Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mass Media Now Admits It Was Also Wrong About Post-Mubarak Egypt's Foreign Policy

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By Barry Rubin

Now that the New York Times tells us that the Muslim Brotherhood is really  strong, organized, widely supported by the army, and capable of taking over Egypt--all the things I wrote at the time and the mass media denied--the Washington Post confirms every point I made during the revolution about what was going to happen regarding Egyptian foreign policy.

Just read this article and compare it to what we were told during the revolution:

"Egypt's relations with Israel and the U.S. are likely to become more difficult in the months ahead with an infusion of Arab nationalism and skepticism about Egypt's landmark peace treaty with Israel. Many of those who helped oust President Mubarak, including secular democracy activists and Muslim Brotherhood leaders, say the 32-year-old treaty should be respected for now. But they add that when stability is restored, the pact should be submitted to the Egyptian people for approval, through a new parliament scheduled to be elected in September and then perhaps in a public referendum."

In other words, all the commitments made by the military government are not valid after September and Egypt is quite likely to abrogate or simply stop paying any attention to its treaty commitments. And what is the U.S. government, the Obama Administration, going to do at that point since it is the guarantor of the treaty? Absolutely nothing.

The article continues:

"'There was no real end to the war with Israel, just a truce,'" said Shadi Mohammed, 26, a leader of the movement that helped promote the Tahrir Square demonstrations. Mohammed Maher, a Muslim Brotherhood activist, said that if his group gains influence through the elections, Egypt is likely to pursue closer ties with Gaza, opening border crossings and promoting trade as a way to undermine the Israeli blockade."

Did you notice that? He's a Muslim Brotherhood activist and a leader in the Tahrir Square movement. Only yesterday I received a letter from a New York Times employee--full of curse words and insults, by the way--saying that he spoke to many people in Tahrir Square and none of them said they were Brotherhood supporters. So obviously there weren't any Brotherhood supporters.

Yes, honestly this is the kind of reasoning that often shapes mass media coverage of the Middle East. Sort of like the president's advisor on counterterrorism explaining that Hizballah can't be a terrorist group because it has lawyers among its members.

Yet the facts about the movement's alliance with the Brotherhood and anti-American leftists were already on the public record before the revolution even began.

And as for Obama Administration policymaking, well, let's put it in one sentence:

The president of the United States has just played a central role in bringing an anti-American government to power in Egypt that may well reignite the Arab-Israeli conflict and produce new wars in the region, become a safe haven for anti-American terrorists, and subvert other U.S. allies in the Arab world.

Oh, by the way, the headline of the Washington Post story is: "Egypt Likely to Face More Difficult Relations with Israel, U.S." This makes it sound like Egypt is the victim. How about: Once Friendly, The New Egypt Now Hostile to Israel, U.S.

As if that weren't enough, remember when we were told how the upheaval in Egypt and elsewhere frightened al-Qaida and was a defeat for that group because they showed how peaceful revolution, not terrorism, could produce change? I have not seen a single statement by any Jihadist--Iranian, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizballah, or al-Qaida--who isn't thrilled at what's happening and at Mubarak's fall.

Now, after two months of daily evidence to this effect, the New York Times finally gives us, "Islamists Are Elated by Revolts, Cleric Says."

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

It's Official: Egypt Will Hold Parliamentary Elections in September

The following article is published in PajamasMedia. The full text is provided here for your convenience.

By Barry Rubin

The military junta ruling Egypt has announced that parliamentary elections will be held in September and presidential elections in November.

Rather than spending the next five months complaining, those who aren't supporting the Muslim Brotherhood better get started actually working and organizing. I'll analyze this a lot more in the coming months but briefly the blocs are as follows:

Islamists: Muslim Brotherhood says it is aiming at getting 30 percent of the seats. I think they'll succeed. A smaller, moderate Islamist party--whose members split from the Brotherhood because they say it is too extremists--would be lucky to get any seats.

Left: There are several neo-Marxist parties but no clue whether they will work together or run separately. In either case they are unlikely to get many seats, and none at all if they compete for the limited votes that might be obtained. Probably no more than 5 percent.

Conservatives: The ex-regime's politicians including leaders of the ruling National Democratic Party. This group could do better than outsiders expect. If they unite and put forward coherent positions, they could take as much as 20 percent.

Nationalists: If Amr Moussa organizes his own radical nationalist party and does a good job, it might get up to 40 percent, especially if he brings in a lot of the former supporters of the Mubarak regime. This is the only group I think that could have a larger bloc than the Islamists.

Centrist pro-democracy forces: This would be the party of Muhammad ElBaradei, Ayman Nour, and the Facebook kids. I doubt it would get more than 15 percent, almost all in Cairo and Alexandria.

Obviously, these are tentative figures that will have to be revised as we see whether these groups do get organized and are able to remain united. The Brotherhood will definitely not "take over" Egypt this year--especially since Amr Moussa is the most likely president and the Brotherhood won't run a candidate. But it will have lots of influence and a key role in writing the new constitution.

Presumably, the Brotherhood will make deals to get religious and social clauses it wants in exchange for compromises on things it doesn't care about very much. Egypt, then, will take a big step closer to Islamism and an even bigger step toward being hostile to the United States and Israel, while moving into a virtual alliance with Hamas.

Who Really Made Egypt's Revolution?: The Story The Media Missed

The following article is published at PajamasMedia. The full text (with some improvements) is included here for your convenience.

By Barry Rubin

The world’s eyes have been focused on Egypt’s dramatic revolution. Yet incredibly, the media, government intelligence agencies, and experts haven’t answered a simple question: Who made the revolution and what were their motives and aims?

We have been repeatedly assured that the forces that began and led the upheaval were young, liberal, pro-democratic, technically hip people. Their organizational framework was the April 6 Youth Movement. The movement’s leadership appears to be a small group of independent people and participants with no structure. These leaders and the main activists seem to be genuinely moderate--in Egyptian political terms--and supporters of democracy.

However, whenever one can identify organized groups participating in this revolution they fall into three categories: left-wing radical Marxists or nationalists, reformists allied at the time to the Muslim Brotherhood, or Islamists. The April 6 movement itself has worked closely with the Muslim Brotherhood since it began.

The evidence for this assertion comes from simply analyzing the history of the April 6 Youth Movement. It started as a Facebook support group for a 2008 workers’ strike. By the following year, the group claimed to have a network linking 70,000 people. It is not clear who these people were but it is hard to believe that they all "joined" one at a time, as individuals with no other organizational affiliation.

Egyptian politics and Arab politics in general are often based on linkages that make strange bedfellows in Western terms. The neo-Marxist left contains strong Islamist and nationalist elements, as well as powerful anti-Western and anti-Israel sentiments. Islamists, precisely because they want to centralize power in the state, have socialist overtones. And people who seem liberal reformers often hold views quite distant from those of Western counterparts.

At the same time, the far larger-scale involvement of leftist activists in the movement and demonstrations was ignored, while that of revolutionary Islamists was minimized or explained away as harmless. Other than backing a labor strike, the two specific issues on which the April 6 Youth Movement was active were, understandably, support for bloggers being persecuted by the government but their other top-priority issue was ending sanctions on the Gaza Strip.

Helping Gazans is a popular cause in Egypt. Yet the political implications of that stance are revealing. The Gaza Strip is ruled by Hamas, a radical Islamist group that brutally suppresses internal dissent. Whatever the intentions--often portrayed as humanitarian--a campaign to end Egyptian sanctions on Gaza was in practice helping to entrench Hamas’s dictatorship and making it possible to smuggle in more arms for use in attacking Israel. It also sought to help the Muslim Brotherhood's number-one foreign ally to become stronger. This activity--not a domestic issue or helping the repressed people of Sudan, Syria, or Saudi Arabia, for example--was one of the movement's two top priorities. This, too, is revealing of the participants' politics.

Aside from well-meaning, hi-tech independents, the April 6 Movement was helped—or, if you wish, infiltrated--by four groups. Tagammu is Egypt’s leftist party with strong Marxist overtones. Three other organizations have their origins in apparently liberal groups. These are the al-Ghad party, led by former opposition presidential candidate, Ayman Nour; the Kifaya movement, and the National Association for Change led by Muhammad ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nobel Peace Prize winner, and presidential candidate.

Despite its liberal origins, by the time it allied with the April 6 Movement, Kifaya was largely taken over by the Brotherhood. Its origin was in a radical nationalist and leftist movement against the U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 2003, thus in practice defending the Saddam Hussein regime. It reached its peak in 2005, though deep divisions among its Marxist, leftist, Arab nationalist, Islamist, and secular liberal members were tearing it apart.

In 2006, trying to build its base through populist demagoguery—and avoid repression by the Mubarak regime--the group switched to focusing on anti-Israel agitation, including the demand to abrogate the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Some of Kifaya’s own members, “deep inside, are against democracy and reform,” said Bahaa al-Din Hassan, director of Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies at the time. In 2007 the group’s leader became Abdel Wahhab al-Messiri, a former Communist and Muslim Brother, as well as one of the country’s leading antisemites, purveyor of Jewish conspiracy theories based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

While itself liberal reformist, ElBaradei’s National Association for Change was a small group largely dependent on the Brotherhood for organizational support and vote-getting activity. Despite all their ideological differences--left-wing, nationalist, liberal, or Islamist--all four of the groups associated with the April 6 Youth Movement had as one of their top-priority issues the goal of ending the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

But there is also an additional factor. Knowing that any direct association with the Brotherhood would discredit it in the eyes of many, the April 6 Youth Movement had an understanding with the Brotherhood. The two would cooperate and exchange information but the Brotherhood would not become too directly involved in the movement. Contrary to many reports, the Brotherhood was fully informed of the April 6Youth Movement’s plan to start an anti-government uprising last January but held back so as not to taint the campaign and to avoid repression if the struggle fizzled or failed. Once it saw that the movement was succeeding, the Brotherhood joined in fully.

In April 2009, the April 6 Youth Movement directly participated in creating the Egyptian Coalition for Change. This umbrella group also called for abrogating the treaty with Israel, thus putting the April 6 Youth Movement on the record as favoring this step. The April 6 Youth Movement’s partners in this coalition were mainly al-Wasat, the Brotherhood’s least radical faction which split away convinced that the parent group would never become moderate; Brotherhood members; and al-Karama, a left-wing socialist, anti-Western radical nationalist party.

In August 2009, the April 6 Youth Movement expressed support for the Brotherhood. It is important to understand that while the April 6 Movement was not a front for the Brotherhood, many of its activists were Islamists and leftist, while most of its members held strongly anti-Western and anti-Israel views. Moreover, the movement viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as a major partner and ally.

This is not to deny that the movement’s members called for free elections and the end of the dictatorship or that the leaders genuinely wanted democracy and human rights. Yet the best-organized elements had an interpretation of democracy rather different from the Western definition of that concept.

The idea that enemies of dictatorship are themselves radicals hostile to the West seems strange to Western observers. Similarly, the idea that people who use Facebook, favor democracy, and even seem secular are sympathetic with Islamism also appears strange. Nevertheless, such cross-overs are fairly common in the Arabic-speaking world.

Similar factors shape the views of the Egyptian military leaders, the men who made the revolution possible. It is well-known in Egypt that many of the highest officers are conservative, pious Muslims who do not perceive the Brotherhood as an enemy. A symbolic sign of these attitudes has been the increasingly “Islamic dress” of the generals’ wives.

By supporting the revolution, radical nationalism, and more Islamization, the officers know they can be popular and ensure that their personal wealth and business enterprises will remain untouched. Many of these officers and their families watch clerics like Yusuf al-Qaradawi on television and like what he says.

From the standpoint of many in the military as well as many of those involved in the revolution, Islam is the answer not because of what’s been done in Tehran but as a response to their own society’s needs. Facing what they see as unattractive Westernization, increased crime, and injustice--while doubtful about rapid material progress—officers see Islam as the answer to problems of identity, social justice, and internal stability.

Thus, a far more Islamic Egypt is attractive. Those who would never want the Brotherhood to rule the state are often open to its having far more influence in running the religious establishment and society. Similarly, there is a popular and deep-seated hatred of Israel, America, and the West. This relates not only to opposition to policies but an interpretation of those policies as far more aggressive, anti-Islam, and anti-Egypt than they are. This hostility has been unaltered by the efforts of President Barack Obama to make Muslims like America.

Indeed, this has only led to a new conspiracy theory that Obama favors the Brotherhood and the Islamization of Egypt. Certain U.S. government actions—the special invitations of Brotherhood figures to President Obama’s Cairo speech, the president’s definition of the Arab world in Islamic terms, and his unilateral statement of supporting Brotherhood participation in the next Egyptian government—have deepened that belief. This has not led to increased popularity for the president or the United States but merely convinced some influential Egyptians to jump on the Islamist bandwagon that seems—supposedly even to the Americans—destined for victory.

The reading of Egyptian politics prevalent in the West—a joyous revolution inevitably producing a stable, moderate democracy, and whose total success can only be questioned by hateful people—is profoundly misleading. A group of 100,000 politically independent young, urban middle class Facebook users can make a revolution, at least if the army supports them. But Egyptians in the tens of millions—overwhelmingly not middle class, urban or Facebook users—will back organizations that are radical nationalist, Islamist, and far left.

The moderate secular liberals, dependent on hardline forces, have now have been shoved aside in the battle for power. The referendum on constitutional amendments demonstrated this fact. The leaders of the nationalist (Amr Moussa) and moderate democratic (Muhammad ElBaradei) blocs campaigned against the changes.

Yet 77 percent of Egyptians voted the way the Muslim Brotherhood urged. That doesn't mean they were all supporters of Islamists. Still, in this test of strength, the Islamists emerged as victors. In addition, with the Brotherhood and ElBaradei now having a bitter quarrel--hundreds of Islamists threw stones at ElBaradei to prevent him from voting--the seemingly democratic coalition has lost most of its activist backers and voters for the presidential election.

By the end of 2011, Egypt is likely to have a radical anti-American president who was the most bitterly anti-Israel of all the Mubarak era's establishment politicians. It is also likely to have a parliament that is about 30 percent Islamist and another 30 percent plus radical nationalist. This parliament will write a new constitution. Facebook liberals will be of minimal importance; the 8 million Christians, about 10 percent of the population, will be ignored. The Constitution will define Egypt as a Muslim state with Islam either being the main--more likely--or perhaps the sole source of law.

Anti-American, anti-Israel, and antisemitic sentiments run far deeper and wider in Egypt than Western observers perceive. The boundaries between liberal, Islamist, radical nationalist, and extreme leftist are far more porous than is assumed. And apparently hip, Facebook users can favor a Sharia state.

All of these factors will become more obvious in the coming months. Nevertheless, the disaster for regional stability and Western interests that will exist in December should have been obvious in January.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Middle East Strange Things of the Day

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hinted that the United States and Britain might arm the Libyan rebels. Don't you think it's important to know who these people are before arming them and putting them in power? U.S. officials are basically admitting that they simply don't know the political composition of the opposition so how can they be given full backing?

Oh, right, that's just what they did in Egypt.

Now it is being reported that two weeks ago President Obama authorized covert operations on the ground in support of the rebels. Consider this scenario: The rebels attack and perhaps capture a pro-Qadhafi town (Sirte, for example), levelling it in the process, and killing civilians either through indifference to casualties or murder of those considered tribal enemies and supporters of the dictatorship.

How would this compare to a mission defined as protecting civilians?

At the same time, though, the use of covert operations makes sense and the CIA will be able to get a better picture of the rebels. But the CIA has been the U.S. government institution that seems to believe that if an Islamist isn't in al-Qaida then he's moderate. So the quality of the reporting is a concern. And what if operatives are worried about the rebels but are ignored or overruled by the White House?

I hope we get some good leaks on what they are finding out in Libya.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the “target dates for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on permanent status issues and completing the Palestinian Authority’s two-year state-building program are fast-approaching.”

What target dates? This notion that the conflict must be settled right away (or else what? Egypt and Tunisia will have revolutions? Libya will have a civil war? Iran will launch a campaign to get nuclear weapons? Hamas will take over the Gaza Strip?) on the Palestinian Authority's terms is absurd.

And since when did the PA's claim that it would be ready for a state in two years become internationally accepted as the framework for global action?

Flash: Bashar al-Assad to Demonstrators: Surrender or Die

By Barry Rubin

Nowadays, Western officials and journalists seem to think that if you are a Middle East dictator and people start demonstrating you might give up, pack your bags, let your Swiss banker know to get the money ready, and make a run for it. 

That’s an illusion. The question is really: Who are the people with the guns supporting?
In Egypt and Tunisia, revolutions were easy because the armies supported them. In Algeria, Iran, Jordan, and Syria things are rather different.

And so faced with large demonstrations, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took a traditional approach, which in American cultural terms might be described by a quote from “Dirty Harry”: “Think you’re lucky, punk? Make my day!”

Assad's message is this: No concessions. American and Zionist agents are attacking me because I’m such a great Arab nationalist and friend of Islam. Rally around me and we’ll repress them no matter how many I have to kill.

I’m not saying I admire this approach but, frankly, it still works, as long as you have a strong base of support and the backing of those with the guns. Assad apparently has both.

To begin with, the Alawite minority community to which he belongs is behind him because it knows that a revolution would mean the end of its wealth, privileges, and even lives. The Christians also back the regime because they fear Islamism. That’s about one-quarter of the population. And the Alawites control the elite armed forces’ units.

Then there are the Sunni Muslims who make up about 60 percent of the population. Some of them are attracted to democratic reform; some to revolutionary Islamism; some to both. Yet many do back the regime because of its record of being so Islamist in its foreign policy: anti-American, anti-Israel, and pro-Iran, Hamas, Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq, and Hizballah.

A lot—but by no means all—of the demonstrations have been in the poor south. The other big bloc of opposition is the Kurdish minority. But they have been cautious since the last time they revolted the Arabs didn’t help them. They don’t want to take a risk. Assad’s hardline is more likely to make them play it safe.

My sympathies are with democratic reformers, but my analysis says that from his own standpoint Assad did the right thing. This is the precise opposite of how Westerners look at the situation. They assume that a hardline policy will make the people angrier and intensify the revolt. In fact, if the regime is serious about repression and has a large base of support, a tough stand it will put down the opposition.

Iran had a revolution in 1978-1979 not because the shah was too tough but because he was too soft—that’s an analysis, not a value judgment. Iraq didn’t have a revolution after the 1991 defeat in Kuwait because Saddam Hussein used his iron fist. In Egypt, the message that the military is for change and the regime is vacillating led to a flood of opposition and the fall of the regime. This is what President Husni Mubarak meant when he said that President Barack Obama didn’t understand Arab culture.

If you show weakness, you’re as good as dead. Needless to say this is a major problem with current U.S. Middle East policy. In the Middle East, nice guys don't just finish last, they don't finish at all.

To complete the picture, Assad appeared relaxed during the speech and laughed at several points. The image he’s building is: I’m not worried at all. If he were to show fear and weakness, his allies would start deserting him and going over to the other side. (That’s sentence also applies to U.S. policy.)

True, he gave some lip service to reforms and fighting corruption. But basically that’s what Assad has been saying for 11 years and he has changed nothing. With the U.S. government labeling him a “reformer” with such a record, there’s no pressure to do anything different. From the standpoint of the Syrian dictatorship—and I don’t say this lightly—it has U.S. support. Even to talk as if Assad might actually reform anything is a joke.

His father killed between 10,000 and 20,000 people in a minor revolt in Hama in 1982. So far in this upsurge he’s only killed 60. And Bashar is trying to be his father. He knows that he has nothing to fear internationally no matter what he does. One can almost see Bashar looking up (though looking down would be more accurate!) and saying, "Are you proud of me now, dad?"

The key factor that could prove this analysis wrong is whether Sunni Arabs desert the regime in large numbers. If they do so, they could go toward either Islamism or a moderate pro-democratic stance. Another indication is if the Kurds rise up that will be because they think the Sunni Arabs are likely to make a revolution. 

But for the time being my analysis is that this regime is going to survive by being brutal.

Egypt Leaves the Anti-Iran Bloc

By Barry Rubin

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi said, "The Egyptian government doesn't consider Iran to be an enemy state. We're opening a new page with all countries, including Iran." President Anwar al-Sadat cut relations with Iran in 1979, at the time of the Islamist revolution.

For three decades, Egypt's government has seen Tehran as a threat and a rival on many levels:

--Persian versus Arab.

--Shia versus Sunni.

--A challenge to Egypt's national interest and leading role in the region.

--A destabilizing factor, producing war, terrorism, and revolution in the region.

--In line with Egypt's alliance with the United States--albeit for its own interests--Egypt opposed the spread of Iranian influence.

But now, as I pointed out at the beginning of the revolution, this has all changed. Obviously, Egypt's government has the right to do what it wants in its relations with Iran. But equally obviously this is a big setback for U.S. interests in containing and combatting Iran's power.

The next step will no doubt be Egypt's rapprochement with the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.

All of this was completely predictable, but nobody in the U.S. government and very few in the media, saw it coming.

Libya: What A Difference A Day Makes!

By Barry Rubin

Monday: President Obama says, "And tonight, I can report that we have stopped Gadhafi's deadly advance."

Tuesday: Associated Press reports: Moammar Gadhafi's forces hammered rebels with tanks and rockets, turning their rapid advance into a panicked retreat...."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Egypt: Morality Police and Dress Code?

By Barry Rubin

A text message has been widely sent around in Egypt demanding that women, including Christians, dress in the proper “Islamic” manner. March 29 has been announced as a special day for enforcing this demand. Fear of harassment has made many women plan to stay home on Tuesday.

The army has not made any response on this warning, making some people believe it in effect endorses the idea. Would soldiers step in and protect women who are being pressured by self-proclaimed guardians of Islam?

People are watching to see what, if anything, happens as a sign of where Egypt is heading.

President Obama's Failure to Support--With Words Not Guns--Iranian and Syrian Oppositionists Is A Disgrace

By Barry Rubin

At the moment in history when people are not just rebelling in the Middle East but when the opposition movements in Iran and Syria are at a high point, the fact that the U.S. government is standing by and not only doing nothing but virtually saying nothing.

No, it is even worse. For Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually praised Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad. She said that "members of Congress" who have gone to Damascus (notably Senator John Kerry who should henceforth be known as an apologist for an oppressive anti-American dictator), have found Bashar al-Asad to be a "reformer."

Can anyone tell us what reforms he has made? This is a dictator who is Iran's chief ally; who has actively encouraged and helped terrorists in Iraq to kill Americans; who has tried to launch his own secret nuclear weapons program (stopped only by an Israeli bombing attack); who is chief backer of Hamas in killing Israelis; and who has reimposed Syrian control over Lebanon by using terrorism against Lebanese moderates.

And so, the secretary of state of the United States has praised a dictator who is murdering unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Syria. Mubarak, a U.S. ally and far less oppressive than Syria or Iran, was bad; but Asad, an enemy of the United States and a far more repressive dictator is good?

Note that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took a much tougher stance on criticizing Syria. I suggested that he was contradicting administration policy in doing so. Unfortunately, that assessment was correct. But good for Gates in taking a good stance. Presumably, he won't be around much longer. Note that he also correctly said that intervention in Libya wasn't a vital U.S. interest, again contradicting Clinton and the White House.

Let's be clear here: Administration officials are (deliberately?) misinterpreting what's they're being asked to do. The issue is not a Libyan-style military intervention but rather daily statements and covert aid if appropriate.

NOBODY IS ASKING THE UNITED STATES TO SEND MILITARY FORCES TO SYRIA OR IRAN. We are only asking that U.S. policy give support to oppositionists trying to overthrow repressive dictatorships that are America's worst enemies in the Middle East and--arguably--in the world.

Is that clear enough?

Remember covert operations? It's something the United States used to do during the Cold War, sometimes with great effectiveness. Doing something like that on the side of people who want freedom seems a good idea. But won't the regimes denounce the opposition as American agents? The fear of this seems to be one factor paralyzing the Obama Administration.

Guess what? They'll do it anyway! Every day and with every means at their disposal.

Yes, I know some claim that in his Iranian NewYear's message, President Obama did support Iranian oppositionists one time. But my reading of that statement is that it did the exact opposite, skirting the issues to avoid offending the Iranian regime too much.

It is time for the U.S. government to speak up. By making it publicly clear that the United States will not even end the engagement with Syria and start bashing it publicly, it is signalling the Syrian government that it can shoot down as many demonstrators it wants and torture people with no international consequences.

This is against U.S. interests, against democracy and freedom, and against common sense. If President Obama can say that "Mubarak must go" and "Qadhafi must go" why can't he at least say: "Ahmadinejad must go" and "Asad must go."

The Intervention in Libya: A Feel-Good Mirage

By Barry Rubin

The Western intervention in Libya is the kind of thing that makes governments feel good and look good--provided they have a tame media unwilling to ask tough questions--but is of little or no strategic importance.

There are two good rationales for the operation: If Qadhafi survives he is likely to return to a high priority on international terrorism and subversion and if he won he probably would have murdered hundreds, even thousands of people. While Syria and the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip are high-profile terrorism sponsors that U.S. policy accepts, next to them Qadhafi is the worst such figure and he is highly adventurous.

So a case can be made for intervention. Yet there are also points on the other side. Consider the following:

1. The intervention has not brought the civil war one inch (or one millimeter if you prefer) closer to resolution.

2. The intervention has done virtually nothing to bring victory to the opposition and the defeat and departure of dictator Muammar Qadhafi.

3. The intervention has not brought us any nearer to understanding the nature of the Libyan opposition.

The idea that the Libyan rebels are mostly or all al-Qaida and Islamists is absurd and there's no evidence for it.  Certainly there are Islamists. And of course, the idea that they are mostly--or are mainly led by--moderate liberal democrats is equally absurd.

What are their motives?

Understandable hatred for a terrible, corrupt, repressive regime led by a madman, horrible even by Middle Eastern, Arab world standards.

Regional antagonisms against domination by western Libyans. This implies, however, that a lot of Libyans in the western part of the country support Qadhafi.

Tribal anger from the feeling that other tribes get the loot. By the same token, Qadhafi has a loyal base of support among the tribes who have received benefits from him.

And of course Islamist influences, too. There is no doubt that there are a few among the rebels with al-Qaida ties and more with Muslim Brotherhood links. But the question is whether these people are dominant in the movement, and the answer is "no."

Tunisia is not Egypt is not Libya. In Tunisia, organized Islamists have a real but limited base, in part because of systematic repression in the past. In Egypt, they have a much larger base given the movement's deep roots and also, ironically, because the Mubarak regime was much more tolerant of the Brotherhood operating than is understood in the West. Libya has more in common with Tunisia in this respect than it does with Egypt.

The problem, then, is not that the rebels are all Islamist radicals. The problem is:

  • Nobody has bothered to investigate this issue in the U.S. government, an act of monumental irresponsibility especially before intervening militarily on their side.
  • There is not even a glimmer of a strategy to help the least objectionable people and groups against those who might create a post-Qadhafi anti-American, radical Islamist regime.
  • Islamists have an attractive ideology and are well-organized so they may well come out first in a post-Qadhafi regime.
  • Islamists will also have a lot of international support and funding from the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, etc.
Finally, the international leadership of the rebels are "respectable" former government officials. But, of course, they have no real control over what goes on inside the country. (Consider what happened in Iraq for example).

So the problem is not that the Libyan rebels are mostly revolutionary Islamists as a group but that a thoughtless, careless policy might end up installing revolutionary Islamists in power some day. Sort of like...Egypt.

The intervention has not in any way prevented Libyan civilians from being killed or wounded by rifles, machine-guns, artillery, or various other weapons. It has only prevented them from being killed by planes, helicopters, or--to a limited extent--tanks.

Can anyone challenge any of these assertions? No. They can only ignore or distort them.

So what has the intervention achieved in terms of Libya?

It has slowed, but not necessarily stopped Qadhafi's victory. Thus, the war will go on longer. Perhaps the country will be split in two for a long period of time. Oil production will remain largely off-line.

The intervention has also prevented Qadhafi from importing arms, though there is no proof that he needed to do so. Finally, it has prevented Libyan oppositionists from being killed by planes or helicopters.

Finally, it has unintentionally showed that the Western alliance is in tatters and that there is no substitute for American leadership.

By the way, it is pretty horrifying when the president of the United States says, as Obama did, "It is U.S. policy that Qadhafi needs to go." Note the passive form. It says: it's not U.S. policy to get rid of Qadhafi but he ought to leave to spare us the problem altogether. In other words, we aren't going to resolve it so let Qadhafi do so for us by disappearing of his own accord.

The implication here is that he should just decide to move to southern France or that his own colleagues should get rid of him. (The latter idea worked in Egypt, but conditions were different there.) But this phrasing makes the United States an onlooker. It expresses a hope, not a strategy and not an operation to be implemented. Of course, Obama also justifies his policy on international consensus rather than U.S. national interests. And he also justifies it on the basis of a humanitarian defense of civilians, which is not the same as overthrowing governments.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Egypt's Revolution: Full Circle With Ban on Strikes and Protests

By  Barry Rubin

The cabinet appointed by the military junta in Egypt has proposed to the ruling military council to outlaw strikes or protests that harm the economy. The young pro-democratic activists protested this as a violation of the rights the revolution was waged to achieve.

What nobody will notice, though, is the even greater irony here: the April 6 Youth Movement, which launched the revolution in the first place, was begun in support of a labor strike outlawed by the Mubarak regime about three years ago.

Well, the regime does need to keep the economy afloat. It isn't the fault of the junta so much as the result of Egypt's objective circumstances. This is a country, after all, where a few days ago police striking for higher pay set fire to the Interior Ministry!

But what's going to happen in two or three years when the elected president and parliament have no money to raise living standards, increase salaries, maintain subsidies on food, provide jobs, or build housing? Then the need to repress demonstrations and strikes may lead to renewed repression, another revolution, or the government's use of anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Israel demagoguery to stay in power.

My Talk About Contemporary Middle East Issues

By Barry Rubin

I did a phone conference on recent developments in the Middle East and here's the audio for those who'd like to listen.

It's Official: The Obama Administration Will Do Zero to Criticize or Undermine the Syrian Dictatorship

By Barry Rubin

It's official. The Obama Administration won't do anything at all to help the Syrian people against the Bashar al-Asad dictatorship. Libya's Muammar Qadhafi is a bad dictator, but Bashar al-Asad is a good dictator?

The great Martin Kramer puts it perfectly: 

"Earlier I noted that the Arab League gave Asad a license to kill because Syria is "occupied." Now Clinton and Kerry have given him one because he's a "reformer." Asad hasn't carried out any reforms, still supports terror, has stockpiles of WMD, and even tried to build a secret nuke facility. But unlike Qaddafi, he cleans up nicely and his wife is chic. Asad gets a pass; Asads always do."

Ask yourself these simple questions: Which regime is more dangerous to U.S. interests? Which regime is sponsoring more terrorism at present? Which regime is killing Americans in Iraq? Which regime is allied with Iran and actively trying to destroy U.S. interests in the Middle East? Who is the worse dictator--more repressive; incompetent; and bad for regional stability, the United States, and the West--Egypt's Husni Mubarak or Syria's Bashar al-Asad?

Nobody is asking the U.S. government to bomb Syria or to send troops. It's just a matter of supporting those seeking democracy when it also serves U.S. interests. Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seems to feel this way.

I have no idea whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports the White House's pro-Syrian policy or not but her attempt to defend it is the most pitiful performance of her 26 months in the job. Was this because her heart isn't in it or just that the contradictions are too obvious to paper over?

Does anyone still believe that the United States is going to woo Syria away from Iran, especially now that it's handing one victory after another to Tehran? Does anyone still believe that Syria is going to make peace with Israel? I mean someone who is a rational being who has some comprehension of international affairs, in other words not Senator John Kerry.

Muslim Brotherhood Proves It Is Radical and Aggressive--According to its Own Test

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By Barry Rubin

In his New York Times op-ed back in February, Muslim Brotherhood agent--disguised as sophisticated academic--Tariq Ramadan wrote:

“By deciding to line up behind Mohamed ElBaradei, who has emerged as the chief figure among the anti-Mubarak protesters, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has signaled that now is not the time to expose itself by making political demands that might frighten the West, not to mention the Egyptian people. Caution is the watchword. “

But wait! Now it is the month of March and the Brotherhood has broken with ElBaradei. In fact, Brotherhood supporters by the hundred threw stones at ElBaradei and prevented him from voting on the constitutional amendments during the recent referendum. So much for democracy.

So to take Ramadan at his word, now that the Brotherhood has turned against ElBaradei and physically attacked him, does that mean--to paraphrase Ramadan--that:

The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has signaled that now is the time to expose itself by making political demands that might frighten the West and the Egyptian people. Confidence and aggression is the watchword.

In other words, the Brotherhood can toss away one of the main "proofs" of its moderation and lack of aggressiveness and the Western elite--including those in whose newspaper these words appeared--don't even notice!

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Turkey: Less Democracy But An Alternative

By Barry Rubin

For several years I've been telling you that under its current Islamist regime, Turkey has become less and less of a democratic state. Dissidents are arrested on trumped-up charges; the media is bought up or intimidated into shutting up. Hundreds of peaceful dissidents--including many journalists--have been arrested, imprisoned, and accused of treason or terrorism without evidence. The regime has moved into an alliance with Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah. It has bought up much of the media and intimidated much of the rest.

Yet the idea that somehow this regime is a model of democracy in a Muslim-majority state--something for others to emulate, for goodness sakes!--has remained dominant in the West.

Still, one abuse has followed another, with the nature of this anti-democratic would-be dictatorship becoming increasingly apparent. Following on the arrests of journalists and closing of a publication merely because it asserted that it was about to publish proof that the arrests have been made on trumped-up charges, even the U.S. government finally protested, albeit very mildly.

But now the regime has trumped even that human rights' violation.

An investigative journalist named Ahmet Shik has been working on a book about Fatitullah Gulen. But Gulen, a controversial Islamist who has huge amounts of money, his own media empire, has bought off some American Middle East experts, runs lots of schools, practically owns the Turkish police, and engages in a variety of covert activities aimed to transform Turkey into an Islamist state. Apparently, Turkish journalists do not have the right to criticize or investigate the movement.

So not only was Shek arrested--as an alleged terrorist!--and all the copies of his manuscript seized by the police, but the authorities then went on to raid his publisher's office and two of his friends homes and offices. They deleted the versions on all of their computers. Then, realizing that an expert can restore deleted files, the police returned and took the hard disks with them.

One wonders how much repression is going to have to happen in Turkey before foreign media acknowledge and Western governments admit that the regime is oriented toward dictatorship and Islamism, making it an enemy of Western interests and certainly only a negative role model for the Arab world!

The leader of Turkey's opposition says that the current, Islamist regime's supposed policy of getting along with everyone--though really it means aligning with radical Islamist forces in the Middle East--has actually led to bad relations with a lot of countries.

And he also discusses relations with Israel:

Question: "Does the deterioration of relations with Israel...serve Turkey’s interests?"

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu: "The answer is no. In the first place, the deterioration of our relations with Israel has caused significant losses....Trade and tourism went down....But the greater loss is of a strategic nature and affects the entire region....[The fact that Turkey is] no longer enjoying the trust of Israel puts it out of the Middle East equation, further weakening the prospects of peace and stability in this key region [and]...could unexpectedly lead to situations that might hurt Turkey’s vital national interests."

And here's another brilliant article by Soner Cagaptay which gave me a new perspective on Turkish issues. Briefly, he points out that the current, Islamist regime in Turkey has dropped all the good things from Kemalism (secularism, gender equality, good relations with the West) and simply adapted all the problemmatic aspects (hardline stand on the Armenian and Kurdish issues; unbending nationalism, etc.)

Finally, the current Turkish regime--which likes Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi--is refusing to support NATO involvement in the Libyan crisis. Instead, it wants to mediate. Whose side is this regime on? Not that of NATO or the West. But it is on the side of Iran, Syria, Libya, Hamas, and Hizballah.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why Moderate Arabs Are Horrified at Obama Administration Policy

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By Barry Rubin

I've seen a lot in media expressing the views of the Gulf Arab states and officials' statements--not all of them public, and not to mention similar expressions from Turkish and Iranian oppositionists--expressing horror and shock at Obama Administration Middle East policy. Remember, al-Jazira is NOT typical, as it is run by Islamists and follows the pro-Iran line of its owner, the Qatari government.

In this article in al-Sharq al-Awsat (translated by MEMRI), a Saudi-controlled but also relatively liberal newspaper, Tariq al-Homayed, the chief editor, expresses the combination of shock and horror at the Obama Administration. The conflict was hot over Egypt and even hotter over Bahrain, where the Saudis want the current regime to survive and U.S. officials have criticized Saudi intervention.

Indeed, he complains, the statements coming from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
sound "more like what we'd expect to hear from the Iranian foreign minister." The "contradictory statements coming out of Washington have become more than merely perplexing; they are also suspicious."

Why suspicious? Because it isn't clear whether the U.S. government is more concerned about stopping revolutionary Islamism or undermining those who oppose it, more interested in containing Iran or letting Tehran's influence spread, supporting moderate Arab countries or overthrowing their regimes.

The editor accuses U.S. policy of ignoring Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen and Iranian statements claiming Bahrain. (Reminds me of how Iraq used to claim Kuwait and that was ignored until 1990, when Iraq invaded and annexed that country.)

How, he asks, can U.S. policymakers complain when the Gulf Cooperation Council states intervene in Bahrain--according to previous agreements--and then demanding that these countries support intervention in Libya?

Israel could now say to Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and several other Arab governments (plus the Iranian and Turkish oppositions): Welcome to our world.
The fears of relatively moderate Arabs (and Turks and Iranians) that they are getting thrown under bus are not merely imaginery at all. For example, the New York Times had an article March 17 with the following headline:

"Interests of Saudi Arabia and Iran Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Now, of course, one understands what this means in linguistic terms. Yet the headline is amazingly revealing. Yes, the Saudis, not the United States, are now carrying on the main battle against the spread of Iranian influence and revolutionary Islamism. Of course, they cannot sustain this burden long without U.S. support.

Which raises the question: What's the United States doing in the "middle" between Iran and Saudi Arabia! It should be backing the Saudis against Iran. Indeed, it should be leading the anti-Islamist coalition!

To be fair, the Obama Administration is putting early-warning stations into Saudi Arabia for the day when Iran has nuclear-tipped missiles. The Reagan Doctrine (is that still in force?) commits the United States to protect Saudi Arabia from an overt Iranian military attack.

Yet the headline is true. The current U.S. government is essentially neutral between the two sides. Sort of like a headline from 1941 reading, "Interests of Nazi Germany and Britain Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Saudi Arabia isn't exactly like Britain under Winston Churchill but it is now on the front-line against the greatest threat of our time. U.S. policy already mishandled Iran in the 1970s and, more recently, the Obama Administration has watched Lebanon fall, Turkey's government change sides, and Egypt jump ship.

Already a headline would be accurate that read: "Interests of Palestinians and Israel Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Or how about: "Interests of Venezuela and Moderate Latin American States Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Or: "Interests of Russia and Central Europe Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Yes, with this administration being in the "middle" is the best-case analysis. At worst, it's on the wrong side altogether.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Two Helen Thomas Farces: What She Says and How She's Ridiculed

By Barry Rubin

It's amazing how bad the public discussion of issues is nowadays. Here's a tiny example. Helen Thomas was fired for her anti-Jewish statements and was recently interviewed in Playboy where she made more such remarks that are--correctly--being interpreted as antisemitic.

But why does Thomas hate Israel so much, a hatred that spills over into antisemitism? I haven't seen a single person who's gotten it right. She's no neo-Nazi or nut case. Thomas is of Lebanese descent, albeit Christian, and basically views herself on this issue at least as an Arab.  The important factor is not her eccentricity but her typicality.

What Thomas is doing, then, and has done for many years, is to express ideas common in the Arabic-speaking world which are becoming increasingly common in the West. That's why she's significant and that's where she's coming from. Her blend of anti-Zionism and antisemitism--using traditional anti-Jewish themes, sometimes applied to Israel and at times to all Jews--is just like what exists in a high percentage of households in the Arabic-speaking and Muslim-majority worlds.

We're not talking about a funny old lady but about a worldview held by millions of people in a lot of countries, by revolutionary Islamists and terrorists, and by a growing number of people on Western college campuses and in elite circles. This is not some joke but rather a "craziness" that kills and shapes the fate of whole nations and continents.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Western Media Discover Egyptian Revolution Not So Moderate; Muslim Brotherhood is Powerful, Still Deny That It's Radical

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By Barry Rubin

It seems mere days ago that every reporter and expert on all television channels and newspapers was preaching that Egypt's revolution was a great thing, run by Facebook-savvy liberals, inspired by President Barack Obama and "universal values." Those silly, paranoid Israelis had nothing to worry about. Christians were backing the revolution and everyone was going to be brothers, but not Muslim Brothers because the Muslim Brotherhood was weak, moderate, opposed to violence, and full of great people.

Anyone who said anything different was screened out and vilified.

Now, with no soul-searching, apologies, or even examining what false assumptions misled them, places like the New York Times are starting to admit they were completely wrong.

You mean they helped foist a policy that is a disaster for U.S. interests and regional stability? You mean the result might well be new repressive regimes, heightened terrorism, wars on Israel, and discrediting the United States as reliable ally or enemy worth fearing?

Oh well, what are a few hundred thousand lives lost, a whole region destabilized, and entire countries taken over by anti-American radicals who sponsor terrorism, and a couple of wars, more or less?

So now the New York Times tells us such things as “religion has emerged as a powerful political force.” How do they cover their past mistakes? They erroneously add, “Following an uprising that was based on secular ideals.” They have discovered that a lot of army officers like the Muslim Brotherhood, which we knew about long before simply by watching how officers’ wives were transformed from imitators of European fashions to being swathed in pious Islamic garb.

The newspaper explains, “It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the non-ideological revolution are no longer the driving political force — at least not at the moment.”

Note how they again cover their mistakes. First, the revolution is based on “secular ideals” but then it is “non-ideological.” The Facebook kids are out but perhaps only for the “moment,” meaning they might be back on top next week. But we warned from the start that this was ridiculous because there are no more than 100,000 Facebook kids and tens of millions of Brotherhood kids.

Last month the Brotherhood was weak and disorganized, now it is “the best organized and most extensive opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to have an edge in the contest for influence.”

“We are all worried,” said Amr Koura, 55, a television producer, reflecting the opinions of the secular minority. “The young people have no control of the revolution anymore. It was evident in the last few weeks when you saw a lot of bearded people taking charge. The youth are gone.”

Funny, I didn’t have any trouble finding plenty of people in Egypt worried during the revolution. Yet the Times and the other newspapers only wanted to quote people who said how great everything was, even as Christians sent out desperate messages about how scared they were.

Incidentally, the only person quoted as an expert in the article comes from the left-wing International Crisis Group, headed by an anti-American who hangs out with U.S. policymakers. The analyst tells us that the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t want the revolution, despite the fact that every action and statement of the group said the exact opposite.

Whether or not the Times reporters are “useful idiots,” they are certainly idiots. It isn’t just political slant but the violation of the most basic concepts of politics and logic. Consider this passage:

“This is not to say that the Brotherhood is intent on establishing an Islamic state. From the first days of the protests, Brotherhood leaders proclaimed their dedication to religious tolerance and a democratic and pluralist form of government. They said they would not offer a candidate for president, that they would contest only a bit more than a third of the total seats in Parliament, and that Coptic Christians and women would be welcomed into the political party affiliated with the movement.

“None of that has changed, Mr. Erian, the spokesman, said in an interview. `We are keen to spread our ideas and our values,’ he said. `We are not keen for power.’”

Now, why is this nonsense? Simple:

First, political groups—especially revolutionary groups that want to impose ideological dictatorships—do not always speak the truth. They say what will benefit them. And the Brotherhood benefits by pretending to be moderate.

So statements about tolerance don’t show us where a movement is going: its ideology, record, and longer-term goals show us where it is going.

Second, seeking to create an Islamist state next Thursday does not have to be the Brotherhood’s aim. What all this material shows is merely that they see the process as longer-term and that the basis must be prepared.

It’s sort of like saying: The Communists aren’t intent on creating a Communist state. Oh no, they only want to spread their ideas and values! They say they are happy to work with capitalists and would be happy with thirty-three percent of the seats in parliament. And anyone who wants can join their party. So there isn’t any threat.

Reporters who write things like "Israeli authorities claim that the killing of its civilians are 'terrorist attacks'" are quite willing to take the Muslim Brotherhood at its word. They never recount the fact that this was a Nazi ally whose words for decades have stressed virulent hatred of America, democracy, Christians, and Jews. They never explain that it is a pro-terrorist group that endorsed killing Americans in Iraq and only last October called for Jihad against the United States.

Why go on? It’s as if the most prized institutions of the Western world—universities and media—have forgotten their mission, lost track of their values, thrown away their principles, and dropped one hundred points in IQ. And when they are proven to be terribly wrong, they merely shift to a slightly different position.

This farce has gone beyond embarrassing through disgraceful and has ended up being both deadly and ridiculous.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates Urges Syria Regime Overthrow Against White House Policy

By Barry Rubin

As I’ve reported, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is horrified by White House policies in the Middle East. Indeed, he has an extra reason for being upset since it is his military forces that have to manage the Libyan mess while simultaneously fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while, on top of that, facing cutbacks and administration social engineering experiments in the armed forces.

Just after visiting Egypt, Gates became the first administration official to call openly for the success of the Syrian opposition in overturning that dictatorship. Precisely, he urged the Syrian army to “empower a revolution” as happened in Egypt. His statement was made as demonstrations grow in parts of Syria. (If you want to know more about Syria, you might consider reading my book, The Truth About Syria.)

Was he reflecting White House orders on this point? Possible but I doubt it. Let’s see if the president says anything about Syria. The White House did strongly condemn the Syrian government’s “brutal repression of demonstrations.” But that’s the kind of language routinely applied by it to lots of countries. Will anything about the U.S. conciliatory effort toward Damascus change? Senator John Kerry, chief appeaser of the Bashar al-Asad dictatorship, will no doubt go on doing so.

Meanwhile, the administration is dumping another ally in Yemen, a country where few should be naïve enough to expect anything approaching democracy.

As for Syria, can anyone tell us why the Syrian army will stand by the regime? Okay, I’ll do it. Syria is run by the Alawite minority who simply aren’t real Muslims but pretend to be Shia when that suits them. The Alawites know that a revolution would almost certainly produce an Islamist takeover and certainly a Sunni Muslim one. And such a regime would line a lot of the Alawites up against a wall and…bang, bang, bang.

That’s a good incentive for shooting down unarmed demonstrators. Kill or be killed.

Egypt's Revolution Plus U.S. Government Mistakes Makes Israel-Hamas War Inevitable

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By Barry Rubin

I'm going to make a prediction here that, unfortunately, I'm sure will come true. Any good analyst should be able to see this, yet few will until it happens within the next one or two years:

The Egyptian revolution and U.S. policy mistakes make a new Israel-Hamas war inevitable, and as a result it will be a lot more of an international mess.


First, Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, is a revolutionary Islamist movement that  views itself as directed by God's will; considers Jews to be subhuman; believes that a willingness to court suicide and welcome death and destruction will bring victory; is certain that it is going to destroy Israel; and is determined to transform Palestinian society into an Islamic utopia, no matter how many people it has to kill. It is indifferent to the well-being, or even physical survival, of the Palestinians it rules.

And not one word of that is an exaggeration.

Given this situation, there are only two ways to stop Hamas from waging war on Israel. A shorter-range solution is deterrence through strength and weakening Hamas with tough sanctions. The defeat Israel inflicted on Hamas in the 2008-2009 war and the tight sanctions in place until 2010 forced the organization to retrench and  be cautious for a while.

The only longer-term solution is the overthrow of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip and the maximum possible destruction of that group's leadership, structures, and resources.

Events in Egypt and U.S. policy, however, have at least temporarily destroyed this shorter-range solution and made impossible the longer-range one.

If Hamas is confident, it will go to war. With more and better weapons, Hamas will go to war. If it believes that the international environment is permissive--much less supportive!--it will go to war. It's only a matter of timing.

Second, the Egyptian revolution removed a regime that defined its own and Egypt's national interest as having an anti-Hamas policy. The Mubarak government did not maintain sanctions and an (imperfect) blockade of weapons' shipments out of concern for Israel.

No. It did so because the Egyptian government saw revolutionary Islamism as the main threat to the country and to itself. This was not, as current U.S. officials claim, some cynically manipulated mirage to justify dictatorship. Rather, it was a very logical policy.

In addition to the direct threat of Hamas subverting Egypt in cooperation with Islamist groups in the country, the Mubarak government saw Hamas as part of a broader Iran-led strategic threat to Egypt, Sunnis, and Arabs generally.

A new government in Egypt, whether radical nationalist, Islamist, or "liberal democratic" will have the opposite view.

The Muslim Brotherhood views Hamas as its closest ally and wants it to overthrow the Palestinian Authority as well as to destroy Israel.

The nationalists support Hamas as part of the Arab struggle against Israel.

The "liberal democrats" do so because they know this is a very popular position with Egyptians and to oppose it would reduce their already tiny base of support to zero. Remember that April 6 Youth Movement, the young Facebook-using liberals who launched the revolution? Well, it engaged in two activities before that: one was to free imprisoned bloggers; the other was to end sanctions against the Hamas regime in Gaza.

And so, Hamas knows that it now has an ally, rather than an enemy, at its back. Moreover, there is no incentive in Egypt--or among its nationalist and Islamist-sympathetic officers--to block arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. As a result, Hamas is stronger and more confident, and hence arrogant and reckless. It is better able to launch rockets, mortars, and cross-border attacks, and far more eager to do so. Hamas is also able to get longer-range missiles and other new types of weapons.

As for U.S. policy, while supporting some sanctions on Hamas and refusing to deal directly with the group, the U.S. government has not supported overthrowing the Gaza regime, though any serious assessment of U.S. interests show this should be a priority. A policy to destroy Hamas should be part of the war against Iranian hegemony in the region, revolutionary Islamism, terrorism, and instability. Even more, doing so would aid the moribund Israel-Palestinian peace process and keep the Palestinian Authority in power.

But there is no appreciation for these points in Washington. When it comes to fighting revolutionary Islamism, U.S. policy sees the Middle East as a no-try zone.

What makes matters worse, is the Obama Administration's demand--after being shaken by a small incident in which about a half-dozen Islamist militants were killed on a ship after they attacked Israeli soldiers--to minimize sanctions. And then, out of misplaced humanitarian concern, the U.S. government deliberately, albeit indirectly, pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the Gaza Strip, thus strengthening Hamas and its popular base of support.

By such behavior, the Obama Administration is not just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; it's enlarging the hole below the ship's water-line, arguing that by doing so it is moderating the ocean.

This strategy ensures that there would be a genocidal-oriented, revolutionary Islamist, subversion-spreading, anti-American, brutally repressive, anti-Christian, woman-oppressing, Iranian client regime on the Mediterranean. What's really alarming is that the previous sentence is not in the least bit exaggerated. We're talking about a Taliban-equivalent regime here. 
Now, U.S. support for a transformation of Egypt with no idea where that would lead, has helped turn that enemy of Hamas into a Hamas ally. The Obama Administration has also supplied one more reason why revolutionary Islamists feel as if the future belongs to them, America is finished in the region, and why they  should be even more bold and aggressive.

Much of the escalation of attacks on Israel now is the result of Hamas getting new weapons and escalating its use of terrorism on all levels. In addition, we are seeing no significant international action or even criticism of this behavior. On the contrary, the more terrorism Hamas commits, the more Israel is criticized in the Western media.

Terrorism works; aggression goes unpunished. Why be surprised that Hamas becomes increasingly confident and aggressive?

It is only a matter of time until Hamas once again does what it did at the end of 2008: launch a larger-scale assault on Israel. At that point, Israel will have to respond by a major attack on the Gaza Strip.

What will happen? Will Egypt remain neutral? Will its government stop the Muslim Brotherhood and other sympathizers rush arms, money, and even armed Egyptian volunteers into the Gaza Strip? Will the West blame Israel, instead of itself, for the violence? Will the United States take any productive action at all?

This crisis is inevitable, though it might take one or at most two years to happen. Yet nobody outside Israel sees--or wants to see--what's coming.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Terrorism Flourishes Because It Brings Public Relations and Political Gains

By Barry Rubin
Why is terrorism against Israel increasing now? Because the terrorists have:

--Everything to gain domestically. Terrorism mobilizes support among their own people and proves their militancy against rival groups.

--Everything to gain regionally. There is increasing radicalization and growing power for revolutionary Islamism. Throughout the region and especially for Hamas, Egypt's revolution--which Islamists view as a victory for them--has emboldened radicals and terrorists.

--Nothing to lose internationally. The West, and the United States in particular, will do nothing to punish them.

--And lots to gain in terms of public relations. The Western media often gives them good coverage and blames Israel when it retaliates.
The examples of recent days amply prove all of those propositions:  

Hamas, which fired or allowed to be fired 50 mortar rounds at Israel, believes it now has a sympathetic government at its back, in Cairo. Moreover, there is no international reaction against its behavior.

Indeed, the New York Times' coverage claims that up until now Hamas has observed a ceasefire, despite the firing of an estimated 600 rockets and mortar shells in two years and several attempts at terrorist attacks on the ground (the most recent of which coincided with the upsurge in mortar shells).  It also mentioned, without qualification, Hamas' claim that it has up until now tried to prevent cross-border attacks despite the fact that there is no evidence for that and much against it.
But when Israel retaliated against Hamas for these attacks, much of the international media highlighted Hamas' claim that Israeli forces had killed civilians, ignoring the fact that a mortar position was located, even according to a Palestinian witness--whose statement is buried in the Times story--that they heard the mortar being fired by Hamas people just outside their house.
The story should be: Hamas attacks Israel, recklessly uses civilian homes as cover.
A few days earlier, the Al-Aqsa Brigades of Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority, claims responsibility for murdering a Jewish family at Itamar--including three children--and there is no international cost. Coverage of the attack in much of the Western media was accompanied by equal or greater space devoted to criticizing the West Bank settlements and those who live there.

In addition, a wire service story claimed that the Al-Aqsa Brigades claim was probably not true (on what basis?) and that the group was almost defunct (a clear lie never before seen anywhere in print). The association between the Al-Aqsa Brigades and Fatah was not made though it is clearly identified as such on the official Al-Aqsa Brigades Internet site!  
Finally, an attack on a bus stop in Jerusalem was widely reported in the following ways: AP ran with the story a photo of a Palestinian in Gaza wounded in earlier Israeli attacks (in response to the barrage of rockets); Le Monde claimed the "targeted bus" was headed for a settlement (which seems to be inaccurate as the bomb was left in the station), as if that excuses the attack.

As for Reuters, it explained: "Police said it was a `terrorist attack'--Israel's term for a
Palestinian strike." A "Palestinian strike"? Sounds like someone didn't show up for work and demanded higher pay. There is, according to Reuters, no such thing as a terrorist attack against Israel. Presumably, terrorism only happens to other countries.

So events in the region and the international reaction encourage terrorism.  No surprise. If terrorism is not only unpunished but not even criticized internationally--even rewarded with sympathy for the terrorists' cause and criticism of Israel, the victim--why shouldn't terrorist attacks increase?

On one level, President Barack Obama's response was quite correct:

“There is never any possible justification for terrorism. The United States calls on the groups responsible to end these attacks at once and we underscore that Israel, like all nations, has a right to self-defense.”

But perhaps the problem is that the United States must do more than "call" on those responsible to stop terrorism--something we all know they won't do. Perhaps it should help make them stop. Since his policy has been, whether intentionally or not, helping Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, and Hizballah, as well as never punishing the Palestinian Authority for its incitement or Fatah for its terrorism, changing that policy is a good way to begin.

Hillary's Friends Echo Our Analysis: No Excuse for Not Knowing U.S. Foreign Policy Is At the Iceberg

By Barry Rubin

Every analyst loves the day when policymakers and national leaders start echoing precisely what he's been writing for weeks, months, and years. In this case, unfortunately, it's about bad things happening.

Read this article in the new mainstream, establishment Internet newspaper, The Daily,  interviewing people around Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Insiders love to give  anonymous quotes about what's really going on within government, especially when they see the water rising up to the top of the portholes (the ship is sinking, echoing the Titanic imagery of this article's title); they are horrified by what's happening; and they see a catastrophe they don't want to be associated with (read: blamed for).

Guess what? They're saying that President Barack Obama and most of his team are dangerously incompetent and ideologically deluded--"amateur night" is one memorable phrase used. This is what I've been warning about since the summer of 2008 and pointing out in detail since January 20, 2009, on a daily basis.

I'm not writing this article for the purpose of saying I told you so, Well, okay, yes, I'm doing that also since it's one of the few pleasures of my craft. But what's most important is that there's no excuse now for anyone failing to understand that this is true.

Most of what I have written is based on material available with some understanding of the issues, good judgment, and serious research. Yet the most basic points have been missed by those far higher paid (that doesn't say much), with big budgets (ditto), large staffs (ditto), and the prestige that opens doors (ditto).

Yet it is hardly a secret in the State Department, Defense Department, and the U.S. armed forces that the current policy is a mess; that the Libyan intervention is a shambles; and that the undermining of traditional American allies is a dangerous mistake.

The main reason I'm writing this article is to declare, solemnly and seriously, that as of now, March 2011, nobody can say that they didn't know the U.S. government is set on a disastrous course internationally, throwing away American credibility, subverting U.S. allies, and helping America's foes (and the enemies of democracy and freedom).

This is not a matter of liberal and conservative or of Democrat and Republican. It is a national emergency. One can only hope that those within the government bureaucracy, Congress, the media, opinionmakers, and the general public (also known as: voters) wake up right now this minute and take appropriate action.

The alarm bell is going off in your ears.

Egypt to Put Officials on Trial; Message to Regimes: Don't Lose Power!

By Barry Rubin

An Egyptian committee set up by the ruling junta has called for overthrown President Husni Mubarak to be put on trial for killing around 360 people who died during the revolution. This raises the possibility that Mubarak could be sentenced to death and executed.

Former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli, already facing trial for corruption now faces the added charge of ordering police to shoot at demonstrators. High-ranking police officers are also under arrest and being investigated for doing so.

Without remarking on the merits of the specific cases, what message does this send to other regimes, their security forces, and police? Of course this one:

If you don't support the regime and put down demonstrations you might be thrown into jail or even executed when the revolution wins.

Expect resistance to concessions or change and willingness to shoot demonstrators to increase in a half-dozen countries.

"Thousands of Palestinians rally for reconciliation." But reconciliation with whom?

By Barry Rubin

The headline on the Associated Press story caught my eye immediately:

Thousands of Palestinians rally for reconciliation

I always look for stories that contradict my assumptions so that I can examine or change them if necessary. According to the headline, this might be an important new--and positive--development.

So, did thousands of Palestinians come together to rally for reconciliation with Israel following the horrendous murder of an entire family? Is there really the hope for Israel-Palestinian peace that the Western governments and media keep telling us about?

Of course not! (Sadly.). These Palestinians--about 25,000 of them--were rallying for reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas so that they could go to war against Israel together!

You know, Hamas, the organization that calls for the killing of all Jews and wiping Israel off the map. Reconciliation also includes, of course, the murderers of the Fogel children in Itamar and all the other suicide bombers and terrorists who killed Israeli civilians.

Moreover, Hamas, even though the demonstration served its purpose generally, is so dictatorial that it attacked some of the participants because they were Fatah supporters, thus showing why there isn't unity.

Of course, the headline should have tipped me off: You can't have "reconciliation" with someone when you've never been willing to have "conciliation" with them in the first place.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The War in Libya: Unprecedented Strangeness

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By Barry Rubin

Should the United States and Europe want Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi out of power? Sure. But the real question is how U.S. policy is dealing with this crisis.

1. Nothing could be more obvious than the fact that all of these people talking about how evil Qadhafi is are doing sonly because he is being severely challenged in a civil war. Where were all of these humanitarians when nobody was writing about his repression? Better late than never but let's get real about what has happened here.

2. How can a president go to war without even seeking a congressional resolution?  Talk about an imperial presidency! Some in the media are so ridiculously eager to support Obama that one CNN reporter defended him by saying that he had telephoned some members of Congress!

But, for example, both George Bush presidents went to Congress before taking action in Iraq. What is the legislative body governing the United States, the Senate and House of Representatives or the UN General Assembly and Security Council?

3. What is the aim of the war? Overthrowing Qadhafi? Forcing a ceasefire? Protecting civilians? I've never before seen anarchy on the side of a U.S.-led (or is it a French-led?) coalition. From minute to minute the strategy seems to change.

4. Who is the opposition that the West fights to help? Islamists? Tribalists? Regionalists? Moderate democrats? Before you help someone win a war it helps to know who they are.

5. How can people who spent years criticizing the war in Iraq, telling us that war is no solution, decrying civilian casualties from other countries' defensive activities, arguing that such interventions led to getting bogged down, apologizing for past interventions, insisting that there must be an "exit strategy," and claiming that interventions in the Third World made the United States hated as an imperialist bully now plunge the United States into a third simultaneous war in a Muslim-majority country?

6. This war was entered into on the premise that the "Arabs" support it. But now the Arab League says it only supports a no-fly zone war and civilian protection, not an effort to defeat and overthrow Qadafi. This poses the broader question: Has anyone in the U.S. government considered the regional implications?

One might note that the Arab nationalists oppose the intervention while the Islamists support it. That's not a good indication. Indeed, the country most enthusiastic about the operation--even supposedly offering to send military forces to fight alongside the United States--is Qatar, the Arab state closest (with the exception of Syria) to Tehran!

7. Just calling something a humanitarian intervention does not solve all of the problems involved. The U.S. intervention in Somalia--the perfect example of a disaster in this regard--was also humanitarian in motivation.

8. At this point, at least, few are noticing a very interesting point about the Libya affair. Frightened by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Qadhafi abandoned his nuclear weapons' program and went out of his way to cooperate with the United States on this issue, fearing a similar invasion. Giving up a nuclear defense he still got invaded. How does this look to Iran's regime? See, the rulers can now say, if we don't have nuclear weapons there's nothing to protect us from the West!

I have argued that Iran has sought nuclear weapons as a "defensive umbrella for aggression." In other words, as Pakistan and North Korea have shown, if you have nuclear weapons you can do pretty much what you want (attack neighbors, sponsor terrorism against them) and nobody will touch you. Qadhafi's case has now proven this to be the "best" strategy.

9. In terms of timing, the U.S. government waited until the last moment--reportedly due to  Obama's indecision--then rushed into a war without proper thought, planning, or definition of the mission there.

10. Instead of promoting unity among Western allies, Obama's abdication of American leadership and general ineptness has promoted conflict. For the first time, NATO allies are openly bickering.  Nobody is in charge, there's no agreed plan, different countries are acting in conflicting ways. 

Le Nouvel Observateur, a magazine supporting the French left, described the operation as "a boat without a captain." This is no accident since Obana thinks that the world is better off without having America take the lead. The mess became so big and conflict among the participants became so bitter that Germany pulled out altogether.

So this Libya operation has lots of problems, many or most of which could have been avoided by a competent American leadership. At least the Iraq war was a huge success at the start and only later became something of a mess. This war is a mess from the start.

I am not saying that I necessarily oppose military intervention in Libya in principle. My view is that, first, there should have been a serious investigation of the Libyan opposition--this condition has not been met--and if it seemed worth supporting it should be sent arms and equipment.

Instead, we are getting a confused, ill-defined, and seemingly open-ended operation. The real issue is not whether something should be done but how it's being done. As for what the goal is, who knows?

If you want to read something really superb and detailed on Libya, here's Tony Cordesman's report which is the best thing I've read on the subject of the civil war there.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Telephone Conference Call Briefing with Barry Rubin

Conference Call, Barry Rubin, GLORIA Center.
Wednesday, March 23, 10:00 am Central / 11:00 am Eastern
To Listen Live Dial 712-432-1001 Enter Access Code 499558534
No charge to listen in on the call, but the call is not toll-free.
Only the first 1000 people will be "admitted"
Please submit questions for Dr. Rubin to Rabbi Kaufman at You may do so during the live conference call as well as prior to it.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at An expert on politics of the Middle East, Barry Rubin maintains a blog

Monday, March 21, 2011

Middle East on Fire: March 21, 2011

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By Barry Rubin

Events are happening so fast that I can only summarize, trying to add some analytical depth to each development. So here goes….


The referendum resulted in a 77 percent “yes” vote on constitutional amendments to reduce the powers of the president and ensure fair elections. The changes were reasonable ones.

BUT the two leading presidential candidates Amr Moussa (nationalist) and Muhammad ElBaradei (democrat) opposed the referendum. They claimed that the changes would help the Muslim Brotherhood take power. This means the result is a defeat for them both.

The army, which currently rules Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood supported the amendments. So does this mean that the “yes” vote is a victory for the Brotherhood? Yes, in part.

There are three reasons people voted “yes”:

--The amendments are good ones.

--People want to move forward, have elections, and get things back toward a more normal situation.

--They want to show support either for the army or the Brotherhood. Some think this is also a victory for the old regime as well, the former ruling National Democratic Party, though I’m not sure on this last point.

Yet there is no way to avoid seeing this as a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood which, a growing number of pro-democratic people in Egypt worry, has support within the army. That's why the National Democratic Party's resurgence is an idea that's popping up: because people want to believe there is some organized force other than the Brotherhood!

What is important here is that the political forces that seemed to be emerging have undermined their own popularity and shown how few people they can actually mobilize. Remember also the fact that the Brotherhood isn’t going to run a candidate for president and has now fallen out with ElBaradei.

So will Moussa or ElBaradei be president? Who will the Brotherhood support? Where do Egypt’s people stand? Can the nationalists and democrats organize? These are the questions to be determined.


The United States and other countries are now at war with Libya, now engaged in a third war in a Muslim-majority country (Afghanistan and Iraq)! President Barack Obama has said Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi must go.

But what is the commitment—justified by a UN resolution but not a congressional one!—on this issue?

If it is just a campaign to wipe out Libya's air defenses and stop the regime from using planes in its war effort, why have some Libyan ground forces been attacked? If it is limited to a bombing campaign, that won't bring the rebels a victory or stop Qadhafi from winning the war.

In short, is this a limited but meaningless public relations' oriented feel-good operation to declare "victory" by having a "no-fly" zone that changes little or nothing on the ground?

And is this policy a good thing or a bad thing?

I’m quite sympathetic with the idea of overthrowing Qadhafi but this is precisely the kind of operation that everyone always says should be avoided: no clear objective, no apparent strategy, an open-ended commitment, no serious thought about what happens if “we” win.

Not to mention the fact that deciding on when the United States makes war now seems a function of the UN and not the U.S. Congress. Imagine if President George W. Bush launched a war without even asking for a congressional resolution!

Oh, and guess what! After supposedly endorsing Western intervention the Arab League (predictably!) has condemned it. And who did the condemning? Why none other than the League's leader Amr Moussa, who may become Egypt's president in a few months, a position he will use to bash the United States on a daily basis. It might not be long before Arab media, regimes, nationalists, and Islamists will be condemning "Western imperialist aggression" against Libya.

And the total mess in the decision-making process leading to the war, indecision, and internal conflicts are all readily apparent, too. The situation screams out: this will not end well.

Finally, who the heck is the Libyan opposition? At least in Egypt the administration could pretend to answer the question of to whom it was turning over power, nice Facebook-using equivalents of the Founding Fathers. The U.S. government cannot answer the question about who it is at war to put into power in Libya!

The opposition seems to be a combination of factors: those who (understandably) hate Qadhafi, young people who want to emulate Egypt’s revolution, tribal forces from eastern Libya (for much of history a separate country) that view the regime as an alien presence in their region, and Islamists of various types. 

In contrast to the (anti-Islamist, though being a club for dictators) Arab League, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the leading Muslim Brotherhood cleric, has actually supported the Western offensive against Qadhafi! One should not assume that this is an Islamist-led revolt by any means, but who knows? That’s the kind of thing you’d like to understand before launching a war to bring victory to this side, right?

In other words, Obama has just launched a possibly open-ended war to overthrow a dictator and bring democracy to an Arab country, albeit by using the minimal amount of troops. Doesn’t this seem just a bit like his predecessor’s war in Iraq but less planned, less based on U.S. strategic interests, and with less understanding of the country and the forces being supported there?

Even if the goal of overthrowing Qadhafi and to keep him from massacring thousands of people is a good one in principle, the procedure is dangerously inept.


Despite ferocious repression, the anti-regime demonstrations in Syria have gained momentum. I doubt that they are going to cause the regime serious problems in the end but it is encouraging to see that a lot of the Syrian people are fed up.

Particularly significant is the opposition in the long-discontented Kurdish region, where an ethnic-nationalist impulse joins other factors in prompting opposition. Meanwhile, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which is part of the leading exile opposition group, has shaken up its leadership, perhaps believing it must prepare for new opportunities to challenge the Assad dictatorship.

U.S. policymakers have not—and will not—say one word in support of Syria’s opposition, which is a scandalous omission.


And speaking of scandalous omissions, you can read President Barack Obama’s Iranian New Year’s statement and note how careful he is to avoid giving support to the Iranian opposition. The administration has clearly decided (this has been clear for a long time) that backing Iran’s dissidents will discredit them in the eyes of the masses (funny, it doesn’t take this into account in every other country—as in Egypt--where it is more likely to be true!)

“The United States,” Obama says, “does not meddle in Iran’s internal affairs,” but merely stands up for “rights that should be universal to all human beings.” What happened to multiculturalism?

Some in the West may misinterpret Obama's message as support for the Iranian opposition but I'm certain no one in Iran will look at it this way. Saying that the Iranian regime is repressive and the United States likes human rights and democracy is hardly backing the regime's overthrow and helping the opposition. On the contrary, it is in line with the policy articulated by Undersecretary of State Burns and which I'd summarize like this:

The United States will help bring down "pro-Western" Arab regimes in order to prevent them from being even more unpopular or overthrown by radical Islamists. They will then become good democracies, in part by integrating most of the Islamists who will become moderate. As good democracies they will then furnish a good example to people living under radical regimes (Iran) who will then overturn their rulers without the United States doing anything.

I'm not satirizing, I'm summarizing.

Compare the Obama and Bush policies:

Obama: Help overthrow "pro-American" Arab regimes (and now, also Libya's dictatorship for humanitarian reasons). Avoid exercising American leadership in the region.

Buth: Help overthrow "anti-American" Arab regimes and Iran.  Exercise American leadership in the region.

While both strategies have their flaws, how the heck can Obama say that Mubarak must go and Qadhafi must go but not dare say that the Iranian Islamist regime must go? Mubarak was, after all, a U.S. ally, and Qadhafi was a terrorist troublemaker but who has not bothered the United States much in recent years.

In contrast, Iran is sponsoring anti-American terrorism; killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan; harboring al-Qaida; calling for genocide in Israel; and seeking to overthrow every government friendly to America in the Middle East.

How can anyone dare say that the Obama Administration makes sense, at least in a good way?

Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,