US can ill afford instability in the only oart of Iraq that has so far been relatively calm.

So watch for Gaza this week. Masalemah!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Let freedom Strain

Hosni Mubarak and his ruling party opened up the Egyptian constitution to a reform referendum that was apparently voted on by about 63 people. Ok, maybe a few more than that, but I believe Reuters used the word "trickle" when describing the "queues" at the polling place. So what got about 3% of Cairo's voting age population in such an enthusiastic furor? The 34 legislative reforms seek to, in Mubarak's words, "protect the republic from terrorism." It turns out that this is best accomplished by banning religious parties from participating in elections. I wonder who they had mind?

Ok, Maybe they didn't have Hassan al Bana in mind, so much his political offspring. The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest opposition group in the country, and suddenly finds itself in possession of even more rhetorical ammunition. One can expect both a short term surge in Ikhwan popularity, as well as increasing pressure for Gamal Mubarak to announce definitively that he has no designs on his father's position. I find it unlikley that the latter will actually occur, and if Gamal does in fact succeed his father as president, it may prove the tipping point. The current regime can ill afford a practical alliance between the Ikhwan and Ayun Nur's progressive ranks.

By the way, where is the U.S. State Department? Surprised they miss an opportunity to chastise friends for making light of the rule of law. Oh wait, Hosni is on our side. He's on of the good dictator Arab guys. Right.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

No international issues today. I am trying to finish this book review for Al-Jadid magazine, and am helping someone with a screenplay for a short film he is developing. So, I haven't had much time to really digest and regurgitate. I do have one quick question though. Whither Afghanistan? With all the attention paid to the troop "surge" in Iraq, did anyone happen to notice that there has been a request for about 4500 more troops in Afghanistan? Not quite as large a surge as in Iraq, however, it is large when thought of in terms of the percentage of soldiers already there. So what's going on? Is the Taliban really capable of creating such stiff resistance, or are we witnessing that famed and fabled Pashtun invincibility? History (read British, Soviet) should contain enough cautionary tales warning potential aggressors of the tenacious Afghan mujahideen.

But then Bush doesn't strike me as much of a history buff.

Personal notes. Roseville sucks. Its the heart of Placer County, which apparently, prides itself on being quite possibly the most conservative county in California, giving the OC a run for its fiscally responsible money.

Fun Stuff

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Linkages . . .

I can't believe this blog is still here after what, almost two years? I have been blogging on a private site called kanzaman, but I had to trash it because I screwed up the website and didn't have the time or patience to put humpty back together again.

So linkages has multiple meanings . . .

Just read Schmuel Rosner;s blog on Haaretz. He brings up the issue of the so called "linkage" that exists between the Arab-Israeli conflict and the larger regional morass in the Middle East. I don't want to go into the specifics of his argument, which is largely based on an Iranian writer by called Taheri. Rather, I want to throw my hat into this contentious ring . . .

The question of linkage has floated about for some time now, but most recently reared its head in the Baker-Hamilton report, in which Baker makes the claim that making progress on the Arab-Israeli front is vital to convincing European and Arab leaders of the viability and credibility of American actions in the region. The logic follows thus: Solve the question of Palestine and Israel, and garner support in Iraq, Iran and Syria. I don't think Baker's theory will actually work in practice, but that is neither here nor there. The question is, does this linkage actually exist?

Taheri argues that there is no such linkage, at least not a deep structural linkage. There is opportunism for sure. Arab leaders from Hosni Mubarak to the King of Jordan use their ostensible support of the Palestinians as a means of propping up unresponsive and often corrupt regimes. Furthermore, terrorists of the al-Qaida ilk cite the crisis and US-Israeli cooperation as a major justification in their war.

But does a resolution to the conflict make all of this disappear. Well, in a sense, yes. However, one must remember that dictators and terrorists (and often democracies) are very adept at creating new justifications for their nefarious activities, just as the old ones begin to leak.

Taheri's view is that no structural linkage exists, that the Palestinian question is in fact, at the periphery of the larger set of critical conflicts. I argue that the conflict may not have the kind of structural linkage that Baker-Hamilton suggest, i.e. Make things better in Israel-Palestine and things will be easier in Iraq. However, a linkage does exist in the minds of the people of the region. We cannot expect that the people of the Arab world suffer from the same parochial outlook that we here stateside do, not knowing what happens in the next country over. In the minds of the Arab people, and throughout the Muslim world to an extent, Palestine represents the brutal and ultimate logic of a set of policies that they see as trained directly on them and their homes. The Israeli occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has turned Gaza and the West Bank into virtual open-air prisons, illuminates in horrific scope and detail a worst of possible worlds, whose shadows threaten to loom in Iran, Syria, and have already darkened Iraq.

So yes, a linkage exists. It is in the psychology of the colonized where conflicts that are strategically disparate to the colonizer are made cohesive and interrelated. The Arab street asks, how can such a crime continue for so long, while still others are freshly committed. Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict is not panacea, but it will go no short way in achieving still greater realities of social justice and equality in the region.