Obama's current thoughts about the Mideast region

    are on pages 11 through 15 of Dave Remnick's article in the Jan. 27 The New Yorker (free online access): Annals of the Presidency: Going the Distance; On and off the road with Barack Obama. The article is the result of a lengthy "embed" with the president and ranges over the problems, both domestic and foreign, of his so-called "annus horribilus."

    If you want to get the entire context of what he's thinking on the Mideast, read at least pages 11 through 15 (starting with the heading VI—A NEW EQUILIBRIUM, and not just the excerpted three paragraphs below, which I am copying only to give an idea of the detailed analysis that Remnick managed to get out of him:

    [...] Ultimately, he envisages a new geopolitical equilibrium, one less turbulent than the current landscape of civil war, terror, and sectarian battle. “It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other,” he told me. “And although it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion—not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon—you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.

    “With respect to Israel, the interests of Israel in stability and security are actually very closely aligned with the interests of the Sunni states.” As Saudi and Israeli diplomats berate Obama in unison, his reaction is, essentially, Use that. “What’s preventing them from entering into even an informal alliance with at least normalized diplomatic relations is not that their interests are profoundly in conflict but the Palestinian issue, as well as a long history of anti-Semitism that’s developed over the course of decades there, and anti-Arab sentiment that’s increased inside of Israel based on seeing buses being blown up,” Obama said. “If you can start unwinding some of that, that creates a new equilibrium. And so I think each individual piece of the puzzle is meant to paint a picture in which conflicts and competition still exist in the region but that it is contained, it is expressed in ways that don’t exact such an enormous toll on the countries involved, and that allow us to work with functioning states to prevent extremists from emerging there.”


    Obama’s lowest moments in the Middle East have involved his handling of Syria. Last summer, when I visited Za’atari, the biggest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, one displaced person after another expressed anger and dismay at American inaction. In a later conversation, I asked Obama if he was haunted by Syria, and, though the mask of his equipoise rarely slips, an indignant expression crossed his face. “I am haunted by what’s happened,” he said. “I am not haunted by my decision not to engage in another Middle Eastern war. It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq. And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking." [....]

    The full range is broader, including much more on Iran, and topics like drones in Yemen, al Qaeda, Egypt , Iraq etc.


    Syrian Peace Talks Open With Vitriol, as Official Rails at Rebels
    By Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard, New York Times, Jan. 22/23, 2014

    The sense that the talks were headed for trouble was compounded when the proceedings ended without any hint of progress toward imposing local cease-fires or opening humanitarian corridors.

    [....] Putting the best face on the meeting, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Wednesday night that it was significant that senior diplomats from 40 countries and organizations had gathered in the lakeside Swiss city of Montreux, to initiate the conference. Mr. Kerry insisted that he had always known that the talks would be “tough” and described the conference as a “process,” which he implied could last for months or even years [....]

    Well Well Well . . .

    Buried down in that long winded NYTimes coverage:

    [But] when the conference opened on Wednesday sharp differences came to the fore. Mr. Kerry said it was unthinkable that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria could play a role in a transitional administration that would govern the country as part of a political settlement. The establishment of such a transitional body by “mutual consent” of the Assad government and the Syrian opposition is the major goal of the conference. “The right to lead a country does not come from torture, nor barrel bombs, nor Scud missiles,” Mr. Kerry said. Mr. Lavrov challenged the American insistence that Mr. Assad be excluded from a transitional administration, arguing that the conference had to “refrain from any attempt to predetermine the outcome of the process.”


    Screw the Russians... They've been standing on the sidelines supporting the Assad Baathist regime and aiding and abetting this gross civil war and the genocide and crimes against humanity by the various factions involved for decades. And so have we up to the current administration.

    The Russian's actions have been no different than when the US was aiding and abetting Saddam and his Baathist regime to ride herd for years in Iraq.

    Right or wrong, the reality is that Saddam ended up in a spider hole and then at the end of a rope at the hands of his own people.

    Assad can simply stay out of the way and enjoy his comfortable life in seclusion.


    In the end, what you're talking about is the "strong man needed here" theory, where some peoples are not considered ready for self-rule and that they may end up causing worse trouble for themselves and the rest of the world without one until they are. Actually, Putin's popularity in Russia is kinda like evidence that a majority of Russians believe that about themselves. frown (BTW, more and more I tend to think Russian thinking on Syria is more about terrorism effects than it is about economic benefits, though the latter are a strong consideration, too.) And yes, U.S. foreign policy has often believed in the same.

    To take it back to the initial post here, what's interesting about Obama's current thinking is that it seems to be developing along the lines of not either/or strong man or full-blown democracy, but that sometimes you just have to accept that chaos will go on for a while and just try to ameliorate the worst tendencies of humans while that's happening...

    On the topic of Russia being mostly concerned with terrorism, there was confirmation Thursday from a top dog himself:

    In his message, Zawahiri admonished jihadists that “your unity, association and gathering is more important . . . to us than any organizational link.” He called on them to line up “in one rowlike, solid structure in confronting your sectarian, secularist enemy,” which he identified as the Syrian government supported by “Iran, Russia and China."

    That has been my take for some time. The naval base at Tartus is a factor but I think Putin's main desire is that jihadists don't get control of Syria, create an Islamic state and export terrorism to the Chechen rebels. He couldn't care less how brutal Assad is as long as he keeps it, and the jihadists, with in his borders.

    And frankly, I can't decide which is worse. Assad and his brutality or an Islamic state and its brutality. I don't even see a third less worse option.

    Well . . .

    The partitioning of Syria doesn't look promising...

    “Towards a partition of Syria?”, Voltaire Network, 16 January 2014,

    As the countries militarily engaged in the war on Syria are pulling out one by one leaving the United States and Russia facing each other, several publications are puzzling over the plans to partition the country.

    - In The Impossible partition of Syria, Mustafa Khalifa - writing for the Arab Reform Initiative - expounds the ethno-religious divisions besetting the country and the impossibility, due to the mix of populations, of transplanting them geographically. Furthermore, he points out that the plans in question are not economically viable across the board at the same time.

    This clearly documented work - despite the fact that it attributes the partition plans to a NATO propaganda framework - has been funded by the State Department. It ought to serve the United States to reject this option at the Geneva 2 Conference.

    - In Partitioning Syria, Gary Gambill sets out the Israeli viewpoint for the benefit of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. According to him, while the population distribution currently stands in the way of a partition, the latter could contribute towards consolidating peace. Indeed, each side would get its victory. The displacement of the population remains to be dealt with, a minor detail which does not seem to ruffle the author.

    The impossible partition of Syria, by Mustafa Khalifa, Arab Reform Initiative, October 2013, 13 p. PDF

    Partitioning Syria, by Gary Gambill, Foreign Policy Research Institute, October 2013, 3 p. PDF


    The articles on Voltaire Network may be freely reproduced provided the source is cited, their integrity is respected and they are not used for commercial purposes (license CC BY-NC-ND).

    Source : “Towards a partition of Syria?”, Voltaire Network, 16 January 2014, www.voltairenet.org/article181796.html



    Yeah, I think it's helpful to look at Anbar province in Iraq right now through Putin's eyes. Where maybe a few ISIS guys from Syria visit Fallujah and within weeks you've got 140,000 new refugees, that's all it takes.

    Some "as the region turns" updates:

    The Sinai insurgent group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis have claimed responsibility for all of Friday's bombings in Cairo:

    The Lede @ NYT; BBC News

    Among many other things, this means a major ramp up of already major Egyptian antipathy towards the Hamas government in Gaza. Where currently they are already starving for all kinds of things, but especially energy needs. Meanwhile, Abbas on Thursday was in Moscow: Abbas seeks $1 billion energy deal with Russia (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 24): An agreement on Palestinian natural gas and oil projects would restore warmer ties between the two Soviet-era allies.

    More from Remnick @ New Yorker's News Desk, a piece on the outtakes from the article: The Obama Tapes, Jan. 23. Here is the part on foreign policy:

    Obama spoke about the need to acknowledge the history of American foreign policy, its successes but also its misadventures and even disasters. Here is an even fuller version of the answer I quoted in the piece:

    “My working premise, what I believe in my gut, is that America has been an enormous force for good in the world, and that if you look at the ledger and you say, What have we gotten right and what have we gotten wrong, on balance, we have helped to promote greater freedom and greater prosperity for more people, and been willing, as I think I said to you earlier, to advance causes even if they weren’t in our narrow self-interest in a way that you’ve never seen any dominant power do in the history of the world.

    “And so, to apologize for certain historic events out of context, I think, wouldn’t be telling an accurate story. On the other hand, I do think that part of effective diplomacy, part of America maintaining its influence in a world in which we remain the one indispensable power, but in which you’ve got a much more multipolar environment, is for other people to know that we understand their stories as well, and that we can see how they have come to certain conclusions or understandings about their history, their economies, the conflicts they’ve suffered. Because, if they think we understand their frame of reference, then they’re more likely to listen to us and to work with us.

    “So for me to acknowledge the fact that we were involved in the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran is not to pick at an old scab or to do a bunch of Monday-morning quarterbacking. It’s to say to the Iranian people, We understand why you might have some suspicions about us; we’ve got some suspicions about you because you have held our folks hostage and murdered our people and threatened our allies. So, now that we understand each other, can we do business?

    “That, I think, is useful and important precisely because we are far and away the most powerful country in the world. And, having lived overseas, the one thing I know is how much the world admires America, but also how much the world thinks America has no clue as to what’s going on outside our borders.”

    Later, he added, “Now, if other countries don’t think we see them or know them or understand them, then they may grudgingly coöperate with us where they have to, because it’s in their self-interest, but, at the margins—where we need them to participate in Iran’s sanctions, or we need them to work with us around a non-proliferation agenda—a population that thinks we hear them, we understand their history, is more likely to support their leaders when they work with us. That’s part of exercising effective power in the world.”

    I asked Obama if he would say he was the first President to acknowledge these historical events in the way that he does.

    “I think, if you look at Kennedy’s best speeches, the notion that we are connected with folks around the world, and that we lead not simply by the force of arms but because of values and ideals, and that we have to uphold them, is part of what made Kennedy an inspiration not just in this country but around the world,” Obama said. “And he may not have spoken about certain specifics in the same way, but partly that’s because he lived in a more innocent time, in some ways.

    “When I make a speech now, it is broadcast around the world in an instant, and there are entire blogs devoted to picking apart every factual assertion that is being made, and people expect a level of accuracy and understanding that wouldn’t have been the case in 1961 or ’62.”

      Somewhat ironic to hear Obama saying a war in Syria would be a bad idea, since he was the putz who tried to drag us into war in Syria.

    No, no, no!  That was an eleventy-dimensional chess move, the King's gambit...that's where you sacrifice the King, and then,.... wait, what?


    Hey Hey Hairy Chest . . .

    Please don't take this as me defending Obama and his administration's dealing so far in the Syrian mess.

    But... Could you please direct me to your posts here at Dag dealing with what YOUR answer is to the Syrian debacle? Not what shouldn't be done. Not what has been done. No... What you think should be done to advance an eventual peaceful solution to the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity by the various factions involved.

    Thanks in advance.


    As for an actual recommendation, I go with partition.  Make a Kurdish state out of the  kurdish parts of Iraq, turkey and Syria.  An alawite/christian druze rump along the coast, and let the Saudis take charge of the jihadist eastern part of Syria.


    Not entirely satisfactory, but maybe the best that can  be done to cut down he suffering.


    Also, make an explicit alliance with Iran--the Shias are better than the Wahabbis. since we have destroyed the Baath seculars.  I'd actually go back in time and support Nasser, but it's technologically too hard a lift,  You need to put a black hole in your pocket to travel in time, and that's at least ten years off...

    I was without internet when you originally posted this blog but its surprising to me that you would refer to it as if you are actually proud of it. One would think that thinking about it just a little after the distance of a few years it might have occurred to you how offensive and racist the post was. From the link.


    In this case comparing human beings to dogs is always offensive and doesn't form part of civilized discourse. And in the case of Jewish people, talking about having them "put down" has a distinctly Hitlerian ring to it, don't you think? It disqualifies the rest of the post, which is harsh, but reasonably fair.

    Anyway, you have really crossed all the frontiers and are way, way, way, out of bounds into David Dukedom... to such an extent that one, who is sufficiently paranoiac, might imagine you some sort of a Zionist-troll-agent-provocateur.


    Point well taken....


    would refer to it as if you are actuallyproud of it.

    At roughly 4 am I was unwilling to reproduce the collection of citations which set forth in greater detail my objections to Israeli policy in particular and to the  Zionist predicate in particular.

    The post is what it is--I continue to regard Israel as an American lapdog (less offensive than the pitbull metaphor?  Perhaps) and I continue to agree that the usage (put down) was ill taken.

    That said, continuing to bludgeon the Palestinians (and, in this instance, their advocate) rhetorically (and concretely) for the behavior of the Germans cramps discourse and misdirects remediation of wrongs

    I will consider my "right of return" as a blessing not a curse when my semitic Arab cousins get the same accomodation.

    The United Semitic Peoples' Kemalist Front: "One Semite, One Vote.  One State, no Yahwists"

    Any political points you made, however valid they might be, are lost when conjoined with such offensive and imo racist imagery.

    Frankly I was shocked by the blog since I generally like your posts.

     I have so thoroughly divorced the concept of Jewish people at large from Israel as a geo political actor that I completely missed the dangerous implications of "put down".  

    Remarkably obtuse, in retrospect, but there you are



    Last time I will quote myself in this thread, but take "yes" for an answer, won't you?

    ok, nuff said

    JR... Thanks for the reply. . .

    I too have mulled over and gamed out the idea of partition. There comes both pluses and minuses with that scenario. For the non-combatant people currently on the ground there the minuses outweigh the pluses.

    Thanks again... for the links and the reply.


    Yes,  partition is without doubt a surrender to sectarianism, small mindedness and backward thinking...indeed my approach to Israel/Palestine is precisely to reverse a partition now in place.  

    That said, I can't see my way through the shia/sunni thicket right now...I am so thoroughly secular that I really can't get my arms around the idea that butchering babies because their parents follow a different doctrine vis-a-vis the appropriate succession to Mohammed can make sense to anyone.  OTOH, it used to be that in Europe the butchered each other over bread and wine vs. bread alone (and of course we burned  witches in Salem...WTF??)


    I guess my "solution" would be to outlaw any visible manifestation of religion--hence the Kemalist adjective in the United Semitic Peoples' KEMALIST Front


    Edit to add: And if there were a pill that would extirpate the entire topic of religion from the mind, I would cheerfully support forced administration thereof...

    I don't understand how you cede to the notion, begrudgingly or otherwise, of a separate Kurdistan,  when you are so vehemently opposed at the core to the concept of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state--regardless of circumstances on the ground as they exist here and now, and as they existed at the time of the partition vote in 1947.   Would your view on an independent Kurdistan be the same if it involved the intentional or unintentional transfer of populations?   I guess my question is whether your view is a product of Israel's treatment of Palestinians or if it really is such a core belief, and then in that case why a separate Kurdistan?  And why break up Syria?  I'm not saying it's the wrong approach, but I don't understand how the same logic wouldn't apply to the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.


    1. The mechanics of the  partition are crucial--I believe that a  plebiscite is essential (as in East Timor) before a previously unitary territory can be divided.  Also, the transition that I objected to in Israel/Palestine occurred outside of ANY form of popular sovereignty--one might envision, therefor, a partition of Syria in which the presently popularly elected Syrian government agreed.  There was no such democratically (?) empowered assent given to the partition of Palestine in 1947, nor could there be because sovereignty passed from one empire (Ottoman) to another (British).

    2. If a partition to which the peoples involved agreed involved transfer of ethnic minorities, I would be unhappy but obliged to accept if communitarian violence were the alternative.  We need only look to the Russian remnant populations in now independent former USSR states for the festering problems that remain in the absence of population transfers, and any such scheme would need to include extra generous compensation to the displaced.  I would expect that the resources needed therefor would be easily found in the benefits from foregone costs of continued violence

    I'm not supporting population transfers anywhere, but I was trying to figure out how much what took place on the ground in 1948 and what is taking place now is the basis for your position on two states for two peoples--or whatever the latest jingle is.

    I assume you are aware of this... Right?

    From Rueters - Jan 22, 2014. It's a is very long detailed report.

    Amid Syria's violence, Kurds carve out autonomy

    In the northeast corner of Syria, a pocket of stability is emerging amid the country's civil war. Here the talk is of building, not bombing.

    Local leaders have launched projects to revive normal life and encourage people to stay. They are creating a regional administration, producing cheap fuel, subsidizing seeds for crops and trying to restore electricity to an area that had lost power for nearly 24 hours a day. And so far they are fighting off the forces of both President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels who want to oust him.


    On Tuesday, on the eve of peace talks in Switzerland, Kurds in Syria declared a provincial government in the area. The move came after international powers denied their request to send a separate delegation to the peace talks.

    Local leaders insist they have no plans for secession but say they are preparing a local constitution and aim to hold elections early this year. This is not independence but "local democratic administration," they say.

    Whatever name it goes by, it is another complicating factor in a war that threatens to remake the Middle East. Syria has fractured into statelets, with little evidence of any one group emerging as clear victor.


    While Assad's forces were distracted with their fight against rebels in Syria's west, Kurdish leaders gradually seized territory. "We started near the Iraqi border - just one tiny little checkpoint," said Aldar Xelil, a leading member of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the strongest political force in Kurdish Syria. "And from checkpoint to checkpoint we went across the entire region. Now we only have two cities to finish: Qamishli and Hassaka."


    Given the array of competing interests, some local politicians believe a federal system might emerge in Syria. PYD leader Aldar Xelil said: "I can't imagine that an Alawite or a Sunni will be able to agree to share a single administration. There has been too much killing. The whole psychological state of these communities has changed.

    "Perhaps we will have to resort to separating Alawites and Sunnis and Kurds administratively."

    He foresees a federalized system, rather than Syria's Kurds carving out an entirely new land for themselves.

    "A division from Syria itself, it won't happen. A federalized system though - that is possible."



    Yeah--The Kurds are famously the largest ethnicity without their own country.  The Turks, of course, will have a lot to say about any sort of union of the three Kurdish territories...

    Russian analyst on Russia &Turkey on Syria & the Kurds, Jan. 26:


    Ah yes... Turkey and the Russians . . .

    From Artappraiser's link:

    Moscow remained calm, as long as there was no indication of Kurdish intention to secede from Syria.


    And how "calm" will the Russians remain if the Syrian Kurds decide to secede?

    Let me state again what I said about the Russians up thread.

    Screw the Russians.



    I thought you were about to say something about Iran, the other place of Kurds.

    yeah, them too...Thing is, if you put together all (four!) kurdish areas, you pretty much have the headwaters of all the agriculturally important rivers in the region.  Thus raising the stakes, as it were...

    There it is.

      I don't think we're required to come up with a solution to Syria. If we know that military intervention is a bad idea, that is enough. Doing nothing is better than doing the wrong thing.

    Howdy... I'm not requiring YOU to do anything . . .

    Please point to where I requested YOU to come up with a solution. I am totally unaware that my post was directed to YOU. I wasn't in conversation with any one else than Jollyroger. Jollyroger was kind enough to answer to my humble request. I don't see the need for you to speak for Jollyrodger. Although I do understand your position and respect your POV... but . . .


      So I should speak only when spoken to, huh? We're free to comment on anything posted here--whether there is a "need" for it, I can't say.

    Take it easy there Kimosabe . . .

    You can speak and post whenever you damn well please. I didn't tell you you couldn't. You can dance a Cajun shuffle in a tutu in a Willys in four wheel drive for all I care. I'm not requiring of you to comment or not to comment. I don't give a big crap if you DO comment. I don't give a big crap if you DON'T comment. I wasn't in conversation with any one else other than Jollyroger. Jollyroger was kind enough to answer to my humble request. Now maybe I should run along and kick my dog. Sheesh . . .


      You made a big stink about my commenting on what you had said to Roger. That indicated that you did give a crap. So what were being so snippy about if you didn't care what I did?

    Go play with your puppy... or cat... whichever...

    You can have the last word. And I'm quite sure you'll take it...


    I'll take it - it seemed strange for someone to expect on a public blog that his comment be treated as a private missive, and get so pissy when someone comments. Blogs tend to encourage group comments - that's why an open comment section, rather than closed like Andrew Sullivan's as an example.

    Even here, my jumping in is not so remarkable on the blogosphere - but will probably offend your expectations.

    My first thought when I saw your response above was "get a room", sorry to disturb your privacy. (And Aaron in particular tends to stay on topic & keeps away from ad hominems. I found it strange that he was the one who stepped on this landmine)


    Sharks circling?

    No quote from the Big Book? You're losing your touch.


    Yawn . . . I like pie...

    Isn't there a more stimulating ongoing meta thread here at Dag about "apes" to keep you busy?

    Do you like pie?


    Isn't there some glurge you should be tweeting instead of resurrecting 2-day old comments? Somewhere on the intertubez a cat feels neglected.

    Do you like Nasi Goreng?

    Listening to the SOTU in the background while working, my ears perked up when he 'splained the new revised narrative on all that. It's not eleventy dimension stuff anymore. It's a very simple story now. The applicable excerpt with my bold (from the NYT transcript):

    American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated. (Applause.) And we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve — a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.

    As far as red lines, I think that might still be more eleventy. There's red lines and then there's vermillion lines, and then there's scarlet, crimson and carmine. All depends on what you mean by red....

    That was a good read. Thanks.


    good to hear it was useful to you, Emma.

    I found it reassuring that Obama is so mindful of how history will judge his presidency, almost as if he has moved beyond desire for current approval and in a far better way than some in his predecessor's administration.


    This less recent article about Haaretz by Remnick bookends well I think with the current piece--which I've not quite finished yet.  Great description of the internal goings-on of the newspaper in terms of how it would respond to Arab Spring developments in Cairo and the overthrow of Mubarek:

    . . .

    Better still perhaps, here's what Remnick wrote last March after the president made his first trip to Israel, i.e. since becoming president.  Remnick's at a magazine "off-the-cuff" event with Susan Rice, about whom he wrote:

    You had to admire Rice’s discipline [towing Administration line even after being passed up to take over for HRC]—and even how, at the end of the discussion, she robbed some French fries from a guy in the audience who was eating, flagrantly, at the lip of the stage. [my emphasis]

    Then, check out what Remnick wrote about the White House's response to a tweet about his little informal gathering (with Susan Rice and a bunch of reporters in a public place!).  What  I find compelling is the spin/explanation (whatever) being offered by the Administration at that time, about the importance of talks between Palestinians and Israelis (again with focus on the "feeling" that the Adminitration and Obama were acting on:

    You also had to admire the watchfulness of the White House. About thirty minutes after leaving the theatre, I got out my phone to catch up on my messages. There was one from a White House official who had noticed that I’d been “quoted” on Twitter saying that President Obama was not likely to spend any political capital in his second term to help bring about a Palestinian state. The quote was extracted from a question I had asked Rice about what might happen in the Middle East. Was a two-state solution really dead? Would the Obama Administration—with all it faced in the world—risk anything to initiate a renewed peace process?

    What both Rice and the White House official made clear was that President Obama would not be bringing any plans to the Middle East on the trip that he is presently completing. But, at the same time, they both insisted that no one should jump to the conclusion that just because a two-state solution has never been more difficult, more seemingly out of reach, Obama would ignore it. The official emphasized Obama’s “strength of feeling” about the issue, and cautioned that no doors were closed. [my emphasis again]

    Interesting that discussions have continued with Sec. Kerry really put everything he has in keeping them going, and while at the same time he is actively engaged pursuing talks with the Iranians and participating then also at the time with the negotiations over Syria.  Really kind of an ambitious schedule and makes for a real important data point for that office going forward (as compared to those  inside the WH or at defense, etc).  Fascinating, and truly so I think, if you're into the evolution of various offices in the Executive Branch over time.

    Haven't heard much about those negotiations except for the occasional quote frp, this or that person on either side on the state of things.  That issue was addressed at at talk at I was at my synagogue on Friday night by one of the members who works on ME stuff at the UN.  To him, that we've heard so little substantively on those ongoing talks is a net positive because it means that they are, all things equal, serious negotiations.  He took questions and I asked him about how he felt about Israel's defense minister's incomprehensible decision to mouth off  about what he called the Secretary's "messianic" commitment to 2-state negotiations, etc.  He paused, smiled, and said that he had read the Administration's response.

    On the Kerry talks, I found the original Remnick article most helpful, it actually made much more sense of them working at those at this time. (Though I suspected it may be the case, to be honest, I never know with this administration, and that's one of its bad points, mho. They just don't communicate rhyme or reason that well in a lot of cases. Often the opposite of transparent, for whatever reason.)

    These are the two applicable graphs, my bold:

    “With respect to Israel, the interests of Israel in stability and security are actually very closely aligned with the interests of the Sunni states.” As Saudi and Israeli diplomats berate Obama in unison, his reaction is, essentially, Use that. “What’s preventing them from entering into even an informal alliance with at least normalized diplomatic relations is not that their interests are profoundly in conflict but the Palestinian issue, as well as a long history of anti-Semitism that’s developed over the course of decades there, and anti-Arab sentiment that’s increased inside of Israel based on seeing buses being blown up,” Obama said. “If you can start unwinding some of that, that creates a new equilibrium. And so I think each individual piece of the puzzle is meant to paint a picture in which conflicts and competition still exist in the region but that it is contained, it is expressed in ways that don’t exact such an enormous toll on the countries involved, and that allow us to work with functioning states to prevent extremists from emerging there.”


    Obama told me that in all three of his main initiatives in the region—with Iran, with Israel and the Palestinians, with Syria—the odds of completing final treaties are less than fifty-fifty. “On the other hand,” he said, “in all three circumstances we may be able to push the boulder partway up the hill and maybe stabilize it so it doesn’t roll back on us. And all three are connected. I do believe that the region is going through rapid change and inexorable change. Some of it is demographics; some of it is technology; some of it is economics. And the old order, the old equilibrium, is no longer tenable. The question then becomes, What’s next?

    So it's part and parcel of being prepared for "the new equilibrium. You just have to keep them talking, that's all that matters right now. Because something may happen that creates a new paradigm, and then they are already set up talking. There is no intentional  result, it's just: keep them talking, especially at this turbulent time in regional history. 

    What I thought of immediately when I read those graphs is ye olde Mideast autocrat tradition of using the "Zionist enemy" bogeyman and the Palestinian plight and sometimes anti-Semitism as well to deflect the people's interest away from their own (and Palestinians!) suffering under the autocracies (The syndrome well-described in this 2010 article by Jordanian Palestinian Mudar Zahran.) The reason for the talks: be ready for the possibility that some of that may be unwound with all the turmoil. Previously, the attitude that Israel had no right to exist was always there, being used for all kinds of other purposes. With some of those purposes disappearing, and new alliances formed, if talks are already going on, they could actually end up talking about actual practical issues.

    Because something may happen that creates a new paradigm

    Always comes to mind every time these folks talk of peace 

    3 While people are saying, “There is peace  and  security,” then zsudden destruction will come upon them aas labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

    1 Thessalonians 5:3

    Peace for the Palestinians  and  Security for Israel????? 

    You just have to keep them talking, that's all that matters right now. Because something may happen that creates a new paradigm, and then they are already set up talking. There is no intentional  result, it's just: keep them talking, especially at this turbulent time in regional history. 

    Yes, and it's better than the alternative...which is what, anyway?

    I think it's hard to argue with the notion that, generally speaking, if the goal is to obtain a negotiated settlement, then the first goal of the neutrals is to try to continue negotiations.  Looks like Kerry's been able to do that so far, and perhaps to the consternation of some of the diehards on both sides, such as the outrageous remarks of Israel's Defense Minister Yaalon that I referred to in my initial comment.  

    So in that sense it's a good thing, i.e. continued negotiations. That we're not hearing that much in terms of where negotiations are seems also to add a positive element to the status of what is being negotiated.   It just seems to me that the leadership on both sides of the deal lack the political will to go an extra step.  In Bibi's case, I suppose he thinks he needs the Yaalons of the world to maintain his coalition, and perhaps he's right about that.  I mean we're still talking about the same basic issues that had been tentatively agreed to back in 2000 and early 2001-- it's just the political will to sign on the dotted line.

    t's just the political will to sign

    And I was trying to point out that Israeli political will might change once the politics of some surrounding states do not depend upon the states involved creating an enemy bogeyman out of Israel. The Egypt example shows that that doesn't even have to involve a major change in the public perceptions in such countries, just that the states themselves have to stop officially stoking it.

    As for an actual recommendation, I go with partition.  Make a Kurdish state out of the  kurdish parts of Iraq, turkey and Syria.  An alawite/christian druze rump along the coast, and let the Saudis take charge of the jihadist eastern part of Syria.

    Not entirely satisfactory, but maybe the best that can  be done to cut down he suffering.

    Also, make an explicit alliance with Iran--the Shias are better than the Wahabbis. since we have destroyed the Baath seculars.  I'd actually go back in time and support Nasser, but it's technologically too hard a lift,  You need to put a black hole in your pocket to travel in time, and that's at least ten years off...


    What's wrong with this picture? For me it's the breezy willingness to cut up the pie to protect this and that minority...to keep this group away from that group...to judge this horrible group better (at least) than that horrible group...coupled with a sort of white man's exhaustion at trying to fix the place and a resignation that this cutting up is the best that can be done...finishing with cutting Israel loose.

    In what way are the Israelis fundamentally more trouble to us than the Shias and Wahabbis or Alawites...or dictators like Assad...or religious tyrants like the Sauds and Khameinis? In fact, don't they do a lot more FOR us than an Assad or a Saud or a Khameini or even a Erdogan? Or someone like Nasser?

    If we're willing to tolerate all these other pesky religious minorities and accommodate to their demands and assure them their rump state, why and how is this so different from doing the same for Israel? The Palestinians? You mean Assad hasn't slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and plain old Syrians? What about the Sauds their Shia minority?

    I would argue that there's a "demographic might makes right" argument underlying posts like this that goes something like this: "We can't get rid of the Alawites or the Shias or the Wahabbis; their numbers give them a might that makes their cause, if not right, then immovable. But the Jews, we know they can be moved. Having been quite the people on the move for many years."

    When it comes to Israel, the left becomes very moral. When it comes to the rest of the Middle East, it becomes very realistic. "Hey, I don't like partition any more than the next guy, but whaddya gonna do with those people? They've been fighting like cats and dogs for millennia. But Jews are kinda like white people; they ought to know better and know how to act civilized."

    Anyone for "putting down" the House of Saud? They are the proximate cause of 911.


    Anyone for "putting down" the House of Saud?


    Common ground achieved at last....


    But as Rand Paul noted today...the parcel has got to be just a sliver.

    BTW, part of my objection to our cultivation of Israel as a "forward base" is precisely all the things they do for us...I believe that they are drafted into support of the imperialist project (Chalmers Johnson, where are you when we need you?) to the detriment, long term, of their own interests, the interests of the region, of world peace, and the deformation of fundamental Jewish humanitarianism.


    Edit to add: (Disclaimer: Hopeless pursuit of the impossible alert)  My "solution" is to abolish national sovereignty entirely, and lodge the monopoly on the use of force in a world government (Wheee-here come the black copters)


    I don't like this "forward base" idea, either.

    World government?

    Isn't Jesus supposed to come back and claim dominion over the world?

    That'll send the states' righters around the bend!


    That'll send the states' righters around the bend!


    They appear to be remarkably oblivious to the shitstorm that will rain down on them when that righteous Jew gets to wailin' on their demonic ass...otherwise they wouldn't be so anxious for end of times.

    Clearing the killing field?

    While all the talking and negotiations are ongoing...

    OPCW-UN Joint Mission in the Syrian Arab Republic

    Today, a further shipment of chemical weapons materials took place from the Syrian Arab Republic. The chemical materials were verified by Joint Mission personnel before being loaded in Lattakia port onto Danish and Norwegian cargo vessels for onward transportation.

    The vessels were accompanied by a naval escort provided by the People’s Republic of China, Denmark, Norway and the Russian Federation.

    The Joint Mission looks forward to the Syrian Arab Republic continuing its efforts to complete the removal of its chemical weapons materials in a safe, secure and timely manner, in line with OPCW Executive Council decisions and UN Security Council Resolution.


    One more step in the right direction?


    I would have to say yes.

    I do too... And . . .

    I wonder what level that is of Obama's "eleventy-dimensional chess move" as one here at Dag likes to say?



    Chess might the wrong analogy.

    Basketball is better, and not just because he plays it.

    You start with a plan and a goal, but you remain flexible as the situation evolves... often quickly and you have to respond quickly.

    Syria: some reasons why it's not a "best left alone to sort itself out" situation:

    Syria’s Polio Epidemic: The Suppressed Truth
    Annie Sparrow, New York Review of Books, Feb. 20 issue and online now:

    One way to measure the horrific suffering of Syria’s increasingly violent war is through the experience of Syrian children. More than one million children are now refugees. At least 11,500 have been killed because of the armed conflict,1 well over half of these because of the direct bombing of schools, homes, and health centers, and roughly 1,500 have been executed, shot by snipers or tortured to death. At least 128 were killed in the chemical massacre in August.

    In the midst of all this violence, it is easy to miss the health catastrophe that has also struck Syrian children, who must cope with war trauma, malnutrition, and stunted growth alongside collapsing sanitation and living conditions. Syria has become a cauldron of once-rare infectious diseases, with hundreds of cases of measles each month and outbreaks of typhoid, hepatitis, and dysentery. Tuberculosis, diphtheria, and whooping cough are all on the rise. Upward of 100,000 children are stigmatized by leishmaniasis, a hideous parasitic skin disease that flourishes in war. Many of these diseases have already traveled beyond Syria’s borders, carried by millions of refugees. Five million more children have been forced out of their homes but are still living within Syria, increasingly vulnerable to early marriage, trafficking, and recruitment as child soldiers.

    And now polio is back [....]

    The meddling by foreign powers isn't making things any better.

    In Beijing, Secretary of State John Kerry said President Obama had asked aides to develop new policy options on Syria, but he did not say what options were under consideration or whether the president had established a deadline for delivering them. Diplomats here said the administration might consider stepping up an existing covert program to train and arm the moderate Syrian opposition or even weigh the threat of military force to compel the delivery of humanitarian aid.

    The senior official declined to say whether a policy shift was underway, saying options were always being reviewed. But in impassioned language, Mr. Kerry noted that since October, when the Security Council issued a nonbinding request for all sides to facilitate aid delivery, the crisis has worsened sharply. The number of Syrians in need of assistance has risen by one-third to 9.3 million. The number displaced outside the country increased by nearly 20 percent to 2.5 million, and inside the country by 50 percent to 6.5 million.

    “This is grotesque,” he said, “and the world needs to take note and figure out what the appropriate response is.”


    Deadlock Remains and Aid Crisis Mounts as 2nd Round of Syria Talks Nears End
    By Anne Barnard, New York Times, Feb. 14, 2014


    U.S. Steps Up Criticism of Russian Role in Syrian War
    By Michael R. Gordon, David E. Sanger. and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, Feb. 17/18, 2013

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday sharpened the Obama administration’s mounting criticism of Russia’s role in the escalating violence in Syria, asserting that the Kremlin was undermining the prospects of a negotiated solution by “contributing so many more weapons” and political support to President Bashar al-Assad.

    “They’re, in fact, enabling Assad to double down, which is creating an enormous problem,” Mr. Kerry said in Jakarta, Indonesia, before he flew here to confer with top officials of the United Arab Emirates, a gulf state that has been a strong supporter of the Syrian opposition.

    Mr. Kerry’s tough criticism underscored the erosion of the Russian-American partnership in Syria, and raised questions about the viability of the United States’ diplomatic strategy to help resolve the escalating crisis [....]

    My bold:

    On Syria, a spymasters’ conclave
    By David Ignatius, Washington Post, Feb. 18, 2014

    Western and Arab intelligence services that support Syria’s struggling opposition gathered for a two-day strategy meeting in Washington last week that appears to signal a stronger effort to back the rebels.

    The spymasters’ conclave featured Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s minister of the interior, who will now supervise the kingdom’s leading role in the covert-action program. He replaces Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, who has been suffering from a back ailment and whose leadership of the program was seen as uneven.

    Susan Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, met with Prince Mohammed to discuss strategy. But sources caution that President Obama is still wary of any major escalation in Syria that might involve U.S. forces directly. The U.S. opposes no-fly zones, for example, although the administration’s call for secure corridors to provide humanitarian assistance may lead it to embrace de facto safe zones if the U.N. can’t agree on a formal plan.

    Prince Mohammed’s new oversight role reflects the increasing concern in Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries about al-Qaeda’s growing power within the Syrian opposition. As interior minister, he coordinates the kingdom’s counterterrorism policy, which gives him close ties with the CIA and other Western intelligence services.

    The Washington gathering was also attended by spy chiefs from Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and other key regional powers that have been supporting the rebels. Sources said these countries agreed to coordinate their aid so that it goes directly to moderate fighters rather than leeching away to extremists of [....]

    Earlier this year, I asked Obama the following question: “What is more dangerous: Sunni extremism or Shia extremism?”

    His answer was revealing, suggestive of an important change in the way he has come to view the Iranian regime. He started by saying, as would be expected, “I’m not big on extremism generally.” And then he argued—in part by omission—that he finds the principal proponent of Shiite extremism, the regime in Tehran, more rational, and more malleable, than the main promoters of Sunni radicalism.

    “I don’t think you’ll get me to choose on those two issues,” he said. “What I’ll say is that if you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they’re not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits. And that isn’t to say that they aren’t a theocracy that embraces all kinds of ideas that I find abhorrent, but they’re not North Korea. They are a large, powerful country that sees itself as an important player on the world stage, and I do not think has a suicide wish, and can respond to incentives. And that’s the reason why they came to the table on sanctions.” [....]

    Obama seems to believe that a nuclear deal is, in a way, like Casaubon's key to all mythologies: Many good things, he believes, could flow from a nuclear compromise. In an interview last week with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, the president suggested that a nuclear agreement would help Iran become “a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules.” This, he said, “would be good for everybody. That would be good for the United States, that would be good for the region, and most of all, it would be good for the Iranian people.” [....]

    excerpts from Jeffrey Goldberg, Iran is Getting Away with Murder, theatlantic.com, Dec. 30, 2014

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