Age Islam Edit Bureau
09 January 2017
On The Threshold Of Its Most Radical Turn
Ideological Issues Exposed By Terrorism
Truths And Politics Of Truth
Russia With Love For Donald Trump
Complicated Process Of Breaking Down The Syria Talks
Was A 'Stan' Long Before Trump
And The Palestinian Fig Leaf
Difference Between Iraq’s Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi And Al-Sahwa
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Except that this synopsis is the reality of
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.
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.
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
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
I could go on, but you and, perhaps,
Krugman get the point.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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,
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
Andrew Mitrovica is an award-winning investigative
reporter and journalism instructor.
In the days when Fleet Street was the home
of the British press, many clichés circulated as the gospel truth of
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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’
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
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.
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.