Thursday, June 30, 2011

Afghanistan: Deal With the Taliban The Basis for U.S. Withdrawal?

By Barry Rubin

Ahmad Rashid is widely considered to be the best journalist on Afghan and related Pakistani issues. And he has a scoop over the secret U.S. negotiations with the Taliban. I respect him though I don’t necessarily agree with him. And Rashid’s points must be integrated into the U.S. and Western debate over Afghanistan.

Here’s the key section:

“The talks are premised on the essential realisation that neither a successful western withdrawal from Afghanistan nor a transition to Afghan forces can take place, without an end to the civil war and a political settlement that involves the Afghan government and the Taliban, but also Pakistan, the US and the region.”

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A Major U.S. Policy Shift Toward the Muslim Brotherhood Disguised

 By Barry Rubin

Here’s the headline: “U.S. to resume formal Muslim Brotherhood contacts.” But that’s not true. In fact, as the Reuters article itself admits there have never been “formal” contacts before but only informal ones. Let’s examine the language, which stems from a “senior U.S. official” to see what the Obama Administration thinks about the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Massive Riots in Egypt: Honeymoon Over, Divorce Begins?

For all my PajamasMedia articles go here

By Barry Rubin

More than 1000 people were injured during rioting in Cairo, focused around Tahrir Square. It is the end of the "Arab Spring" honeymoon for Egypt. The violence began when demonstrators demanding faster trials for Mubarak era officials (clashed with? were attacked by?) police. Politicians, the April 6 Youth Movement, and the Muslim Brotherhood criticized the interim military government, comparing it with the Mubarak regime. The military accused pro-Mubarak forces of stirring up violence and confirmed that parliamentary elections will be held in September. I think the armed forces are eager to get out of politics and get back to what they do best...making money. Ironically, most of the politicians simultaneously demand that elections be speeded up (to have an elected government faster) and slow down (to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of power.

Israel’s Strategic Standpoint: Mid-2011 and Mid-“Arab Spring”

This article was published in the Jerusalem Post. I own the rights so all links should be to this site.

By Barry Rubin

There are two main strategic perspectives in Israel today. They aren’t contradictory but they have different priorities. These can be called the “northern” and the “southern” views.

The “northern” approach is the more traditional one, focusing on the situation in that direction. The key longer-term concern is over Iran and its drive for nuclear weapons. More closely, there are both concerns and hopes regarding Lebanon and Syria.

Regarding Iran, the new feature is the assumption that Israel will not attack Iran to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons. This means that Israel will be constructing a multi-level defensive system that includes long-range attack planes, a capability of subverting Iran’s nuclear force through covert operations, possibly submarine platforms, and several types of anti-missile missiles and defenses.

The goal here is four-fold:

--To delay as long as possible Iran getting nuclear weapons and to minimize the size and effectiveness of its arsenal through sanctions, international pressure, sabotage, and other means.

--To have the maximum ability to deter Iran from launching a nuclear attack on Israel and showing the ability to stop Iranian missiles. The aim is to discourage Iran from launching such an attack given a near-certainty that it can be stopped and Iran will suffer very heavy damage as a result.
--Of course, ordinary deterrence is not a sufficient safeguard against Iran given the Islamic regime’s ideological extremism and passionate hatred of Israel, the recklessness of some key elements there, and the rulers’ shortcomings in accurately assessing reality. Consequently, Israel must put a high priority on stopping any Iranian attack from happening at all or succeeding if it does happen.

--To be able, if Israel ever determines there is a real danger of an Iranian attack, to launch a first strike to inflict maximum damage on Iran’s nuclear strike force. In other words, an Israeli attack would be premised not on Iran getting nuclear weapons but on Iran being likely to use nuclear weapons.

U.S. deterrence, early-warning, and anti-missile efforts would supplement this system but this strategy is not premised on any dependence on the U.S. government.

But Israel also knows that an equal or even greater danger is the spread of Iranian influence, taking over Arab countries or turning them into clients that can be used against Israel. Here, the northern focus is on Syria and Lebanon.

On the surface, the news from these two countries is potentially bad. Lebanon is now ruled by a government controlled by Hizballah and other Syrian or Syrian-Iranian clients. Hizballah thus can use Lebanon as a virtual fiefdom for building its military power and attacking Israel. This is much worse than the 2006 Hizballah-Israel war when Lebanon as a government and army had a separate identity.

Syria itself is faced with a serious internal upheaval that seems increasingly likely to bring down the dictatorship of President Hafiz al-Asad. Here the “glass half-empty” analysis is that Asad might be replaced by an Islamist or radical regime even more hostile to Israel.

There is also, though, a “glass half full” analysis. As long as Syria is in such turmoil, it cannot so effectively threaten Israel. And if Asad is overthrown a government might take power that is more preoccupied by internal affairs, perhaps less eager to be in conflict with Israel.

Iraq offers a good model here. Between the interests of the Kurds, the internal conflict, a greater focus on domestic development, and other factors, Iraq has dropped out of the conflict with Israel.

Hizballah also suffers from this turmoil. Since it has sided with the Asad regime, Hizballah has gone from wildly popular to widely hated by the Syrian people. Hamas, which has sided against the Syrian regime and in favor of its Muslim Brotherhood comrades, has lost Syrian patronage. Finally, Syria’s aggressive behavior has opened up a rift between that country and Turkey’s government, which has been increasingly acting like an ally of the Iranian and Syrian regimes.

Consequently, while this is no ideal or wonderful situation, Israel can be considered to have benefitted from this aspect of the “Arab Spring.”

From Israel’s standpoint, the relative stability in Jordan and Saudi Arabia is a plus since these countries are unlikely to be transformed into radical Islamist states under a government linked to al-Qaida, Iran, or the Muslim Brotherhood. The turmoil in Bahrain, Yemen, and Tunisia is of relatively little strategic significance to Israel.

Generally, there can be a hope that democracy and domestic development will become a higher priority than fighting Israel, thus easing the pressure on Israel, or at least preoccupying Arabs and Muslims for a while. Clearly, merely calling dissidents Zionist agents and trying to unite the people around an anti-Israel political platform no longer works for incumbent nationalist governments.

In time, this strategy might work for replacement, Islamist governments but that hasn’t happened yet. Moreover, American weakness and the Obama Administration’s cooler view toward Israel is worrisome. So is the possibility that things might be moving in a way to strengthen Iran.

If one looks at the southern front, though, it is harder to find some possible silver lining. Egypt is likely to elect a radical government more hostile than anything Israel has faced there since about 1974. The future of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is gloomy. Peace between Israel and the Arab world’s most populous country cannot be taken for granted.

There is also the problem of the Egypt-Hamas relationship. Egypt is likely to see itself as Hamas’s ally and patron. In a future Israel-Hamas conflict begun by an attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip any time Hamas so wishes, Egypt could actively take the side of the Palestinian Islamists and will certainly help them. The long-quiet southern front now has to be treated as a very possible zone of armed conflict.

This is the basic way things look for Israeli strategists. One can stress better- or worse-case scenarios and different parts of the challenge but there is a general consensus on the fundamental challenges—and on the fact that they will be met successfully.

Please be subscriber 24,417 (daily reader 42,016). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

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Barry Rubin, director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center; editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal; and featured columnist His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at

Tunisia: Bruce Maddy-Weitzman's Analysis

By Barry Rubin

If you are interested in what's happening with Tunisia and why that country has a chance of making it democratically, read Bruce Maddy-Weitzman's article in Middle East Forum. He suggests four key reasons for optimism on Tunisia:

1.a compact, well-defined national entity with a particular history as an open Mediterranean trading country, and thus a strong collective sense of self;

2.a modernization process that produced a substantial, educated middle class, the highest rate of female literacy and lowest rate of population growth in the Arab world, and a systematic effort to raise the status of women, including the banning of polygamy (no other Arab country has dared to explicitly do so, as it contradicts the Qur'an);

3.a tradition of active civil society, particularly labor unions and the bar association; and

4.a small-sized, non-politicized military, whose chief of staff, Rachid Ammar, pointedly refused Ben Ali's directive to fire on protestors, instead acting to control policemen, security and intelligence personnel, and affiliated thugs. He also turned aside any suggestion that he and his fellow officers, and not civilians, assume control of the country.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thoughts and Facts on the Gaza Flotilla II

By Barry Rubin

A second flotilla of ships is going to the Gaza Strip. Or should I say, trying to go there since it will be stopped if necessary by a legal Israeli blockade. In the first flotilla, the Islamist holy warriors organized by the Turkish government-backed IHH group all gathered on one ship. The other boats, the ships of (political) tools cooperated, no one was injured, and they were towed into port. The ship of jihadists attacked Israeli soldiers, kidnapped and beat up a couple of them, and had the "victory" of getting nine martyrs out of it. Let us never forget that when the Israeli Defense Forces made public a video showing these facts the New York Times blog in a particularly shameful moment dismissed it alleging that the soldiers might have been shooting down unarmed civilians just standing around the deck before the film began. (Thus posing the twenty-first century journalistic question: Who are you going to believe, the facts and your eyes or your predetermined ideological bias?)

Now, of course, any actual humanitarian aid could be taken into the Gaza Strip through Egypt, showing that this is a purely political operation designed to end all sanctions on the Gaza Strip so that weapons, money, terrorists, and all necessary equipment can flow in freely. In addition, the goal is to undermine international support for Israel. This time there's also a different strategy for the flotilla itself. The would-be terrorists have dispersed themselves among the naive "peace activists"...

read more

The Social Networking Revolution Meets Islamists with No Sense of Humor

By Barry Rubin

Naguib Sawiris is an Egyptian business tycoon. He’s also the founder of the new, liberal Free Egyptians Party. He also tweets and has an Internet site. He’s also in big trouble. For something he posted. Pictures of Muhammad founder of Islam? Anthony Weiner type photos? No. Cartoons of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Read on.

Read more

Monday, June 27, 2011

NY Times "Scoop": Israel Claims Media Coverage is Unfair

By Barry Rubin

Sometimes when one of the better reporters around tries to be fair the result shows up the low quality of Middle East coverage generally. In an article on the Gaza Strip, Israeli policy, and the flotilla of anti-Israel, pro-Hamas activists, the New York Times informs us:

"Israel’s relationship with the foreign news media has grown strained in recent years; the country increasingly believes that foreign portrayals of its conflict with the Palestinians are harsh and one-sided."

Since Israelis have been quite aware of media bias since the mid-1980s and provided hundreds (thousands) of examples this should not exactly be a discovery. But American newspaper readers or television watchers are rarely informed of this fact by the very institutions that stand accused of bias, ignorance, and just plain bad reporting.

A detailed analysis of how the flotilla, the Gaza Strip, and Israel's policy is being covered.

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Seinfeld's Advice for Obama Administration Policy: Do the Opposite

By Barry Rubin

Just your normal Middle East policy day in which every instinct the Obama administration has is wrong. Allied forces in Libya accidentally drop bombs on civilians. I thought the NATO forces were in Libya to protect civilians. Libya didn’t attack the United States. When Israel is attacked, responds directly, and accidentally kills civilians it is called a “war crime”; when the United States and its allies do it thousands of miles away in an unnecessary and ill-defined mission that’s an excusable accident. What are Western forces doing in Libya? And if they are really there to overthrow dictator Muammar Qadhafi why is he still in power?

How is it that the Obama Administration is doing the exact opposite of what it should be doing?

read more

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Own Private 1984: Why Is Saying the Muslim Brotherhood is Radical A Controversial Claim?

By Barry Rubin

In 2003, I and the publication I edit, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, became the world's biggest story for two or three days. Last week I became a "story" without knowing it until later.

A very strange experience in which a hugely popular television show and a prestigious fact-checking site war over my article without ever consulting or mentioning me that illustrates the mondo bizarro in which we live.  

Read more

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Well, At Least Ahmadinejad Can't Use That Excuse!


"At Paris trial, designer John Galliano blames drugs, booze for anti-Jewish rant."

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Scene of the Crime: I Accidentally Stumble Into A Hotbed of Educational Indoctrination

By Barry Rubin

My son took a computer design course in a summer camp that was held in an Anglican private high school in the wealthiest Washington suburb. Today was the last day, when students demonstrated the games they’d designed. So I went for the presentations by the kids. As I sat in the classroom, usually used by the school for teaching history, I was shocked but not surprised.

Remember, this was a completely random classroom in a random private school that I saw simply because a computer class was being held there during the summer. So what did I see?

You can't make this stuff up. Indeed, it was like something the Washington Post would insist that Ann Coulter made up probably a few minutes from where its editors are living! Don't miss this inventory of what's in a private school history classroom.

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Syria: U.S. Officials President Obama Should--But Doesn't--Listen To

For the full text of all my articles in PajamasMedia go here.

By Barry Rubin

“The international experience of dealing with Bashar [Assad] gave us no confidence to trust his words. We suspected he would employ excuses, trickery and delays.” [Jeffrey Feltman, then U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, quoted in Michael Young, The Ghost of Martyrs Square, p.52.] Feltman is now the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs. Since he became president, Obama has praised Assad, congressional leaders have called him a reformer; U.S. policy has given him one concession after another, and refused to call for his downfall.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Melanie Phillips: The Best Presentation I've Seen on the Current Mess in Intellectual Life

By Barry Rubin

I cannot possibly praise Melanie Phillips highly enough. She presents the basic problems of the Western debate and its rampant insanity with brilliance and clarity. I urge you to watch this brief lecture of hers and promise that you will learn a great deal and understand a great deal better.

What Obama Didn’t–And What We Should–Learn From The War In Afghanistan

By Barry Rubin

This article discusses why the United States was in Afghanistan, why it failed to achieve its goals, why the Obama administration set the wrong goals, what Obama didn't tell the American people, what he failed to learn, what he should have done, and wider lessons showing the incompetent and counterproductive policies of this administration.

I am in favor of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, but I was fascinated–in a negative way–with how President Barack Obama handled the issue. He didn’t deal with any of the real issues or the consequences. It was a speech by someone who doesn’t understand what’s been going on in Afghanistan or the world generally, a man with no real background in international affairs or military matters.

read more

An Example of the Fantasy Middle East: Spinning the Palestinian Economy to Claim the Opposite of Reality

This article was published in the Jerusalem Post. I own the rights and this version is somewhat different from the published one.

By Barry Rubin

Here’s the West’s biggest problem at this moment in the Middle East (there will be bigger ones soon): The creation of an absolute fantasy world in place of the actual real Middle East.

Consider an article in the Financial Times.

The lead:

“Palestinian workers in the West Bank have so far failed to benefit from the recent surge in economic growth, with new research showing that unemployment is high and rising while wages continue to fall.”

Their interpretation:

The survey offers a sobering counterpoint to recent statements by Israeli and international leaders hailing annual growth rates of more than 9 per cent in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At the same time, it appears to confirm the concerns expressed by international economists and by Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who warned repeatedly that the revival of the Palestinian economy was “unsustainable” without further political progress.

My interpretation of their interpretation:

Ah, so if the Palestinian Authority lies about its economic situation, it really shows that Israel is wrong. Ha, ha. Good one. And if the economy isn’t doing well, it also shows that Israel must make more concessions and the Palestinians must be given more things! Another good one.

My interpretation:

The Palestinian economy is a mirage floating on a sea of massive foreign donations. It is still full of government incompetence, inefficiency, and corruption. If everything is so fragile and you turn it into a state that doesn’t miraculously solve economic problems. It just creates a fragile state that will depend on anti-Israel demagoguery, tolerating cross-border raids into Israel, infusions of pro-Islamist money (Iran, Syria, Muslim Brotherhood), and possibly a takeover by Hamas.

We are being told that Hamas is not to be feared because the West Bank economy is doing so well. If elections are held the Fatah rulers of the PA will win. Similar confidence made fools of them in 2006, when Hamas won the election and the U.S. State Department depended on false polls done by Fatah cadre to predict the opposite.

So when a respected journal like the Financial Times tells you that 25 percent unemployment proves that we must rush into a deal one might ask what planet they are living on.


“[Israel and the Palestinians] have also clashed over a recent deal to restore unity between rival Palestinian factions, and agreement which Israel rejects.”

Unvarnished Truth

Might one of those factions be a genocidal, antisemitic, revolutionary Islamist, terrorist, client of Iran and Syria, intent on war group known as Hamas? Otherwise, why should Israel possibly reject “unity between rival Palestinian factions.”?

Never Blame the Palestinian Leadership for Palestinian Problems

There’s no discussion of what the PA might be doing wrong. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who had been continually bragging about his accomplishments regarding the economy, is portrayed as being the chief person warning about the problems. And Israel is at fault, if only for trying desperately to find something nice to say about the PA.

Making a Negative into a Positive

“The downbeat economic news offered a striking contrast to the apparent surge in political optimism among Palestinians. According to a new opinion poll...more than 83 per cent of Palestinians say they feel `optimistic’ or `very optimistic’ about the future – an increase of more than 15 percentage points compared to September last year.”

Why optimistic? Because they are hoping to avoid a deal with Israel, falsely believing (and encouraged to do so by their leaders) that the UN will hand them everything they want and that Fatah-Hamas unity will make it possible to defeat and destroy Israel.

But we know that these "hopes" will be disappointed. So what then? A return to violence? That won't help the economy. The election of a Hamas government, since now we are being told that the PA's only electoral asset--its economic success--doesn't exist?

 In other words, while this article contains very useful information its interpretations makes the overall effect of this piece another "counter-informational" exercise.

So the only thing left for me to say is this:

Readers of the world, unite! Realize that the mass media is largely inculcating false consciousness on the toiling newspaper-buying masses. If you do believe this stuff well, then, you have nothing to lose but your brains.

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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Look Who Wants to lead the Middle East!

By Barry Rubin

In the absence of U.S. leadership, others want to direct the Middle East. The battle is becoming a competition of radicals as to who is going to run the region. That’s what happened in the 1950s and 1960s and it isn’t good. Then, the competition was between Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Today, the contestants are Turkey, Iran, and a radical Egypt, with Iraq and Syria sidelined due to internal issues. Meanwhile, the Saudis have been forced to take over leadership of the remaining moderate Arab states (the Gulf sheikdoms, plus Morocco and Jordan) since they can no longer depend on America for protection.

The article discusses the new contestants for leadership, responding to the United States sidelining itself or even coming out on the side of the radicals.

Read more

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Peace Process" Silliness from Obama and Abbas

By Barry Rubin

Speaking to Jewish donors (or should we say possible Jewish donors?) to his presidential campaign, President Barack Obama pledged that his administration would "devote all of its creative powers" to trying to bring about Mideast peace.

This is not an art project. What is needed is not "creative powers" but to deal with the actual, real situation. To me, "creative powers" (Samantha creative Powers?) means to come up with gimmicks, to do anything possible to bring about the supposed signing of a peace of paper [pun] as fast as possible. If they know the Palestinian Authority is inflexible, then they will just demand more concessions from Israel. And they won't bother to ask whether the "peace agreement" they are pushing would last a month or produce a more stable region and a more secure Israel.

Every time Obama says that the "status quo is unsustainable," he's suggesting that anything would be better than the status quo. What he would produce, then, is a worse status quo.

Meanwhile, as if to prove the point,  Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said  he would drop seeking UN approval of unilateral Palestinian independence if the United States offers something better: "I don't know if the U.S. has another option, but if it does, we will not go to the U.N.."

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Why Did Fatah Expell Its Number-One Anti-Hamas Guy?

By Barry Rubin

Muhammad Dahlan has been expelled from Fatah by that group’s Central Committee, which also decided to have the Palestinian Authority (PA) prosecute him for corruption and murder, by a vote of 13 to 0 with six abstentions. Strange, I don’t remember anyone else being treated like this for a very long time. Why is this happening now and what does it tell us?

Read more

Monday, June 20, 2011

Never Forget the Power of the Mass Media to Distort Reality

By Barry Rubin

[Name withheld] is one of the kindest and most generous people I've ever known. [Name withheld] is well-educated and is an open-minded liberal. [Name withheld] is not Jewish but is friendly to Israel. Yesterday there was a column in the Washington Post claiming--on ridiculously distorted arguments--that Glenn Beck is an antisemite. For two years I've been listening to Beck on television and radio as part of a research project on understanding the new conservative debate (with special reference to the Middle East and Israel) and explaining it to Israelis. I know, then, that while Glenn Beck sometimes makes silly mistakes on details he often has a better grasp of Middle East issues than the mainstream media. The charge against him is not only profoundly false but based on such a distortion of everything he has said and done for many years that one can only assume that the Washington Post author was consciously lying.

To find out how the goodhearted individual and the badhearted lie come together, read more.

Understanding Hamas, A Detailed Assessment

This article is published in the Toronto Globe & Mail and is presented here with some additions:

By Barry Rubin

What do you have to do to be recognized as a revolutionary Islamist group using terrorism, backed by Iran (and now probably a radicalized Egypt), seeking to wipe Israel off the map and kill the Jews? It isn’t easy. People keep trying to make you into something else: incipient moderate? Multifaceted debating society? Insisting that you just don’t really mean it?

Such is the case with Hamas. Every day—in speeches, articles, violence, mosque sermons, and media, Hamas makes its positions absolutely clear. And every day someone in the West just doesn’t want to believe it.

Now Hamas has formed an alliance (of convenience?) with the Palestinian Authority (PA), run by Fatah and governing the West Bank. It’s a remarkable situation—or would be anywhere outside of the Middle East.

After all, Hamas won an election, made a deal with the PA, and then staged a coup to take over the Gaza Strip that included shooting dead wounded Fatah fighters in hospital. Fatah and the PA regularly repress Hamas on the West Bank. So why are they “working together”? The PA wants to show unity to the world; Hamas hopes that it can take over the PA.

Is it true that “as older leaders of Hamas claim some degree of moderation, younger radicals refuse to give up violence?” Not exactly. First, there is no real division along age lines. Nor is it all but merely some leaders of Hamas who “claim” some moderation.

But what’s important is that word “claim.” They do not claim it in Arabic, they do not claim it when talking to their people, and they do not claim it on their television stations or their debates with the PA and Fatah. They only claim it when they are talking to Westerners, usually reporters or sometimes diplomats. In other words, it is just a public relations’ exercise.

What about the “Salafi-Jihadist” groups? Clearly, there are some differences, often relating to external alliances. Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood group; the dissidents sympathize with al-Qaida. Yet they don’t pose any serious challenge since Hamas is far stronger. Hamas also uses them as deniable purveyors of attacks on Israel, assaults that Hamas can allow but also deny. The most important non-Hamas group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, very much plays that role.

There has been some effort to set up a distinction between Hamas, as the relative moderates, and the new small groups as the radicals. This would legitimize Hamas as protecting everyone from the real extremists. But the problem with these other groups—and that includes al-Qaida—is that they are too tactically inflexible. They only use violence rather than base building; reject elections; and never pretend to be moderate.

Thus, while these groups can stage terrorist attacks or violence, they are not the real threat. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas, or Hizballah, they cannot take over whole countries. And if in the Gaza Strip they ever do challenge what Hamas wants to do, they will be slapped down without mercy. That’s not because Hamas is moderate but because it will accept no rival.

Indeed, one reason why salafi-jihadist groups have not been successful among the Palestinians is that there is already a strong Islamist organization—Hamas—which can combine the nationalist and religious cards. Among the Palestinians, Hamas are the Salafists and Jihadists. Who needs any alternative?

The article states that “a generation of Hamas leaders, now mostly in their 60s, that wants to deal, that's willing to agree to establishing a Palestinian state within Gaza and the West Bank as defined by the Green Line, the ceasefire line that separated Israelis from Jordanian and Egyptian forces until June, 1967.”

But this is misleading, as the article goes on to explain. For whenever these Hamas leaders discuss such an idea they make absolutely and explicitly clear that this is a temporary measure, a temporary truce, designed to get a state that can be used as a platform for destroying Israel. The PLO accepted such a “two-stage strategy” more than 35 years ago but no one thought that was moderate at the time.

Who needs “radicals” when you have Hamas. Incidentally, the same arguments can be applied to the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or any number of other militant groups. There is always someone even more radical. But the most extreme of the extreme simply are not good at building a mass organization, in part because they are so much on the edge.

There is another assumption made in dealing with Hamas that is also very dangerous. It is presumed that the PA will moderate Hamas. Yet it is more likely that Hamas would radicalize or take over the PA. Many times before, it has been seen around the world that highly disciplined groups with a clear ideology have the advantage of looser, corrupt and ill-defined rivals.

But Hamas is also more dangerous precisely because it is more flexibly clever. The naïve super-radicals want to convert the Gaza Strip into an imitation of Taliban Afghanistan overnight. Hamas leaders understand, however, that they must go step by step so as not to antagonize the population so much as to lose power or to show the West their true intentions so much that it might do something about the danger Hamas poses.

Thus, Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, explains the situation in the article: "No one is more experienced in resistance than Hamas. No one has more martyrs…..Resistance has cost Gaza a lot of lives and a lot of damage. We need to evaluate each situation" before waging resistance.’

What he’s saying here is that Hamas isn’t moderate, it just isn’t stupid. Compare Iran and Afghanistan, for example, the Islamic republic of Iran has known—even while sponsoring terrorism and subverting neighbors—how to be cautious and when to be brutal. The regime is still in power after more than three decades. The Taliban was foolhardy and adventurous, getting involved in the September 11 attacks against the United States. Its leaders are now living in caves.

At the end, the question is asked: “Which side of Hamas will prevail?” But aside from interviews given in English for the express purpose of fooling people there is no evidence that there are two sides of Hamas.

The Toronto Globe & Mail should be praised by seriously studying this issue, at a time when many newspapers in other countries increasingly “dumb down” their coverage. But the question remains how Hamas should be understood.

The advisor on counterterrorism to President Barack Obama once explained that Hizballah couldn’t be terrorists because it included lawyers. But who says that a revolutionary Islamist movement must merely be drooling terrorists saying, “Kill, kill, kill!” Even the Nazis weren’t like that and neither were the Stalinists. Of course, there are intellectuals and doctors, teachers and engineers, involved in the movement, as in all revolutionary Islamist movements. So what?

Quickly, however, in such discussions there is a felt need to discover a spectrum of views when no significant differences exist, or at most they are purely tactical emphases. For example, an article in the Toronto Globe & Mail says that Hamas has “disavowed suicide attacks in recent years.” In fact, they have claimed many such attacks. They might disavow certain specific attacks that are inconveniently timed. That isn’t moderation it is political cleverness.

That article notes: “Hamas-backed militias regularly rain rockets down on targets inside Israel.” Yes, but so does Hamas itself. Other militias have been used as fronts since Hamas’ defeat by Israel in 2009 so that Hamas can pretend it isn’t violating the ceasefire. Yet this is a thinly veneered trick since Hamas verbally supports the attacks, does nothing to prevent them and never punishes them afterward. Compare this to the bloody crackdowns of Hamas—as discussed in the article—when it really does feel its power and policy challenged.

Another important misunderstood point made in the same article says, “Hamas members remain the elected representatives of a large chunk of the Palestinian people, placed there by a fair exercise in democracy.” That is true as far as it goes. But many people think Hamas governs the Gaza Strip because it won an election. First, it won an election, then it made a coalition deal, then it seized power by force.

In stating the usual juxtaposition, the article compares Hamas, “committed to the destruction of the Jewish state,” with Fatah and the PA, “moderate and secular.” While there is certainly truth in this distinction it is also dangerously misleading. For it suggests that these two groups are like oil and water. Yet while there are hardline and very pious forces in Fatah, there are no moderates and secularists in Hamas. Thus, Hamas can appeal to a lot of Fatah supporters but not so much the other way around.

The article states, “It would be unrealistic to think that Hamas will fade away.” Absolutely right. But it is more possible that it will win control of the Palestinians altogether. True, as the article correctly states, people in the Gaza Strip have a lower living standard than those in the West Bank living under PA rule (mainly because the latter receive high levels of international aid). But is that enough to sustain Fatah?

Suppose an independent Palestinian state is established after an agreement with Israel and internationally supported. What would happen if some time later Hamas seized power by force, won an election, or formed a coalition with some younger Fatah cadre to rule. It would tear up the agreement with Israel—as is about to happen in Egypt—and return to the conflict with itself much stronger and Israel weaker than is true at present. Such a scenario is a very realistic one.

Even short of that, Hamas would maintain that it had the right and duty to attack Israelis (whether or not it publicly claimed responsibility for doing so).whenever that was politically profitable. Is a Fatah or coalition government really going to stop them from doing so?

Meanwhile, Hamas preachers and teachers would be telling young people that being a jihad fighter or a suicide bomber is the most properly Islamic and wonderful thing they could do with their lives. How easily could moderates compete with such appeals, especially when—as we have seen elsewhere—moderates would be subject to intimidation or even assassination.

But actually the world should continue to shun Hamas for reasons having nothing to do with Israel. The Middle East today faces a huge internal conflict. That is the region’s main feature. The battle is between Islamists—be they Afghan, Iranian, Arab, or Turkish—and a much-varied set of nationalists, liberal reformers, and traditionalists. The mix is different in every country.

This battle is similar to the great struggles in Europe once caused by Communists and fascists. It is not merely a matter of Islam or Muslims because most of the people on the anti-Islamist side are also Muslims who think they are just as properly Islamic as the revolutionaries.

Giving international recognition or help or legitimacy to Hamas helps the radical Islamist side. It entrenches the Gaza Strip as a revolutionary statelet on the Mediterranean Sea, backed by Iran, using terrorism, dedicated to genocide against Israel and to subverting all of the relatively moderate Arab states.

It indoctrinates children to be future terrorists, to hate and kill Jews, expels Christians, subjugates women, and supports the murder of gays. In addition, it advocates the expulsion of Western influence from the region and opposes virtually all Western interests. A Hamas regime is bound to return to war again in the not-distant future. The group’s radicalism will kill any hope for a peace process between Israel and the PA. Hamas in power means a totalitarian state using torture and ferocious repression.

And it also furthers the revolutionary Islamist movements’ efforts to dominate the Middle East and spread their doctrine and power to Western countries.

A handful of carefully tailored English-language interviews by some Hamas leaders (while they and others speak very frankly and in a totally opposite way in Arabic) changes nothing. The group’s actions speak louder than such words. Their television shows directed at children tells more than soothing words meant to lull the West to sleep.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Leader of International Investigation: Syrian Leader Murdered Lebanese Leader

To see all my PajamasMedia articles in full, go here.

By Barry Rubin

Although we've suspected this for years, the head of the international investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has now publicly stated that the assassination was ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, you know, the guy the U.S. government has been cozying up to for the last 2.5 years and called a reformer? Will this announcement--coupled with the massive killings and torture in Syria--bring strong Western action against the Syrian dictatorship? And if not, why not?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lying for Peace: An Addendum

By Barry Rubin

My article, "The Unbearable Lightness of Mainstream Thinking on Israel-Palestinian Issues," came out too early to include this howler from Tom Friedman. We should remember that Friedman is highly regarded in certain circles. Yet his columns are often laughable in terms of the actual Middle East. Consider this passage giving his proposal for a compromise at the UN:

"Each side would get something vital provided it gives the other what it wants. The Palestinians would gain recognition of statehood and U.N. membership, within provisional boundaries, with Israel and America voting in favor. And the Israelis would get formal U.N. recognition as a Jewish state — with the Palestinians and Arabs voting in favor."

Now, can Friedman deliver the Palestinian, Arab, (and Muslim-majority state) votes for formal UN recognition of Israel as a Jewish state? Of course not....

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The Unbearable Lightness of Mainstream Thinking on Israel-Palestinian Issues

By Barry Rubin

Recently I appeared on a panel. I gave what I thought was a devastating and detailed analysis on why there wouldn’t be an Israel-Palestinian peace: the PA wasn’t ready Fatah was led by radicals; the Palestinian people hadn’t been prepared for peace (and had been prepared to see any compromise as treason); Hamas might take over or would use any PA compromises to attack and defeat its rival; there were too many problems with what would happen after a two-state solution was implemented.

An analysis of the Lying-for-Peace Movement and of how the main arguments on the "peace process" today have no basis in fact.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Answering Readers’ Questions on Libya, Middle East Democracy and On Islam

By Barry Rubin

I answer reader's questions on:

--Why is the Obama Administration reluctant to go to Congress over the war in Libya?

--What should the U.S. government be doing about democratization in the Arab world?

--How do you tell a moderate Muslim?

--Is there such a thing as moderate Muslims?

Read it all

A Good Article and the Best Source on the Syrian Revolt

Here's the best source for daily developments in Syria.

You can also read this good article on Syria.

By Ahed Alhendi

Twenty years ago, I was a school kid chanting with my peers, “Our leader forever, the father, Hafez Assad!” Back then, I could not have imagined that one day I would see his statues destroyed all over Syria by the people — a sight now common within the country.

Most of those demonstrating in Syria are young people who were taught to love and adore our only president, and later his son, Bashar. As young Syrians, we have always treated the Assads as something of a holy family. We all were forced to join the Baath Party Pioneer Organization at the age of six and we grew up soaking in the Assads’ propaganda — the school system, the single TV station, the official newspaper; they all had a picture of Assad as their logos.

Now, the voices of freedom are sounding louder than the engines of armored vehicles and the whistling of tanks shells. Bashar Assad thought that the military would intimidate and quiet the protesters, but the shout “Bashar must go!” is only getting louder.

Those shouts, however, are not particularly well-organized. Because Syria has been ruled by the Assad clan for more than 40 years, the country’s political life is effectively nonexistent. Nearly all leaders and members of serious opposition parties — both Islamic and secular — have been kidnapped, exiled, jailed or killed.

The year 2000 brought with it a so-called “Western-educated doctor” to inherit the “republic” from his father. Syrian dissidents thought that they would be able to recover from three bloody decades of Hafez’s rule that resulted in more than 30,000 deaths and 15,000 forced deportations.

The exhausted opposition groups succeeded in forming an alliance called the Damascus Declaration. This alliance brought together a multitude of diverse groups calling for democratic change within the country, creating what was widely seen as a shadow government.

The regime, however, cracked down on this effort, arresting many of its members and jailing twelve top opposition leaders, as well as forcing the remnants of some of these groups to make statements denouncing the Damascus Declaration for allegedly serving an American agenda. This sucked the oxygen out of opposition efforts, cutting short the movement’s momentum and denying it much-needed press coverage, effectively killing the Declaration.

Even though rebelling against dictators became fashionable in the Arab world this year, many thought that Syria was immune to change. March 15th, however, was a turning point. On that day, only a few people marched in the heart of Damascus calling for freedom. Now, almost three months later, most of Syria’s large cities are seeing tens of thousands of demonstrators calling on Assad to step down.

Because Syrians were not ready for such momentous change, political parties have so far played a minor role in the uprising. Recently, however, they have begun to play their parts. The organizers of the demonstrations formed “local coordinates” that have been organizing demonstrations all over Syria. These groups began with dedicated cores of just a few members who would go into the streets and initiate demonstrations. They quickly became far more organized; each small neighborhood now has a committee that organizes the protest right down to the placards that will be held by demonstrators, and these groups from each town coordinate across the country in a highly organized national movement.

The majority of these groups are made up of university students and democratic activists, such as Razan Zaitouneh, a Syrian feminist. The role of religious movements is very limited, even though most demonstrations start at a mosque — a logistical matter, as mosques are the only places where people can gather without arousing suspicion.

I speak with the leaders of these groups on a daily basis. Most of them are young and unaligned with any formal political movement. They embody the spirit of the Damascus Declaration, which they hope to revive at a conference that just took place in Antalya, Turkey, for Syrian political parties, businessmen and tribal leaders.

What makes this most recent conference different from the others, different even than the relatively strong opposition movements of the 1980s, is the participation of the tribes. Today, the opposition is far more diverse and cohesive; all the tribes — businessmen, youth leaders, Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and Kurds — were represented at Antalya.

At the end of the conference, the participants voted in favor of establishing a 31-member national committee with four members, one each from the Muslim Brotherhood, Kurds, tribal leaders, and Damascus Declaration members, as well as 15 independents and young people.

All signs point to further brutal crackdown by the regime. The number of protesters is increasing so fast that the security forces cannot imprison all of them, and unrest is spreading within the country. Unfortunately, the Syrian people have no international powers on their side, while Assad’s regime is being backed by its allies in Russia, China and Iran (a fact protesters acknowledge by burning the flags of the regime’s allies).

Assad’s legitimacy has fallen particularly after his security forces killed dozens in the city of Hama, a symbol of his father’s brutality. Statues of Assad have been removed recently by government officers in Hama and Dair Al Zor out of fear that protesters will destroy them, indicating just how bad the regime’s image is within the country. But calls for this ruthless dictator to reform are misplaced and even dangerous. Dissidents throughout Syria know that the Assad regime will end up on the ash-heap of history; we hope the West realizes this too.

Alhendi, a former political prisoner in Syria, jailed for online activities, is the Arabic programs coordinator at, a New York based human rights organization.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Western Failure to Support the Real Freedom Fighters in the Middle East Is A Disgrace

By Barry Rubin

Anthony Shadid, the New York Times' pro-Islamist correspondent, writes an article on the "resignation" of Rami Makhlouf from the Syrian regime without finding him involved in any actual corruption. This is like writing an article on former Rep. Anthony Weiner and mentioning in one sentence that some claim he uses social media. It's easy to provide a detailed account of Makhlouf's depredations but here he emerges as a sort of sympathetic figure, his resignation as proof that the Asad dictatorship is listening to the masses.

But there's nothing funny about events in Syria. Recently, a Syrian dissident friend wrote me, "People are being massacred and nobody cares a damn." In a real sense, it is tragic that he's right. Yes, the Obama Administration is now saying "tough" things about the Syrian regime and putting on the minimum sanctions, but in the face of mass shootings and torture, it amounts to nothing. Compare this to the media and administration outrage against Israel, or the demand for the immediate resignation of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak for far fewer crimes and in the face of a much less significant uprising.

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Turkish Armed Forces: Growing Support for Islamism

My articles are featured at PajamasMedia.

By Barry Rubin

When people talk about Turkey the assumption is that the armed forces are still the guardians of the secular republic. But one of the important trends toward Islamism in the country is the infiltration of the military by Islamists or at least a growing belief by many soldiers that supporting the government party will aid their career. With the regime now reelected for four years and in a strong position to shape the new constitution, the army and the other remaining independent institution, the courts, are prime targets for fundamental transformation. A precinct exclusively used by air force personnel and their families in Diyarbakir--involving a cross-section of ranks--the vote totals are astonishing: AKP (Islamists) 67 percent; CHP (social democrats, supporters of the traditional secular republic) 17 percent; MHP (right-wing nationalists), 14 percent. Note that the backing for the AKP is far higher than what it received from the country as a whole (just under 50 percent)! Have no doubt, the Turkish Islamist revolution is comprehensive, dangerous, and largely unnoticed in the West.

Tweet of the Day: Syrian Ruling Gangster Quits Corruption, Repents

My articles are featured on PajamasMedia.

By Barry Rubin

My favorite Tweet of the day comes from: "Syrian state TV says business tycoon Rami #Makhlouf, cousin of President #Assad, will quit business and focus on charity work #alarabiya." Makhlouf is Mr. Corruption in Syria and one of the quartet of Assads that runs the country. His thefts are legion. The idea of Makhlouf ladeling out food at a soup kitchen or helping out at an old-age home is quite a picture. In the United States he would go to rehab, find the Supreme Being, or get his own television show on MSNBC. But the point is that Arab dictatorships are used to getting away with the most remarkable nonsense that the Syrian regime might actually think such a gambit would be effective. Of course, it is more effective to feed nonsense to Western reporters and academics. Although, come to think of it, perhaps Syria and the United States is not so different in this respect.

Holland: Professional “Moderate Muslim” Turns Out to be Radical, Pro-Terrorist Jihadist

By Barry Rubin

Mohamed Azahaf, a 28-year-old immigrant from Morocco, was hired by the east Amsterdam district to build trust between Muslims and non-Muslims there. But a journalist did some careful research to discover he's a supporter of Usama bin Ladin, said Muslim women who didn’t wear “proper” clothing weren't real Muslims, and even issued death threats against those criticizing Islamic doctrine.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Adventures as An Alleged Terrorist

By Barry Rubin

The North American airport security systems are a perfect metaphor for Western policies toward the Middle East. Consider my last two trips between the United States and Canada when each time I’ve been identified as a potentially dangerous terrorist. There was no interest about who I was or any evidence I could offer, each time silly things set off alarm bells against me while those who should have been watched more carefully walked through. In that way, the U.S. government has eagerly helped bring down the Egyptian government and subverted the security of Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia (among others), while waving through Syria, the Turkish regime, Hizballah, and at times even Iran as no problem. Here is a brief account of my adventures.

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Lebanon: Things Keep Getting Worse

Go to PajamasMedia to see my articles in full

By Barry Rubin

Is there a pattern here? I guess I'm going to be writing a series of "things keep getting worse" articles for some time to come because that's what's happening. After five months of bickering Lebanon has a government. It's now a satellite of Syria and Iran with a government dominated by Hizballah (18 of 30 seats!) The new prime minister said the new government would liberate "land that remains under the occupation of the Israeli enemy." And what Lebanese land might that be? If you needed any further proof of the functional insanity of the mass media on issues like this, consider the New York Times headline: "In Lebanon, New Cabinet Is Influenced by Hezbollah." Yes, I'd think having sixty percent of the cabinet posts and more guns than Lebanon's army might constitute influence. So let's see, Turkey is governed by a more confident (arrogant) Islamist regime. Egypt is about to be governed by an Islamist regime. The Gaza Strip is governed by an Islamist regime now allied with the Palestinian Authority and backed by Egypt and Iran and Syria. Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons. The Saudis, Israelis, and lots of other people have lost confidence in the U.S. government. And the brave dissidents in Iran and Syria get no Western help. Meanwhile, Western Middle East policy is based on the work of a great political philosopher and statesman. Click here to see who he is and what he advises

Egypt: Things Keep Getting Worse

Go to PajamasMedia to see my articles in full 

By Barry Rubin

Three months before the September elections there’s no real moderate party, no Mubarak-era establishment party, and no nationalist party. Just the Islamists and the far left. Now one of the last hopes has been dashed with the decision of the Wafd Party to align with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Wafd was Egypt’s liberal nationalist party from the 1920s to the 1952 revolution when it was closed down. The Brotherhood has a tradition of entering and taking over purportedly secular political parties. So the Wafd isn’t going to be an anti-Islamist or alternative party. Who is? I always thought the Brotherhood would do well because it has a clear ideology, good organization, and a strong support base. Now I have to add another factor that may ensure its victory: no serious opposition.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Obama's Ludicrous Proposal to Israel Unpacked

By Barry Rubin

Could President Barack Obama's strategy possibly be more obvious to Israel? Not for the mass media, of course, but for Israel. Here's a summary: Due to the Obama Administration's ineptness, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is planning to ask the UN to give it unilateral independence in September. But rather than use its leverage against the PA--including pointing out that what it's doing is contrary to every U.S.-guaranteed agreement that the PA signed with Israel during the last 18 years--the Obama Administration wants to use its leverage on Israel to force it to save Obama.

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Turkish Election: Voter Fraud?

By Barry Rubin

Daniel Pipes wrote an article asking if the June 2011 election would be the last free and fair election in Turkey. But perhaps it was the first non-free one. I definitely cannot prove this but questions should be raised about government fraud. The questions revolve around the phenomenal and suspicious massive increase of voters and include the following points:

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Turkish Military High Command's Neighbors Takes A Step Toward Islamism

Rubin Reports articles in full are available on PajamasMedia.

By Barry Rubin

Compare the election results from voters in the neighborhood where several Turkish generals live to that of the overall population: 138 CHP (Kemalists); 50 MHP (Nationalists); 46 AKP (Islamists); 2 SP (even more radical Islamists). So on one hand while the population gave 50 percent to the Islamists, the high-ranking military officers and their neighbors gave them just 20 percent. On the other hand, such a high vote for Islamists even in that fortress of secularism as the traditional Turkish elite indicates the gradual infiltration of Islamist supporters into that sector. They might be sincere or opportunistic, of course, but in a sense it doesn’t matter. Four years from now, after another term for the AKP, it might well be far higher.

The Outcome of the Turkish Election: Exclusive Report From Istanbul for Rubin Reports

Introduction: This assessment is a bit more optimistic than mine, suggesting ways to limit the new government's power. I'm doubtful that this is going to succeed but clearly it is the proper course to pursue. At the same time, the article points out that the turnout is so high as to be possibly suspicious. Again, the problem is that after four more years of AKP rule that regime may be well enough entrenched to stay in power a very long time--or change the political structure of Turkey to do what it wants. --Barry Rubin  

By Okan Altiparmak

Let's put everything in perspective:

2007 Voter turnout: 85.1%
Total number of votes: 35,017,315

2011 Voter turnout: 87%
Total number of votes: 42,906,852

2007 election: 46.6% (21.4 Million votes)...... 341 MP's (62% of the parliament)

2011 election: 49.91% (16.3 Million votes) ..... 326 MP's (59% of the parliament)
Up 3.31% tallying 5.1 Million more votes......... 15 fewer MP's

2007 election: 20.84% (7.3 Million votes)...... 112 MP's (20.4% of the parliament)

2011 election  25.91% (11.1 Million votes)..... 135 MP's (24.5% of the parliament)
Up 5.07% tallying 3.8 Million more votes....... 23 more MP's

2007 election: 14.26% (5 Million votes)...... 71 MP's (12.9% of the parliament)

2011 election: 13% (5.6 Million votes)..... 53 MP's (9.6% of the parliament)
Down 1.26% despite tallying 600,000 more votes...... 18 MP's fewer

BDP-backed Independents [Kurdish party]
2007 election: 4.4% (1.5 Million votes)...... 22 MP's (4% of the parliament)

2011 election 6.6% (2.6 Million votes)..... 36 MP's (6.5% of the parliament)
Up 2.2% tallying 1.1 Million more votes.......... 14 more MP's

Votes for parties that didn't gain parliamentary representation
2007: About 4.6 Million votes (12.9%) under the 10% threshold to enter the parliment
2011: About 2 Million votes (4.5%) under the 10% threshold to enter the parliament

The increase of 7.9 million voters (from 2007 to 2011) and the 2.6 million votes which went to parties under the 10% threshold in 2007 approximately correspond to the increase of 10.6 million votes that the parties that got into the parliament in 2011 tallied, with the AKP receiving 5.1 million of these 10.5-10.6 million additional votes.

However, the increase in the number of voters between 2007 and 2011 is rather strange because for it to be possible, there would have had to be such a jump in the birth rate between the years of 1989 and 1993. When we check the population of Turkey in those years, we notice an increase of 8.3 million from 56.5 million in 1990 to 62.9 million in 1997, i.e. less than 1 million per year. Nor can we find a jump in the Turkish population at a later point in time, a fact which would make an increase of 7.9 million voters in four years impossible unless a good number of voters did not get a chance to vote in 2007 when the AKP had its first huge break-through, jumping from 34% to nearly 47% in five years.

On the more positive side, the first-ever Syrian Orthodox ("Süryani" in Turkish) MP (an independent) was elected.

The number of female MP's has gone up from 50 to 78 (an increase of 56%). Ironically, 45 are from AKP, 19 from CHP, 3 from MHP and 11 from the BDP-backed independents. This is a historical peak for the Turkish parliament.

In summary, the AKP stayed in power, but lost a little (yet crucial) ground as did the MHP by a much larger margin, by 25%. On the other hand, the CHP increased its number of MP's by 20.5% and the BDP-backed independents by 63.6%. Hence, while the AKP has much to cheer about for staying in power and the CHP for improving its lot, albeit to a much lesser degree, the BDP-backed independents and women are the real winners of these elections.

Moreover, there is a chance, however little, that the Turkish people may also win if the opposition parties and the independents behave responsibly and force the AKP into governing the nation democratically. But don't count on it on either end. It is more likely that trouble looms ahead with the AKP continuing its authoritarian ways and the opposition failing to bond together. Nor can we, based on the last nine years, expect the USA and Europe to pressure the AKP into responsible governance.

The AKP has been the baby the Western publications and think-tanks (those leaning left in particular) love to spoil and is likely to stay that way until Erdogan and the AKP self-destruct or the West totally loses Turkey as an ally.

Okan Altiparmak, an alumnus of Northwestern University in the field of economics. He is a consultant and filmmaker based in Istanbul.

Syria Hoaxes

Rubin Reports articles in full are available on PajamasMedia.

By Barry Rubin

It is a sign of these times regarding the Internet that a man from Georgia in the United States has been blogging pretending to be a young gay Syrian woman describing conditions in Damascus. The headline revealing this was: "`Syria Gay Girl in Damascus' blog a hoax by US man." It is a sign of these times regarding contemporary politics that I am waiting to see the headline: "`Syria Reformist Dictator in Damascus blog' a hoax by US Government."

Turkey's Election: An Islamist Revolution

This article appears in the Jerusalem Post but I own the rights.

By Barry Rubin

Remember this: By the end of 2011 more than 250 million people in the Middle East may well be living under what are in reality anti-American Islamist governments, mainly in Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, plus the Gaza Strip and an allied (but not Islamist) Syrian regime. Might this be a problem?

The elections in Turkey mark a revolution. When Iran’s revolution happened and the Islamists took over in 1979, everyone knew it. In contrast, Turkey’s revolution has been a stealth Islamist operation. It has succeeded brilliantly, while Western governments have failed shockingly to understand what has been going on.

Now we are at a turning point, an event every bit as significant as the revolutions in Iran and now in Egypt. Of course, it will take time but now Turkey is set on a path that is ending the republic established by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s. The Turkey of secularism and Western orientation is finished. The Turkey that belongs to an alliance of radical Islamists abroad and of Islamism at home has been launched.

Here are the numbers from the parliamentary election:

The stealth Islamist party, Justice and Development (AKP), received almost exactly 50 percent of the vote. Under the Turkish system this will give it 325 members of parliament, or about 60 percent of the seats.

On the opposition side the social democratic Republican People's Party (CHP) got about 26 percent of the vote and 135 seats. The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) took 13 percent giving it 54 seats. There are also 36 independents, all of them Kurdish communalists. Eleven parties didn't make the minimum ten percent barrier (they received only about 1 percent or less each).

Now is this good or bad?

The AKP won 363 seats with a bit over 34 percent of the vote in 2002; 341 seats with 46.58 percent of the vote in 2007; and 325 seats with almost 50 percent of the vote in 2011.

In statistical terms, the AKP lost 6 MP's despite getting 5 million more votes, the MHP lost 18 MP's despite tallying half a million more votes while the CHP gained 33 seats adding 3.5 million votes. On paper, then, while the AKP stays in power, it is very slightly weaker than before.

But the outcome is nonetheless overwhelmingly bad. As you can see above the AKP's percentage of voters keeps rising. Most of the people who back the party don't want an Islamist regime and they don't think of the AKP in those terms. It rather seems to them to be a strong nationalist party respecting religious tradition that is making Turkey an important international power and is doing a good job on the economy.

The AKP got almost--remember that almost--everything it wanted. It increased voter support more than any other party and will be in power for four--and perhaps many more--years, infiltrating institutions, producing a new constitution, intimidating opponents, altering Turkish foreign policy, and shifting public opinion to dislike Americans and Jews to a larger degree.

The only point on which the AKP  fell short is that it didn't get the two-thirds of the seats, 357, that would let it pretty much write Turkey's new constitution any way it wanted. It is, however, close to the 330 needed to take a constitution that it produced to a referendum.

But so what? Deals with a few willing parliamentarians from other parties could provide the five additional votes needed for subitting an AKP-authored constitution to a referendum. The government can offer individuals a lot, including what I will delicately call here personal benefits for their support. And given the way the parliamentary elections went, the AKP can almost certainly win that referendum.

In short, the AKP is entrenched in power and can now proceed with the fundamental transformation of Turkey.

The AKP has become famous for the subtlety of its Islamism, disguised as a "center-right" reform party. Some people in the Arab world are starting to talk about this as a model. Notably the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is fascinated by the strategy. Yet as the Islamist party gains more and more power and support--Turkey has demonstrated this--it becomes more ambitious, daring, and extreme.

This would include:

--A constitution that would take the country far down the road to a more Islamist state and society.

--A more presidential style of government empowering the mercurial (a nice word for personally unstable and frighteningly arrogant) Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to become the chief executive.

--The government can now infiltrate, take over, and transform the remaining hold out institutions, especially the armed forces and courts, along with the remainder of the media that has not yet been bought up or intimidated by the Islamists.

--A government whose policy is to align with Islamists like Iran, Syria (not Islamist but part of the Tehran-led alliance), Hamas, Hizballah, and perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood.

--A government against U.S. and Western interests.

--A government that, to put it bluntly, hates Israel and many of whose members hate Jews.

--For Israel, any dreams of restoring the alliance with Turkey, or even a friendly relationship or normal diplomatic relations are finished. This is the regime that sponsored the first Gaza flotilla and is now behind the second one. From an Israeli interests’ perspective, Turkey’s government is now on the other side, the side of its enemies.

It is hard to place these unpleasant realities and many will not want to face them. There will be no shortage of soothing analyses and encouraging talk about Turkish democracy succeeding, moderate Muslim politics, and how “great” it is that the army’s political power is destroyed.

Don’t be fooled.

This is a disastrous day for the United States and for Europe; for the prospects of stability and peace in the Middle East. And it isn't great news for the relatively moderate Arab states either.

It is the end of the republic as established by Kamal Ataturk in the 1920s and modified into a multi-party democracy in the 1950s.

Yet how many people in the West actually appreciate what is happening? How many journalists will celebrate the election as a victory for democracy? Lenin once reportedly remarked that he would get the capitalists to sell him the rope with which to hang them. The AKP has gotten the West to provide that rope as a gift.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Syrian Regime Flak Calls for Mass Murder; West Does Nothing

By Barry Rubin

Here is the real Middle East not the Fantasyland of the Obama Administration about President Bashar al-Asad as a reformer or the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. This is how things really work.

Taleb Ibrahim is a pro-regime propagandist frequently portrayed as a "political analyst" or some objective thinker in the international mass media. But speaking in Arabic he cuts loose, explaining that killing protestors is a duty because they are Israeli agents. Thus, those demonstrating against the government must be smashed, wiped out so a better future can be built for Syria.

The regime in Damascus is carrying out mass murder and calling for more killing yet Western governments still stand by and not only do nothing, they say nothing.

Meanwhile, despite an international military assault on Libya, dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi is still there, another sign of Western impotence. Hizballah was allowed to defeat the West by returning to southern Lebanon and smuggling in all the weapons it wanted from Syria (without any condemnation of Syria for violating the U.S.-sponsored, UN-mandated ceasefire. Iran zips along toward nuclear weapons; Islamist terror spreads in Egypt. The UN-mandated international investigation of terrorism in Lebanon doesn't advance toward indicting Syria.

Yet we are told either that everything is going great or that the problems are inexplicable.

Has there ever been such a gap between reality and perception? The fascinating question here is how far things will go and how many people will be dead before there is the beginning of some comprehension that Obama and his advisors are dead wrong while most of the mass media has no idea what it's talking about.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Myth That Contemporary Western Mass Media Help Understand the World: An Example on Pakistan

This article is published in PajamasMedia.

By Barry Rubin

People ask me why I write so much and I explain that I don’t want to do so but keep coming across such important events, missed stories, and outrageous nonsense that I feel compelled to say something. So it is in this case.

Here’s the problem: a remarkable amount of what's written on the Middle East in the mass media—and certainly the efforts to analyze it as opposed to reporting events—is nonsensical. It makes the region harder to understand. It misleads the reader.

An example is Anatol Lieven, “5 Myths about Pakistan,” Washington Post, June 5, 2011. Lieven is a professor at Kings College London and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He has just written a book on Pakistan.

One of the techniques often employed in the creation of the Fantasy Middle East is to misstate totally the issues at stake. Note the use of that technique in Lieven's article.

Alleged Myth One: Pakistan is a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.”

Pakistan, he writes, just follows its own interests. Sometimes it’s helpful and sometimes it isn’t. Fair enough, that’s what allies generally do. But the policy question is: whether Pakistan is helpful often enough to merit being treated like an ally and given huge amounts of aid. The answer is”no.” Neither the question nor the answer is addressed.

Incidentally, it’s pretty outrageous that Lieven suggests that Pakistan supports the Taliban because India is inciting other groups in Afghanistan to seize power. Yet since Pakistan’s policy has been the same for 30 years--it has long supported radical Islamist forces in Afghanistan--how can India be to blame for relatively recent policies? To bash India for Pakistan's behavior in Afghanistan is absurd.

If a country supports to a major degree the two groups that attacked America on September 11—the Taliban and al-Qaida—plus is a major sponsor of terrorism against India, the answer to question 1 isn’t “Sometimes” but "Definitely not!"

Alleged Myth 2: ”Pakistan is an ally of the Taliban.”

Again, Lieven turns this into a “straw man” argument. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, he says. But the real answer is "yes," if one is talking about the Afghan Taliban, which is what the United States is mainly concerned about! It is only an enemy of the [Pakistani] Taliban that tries to take over Pakistan. So, again, Pakistan IS an ally of the [Afghan] Taliban, the group--along with al-Qaida--that the United States gives it billions of dollars to fight against!

Alleged Myth 3: “Islamist revolution is coming to Pakistan.”

Why is this a myth? Because, says Lieven, less than one-fifth of Pakistanis view the Taliban favorably in a poll. As if, that’s the only Islamist group! He cites one Pew poll number but other polls and other questions show a remarkably high level of support for Islamism among Pakistanis. Putting such a spin on one item and leaving out others verges, to put it politely, on deliberate dishonesty.

Indeed, a recent Pew poll shows that Pakistanis support Islamism by a whopping 47 to 15 percent margin. Thus, this argument that Pakistanis don't want Islamism is a total myth. That's why Lieven misrepresents the issue to "prove" that Pakistanis don't want the Taliban's specific brand of Islamism.

I'm not saying that Pakistan will have a radical Islamist revolution. But it is certainly possible. If Turkey and Egypt can become Islamist, surely Pakistan could do so.

Alleged Myth 4 “Massive U.S. aid lets Washington dictate Pakistani policy.”

This one really made me angry. Nobody seriously argues such a thing. The real issue is whether the large amount of aid and support the United States gives Pakistan provides some American leverage to get Pakistan to do things that the United States wants and needs to be done. If this aid does no good at all then it shouldn’t be given in the first place.

The correct formulation is: Does giving Pakistan massive aid provide Washington with any ability at all to have the slightest effect on Pakistani policy.” If billions of dollars cannot even get them to help find Usama bin Laden what good are they?

Alleged Myth 5 “Pakistan, not Afghanistan, is the front in the war on terrorism.”

The front? I don’t know anyone who says this either. That's just a phony issue. The real question is: Does Pakistan provide really positive aid in fighting terrorism or not? But if one frames the question in that way the answer is not likely to be in the affirmative, which is presumably why this question isn't asked.

So what’s the bottom line? The author writes what he's been setting up for that entire misleading essay:

“None of this means that the United States should pursue more aggressive policies against Pakistan to win the war on terrorism….Any U.S. action that endangered the stability of the Pakistani government would be insane.”

In other words, U.S. policy is just fine and there's no need to change anything. Who cares if they support the Taliban, hide al-Qaida leaders, and launch terrorist attacks on India? Just keep sending them money and keep giving them support.

Precisely the same argument has and will be used to rationalize such things as:

U.S. aid and support to the Palestinian Authority (even if it refuses to negotiate or make peace and brings Hamas into the government);

Turkey (despite its regime's growing support for Iran,

Syria (the regime supposedly wants to reform itself and you can't expect it to abandon the alliance with Iran so who cares if they shoot down thousands of unarmed citizens and help terrorist groups along with opposing U.S. policies and interests);

Lebanon (even if Hizballah will be in the government and the country is dominated by Syria and Iran);

and no doubt soon Egypt (with a radical nationalist-Islamist regime that will be against the United States.

You can easily adjust the five "myths" to suit each circumstance. Indeed, if Iran's leaders didn't keep "stubbornly" refusing to make some phony deal on their nuclear program the Obama administration and many "experts" would no doubt be advocating the same ideas about Iran, too.

Why was that article written? Like so many, to turn something obvious through "sophistication" into a brain-dead conclusion. Let's state it briefly to make the point stand out:

High-ranking elements in Pakistan have just got caught hiding Usama bin Ladin, the world's number-one wanted terrorist who killed 3000 Americans on September 11and have repeatedly been caught helping bin Ladin's enablers, the Afghan Taliban, and terrorists murdering people in India. No apology, no investigation, no change of policy by Pakistan.

The expert recommendation? U.S. policy toward Pakistan shouldn't change at all.

This is the foolishness dressed up with deception and double-talk that so often substitutes for serious debate in America's mass media today.

I would call the kind of article I'm analyzing here not only “misinformation” but ”anti-information.” In other words, the person reading it would be worse informed afterward than they were beforehand!

And the same goes for much—most? Almost all?—of the material of this nature in the mass media. Not only do we face this propaganda barrage but contrary opinions are generally  barred from mass media publication or broadcast altogether.

What I've done with this article and others can be done with many of the items on the Middle East that appear daily in prestigious publications. It's not just about getting details wrong, it's about total misdirection. A few minutes of serious analysis can totally demolish what they are saying while exposing their hidden (wrong) assumptions.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at

Turkey's Election:Last Exit Before Toll

Note:: Because Turkey's election Sunday is of such huge importance, not only for Turkey but for the region as a whole, Western interests, Israel, and just about everybody, I asked a Turkish friend who is a keen observer of the situation to write a letter from Turkey. The author asked to be anonymous which I think makes perfect sense given what's going on in Turkey. I have edited it very slightly for grammar and clarity.

To summarize, a victory by the ruling AKP is likely that would give it tremendous power to reshape Turkey's future in an Islamist and more repressive direction. But that outcome is not inevitable as a number of constituencies may give enough support to the social democratic CHP to block the regime continuing or at least to keep its control of parliament low enough to stop it from unilaterally writing a new contitution for Turkey.

By Anonymous

On Sunday, June 12th, Turkish voters go to the ballot box to decide if they want to extend to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP another four years in charge of the nation. The international media - though more hesitant to get behind Erdogan this time after watching the already flawed Turkish democracy turn into an authoritarian state with tens of journalists and even more opposition figures jailed in increasing numbers in the last three years - anticipates another easy victory for the AKP.

However, the Economist and several other publications have expressed their concern about Erdogan running haywire and turning into an unmanageable dictator if his party is able get a super-majority that would allow them to change the constitution without having any regard for others' perspectives on the issue. This will certainly be the case if the AKP indeed wins 367 seats (out of 550).

But not so fast. Facts in Turkey are not as they seem from the Cihangir cafes (all within 10 blocks or so) where the foreign journalists in Turkey hang out and think they then know everything about Turkey because they interview the same fifteen (approximately) people over and over again - nearly all of them pro-AKP. The same goes for the so-called experts at U.S. and European think-tanks who regard themselves as such because they have read the pieces by those international journalists in the trendy neighborhood of Cihangir in Istanbul.

I believe Sunday's elections are, though not guaranteed, ripe for a, not huge, but sufficiently significant upset that will change the political balance in Turkey. For many Turks, these elections represent the last exit before toll since, after seeing the uncontrollable behavior of Erdogan and the AKP in the last two years in particular, another Erdogan victory means real commotion on the horizon.

First, Erdogan appears afraid and thrown off balance all of sudden.His usual swagger is gone. Instead anger toward all segments of the society dominates his rally speeches. He is even flustered at times: He froze for almost a minute without any ad-libbing - not a single word - when his teleprompter stopped working in Antalya and then while in Bingol said  he was in Diyarbakir - not just once, but four times in a row. He has become overly aggressive, making him seem the aggressor and not the oppressed as he successfully claimed to be in the past.

Secondly, the sex tapes that were leaked against the MHP (nationalist opposition party) in May appear to have worked in favor of the MHP, which according to Metropoll - a pro-AKP polling firm, seems to have gone from 10% to 15% in May with the AKP, dropping five points to 35% prior to allocating the undecided votes. As the AKP was trying to attract the MHP votes via nationalistic and anti-PKK (Kurdish leftist nationalist group that fought a terror-laden war with Turkey) talk lately.

People appear to have held the AKP responsible for the dirty tricks pulled and also gained the impression that the Gulen (a separate Islamist movement with much power in the police force) movement is behind it, following the imprisonment of two writers apparently for writing books exposing the infiltration of the Gulenists into the government including the police force and the judiciary.

Third, the main opposition party, the CHP (social democrats), has gone through a serious makeover and has surprised everyone including me with the hard work they have been putting into their campaign. The CHP and its leader Kilicdaroglu has come up with numerous quality ideas and projects - 41 clearly defined projects in all, which if the media was not either controlled by pro-AKP outlets or intimidated by the ruling party (see the journalists in prison and taxes imposed upon an adversary, the Dogan Group) would normally dominate the headlines.

The CHP's executive team has appeared to be extremely deft, and Kilicdaroglu's command of his speeches has improved considerably. The CHP leader has had rallies in 81 cities and visited 200 smaller districts while Erdogan has had 72 rallies and the MHP's Bahceli 40. In comparison, in 2007, it was 59 for Erdogan, 19 for the then-CHP leader Baykal and 11 for Bahceli. An experienced businessman, Inan Kirac, of the traditional business elite reportedly expects - and he says he will even bet on it - that the CHP will come up with an upset and emerge as the top party. Erdogan has confronted Kirac and warned him of risky consequences for his prediction.

On the other hand, while Erdogan has a loyal mass of supporters who will vote for him no matter what he does or does not do, some cracks may have emerged in the alliance of the Islamic brotherhoods that support the AKP. The prominent Iskenderpasa cemaat of the Nakshibendi tariqat - to which Necmettin Erbakan, Turgut Ozal and Tayyip Erdogan himself among other important political figures all belonged - have recently declared their support for the MHP instead of the AKP, possibly due to their unhappiness with the dominance of the shady Gulen movement in the AKP.

Concerns over the possibility of voter fraud have emerged, unfortunately, as hundreds of voter records belonging to dead people have recently been discovered. The printing of a total of 69 million ballot forms when there are a maximum of 52 million possible voters including those living abroad is another matter people are questioning. The dirtiness of the election campaign by the AKP and its supporters has rendered cheating a serious probability against which the opposition parties will have to take precautions and the CHP has confirmed its readiness to do so. There have also been cases in which the AKP municipal governments threatened their constituents with fewer services if they vote for any other party.

With the three wild cards being the extent of the break-down of the Islamic brotherhood alliance behind the AKP, possible voter fraud and the final preference which the swing-voters (see below) will make, a map similar to the 2009 local election results ( ) is likely to emerge with the CHP tightening the race in most cities won and likely to be won again by the AKP, challenging the past dominance of the AKP in the two biggest cities Istanbul and Ankara and possibly overtaking the AKP in some other smaller cities.

In the most recent local elections in 2009 when Kilicdaroglu emerged as the CHP's last-minute mayoral candidate in Istanbul, the AKP received 39% of the vote, the CHP 23%, the MHP 16% and the Kurdish party (who will run as independents in these general elections) 5%. The CHP with its new leader Kilicdaroglu is destined to increase its votes by 5-10% while the MHP is likely to stay in the 13-18% range. The Kurdish independents will get around 5-6% capturing the same cities and possibly a couple more. The difference will be in how the rest of the votes, from 11 to 22%, will be allocated between the AKP and the CHP.

Looking at it from a totally different angle is also interesting. Kilicdaroglu is both Kurdish and Alevi (a religious group paralleling the Druze, for example, that tends to support secularism and are strong CHP voters), which means he will attract the majority of the Alevi votes (Alevi population - not the number of voters - is estimated at around 15 million) and may also get some Kurdish votes - certainly more than what the CHP received under Baykal, a conclusion Adil Gur, the president of the A &G Research polling firm has stated on TV.

The neglect of the retired population by the AKP and the resulting economic hardships in the last nine years will bring an overwhelming majority of their 9 million votes to the CHP as well. At least half of the 3 million university students have grown to be anti-AKP as have at least a segment of the agricultural sector (easily over 12 million people), which has been devastated by the AKP's preference for imports. When we add up the traditionally CHP-voting coastal areas and highly-educated urban districts, it is (not easy but also) not out of the question for the CHP to receive over 15 million votes.

If we assume the turnout to be high somewhere around 80-85% as in the last two elections, we come up with 41-44 million votes. Nevertheless, the importance of these elections could produce an even higher turnout and about 45 million voters. If the MHP and the Kurdish independents receive their usual 5-7 million and 1.5-2 million votes respectively and we assume the rest of the parties total about 10% and 4 million votes, we come up with a tally of 26 million votes which would leave the AKP with 19 million votes 3 million more than it has ever received and with a percentage of 42%.

To reiterate, nothing is a foregone conclusion as people make it out to be. Anything can happen but an upset may also be in the making if the Turkish people happen to be on a good day with a clear mind and take the last exit before toll.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Coming Crisis in the Middle East

I've written an essay trying to explain what I see coming in the months to come in the Middle East. A lot of people have found it useful. Read in June what you'll be seeing in the mass media in December. It's called, "The Coming Crisis in the Middle East."

For my still-relevant 2009 article on what Obama should do (and should have been doing), "U.S. Middle East Policy: Too Many Challenges and yet a Single Theme" see here. Note: the single theme was supposed to be combatting revolutionary Islamism, not promoting it.