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Middle East Press (09 Jan 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)



Turkey On The Threshold Of Its Most Radical Turn: New Age Islam's Selection, 09 January 2017





New Age Islam Edit Bureau

09 January 2017

Turkey On The Threshold Of Its Most Radical Turn

By Murat Yetkin

Scandals, Ideological Issues Exposed By Terrorism

By Turki Aldakhil

Political Truths And Politics Of Truth

By Nuray Mert

From Russia With Love For Donald Trump

By Hisham Melhem

The Complicated Process Of Breaking Down The Syria Talks

By Maria Dubovikova

America Was A 'Stan' Long Before Trump

By Andrew Mitrovica

Obama And The Palestinian Fig Leaf

By Amir Taheri

The Difference Between Iraq’s Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi And Al-Sahwa

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

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Turkey On The Threshold Of Its Most Radical Turn

By Murat Yetkin

January/09/2017

The debates on the draft for constitutional amendments proposing a shift from Turkey’s parliamentarian system to an executive presidential one are scheduled to start on Jan. 9 in parliament.

The system change has been pushed by President Tayyip Erdogan since even before he was elected as president in August 2014. Erdogan has promoted the concentration of executive power in one hand (including abolishing the prime ministry) in order to ensure the “prompt implementation” of political decisions and to ensure there is no “slowdown” due to checks and balances, whether by the parliament of the judiciary.

He has never hidden the fact that he believes in the political control of the political power elected through a popular vote over the non-elected holders of power, including the courts. That highlights one of the main areas of debate: the separation of powers.

The draft proposes that the president be authorized to abolish parliament at any time and take the country to another election, which is considered as a pressure by the executive (the president, if the constitution is approved) branch of the government on the legislative, the parliament, even from among ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) deputies.

The draft suggests that the president will be able to keep the title of party chairman.

According to Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the leader of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), that would make Turkey a “party state” under “one-man rule.” Addressing his party assembly on Jan. 8 in order ask them to marshal all their abilities to stop the approval of the draft in parliament, Kiliçdaroglu said the biggest blow would be to court independence. “The leader of the ruling party will be the president if the amendments are approved,” he said. “[Erdogan] will be able to appoint 12 out of 15 members of the Constitutional Court and the majority of the members of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK),” which appoints all judges and prosecutors across the country.

The radical changes are not limited to the administrative and political system. With a decree in force of law under the state of emergency imposed by the government in the wake of the foiled military coup on July 15, 2016, all military decisions in the change of command, including the appointment of all officers have been transferred to the defense minister. The Chief of General Staff will be under the president, who will still be the commander in chief, but without any power left vested in the apparatus he is supposed to command.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has a delicate position in this scene. If the draft is approved, he will lose his position as prime minister, since the office will be abolished, and probably his position as the chairman of the AK Parti as well, since it will be legally possible for the AK Parti to go to an extraordinary congress and elect Erdogan as their chairman as well.

And Yildirim is in charge of securing at least 330 votes in the 550-seat parliament to be able to take the draft to a referendum; a 367 vote majority for outright approval is not in sight for the time being. The AK Parti’s seats (317 minus one, since the speaker cannot use vote) are not enough for that. So Yildirim went to Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and obtained his support for the vote in the parliament and if approved, in the referendum as well.

Bahçeli’s support for Erdogan’s presidency, which he had campaigned against before the 2015 elections escalated the intra-MHP tensions. In addition to resignations before and the open declaration of five MPs (out of the 39 they have) that they would vote against the proposal, one of Bahçeli’s deputy chairmen, Atila Kaya, resigned his post last week in protest at Bahçeli’s support for Erdogan.

But a bigger problem awaiting Yildirim, and thus Erdogan, might arise from within the AK Parti in the quest to attain 330 votes. There is no on-the-record voices heard, yet the draft has caused some discomfort and discontent within the AK Parti because of too much executive power over the parliament and the courts. It is also an open secret that Kurdish-origin MPs of the AK Parti are not happy with the close cooperation with the MHP.

The CHP is likely to be the source of effective opposition in the debates since a number of MPs from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which focuses on the Kurdish issue, are in jail, including co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdag. And the CHP’s success is likely to depend on their ability to convince more figures from the AK Parti and the MHP either to vote against, abstain or simply be absent when the day comes.

It is going to be a historical week for the parliament, since this is going to be a historical turn for Turkey, the most radical one after the shift from a sultanate to a republic in 1923 and the shift from a single-party state to a democracy in 1947.

Source: hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-on-the-threshold-of-its-most-radical-turn.aspx?pageID=449&nID=108294&NewsCatID=409

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Scandals, Ideological Issues Exposed By Terrorism

By Turki Aldakhil

8 January 2017

Terrorism continuously contributes to exposing ideological problems and reveals gaps in arguments and speeches and it has also helped shed light on the moral aspect.

The purpose of sharia Islamic law is civilization. In his book al-Mustasfa, Abi Hamed al-Ghazali said the aim of sharia is to protect people, their religion, mind, children and money. This is the core of the five necessities which Sharia scholars from al-Shatibi to Ibn Ashur focused on.

This is the pillar of legislation and religion and the core of its necessities.

Meanwhile, there are people who think they defend religion by distorting the reputation of others. We have seen how some social media users fiercely criticized the victims of the recent Istanbul attack on New Year's eve and voiced their joy of attacking innocent people. They worship God through reflecting bad morals and making rude statements and blatant libel.

This phenomenon shows the domination of habits over worship and the domination of individual acts over worship allegations. It exposes moral decline and personal deviations, and it is being falsely categorized as defending religion.

Terrorism is exposing many diseases in societies. Since we have not reformed ourselves, we are about to destroy one another. And God is our helper.

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Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/01/08/Scandals-ideological-issues-exposed-by-terrorism.html

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Political Truths And Politics Of Truth

By Nuray Mert

January/09/2017

The truth is the least important matter in politics. It is widely believed that “the truth is the first casualty of war,” but it is also true in peacetime.

I am inclined to think that it is mostly authoritarian regimes that base their politics on the distortion of reality, but it was two of the strongest democracies that occupied Iraq in 2003 under the premises of a major distortion of reality. The United States and the United Kingdom claimed that the Saddam regime possessed chemical weapons, but it later turned out to be a lie which was based on fabricated documents. In the words of the anti-war opposition coalition in the U.K., “He [Tony Blair] lied, millions died.” 

Still, we have to admit that authoritarian rulers have more propensity and stronger devices to distort reality since under such circumstances, there is no space to challenge the ruling propaganda. It means that the state, ruling party or ruling clique has a total monopoly on the fabrication of truth. Nevertheless, the process of “truth production” or “perception formation” is not only shaped by political suppression and domination.

The “popular perception of truth” is shaped by a more complex process of reflectivity. In the case of nationalist politics and propaganda, it works through the interaction between nationalist parties and politicians and nationalist public opinion. It may be argued that nationalist public opinion is also the product of nationalist politics, but let’s leave this endless debate aside. Finally, if the public opinion is already shaped by nationalist convictions, it turns out to be a vicious cycle that the implementation of authoritarian politics can be easily justified and legitimized by nationalist propaganda, as long as it works and enforces authoritarianism, more nationalist propaganda follows and feeds its reproduction.

Critical political theorists discuss these themes in brilliant ways, and there is a vast literature on these topics.

I’d like to suggest to them, though, to observe Turkey’s politics to try to see the current politics under that light. That is to say that what matters most for understanding politics and society in Turkey is to comprehend the current perceptions of truth first by the rulers and then by the majority of society. The ruling party, its supporters and their nationalist allies, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which together make up more than half of Turkey’s population believe in the existence of “a total assault on Turkey” by all kinds of “enemies.” The list of enemies are long, starting with “the terror groups”: The Gülenists, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria; then there are “those who claim to be dissidents but are, in fact, extensions of terrorists” – even the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been targeted as a supporter of terrorism. Moreover, in the view of the rulers, the real enemy is the hostile international powers (the U.S. tops the list) which are supporting terror groups to devastate Turkey. Under the circumstances, any criticism, any voice which is different than the understanding of the ruling bloc first attracts the hostility of a considerable segment of the public, to say nothing of state suppression.

Worse, the minds of the opposition circles are utterly confused. Moreover, the majority of the republican opposition is not immune to nationalist propaganda; on the contrary, despite their opposition to the ruling party, many are arch components of the nationalist authoritarian discourse in general. The so-called “left-wing nationalists” criticize the ruling party for having been soft on Kurds in the name of the peace process and of being responsible for the infiltration of the Gülenist group into state institutions. They are no less hostile to the Western world than the ruling party; in contrast, they are proud of having been ever skeptical of Western powers even when the ruling party was pro-Western.

Finally, the so-called “Kurdish political movement” has done everything to play into the hands of nationalist authoritarianism and enforced the anti-Kurdish perceptions of nationalist public opinion. They decided to take up arms again and the tiny minority of democrats lost all their limited credibility in defending Kurdish rights and peace.

In short, this is how the perception of reality is shaped in Turkey. That perception is enforcing more authoritarian politics and promising even more chaos and tragedy.

Source: hurriyetdailynews.com/political-truths-and-politics-of-truth.aspx?pageID=449&nID=108269&NewsCatID=406

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From Russia With Love For Donald Trump

By Hisham Melhem

8 January 2017

It is the stuff of fiction. The plot is extensive, if outlandish. The theatre on which the protagonists play is as huge as the egos of some of them. By now we know most of the characters, but we have no idea where the narrator is leading us. This is a Russian novel, but certainly it is not in the tradition of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, for while there are many scheming, one-dimensional and diabolical characters, one cannot encounter a single sympathetic hero. The protagonists roam in the underworld but work mostly in the virtual world. Most of the protagonists are driven by deceit, and hubris; their world is one of ceaseless quest for self-aggrandizement, raw power and material riches. The main American protagonist is a Septuagenarian Vulgarian narcissist, more than willing to enter into Faustian deals, who through sheer guile, lies, and thuggery reached the pinnacle of power in his country. The main Russian protagonists is a strong believer and practitioner of hard power, a cold man with boundless ambition, who possesses the kind of brutal cunning that one can only gain by spending long years as a spy lurking in the underground, manipulating people and exploiting their foibles.

The main protagonists play high stakes in New York, Moscow and Washington. Their relationship is partially symbiotic, since it seems the American Protagonist cannot survive without his Russian counterpart. Our man in Moscow plays a complex shadow game of deception; spying and the planting of fake stories to help his counterpart in the United States win a tough contest against an experienced but deeply flawed and uninspiring female opponent. This is in part a spy novel, and a fast paced action thriller, in which enemies are watched, trapped, and their secrets are stolen then leaked for the purpose of defaming them, before the coups de grâce is delivered when their characters are virtually assassinated. The novel explore a new not so brave world, in which a post-truth reality is manufactured, where anti-intellectualism is celebrated as the will of the multitudes, where humanist values are replaced by identity politics and where reason, moderation, and self-control are seen as the values of the weak.

Reality As Fiction

Except that this synopsis is the reality of America today.

The least that one could say about the current political landscape in the United States is that it is a surreal tapestry, animated by almost fictional characters capable of dragging the country into nihilistic times. What can one say about a president-elect who is deeply flawed morally and bereft of political maturity and experience, who is being celebrated not only by his disgruntled supporters who want to disrupt the domestic status quo, but also by the leaders of Russia, America’s main and mean adversary, which is bent on changing America’s status quo as the strongest democracy in the world?

This week was by any measure, a pivotal week in the post Cold War life of the Republic. The nation’s top intelligence agencies issued a remarkably detailed report asserting that Russian president Vladimir Putin has directed a comprehensive campaign of cyberattacks, overt propaganda to spread fake news and lies, the creation of online Guccifer2.0 “persona” and a website, DCLeaks.com to release the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and other covert means aimed at enhancing the chances of Donald J. Trump of winning the presidency and vanquishing his opponent Hillary Clinton. The classified version of the report was presented to the president-elect on Friday.

 It was the first time that Mr. Trump who has been denigrating and mocking the competence of America’s intelligence agencies for months, had the chance to face their leaders. But few hours before he met them, Mr. Trump claimed that the focus on Russian hacking is “a political witch hunt” carried out by his mostly Democratic adversariesAfter the two hour meeting with the most senior intelligence officials in the land, the president-elect appeared to soften his position, conceding in a statement that : “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyberinfrastructure of our governmental institutions, business and organization, including the Democratic National Committee,” but that “ there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

However, the report which reflected the unanimous assessment of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Security Agency (NSA) stopped short of supporting Mr. Trump’s claim that the Russian hacking activities had no effect on the election. The report was clear in stating that “we did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election”, and concluding that it was beyond the mandate of the intelligence agencies to analyze the “political processes” in the country or the views of public opinion.

To Leak Or To Tweet, That Is The Question

The report confirmed the cooperative relationship between Russia and WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange who lamely denied that Russia was the source of the DNC emails. The report concluded “with high confidence” that Russia’s military intelligence unit known as the GRU “relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic leaders to WikiLeaks. The report described how Russian intelligence deployed online “trolls” who spread fabricated and damaging news stories to the media particularly through Russia’s propaganda arm RT its English-language news organization which operates in the United States, and to conspiracy theory sites online. The role of RT resurrect the old embarrassing questions about General Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s national security advisor, who was a regular guest on RT’s news programs, and who gave a paid speech in Moscow at RT’s anniversary party, and sat near president Putin.

Hours after his meeting with the intelligence leaders, Mr. Trump went back to true form, and sought to put the blame for the hacking on the Democrats. He posted a twitter message late in the evening claiming that “Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place.”. Yet despite the overwhelming evidence that the Russian state was waging a cyber campaign against American institutions, Mr. Trump refuses to criticize Russia and continues to act as the aggrieved party, saying in another tweet that the “only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!”.

A day after the release of the intelligence report establishing president Putin’s culpability in the cyber campaign against his country, the Russophile Mr. Trump took to twitter to tout the virtues of Mother Russia as a potential ally to solve the world’s problems. “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only "stupid" people, or fools, would think that it is bad!”

The Russian Romance

Mr. Trump’s affection for Russia and his praise of President Putin has been consistent. Mr. Trump, who is not known for his erudition praised Russia as “hot stuff” and described president Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 as “so smart”. This was long before his race to the White House, during which he welcomed the release of the hacked emails and had the audacity to call on Russia publicly to hack the emails of his Democratic opponent. But why is it that in the face of Russia’s egregious violations of American institutions, Mr. Trump continues to insist that we should ignore these violations and to just “move on”? Some argued that the reasons may be found in Mr. Trump’s admiration of ruthless autocrats like Putin, a man he would like to emulate. Another charitable explanation excuses his views on the grounds of lack of political experience and sophistication. But these explanations are groundless. Mr. Trump’s consistent defense of Russia’s depredations in the Ukraine and Syria, his praise of Putin’s suppression of political dissent inside Russia, and the jubilation of the Duma after Trump’s victory cry out for another interpretation for this strange and sordid love affair. And as the Washington Post said in a recent editorial “darker suspicions persist”.

There are persistent reports in the U.S media that Mr. Trump, who visited the Soviet Union in 1987, has established in the following years relations with Russian oligarchs some of them are close to president Putin, who came to rescue Mr. Trump’s business empire when it was on the verge of collapse on a number of occasions and after U.S. banks refused to provide him with loans. We know that Mr. Trump’s eldest son and namesake has stated on the record that a substantial amount of the family’s business is conducted with Russian entities. We know very little about the nature of the Trump family businesses in Russia, because Mr. Trump still refuses to release his tax returns. According to the New York Times Mr. Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign banks. Another dimension of the Russian enigma is the fact that Mr. Trump surrounded himself with advisors and aides who have questionable dealings with Russia and its allies, from General Michael Flynn, to Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other lesser known aides. One of the president-elect most senior appointees is Rex Tillerson, Trump’s designated secretary of State, who developed a friendship with president Putin during his long tenure as the chairman of Exxon-Mobil, which had extensive business investments in Russia. Mr. Tillerson has opposed economic sanctions on Russia and the president- elect has hinted that he is open to lifting them. President Putin knows that both the President elect and his designated secretary of state will not wax sanctimoniously about the preservation of human rights in Russia or the sanctity of civil society. Mr. Trump’s support for the Brexit initiative in Britain and his criticism of the NATO alliance can only deepen Putin’s appreciation of the president-elect.

The questions and doubts about the president-elect strange attachment to Russia and its president will persist and become more urgent with the passage of time. As the Washington Post asked: are there loans and deals with Russian businesses? Are there hidden communications with Mr. Putin or his representatives? The Post’s editorial concluded “we would be thrilled to see all the doubts dispelled, but Mr. Trump’s odd behavior in the face of a clear threat from Russia, matched by Mr. Putin’s enthusiasm for the president-elect, cannot be easily explained.”

Mr. Trump came, saw and conquered by unorthodox means. There is no reason to believe that he will rule according to established customs and traditions. He will remain faithful to Putin and Russia will continue to shower him with love, at least for the foreseeable future. He will address Americans and the world through twitter storms, and he will not give the Democrats or their leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer whom he called a “clown” the olive branch. We know all that for certain. We also know that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning a season of migration into unknown geography fraught with uncertainty, fear and loathing and that no one knows how long the journey will last.

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Hisham Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/world/2017/01/08/From-Russia-with-love-for-Donald-Trump-.html

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The Complicated Process Of Breaking Down The Syria Talks

By Maria Dubovikova

7 January 2017

The best New Year present put under the fir-tree was the unanimously voted resolution of the UN Security Council in support of the efforts made by Turkey and Russia to end violence and finally launch long awaited and vitally needed political process. Before the remarkable December 31 vote the long awaited ceasefire agreement was reached as a result of Russia-Turkey talks with the belligerent sides of the Syrian conflict including major fighter groups.

The sides agreed to meet in Kazakh capital, Astana and discuss further steps of the crisis settlement. The talks are scheduled on January 23. That initiative and efforts were supported by the resolution 2336 UN mentioned earlier. The talks to be held on a neutral territory, in Kazakhstan, in case ceasefire stay in force, have enough chances to be a success. At least more fruitful than Geneva format. In case of success Syrians will finally get a chance for a peaceful life and possibility to unite forces in the fight with the common threat - terrorism.

But such a positive perspective remains unlikely. Even the way to the conference remains thorny. Ongoing serious violations in the north and east of Damascus threaten the talks, if the rebels withdraw from the agreement because the violations of the official Damascus and Shiite-backed militias side continue. Russia and Turkey are working on sanctions to impose on those who violate the ceasefire, undermining the efforts of the two countries to bring the bloodshed to its long-awaited end. The two countries' governments do not appear to be under the illusion of a predetermined success of the Astana meeting. First, until now there are no guarantees that the talks will be held, considering the violations. Second, there is no guarantees that it will be a success.

From a geopolitical perspective, there are very few parties interested in the success of the meeting in Kazakhstan. Firstly, because the success of the talks will cement success of Russian and Turkish diplomacy, and thus their geopolitics positions, as well as Iranian ones. Secondly, successful outcome of the talks will leave behind the West, and primarily Washington. Such an outcome of the situation would be convenient to the newly elected president who is set to make America great again. However, his personality and his agenda remain under question. Furthermore Trump has an absolute anti-Iranian agenda and a significant role of Tehran in the ongoing process most likely will not please him. But what is worse is that these negotiations leave behind the Gulf states. Iran has already rejected including of Saudi Arabia in the Astana talks - this rejection is risky and destructive.

Iran's Agenda

The meeting's potential success will strengthen Iran's position that reference is harmful for the regional geopolitical balance and can lead to the strengthening of sectarian conflicts inflaming the regional societies. It is dangerous and geopolitically undesirable for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Rejecting the participation of Saudi Arabia, the negotiations undermine the result of the talks and their chances for success. It is clear that the Gulf states will use their influence on the rebel groups with which they have contacts to project their will through them. In case anything goes in an undesirable direction it is clear that the negotiations will be sabotaged. While in the presence of Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries there would be far more space for negotiations, position-statement and regulation of the arising contradictions during the negotiation process. But Iran has its own agenda in the Syrian civil war conflict. And it breaks the Saudi game.

One of the key problems of the protracted Syrian conflict is that there were too many players involved with absolutely different agenda. The international players were playing geopolitical goals using the Syrians as pawns. And all the players are ready to play this game until the last Syrian.

But assuming the talks in Astana take place and result in success, the true challenges will remain in front of the mediators and the Syrians themselves. Firstly, there will be attempts to bring chaos back to the country and there is no guarantees that these won't succeed. Furthermore, not only the country needs to be rebuilt, but the whole nation. During the inevitable and long process of political transition and construction of the new Syrian contours, there should be a long and painful process of national reconciliation. And to make people who were killing each other for five years love each other is much more difficult than just to build a political system. Moreover, none can speak about the end of transitional process until most of the Syrians who fled the country come back. It will be a long process while ISIS and Al Qaeda sympathizers and affiliated groups are still on the ground and it will be even longer one, while people have nowhere to return as their homes were destroyed. Before the moment when most of the Syrian refugees return to Syria no elections and any kind of democratic process can be considered legitimate. Syrians should build their own country and each voice should be properly counted. But these are matters of the not so close future.

But the success of Astana - if balanced and satisfactory for the majority of those involved -  then a new future can become that little bit closer. We still have a very difficult way to go before the 23rd to make these talks start.

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Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/01/07/The-complicated-process-of-breaking-down-the-Syria-talks.html

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America Was A 'Stan' Long Before Trump

By Andrew Mitrovica

09-01-17

Apparently, for a host of "progressive" writers, American history began on November 8, 2016.

People and events before that notorious date have been forgotten or marginalised, in effect, to sanitise America's not-so-distant past in order to paint an apocalyptic picture of its not-too-distant future as US president-elect Donald Trump prepares for his inauguration.

These writers aren't principally seized by a lazy, predictable historical revisionism - although there's certainly an irritating dose of that, to be sure - but rather a wilful amnesia that has infected their thinking and writing like a synapsis-sapping virus.

Lately, that contagion has contaminated the thinking and writing of marquee New York Times columnist and "progressive" Paul Krugman.

Earlier this week, Krugman penned a piece suggesting that America - with Trump and his fellow feather-bedding "cronies" manning the state's cash register - is destined to morph quickly into one of those garish, "tin pot" "Central Asian" "regimes", or "stans" for short.

Krugman's satiric abbreviation was instantly and wildly popular with his fellow progressives as the derisive column ricocheted quickly and widely on social media.

But Krugman's column proves that even Nobel prize-winning economists can conveniently forget the past in the smug, grating service of American hubris and exceptionalism.

Americastan

Look, Trump is an unabashed reflection of what America is and will continue to be - whether Krugman and company are prepared to admit it or not. America was a "stan" long before the Manhattan megalomaniac was elected president by more than 62 million Americans chomping to install their "stan"-like version of a tin-pot "dictator" into the White House.

Still, I don't recall any of the other "stans" invading and subsequently destroying a sovereign nation and its people based on cooked-up "intelligence".

I don't recall the other "stans" setting up "black sites" across the globe where countless people were shipped like pieces of baggage to be tortured out of the Red Cross's sight or those pesky, irrelevant human rights conventions.

I don't recall the other "stans" secretly hauling Muslim and Arab men - many of them innocent - to a gulag at Guantanamo Bay without charge to rot, to be tortured, go mad or commit suicide.

I don't recall the other "stans" unilaterally ordering extrajudicial killings by way of remote drones and having to apologise repeatedly and pay compensation for massacring children, women and men who thought they were attending a wedding, not their summary executions. 

I don't recall the other "stans" engineering the near collapse of the global financial system because of the insatiable avarice of mostly middle-aged, pinstripe suit-wearing con men on Wall Street.

I could go on, but you and, perhaps, Krugman get the point.  

Forgetting Inconvenient Truths

Like other pedestrian polemicists, Krugman begins his oh-so-pithy column with the oh-so-pithy caricature of Turkmenistan's president cementing, as it were, his "cult of personality" with a gaudy, oversized sculpture of himself on horseback.

Turkmenistan's resident narcissist-in-chief could have carved, I suppose, a 60ft-high, granite likeness of himself into a mountainside as a permanent ode to his greatness like, say, presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore.

Of course, when Americans do the chiselling to immortalise, while simultaneously scrubbing the nasty parts from their mythic, heroic leaders' visages, it's called art. When others do it, particularly in those authoritarian "stans", it's called ugly, self-aggrandising kitsch.       

Not surprisingly, in Krugman's calculus, Trump would be comfortably at home in any of the kitsch-loving "stans" since he fashions himself as "strongman" surrounded by a clique of wealthy crony capitalists intent on capitalising from their cozy access to the gilded throne.

"Donald Trump seems to be assembling a team of cronies, choosing billionaires with obvious, deep conflicts of interest for many key positions in his administration," Krugman wrote.

A perfunctory grasp of recent history reveals that Trump won't be the first US president to populate his administration with rich, white men inclined to enrich themselves at the expense of America's "national" interest.

My goodness, have Dick Cheney and Haliburton receded that far into the distance that Krugman and all of his sanctimonious fans have already forgotten Darth Cheney's profitable escapades? If any major US political figure is the walking, talking, possibly war-crime committing definition of a "strongman", it is Cheney.   

Not done airbrushing, Krugman wrote this astonishing paragraph: "But let's get real. Everything we know suggests that we're entering an era of epic corruption and contempt for the rule of law, with no restraint whatsoever."

It's astonishing because Krugman appears to be suggesting that the systemic, deeply entrenched nexus of corporate and political malfeasance that led to the savings and loans crisis during the 1980s and 90s and the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in 2008 that triggered another depression, somehow don't constitute "epic corruption", nor are they classic examples of an unrestrained "contempt for the rule of law".

If memory serves, not one of the rogues' gallery of white-collar architects of the financial meltdown a decade ago has been charged, let alone seen the inside of a prison cell in the time since. So much for America's shining, pre-Trump notion of probity and the "rule of law".

Let's Get Real, Indeed.

To provide himself with some factual cover, Krugman makes passing reference to the calamitous Iraq war, as well as the "cronyism" endemic to the Clinton and Bush administrations. Krugman buries these inconvenient truths in his column.

Progressive Conspiracies

Taking their cue from Krugman, other amnesiacs wailed on Twitter and elsewhere that the House Republicans' ramshackle and unsuccessful attempt to "gut" the Office of Congressional Ethics amounted to a blatant scheme to "legalise" corruption on Capitol Hill.

These hyperventilating progressives are blissfully ignoring the fact that generations of Democrats and Republicans have conspired openly to make Capitol Hill an ethics-free zone, where real crimes perpetrated by real power are rarely, if ever, prosecuted.

Beyond re-writing history, progressives have recently been busy channelling one of America's more odious charlatans, Joe McCarthy.

Employing McCarthy-like innuendo and fantastical, thread-thin connections, writers for so-called "elite" news organisations are seriously claiming that Trump has been "groomed" for decades by Vladimir Putin, who has waited patiently to elevate his orange-haired poodle into the Oval Office.  

As supposed evidence of Trump's closet treachery, progressives have cited Trump's and his son's business trips to Moscow and that Ivanka Trump was reportedly introduced to her future husband by a woman who is now allegedly Putin's lover. Connect the ephemeral dots and there you have it - Trump emerges as the modern-day Manchurian candidate guilty of being "compromised": a polite euphemism for treason.  

Move over Joe and blathering Alex Jones, you've got conspiratorial company, not on the lunatic fringes of the web, but in mainstream media.

Progressives, it seems, aren't immune to Trump's penchant for hyperbolic smears, wacky conspiracy theories and contagious stupidity.

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Andrew Mitrovica is an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism instructor.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/01/america-stan-long-trump-170106115025029.html

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Obama And The Palestinian Fig Leaf

By Amir Taheri

8 January 2017

In the days when Fleet Street was the home of the British press, many clichés circulated as the gospel truth of journalism.

One was the claim that the safest issues to write an editorial about were Palestine and Afghanistan. Six hundred words on why Palestine needed a better deal or why Afghanistan had to be helped to develop its economy would make the writer feel good about himself while the paper could pose as a fount of wisdom — all that without committing anyone to anything let alone upsetting any apple carts.

It seems that the administration of US President Barack Obama has adopted at least part of the cliché by suddenly feeling an upsurge of sympathy for the Palestinian cause. For more than a week, the White House has been spreading the news that the US decided not to veto a resolution critical of settlement buildings in Israel on Obama’s “firm instructions.”

The resolution, No. 2334, is marketed as an attempt at reviving the mythical peace process by fomenting confusion regarding other key resolutions of the Security Council, on the subject, notably the famous 242. It makes a set of recommendations to Israel without even hinting at what might be done if they are ignored. More immediately, it gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu additional arguments in favor of the “stand firm and fast, no compromise” stance that he tries to justify with reference to an uncertain international situation compounded by Obama’s apparent wish to fire parting shots at his Israeli bête-noire.

A Lackluster Presidency

You need not be an expert in diplomacy to know that the resolution reduces any chance there might have been for a two-state solution, a chimera put in circulation by the then juvenile UN and later given a second life by President George W. Bush. Because Obama is intelligent enough to know this, the only reason for his eleventh-hour activism on this issue must be his desire to hide aspects of his lackluster presidency, especially in international affairs. One could already imagine him claiming in his memoirs that he had “worked hard” for a two-state solution until the last moments of his presence in the White House. (I wish Sen. George Mitchell would write about his experience as Obama’s Middle East peace appointee and how the eleventh-hour self-styled peacemaker effectively sabotaged every practical step in that direction.)

Those who might ask why Obama did not do a thing eight years — or even two years — ago, must remember that he was more concerned with his petty electoral calculations than any desire for justice for the Palestinians. In 2008, he needed the support of Jewish Americans in such crucial states as Florida and Ohio; and they did help by giving him 85 percent of their votes. Last year, he had the same calculation, this time in favor of Hillary Clinton, his Democrat Party’s presidential candidate. No longer in need of electoral calculations, he can rediscover a conscience that reminds him of his attachment in his youth to the Palestinian cause.

Kerry’s Failure

Obama’s foreign-policy factotum John Kerry has also been searching for a fig leaf to hide the nakedness of his failure as secretary of state. His entourage tells me that he wanted to make a big speech on the subject in 2014, presumably to divert attention from his and Obama’s abject failures on Georgia, the Baltic States, Turkey, Egypt, Poland, Ukraine and Syria among other places. According to the yarn spun by his entourage, Kerry did not trigger his logorrhea because Obama ordered him to remain silent after the 2016 presidential election.

With that order no longer in force, Kerry, too, could build a bit of a legacy with a 60-minute diatribe that is bound to be studied as a model of confusion and dishonesty in diplomacy. According to French officials, Kerry has also asked to be allowed to make another lengthy speech in Paris later this month on the same subject, as another failed president, Francois Hollande, launches an international peace conference on Palestine in Paris. Well, there is no reason why Hollande should be denied the fig leaf that Obama and Kerry tried procure for themselves in the name of Palestine.

Obama, Kerry and Hollande are not the first to try to look heroic at the expense of the Palestinians, and the Israelis who suffer and die in a 70-year old zugzwang carted by the so-called international community which has told Arabs, and more specifically Palestinians, that they need do nothing themselves to achieve a peace settlement with Israel; the UN is there to do the work by passing endless resolutions with no mechanism for implementation.

For people far from the conflict and with no real interest in it, adopting a heroic posture at the expense of the Palestinians, or the Israelis for that matter, is no big deal.

The problem is that such heroism bought at the expense of others who pay with their lives could only prolong a conflict that might have been resolved decades ago had not others, starting with the British, the UN, the Arab League, the US, Soviets, etc., not intervened, often with empty promises or self-centered schemes, on one side or another.

The Obama-Kerry tandem may yet engage in other shenanigans before they ride into the sunset. Their political careers over in disaster across the board, they have nothing to lose by posing as peacemakers while settling personal scores on the side.

The Palestinians and Israelis should learn that no outsider, even with the best of intentions, which is not the case with Obama and Kerry, could solve their problems for them. It is up to the Palestinians and Israelis to decide whether they can live together and on what terms. Big speeches and meaningless resolutions might camouflage that fact for a while but will not deprive it of its urgency.

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Amir Taheri was executive editor in chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at, or written for, innumerable publications and published 11 books. Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat

Source: arabnews.com/node/1035811/columns

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The Difference Between Iraq’s Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi And Al-Sahwa

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

9 January 2017

International organizations have reiterated that the Shiite Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, or People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF), is a dangerous organization. There is a deliberate campaign to mislead the world about the PMF’s legitimacy compared to other organizations such as Al-Sahwa (Awakening Councils) and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

In the last years of the US presence in Iraq, the military leadership resorted to the formation of Al-Sahwa — a force of Sunni tribes from Anbar province to expel the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization — after the Americans failed.

Following Al-Sahwa’s formation, it was ridiculed on the grounds that the people of the province are all suspects, and because Al-Qaeda was at the height of its influence, especially the most dangerous branch founded by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, which we call today Daesh.

He succeeded in killing Al-Sahwa’s commander, yet tough battles ended after two years with the elimination of the terrorists. The government of Nouri Al-Maliki opposed the establishment of a tribal sectarian force because Al-Sahwa was Sunni and could turn against the central authority. It was eventually dissolved and its funding suspended, with a few members recruited into the armed forces.

Theoretically, concern over the existence of a parallel power in a turbulent country was justified. However, when Al-Sahwa was dissolved it was not replaced by the national army to guard western Iraq, so Al-Qaeda returned, seized large swathes of territory, displaced thousands of people and killed many. Because Al-Maliki failed to compensate for Al-Sahwa’s dissolution, the cancer of terrorist groups returned, besieged the outskirts of Baghdad and seized Mosul, Baiji and others.

There is a second parallel force: The Peshmerga. It operates in the Kurdish region under a compromise deal, relieving the state from deploying its own armed forces. As long as the Kurds have special status in a semi-independent territory, the Peshmerga will remain to protect their neighborhoods.

The PMF’s story differs from that of Al-Sahwa and the Peshmerga, as it was born from existing sectarian Shiite militias backed by the state within quota bases among competing Shiite religious forces.

Following the fall of Mosul and the escape of the military leadership, Iran entered the fray and triggered influential political forces to weaken the ruling system established by the Americans, including the military, which was deemed as remnants of Saddam Hussein’s rule.

This is not true, because after Saddam’s fall thousands of members of the armed forces were killed and excluded after the Iraqi Army was dissolved in 2003. However, Iran and sectarian leaders were keen to build a sectarian military force parallel to the army and directly belonging to them, with the state bearing armament costs and employees’ salaries.

The idea is similar to what followers of Ayatollah Khomeini did after the revolution against the shah, when they founded the Revolutionary Guards to seize power and exclude the other Iranian forces that took part in the revolution.

The PMF is a tremendous militia nominally belonging to the state, and we will see how it takes shape to strengthen one Shiite team of governance and marginalize the other Shiite and Iraqi forces. Iran will be the dominant political group that controls the PMF.

The difference between the Sunni Al-Sahwa and the PMF is that the former was established to fight Sunni extremists in Sunni areas, but the latter is a Shiite force being used to rule Iraq in general. While Al-Sahwa was dissolved, the PMF is a ballooning project that is not only assigned to liberate Mosul or track Daesh.

Although Iraqi authorities tried to reassure opponents and skeptics of the PMF by adding small Sunni units, the PMF remains a dangerous sectarian project and Iranian weapon that threatens all Iraqis.

Hence the question remains: Can Iraq be spared the dangerous consequences of these serious changes?

As long as the elected central authority is weak, and as long as Iran is gradually taking over Iraqi institutions, it will not be easy to stop the PMF project. It is similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which practically dominates the country without the need to eliminate political institutions — including the presidency, government and Parliament – after rendering them powerless.

The solution is primarily for Iraqis to stop the sabotage of the state, and for international organizations to ensure accountability by issuing resolutions to prohibit arming the PMF, put its leaders on blacklists, and urge the US to be responsible and intervene to correct the situation. Iraqis will lose all of their modern state, for which thousands have died, if they fail to stand against the building of militias, sectarian blocks and Iranian hegemony over the state.

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Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1036246/columns

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/middle-east-press/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/turkey-on-the-threshold-of-its-most-radical-turn--new-age-islam-s-selection,-09-january-2017/d/109644




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