I think the main point of the article is quite correct: the Saudis are playing a bad hand poorly.
There are a few points that I am not too sure about though. First, the author claims “The Saudi-led blockade of Qatar has been more successful. The effort to tame that country’s assertive regional policies has worked and the crisis has now been put on the back burner of international diplomacy.” However, Qatar is now closer to Iran than ever, and at a time when the Saudis needed to be building a durable anti-Iranian front, they have fractured the GCC. I don’t see this as successful, even if only relative to Riyadh’s other attempts to deal with Iran. In fact, I’m pretty sure Iran sees this as a win.
Second, the author warns that the war in Yemen may turn “the Houthi movement into something akin to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.” Even if this is just be a turn of phrase, the Houthis-Iranian relationship is not comparable to Iran’s alliance with Hezbollah. The social/historical/religious connections are not there, and Iran’s military support for the Houthis has been limited.
Third, and finally, the author describes Saudi Arabia as “keen to reach out to Tehran despite provocative Iranian actions” and that “King Abdullah courted Presidents Akbar Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami”. This has not been the case. Riyadh has never been keen to court Iran. In fact, it’s been the other way around. Tehran has been the suitor, and Riyadh has played hard to get. Rafsanjani spent most of the 1990s trying to start a dialogue with Riyadh, only to be rebuffed. Before Rafsanjani’s death earlier this year, both he and Rouhani reached-out to Riyadh, but again with no success. Rightly or wrongly, the Saudis’ strategy for dealing with Tehran has been to try to keep Iran as isolated in the Persian Gulf as possible. Given the regional situation post Arab-Spring, I doubt diplomacy would have worked, but I think the article mischaracterizes this part of their relationship.
A similar article was also published in Foreign Policy entitled, Tehran Is Winning the War for Control of the Middle East (https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/21/tehran-is-winning-the-war-for-control-of-the-middle-east-saudi-arabia/) and I expect there will be more in the near future claiming that the the Iranian-Saudi Cold war is swinging Tehran’s way. Some, like the one above, will cast Iran as the aggressor and the Saudis as the victim, albeit a clumsy self-destructive victim. Others will portray the Saudis as the belligerents and Iran as misunderstood. Both narratives have a grain of truth. But both miss the main point: the rivalry in its present form is being driven by the regional instability caused by the Arab Spring. Ideology and incompetence have only made things worse.
This article looks at an interesting development in the Middle East. Across the region, girls and young women do markedly better in school than boys and young men, even in the sciences.
- “In fact, across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States. In Saudi Arabia alone, women earn half of all science degrees. And yet, most of those women are unlikely to put their degrees to paid use for very long.”
The conclusion the article reaches is surprising. It questions the common assumption that Middle Eastern women succeed in education because their lives are controlled and distractions are minimized. Rather than argue women study harder because they have nothing else to do, this article argues the problem may be in the quality of education boys and young men receive and the dynamics created by gender-segregated class-rooms
- “…boys’ schools are more violent places, concluded the study, which was funded by USAID. Over half of the boys interviewed said they’d experienced some kind of bullying in school over the previous year. Only 11 percent of girls said the same thing. Two-thirds of male teachers said they’d witnessed physical violence among students in the past year—compared with less than a quarter of female teachers.”
- Boys also reported worse relationships with their male teachers. Only 40 percent of male students interviewed said they believed their teachers cared about how well they did in school—compared with 74 percent of girls.” “…male teachers in all-boys schools were more likely to belittle or punish students for getting the wrong answer. And boys were much more likely than girls to complain about their male teachers’ tendencies to beat students and shout at them.”
Their explanation for this pattern was a mix of political economy and cultural norms:
- “Teachers do not earn a lot of money in Jordan, but men are still expected to be the primary breadwinners in families. So male teachers are more likely to work second or third jobs as tutors or even taxi drivers in order to augment their small salaries. One Jordanian student told me about a male biology teacher he’d had who was so exhausted by his two other jobs that he used to close the blinds in first period and go to sleep.”
- “On average Jordan’s male teachers—who have mostly gone through the same educational system themselves—do worse on the national entry test for teaching, according to Ministry of Education data. This suggests in turn that boys might be encountering less-prepared teachers on average. “Male teachers are hard to come by, and good male teachers are even harder,””
- “The problem, Osman and his colleagues concluded, was not simply boys’ freedom or male teachers’ preparation. It was all that and more. Through surveys and other analysis, they identified a long list of factors that were interacting like a chemical equation, which is the unsexy secret about how education systems usually work. Not just teacher quality but students’ sense of safety, their study habits, and the subtleties of the boy and girl peer cultures all converge to create a healthy—or toxic—brew.”
Along the way, the article discusses the need to empower men: “We used to say, empowering women, and now we talk about empowering men,” Hamood Khalfan Al Harthi, the undersecretary for education and curriculum in Oman, says. In patriarchal societies this may seem a bit whiny, but it’s not:
- “Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.”
In the context of the Middle East, that disengagement one must wonder if it also leads to political radicalization…
A concise overview of the Syrian Civil War which as the title suggests, identifies the key turning points in the conflict.
Here is an interesting article looking at the durability of civilian rule in India. While all of India’s neighbors -Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka- have experienced military rule, the Indian army has stayed in the barracks.
The article is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, it is a good example of comparative poli-sci methodology. It compares the Indian experience to that of Pakistan, a state that emerged from the same historical roots as India. By looking at the similarities and differences between the two cases, the authors tries to isolate the key factors that have led the two countries down very different paths. Second, the analysis does not focus on the “usual suspects” so to speak. It does not explain the persistence of civilian rule in terms of political culture or the lasting influence of the British. The author correctly points out that Pakistan had the same historical experience with the British and and yet the Pakistani military has intervened repeatedly in civilian governance. The article also does not place a great deal of emphasis on military professionalism of leadership. Instead, the authors focuses on the relative strengths and weaknesses of civilian political institutions. Relative to Pakistan, the Indian state has been relatively robust and the country’s main political party, Congress, has been well organized and coherent. In Pakistan, the civilian institutions have been a mess, and the military has been the best organized institution in the country.
This article exams the dilemma facing many Americans involved in national security policy: boycott the Trump administration or remain engaged so policy making is not dominated by those who lack experience, competence, or reason. The question is particularly salient now under Trump. However, it is a question that many people have had ask themselves when thinking about any government: Will I make things better, or will politics make me worse?
“Some people will have no problems accepting positions in the Trump administration with nary a second thought. But there are many others out there who have deep concerns and are asking themselves questions that they may never have considered before any other newly arriving administration, regardless of party. These public servants must now pause to think about their personal moral and ethical boundaries — what administration decisions or policies would be so personally unacceptable that they would feel required to resign.
It is impossible, of course, to know exactly what President-elect Trump will do once in office….. Nevertheless, Trump’s wide array of troubling comments mean that every responsible public servant should think about just what level of affront to their principles would simply be too much to tolerate — when choosing to serve or remaining on the job means becoming an enabler to policies or actions that they find deeply unethical or immoral. And this will not be a one-time choice. It will be an ongoing calculation throughout the entire administration, a decision that must be revisited repeatedly, week after week as new policies and decisions unfold.”
The article goes on to identify 7 seven questions any public servant needs to ask themselves before agreeing to work for the Trump administration. Here they are in an abridged form:
- “Do you believe that your service will help improve policies and decision-making? ….or at least prevent some truly bad decisions from happening?
- Do you believe that the policies or values that you find objectionable are rooted primarily in the new administration’s inexperience and lack of knowledge or in its core ideology? If you believe the former, then the case for serving is stronger, since you can help educate the new team. But if you believe that the administration is operating more from an ideology that fundamentally violates your deeply held beliefs (such as promoting torture or indiscriminate bombing), then the moral decision bends the other way.
- Who specifically will you work for? …Will they act as a bulwark of decency, shielding you and your colleagues — and maybe even the country — from the worst of politics going on above your pay grade?
- Are the people you most respect choosing not to serve for a principled reason? Or, if later in the administration, have they resigned for cause? In each case, do you know what factors shaped their decisions? How does their logic align with or differ from your thinking? Understanding their experiences can serve as useful guideposts.
- When would choosing not to serve (or to leave government) do more to advance the ideals and values you believe in most? How will you carry your commitment to principle into action from the outside? If you elect not to serve now, what might change your mind? Who would you find sufficiently principled to work for that might convince you that serving is the right thing to do?
- If you choose to serve (or to stay), how frequently do you plan to reassess your decision? Failing to do so runs the risk of the “boiling frog” syndrome, where every small uptick in the water temperature, or new policy that modestly erodes that which you deeply believe in, becomes slowly, inexorably acceptable until the whole is invisible and no longer objectionable.”
On a side note: the discussion not only tackles the moral dilemma, it also highlights the degree to which there has been consensus up until now in American foreign policy making circles:
“Unlike our counterparts who work on domestic policy, national security practitioners have long enjoyed a largely bipartisan consensus about the core principles of what makes America strong and secure: an open, liberal international order guaranteed by American leadership and power. Democrats and Republicans have fought long and hard about specific policies for decades, but those arguments have, for the most part, been about ways, not ends — how to best realize broadly shared principles, not whether they were the right principles in the first place.”
Since Donald Trump’s election there has been a great deal of uncertainty about what happens next. Most US presidents have either shared a similar understanding of politics and the presidency, or surrounded themselves with people who have that same mainstream perspective. Trump actually appears to be different. He has no experience with governance, he is mercurial, he has questioned the established pillars of US foreign policy and he has openly flirted with fringe/extremist political movements. While his cabinet is still a work in progress, many of the names being bandied around are from outside the mainstream. It therefore cannot be assumed that he will be a “regular” president, tamed by the office like so many erstwhile political mavericks before him.
This article provides a series of narrative sketches that provide possible scenarios for the future. Narrative sketches are not predictions. Rather they are ways to flesh out the way different political factors can come together to shape events. In the opinion of the authors, the key factors, or ‘drivers’ are the following:
“President Trump’s personality and leadership style, his economic policy focus, his social policy focus, his international trade policy focus, external political events and trends, domestic political events and trends, US social cohesion and unrest, and violent extremism. Yes, that’s more-or-less ‘everything’ but that’s what you might expect: the US is an important, highly-connected, country.”
based on variations in those drivers, they have arrived at the following 5 scenarios:
The focal point of each of these scenarios is of course, ‘The Donald’. But its not just about Trump’s personality. It is also about the world around Trump and how his administration reacts to it. How does the Republican establishment react to him? How does the US and global economy fair? What kind of opposition does he face outside of the Republican party? And, what kind of random events are going to pop up in the international area?
Again these are not predictions, but they are food for thought.
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.”