Middle East

Frenemies

Last week’s U.S.-EU annual summit differed from its predecessors in ways that fuel the perception on the other side of the Atlantic that Barack Obama is just not that interested in Europe. First, there was the venue of the opening lunch: Blair House, the government’s official guest house, not the usual White House. Then, there was the luncheon’s host: Vice-President Joe Biden, not the president himself.

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Before Sunrise

When President Obama arrives in Tokyo on Friday, he will confront a country that seeks to be an ally of the United States. For Japan has never been an American ally. It was first a rival, then an enemy, and finally, after it lost the war it foolishly started with the U.S., it became a protectorate, not an ally.   The distinction matters. An alliance is an institution negotiated between two sovereign governments in which each agrees to a series of reciprocal obligations that have the force of law.

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In the few hours between landing after a swing through Pakistan, the Middle East, and North Africa and taking off again for Berlin, Singapore, Japan, and the Philippines, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found time on Friday to stop over in much friendlier territory: a subterranean banquet hall at Washington’s Reagan International Trade Center.

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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books.To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports. When John Wilkes Booth opened fire on President Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre in April 1865, the media was puzzled.

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Ben Smith notes that national security advisor Jim Jones, speaking at the J Street conference last week, called the Middle East conflict "the epicenter" of U.S. foreign policy problems around the world. It's worth noting that one of Obama's senior advisors on Jones' NSC, Iran point man Dennis Ross, completely disagrees with the notion of "linkage." Ross thinks it's more important to deal with Iran first. Which may be an illustration of why Obama's foreign policy in the region feels a little muddled.

Pipeline Politics

As the world tries to cut its carbon emissions in the next few decades, natural gas will become increasingly crucial as a stopgap fuel, since it produces less CO2 pollution than coal or oil. At least, that's what the EIA thinks will happen. And the geopolitical implications of this trend are interesting.

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The "strategic" debate over Afghanistan is a diversion that serves chiefly to distract attention from the condition of strategic bankruptcy that President Obama inherited. The issues in Afghanistan do not qualify as strategic. They barely rise to the level of operational. To the extent that the war in Afghanistan can claim to have any purpose, that purpose derives from its relationship to the larger struggle variously called the global war on terror or World War IV or the Long War. To the extent that it ever made sense for U.S.

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Now, everybody who reads me knows that I am not a big supporter of administration policy on the Middle East. But, then, I am not a big supporter of its foreign policy almost anywhere. No, let me correct that. Not "almost anywhere." But "anywhere." That said, I don't believe that President Obama is trying to weaken the United States or its allies.

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Ours is an age when the moral authority of accusers is at its height. Also the moral authority of accusations. There was a time when accusations had to be proven. That requirement has long since passed. After all, why would anyone bear false witness? So everybody is a witness, especially those with phantasmagoric tales to tell, especially those who yearn to testify against liberal societies which have established and proven processes to alert their own demos about evil. There are many of these foul witnesses: some ideologues, some ideological liars, some resentful, some haters.

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To follow up on my item on Human Rights Watch, I slightly mischarcaterized HRW's reply. The organization didn't say that the vast majority of its reports were on othe countries, it said that about the vast majority of its Middle East/North Africa reports. That certainly narrows it down. But it still doesn't respond to the complaint, which is that the attention to Israel is disproportionate.

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