‘Big price to pay’: Inside Trump’s decision to bomb Syria -Washington Post

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“The absence of a clear strategy in Syria complicated the discussions. Trump had campaigned as a noninterventionist and vowed to withdraw from Middle East entanglements that he decried as costing American lives and treasure.

And yet to Trump’s national security team, action of some kind seemed to be a requirement, as officials said they listened to the president deride his predecessor, Barack Obama, for sometimes discussing possible military action and then not delivering it. At a White House dinner last Tuesday, Trump opined that the problems in Syria were caused “because Obama did not enforce his red lines,” according to one attendee, Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard Law School professor.”

“Military officials said Saturday that they believe that no one — not even Syrian government personnel — was killed in the attack, which struck nonresidential facilities in the middle of the night.

Although options for more-expansive actions were also discussed, the plan that Trump ultimately endorsed, with a mix of air- and sea-launched missiles and sophisticated standoff airstrikes, was designed to minimize risk to U.S. and allied personnel and lessen the chances of unwanted escalation, officials said.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-price-to-pay-inside-trumps-decision-to-bomb-syria/2018/04/14/752bdd9a-3ff9-11e8-8d53-eba0ed2371cc_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.3fd4fa747347

The U.S. Has Troops in Syria. So Do the Russians and Iranians. Here’s Where. -New York Times

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“American troops landed in the ground war in Syria in late 2015 with a small contingent of Special Operations forces, hoping to forge an alliance with local militias and rebel groups that could fight the Islamic State.

In the months that followed, the number of American troops grew. Their Kurdish and Arab allies, later known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, started ground assaults that would eventually lead to the loss of Islamic State strongholds in the northern cities of Manbij and their de facto capital in Raqqa.

There are currently an estimated 2,000 American troops in Syria, according to the Pentagon. The influx of forces transformed what had been an initial band of commandos in armored pickups into a scaled-down version of the sprawling military presence in neighboring Iraq.”

 

 

 

 

Gulf Cooperation Council arms race: Who sells to whom -al Jazeera

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“Amid regional instability, an arms race is under way among Arab Gulf countries. The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait – have spent billions of dollars on weapons this year alone.

Here’s a look at the recent deals made.”

  • Saudi Arabia
    So far in 2018, Saudi Arabia has allocated over $3bn to arms deals.
  • Qatar
    Qatar has allocated over $490m to arms deals in 2018.
  • Kuwait
    So far in 2018, Kuwait has allocated over $300m to arms deals.
  • United Arab Emirates
    The United Arab Emirates has allocated more than $200m for arms purchases in 2018.
  • Oman
    Oman has allocated more than $60m for buying weapons in 2018.
  • Bahrain
    Bahrain has not reported any arms purchases yet in 2018.

For specific details see: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/04/gulf-cooperation-council-arms-race-sells-180412125953374.html

What’s Behind Turkey’s Attack on Syria’s Kurds -NYTimes

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This article provides some basic background on the Turkish assault on Syrian Kurdish positions in the Afrin area of Syria North West of Aleppo.

“Mr. Erdogan fears that the Syrian Kurds would use control of much of northern Syria to support the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the P.K.K., a separatist group that Turkey, the United States and the European Union all consider a terrorist group.

Here’s where things get complicated. The United States has armed a Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, that has played a crucial role in battling ISIS.

As the fight against ISIS nears an end, Turkey fears that the militia will turn its attention toward helping its Kurdish allies in Turkey. That fear is not entirely unjustified, according to Renad Mansour, a scholar at Chatham House in London, who points out that Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader imprisoned since 1999, was based in Kurdish Syria for nearly two decades.

Amy Austin Holmes, a fellow at the Wilson Center who has studied the Syrian Kurds, says that many of them joined the Protection Units “for the simple reason that they wanted to defend their towns, like Kobani, that were under attack from the Islamic State, and not necessarily because they were convinced by the ideology of the P.K.K.”

Michael M. Gunter, a political scientist at Tennessee Tech who also studies the Syrian Kurds, said, “The Turks overplay the threat, but it’s not completely a figment of their imagination.”

 

See: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/world/middleeast/whats-behind-turkeys-attack-on-syrias-kurds.html?referer=https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2F0K2P6MSeoe

Iran after Rafsanjani Rafsanjani’s death has created power vacuum in Iran’s political centre. -al Jazeera

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There have been a number of articles written about the recent death of former Iranian president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, most of them pretty shallow. This one has a little more depth. In particular, it makes the point that his death not only weakens the moderates, it creates an imbalance in Iranian politics. In many ways Rafsanjani played an essential role in the Iranian political system. So essential, in fact, that even after he challenged the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei directly during the 2009 election crisis, Khamenei had to allow him to remain among the political elite. In contrast, Mir Hussein Mousavi, the leader of the Green Movement, has been under house arrest since then.

  • “In the absence of Rafsanjani, it is doubtful that Khamenei and his hardline supporters in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) or the fundamentalist clergy can maintain the political balance that is so crucial to the survival of the Islamic Republic.”

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/01/iran-rafsanjani-170111055041706.html

For further reading, see also https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/09/ebrahim-raisi-conservative-cleric-iran-supreme-leader-khamenei?CMP=share_btn_link

 

 

More hope for Kurdish unity in Syria after release of KNC prisoners -ARANEWS.NET

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The schisms within the Syrian Kurdish community have never been as deep as the PUK-KPD split in Iraq, however it has been a significant division. This article provides some reason to believe they are making progress:

“The Syrian Kurdish security forces of the Asayish, that are affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), released several politicians from the rival Kurdish National Council (KNC) on Wednesday and Thursday after mediation by former French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner and former US diplomat Peter Galbraith that visited Rojava [or Syria’s Kurdistan] this week”.

“Zara Salih, a member of the KNC-linked Yekiti Party, told ARA News: “We look at this step [release of KNC members] as a positive sign and good start. After releasing all political prisoners from the Asayish detention centres we are ready to begin negtoations with PYD and TEV-DEM to reach a new deal.”

“The KNC is the main rival of the PYD, and backed by Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The PYD, on the other hand, is closer to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both the KDP and PKK have significant influence over the Kurdish parties in Syria, but failed to reach an agreement to share power. As a result, the PYD became the most dominant actor in Syrian Kurdistan, after the People’s Protection Units (YPG) took control of most of the Kurdish regions in Syria in July 2012.”

More hope for Kurdish unity in Syria after release of KNC prisoners

Iran’s Guards using Trump victory to claw back power -Reuters

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This article makes a common argument. Hardliners on one side of a rivalry are good thing for the hardliners on the other side -at least as long as things don’t get totally out of hand. Although I don’t think the IRGC lost quite as much power after the nuclear deal as this article suggests, I do agree with its basic premise:

“Trump and the Islamic State militants were gifts from God to the IRGC,” said a senior official within the Iranian government, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity like other figures contacted within Iran.

“If Trump adopts a hostile policy towards Iran or scraps the deal, hard-liners and particularly the IRGC will benefit from it,” a former reformist official said.

This article also marks the creation of a new tag on this blog: “Trump”….

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-politics-guards-idUSKBN13G1NB

Khamenei’s Plan For Succession In Iran -Huffington Post

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This article looks at who might succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iran’s Supreme Leader, or  rahbar-e mo’azzam. Although Khamenei’s health is not particularly poor at this point in time, he is old (77), and he has recently undergone prostate surgery. Succession is therefore no longer an abstract problem, but something that needs to be prepared for. The transition will be a difficult one for the Islamic Republic.

“All the above mentioned are potential candidates and there could be more, yet it’s clear that none of them has the charm of being one of the first revolutionaries, the legitimacy of being part of Khomeini’s team, or the honor of being a “Khomeini disciple”, except for Hasan Rouhani. This poses serious challenges in a system built originally on spirituality. The future leader will fall into the system built by his predecessor making it easier for the regime to cope with the change, and harder for the new comer to leave a mark quickly.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-hashem/khameneis-plan-for-succes_b_12599372.html

Moreover, the political situation is somewhat more complex now than it was in 1989, when Khomeini passed away. Its not that things were easier for the Islamic Republic then, they weren’t. As it does now, Iran faced foreign threats, a crumbling economy and the regime was plagued by intense factional competition. However, the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) was less independent actor and power was centralized in the hands of the Clergy at the end of the 1980s. The IRGC has its own interests and its own factional divisions. It’s mandate is to protect the revolution, so it would be difficult for the IRGC to directly challenge the position of the clergy after Khamenei is dead, but the growing power of the institution does ad several extra levels of complexity to the dynamics of succession.

Public support for the regime was also probably higher then as well. There has been a generational change in Iran and growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. Part of that dissatisfaction has played out in support for the Green Movement and reform oriented politicians. However, part of it has also been drawn to Ahmadinejad and the Iranian neo-conservative movement. Not only did Ahmadinejad oppose the Green Movement, he clashed with traditional conservatives like Speaker of the Majlis (parliament) Ali Larinjani. He even bumped heads with Khamenei on occasion and is clearly on the outs with the Rahbar at this time.

The exact events of the 2009 elections will never be known. However, it did appear that Ahmadinejad had a significant degree of popular support. While Ahmadinejad is out of power and has been in some respects neutralized (he will not run for the President’s office next year) he still also has powerful friends, allies and ideological fellow-travelers in the clergy, the institutions of the state and in the IRGC. He does not have the religious credentials to make a claim on Khamenei’s position, but he probably has strong ideas about who he would like to see in that office. Perhaps he is pulling for someone like his one time ally, hard-line cleric, Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi.

In 1989 Khomeini laid the ground work for succession by marginalizing several key figures in the regime, such as his one time heir-apparent Ayatollah Montezeri. The Khamenei and Hashemi Rafsanjani worked out a compromise wherein Khamenei became the Rhabar and Rafsanjani was effectively given the presidency. It will likely be harder to pull of such a neat little trick this time around.