Friday, January 29, 2016
The U.S.'s relationship with Saudi Arabia has weathered disagreements over how to rein in Iran, regime change across the Middle East and several large military adventures. Now it faces a new question, which was crystallized Friday in a speech by influential progressive Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)
"No one has a particularly credible long term strategy [for the Middle East] because it would involve facing some very uncomfortable truths -- about the nature of the fight ahead of us, and imperfections of one of our most important allies in the Middle East,” Murphy said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
The carefully worded address pointed to Saudi Arabia's backing of extremist Islamic ideology and its reckless military intervention in Yemen as evidence of the need to question unwavering U.S. support for the kingdom.
"For all the positive aspects of our alliance with Saudi Arabia, there is another side to Saudi Arabia" that America doesn't often see, Murphy said. "And it is a side that we can no longer afford to ignore as our fight against Islamic extremism becomes more focused and more complicated."
For all the positive aspects of our alliance with Saudi Arabia, there is another side.... that we can no longer afford to ignore." Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) Murphy's frank and measured critique is one of the most high-profile of its kind, evidence in itself that questioning the relationship between Washington and Riyadh is becoming less of a political heresy.
Initially rooted in a shared interest in protecting the kingdom’s vast oil reserves, the U.S.-Saudi partnership has evolved into a broad, shadowy military relationship that is difficult to fully detail.
The two countries cooperated to funnel fighters into Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s, together kicked Iraq’s Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait during the Gulf War, and have now grown closer in the broader war against groups like al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State. The two are now supporting groups fighting in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and beyond.
Saudi Arabia has an outsized role in these efforts despite its relatively small population and weak military because it has bought more weapons from the U.S. than any other country in the world. Between 2009 and 2014, the U.S. delivered over $12 billion of weapons to the kingdom, much of which is being used in the bloody Saudi-led war in Yemen.
To Murphy, this relationship and the general assumption that it cannot be questioned has been risky and occasionally self-defeating.
It has required the U.S. to largely ignore the Saudis' decadeslong funding for fundamentalist thinking in the Muslim world -- a mindset that experts say makes communities more vulnerable to recruitment by militant groups like ISIS. "Less-well-funded governments and other strains of Islam can hardly keep up with the tsunami of money behind this export of intolerance," Murphy said, noting that the monarchy in Saudi Arabia relies heavily on its alliance with hardliners known as Wahhabis. “It is important to note the vicious terrorist groups that Americans knows by name are Sunni in derivation, [rather than Shiite, the sect of Islam most common in Iran], and greatly influenced by Wahhabi, Salafist teachings,” he said, citing an ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam.
Murphy acknowledged that Shiite clerics supported by Iran also often invoke religion to inspire violent acts. But the U.S. does not provide Iran with billions of dollars of weapons annually or support its military endeavors.
The costs of aligning with Saudi Arabia are especially clear now because that friendship has led the White House to join the controversial Saudi campaign in Yemen. Almost 6,000 people have died there, including thousands of civilians, since Saudi Arabia launched a U.S.-supported campaign to restore the country's government last March, according to the United Nations. Some of the strikes by the Saudi-led, pro-government coalition may count as crimes against humanity, the U.N. said this week.
I talked to “Nabeel,” a 52-year-old man from Syria a few days ago in the resort town of Cesme on Turkeys’ Aegean coast. He told me how the overcrowded boat he’d boarded with his wife and four children a few days earlier sank. Turkish coastguards saved them. With his 9-year-old son by his side, he told me his priority was his children’s future. “I just want my kids to be in school, and to have medical care. If this was provided in Turkey or Lebanon I would have stayed.”
Watching the news from London, it would be easy to think the EU’s deal with Turkey on refugees is a simple trade-off: three billion Euros, visa free travel and the reopening of EU accession negotiations for Turkey in exchange for stemming the flow of the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who have been arriving on Europe’s shores via Turkey. But spending a week speaking to asylum seekers and nongovernmental groups in Turkey made clear that the situation on the ground there is complex, and that Turkey alone is not the answer.
Though it doesn’t recognize them as refugees, Turkey provides most of the more than two million Syrians living there with temporary protection that allows them to get medical treatment and education. Earlier this month, the Turkish government announced that it would give work permits to Syrians who have been in Turkey for over six months. But important as that step is, giving Syrians the right to work is unlikely to deter people seeking protection in Europe or risking their lives in the process. The deaths of more 40 people —including 17 children — when their boats sank in the Aegean last week makes that clear.
First, these measures only benefit Syrians. Though the largest group, Syrians are not the only ones crossing into Europe. In Turkey, Hungary and the Western Balkans, I have spoken to Iraqi Yezidis fleeing the horrors of ISIS, Afghans who had received death threats from the Taliban, and Ethiopians who fled human rights abuses at home. They will continue to need protection as long as the reasons that push them out of their own countries persist, but around 100,000 Iraqis, more than 45,000 Afghans, and almost 15,000 Iranians in Turkey don’t have temporary protection or access to the benefits to which Syrians are entitled.
Second, despite efforts by the Turkish government and many Turks to help, the situation for Syrians in Turkey remains dire. Up to 400,000 Syrian children are out of school because their families cannot afford school supplies or transportation or encounter language barriers or widespread discrimination against Syrians in Turkish schools. Registered Syrians also have the right to medical care in the town in which they are registered, but lack information about their rights and face discrimination. Workers in groups helping refugees spoke of Syrians being turned away or treated with contempt in schools and hospitals.
Hopefully, work permits will help many Syrians to benefit from the protections of legal work and will be an important step toward ending rampant child labor of Syrian children who work to support their families. But, as with formal access to education and health care, barriers to employment are likely to persist and many Syrians are likely to remain marginalized.
If it is properly disbursed and reaches the intended beneficiaries, the three billion Euros could help make life a little easier for Syrians in Turkey. But with widespread prejudice against Syrians, the priority should be ensuring that Syrians in Turkey can actually get jobs, health services, and education there.
Expecting Turkey to host ever greater numbers of Syrians and other asylum seekers when it has not yet addressed these issues will only exacerbate them, and people will continue to turn to smugglers to bring them to Europe.
With no end to the violence in Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq or to human rights abuses in many other refugee-producing countries, EU governments should not turn their backs on the people risking their lives for protection. Last year, EU member states agreed to resettle about 22,500 refugees from Turkey and other first-asylum countries, but by the end of 2015 had admitted only 779. The EU cannot expect Turkey to do more when its own member states do so little to share responsibility.
As they sit in Brussels, Berlin or Copenhagen, EU leaders should ask themselves: what would I do if I had to save my family from bullets and bombs, and where would I go for my children’s future? I’m sure their priorities would be the same as Nabeel’s.
By Hua Yisheng
The U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently kicked off his first Asian trip in 2016. Western media, keeping a close eye on Kerry’ s agenda, believe the South China Sea issue will be one of the priorities during the trip taking him to Laos, Cambodia and China. Their concerns were not raised out of nowhere. At the Davos World Economic Forum not long ago, the U. S. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, claimed that Beijing is taking “ self-isolating” steps in the South China Sea. He even urged other countries to seek help from the U. S. As for Kerry’ s itinerary this time, comments from Reuters and other media suggest that the U. S. will urge ASEAN countries to contain China together. A U. S. official even told the press that the ASEAN hopes to avoid “ militarization” and conflicts by “ safeguarding maritime rights and interests”. Repeated voices from the U. S. are by no means unintentional. It is clearly motivated by three objectives. First of all, the U. S. attempts to interfere in China’ s legitimate construction activities on the Nansha Islands. In order to force China to halt construction, the U. S., ignoring China’ s sovereignty over the South China Sea, has made multiple groundless criticisms, and even accused China of“ militarizing” the region. Secondly, with the groundless excuse that China will “ bully” small countries, the U. S. tried to undermine China’ s efforts to settle disputes through negotiations with the parties directly concerned. In the meantime, the superpower has been stirring up the arena of the South China Sea. It instigated ASEAN countries to increase tensions by taking advantage of their concerns. On the one hand, the U. S. adds pressure on China on the issue by urging other ASEAN members to support the Philippines’ territorial appeal. It helped the Philippines file a unilateral arbitration in the name of safeguarding international law. The U. S., therefore, has become a backstage driving force for escalating tensions in the South China Sea. Lastly, such acts by the U. S. aim to pave a way for demonstration of its military power. Last October, the U. S. sent a military vessel to enter into waters near China’ s Nansha Islands in spite of China’ s opposition, and announced to “ regularly” conduct such activities on the grounds of safeguarding freedom of navigation. Realizing the freedom is not jeopardized, the U. S. has to justify its behaviors by hyping up so called “ China threats”. Encouraging ASEAN to patrol the sea is just another attempt to normalize its actions through numerical strength. The “ diligent work” of the U. S., however, did not work as it expected. The U. S. cannot deny the historical and lawful evidence that proves China’ s sovereignty interests over the South China Sea, neither can it stop China’ s construction on the islands. Its provocations will only further prove it is the U. S. that threatens regional stability and pushes forward the dangerous “ militarization”. Most ASEAN members are clear-headed when it comes to the South China Sea issue, and will not endorse the Philippines without any principles. Despite incitement from the U. S., Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that individual countries should settle disputes among themselves without the involvement of the ASEAN. China also said previously that U. S. officials cannot speak for ASEAN countries. As for patrolling the South China Sea, the ASEAN will not stand beside the U. S. since it fears that the Eagle’ s actions will trigger military conflicts. The ASEAN is also unwilling to get involved in the issue, let alone conduct patrols recklessly. China has always advised the U. S. with kind words, hoping it can focus more on the big picture of bilateral ties Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out that the enhanced China-U. S. cooperation will bring enormous benefits to the world during his meeting with Kerry on Wednesday, as he had stressed on many occasions. Both countries agree to build a new type of major-country relations under the principles of peace, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. The South China Sea issue should not be used as excuse to undermine China-U. S. relations.
The main result of the first day of Geneva talks According to the diplomat, the meeting between UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura with the Damascus official delegation is the main result of the first day of the Geneva talks. "The arrival of the Syrian government delegation and its meeting with de Mistura is the main result of the first day of talks. It signals that the [Syrian] government has taken a constructive approach and will be constructive in seeking the achievement of positive results in the interests of the Syrian people," the diplomat said. Geneva talks require flexibility, constructive approach The official also noted that Russia and Syria are united that intra-Syrian talks in Geneva require flexibility and constructive approach. "Ambassador Ja’afari came over to the Russian mission ‘to synchronize watches’ with us regarding the tactic of these indirect talks with mediation of [United Nations Special Envoy on Syria] Staffan de Mistura," Borodavkin said.
"We outlined our views on the course of talks, their format. The Syrian partners shared with us their considerations," he said. "The dialogue took place very constructively, on most issues connected with the start of talks we have a common viewpoint: it’s necessary to behave constructively, display the required flexibility and reach agreements with the opposition in the interests of the entire Syrian people," Borodavkin said. Riyadh-based opposition keeps on advancing preliminary conditions Borodavkin also pointed out that the Riyadh-based opposition keeps on advancing preliminary conditions for participation in the talks. "As for the group formed in Riyadh, according to our information, they are still in the Saudi capital and keep on advancing preliminary conditions thus demonstrating a non-constructive approach," he stressed. "United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 has it clear that no one can advance any preliminary conditions.".
Hardly anyone in the US really understands what the difference is between caucuses and primaries and how the rules of the Democrats and those of the Republicans differ. But everyone knows that it's the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary that decide the future of those hoping to be nominatedby their respective parties as their presidential candidates.
For someone who did not grow up with the system, it is hard to understand why such an important role is played by Iowa, a small state in which only 1 percent of the US population lives, where there are four times more pigs than humans and which is responsible for every fifth ear of corn. This is where the official battle for the presidential nominations begins on February 1.
Why these first elections in Iowa and New Hampshire play such a role is almost a philosophical question. Are they so important b Small primaries with huge significance
Why these first elections in Iowa and New Hampshire play such a role is almost a philosophical question. Are they so important b Small primaries with huge significance
The answer to this question might only be really meaningful to philosophers. But the candidates know that those of them who do not fare well will not be able to catch up later on in the campaign, especially not in this strange election year. Failure to win in either state can mean a very abrupt end. But why?
Wooing the voters
In these elections, candidates have to prove that they are electable. They have to prove not only that they are capable of raising funds and attracting influential supporters to their side but also that they can woo the voters. They have to prove that they can win not only the polls but the people. They have to prove that they can match expectations - not only in appearance, but in reality. This is perhaps what is most important in this massive media show.
Trump does not go down well everywhere
Of course, expectations differ according to candidate. Let's begin with Donald Trump: He has been shaping how the media perceive the Republicans for over six months. In defiance of all the commentators and despite his unsettling public appearances, he is headline news. If the polls are to be believed, people like him because he has understood how to position himself as an outsider, as someone who cannot be corrupted, who can be believed. Most of all, he has sold himself as a man who knows how to win.
And that's exactly why Iowa could be his undoing. Iowa is small, very white and very religious. It has a population of god-fearing farmers who might not like smug and bawdy jokes. They might not like the Trump show. Sarah Palin, whom the New York multi-millionaire recently conjured from under his hat to win over the religious working classes, might not quite do the trick.
What would happen then? What happens to someone who keeps banging on about his winner status if he loses? Would he give up? This is foreseeable. Trump's rivals in the party would know what to do. The Republican establishment hates him so much that even the billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is thinking of running if he wins the Republican nomination and Bernie Sanders wins that of the Democrats.
What about the Democrats?
Bernie Sanders is the provocative candidate on the other end of the spectrum. Just weeks ago it seemed impossible that this unknown, self-proclaimed socialist could have a serious chance against the Clinton dynasty, with Hillary at its head. But once again if the polls are to be believed, this now seems very possible.
What would it mean for Clinton if Sanders won in Iowa? If he succeeded in doing what Barack Obama did in 2008? Obama's advisers later claimed that this victory had laid the path for his nomination. Because the winner gets all the attention and positive coverage, while the loser becomes the object of scorn and people start questioning whether he or she will really make it to the end, when it becomes a matter of voters deciding for themselves and not the machine.
Such doubts are poison for the financial backers, the fans and the undecided voters. History is full of examples of people who have sacrificed their convictions to be on the side of the winner.
Rarely has the prelude to a US election campaign been so highly charged and exciting. Never in modern history has the country been so divided. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the two faces at either extreme of the spectrum.