New Age Islam Edit Bureau
25 August 2017
Can Beijing Really Bring Justice For
By Yossi Mekelberg
Egypt’s True Challenge: Its Masses
By Mohammed Nosseir
While The West Sleeps, Iran Continues
On Its Deadly Path
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Netanyahu Goes To Russia, And Leaves
By Maria Dubovikova
Qatar Needs To Come Clean On $1m
Donation To Clintons
By Ray Hanania
Afghanistan Has Just Stumped Another President
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Nothing but Hammer in Trump’s
By Walid Jawad
The Russian-Saudi Rapprochement And Iran
By Leonid Issaev
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Can Beijing Really Bring Justice For The
24 August 2017
Despite its rise to global power status,
China has done its utmost to stay away from Middle Eastern and North African
politics. Chinese diplomats would more usually express their bemusement at the
way the region’s affairs are conducted.
As the country emerged as an economic
powerhouse with global commercial interests, it has gradually become impossible
to avoid gaining a deep insight into the political processes that affect
Chinese interests in the region. Yet it still felt the need to tiptoe when it
comes to MENA’s political intricacies. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no
exception to this approach, indeed it can be argued it was adhered to with even
more zeal. The general sense in Beijing was that there was not much that it
could do to make a difference where others constantly and consistently failed.
It therefore came as quite a surprise when last month the Chinese president Xi
Jinping outlined a four-point proposal to bring peace between the Israelis and
This can’t be explained without considering
the immense economic interests China has in the MENA region; its $900 billion
Belt and Road Initiative alone makes China into an even more key player across
the region. This extremely ambitious project aims to create a trade and
infrastructure network, reviving the ancient Silk Road, connecting China with
Europe via Central Asia and the Middle East. Moreover, China imports more than
half of its oil from the MENA region, and in the first 15 years of this
millennium the Sino-Middle East trade volume increased 17 times over from $18
billion to $312 billion, making China the region’s largest trading partner.
Therefore, political as much as economic stability across the MENA region
became paramount to Chinese national interest.
To be sure, the peace proposal for the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not China’s first diplomatic venture into a
major conflict in hard core Middle Eastern affairs in recent years. Five years ago China introduced a six-point
plan to stop the war in Syria, which didn’t come to fruition. However, entering
into the century-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, immersing
itself into what many in the international community have already given up on,
is risky for China if it is genuinely ready to put its credibility on the line.
The plan was first outlined during a visit
by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to Beijing. It proved to be more
than just a gesture of goodwill for the visiting Palestinian leader. Later in
the month, the Chinese ambassador to the UN, Liu Jieyi, urged the international
community to “respond positively to the proposals made by China…” The main novelty in the proposal is not in
its details but the identity of the proposer. Nevertheless, there are still
certain nuances that are worth attention. It should also indicate to Israel
that having close trade and even military strategic relations with China is not
permission to procrastinate, or worse to actively harm the chances of a
comprehensive and just solution to its conflict with the Palestinians.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese peace plan
proposes a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as
the capital of a new Palestinian state. Moreover, it sends a clear message that
Jewish settlement activity is a major obstacle for peace, and the Green Line is
and should serve as the benchmark for any future peace agreement. Any swap of
land should be by consent and not by using the asymmetry of this conflict for
the stronger to dictate the territorial arrangement between the two
If all of this sounds familiar, the
emphasis on international effort, which implies an end to the US-led process,
is broader in its international scope and more in line with Palestinian wishes
than the Israeli ones. China has already taken an active role in supporting UN
Security Resolution 2334, back in December of last year, which condemned the
Jewish settlement activity in the occupied West Bank as a fundamental hurdle to
peace. This is now reflected, together with a call for both sides to prevent
violence against civilians in the new proposals.
If these elements in the peace plan are
clear, the rest requires elaboration. It indicates a clear sense of urgency in
the resumption of peace talks within an international framework. However,
without a clear timeframe and a clear outline of deadlines and targets, the
chances of any progress are slim. The main question is whether China is ready
to invest considerable political capital and, in the absence of leadership on
this issue from any other source, to take a leading role?
China is traditionally cautious when it
comes to regional conflicts, and it clearly understands that playing a central
role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires it to exert its
influence; especially on Israel, which possesses the main playing cards. The
growing diplomatic, economic and security closeness between China and Israel
enhances Beijing’s leverage in playing a central role in any peace process.
However, it is doubtful whether in its calculus between becoming a major peace
broker in this stubborn conflict and straining relations with Israel, China
would choose the former over the latter.
By Mohammed Nosseir
The prospect of millions of illiterate
citizens protesting in the streets with no leadership, no clear affiliations
and no common mission is the ultimate challenge that might confront Egypt. The
state already experienced this during the revolution of Jan. 25, 2011, when
millions demonstrated with many demands that were difficult to meet. Asking
them to go home empty-handed was just as difficult.
The state’s faulty policies are provoking
another mass uprising that will probably come at a substantially higher price.
Masses are much like a chain: Once it is broken, it becomes very difficult to
put back together. Masses do not have an ideology to defend or a clear
attachment to a political party; their individual economic condition is what
Since they tend to spend most of their time
on the streets trying to make a living (legally or illegally), bringing them to
public demonstrations is very easy. Masses tend to work in wealthy urban
neighborhoods, going home at the end of the day to the inferior areas they
inhabit — and noting the huge contrast between the two.
The state does not have a policy of
capitalizing on the energy of the masses to develop the country; on the
contrary, it works to ensure they are suppressed to prevent any revolt. The
state’s usual patriotic rhetoric does not stimulate the masses’ nationalism in
the least. Their eagerness to survive overrules all state rhetoric.
If educated, wealthy Egyptians work to
serve their personal interests, the masses also think of their own immediate
benefits, but the situation is worsened in the latter’s case because they are
irrational, impulsive and have nothing to lose.
The masses, who are the clear majority of
Egyptian society, are easily incited and mobilized by nonsensical arguments.
During the Jan. 25 uprising, Egyptians were very excited to hear that
then-President Hosni Mubarak’s wealth amounted to $70 billion. The news
motivated them to stay longer on the streets, hoping to get their personal
share of his wealth. A few citizens even applied for bank loans, offering their
shares of Mubarak’s wealth as collateral.
The state does not draw upon the
sophistication of educated Egyptians to help handle the burden of the masses.
The police use the masses to pressurize and manipulate educated elites, who
often complain about their misconduct. On the other hand, as long as they are
at a distance, elites are not really concerned with the plight of the masses.
Occasionally, during elections, they try to woo voters from among the masses, but
turn a deaf ear to them later.
The masses will continue to live in poverty
and illiteracy for years. Even if we were on the right economic track, which we
are not, true political and economic reforms will take years to yield results.
Pundits often call for the need to provide quality education for the masses,
but education is a long-term issue in the context of our present challenges.
Meanwhile, the state policy of marginalizing and crushing the masses is
increasing their frustration and aggregating the possibility of more
Although the main theme of the Jan. 25
uprising was the revolt against Mubarak and his family, the true revenge that
the masses sought was from the police (tens of police stations were ransacked
and burnt). Mubarak was more of a media icon; following his court trial kept
people busy. To avoid instability, the state needs to formally integrate the
masses into society, not necessarily by offering a government job to each
citizen, but by giving them a chance to live a decent life that they will work
There is a single, effective and
spontaneous channel for organizing an uprising in Egypt: Inciting the masses
against the state. If they work effectively, political parties and civil
societies are the only entities that can control the energy of the masses. So
we need to work on strengthening these entities to take up this role. The
masses are in desperate need of a smart, fair and firm engine to move them
forward. This is the only way to manage and restructure this unpredictable,
uncontrolled segment of society.
While The West Sleeps, Iran Continues On
Its Deadly Path
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
When the nuclear agreement was reached in
2015 between the six world powers and Iran, I pointed out that the major
mistake of Western governments was to believe that Tehran viewed the deal in
the same way that they did.
For the West, the deal was going to be
transformational — moderating the Iranian government’s foreign policy and halting
its nuclear ambitions. But from the viewpoint of Iranian leaders, the nuclear
accord was a transitory and fleeting deal. It was a means to an end.
There are increasing signs that Iran’s
leaders never intended to abandon their nuclear proliferation. Recently, in a
surprise move, the so-called “diplomat” of Iran, president Hassan Rouhani, as
well as several other high level officials, warned that the Islamic Republic
now has the capability to advance its nuclear activities much more quickly than
before the nuclear agreement. Rouhani cautioned: “If Americans want to return
to those experiences, Iran certainly in a short time – not weeks and months,
but hours and days — will return to a more advanced situation than at the start
of negotiations.” In addition, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy
Organization, pointed out: “We have created a lot of bridges to return to the
previous conditions, quicker and better. Nuclear activity is going on better
than in the past in the area of enrichment and heavy water production, and with
the new design of the Arak plant in cooperation with the Chinese, and the
extraction of uranium.”
These remarks indicate that, when it comes
to their nuclear program, Iran’s leaders have not been sitting idly by since
the nuclear deal was reached. Instead, they suggest that Tehran has conducted
nuclear research in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
(JCPOA). That is why Iran can boast that it has the capability to resume its
nuclear proliferation at a much faster pace.
This argument is supported by new
revelations from the organization that was the first to reveal Iran’s
clandestine nuclear sites at Arak and Natanz. The National Council of
Resistance of Iran (NCRI) recently disclosed that the Organization of Defensive
Innovation and Research (SPND), which is thought to be the main player behind
attempts to weaponize Iran’s nuclear program, has continued its research after
implementation of the nuclear deal. The NCRI revealed the existence of a
previously unknown site in Parchin called Pajouhesh Kadeh, or Research
Institute, which is being operated by the Center for Explosives, Blast Research
and Technologies, a sub group of SPND, in order to research the weaponisation
of the nuclear program.
It has been crystal clear from the outset
that Iran viewed the nuclear deal as a transitory accord in the sense that, by
agreeing to it, Tehran would first gain its objectives, including gaining
economic concessions and global legitimacy, ensuring its hold on power and
pursuing its hegemonic ambitions. Later, the Islamic Republic would revert to
pursuing its nuclear ambitions from a much powerful stance.
In other words, for Iran, the nuclear
agreement is merely a tactical policy shift, not a fundamental change in the
core pillars of its foreign policy.
Unlike in Western governance, where
policies are often based on short-term goals because administrations change
every few years, the autocratic regime of Iran holds a long-term perspective
and agenda. Iran is at an advantage because it can plan and pursue its policies
and objectives for decades, while occasionally making some tactical shifts
toward those ends. That is why the core pillars of Iran’s foreign policy have
remained the same for almost four decades.
From the Iranian leaders’ perspective, they
killed two birds with one stone; on the one hand the Iranian government
continues to receive concessions for the nuclear agreement, on the other hand,
it has not abandoned its nuclear research and ambitions.
Netanyahu Goes To Russia, And Leaves Empty-Handed
After having failed to persuade the US
leadership to serve Israel’s interests in Syria, the Israeli Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu turned his attention this week to the Russian president
The Trump administration in Washington is
not eager to deepen its involvement in Syria on the track Israel wants it to,
having enough of a headache fighting terrorists in the region and trying to
avoid any confrontation with Moscow. So Netanyahu gambled on Putin’s pragmatism
and his gratitude to Israel for remaining a reliable partner during Russia’s
deep rift with the West.
The Israeli prime minister arrived in the
Black Sea resort of Sochi on Wednesday accompanied by his spy chief Yossi
Cohen, the director of Mossad, and Meir Ben-Shabbat, head of Israel’s national
security council – an indication of how seriously Israel took the meeting.
Netanyahu shared with Putin his deep
concerns about the Iranian presence in the region, and pointed out that Tehran
was on its way to controlling Iraq, Yemen and even Lebanon. “We cannot forget for
a single minute that Iran threatens every day to annihilate Israel,” he said,
and “Israel opposes Iran’s continued entrenchment in Syria. We will defend
ourselves with all means against this and any threat.” In other words, Israel
will act unilaterally in Syria if it considers that its national interests are
Though the Russian president did not
directly address Netanyahu’s remarks, his silence was much more eloquent.
Russia listens and takes into account the positions of the players, but moves
according its own interests, especially now when its stock is so high. The
Syrian conflict has mostly ended, and in the way Moscow expected it to. Russia
will now play a key role in determining Syria’s future.
For Israel, the vital interest is to exclude
Iran from that process, giving Tehran no space to be involved. That will be
impossible, since Iran is one of the guarantors of the existing de-escalation
zones, alongside Turkey and Russia, and expelling Iran would inevitably lead to
the failure of the peace process. Furthermore, Russia sees Iran in Syria as a
constructive player, and wants it to stay on track. Vassily Nebenzia, the
Russian ambassador to the UN, said there was “real progress on the way to end
that tragic war,” and that Russia knew the position of Israel toward Iran but
believed Tehran was playing a constructive role in Syria.
On the same day that Russian and Israeli
officials met in Sochi, the Russian defense minister Sergey Shoygu declared
that the civil war in Syria had effectively ended thanks to the success of the
de-escalation zones initiative.
The visits to the region by US defense
secretary James Mattis, presidential adviser Jared Kushner, Middle East envoy
Jason Greenblatt and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell suggest that
the US believes this too. Russia has achieved its mission in Syria in a
relatively short time by splitting the moderate political opposition from armed
militants, opening the way for a new Syria.
It is important to note that Netanyahu’s
visit to Russia coincided with the launch of a joint Russia, US, Jordan
de-escalation center to monitor the cease-fire in southern Syria that began on
July 7. The agreement followed months of negotiations between the three
countries and is a key step in the restoration of peace and stability to Syria.
Militarily, it has become crystal clear
that the Syrian army has the upper hand, having regained control of the border
crossing points with Iraq and Jordan, as well as Lebanon and Turkey. With many
Syrian refugees returning from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, there are strong
signals that Syria is getting back to normal. In terms of border issues, only
Bab Al Hawa crossing point to Turkey in Idlib governorate in north-west Syria
remains outside the control of the Syrian army. This would be the next step
Qatar Needs To Come Clean On $1m
Donation to Clintons
Did Qatar give the Clinton Foundation $1
million in exchange for getting the Obama administration to whitewash its
suspicions that Doha was supporting Daesh? It is worth closely examining the
circumstances of the $1 million “gift” to the foundation, which came when
Hillary Clinton was serving as US secretary of state and Qatar was being seen as
soft on terrorism.
Qatari officials had pledged the money in
2011 to mark former President Bill Clinton’s 65th birthday, and sought a
meeting with him in 2012. That was one of the many explosive revelations from
Hillary’s e-mails released by WikiLeaks, including one sent by the foundation
and her presidential campaign manager in 2016, John Podesta, acknowledging the
The controversy over the donation and
Qatar’s ties to extremists was buried in the high-profile political mudslinging
between her campaign and that of Donald Trump. The US media focus shifted from
questions about the donation to assertions that the WikiLeaks e-mails were the
result of Russian hacking to help Trump.
As the issue of the donation seemed to
quell, so did concerns about Qatar’s ties to terrorists, with no follow-up
after Trump was sworn in as president in January 2017. But now that the
election is over, and amid new revelations about Qatar’s support of extremist
elements and its close ties to Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, it might
be wise to analyze Doha’s intentions in making the donation.
Was it merely a gesture toward a former
president who was well-liked in the Arab World? Or was it intended to undermine
concerns held by Hillary, who at the time of the donation was expected to
easily defeat Trump? Would a President Hillary Clinton continue to accept
The donation may not have been the only one
Qatar gave to the foundation. In the final days of before the presidential
election, the foundation acknowledged on its website receiving much more from
Qatar, as much as $5 million over the years.
It would not be the only country to believe
it can influence the Clintons with top-dollar donations. The foundation has
received donations from other foreign governments, including Britain and
Algeria. Another WikiLeaks e-mail from the Clinton Foundation noted that it had
received from many sources more than $21 million in connection with Bill’s
Qatari officials have always refused to
discuss the donation, and the state-run “news” operation Al-Jazeera has never
really opened the issue to serious revelations. When information about the
donation first surfaced in 2015, Hillary came under pressure to address the
matter, but refused.
Instead, Bill spoke about financial ties to
Doha and other governments. He said Qatar had “done much” to distance itself
from extremist groups in the Middle East, although that seems to contradict the
One week before the $1 million donation was
confirmed on Nov. 4, 2016, days prior to the election, then-President Barack
Obama was taking steps to solidify ties with Qatar.
His administration took the unusual step of
issuing a public statement praising Doha’s role in the fight against Daesh, and
its “positive role” in denying extremists funds. Maybe he hoped to take the
edge off longstanding concerns about Qatar’s ties to Hillary, who everyone
expected to win the election.
Then-senior Treasury Department official
Daniel Glaser was in Qatar meeting with Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin
Khalifa Al-Thani when the statement was released.
The Qataris may have been spooked when it
was discovered in the WikiLeaks e-mails that Hillary had expressed serious
concerns that Doha was providing “clandestine financial and logistic support”
to Daesh and other extremists in the Middle East.
Glaser’s visit was intended to prevent the
spark from turning into a fire, and Qatar’s role in supporting extremists fell
to the news backburners as the mainstream US media found itself battling with
The Clintons believed Hillary would win the
election, so why waste any time cleaning up the Qatari donation mess? As
president, she could just brush it under the carpet. Trump’s victory was a
shock to the Clintons, the mainstream news media, Al-Jazeera and Qatar’s royal
Americans were too busy after the election
sorting through fake news, accusations of media bias and Trump’s stand on
Muslims to wonder whether concerns about Qatar might result in a re-evaluation
of bilateral relations and the status of the US military presence at Al-Udeid
The battle between Trump and the media
continues to dominate the American debate. But one year on, it might be
important to look back at Qatar’s ties to Daesh, its high-priced lobbying
efforts to influence the Obama administration, and whether the $1 million
donation was just a gesture or a direct effort to buy Hillary’s silence.
Afghanistan Has Just Stumped another President
How easy it is to shout “common sense” on
Twitter – and how difficult it is to make decisions “when you sit behind the
desk in the Oval Office”. Something any adult person in public life could have
told you, but still seems to have come as surprise to President Trump.
It turns out Afghanistan is not amenable to
simple solutions like withdrawing and leaving the Kabul government at the mercy
of the Taliban, after all. What is a pleasant surprise however is that not even
the Trump administration is willing to pay the price of such simple-minded and
superficially populist policy.
Viewing the world from “behind the desk in
the Oval Office” comes with the benefit of having the best intelligence about
what happens just about anywhere in the world. But sitting behind that desk
comes with the burden of having to make responsible decisions based on
knowledge that you cannot share with your democratic public. Or just knowledge
that your electoral base simply does not care to delve on.
Fortunately, the White House somehow
managed to make a decision in the national interest of the United States, and
in the security interest of all of its allies, despite the fact that this will play
badly with Trump’s base. And so Trump has had to do what he criticized Obama
for. Despite promising that he would get us out of this failed war, just as
Obama had promised during his initial presidential run, he has increased troop
numbers by 4,000.
And let us not mince words. The Afghan war
is a failure. The original aim of the war was to remove the Taliban from power
for having harboured and aided al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden both before 9/11
and after. In that, America and its allies succeeded. If there is one thing
that the most powerful army in history can do, it is to destroy things,
overthrow governments and kill enemy leaders.
What it cannot seem to do, what it has
failed to do consistently since at least the 90s, is to win the peace. 16 years
of brutal war later, Afghanistan still has not been persuaded to accept the
peace and the political order desired by Washington. And half of the country
continues to be under Taliban control.
The Western-backed government in Kabul
still cannot sit on its own feet. And the United States will, by the looks of
it, have to sustain that government in power through its own blood and coin for
as far as we can see into the future. The United States is committed to be the
military guarantor of Kabul in perpetuity.
And yet, there is no better option. We have
already seen a sizeable expansion into Afghanistan of ISIS. Things are only
likely to get worse as the last remnants of ISIS in Syria are dispersed. The
Taliban are just as likely to fight ISIS incursions as the Western-backed
forces for the time being, but this is circumstantial.
Back To Square One
If ISIS forces could be directed by the
Taliban outward, say, toward targeting Western interests, there is no reason
why a Taliban -dominated Afghanistan would not harbour ISIS in the same way
they harboured al-Qaeda in the 90s. If we left the Kabul government to its own
fate, we would soon be back to square one. It would be absurd for us to trust
the Taliban with our medium to long-term interests.
Trying to overpower the Taliban again, like
we have done during the “surge”, is likely to fail for the same reason it
failed last time: the Taliban are an integral part of rural Afghan society.
Every time you kill a Taliban fighter you kill someone’s brother, or father,
and you have just recruited another Taliban fighter. It is neither sensible,
nor desirable to wage war against a society like that.
So the only alternative left, the only way
to protect American and Western interests and lives by preventing Afghanistan
from becoming a terrorist haven once again, is to do what we are doing now:
maintain a force in the country to sustain the Kabul government and destroy
ISIS and other militant groups, and manage a slow and painful low-level
conflict of attrition with the Taleban.
This is not a ‘solution’. And it is deeply
offensive to our natural preconception that wars are fought to be won, and that
conflicts like this need resolution. There will continue to be loss of lives on
both sides, and unfortunately, some of those lives will be civilian lives. But
as Colin Powell famously said of Iraq, “if you break it, you own it”.
And though Afghanistan was a mess before
America invaded, America owns the ways in which Afghanistan is broken now. And
America cannot fix it. The only thing it can do is continue to pay the
In a rare primetime address to the nation
on Monday, US President Donald Trump gave shape to his administration’s foreign
policy approach toward Afghanistan.
In an embarrassing about-face, Trump
reversed his earlier views on Afghanistan saying that “A hasty withdrawal would
create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, would instantly
fill, just as happened before September 11”.
This is a departure from what presidential
candidate Trump had called for during his election campaign, “an immediate
withdrawal from Afghanistan”. His stated objective now is to fight on and win.
Targeting Terrorists, Not Terrorism
Trump delivered his address to an audience
of uniformed men and women of the armed forces from Fort Myer near Washington,
DC. His speech started with an acknowledgment of the sacrifices made by
American soldiers to preserve the nation’s values and way of life. He pledged
to give them the necessary tools and means to complete their job in
Trump tried to set clear goals for victory:
“Attacking our enemies, obliterating the ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing
the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks
against America before they emerge”. The wording might be a tad different, but
these objectives were already part of the US policy in the region during the
presidential terms of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Going after the terrorists is justified in
the short term, yet it cannot be an effective long term solution for
eradicating global terrorism. It is essential to first address the political
causes which compel some people to choose the path of violence against
civilians as a political tool for change. Terrorists take recourse to such
tactics as they believe it is the most effective option – if not the only one –
available to them.
Trump’s approach does not draw any medium
to long term vision for resolution of conflicts not through violence but by
political means. Even if the military is able to exterminate terrorists in
Afghanistan and stops providing them safe havens in the region, it will not
stop lone wolves from conducting terror attacks. The struggle will continue
unless the root causes are addressed, an important issue that Trump neglected
to address in his speech.
The Afghanistan Quagmire
The US has been fighting in Afghanistan for
over 15 years, which makes it the longest running war in American history. US
citizens are said to have limited appetite for lengthy engagements in overseas
conflict. From a strategic standpoint, it is important for the US to finish the
job that George W. Bush started in 2001. Lack of progress on this front is
undermining trust in any plans or promise of success as the cost of war
continues to mount along with the number of US soldiers killed in the war.
The history of Afghanistan provides a
lesson which the US has found difficult to learn from. In addition, terrorists
find Afghanistan’s inhospitable terrain advantageous to their cause - both
geographically and politically. For many decades, it has shown that an
unfinished engagement will only lead to deeper conflict and a disastrous
This long term involvement is very
problematic for the US as it has to reset its policy every four to eight years
in line with its presidential elections. Considering the time constraints
within which presidents have to operate, Trump did not offer any clear
benchmarks or time limits for assessing the progress of his approach.
In the political vacuum left after US
supported Afghan and foreign fighters (collectively called the Mujahideen)
defeated the Soviet army in 1989, the country turned into a safe haven for
terrorists, namely al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden, the terrorist group’s leader,
took credit for the 9-11 attack on the US. The moral of the story was not lost
on Trump, yet he completely missed the lesson.
“We are a partner and a friend, but we will
not dictate to the Afghan people how to live, or how to govern their own
complex society. We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”
In this statement, Trump confirmed that he
could not understand the difference between ‘supporting’ and ‘dictating’.
Dictating how Afghans should manage the affairs of their nation will not
succeed, but without financial and political support Afghanistan will not
graduate from a failing state to a functioning one. Thus, terrorism will
A Myopic Vision
Reducing the US role in Afghanistan to a
military-centred one is insufficient for achieving the goals outlined by the
president. The manner in which he sought the assistance of Pakistan and India
seemed to lack the desired diplomatic finesse.
The influence US has on these competing
nuclear powers requires a delicate diplomatic balance. Targeting Pakistan
without giving it any credit will only cause resentment and resistance toward
advancing US interests in the region.
Although Trump’s strategy appears
short-sighted, it appears to be a major political coup. Paul Ryan, the Speaker
of the House, is standing by the Afghanistan plan. Indeed, political observers
and experts breathed a collective sigh of relief when Trump retracted from his
pre-election call to pull out of Afghanistan. Is it a sign of maturity,
learning on the job or finally listening to the experts? It is too soon to
speculate even as Trump stuck to his speech this time and resisted the urge to
speak off the cuff.
But what we know about Trump is that he is
all about taking on the next challenge. It is a gung-ho style of governance.
However, Afghanistan and the role it plays in the region makes for a complex
situation requiring level-headed plans and decision-making. Advancing US
national security is a long term process.
The president’s job is to set the policy
and step aside to allow qualified experts to frame the appropriate strategies.
In fact, foreign policy must strike a balanced diplomatic, economic and defence
strategy. It is not possible for a solely military-backed approach to deliver
an effective Afghan policy.
The Russian-Saudi Rapprochement and Iran
In mid-July, the Russian Ministry of
Foreign Affairs finally issued an agreement to Ahmed Al Wahishi who in early
autumn will take up his duties as ambassador of Yemen to Moscow. Al Wahishi is
the fourth candidate proposed by the Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour
Hadi in the past year. Moscow rejected the previous three.
Over the last year, Saudi Arabia has been
actively lobbying the Kremlin to accept Hadi's nominations. Russia's decision
to concede comes after years of it opposing Saudi Arabia's intervention in
Yemen and the government it backs. Even if it did not get involved in the
conflict, Moscow silently acknowledged and backed Iran's interests in Yemen. In
2015, Sergey Lavrov warned that Russia would not allow the conflict in Yemen to
escalate into a war against Iran.
So is Moscow's acceptance of Hadi's
ambassador signalling a change in Russian-Iranian relations and a possible
rapprochement with Saudi Arabia? Is Moscow risking losing its close ties with
Russia Drawing Closer To Saudi Arabia?
A number of developments in recent months
have signalled a possible rapprochement between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The two countries have made a joint effort
to push for further cutting of oil production to help bring up prices. Since
the beginning of this year, Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak and his
Saudi counterpart Khalid al-Falih have been seeking to conclude an agreement on
In late May, then Deputy Crown Prince
Mohammad bin Salman went to Russia to discuss with President Vladimir Putin the
oil market and the situation in Syria. The visit came just three weeks before
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was removed and bin Salman took his position.
While in Moscow, the latter said that "relations between Saudi Arabia and
Russia are going through one of their best moments ever".
Two months later, Moscow and Riyadh signed
a preliminary military cooperation agreement worth $3.5bn. The Saudis have
requested transfer of technology to accompany the signing of the deal.
In recent months, the two countries have
also made significant progress on Syria. Under the patronage of Riyadh, Egypt
provided a platform for negotiations between Moscow and the Syrian opposition.
The importance of this step for the Kremlin
is obvious. Russia is extremely interested in concluding an agreement on
de-escalation zones, the implementation of which is not possible exclusively
within the framework of the tripartite initiative of Russia, Iran and Turkey,
without the involvement of other actors. From this perspective, the role Saudi
Arabia played in the signing of the two Cairo agreements between Russia and the
Syrian opposition on East Ghouta and Rastan is very important.
Closer Russian-Saudi relations were seen as
a positive step in Tel Aviv, Russia's "silent partner" in the Middle
East. In recent years, Israel itself has enjoyed closer ties with Riyadh and
its ally Abu Dhabi.
Divergence with Iran
Moscow's acceptance of Hadi's ambassador
nomination would not be the first time Russian and Iranian foreign policy have
diverged. Although Russia did not side with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,
it also does not necessarily approve of Iran's war games.
For Iran, the Yemeni conflict, first of
all, is a great way to weaken its main rival in the region - Saudi Arabia. Iran
uses this conflict to draw the kingdom into a long-running and extremely costly
war. Russia, which for many years has been seeking to strengthen and develop
its relations with Saudi Arabia, is much less interested in violating the
status quo on the Arabian Peninsula.
Iran and Russia also have divergent
interests in Syria. Russia is largely driven by its security concerns and
confrontation with the West, while Iran is pursuing to establish a regional foothold
through dangerous sectarian policies
Currently, Iran and Russia have decided to
ignore some of these differences in order to focus on propping the Syrian
regime. But once a settlement of the Syrian conflict approaches, these issues
would inevitably resurface.
The military coordination between the two
countries has also been patchy. Neither is in a hurry to create joint command
structures. Their coordination is occasional, and in most cases, the sides
simply prefer to take parallel paths to the same destination. Moreover, on a
number of occasions, Iran undermined Russian attempts to establish a ceasefire
in Syria by provoking further local bloodshed.
And even significant efforts to improve
bilateral relations have not led to the desired breakthrough in either economic
or political sphere. Since the beginning of the new rapprochement in 2013,
Moscow and Tehran have been steadily failing to boost the development of trade
and investment cooperation. Russian and Iranian interests have also directly
clashed over territorial ownership of the Caspian Sea and its legal status.
A sign of the problematic relationship
between the two countries has surfaced during Rouhani's last visit to Moscow in
March, which ended with no significant agreements.
Most of the documents signed during the
visit were either non-obligatory memoranda of understanding or supplementary
agreements to add some minor details to existing treaties.
The Risk Of Abandoning Iran
Russia has pursued pragmatic policies,
independent of Iran, including drawing closer to Saudi Arabia, but there is a
limit to how far it can go. Any moves that might be perceived in Tehran as open
disregard for its national interests or the formation of a Russian-Saudi
alliance will have serious consequences on Russian-Iranian relations.
While Russia and Iran have a lot of issues
to argue about, they also have a number of common interests in Syria, Iraq and
Afghanistan, in Eurasian transit routes, the situation in Transcaucasia and
Central Asia as well as in oil and gas markets.
If Russian-Iranian relations were to
deteriorate, this would make dialogue on these issues extremely difficult. It
would most definitely hurt Russian interests in Central Asia and Arab countries
under strong Iranian influence. Russia would also risk losing joint projects
with Iran in the oil and gas sphere.
In other words, Moscow has too much to lose
from souring relations with Tehran.