CAIRO, Egypt — On Sunday, May 4, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrated his 80th birthday. On the front pages of government-owned newspapers, oversized pictures of the president were displayed with an extensive list of his accomplishments since acquiring power from the late Answar Sadat in 1981. Nevertheless, on that same bright, humid morning, the presence of five olive-green riot patrol vehicles parked just a few feet from one of Cairo’s busiest squares, Talat Al Harb, attested that all is not well in Mubarak’s domain. Inside the police vehicle, officers with black uniforms and matching hats sat yawning and smoking cigarettes […]

Sadr City: Credit Where Credit’s Due?

There was some mention in the American press about Iran’s role in brokering the ceasefires in both Basra and more recently in Badr City. This is the first time I’ve actually seen Fars, the official Iranian news agency, brag about it call attention to it. Their analysis of the Iraqi government’s double bind bears citing in full: The Iraqi government has been forced to balance its allegiances to the US and Iran. Supported by American troops and reconstruction funds, Baghdad is obliged to pay attention to the US demands. But the Iraqi government cannot give in to Washington’s illegitimate demands […]

Is Stalemate an Option?

The situation on the ground in Lebanon is still pretty volatile, but should it stabilize as is, this Daily Star analysis (via Friday Lunch Club) of the major clarifications that have so far emerged is the most lucid and thought-provoking I’ve seen to date, both for the implications on Lebanon’s institutional crisis, as well as the broader regional implications: If Lebanon shifts from street clashes to the hoped-for political compromise through a renewed national dialogue process, it will have a national unity government whose two factions receive arms, training, funds and political support from both the United States and Iran. […]

In a recent announcement that went virtually unnoticed in the Western media, an official of Saudi Aramco — Saudi Arabia’s national oil company — stated that Saudi Arabia aims to double its oil exports to China from last year’s levels, reaching 1 million barrels per day by 2010. Should this goal be realized, China will soon rival the United States and Japan as one of the top destinations for Saudi petroleum. In addition, the China National Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec) already has an agreement with Iran to buy 250 million tons of liquid natural gas from the country over 30 years, […]

Olmert-a: The Israeli Code of Silence

So Ehud Olmert has now admitted to taking bundles of cash from a NY financier, but denies it was for personal gain. The money apparently went to fund his re-election as mayor of Jerusalem, and to fund the Likud party. I don’t know a whole lot about Israeli campaign finance laws, but I imagine that suitcases full of cash that go undeclared until a police raid on your home probably violate them. Olmert has refused to quit, but did promise to resign in the event he’s indicted, which seems pretty big of him.

Lebanon on the Brink

For a solid rundown of what precipitated the violent clashes in Beirut today, this AFP report is a good place to start. For wall-to-wall blog coverage, the gang over at Blacksmiths of Lebanon seem to be putting in extra hours. There’s obviously a lot of tangled threads involved here, but I think it’s safe to say that Lebanon has been the functional equivalent of a frozen conflict for quite some time now, with the temperature gradually rising to thaw level. What Hezbollah’s willingness to push back this forcefully against the government’s attempt to rein it in says about Iran and […]

Amin al-Husaini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, remains a controversial figure. The Palestinian leader, who was born in 1895 and died in 1974, first sparked controversy during his lifetime. As an officer in the Ottoman army during the First World War, he implemented the German idea of organizing jihad and terror behind enemy lines. (See my discussion here.) Later, he led the resistance against the British mandate authority in Palestine during uprisings in 1929 and in 1936. He fiercely opposed Jewish settlement. But it is, above all, the Grand Mufti’s close ties to National Socialist Germany that are the subject […]

WEST POINT, New York — It was a decades-old Army tradition that junior officers would eat lunch together every day in Army-run dining halls. There they would trade ideas they’d picked up in their training. But in the last decade, to save money, contractors such as Kellogg, Brown and Root have replaced the old dining halls with civilian-style cafeterias, some boasting big-screen TVs. The officers stopped gathering . . . and stopped talking. That had the effect of isolating young leaders, preventing them from getting answers to life-and-death questions — and from sharing their own answers they might have learned […]

Kurd Guerrillas Threaten U.S.

Of course, one of the predictable consequences of the increasingly effective Turkish campaign to isolate and eliminate the Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq is that the latter will increasingly turn their attention to the folks helping the Turks out. That, of course, would be us. So far it’s just a warning from PEJAK, the PKK’s Iranian Kurdish sister group, but there’s every reason to believe that with Turkey more and more difficult to reach and the Iraqi Kurds not a politically viable target, we’re next on the list. Interestingly enough, PEJAK is the Kurdish separatist group that many have accused […]

U.S. Plays Follow the Leader in the Middle East

The U.S. has now publicly removed its objections to Turkey-mediated discussions between Israel and Syria, although Condoleeza Rice argued the talks should be tied to Syria’s involvement in Lebanon. She also expressed her skepticism that Syria was willing to change the behavior that led to American efforts to isolate it in the first place. It’s interesting to note that the EU3+3’s package of incentives for Iran was also put forward over the U.S.’s grumbled objections. Rice publicly expressed her skepticism, saying, “Diplomacy has many forms. . .and it’s not always a matter of sweeter.” That makes two crucial regional dossiers […]

Turkey Talks to Iraqi Kurds

The Turkish government continued its deft handling of the sticky security situation on its Iraq border, following up its military strikes against PKK guerillas with its first diplomatic contacts with the Kurdistan Regional Government. The move comes in the wake of increasing signals from KRG President Massoud Barzani that the Iraqi Kurdish leadership values smooth relations with Ankara more than its ethnic solidarity with the PKK. On the Turkish side, the move signals a shift in its Iraq policy from a focus on divisive ethnically-based questions such as the status of Kirkuk to the development of regional economic and social […]

Iran Package: Two Ships in the Night

Last week the Iranians passed on a mysterious plan for resolving the standoff over its uranium enrichment program to a visiting Russian delegation. On Friday, the EU3+3 agreed on an equally mysterious package of incentives aimed at getting Iran to halt its program. That looked to me like the makings of a round of negotiations, but according to an informed European source, the EU3+3 package has been in the works for the past few months, and Russian FM Sergei Lavrov made no mention of the Iranian proposal during the meetings. So far, the only thing that’s been revealed about the […]

U.S. President George W. Bush, whose policy of preventive war has been called the Bush Doctrine, at a press conference in 2007.

President George W. Bush has been dismissed as a lame duck, but it appears that significant elements of the doctrine that bears his name will endure long after he leaves the White House. Although we haven't heard much about the Bush Doctrine in recent years, its impact on American foreign policy—both positive and negative—is as significant as it is misunderstood. The doctrine is generally associated with the preventive war against Iraq, but it has more than one component. The first was unveiled during Bush's address to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001, long before the U.S. swept […]

While in Tajikistan on March 24, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottak declared that Tehran had submitted an official application to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The announcement launched a wave of speculation about whether the other SCO countries would agree to elevate Tehran’s status. By mid-April, it had become evident that Iran’s application did not at present enjoy the required unanimous consent of the other full SCO members. Iran became a formal observer nation at the July 2005 SCO summit, but Tehran has eagerly sought to upgrade its status since then. India, Mongolia, and Pakistan […]

Nir Rosen on Iran and Iraq

Nir Rosen’s got a lengthy post over at the Washington Note that takes aim at the gathering narrative framework for Iran’s involvement in Iraq. Rosen is an extremely sharp, Arab-speaking observer who has spent most of the past five years in Iraq, and the piece comes with the imprimatur of Steve Clemon’s site. His arguments about both American policy in Iraq and our broader regional strategy are both provocative and thought-provoking, even if I suspect they are ultimately unlikely to significantly move the lines of debate for being so far outside the common wisdom. That’s not to say he’s wrong. […]

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