Trump Redux? Can Biden and Europe Push Iran Toward the North Korean Nuclear Model?

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Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal claimed “confidential” IAEA report says that Iran has started producing Uranium metal. The material can be used to form the core of nuclear weapons. Report said that Iran claimed it is producing it for research purposes…

Two days earlier, Ali Khamenei drew what seemed like a line in the sand. “Americans and Europeans have no right to set any conditions as they violated their JCPOA commitments” Iran’s Leader said the country will only retrace its nuclear countermeasures once the United States lifts its sanctions.

Before that, many reports that Biden is being advised to unilaterally remove “some” financial sanctions on Iran. Possibly indirect ones through European allies. Then what? Will the Ayatollah bite? His statements seem to indicate that he will not. And if they refused an old Trump offer, as Zarif says, why should they accept a new Trump offer?

So, some Iranian officials think Biden is being tempted by his advisers to take advantage of the effects (meaning successes?) of the Trump pressures. Effectively continuing the failed policy of “Maximum Pressure”, as he waits for the Iranians to buckle. They don’t seem ready to buckle yet. So how is this different from the Trump approach? Which is a punishment by starvation approach that was encouraged by three of Trump’s despotic Persian Gulf pals.

So, we may have the usual schoolyard standoff: Who hit or cussed the other first? Which one preceded (that one is obvious)?

Israeli PM Netanyahu has been predicting since the 1990s that Iran is a few weeks away from making a nuclear bomb. He hasn’t been saying so lately, which in itself is an ominous silence. Some European signatories, who have spent four years urging Trump to go back to the nuclear deal, now prefer pushing Biden to adopt Trump’s policy. Predictably, the Trump policy as urged on my some Arab potentates and Netanyahu has brought Iran closer to a bomb capability than ever before. If the Iranians see that the Western powers are united in reneging on the JCPOA, they will likely have two options:

(1) buckle down to the same pressures that Trump applied, or (2) be tempted to go for the next viable alternative. The fear now is, or should be, that Biden is pushing them toward an alternative. The Iranians, if the hardliners win the presidency next summer, may contemplate the extremist and dangerous North Korean path. The latter may be used as a casus belli, pushing Biden (and the Israelis) to war. So, back to a more destructive war than the regional wars that everybody claims they want to avoid. 

That would be terrible for the Persian Gulf region and the wider Middle East region.

 

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Netanyahu and Biden and the Symbiotic Relationship…..

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The media, in the US and Israel, and in the Middle East have been speculating about the cold ties between Joe Biden and Israeli PM Netanyahu. Speculation about when Joe will call Bibi. The Israeli PM is known for famously and deliberately disrespecting Democratic American officials, even before Trump. From Obama to Hillary Clinton to John Kerry. He delayed his traditional congratulatory message to Biden longer than any other world leader, then accompanied it with a message praising Donald Trump. Unusual. He knew that would not affect the overall Israeli stand in the USA. And he is right.

Fact is, Israeli-American ties have deepened over the decades, and on the American side they transcend party affiliation. It is different for the ruling Likud. It has deep symbiotic ties with the US Republican Party, rooted in a shared right-wing ideology and boosted by the American Evangelicals concentrated in the deeply Red States. To some extent one Party is is almost an extension, a branch of the other. Bibi Netanyahu is probably more influential in the GOP than any Bush ever was or can be. A friend of a friend of a friend once told me that “Bibi may be able to win a Republican primary against almost any GOP candidate whose name is not Trump“. Maybe he didn’t really believe that. Maybe.

So, this cooling of the relationship is just a partisan thing. Netanyahu can still be PM four years from now. He will no doubt root for the Republican candidate, whoever he is.

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Jesus Comes to America: On Christmas, MAGA Economics and COVID…..

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MAGA Economics: Rich people elected mainly by poor people taking money from the poor and giving it to the very rich, in the hope of somehow making the poor richer

I once responded to a poll posted on social media about whether Jesus would be allowed into America. That was abut three years ago. Here is my modified updated version the unusual year of 2017, edited now for even the more/most unusual year of 2020:

  • He, Jesus (Essa) Son of Maryam Bint Amran, as we call him, wants to come to America. He has heard that this new land is the last bastion of his true followers, those who truly adhere to his sect of Judaism, now renamed. He knows they call themselves Christians. He wants to visit his true believers, many of whom distinguish themselves from others with the added name Evangelicals.
  • He, Jesus Christ, would probably not get a visa, might even be put on a designated list by a potentate called Pompeo. Even if he did, he won’t be allowed on a connecting flight from Europe (back in the Middle East there are many who have the same appearance as he does). Eventually, he might be put on a no-fly list.
  • If not, or if he manages to sneak through the controls, some other passenger (almost certainly one of those Christians) would complain that he feels uncomfortable with someone dressed in a robe, a hairy man mumbling in some strange language, on the same airplane. So, Jesus would likely be bounced off the flight anyway (maybe he’ll be handed a check for $200 as compensation).
  • Let’s assume that he manages to make it after all, perhaps walking across from Mexico or Canada. He will not be allowed into some churches because his attire (robe & sandals) is deemed un-Christian. The first Mega-Buck Church would throw him out because he does not fit in, does not have the image of a member.
  • Besides, he wouldn’t know what a church is. Most likely, Jesus would look for a synagogue upon arrival. Lucky for him, like I did in my teens, he’d most likely land in New York City.
  • He wouldn’t be any more welcome in a New York synagogue than in a church. Memories of the Diaspora and pogroms and massacres and the Holocaust perpetrated by his alleged later followers do not fade easily. Besides he has no money to pay the high New York fees.
  • He, as Son of Maryam and fruit of Immaculate Conception, might be allowed into a mosque (fees are never needed there), but with the hope of converting him to the teachings of the Arabian  shepherd who appeared after him. But that probably wouldn’t last long.
  • He would also wonder about this blue-eyed blond namesake of his, whose alleged birthday is celebrated by corporate America so eagerly every year. From September to January of each year. And he would wonder what he has to do with a fat jolly Germanic man who likes to wear red and white tights and to jingle his bells. 
  • Once enlightened he would wonder what do Amazon and Apple and Macy’s and NASDAQ have to do with him. Also wonders why they say his birthday will spread the new plague called COVID. Kill more people. Then there is the battle being waged by two rivals for governorship, like the old battles he had heard about between Octavian and Marcus Antonius. 
  • Most of all, he is intrigued about this new noisy Roman governor of America who never stops speaking loudly, is suspected of keeping for himself and his family what belongs to Caesar. This orange governor is pushing a vague new creed that he calls MAGA. Most of his followers don’t realize or ignore the fact that the main tenet of the creed is called the Power of Trickle Down, described by others as: Rich people elected mainly by poor people taking money from the poor and giving it to the very rich, in the hope of somehow making the poor richer“. Makes sense?

Cheers & Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year..
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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Iraqi Politics: PMU Factions Splitting into More Factions?

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THERE are reports from Iraq about PMU (Popular Mobilization Units). These reports claim that the PMU (militias somewhat affiliated with the Iraqi security) may be experiencing serious ideological and personal disagreements among its factions and there is the possibility of a split. It is a mix of ideological differences and rivalry for power. The units were formed after a call by Ayatollah al Sistani in 2014 immediately following the fall of Mosul to ISIS. The goal was to protect Baghdad and the area that remained outside ISIS. After the defeat of the Caliphate, the PMU remained well-armed and active, even after the Iraqi Army managed to recover and restructure.

THEY note that one faction of the PMU follows the highest Shi’a theologian in the world, Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, who has always opposed the idea of an Iranian style theocracy led by a Supreme Leader. Another faction is closer to an Iranian view. The reports claim that the former faction prefers to focus on internal Iraqi affairs, while the latter has a broader scope for its focus.

HISTORICALLY, Iraqi political groups and parties have always been riven with disputes and infighting between factions, based on divergent ideas and/or individual rivalry. They have often split along these lines. Even the Baath Party, which ruled Iraq with an iron fist for decades experienced such factionalism, several times. The Baath underwent several purges, each one bloodier than the preceding ones. This intense political rivalry also occurred early after 2003, when the mostly Shi’a opposition groups felt safe enough to come above ground and come home from exile.

So, if true, there is nothing new there in terms of usual Iraqi politics. But the implications for the American presence and the depth of Iranian ties can be important.

Cheers

M Haider Ghuloum

Trump in Exile: Dragging the GOP, Cheap Parody of a Bonapartist Mirage…..

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Donald Trump will stop being President of the United States at noon on January 20th. There are rumors and speculation bout what he may do after that:

That he is so delusional he will refuse to leave the White House. It is far-fetched and he risks suffering the indignity of President Biden ordering the Secret Service to physically eject him and his family.

He can play the role of a wronged ‘legitimate’ leader, form a shadow regime in exile. His exile will most likely be in Florida (unless he opts for Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, or the Golan Heights). The Republican Party, which is now just like any other Trump Tower, wholly owned by him, will continue its amazing trajectory of intensifying sycophancy.

From his exile, he can keep the flames of ‘resistance going. I know, it sounds funny to talk about a GOP “Resistance” movement. The GOP is violently against any or all “Resistance” movements, especially in the Middle East.

In addition, he can start a media empire, as rumored now, to inundate the web, cable services and airwaves with his Manifestos. He can be like Lenin in Zurich, agitating and plotting for a revolution, either now or four years later.

If Trump knows European history, which he does not, he will compare himself to Napoleon Bonaparte in exile. At least privately, he will go Walter Mitty. He will think he is in Elba, thinking of Marshal Ney awaiting his return. Of course, Elba lead to Waterloo and eventually to Saint Helena.

Trump probably cannot conceive that he will leave next January not to Elba, but directly to Saint Helena.

(This is not a comparison, otherwise it would be a comedy, a joke. Trump has a primitive mind, perhaps street smart and cunning, but he has no sense of history. It would be hilarious to imagine him leading a Grande Armée, nor is he a creative intelligent leader. He has his mouth, a feral instinct, and a captivated GOP that is terrified of said mouth. So, I am funning you here).

And on this note,

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Disarming Militias: from Iraq to Lebanon to the USA….

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FOR years, at least since 2003, United States officials, lawmakers, think tanks and media in general have been pushing the narrative that militias are destabilizing “other” countries, especially the Middle East. They have argued that only official armed forces and law enforcement should be armed, that parallel forces pose a danger to stability, and to regional peace. All this is true, apparently in most but not all cases.

THE focus has been on hostile unfriendly militias, like Iraqi Shi’a groups with ties to Iran, and Lebanese Hezbollah, which is better armed and motivated than the Lebanese army. In some countries, again especially in Iraq and Lebanon, the line between “the state” and the militias is actually blurred. In Iraq the militias are nominally aligned with the state military. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is allied to Iran but it is part of the Lebanese government, actually its strongest component. Actually close to a “king-maker”.

WHICH brings us to the USA. There probably are as many heavily-armed militia groups here as in any unstable Middle East country. Perhaps smaller units, but more of them. These American militias can and do march fully armed in the streets, intimidating the opposition.

IN the past four years these militias have enjoyed the blessing, often open support, of the ruling Republican regime. During the last (current) election cycle, they have been very active, threatening the safety of state-level officials who oppose President Trump’s policy (or lack of policy) toward the COVID pandemic. Michigan, for example. Some have hinted at disrupting the political process if their candidate, Donald Trump, loses the election. Mr. Trump himself has encouraged these groups to “stand back and stand by”, implying a threat if he loses.

NOW the outgoing president is pretending that he won, that he is now thwarted by plots. He is supported by right wing outlets like Fox News, shady quasi-Fascist organizations like Breitbart and shady web conspiracy disseminators like QAnon. And much of his captive party. The militias are preparing for a march on Washington, encouraged by Trump and his sons. Fully armed of course. Most Republicans in Washington, still terrified of their now-powerless president, are silent for now. All this sounds like Middle Eastern, African, and banana republic politics. It is.

SO, it is a small world after all, and not as diverse in its politics as we like to think and claim.

Cheers

M.H. Ghuloum

American Elections: The Middle East Awaits the Verdict…

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With the American elections closing in, the Middle East, not just the political classes of it, are holding their breath. The stakes for almost all countries of the region are enormous.

On the Persian Gulf, the most anxious are several of the ruling oligarchies, especially in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. These ruling families were for Trump as early as 2016. At least one of these regimes has had ties with people who have been associates of Donald Trump. While Trump’s claim that he would extricate the US from Middle East wars disappointed them, his strong promise to renege on the UN-sponsored Iran Nuclear Deal resonated with them. There was hope among the leaders and the palace elites that the promise meant Trump will wage another war in the Persian Gulf on their behalf.

They clearly overestimated his appetite for a new war in the region. He wanted their oil money, but he did not want to fight for them.

After the 2016 election they invested heavily in the Trump presidency. The Arab regimes promised Trump what they knew he, as a businessman of questionable acumen, could not resist. The media (all controlled) received orders to heap praise on him. Huge armies of social media accounts (called Electronic flies in the region) were dedicated to the praise of the new president, in both Arabic and English. English hashtags were circulated which indicated strong regime support for Trump. Hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons purchases were promised, with photos of Trump looking like a traveling salesman showing weapons on sale to the embarrassed Prince MBS.


When Trump and his clan made their first visit to Riyadh and he waged a war of words against Iran across the Gulf, the princes thought he was on the right track. They though war was coming, that Trump will hand them the keys to the Persian Gulf.

The Iranians have managed to withstand (somehow) Mike Pompeo’s economic war of “Maximum Pressure” that was supposed to bring them to their knees. They shifted gear to a long-term game of chess strategy that neither Pompeo nor Trump have understood. Waiting out their first term in office and expecting the return to sanity and normalcy to Washington in January 2021.

The Israelis, and not the just the Likud rulers, have strongly supported Trump for obvious reasons. He gave them all that they wanted. Even when Biden wins, Israel has nothing to fear. The Nuclear Deal will return, but many Israeli intelligence and military officials already realize that it was not as bad a deal as “some” of their political leaders claimed as they manipulated American political opinion. Besides, US-Israeli ties transcend partisan politics.

If the elections turn out as I believe they will, there will be sounds of dirges on one side of the Persian Gulf. Iranians, now set to elect a hardline president next year (thanks to Trump’s undeclared economic war), will be glad but not overly impressed. They have seen this film before.

Cheers

M. h. Ghuloum

Saudi Arabia’s Latest Palace Purge: a Widening Radius, a Shrinking Radius….

Saudi Arabia had its first palace political upheaval about a decade after the death of its founder King Ibn Saud. That was when a group of influential princes staged a palace coup against their brother (or half-brother) King Saud Bin Abdulaziz. Crown Prince Faisal al Saud was a major drive behind the coup, which forced Saud to abdicate in favor of Faisal. After that there were no serious palace upheavals, not that we know about anyway. There was an incident in the late 1950’s when a group of rebellious princes (The Free Princes) sided with Nasser of Egypt and flew to Cairo in exile. One of them was Prince Talal Bin Abdulaziz, brother of the king and father of Prince Al Waleed. Another unrelated incident was when king Faisal was assassinated by one of his nephews in 1975.

Palace intrigue resumed openly and in full force after King Salman took over in 2015. There was a protracted turmoil as the king positioned his son MBS to gain absolute power over the country. That turmoil did not end when Mohammed took over absolute power, he felt insecure with too many important princes in prominent positions. So he went about cutting them down to size with purges.

The last ‘known’ major purge was in the fall of 2017, when a large number of businessmen, officials, and princes (including the once high-flying Prince Al Waleed) were incarcerated in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton for weeks and months. Many were shaken down for a share of their wealth, which they gladly gave up in exchange for restricted freedom and only within the kingdom. There have been other smaller purges since then, but nothing involving the most prominent princes who were so close to ascending the Saudi throne. These princes were politically emasculated, apparently.

Then, yesterday’s shock. Some of the most senior princes, in fact the highest princes in the kingdom were arrested yesterday. No charges announced yet, almost certainly none will be. Senior prince Ahamd Bin Abdulaziz is an elderly son of Ibn Saud, the founder of the kingdom. He was often mentioned as a possible heir during the past decade. But the main catch of this new purge is Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef (MBN), the former crown prince who was deposed after King Salman picked his own son (MBS). The third mentioned captive is a brother of MBN, a former deputy minister. Of course in such a system, a prince is never alone: he has many aides, sycophants, minions, and allies. So we can assume that many others have been arrested as well with these three prominent princes. Some of these other important detainees will also be princes. So, the circle, the radius of the purge, widens by nature, and covers more people over time, both royals and hapless non-royals. Meanwhile, the circle of princes and potentates left untouched by the purges shrinks.

Saudi Arabia was not historically known as an unstable country that experienced domestic political shock. Not in the royal palaces anyway. Not that any outsiders would notice. It may return to its past normal form after one person consolidates his secure power to such an extent that there will be no need to fear new upheavals. Maybe no more purges, but I doubt it. This is not his grandfather’s world anymore, nor is it his grandfather’s kingdom anymore.
Cheers
M H Ghuloum

Oil Saga on the High Seas: Is Trump Seeking to Recruit Pirates?

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“US offers cash to tanker captains in bid to seize Iranian ships. Washington mixes bait and threats as ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Tehran becomes unorthodox ….” Financial Times

Iran‘s foreign Minister (M. Javad Zarif) tweeted to day:

Having failed at piracy, the US resorts to outright blackmail—deliver us Iran’s oil and receive several million dollars or be sanctioned yourself. Sounds very similar to the Oval Office invitation I received a few weeks back. It is becoming a pattern…..”.

Trump and his administration have resorted to unprecedented, Somali-Pirate style near thuggish measures to strangle the Iranian economy. Something Trump no doubt learned in his shady New York real estate business. First they urged Britain to illegally seize and hold an Iranian oil tanker at Gibraltar then asked them to hand the tanker over to the US government. The Iranians quickly seized a British tanker near the Persian Gulf as a bargaining chip. That forced the British to do the right thing and release the Iranian tanker.

This kind of practice by Trump, forcing or bribing third countries to commit piracy by expropriating an oil tanker and/or its contents, has not been done before by any regime. Even other rogue regimes. Only time will tell how low they will go in trying to strangle the Iranian economy by blackmailing third countries.

Cheers

M. Haider Ghuloum

Middle East Illusions: Gauleiter Kushner’s Futile Thrilla in Manama…..

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Here is what I opined on the social media this week on the Bahrain Economic meeting chaired by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law and his Gauleiter for the Middle East:

But Kushner is one-dimensional, does not understand history, emotion, attachment, faith, passion. He only understands what he & his in-laws grew up with: MONEY. Like his Arab royal oil bribers who think they can buy history & geography (and even a war or two).

Shameless Arab rulers betrayed Ottoman Turkey and slept with the British (WWI). The British and French, in turn, betrayed the Arabs by creating new states under their own control.

Now several Arab ruling families on the Persian Gulf are betraying their Iranian neighbors by encouraging Tramp; bribing the West to wage war; starve the Iranian people. In Bahrain, they are trying to set the final betrayal of the Palestinians.

Attendance for conference in Bahrain anointing Jared Kushner as Trump’s Gauleiter of the Middle East is very low, almost all flunkies of ministers of needy statelets. Some Arab states boycotting. The biggest MENA Muslim powers Iran and Turkey, not there.

Nobody in the Middle East wants to be bossed around publicly by this son in law of Trump, Jared Kushner, except maybe the little sheikh (now king) of Bahrain …

As I said earlier: Kushner does not understand history, emotion, attachment, faith, passion. He only understands what he and his in-laws grew up with: MONEY. Just like his Arab royal oil allies who think they can buy history & geography (and even a war or two).

This Bahrain meeting is just another stab at doing something by a group that controls Washington now. A group that confuses Arab oil money with popular will. At least they get some photo-ops out of it, something to serve the illusion of Trump, Pompeo, and their Persian Gulf sidekicks.
The latter know better, but they are hoping the current American administration does not.

Kushner of Arabia addressing guests among the hopeful, the bribed, the intimidated Arab third-tier bureaucrats in Sheikhdom of Bahrain. Promising land to Israelis, and for the Palestinians? Jobs building settlements.
For the Persian Gulf ruling oligarchies? No more Arab Spring.


Earlier, soon after returning from Canada, I had tweeted this:

Breaking! Bolton at large..
Crazy uncle busts out from locked basement…
Armed and dangerous …
Last seen heading towards the Persian Gulf …
Claims he dreamed of a threat to the homeland from 9000 miles away…


Cheers

M. H. Ghuloum

Multidisciplinary: Middle East, North Africa, Gulf, GCC, World, Cosmos…..