“White Saviors” & a “Secular Jihad”: Why Westerners are drawn to fight in Middle Eastern conflicts -al Jazeera


The following two articles both place a lot of emphasis on a romantic attraction to war as an adventure, as captured by a reference to a TE Lawrence quote: “All men dream, but not equally.Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act upon their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

“Yet inexplicable as it may seem to many, the mere thrill of combat is often the primary motivating factor. While ideological reasons are cited in justification, the real reason many individuals travel abroad to fight is an age old search of adventure. This more than anything may have played its part in luring westerners to the Kurdish cause, just as others before them went to Bosnia or Rhodesia. The difference being, this time the war against ISIL provides a useful pretext for their actions.”

“Would [these Western volunteers] fight in the Middle East if they were content at home? I don’t think the temptation would be very strong. For each person who goes there must be personal reasons – perhaps religion, perhaps some deeply held political conviction like the foreign volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War. That said, there is probably a sprinkling of pure adventurers – the kind of people who might otherwise become mercenaries.”

Stop Trying to Save the World Big ideas are destroying international development -The New Republic


“The repeated “success, scale, fail” experience of the last 20 years of development practice suggests something super boring: Development projects thrive or tank according to the specific dynamics of the place in which they’re applied. It’s not that you test something in one place, then scale it up to 50. It’s that you test it in one place, then test it in another, then another. No one will ever be invited to explain that in a TED talk.”


Iran nuclear talks: Optimism as deadline is extended -BBC


No surprise. The Iran-US nuclear talks did not produce a deal by Monday’s deadline. Although a disappointment, both sides maintain that a deal is within reach if they continue to talk. The bottom line is that while a deal would be nice, the status quo is acceptable to both Iran and the US. Conversely, if the talks were to collapse completely it would cause a crisis that both sides want to avoid, particularly because they also have to deal with the IS crisis.


Post Arab-Spring Elections -BBC


Bahrain has just held elections, but the Shi’a opposition dismissed them as a sham and boycotted the process:
“Bahrain holds disputed election amid Shia boycott calls”

Meanwhile, Tunisia prepares for its first post-Arab spring presidential elections, hot on the heals of parliamentary elections. Whereas few people expected much from the Bahraini process, the democratic dream remains alive in Tunisia. Regardless of who wins, many people will be following events closely hoping that the process goes smoothly:
“Tunisia holds first post-revolution presidential poll”

From Ataturk to Erdogan: Turks rewrite history


Interesting article discussing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claim that “Muslims discovered the Americas three centuries before Christopher Columbus” as an attempt to reshape Turkey’s national identity and narrative.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/11/turkey-historical-revisionism-ataturk-erdogan.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=1100a4ffb3-November_21_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-1100a4ffb3-93109553#ixzz3JmP4THkH

Reflections on the Arab uprisings -Washington Post


“It is not difficult to understand this intense urge to take stock, given the sorry state of the region and catastrophic results of virtually every one of the 2011 uprisings. The overblown criticisms of the field of Middle East political science over its failure to predict the uprisings have been thoroughly aired by this point. But what about the field’s performance during the Arab uprisings? Academics have written an unprecedented amount of real-time analysis and commentary over the last few years. What did we miss, misinterpret, exaggerate or rush to premature judgments about along the way?”


The “Fog of War” has arrived early -Various


Once a war starts, sifting through the spin, propaganda and general confusion becomes a daunting task. The war on IS is only just beginning, and the “fog of war” is already setting in. Here are a few of the conflicting reports coming out of Iraq and Syria:

According to one source, the US already needs a new, more ambitious strategy:
“Critics will call this strategy too costly, alleging that it will push the United States down a “slippery slope” into another ground war. But while this approach will undoubtedly incur greater financial cost and higher risk of casualties, the present minimalist strategy has scant chance of success and risks backfiring — the Islamic State’s prestige will be enhanced if it withstands half-hearted U.S. airstrikes. Left unchecked, the Islamic State could expand into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or Saudi Arabia, making a major ground war involving U.S. troops more likely.” See The U.S. strategy against the Islamic State must be retooled. Here’s how.”, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-us-strategy-against-the-islamic-state-must-be-retooled-heres-how/2014/11/14/7972e50c-6b8a-11e4-a31c-77759fc1eacc_story.html

According to another the war is going fine, and IS is nothing but “a bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology”. See “Battle turning against IS, says US Gen Martin Dempsey”, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30067485

And, according to Kurdish sources there are a lot more of those radical “midgets” than we originally thought, perhaps “seven to eight times more than Western intelligence estimates”, numbering as many as 200,000. see “IS seven times bigger than Western estimates: Kurds claim”, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/uk/IS-seven-times-bigger-than-Western-estimates-Kurds-claim/articleshow/45165857.cms

There have also been reports that the US bombing campaign in Syria is driving the previously fragmented Islamist groups back together in a broad anti-western Salafi/Jihadi alliance. This analysis suggests these reports are unreliable: The Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra: A Looming Grand Jihadi Alliance?, http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/islamic-state-jabhat-al-nusra-looming-grand-jihadi-alliance/

Finally, if you still had any faith in YouTube, see “#BBCTrending: Syrian ‘hero boy’ video faked by Norwegian director”, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-30057401