Abbas Milani’s The Shah gives a portrait of Iran’s last monarch, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, and the impact that his downfall forty years ago continues to have in the Middle East, notably the emboldening of the Islamist movement. Continue reading
The unexpected victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic primary in The Bronx in June caused quite a stir, given her membership of the Democratic Socialists of America and her controversial policy positions. Nonetheless, she has been enthusiastically embraced as “the future” by the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Events in Britain suggest Democrats might want to exercise some caution here before they go all in. Continue reading
The launching of a limited punitive raid against the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad for the use of poison gas has brought some attention to the regime’s crimes. The regime’s visible crimes are numerous and devastating.
In addition to using weapons of mass destruction, fighter jets have levelled ancient cities, sieges have starved populations into submission, and improvised explosives like barrel bombs have maimed thousands. These tactics are part of what UN investigators have called a “systematic and widespread attack against [the Syrian] civilian population”.
The UN commission recently noted that what the Assad regime has done amounts to crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, rape, and torture.
What does not get enough attention is the part of Assad’s criminality that is most difficult to see: that which takes place in the prisons, a vast network of concentration camps where torture and murder is routine. Continue reading
Two days ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that President Donald Trump has been exploring plans to replace American troops in the areas of Syria held by the Coalition partner force, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), with troops from the Arab states. The problems with this proposal, even in the rudimentary form it is presented, are manifold. It also feeds into the broader problem of Trump’s inconsistent messaging about Syria—or, more precisely, his failed efforts to balance domestic messaging, which calls for what was once referred to as “nation building … at home”, and his foreign messaging that needs to emphasise U.S. constancy to see through the mission to defeat the Islamic State (IS) by, among other things, stabilising and reconstructing Syria. Continue reading
The Islamic State responded to President Donald Trump’s announcement, on 6 December 2017, that the United States would move its Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, with an editorial on page 3 of the 109th edition of Al-Naba on 8 December 2017. Below is a very rough translation. Continue reading
The decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt to impose a boycott on Qatar this summer was an out-of-character development for the Gulf, where all too much politics is conducted behind closed doors between the ruling families and elites. To go public, the schism between Qatar and the so-called Quartet must have been very serious.
It was the end-point of a dispute that began in the 1990s about Qatar’s foreign policy, which at that point became independent of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and indeed actively competitive with Saudi interests. Doha wanted to alter the Saudi-oriented status quo and did so by empowering groups—almost invariably Islamists—in its cause. Those Islamists not only had agendas running counter to the other Gulf states’ conception of regional order, but which the Quartet regarded as threatening to their internal security. Continue reading
Brian Fishman’s The Master Plan provides a comprehensive history of the Islamic State’s (IS) strategic evolution, covering the personalities and events that shaped one of the most feared terrorist-insurgent groups that has ever existed. Eminently readable, in places even amusing—no small feat in a book about IS—Fishman flips with ease between the overview and the granular to demonstrate his points, using new sources that will allow as much supplementary research as a reader could wish for, and ties it together in a narrative that will be of use to both specialists and generalists. Continue reading
Amnesty International released a report today, “Human Slaughterhouse,” documenting the conditions in Sednaya prison, run by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which amount to extermination as a crime against humanity. In addition to the deliberately insanitary conditions, routinized torture and maltreatment, there has been—and continues to be—a systematic campaign of extra-judicial massacre in which perhaps 13,000 people have perished. These findings buttress previous findings, and come with some political implications as the new American administration seeks to chart its way forward in Syria. Continue reading
Published in The New York Times.
Whom should we blame for the Islamic State? In the debate about its origins, many have concluded that it arose from the American-led coalition’s errors after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In fact, the groundwork for the emergence of the militant jihadist group was laid many years earlier by the government of Saddam Hussein.
The Arab nationalist Baath Party, which seized power in 1968 in a coup in which Mr. Hussein played a key role, had a firmly secular outlook. This held through the 1970s, even as religiosity rose among the Iraqi people. But soon after Mr. Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, it began to change.