The New Strategy and Attempts to Contain Iran

Donald Trump is notorious in the business world for stiffing other companies when it’s time to pay the bill — offering partial settlement of what he owes and proposing to negotiate the rest. Trump did a version of that Friday when he announced he will stay in the Iran nuclear deal for now, but quit if he can’t get better terms.

Trump’s speech tossed a verbal grenade into a turbulent Middle East. This may have been the goal of a president who styles himself as “the great disrupter.” But it fuels regional feuds that Trump can’t control and provokes disputes with both allies and adversaries that may frustrate America’s interest in curbing Iran’s bad behavior.

The volatility of the region was demonstrated anew Friday, as Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Iraqi government troops massed near Kirkuk, Iraq, threatening Kurdish forces there that have been crucial to US allies against ISIS.

That’s the maddening challenge for US policy in the Middle East, now as always: The United States may seek to squeeze Iranian proxies, but Tehran is positioned to strike back — in ways that could endanger US partners, such as the Kurds, and even American troops.

On the nuclear deal, Trump’s speech was heading in two directions at once. For the near term, he waffled, saying Iran was “not living up to the spirit of the deal,” but tossing the issue of imposing tougher terms in Iran to Congress. But the speech included this harsh warning: “In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”

European reaction was swift, and unhappy. About an hour after Trump had finished speaking, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement urging Congress not to enact new sanctions that would “undermine” the deal and stressing that their three nations, which helped negotiate the deal, “stand committed” to its implementation.

The European statement is important for two reasons. It shows that Trump’s hope of gaining allied support for reopening negotiations (he wants to extend the term of the agreement and provide tougher enforcement) are almost certainly misplaced. Perhaps more important, Iranian contacts have told me that if Europe reaffirms its compliance with the deal (as the three leaders just did), and Congress (as expected) doesn’t legislate new sanctions, then Iran is likely to remain in compliance, too. So the European statement may help keep the deal in limbo, for now.

Trump’s top foreign-policy advisers had been pitching the Iran speech as part of a broad effort to control Tehran’s aggressive behavior in the region. A White House fact sheet issued before the speech spent four pages on Iran’s mischievous behavior and added only a brief section saying the nuclear deal “must be strictly enforced” and the International Atomic Energy Agency “must fully utilize its inspection authorities.”

This same theme of a broad campaign against Iranian behavior was voiced in a telephone interview Friday morning by a senior administration official who’s helping to implement the strategy. He talked about moves to counter Iran in Yemen, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. And he asserted that European allies “are already working with us” to curb the Iranians. Several hours later, the three European leaders issued their critical statement.

The new confrontation between Iraqi forces and Kurds is an example of how complicated the regional terrain is, and how vulnerable US interests are to local feuds.

The Iraqi government, still fuming about the Kurdish independence referendum last month, has reportedly massed troops and artillery near the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk. According to a Kurdish source, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has given the Kurds a list of six demands, including turning over control of Kirkuk’s airport, oil fields and military checkpoints to the Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi military.

A top Kurdish official asserted in an email: “It’s important that the world knows Qassem Suleimani [the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] is running this campaign.” That claim couldn’t be verified, but it illustrates regional anxieties.

Facing so many flashpoints in trying to contain Iran, Trump has chosen to put the nuclear issue center stage, once again. Rather than focusing on Iranian behavior, Congress and foreign allies will instead be preoccupied anew with Trump’s threatening statements about the future of the nuclear agreement. It will be about Trump, more than Iran. But maybe that’s the way he wants it.

The Washington Post

Trump and The Coup Against The Coup

Donald Trump did not shred the “very bad” nuclear deal with Iran. He has strongly shaken it and trembled the image that Iran tried to market at the international level after the signing of the agreement.
 
He raised doubts and asked questions about what his predecessor, Barack Obama, considered the most important achievement of his era.
 
The deal was not the most important part of the president’s speech. It was rather the message that Iran’s problem with the world and the Middle East is about its role outside its borders, long before its nuclear dream; as if he wanted to say that the role is more dangerous than the bomb, and that thinking about the bomb may be aimed at protecting the ability to maintain this role.
 
The American president awakened memories and facts that Obama was keen to forget. He recalled the bloody events in the Iranian-American relations since the victory of the Khomeini revolution. He reminded the Americans of their diplomats being held hostage at their country’s embassy in Tehran as Iranians shouted “Death to America.” He has also mentioned the coffins of American soldiers returning from Beirut because of a bomb carrying the fingerprints of the Iranian intelligence.
 
Trump went beyond the aspect of bilateral relations. He accused Iran of being “the biggest supporter of terrorism in the world”, harboring al-Qaeda officials, and turning a destabilizing approach into a permanent policy. He also pointed to the Revolutionary Guard’s role and weapons in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
 
The US president seemed to be putting together accusations as a prelude to trial, or as someone preparing a complete file to justify the “new strategy” toward Iran.
 
This strategy contains a clear message to the people of the Middle East. He said: “We will revitalize our traditional alliances and regional partnerships as bulwarks against Iranian subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region… We will work to deny the Iranian regime … funding for its malign activities.” The Treasury’s sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard were the first fruits of Trump’s words.
 
Many points have to be considered in Trump’s position. He placed Iran back in the center of danger, after Korea occupied this place in the previous weeks. It became clear that Trump considers his first test to be in the Middle East, not along China’s borders.
 
Trump also re-emphasized the danger posed by the Iranian role, which is translated in a large-scale attack on the Middle East region – an area that concerns the world in terms of its wealth, stability and balance of power.
 
The third message is that America, which has signed the nuclear agreement with Iran, is not in a position, especially under the current administration, to consider violations that Iran has made in a number of Arab countries as a de-facto reality that must be recognized.
 
This practically means that Washington does not recognize Tehran’s right to have the last say in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a, and refuses that Qassem Soleimani becomes the chief of generals in the four capitals.
 
What Trump has publicly announced from the White House is what US diplomats say in closed rooms and private meetings. His position is also consistent with the stance of US generals who worked in Iraq and witnessed the size of the coup led by Iran in the region, especially after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime…A coup that is waged “by militias, rockets and small mobile armies and by destroying the immunity of international borders,” as described by an Arab official.
 
Trump’s speech turning into policies on the ground will certainly reverse the approach Obama has taken in his last years in power. An American diplomat says he has asked Obama more than once to allow some weapons into Syria to restore balance that would force the regime to engage in serious negotiations. He adds that Obama’s consistent position was based on three rejections: No to war against Iran in Syria, no to a position threatening US special forces in Iraq, and no to a stance threatening nuclear negotiations with Iran.
 
The diplomat concludes that Iran was more interested in field expansions than its nuclear program, and thus succeeded in “changing the positions of countries and their political and sectarian balances and altering the environment of historic Arab capitals.”
 
America’s allies and friends had feelings of resentment when Obama insisted on reading the whole region’s file based on his desire to accomplish the Iranian nuclear deal. They considered his position a coup to the pillars of the US traditional policy, which was focused on the security of its allies and its commitment to address any threat to their stability.
 
Trump’s speech turning into a specific policy is aimed at containing the Iranian fiasco in the region. In coordination with Washington’s historic friends, this policy would certainly be the largest response to the great Iranian coup, which is aimed at besieging and destabilizing influential countries in the region and weakening their strategic importance.
 
There is no return to a degree of stability in the region unless the balance of power is adjusted by new regulations that require armies to be stationed within their own countries and that force militias to leave the territory of others.
 
Arab moderates do not see an opportunity of this kind without an American role that will revive the red lines in the face of successive coups and the spread of militias. In this context, it is possible to understand Saudi Arabia’s support for the “firm strategy” announced by Trump, and the phone call made by King Salman bin Abdulaziz with Trump after the latter’s speech.
 
Trump has returned the issue of the Iranian role to the international agenda. This was evident in the conversation between Angela Merkel and Theresa May. While the two officials stressed their adherence to the nuclear agreement with Iran, they underlined the need for the international community to face the Persian State’s destabilizing policies – an issue that will be discussed in the coming days on the European table.
 
It is obvious that Iran is angered with the new attention to its destabilizing role.
 
We must wait and see whether it would respond by its old means and where. It is certain that Trump’s speech turning into a policy represents a major coup against the Iranian coup, which has benefited greatly from the invasion of Iraq, Obama’s withdrawal tendencies, and the emergence of ISIS and its horrific practices.

Trump’s Iran Plan Does Too Much and Too Little

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump’s advisers are at pains to emphasize that Friday’s speech on Iran policy was an effort to lay out a comprehensive strategy to tackle the malign behavior of the Tehran regime, not just an announcement that the president had refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Their frustration that the headlines missed the forest for the trees is understandable — given the need for an Iran policy, not simply an Iran nuclear strategy, which was essentially the approach of the Barack Obama administration.

But Trump’s advisers only have the president — and not the media — to blame. The Iran nuclear deal has long been the focal point of the president’s rhetoric and was the centerpiece of the speech. And the decertification of the deal was one of the few tangible actions outlined by the president.

This focus on decertifying the Iran deal, reached between the US, five other major powers and Iran — is not just a distraction from the bigger picture: Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. In fact, it also undermines US efforts to execute a strategy aimed at reducing Iran’s influence. While decertification brings with it an array of costs, it brings no obvious benefits.

The main motivation for decertifying the deal seems to be the need to scratch a high-priority presidential itch. As the world knows, while the International Atomic Energy Agency and other entities have judged that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, Trump is uncomfortable certifying it every 90 days, as required by Congress. His refusal to do so today must give the president a certain amount of satisfaction, given how unequal he perceives the terms of the deal to have been. And he has a point. But the decertification is not linked to the rest of a more comprehensive strategy in any way; none of the steps laid out in the speech require the president make such a determination before they can be taken.

Instead, the failure to certify Iran’s compliance will make the stated objectives — to deter and prevent Iran from undertaking malign activities in the region from Syria to Iraq to Yemen –harder to achieve. Few people or governments will understand the difference between the president’s decision not to certify the deal from a complete US withdrawal of support for the deal. How many Americans — or others — know the difference between the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? The first is the U.S. domestic law that requires certification; the second is the international accord with Iran, and US participation in it is not related to certification in any direct manner.

This complexity will help the president appear to be delivering on a campaign promise to “rip up” the pact. But it will also have the unfortunate downside of confusing allies, making it harder to work with them to bring additional pressure to bear on Iran outside of the deal. Moreover, it plays into Iranian propaganda and seems to reinforce Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s longstanding mantra that the US cannot be trusted and is really seeking regime change above all else.

Moreover, Trump’s tough rhetoric obviously has repercussions within Iranian society. It undermines those in Iran who have been advocates of the deal — and strengthens its opponents. At the top of the list of those opponents is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the group responsible for Iran’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East. Strengthening the very actor that you most want to debilitate seems to be a poor approach.

Finally, if — as is very possible — the move not to decertify is answered by congressional crickets, Trump could find himself weakened, not strengthened. Surely, no president wants to declare his position that an agreement entered into by his government is flawed and against the US interests — only to see nothing happen. This will leave the president looking as if he is all talk and no action.

The starting point for Friday’s speech was correct: The US needs a more comprehensive strategy toward Iran, one that addresses its problematic behavior in the region. But a much better approach would have had very different components.

First, it would not have made the nuclear deal the focus, but would have put it in the proper context: a transactional agreement about one particularly problematic behavior (the nuclear file), but not a transformational agreement that can only be viewed as failing in light of Iran’s continued misdeeds in other domains.

Second, Trump could have alleviated the discomfort he feels in repeatedly certifying the agreement by working with Congress to find a way to designate that responsibility to another member of his administration. This would not be unusual; in other circumstances, the certification required by lawmakers is made by the secretary of state or other cabinet members. The president actually made a reference to this possibility when he said, “this law requires the president, or his designee, to certify that the suspension of sanctions under the deal is “appropriate and proportionate” to measure — and other measures taken by Iran to terminate its illicit nuclear program.”

Third, tangible measures to increase pressure on Iran to curb its meddling in other parts of the Middle East would have been the cornerstone of the strategy articulated Friday — rather than a sideshow. Such steps have been widely expected, and do not run afoul of the nuclear deal unless they replicate the sanctions that were lifted as its result of its signing. Steps to curb financing of terrorist groups and sanctions against the IRGC are fair game even while adhering to the pact. Notably, although complicated, a stronger approach might have involved some military measures; past experience tells us that the IRGC curbs its behavior when confronted more directly, as the US did in 2007 under the surge strategy in Iraq.

Fourth, had the president been silent on certification, congressional efforts — such as those led by Senator Bob Corker — to lay out conditions under which lawmakers could impose new sanctions might have actually provided the Trump administration with some leverage. As has been true in other cases, from Libya to China, the administration could have found its efforts to gain greater cooperation from allies were enhanced by the perception that it is under great pressure from Congress to see tangible results. Instead, current congressional initiatives look a lot like what they are — efforts to stave off the most destructive behaviors of the administration — and are unlikely to help the president extract more cooperation from allies.

Finally, a solid strategy toward Iran would of course need to address the country’s nuclear pursuits. But rather than focus on renegotiating the elements of the deal as it stands, a comprehensive US policy might have shifted gears to focus on what happens when elements of the deal start to expire. This is the only way to approach the very real question of what constraints will remain on Iran years later down the road.

(Bloomberg)

Blowing up the Nuclear Agreement

It was a matter of time before the clock ticks to reconsider the Iranian nuclear agreement, repeatedly described by US President Donald Trump as “the worst deal ever”. It is the worst. Trump needed 10 months to start an actual confrontation with Iran, while Obama took eight years to throw the safety buoy to Iran.

Iran was delighted by the agreement since it is the greatest winner. Iran was allowed to exceed the limited heavy water quantities, which means that it would move on with its nuclear project. Even more dangerous is its terrorist arm IRGC, described by Trump as “the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia”.

Trump added that Iran spreads death, destruction, and chaos and doesn’t abide by the agreement spirit, but benefits from lifting the economic sanctions. Reimposing sanctions on Iran and its military militias (IRGC) was Trump’s new strategy to face a nuclear deal that has flaws and which undermined the regions’ states.

Washington didn’t announce withdrawing from the agreement since this scenario is seen by US officials as a knock out that would make European partners slam the US. Washington, however, chose a modest solution by neither withdrawing from the deal nor permitting it to continue with its dangerous impact on the world and region’s security and stability.

Trump decertified that Iran committed to the deal, describing it as an extremist regime. He added that the topic will be referred to the Congress and US allies will be consulted on ways to amend the deal. This step probably aims at dragging Iran to breach the deal or withdraw it, decreasing Washington’s responsibility infront of European allies.

More than two years since signing the deal, Iran has earned a huge amount of money. The White House affirmed earlier that Iran has recovered USD50 billion of its foreign assets then started its attempts to open the nuclear door. It insisted on dealing with the missile file separately from the nuclear one. IRGC conducted several experiments on ballistic missiles, a matter described by Washington as a violation of the agreement.

Iran manipulated the world via the bad nuclear deal, its militias expanded more and it exploited its IRGC in strengthening its militias. If Iran was left to go on with its subversive strategy during the agreement deal without confronting it, then it would have been impossible to halt its terrorism around the world at a point where its militant arms would have expanded and become a reality such as “Hezbollah” in Lebanon.

When enthusiasm was at its peak after announcing the nuclear deal in 2015, Saudi Arabia remained among the few states that sensed danger. It was frank in expressing concerns over Iran not abiding by the deal and warned the Iranians of their intervention policy in the region. The kingdom considered that using the lift of economic sanctions term to cause tension will be faced decisively by the region states.

Back then, it was said that Riyadh is being strict towards the chance to contain Iran and return it to a normal state to the international community. Here is the US proving that Riyadh was right and affirming that it wasn’t a strict stance but a forecast vision to an infidel state that was granted several chances but remained adamant to its project of sabotage.

In her book “Hard Choices”, former United States Secretary of State and one of the main sponsors of this agreement Hillary Clinton said that nothing makes the US trust the Iranians. She added that despite reaching a nuclear agreement, Iran remains a threat to the international community, US, and allies – due to its hostile attitude and support to terrorism.

This reveals that the agreement was a purpose for the Obama administration and not a means to terminate the danger of Iran.

Maybe it is finally time to snatch the winning card from Iran, which it has been exploiting to spread terrorism in the world.

Washington and the Iranian Public Opinion

During the negotiations for the nuclear agreement three years ago, Iran’s propaganda focused on claiming that the deal will lead to peace in the region and end the long-term conflicts.

Unlike what’s commonly known about it, Tehran’s government expanded its propaganda to include Iranian communities, most of whom have not been in agreement with the regime since the revolution erupted.

Some figures who have supported the nuclear deal, in fact, oppose the regime.

The unfamiliar reconciliation between the two opposing parties was very intriguing, which is why I inquired about it. Some commended the influence of the Iranian lobby, while others said the reconciliation was a result of the former US administration’s pressure on opposing parties.

Of course, some believe the opposition supported the deal although it was against the regime.

Hassan Rouhani’s government exerted a lot of effort and succeeded in painting a positive image about Iran’s future, promising reconciliation and positive change that would eventually end strained relations with around 5 million Iranians in exile, most of whom live in the West.

At the time, Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s message focused on Iranians outside the country asking them to support Iran’s right to nuclear weapons, despite their different political orientations.

Iranian elites in the US reiterated the proposition and were convinced that Iran will change towards the best with tolerance and openness.

However, the question here is about the stance of the opposition that defended the nuclear deal after signing and implementing it. Did they sense any indications that the regime improved its treatment towards the opposition, and towards Iranians generally?

We did not sense any change in the regime’s behavior which increased its suppressions to even include those affiliated with the regime, such as the children of late Iranian leader Hashimi Rafsanjani and figures close to former president Mohammad Khatami. Only recently, a number of figures affiliated with Rouhani were arrested as part of the never-ending game of balances.

From the time Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed between Iran and the West in July 2015 and until today, we did not hear from this Iranian elite, whether inside or outside Iran, regarding any progress on becoming a tolerant civil society as promised.

Therefore, we do not know what game will Rouhani resort to, again, to mobilize people like he managed to do last time.

Last time, Rouhani appealed to the patriotic sentiment saying the nuclear project is for Iran as a whole and not just for the regime. He convinced the public that it is a scientific and cultural pride and noted that lifting the ban of Iran will make the Iranians’ life better than before.

The Iranians must certainly be proud of their achievements but not when it is just another means towards more wars and domination. The agreement empowered oppressive forces like the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Because of the regime and its policies, Iran willingly continued to engage in battles despite the international ban and siege. It continued to spend billions of dollars on armed groups in Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

In addition, Tehran spent funds on a large network of extremist groups in Africa, Southeast Asia and even South America.

I expect Rouhani’s government to confuse the Iranian people living under the influence of the regime’s media, just like North Korea. The government will portray US’s decision as aggression against the Iranian people and as an attempt to restrain their lives, especially that Washington already imposed a ban on US visas for Iranians.

Washington must clarify its stance to the Iranian people and note that re-imposing sanctions on the government is not inevitable as it has rather previously given the regime a chance to put an end to its military adventures and stop funding extremist groups outside Iran.

US conditions are supposed to be backed by the majority of Iranians who had enough of the regime’s behavior and practices which squander their money on militias around the world.

China: Reshuffling the Party Cadres

China

It is a testimony to the peculiarities of international attention to world events that while every tweet by US President Donald Trump triggers an avalanche of reports, analyses, and outright abuse, little attention is paid as the People’s Republic of China prepares to hold its five-yearly National Congress of the Communist Party in Beijing.

And, yet, China is now established as the world’s largest economy in gross domestic product (GDP) terms and the second biggest exporter after Germany. It also has the world’s fastest-growing portfolio of foreign investments with interests in 118 nations across the globe.

At the same time, at least 10 million Chinese are working abroad, almost always on projects sponsored by Beijing, helping transform large chunks of Africa, South America, and Asia.

According to estimates, there are already more than three million Chinese in Siberia, spearheading a 19th century-style campaign to exploit the region’s vast natural resources. First encouraged by Moscow, the Chinese presence has become a source of concern for the Kremlin which fears losing control of Siberia due to demographic imbalance. This is why Russia now offers free land and seed capital to any Russian citizen who wishes to settle in Siberia. (Few have taken the offer, so far!)

China has launched projects that recall the golden days of European imperial expansion in the 19th century.
The new Silk Route project, the biggest in human history by way of the $1.4 trillion investments, will link the Central Asian heartland to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan, directly or indirectly affecting the economies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Iran. A direct rail link, already been tested between Beijing and London, is to be extended to other major European capitals.

China is also studying the building of a Central American railroad as an alternative to the Panama Canal which is incapable of receiving ships with extra-large containers.

In Africa, China has not only established itself as the biggest trading partner but is also emerging as the” wise old aunt” who could bash heads together and persuade local rivals not to upset the apple cart.

In sub-Saharan Africa, China has replaced the United States, not to mention the old colonial powers such as France and Britain, as the principal influence-wielding big power.

On a broader scale, the spectacle of President Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson begging China to “do something” about North Korea’s provocative behavior is a good indicator of Beijing’s growing influence.

Even in the so-called Shanghai Group, a Chinese initiative, it is now Russia hat is asserting itself as the ringleader with the backing of former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

It is not hard to see that China is all over the place. Or is it?

The question is pertinent because the People’s Republic has not been able or has been unwilling to forge a correspondence between its economic power and its political role on the global scene. Economically high profile, it remains low profile politically, earning the sobriquet of “Economic Giant, Political Dwarf”.

Part of this is a matter of choice. Chinese leaders know that they govern a country that is still ridden by deep-rooted poverty and infrastructural backwardness. In terms of per capita income, China is still poorer than Iran, and even the Maldives islands. In terms of life-expectancy it is world number 102 among 198 nations.

Thus, Chinese leaders have preferred to remain essentially focused on domestic issues with priority to rapid economic growth. To them, getting involved in international politics seems a risky distraction.

However, the Chinese low profile has another reason: lack of experience in international affairs and the skilled manpower needed for punching below its weight in the diplomatic arena. It is interesting that not a single high profile international post is filled by a Chinese diplomat when diplomats from even Burma and Ghana have held the position of United Nations’ Secretary-General.

Rather than imitating the British or French styles of empire-building in the 19th century, China has opted for the Dutch model of going for a trade and leaving politics to others. But is such a strategy sustainable? You might not want to go after politics but what if politics comes after you?

This is one of the questions likely to be raised at the five-day 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China due to open next Tuesday.

Though China has historically poor relations with neighbors, except Pakistan, it has a neutral profile elsewhere, notably in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and South America if only because it does not bear the burden of a colonial and/or hegemonic past.

Because the Party’s congresses are prepared in secret it is hard to know whether or not a major review of the nation’s foreign policy is included in deliberations. Next week’s congress will have two priorities.

The first is to consolidate Xi Jinping’s position as “supreme leader”, something more than mere Secretary-General.

This could be done by bestowing on him a lofty title as was the case with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. President Xi, expected to be unanimously re-elected for a further five-year term, could also strengthen his position by propelling his protégés into key positions in the Central Committee, the Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee, the Committee for Discipline and Inspection, and the Military Committee, the party’s five key decision-making organs.

The second priority is a change of generations at the top the hierarchy with new figures born in the 1960s or later moving up the ladder. A majority of the 2300 delegates slated to attend belong to the “new generation.”

The new putative leadership consists of individuals with some experience of the outside world, often through studying in the United States and Western Europe. That could provide a greater understanding of world politics and a keener taste for getting involved.

One thing is certain: the international scene is in turmoil and Russia and the United States, still burdened by memories of the Cold War, might not always be able to provide the answers needed.

For its part the European Union, its economic power notwithstanding, cannot mobilize public opinion for a greater political role internationally. India, another rising power, is bogged down by its surrealistic quarrel with Pakistan while hopes of Brazil emerging as a big player have faded; maybe for decades.

In other words, there is room for China to become a key player in global politics.
Will she want that​​?

We shall know the answer in Beijing next week.

Yemen and the Catastrophic Role of ‘Lone’ Nations

United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed presented again, before the Security Council, a new UN proposal to resolve the Yemeni crisis. Possibly, even Yemenis can no longer count the number of initiatives launched by Ould Cheikh whether a proposal, truce or a road-map. Though they are many, none succeeded.

Labels and means varied, yet the UN is neglecting the easiest and shortest road which is to apply the Security Council resolution 2216 which demads Houthis to halt their rely on violence and to withdraw their forces from all regions ruled by them including Sana’a, in addition to stopping the mobilization of children, dismissing current ones and abstaining from provocations or threats to neighboring states.

Throughout 29 years, the UN failed via its former secretary general and then the new Portuguese secretary general Antonio Guterres to carry out one practical step to resolve the Yemeni crisis through applying any of the UN resolution terms. Further, the UN contributed in prolonging the crisis through encouraging insurgents to move forward with their project to kidnap the state.

In plain sight of the UN, insurgents are practicing the collective punishment policy in regions ruled by them and have mobilized around 10,000 Yemeni children.

Strangely, the UN-affiliated international organizations operating in Yemen are lenient with Houthis as if they are not responsible for the comprehensive siege and the crimes, neglecting the clear international resolution and the violations and practices adopted by Houthis and Saleh militias.

This approach encouraged them and caused a shock for the legit Yemeni authority that is acknowledged by the UN, Arab League, international organizations and all states.

It seems that the UN role in Yemen has become an obstacle rather than an aid to reaching a resolution. For example, two years ago the UN pursued to settle truce more than once by which it endowed militias the chance to recover and make a field infringe. Although the truce was necessary for civilians, Houthi militias used it to logistically support their war effort. Off course, the truce quickly collapsed but the UN refrained from announcing that and from holding the breaching party legally responsible.

Mark Malloch Brown, Deputy Secretary-General and Chief of Staff of the UN under Kofi Annan, stressed earlier that the UN is in pressuring need for reforms. In fact, the chaos in the UN will worsen if it continues to depend on false standards that deal with militias as states, thieves as supporters, and prefer insurgents over those who possess international legality.

Who would believe that the UN, which is supposed to be applying the highest levels of credibility and objectivity in its reports, would issue reports against the coalition without double checking the data from the coalition or the legit government?

Antonio Guterres, however, occupies this new position in a world where confidence in the UN and the global values it represents has declined. Until now, his performance is frustrating especially that he lacks high capabilities to communicate and didn’t yet take any decisive stance towards the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya or South Sudan.

Obviously, he didn’t present himself as a strong secretary general whether on the level of foreign leaders or internal reforms.

US President Donald Trump previously criticized the UN, describing it as a “club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

His description seems to be correct since the UN credibility is scattering and its objectify is on the verge. Despite its original role in being part of the solution, it has become part of the problem and its complexities.

Especially in Yemen, it is no more the united nations but the ‘lone’ ones.

Trump in a Confrontation with Tehran’s Regime

Iran

We, and the whole world, are anticipating the results of US President Donald Trump’s decision to confront Iran after he announced yesterday that he will reconsider his country’s nuclear deal with Tehran.

Trump saw that Iran has violated the deal’s spirit and this is not in the interest of the US security and therefore it must be amended.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates promptly and courageously backed the US decision as it falls in the region’s interest and sends a political message to Iran, urging it to stop its battles and threats.

The decision is also in favor of the moderate voices in Iran – perhaps it would restrain extremist groups in power.

The US decision is courageous and one which we have not seen in two decades. It may be the beginning of a regional course correction, or it may at least stop Iran’s advance.

In his decision, Trump will rectify a number of mistakes that Iran has seen as implicit agreements to it to expand and threaten the security of the region and the interests of the United States, as well in Bahrain, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

Iran thought that the declining role of the international community in Syria is a new sign of victory for it and “Hezbollah”, and it tried to benefit from the battle of the US-led coalition against ISIS to be granted control in Iraq.

Trump is not hasty as some say. Don’t forget that he was patient with Iran previously and signed the continuation of the US-Iran deal twice since he should be reviewing it every three months.

However, Iran did not cooperate with Washington whether in stopping its military activity in the region or quitting its military tests. Instead, Iran challenged Washington and announced that it was developing a ballistic missile system.

This time, Trump made up his mind, thereby delivering the biggest blow to Iran’s extremist wing. With this decision, Trump would send back the deal to Congress to vote on and he would then re-impose painful economic sanctions. Now, let Tehran’s government do what it wants.

The rest of the Western countries are against Trump’s decision. They want the agreement to continue, fearing Iran will again start enriching Uranium and developing its military forces as an excuse.

In fact, what President Trump is proposing is correct because he is noting that the current signed deal is not halting Iran from carrying on its military-nuclear project, but it is only postponing it.

During the period of temporary ban on enrichment, Iran is allowed to build its military equipment, such as missiles carrying nuclear warheads.

We are not underestimating the risks of Trump’s decision on the region since if the president completely terminated the agreement and faced Iran, he could open a new phase, which could lead to a greater confrontation.

What is said about President Trump as being a reckless warmonger, who acts without taking into consideration the consequences of serious global issues, such as Iran and North Korea, is not true.

The truth is that since he took over his post, Trump has given Tehran’s leaders two chances in order to respond in a positive manner towards the deal; however, they refused to meet him halfway.

Also, let’s not forget that members of Trump’s party, the Republican Party in the Congress, have had a consensus against the agreement even before Trump became president.

It is also obvious that Tehran has underestimated Trump after living eight comfortable years during Barack Obama’s time in office.

There is no interest for the world in allowing the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to roam around freely in the region and allow it to lead the militias war in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

By the time the ban period comes to an end and the agreement is terminated, Iran would have extended its presence in the region and established puppet governments.

Then, the West will not be able to impose sanctions or prevent Iran from enriching Uranium. Iran would have also completed establishing a support system comprised of platforms, laboratories, caches and others.

Iran’s agenda is an expansionist one and it intends to dominate the region. The agenda is not simply about building Iran’s nuclear powers for defensive purposes.

For instance, Iran and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons, but we have never seen the two countries seek expansion or wage wars.

It is wrong to view Iran’s nuclear agenda as just a mean to join the nuclear states’ bandwagon. Iran is involved in destructive wars in the region on a daily basis, none of which are for defensive purposes, but they all serve its expansionist goals.

Tehran’s intentions and persistence to challenge the world are clear from the way it has dealt with its current conflict with Washington.

The US administration stepped down for Iran in Syria and agreed to maintain Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Iran’s ally.

Yet, Tehran did not step down from any of the areas where it is fighting wars, nor did it give Trump any concessions in the nuclear deal.

Who Invented ‘Zero’?

Carbon dating of an ancient Indian document, the Bakhshali manuscript, has recently placed the first written occurrence of the number zero in the third or fourth century A.D., about 500 years earlier than previously believed. While the news has no practical bearing on the infrastructure of zeros (and ones) underlying our high-tech civilization, it does remind us how indebted we are for this invention. But to whom is this debt owed? And how should it be repaid?

Chauvinistic politicians might loudly trumpet India’s role (as they have, more controversially, in the case of the Pythagorean theorem), but the history of zero remains unsettled enough to still be the subject of continuing quests. The Babylonians used it as a placeholder, an idea later developed independently by the Mayans. The Chinese, at some point in time, indicated it by an empty space in their counting-rod system. Some claim the Greeks flirted with the idea but, finding the concept of the void too frightening in their Aristotelian framework, passed it on to the Indians. The Hindus are generally acknowledged as being the first to formulate it as an independent number — the key to using it in mathematical calculations or binary code. What’s clear is that this history is dominated by non-European civilizations. Truly an alt-right nightmare.

Obviously, there were no intellectual property rights in force back then. Had there been a patent office, it might have ruled, as courts do now, that mathematical advances uncover pre-existing knowledge rather than create anything new — and are hence unpatentable. The conundrum of whether mathematics is discovered or invented is as old as Plato. Certainly, zero displays this duality: The void is as old as time, but it was a human innovation to harness it with a symbol.

In recognition of this innovation, and ignoring all practicalities, suppose someone, somehow, had figured out how to put a price tag on zero. The royalties generated would be staggering — imagine the tab for just your personal use alone! This might lead to a significant redistribution of wealth, most of it going to the developing world.

One difficulty is splitting the payments, since no one could claim exclusive “ownership” of zero’s creation. I asked my “History of Mathematics” class to come up with an exact breakdown based on zero’s provenance, something that, coincidentally, we had just discussed when the carbon dating news broke. Not unexpectedly, India fared best, with 42 percent of the proceeds, though students directed it be split with neighboring countries — after all, the manuscript was found in what is now Pakistan (I can already hear the Indian ministers howl their protests).

Babylon ended up with 18 percent, which if allotted to Iraq, the present-day country of its location, might be just compensation for the years of war endured. Greece came next, with a surprising 15 percent — perhaps my class felt the country was getting shortchanged for all its other mathematical contributions. The Mayans raked in 14 percent, which means Mexico would be rolling in so much money from its share that it might be the one clamoring (and paying) for a wall. My class’s most left-leaning group declared it wouldn’t disburse the money at all, “so as not to encourage capitalism.”

Of course, the exercise was pure fantasy for many reasons; any compensatory scheme would be dead on arrival based on the mention of “reparations.” And yet it highlighted the fact that there were cultures and peoples that parented zero, whose descendants may not be doing as well now. If not financial recompense, is at least some enhanced ethical responsibility toward them owed?

If so, the primary onus might fall on tech companies, arguably the biggest users of this resource. Right now, their prize target is India, with Microsoft, Google and Facebook all vying to bring its enormous population online. These giants might point out that they’re already being altruistic by offering free connectivity, through schemes that will plug in rural areas, vitalize the economy and transform the country — and just happen to add hundreds of millions of potential customers to their rosters for a variety of ads and e-products. Could it be a coincidence that Microsoft, for instance, has also been investing heavily in future cloud services, cybersecurity and e-commerce for India?

Think of it. The companies will use the indigenously developed resource of zeros and ones (the Arabs got their numerals from India, after all), package them into new services and products, and sell them back. India has lived through such irony before. The British Empire took her raw cotton and sold it back as finished garments, destroying the local textile industry and helping lower India’s share of the world gross domestic product to 3 percent from 23 percent.

Fortunately, the parallel flounders. The finished e-products will mostly be manufactured in India, even if backed by foreign investment. Also, the country is wiser: It will not succumb easily to a new cyber-colonialism. Last year, under a broader “net neutrality” decision, the government banned Facebook’s “Free Basics” plan, which offered free Wi-Fi but only to websites of the company’s choosing (Facebook, undeterred, is already marketing a replacement). This year, it also declined a bid from Microsoft to offer connectivity through old television bands. Instead, under pressure from Indian cellular operators, the bands will be auctioned off.

Whether Indian tech companies will prevail remains to be seen. What’s clear is that vigorous market competition is underway to control all those zeros and ones. Despite my liberal student group’s disapproval, zero encourages capitalistic forces, after all.

In fact, zero is essential to much of human endeavor; it has become a fundamental part of our legacy, too seemingly immutable for any kind of compensatory reckoning. And yet the Bakhshali manuscript reminds us that zero wasn’t always at hand. Rather, it was the intellectual product of cultures perhaps far different from our own, of peoples and regions that may have subsided but could once again rise to dominance.

The New York Times

Scrutinizing The Kurdish Referendum

It was really significant that the coffin of Jalal Talebani, the ex-Iraqi president, was wrapped by the national flag of Kurdistan rather the flag of Iraq, during his funeral in his hometown As-Suleimanyyah.

What we are now witnessing is a virtual ‘divorce’ between the ‘Kurdish political mood’ in northern Iraq and all the Arabs. Even if this ‘divorce’ is neither final nor official yet, it is indeed a psychological ‘divorce’ the reality of which could not be diluted by polite and tactful words.

With a psychological ‘divorce’, as the one we see today in Iraq, Arabic and Islamic names such as Jalal, Mas’oud, Mustafa, Salaheddin and Ahmad Mukhtar are fast disappearing only to be replaced with Kurdish names like Kameran, Dilshad and Showan. Given this fact, it is highly unlikely to maintain a ‘friendship’ between neighbours, as friendships require trust. Personally, I reckon the Kurdish leadership does not trust the Arabs anymore, and many Arabs no more view the Kurds as partner in destiny, history and geography.

Of course, no one must blame Iraq’s Kurds for their negative attitude, given the suffering under Saddam Hussein’s authoritarianism and Nuri Al-Maliki sectarian subservience (to Iran). However, it would not be fair that the Kurds should regard their long association with their fellow Iraqis – indeed, the Arabs – as an ‘unequal’ relationship, whereby the Arabs discriminated against them and sought to marginalise and even obliterate the Kurd’s national identity.

It is true that there are ‘factional’ trends throughout the Arab world, but they are not really different from what is prevalent in similar societies. Some, in many cases, are religious or sectarian; but mostly they are tribal and clannish. Noteworthy, here, is that with periods of extremist chauvinism aside, Arabs in the Near East had no problem living under a Kurdish prime minister or a Kurdish provincial governor; and for that matter, never minded living under a Turkmen, Circassian or Bosnian prime minister of governor. Before the Ottoman Turks ruled the Near East for four centuries, the region lived also for centuries under the (Kurdish) Ayyubi dynasty and the (Turkic, Mogul and Circassian) Memlukes, and yet there are no records of Arabs maltreating the Kurds simply because they were Kurds!

Later, under the two periods of the British Mandate and Independence, I – a son of a father who lived with and befriended the Kurds for years – know of no specific anti-Kurds discrimination. Actually, in ‘post 1920 Iraq’ as well in previous periods the Kurds lived almost like every other Iraqi community; and from their ranks rose prominent figures since the Independence such as Jalal Baban, Jamal Baban, General Bakr Sidqi, Musleheddin Naqshbandi, and Ahmad Mukhtar Baban …Iraq’s last prime minister before the ‘republican revolution’ of 1958.

All the above are facts; and any Arab not inclined to delusions and self- loathing, must realise the dangers faced by the Region; indeed, more than our region if we look further and see what is happening in Western Europe, and America too.

The concept of the ‘nation-state’ is relatively recent, and so are ‘national boundaries’. Germany, the leading country in central and western Europe did not develop its ‘national identity’ except in the 19th century. Before that, the ‘Wars of Spanish Succession’ (1701-1714) following the death of King Charles II of Spain without an heir, set in motion great political developments and redrew the map of Western Europe.

Then, in Eastern Europe, when was the ‘nation-state’ born? What happened in the Caucasus? How did the Russian Empire grow? How did its peoples, ethnic groups, religious and linguistic groups exist even before diversity was – one way or another recognized in the former USSR? Isn’t what is taking place in the Ukraine today a carryover from the old heritage shared and fought over between its Orthodox East and Catholic West … with its partial Polish dimensions?

A big problem with our dangerously unstable world lies in trying to agree on definitions; as there is a disagreement on defining political terms as well as interests.

After Brexit, Europe is no more a dream of great pioneers like Robert Schuman, Charles De Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer and Paul-Henri Spaak. Europe now needs to redefine itself as an idea, a political term, as well as vital interests. The ‘national unity’ of its entities is no more a forgone conclusion, but is now rather dependent on several considerations, conditions and counter-conditions.

Scotland is now waiting for a rise in world oil prices, Catalonia is trying to avoid economic boycott, and other dreamers pursuing secessionist projects are now diligently working out their feasibility far from the slogans of integration, and inclusive ‘Western Civilization’, in the midst of the struggle between ‘expansive’ globalization and ‘reclusive’ racism.

Well. Let’s leave Europe for a moment and look at North America. Is it now more cohesive?

Donald Trump, the president of the USA, the greatest immigrant destination in the ‘New World’, is keen on building a ‘dividing wall’ along the borders with Mexico in order to separate the two nations and prevent incoming immigrant from the south, while insisting that poor Mexicans pay for it! He also wants to ‘stop exporting’ American jobs to Mexico in the hope that the USA maintains its economic well being and industrial base, thus, making Mexico’s poor even poorer, and more insistent on immigrating, despite the ‘wall’.

Across the America’s northern borders, however, Canada’s young Liberal premier Justin Trudeau is happy to head a record-breaking ethnically, linguistically and religiously diverse cabinet, which he describes as “a cabinet that looks like Canada”. Lately, after Trudeau’s appointment of a Lebanese-Canadian as Canada’s new Chief Science Adviser, the opposition’s Left-leaning New Democratic Party elected a young lawyer of Indian Sikh origins as its leader.

It is this real world that our folks, the Kurds, need to recognize before they reach the point of no return against the principles of ‘friendship’ and ‘good neighbourliness’.

Geography dictated that peoples of the world cannot chose their ‘neighbours’, but they can choose to make them either ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’.

Furthermore, millions or tens of millions do not automatically qualify any group for independence; otherwise, why is Uttar Pradesh (with a population of more than 204 million people) is a state in India just like Manipur (inhabited by only 3 millions)?

Both Turkey and Iran are currently opposing the referendum of Iraq’s Kurds, relying on their size, influence and exploitation of the current interests in international affairs. The same applies to Spain as it opposes the Catalonian referendum. It is also worth mentioning here that the USA would not have been the power it is today had it accepted the secession of the southern Confederate States.

In politics, proper calculations are a must; and they should take into account not only internal wishes, but also external conditions.

It is vital to appreciate the dangers of bad timing and double-standards, and also changes of governments and shifts in alliances.