5 Arab States Quarantine Qatar: What’s America’s Move?

Led by Saudi Arabia, five Arab countries have broken ties with Qatar.

Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE and Yemen, along with the Saudis not only broke diplomatic relations, but also acted to isolate the gulf state, which sits on a peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf between Bahrain and UAE, with Saudi Arabia to the south.

Saudi Arabia has closed all commercial shipping and land borders to its gulf neighbor, and called for its citizens and companies to leave immediately. This action stems from simmering problems between the Arab states over Qatar’s funding of the Muslim Brotherhood, and ownership of the Al Jazeera news organization.

Egypt, in particular, considers the Muslim Brotherhood a threat to its stability, having ousted the group with a military coup. The other states have bristled at Qatar’s use of its news network to spread discord and negative reports about their rulers.

This break creates a bit of a conundrum for U.S. interests and efforts to fight ISIS, although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis deny that it will be an impediment. The New York Times reported:

Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Mattis, who appeared in their first joint news conference, in Sydney, after talks with their Australian counterparts, insisted that the rupture in relations among the Arab states would not undermine the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“I am confident there will be no implications,” said Mr. Mattis, who was privately informed of the decision earlier in the day.

Qatar has been a close ally in American military efforts in the gulf region, and hosts the forward headquarters of CENTCOM. U.S. Air Force jets fly missions from Al Udeid Air Base, and U.S. soldiers frequently spend their R&R at Camp As Sayliyah outside of Doha.

Over the last 25 years, the U.S. has made an enormous investment in facilities in the gulf state that’s now on the outs with other gulf Arab allies with which President Trump seeks to build a coalition for stability and peace.

In total, there are 27 warehouses with about 1.6 million square feet or 36.3 acres of enclosed storage space. The US Army also installed 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of roads and almost four kilometers (2.48 miles) of fencing. Support structures provide for a group headquarters, administration building, community center, dining facility, and enlisted and officers quarters. The site also has open storage areas, sunshades, and all associated utilities.

(This information might be dated, and in fact there are likely a lot more facilities around Doha in support of U.S. military requirements.)

While the U.S. Army and Air Force have a large presence in Qatar, the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, with more coalition air missions launching from UAE facilities. Balancing these locations when the countries have broken off all diplomatic activity puts a great burden on U.S. logistics, diplomatic assets, and military planners.

American corporations do business in all the Arab states. Will they now have to choose where to place business or personnel? This becomes a rats’ nest for American interests and a threat to the global cooperation sought by President Trump.

In fact, it could completely overshadow his historic visit to Saudi Arabia and fray the fragile ties of the Gulf Cooperation Council. “If there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the G.C.C. remain unified,” Tillerson said.

A valid question arises from this: are the gulf states acting out of a desire to bully Qatar out of funding terror, or are they acting out of fear?

If they’re acting to reduce the footprint and funding of terror, this isn’t really a bad thing, and in fact, the U.S. should laud it and apply diplomatic pressure to Qatar. But it’s probably not the true motive.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the other gulf states fear the Muslim Brotherhood. They fear the access Qatar’s Al Jazeera network has to foreign capitals, journalists and diplomats. They fear the Arab Muslim group, that traces its ties to the Nazi sympathizer Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, and Sheikh Hassan al-Banna.

Egypt and Israel cooperate on anti-terror operations in the Sinai, and enjoy a (sometimes strained) peace treaty. Saudi Arabia has found shared interests with Israel against Iran. The UAE, although officially banned from doing business with Israel, has many commercial interests in common.

Qarar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, allegedly called for improving ties with Iran, which Qataris later denied and attributed to “hackers.” That’s likely a spurious explanation, and the Saudis didn’t buy it.

So where do we go from here?

Qatar will surely suffer. Losing shipping and land route access to its neighbors is going to hurt, and Qatari businesses will lose money and value. The rift cannot continue indefinitely, so the pressure is definitely on Qatar to do something conciliatory, or to get the U.S. to intervene on its behalf.

America is placed in an awkward situation, but in the end, anything that can be done to move Qatar away from funding terror is a good move. We should use our friendship and trust with the Qataris to encourage them to heal this split.

Wahhabism, Terrorism, and the Attack in Manchester

A new article by Patrick Cockburn at The Independent, a UK online newspaper, argues that the recent terrorist attack in Manchester and similar attacks across the globe can be attributed to the Islamic Wahhabism belief system which has its roots in Saudi Arabia.  He asserts that Western governments – particularly the U.S. and U.K. – are reluctant to place the blame on Wahhabism, because they do not wish to anger the Saudis, and therefore instead place blame more generically on “radical Islam.”

Cockburn’s point is that until Wahhabism is called out as the problem, a solution to Islamic terrorism will be elusive.  Simply pinning “radical Islam” as the culprit is not specific enough to lead to solutions.

Indeed, the U.S. and U.K. have been reliant on Saudi Arabia for decades, both for oil as well as for geo-political support in the Middle East.  Particularly with the downfall of a strong Iraq, the resultant rise of Iran, and the slide of Turkey into the Islamic abyss and the Russian embrace, Saudi Arabia is the strongest counter to Iran in the region.  For these reasons, calling out Saudi Arabia for actively supporting and spreading Wahhabism is problematic.

What is Wahhabism?  It is a reactionary branch of Sunni Islam which, as mentioned, arose in Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis actively promote and seek to spread Wahhabism abroad, although not necessarily promoting the terrorist groups which hold to Wahhabist belief.  Wahhabism pushes a strict, literal interpretation of the Koran and views any who do not hold the same beliefs as kafir (a derogatory term for unbelievers).  Those who are kafir may be deceived, held as slaves, tortured, and killed.

This is exactly what the groups who trace their lineage to Wahhabism do.  What do al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab have in common?  They are all Wahhabist groups.  They have spread throughout the Middle East and Africa, like a cancer, enslaving and killing those they encounter who disagree with their beliefs.

Now, Wahhabism has struck in Manchester, England, killing a crowd of young women and girls exiting that most Western of events, a music concert.

 

President Trump Should Be Applauded for Bolstering U.S.-Israeli Relations

President Donald J. Trump is breaking new ground with respect to U.S.-Israeli relations.

First and foremost, he became the first sitting American president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel. If you recall, former President Barack Obama was photographed visiting this sacred site in summer 2008–but he did so as then-candidate Barack Obama. Moreover, Trump’s administration said in a memo of his joint talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Jerusalem is formally located in Israel–a bold move considering Israel antagonists dispute Jerusalem being the eternal, indivisible capital of the Holy Land.

While Trump has expressed an interest in bolstering relations with Israel, his administration hasn’t been entirely free of missteps or errors in their attempt to restore positive relations. Although he campaigned to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump has held off on this move for now so as to not provoke Arabs who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Back in February, Trump also said the construction of new settlements in the West Bank would stifle peace talks. However, Trump likely changed his tune given the speech he delivered yesterday short of endorsing a Palestinian state–which is encouraging news.

 

Ties between the U.S. and Israel are said to be stronger than ever since Trump assumed office earlier this year. It was quite evident that U.S.-Israeli relations were strained under Trump’s predecessor. However, happier times with our greatest ally in the Middle East seem to be unfolding now as evidenced by the picture below.

https://twitter.com/zlando/status/866984952214192128

President Trump is currently participating in his first official trip abroad, hitting up both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Up next on his itinerary is a visit to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis, who previously questioned Trump’s Christianity.

We shall see what transpires during that meeting.

Nevertheless, U.S.-Israel relations seem to be in a much better spot than before. Let’s hope the State Department and rest of the Trump administration will get Israel policy right rather than kowtow to enemy forces.

The Trump Doctrine: A ‘Principled Realism’ Of War and Profit

Simply stated, Trump acknowledges that countries do evil things to their own citizens, and c’est la vie, that’s sovereignty. But when they interfere with other friendly nations, or America’s pecuniary interests, we fight.

Saudi Arabia suits President Donald Trump. They fêted him, they flattered him, they ensured not a scintilla of negative wafted in the air. King Salman and the Saudi royal family are absolute rulers, able to create the perfect environment to greet the self-absorbed president and give him exactly what his ego demands.

Some in the media think it’s a calculated strategy, but more likely, it’s that someone like Trump suits the Saudis better than any American president, possibly since FDR. They both favor political singularities.

That makes Trump’s articulation of what may be his most clear foreign policy since he read that “America First” speech from a teleprompter last August all the more surprising. In his Riyadh speech, Trump plagiarized and cherry picked from former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, while formulating his own brand of fighting evil through war and profit.

Invoking God nine times, Trump spoke of blessings, prayer, good and evil. But the real crux of his speech was power and war and sovereignty. Trump believes in order and the sovereignty of nations to pursue their own interests. If those interests conflict with America’s (or Trump’s personal version of them), then they’re “evil.” To the extent those interests align with America’s, they can be leveraged for profit and benefit to the U.S.

Trump dubbed this approach “Principled Realism.”

For our part, America is committed to adjusting our strategies to meet evolving threats and new facts. We will discard those strategies that have not worked—and will apply new approaches informed by experience and judgment. We are adopting a Principled Realism, rooted in common values and shared interests.

What are America’s common values and shared interests with a country from which 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers called home? Iran and ISIS, right now.

Starving terrorists of their territory, their funding, and the false allure of their craven ideology will be the basis for defeating them.

But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment. It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region. I am speaking of course of Iran. From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.

Iran has been no friend of America’s since the Shah left and the clerics took over. But we’d be hard pressed to express the differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia without putting them into a context of Shia versus Sunni, and specifically Wahabi, Islam. The House of Saud rules by accommodation and acquiescence to the Wahabi fundamentalists who fund Al Queda, control Islam’s holiest sites, and enforce strict Sharia adherence in Saudi Arabia.

Trump’s doctrine is to oppose an enemy not because of their principles, but because of their transactional opposition to American interests. Given full reign, many extremist Wahabis would attack America (and have!) with the same fervor that ISIS uses in recruiting and fomenting terror. They would also slaughter fellow Muslims for perceived heresies in their conception of the faith. But to Trump, those are not evil, if they are aligned with, or under the sovereignty of King Salman.

The other difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia is that the Saudis buy American weapons, and lots of them. Based on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s figures, the Saudis spend 10 percent of their considerable GDP on their military. That puts them just behind Russia, and number four in the world with $63.7 billion in 2016.

Fighting evil is big business for Trump.

This landmark agreement includes the announcement of a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase—and we will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies. This agreement will help the Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations.

There’s not even a hint of irony in Trump’s announcement of a “Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology” in Saudi Arabia, in the heart of some of the most extremist Islamic ideology on the planet. That’s because the Saudis spend money with America.

Were a time machine invented, and the Saudi king were deposed in 1979 while the Shah of Iran remained in power, and Wahabi-controlled oil were funding an ISIS-like thorn in the sides of Middle Eastern nations, I’m certain Trump would be in Tehran right now making the same speech, save for the names and places.

That being said, I’m not certain Trump’s approach is all that bad, compared to, say, Obama’s or Bush’s.

America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.

Again, “shared and interests and values.” Obama referred to these, as did Bush, but they weren’t talking about the same things as Trump.

Obama’s worldview is that colonialism, the rise of strongmen identified with an ethnic or religious minority oppressing a majority, is the evil we all face. His version of “shared values” is that all people have the right to self-determination, to throw off the yoke of oppression, and replace it with a different oppression. To say that Obama’s vision was teary-eyed revolutionary garbage is to give it too much credit.

Bush’s worldview is that democracy is the cure to all oppression, if it’s properly framed and seeded. “Nation building” was that process of tearing down generations of might makes right and religious wars and replacing it with western pluralistic democracy. That hasn’t worked, rather spectacularly.

Trump’s somewhat polymorphous version of “Realpolitik” borrows from Henry Kissinger, but without the anti-communist shades. Simply stated, Trump acknowledges that countries do evil things to their own citizens, and c’est la vie, that’s sovereignty. But when they fund non-state actors that interfere with other friendly nations, or America’s pecuniary interests, we fight them.

A hypothetical, though extreme, example is if Vladimir Putin used Sarin gas on a Chechen rebel base and killed a few hundred (or thousand) civilians, I doubt the Tomahawks would be flying. That’s not just because fighting the life-support-dependent failed Syrian state is less risky than the Russians (although certainly true), it’s because Russia hasn’t done anything to cross Trump’s “red line” of his personal view of America’s national interests.

Therefore, Saudi Arabia can continue its practice of public beheadings, oppression of women, homosexuals, Christians (who are suspiciously tolerated in small, confined doses associated with companies like ARAMCO or the U.S. military), and anything directly related to Israel. But Iran, which actually practices a much more westernized culture, is our enemy (at least rhetorically, because they just spent $6 billion with Boeing).

Iran is our enemy because they’ve declared it so. They’ve declared it so mostly because of our friendship with Israel. Saudi Arabia tolerates our friendship with Israel because it suits their security interests–at least the security interests of the House of Saud. America has taken sides, and really the only side possible in a five-hundred year conflict within Islam. But Trump’s words make this about terrorist violence, not ideology.

“Principled Realism” is therefore whatever reality Trump believes will yield the most profit. It makes America into the world’s weapon supplier (we’ve been so for a while, Trump simply acknowledges the naked profit motive), accepts the reality that war or arming for war is more-or-less a permanent fixture, and everything else is live and let live.

A quick look around the globe finds one world leader whose outlook is probably closest to Trump’s foreign policy. That would be Vladimir Putin, who has made all of Russia into an arms- and energy-selling corporation for his own personal profit and power. This could be why the mutual admiration between the two men is so strong.

We must seek partners, not perfection—and to make allies of all who share our goals.

Our goals, not our ideology.

Above all, America seeks peace—not war.

But to Trump, war is a reality. This is the salient difference between Trump’s doctrine and his predecessors.

Bush and Obama believed that their approaches could someday bring about an end to war, an abiding peace such as most of Europe has seen for the last 70 years. Trump believes that conflict is a human condition, not a problem to be solved, and that our role is to carefully choose our friends and our enemies, while maintaining our own safety and security.

With God’s help, this summit will mark the beginning of the end for those who practice terror and spread its vile creed. At the same time, we pray this special gathering may someday be remembered as the beginning of peace in the Middle East—and maybe, even all over the world.

Trump’s continued message of God, religion, and self-reliance and responsibility of Middle East nations to stamp out terrorism doesn’t contradict his worldview. Certainly, if everyone pursued peace, abandoned hatred, ideological hegemony (secular as well as religious), and beat their swords into plowshares, we would have world peace. But nobody seriously thinks Trump believes that.

President Reagan defeated Soviet communism, by partnering with anyone who opposed it and imposing overwhelming economic, diplomatic, and military pressure on his adversary. It also helped that the Russians were vulnerable during his terms in office. Trump leads an America that could defeat ISIS, and with it a whole plethora of radical Islamic terror organizations. He could also roll that into a defeat of Iran, and achieve a measure of stability for the Middle East.

The Trump doctrine of “Principled Reality” may have the best shot at yielding fruit that we’ve seen in 20 years. We simply have to accept being the movie villain, indifferent to the amoral cost of war and profit.

BREAKING: Trump Talks Terror In Saudi Arabia

 

 

President Trump has just completed a major speech on Islam and terrorism in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the speech, the president attempted to draw a line between peaceful Muslims and terrorists, calling the war against terror, “a battle between good and evil,” according to CNN.

Trump stressed that the fight against terrorists was not a religious war, saying, “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations,” Trump said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil.”

The president was conciliatory to his Muslim audience, calling Islam “one of the world’s great faiths.”

“There is still much work to be done. That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds. We must stop what they’re doing to inspire — because they do nothing to inspire but kill,” Trump said. “In sheer numbers the deadliest toll has been exacted on Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern nations, ” he added. “More than 95% of the victims of terrorism are themselves Muslim.”

President Trump called upon Islamic nations to drive radicals out of their countries. “Drive them out,” he said. “Drive them out of your places of worship … drive them out of your holy land. Drive them out of this earth.”

Read the full transcript of Trump’s speech here.

CIA Gets Political With Muslim Brotherhood

The Trump administration is considering officially designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.  CIA analysts are warning, however, that doing so may drive some supporters into more violent terrorist organizations (such as al-Qaeda) and hurt relationships with certain U.S. allies, such as Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, and Turkey.

However, looked at within the larger context of events since Trump’s inauguration, this is part of a wider re-alignment of U.S. interests in the Middle East and a divergence from Obama-era policies.

During the Obama administration, the U.S. supported and helped the overthrow of the governments of Libya, Egypt, and Syria (still on-going).  Into the vacuum created by the collapse of the governments of these countries, various various militant Islamic groups moved in, including ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliated groups (Hamas is now partnering with ISIS and training with them in Egypt).

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood briefly gained power in 2012 after democratic parliamentary elections were held.  However, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president (Mohamed Morsi) soon began to implement Islamic practices through fiat.  This led to mass protests and the removal of Morsi and his government by the Egyptian military in 2013.  The military then sought to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting many within the organization and outlawing it.

So, just what and who is the “Muslim Brotherhood?”

It was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, but greatly influenced by Egyptian author and writer Sayyid Qutd.  It is transnational, with members throughout the Middle East.  It’s stated ultimate goal is to establish a theocratic government which rules according to Sharia law.  Keep this in mind when people try to characterize the organization as “moderate.”  It is moderate in relation to groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda (al-Qaeda, by the way, is moderate in relation to ISIS), but it still seeks a similar end goal as do the other radical Islamic groups.  The motto of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Allah is our objective; the Qur’an is the Constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish.”  The current leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, has also called for the destruction of Israel and for the death of Jews.

Due to its destabilizing influence, radical rhetoric, and violent actions, the Muslim Brotherhood has already been labeled a terrorist organization by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.  The United States, under Trump’s leadership, is now considering doing the same.  This is where the wider context and re-alignment of U.S. interests comes into play.

The first two countries in that list, Russia and Saudi Arabia, are most interesting.  The U.S. and Russia, as has been widely reported and debated, are in the midst of a delicate dance of detente, seeking to work together on matters of mutual concern.  Saudi Arabia has been fighting radical Islamic rebels in Yemen, trying to keep the turmoil there from spreading into its own country.  The U.S. has launched many missile strikes against terrorists in Yemen, in support of Saudi Arabia.  After the recent U.S. special forces raid in Yemen, however, Yemen has said that they will no longer grant permission for U.S. ground raids (allowing, though, unmanned strikes to continue).  In response, the U.S. has indicated that it will proceed with weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain which were blocked by the Obama administration.  These weapons will allow both countries to continue the fight in Yemen as U.S. proxies.

Thus, as I mentioned above, the Trump administration’s willingness to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization is part of a larger picture.  The Obama administration’s actions (including overthrowing governments and pulling most U.S. forces out of Iraq), whether intended or not, had the effect of strengthening radical Islamic groups who poured in to fill the void (granted that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 eventually helped lead to this as well).  The U.S. then tangled with Russia in Syria, stopped weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, and signed a nuclear deal with Iran.  This left the majority of the Arab states fearful for their own security, with terrorists and rebels on their doorsteps, and Iran rising in power and threatening the Gulf states.

Trump seems to want to reverse this trend by aligning the U.S. with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others with similar interests in order to counter radical Islam in the Middle East and check Iran’s influence.  The issue with the Muslim Brotherhood is therefore just a piece in the larger puzzle of what to do in the Middle East.

Whoa: Yemen Suicide Attack May Have Been Intended For US Warship

A Saudi frigate was attacked by Yemeni rebels in the Red Sea on Monday. Now Fox News is reporting that the attack, which left two Saudi sailors dead and three wounded, may have been intended for a US Navy warship.

The Saudi ship was originally believed to have been hit by a missile fired by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Based on a video of the attack, officials now believe that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber in a small boat. This is similar to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 which was carried out in the Yemeni port of Aden and killed 17 US sailors.

Fox reports that on the video of Monday’s attack, a voice can be heard shouting in Arabic, “Death to America, Death to Israel, Death to the Jews.” The recording prompted US defense analysts to believe that the attack may have been carried out as a practice run for an attack on a US ship or that the Saudi ship may have been misidentified as an American ship.

American ships do inhabit the Red Sea waters near Yemen. Last October, the USS Mason and the USS Ponce were attacked by anti-ship missiles in the same area. The USNI News reported that the Mason fired three defensive SM-2 missiles and a single Evolved Seasparrow missile to destroy the attacking Houthi missiles.

It is also possible that Monday’s attack was meant for the Saudi ship. Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of Gulf states in an intervention in Yemen to support Yemen’s government in its civil war. Yemen’s government is fighting al-Qaeda as well as the Houthi tribesmen, who are backed by Iran.

If Iran uses its proxy forces to attack an American ship, it would be a dramatic escalation scarcely a week after President Trump’s inauguration. The suicide attack came just as Iran launched a medium-range missile test in violation of President Obama’s nuclear deal and a UN resolution.

BREAKING: Obama Rejected on 9/11, 97-1

I think President Obama knew this was coming. He vetoed the bill which would allow 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia. He did it to show the Saudis he was still on good terms. But unlike the Saudis America has no king.

CNN reported:

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said aboard Air Force One that the Senate’s override of his veto is the “single most embarrassing thing the Senate has done since 1983,” referring to the last time the Senate overrode a veto by such a large margin.
The remark immediately infuriated lawmakers and staffers.

“It’s amateur hour at the White House,” one Democratic aide said.

“Asking us to stand between 9/11 families and their day in court is asking a lot,” Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said in response.

Obama gets to tell the Saudis he did his part but Congress overrode him. Makes everything look very democratic.

If he could have gotten away with it, those 26 pages in the 9/11 report would still be classified.  It’s wonderful theater. Now let’s see the families collect that money when they sue. I hope they get $100 billion.