Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why Saudi Arabia Should Fear Iran

Commentators who analyze the anxious Saudi reaction to the recent Iranian charm offensive and Iran’s subsequent rapprochement with the US tend to downplay Saudi concerns as overblown and see Saudi Arabia’s problem with Iran as little more than a competitive tussle for regional leadership and influence. Some have gone so far as to argue that recent events should bring both Iran and Saudi Arabia to their senses so that they can move away from “childish” competition and toward “mature” cooperation.

While such an optimistic outcome would be delightful, a more cynical analysis of these developments might conclude that, if anything, the Saudis should be even more nervous than they are because Iran’s recent diplomatic success may have actually increased the risk of an Islamic Republic–based existential threat to the Sunni Arab ruling order in the Gulf.

One may see the Iranian threat as real or illusory, depending on what track one predicts the Islamic Republic will take going forward. Many argue that the Iran of today is tired and that its people are fundamentally pro-American who desperately want to rejoin the international community and who have no patience for anything that might hinder Iran from achieving that goal. The Iranian people want to enjoy life, have iPhones, travel, etc., and they are sick and tired of conflict, sacrifice, and revolutionary Islam. Consequently, the argument continues, the Iranian regime has no choice but to respond to its people’s yearning, get off its revolutionary high horse, and start delivering growth and prosperity.

The inevitable conclusion, in light of this argument, is that the Iran of the future will strive to reintegrate into the global community of nations, focus inward on its own economic development, and ultimately prove to be a force of stability and progress in the region. That argument, of course, presupposes that the current regime retains the option of realistically meeting such high expectations. This, unfortunately, is hardly the case.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Syria: Help Where It Counts


Today, more than two years into Syria’s horrific civil war, the debate about “What to do?”—rumbles on.

This conflict, humanity’s first ever “YouTube war,” has brought us virtually face-to-face with the horror of war like never before. No longer can we even pretend to be at a comfortable remove from such insanity. Today we can watch raw recordings of human barbarism—rape, torture, and murder—on our computer screens just hours after the events themselves.

The resulting worldwide human outrage is putting increasing pressure on world leaders to “do something.” The big question, however, remains: “Do what?”

Loud voices continue to call for urgent military intervention to “stop the bloodshed.” But that noble objective continues, unfortunately, to look like a nearly impossible task for outsiders to achieve.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Myth of Islamic Terrorism in America

After the planes hit on 9/11, a myth-making industry was born.

“Why do they hate us?” was the first thought to cross horrified American minds.

Israel’s lobby, worried that she would be seen as having sowed the seeds of anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world, quickly came up with an alternative explanation: “They hate us for our freedoms—our way of life,” screamed the headlines. Promoted by friendly journalists, politicians, and academics, these slogans quickly drowned out all other competing theories and were eagerly picked up and trumpeted by right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, and Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes, who went on to claim that Islamists want to impose sharia law on America.

Hollywood, not to be left out of all the fun, quickly jumped on the bandwagon with a slew of entertaining programs like 24; Sleeper Cell; Homeland; and others that amplified and capitalized on this paranoia.

Bin Laden, in fact, had no interest in changing the “American way of life.” He wanted instead to topple the Saudi monarchy and saw 9/11 as a way to permanently rupture the Saudi–US alliance, a goal he very nearly succeeded in accomplishing.

Islamists actually could not care less about imposing sharia law in the US. They want control of Arabia, its oil and its holy places, and any other Muslim-majority state they can get their hands on in the meantime. Their target, their obsession, was the Muslim world not America. Islamophobes, however, striving to keep Americans on edge, claimed to spot “homegrown” radical Islam lurking behind every tree.

In fact, a careful review of events since 9/11 proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that the claim that militant Islam has gained any traction among the Muslims of America is farcical.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Syria: Our Spanish Civil War


It is becoming increasingly clear that the Syrian revolution is going to be this generation’s Spanish Civil War, albeit with a probably less decisive outcome.

The Assad brothers and their cohorts clearly understand, by now, that they can only exit this mess “in a box.” Consequently, with the support of their fellow Alawites, who see this as an existential fight, they will be a hard nut to crack. As the rebels gain traction, the regime will circle its wagons and retreat to its Alawite redoubt to continue the fight.

Years ago, my late father told me a story about Rifaat Assad, the notorious family enforcer of the previous Assad generation. After the massacre of Hama in the early 1980s, the late King Khalid of Saudi Arabia was understandably outraged. Hafez Assad consequently sent his brother to meet with the king to try and “explain,” but the old king was in no mood to listen to any excuses. With his well-known bedouin bluntness, he heaped abuse on Rifaat for “not fearing God and killing the Muslims of Hama.” Rifaat swallowed the abuse and left. In the car to the airport, he turned to his government escort (who later recounted the story to my father) and told him, “We have the highest respect for His Majesty and appreciate his feelings, but you must understand that if we ever get threatened again, we will be willing to wipe out not only Hama but also Damascus.”

Plus ça change…!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Al Saud And The Future


A major state that was born out of a small desert principality over a hundred years ago and that has survived intact through the discovery of oil, the impact of sudden and massive wealth, two world wars, the era of Arab military coup d’états, and the challenges of Nasser, Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Al Qaida, and now the Arab Spring deserves some respect.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Case For Yemen Joining The GCC

Yemen continues to be a security problem for Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. Since the 1962 revolution which saw the overthrow of its ruling family, and Egyptian President Nasser’s subsequent enthusiastic support of that revolution, Yemen has constituted a problem that requires active management by Saudi leaders.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Towards An End To Delusion

Given the “noise” that the subject of Israel and Palestine continues to generate, one would have assumed that all the bases of this perennial problem had been covered and analyzed ad nauseam by the global chattering classes. Conventional wisdom and groupthink, however, may have overlooked a key point of this problem, probably the fundamental issue that may in fact be driving the region to war.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Book

I have published a book Arabian War Games. It is a work of fiction that war-games a future Arab Israeli conflict and an Iranian invasion of the Arabian peninsula. It is available in hard copy and E-book format at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Nobles, Kobo and other channels.