Category Archives: Middle East

Of Wars, Budget Deficits, Predatory College Loans: from Germany to USA and Saudi Arabia……

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The budget shows a deficit for all those countries listed below. With the exception of Germany, which had a healthy surplus.

Germany also has an extensive public healthcare system and a generous social safety net system. In addition, Germany has tuition-free education at universities and colleges. It does not saddle its younger generation with heavy education loans for the benefit of predatory banking corporations. Many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, also provide free university education. Germany also, unlike the USA and Saudi Arabia, is not engaged in major expensive stupid unwinnable foreign wars.

Spectator Index:
Govt budget balance as share of GDP, 2017.

Germany: +1.2%

Greece: -0.6%
Russia: -1.5%
Turkey: -1.5%
Australia: -1.5%
Canada: -1.6%
Italy: -2.3%
Indonesia: -2.8%
France: -2.9%
UK: -2.9%
India: -3.5%
US: -3.5%
China: -3.7%
Japan: -4.4%
Brazil: -8%
Saudi: -8.9%
Venezuela: -19%

 

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

New Trump Team: Tea Party Men, Chickenhawks, and a Cavalier Rah Rah Economist Ascendant…..

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Trump is going fully hard right now, on cruise control:


Tea Party war hawk Mike Pompeo nominated for top diplomat (oxymoronic). Tillerson was fired with a tweet yesterday as he was flying from Africa, as I mentioned here yesterday……..

Alleged supporter of Enhanced Interrogation/Rendition Gina Haspel to head the CIA……

Larry (Rah Rah Rah) Kudlow as chief Economic Adviser (but he can’t guarantee 4% GDP growth off CNBC programs)…….Here is how cavalierly Kudlow diagnosed the pre-crash economy of 2007: What’s more, the entire market in sub-prime debt is just 1.4 percent of the global equity markets. On any given day, a 1.4 percent drop in world stocks would erase the same amount of value as the collective markdown of all sub-prime-backed bonds to $0. It’s just not that big a deal……”

Possibly chickenhawk/Vietnam evader John Bolton for National Security chief….

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Benyamin Netanyahu as Trump co-nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize…..

Kim Jong Un for ambassador to Pyongyang…… ?
Thomas Friedman as ambassador to the Court of Saint Saud in Riyadh…..?

Anthony Scaramucci is making the cable TV rounds again, whatever that means for now…..

It is Stormy Days at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (pun intended)…….

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Arabian PR as History: Friedman Has Epiphany, Joins the Rewriting of History of Jihadism……..

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The history of our Middle East (and Gulf) region is being rewritten again these days. The genesis and sources of Jihadism and terrorism, even (Sunni) Salafist terrorism, are being rewritten by well-paid Western Public Relations firms, Arab lobbyists, and flattered American journalists with access to royal palaces.

I came across an example last week: a recent N Y Times piece by Thomas Friedman. He has become quite predictable, and also quite irrelevant, about the MENA region. He rarely writes or expresses anything original anymore about the Middle East. It has been years since we have read his dialogues with his various insightful Arab airport taxi drivers: Abdu (in Egypt), Abed (in Lebanon), Abul Abed (in Jordan/Palestine), etc. But he does have a large audience among certain liberal and non-liberal people of influence in the USA. 

He is now falling closely behind Donald Trump and echoes the anti-Iran rant he ratcheted across the Persian Gulf during the odd Riyadh Summit in May 2017. 
In his recent piece in the New York Times Friedman claims that all social and sectarian restrictions and proxy wars in the Middle East were a result of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the theocratic regime it created. He also directly ties the phenomenon of world wide (Sunni) Salafi Jihadi terrorism to that Revolution.

In fact the Iranian revolution and the emerging Shi’a theocracy did galvanize the rival Salafist Wahhabis, as did the early promises of the failed Baathist invasion of southwestern Iran. But he conveniently ignores the decades-long Wahhabi subversion of various Islamic communities with money and extremist ideology. A subversion that preceded the Iranian Revolution and its theocracy, and preceded the first Jihadist-Socialist war in Afghanistan by decades.

He claims that Saudi Arabia stopped having movie (cinema) theaters after 1979 (Prince Bin Salman must have told him that). I got news for Friedman: Saudi Arabia has never allowed movie theaters in its cities and towns in the Wahhabi era. That was a continued part of the power-sharing deal between the Al Saudi family and the Wahhabi clerics (Wahhabism opposed recreating images or films of people). In Iran movie theaters and the film industry continued to thrive even after 1979. In fact the films won several Oscars under the restrictive theocratic Islamic regime.

Saudi Arabia first tried to introduce TV in the early 1960’s. At that time riots broke out in the streets, blood was shed: long before the Iranian Revolution. Among the casualties was one dead senior prince of the royal family. That dead prince’s son took revenge in 1975, when he shot his uncle, King Faisal, dead. Also years before the Iranian Revolution.
Women were never allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, not ever, even before 1979, even as Iranian women were allowed to continue driving and riding under the Islamic regime in Iran. Including driving taxis and large trucks in some cases. Women still do not drive in Saudi Arabia, but they have been promised.

Friedman mentions the Afghan War after 1979. In fact the first Afghan War, pitting Afghan and Arab Jihadis mainly of the Wahhabi faith against the secular Socialists, was most influential in creating the situation we now face. Al Qaeda and Taliban and even ISIS were all the results of that Afghan war. In Afghanistan, Saudi money, Saudi Wahhabi ideology, and American weapons (under Reagan) created the worldwide Jihadi movement we now suffer. When all the Salafi/Wahabi went back home from Afghanistan and aimed at new targets at home and in the West. We might some day say the same about the foreign-instigated wars in Syria (and Iraq). In fact we are already seeing the consequences. 

Friedman of course is buying and propagating the current Saudi narrative about the roots of Arab Salafi/Wahhabi terrorism. Oddly, only a few years ago he was still blaming the Saudi system for the same phenomenon of terrorism. That Saudi Crown Prince must have been very convincing, or it could be just the easy and flattering access.

Then Friedman went sycophant -ic (access can do that to one): he called the Saudi inner-family struggle “Real Arab Spring”…..

Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum

New Western Dreamers of Syria: Build the Wall, Build the Assad Wall…….

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State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) commented on USAID Mark Green’s visit to Syria with US Central Command Chief General Votel. She tweeted:
@USAIDMarkGreen’s visit to #Syria with General Votel of @CENTCOM….

I guess Syria now also needs a #BuildTheWall movement…….
After the first illegal cross border entry by a gaggle of US senators (McCain, Graham, et al), some Syrians could have been marching in the streets of Damascus, chanting: Build the Wall, BuildTheWall………
They did not at the time because the term Build The Wall was still unknown, the idea confined to Israel and the Palestinian and Occupied Territories. And some parts in the USA.

Yet no country has needed to build a wall as much as Syria in the past six years. Illegal infiltrators, without so much as a visa request, or a tour guide, have been sneaking in through Jordan, Iraq, Israel and especially Turkey. Arabs, Africans, Europeans, Chechens, and others along, with their concubines, converted on Syria, seeking to liberate it for the joys of pious Sunni fundamentalism.
They originally formed the backbone of Al Qaeda (or Nusra) and the ISIS (DAESH) cutthroat entities. Then we had a gaggle of US senators sneak in without an invite or a visa request, no doubt accompanied by Jihadi coyotes in civilian garb. The liberators all in ignorant bliss that they were fraternizing with Jihadis. The senators were hailed by US media of all stripes as they posed with Jihadi terrorists dedicated to the liberation of Syria from its secular (if repressive one party) path.

Now we have US forces and commanders sneaking into Syria, also without visa formalities. And these gentlemen apparently need no coyotes to guide them. They have drones and satellites. They were supposed to leave the premise within hours, before the Al Assad ICE agents descended on them and sent them back to some Turkish or Jordanian Tijuana or Ciudad Juarez.

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserts that many more, many American troops, perhaps thousands, will remain illegally in Syria for years. Perhaps as unofficial sitting ducks among various warring local and foreign factions bearing down on several sides. Perhaps with the eventual goal of becoming a sort of Syrian Dreamers, mostly dreaming of the day they could come back home to the USA.

Ditto for Iraq since 2003.

Then there is Israel, which sends warplanes and missiles and almost certainly infiltrators into Syria to blow up whatever the Likud does not like the look of. Even Donald Trump, the man who does nothing that does not pay off in cold cash, tossed a missile or two into an abandoned Syrian military base last year.

Saudi Arabia’s nearly-demented foreign minister Adle Al Jubeir every week insists that regime change is the path for Syria (but not for his own democratically elected Kingdom of Free Speech).

It is a wonder the Syrians did not start clamoring to “Build The Wall” all around their country. After all, Kim Jong Un of North Korea has built a stout wall, if only mainly to keep his people inside the nuclear paradise.

This story will continue…..

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Middle East Wars: Asymmetric Military Spending, Asymmetric Military Competence…….

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“Military spending increase over past decade. (at 2015 prices)
UAE: +122%
Saudi Arabia: +20%
Israel: +18%
Turkey: +9.6%
Egypt: -5%
Iran: -7% “
Spectator Index

So, according to these figures up there: the smaller the citizen population of a country, the more military spending (and greater military power?). The larger the citizen population, the less military spending (and less military power)….

But would that also make tiny Qatar or the tiny satrapy of Bahrain into regional military superpowers? Could these two Gulf superpowers be arming up, preparing for the illusionary day when the Iranian invaders finally try to smash through the mighty American-British-French navies clogging my Gulf and sweep into the Arab side of the Persian-American Gulf?

Not accounting for clear regional anomalies like some gross modern Arab military incompetence and other inabilities of military and political leadership (Yemen War, for example) or the Israeli competence in waging asymmetric traditional warfare (asymmetric in terms of the quality and quantity of weapons available). Or the Iranian skill and efficiency at advising and supplying their Arab surrogates and allies in fighting their own wars against better-funded and better-supplied foes.

(Some years ago, back in the Persian Gulf region, we used to speculate about the news/rumors that all the huge weapons deals with foreign exporters paid exorbitant commissions (known as bribes in impolite company) to regional princes and potentates, or occasionally to their wives or their children. Much of these ‘speculations’ were of course based on facts, as we all know from the most infamous of them: the huge BAE Systems kickbacks/commissions of billions of dollars to former Saudi Ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar. Other regional countries have had their own less famous scandals.)

More on this…..

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Confusing Rex Tillerson: Iraqi Militias Must Leave Iraq, Assad Must Leave Syria, No Pasaran in Arabic…….

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Almost everybody has been after Bashar Al Assad to leave Syria since well before 2011. But the open calls for his departure came soon after the early uprising of the spring of 2011. That Syrian uprising was quickly bought and hijacked by the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood of the Arab World, mainly the Wahhabi money bags of a couple of the Persian Gulf states. Jihadis poured into Syria from Arab states and Europe, seeking plunder, free women, and Shi’as/Christians/Others to abuse and kill. Eventually the Jihadist international brigades of ISIS and Al Qaeda inherited most of what was left of the active Syrian opposition. Here are some of the calls:


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2009-2011): “Assad Must Go. His days are numbered“.
Secretary of State John Kerry (2012…): “Assad Must Go“.
Various Arab absolute Kings & their Ministers and their media: “Assad Must Go. Assad will go soon, Inshallah“.

Saudi Foreign Minister Al Jubeir, who made a career out of it, even regularly specified in an odd weekly rant: “Assad will go soon, if not peacefully then by force” (For a while I was almost convinced he knew something I did’t).
Barack Obama: “Look, fact is that: Assad Must Go“.
Francois Hollande: “Assad Doit Partir. He Must Go (2011-2016). 
David Cameron: “Assad Must Go
Turkey’s strongman Erdogan (once a major enabler of Jihadists in Syria until about 2016): “Assad Yok! Assad Must Go (2011-2015)

Many others, opinion-ators, pundits, journalists, American hawks, and European cafe men-about-town: “Assad has a few weeks left in Damascus. His top officers are defecting to the joys of Salafism and Wahhabism“.


Donald Trump: “Maybe Assad can Stay. Or maybe not. We must defeat ISIS“.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley: “Assad Must Go“.

Finally, this covering-all-bases doozy from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “Assad Must Go. Also as a bonus: Iraqi Militias that saved Baghdad from DAESH in 2014 and fought ISIS must leave Iraq. (But he didn’t specify go where? Definitely he doesn’t want them in Yemen)”

Assad must go” became the battle cry of the West and many Arab despots and leaders. Sort of like “No Pasaran” during the Spanish civil war. Except that it now looks like it was the Assad side that made sure the refrain of “No Pasaran” applied to the other side.

And the rest of the Middle East is all run by popular elected democratic men and clans and families and oligarchs and kleptocrats of the people.
And that is where it stands, but Assad is still with us, for now. Eventually he will go, but then so does everyone else, even Arab leaders, eventually……..

Inshallah….. God Willing…….

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Saudi Arabian Perestroika but No Glasnost: Ditching Wahhabism, the Aramco Dilemma…….

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“Saudi Arabia unveiled a $500bn plan on Tuesday to create a vast economic zone in the kingdom’s north-west, the most ambitious and expensive project in Riyadh’s efforts to diversify the oil-dependent economy. Details of the new city, called Neom, were released as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hosted some of the world’s most powerful investors and bankers at a conference designed to showcase his vision to modernise the conservative kingdom and lure investment to the country…….”

Interesting and unprecedented things may be about to happen in Saudi Arabia, if the ruling crown prince keeps all his promises. Possibly positive things. It will have reverberations across the Arab world.

Saudi Crown Prince MBS seems to be impressed by the example of the United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai. It will be a tough sell in the Wahhabi heartland of Najd in Central Arabia. To diversify the economy also means to diversify the society, and open it not only economically, but also culturally. That is the most closed of Middle East societies.

So far there are signs that the top Wahhabi establishment is falling in line, but that may change: the prince had to incarcerate several mid-level but prominent Wahhabi clerics before he started talking of his version of Perestroika (perhaps not so much Glasnost for now).

A few independent Arab media outlets have been hinting for months that the new Saudi order is impressed with the economic experience of the UAE. At the same time, the substantial Islamist (mainly Wahhabi) opposition in exile has been warning and complaining that the ruling Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in the UAE (an economically and culturally open Gulf state, definitely non-Wahhabi) has too much influence over the Saudi Crown Prince. There might be some truth in that, and it will create a dilemma for the Salafist movement from the Gulf to Egypt. Persian Gulf Salafis, who are practically Saudi proxies, have always been very critical of the openness of the UAE and its social and religious openness.


The domestic impact depends on success in keeping the population content, economically speaking. But times are hard, with oil revenues declining, and the weapons-selling pressures of Donald Trump are strong. Add to that the expensive and stalemated war in Yemen, and the new financial commitments to select remaining “friends” in Syria and Iraq.
So it may require disengagement in Yemen and reducing commitments in the Levant, as well as reducing the huge weapons deals with the Western powers. But then there is a catch in all that too: it might mean ceding the Northern Tier of the Arab world, the Levant/Fertile Crescent, to long-term Iranian influence. The Saudis already seem to have given up on Lebanon, where a Hezbollah-Christian coalition seems to have strengthened its hold on power.

Stopping the bleeding from Yemen will be a tough one: that country is the soft underbelly of the Arabian Peninsula, and a reasonable cause for worry. But war will not solve the Yemen problem, only some kind of political deal that is agreed upon by the Sanaa coalition and the Saudis. That still leaves the problem of Aden in secessionist-oriented Southern Arabia, now largely dominated by the UAE. And I haven’t even mentioned the expansion of AQAP and ISIS in Southern Yemen.

It would be quite interesting to see how the Wahhabi kingdom is transformed into a truly modern state (without the political opportunities of Glasnost).

(P.S: As for selling off the huge state oil company, ARAMCO, we can forget about that for now. My educated fatwa about ARAMCO? It will take much longer than two or three years or even five years to get it ready for privatization. IF it ever happens: I have seen similar films before in our Gulf region.)

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Which Saudi King will Visit Donald Trump? What about Sisi, the Big Magical Globe, and Male Exotic Dancers…….

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“Saudi Arabia’s king will visit Washington in early 2018, according to a White House readout on the monarch’s latest call with Donald Trump.The three-sentence statement did not elaborate on the substance of the US president’s conversation with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, other than to note the two leaders discussed “ways to continue advancing shared priorities, including enhancing security and prosperity in the Middle East”. However, it did state that the Saudi monarch had agreed to visit the White House “in early 2018″…….”

My very own global correspondent has added: Saudi King Salman will visit Trump early next year, if he is still king of Saudi Arabia. Otherwise the new king, so far slated to be his favorite son Mohammed Bin Salman (affectionately called MBS in the palace), will do the visit. The timing of the Washington pilgrimage/Hajj in that case will depend on if and when the new king replaces his father on the throne.
It almost like a race: whether the royal visit precedes or follows the new king taking the throne. Some Saudi exiles who claim to know are betting that King Salman will not be king for long: some give him weeks, others give him only a few days from now.

My global correspondent also is not certain if the Saudi King will try to create a certain magic of the Riyadh Summit last May. That would require that he bring along a certain magical white ball (globe), and perhaps Generalissimo Sisi of Egypt as well, as per this following photo and my appropriate comments at the time—>

 

No, not this one below, this was just an irreverent Scandinavian mockery of some serious global Arabian/American magic of the May summit—>

It is also not clear whether the king will ask for a complete recreation of the magic of the Riyadh Summit in May. Complete with the Guru Stephen Bannon, Herr Doctor Sebastian Gorka (PhD), the all-male Arabian exotic sword dancers, and the other more fetching accoutrements.


Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

The Lebanese Gorilla in the West Wing: Trump and Hariri and Hezbollah Meet in DC………

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Today President Donald Trump held a private meeting followed by a brief joint news conference with his visitor du jour Saad Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon.

It is impossible to discuss anything about Lebanon (except maybe the cuisine and fashion) without talking Hezbollah. During the news conference, Trump mentioned Lebanon’s main military and political party Hezbollah several times. He ominously hinted at new measures he will inflict on the Lebanese party in the next 24 hours. Hopefully that is something he has discussed with officials outside his West Wing cabal of delusional uninformed crazies and culture warriors.

At the news conference, Saad Hariri never mentioned Hezbollah, his major partner in the Lebanese government, and the major political and military player in Lebanon. Mr. Hariri battled politically with Hezbollah for several years, when he was firmly a leader of the March 14 movement, strongly allied to Saudi Arabia and financed by it. Hezbollah is a strong ally of Iran, which finances it, and has led the March 8 movement.

The reactions of the two men to questions about internal Lebanese (and Syrian) matters were in stark contrast. Trump, as usual, was belligerent about what he will do with Hezbollah. His Lebanese guest did not deal with his major partner in the current Lebanese government, not publicly in a foreign capital. (But what the two leaders discussed privately about the famous Iran-allied and dominant militia is another matter).
Tells you something about the realities on the ground in Lebanon. Realities inside Lebanon, not as understood by some in Washington, nor as told by outside Arab potentates…….

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Just Who Are the Terrorists? Playing the Field in the Middle East……..

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“Syria: Israel coordinated attack with Islamist militants, giving air support to Nusra assault on Quneitra…… The Syrian army claimed that the Israeli airstrikes coincided with an attack by Islamist militants on the same positions. The Syrian army said it seemed the two attacks were coordinated and that the attack by Israeli military helicopters supported the Nusra Front’s assault on a Quneitra suburb………”  Haaretz (a very lonely Israeli newspaper)

Middle East wars used to be simple clear-cut affairs (with one particular side persistently led by simpletons). Arabs against Israelis. Iraqis against Iranians. Americans against Iraqi Baathists. Saudis against Yemenis.
Now things have become confused and confusing: various parties and regimes and groups two-time or three-time each other. Everybody plays the field now.

Now we have Al Nusra, the local franchise of Al Qaeda reportedly getting some cover from Israeli forces (Arab media and pro-Syrian media have been noting that for months now). Yes, that same Al Qaeda, the one that attacked the USA and killed about 3,000 Americans, to start with (most of the perpetrators were Saudis terrorists). The same Wahhabis that perpetrated the Boston attack, San Bernardino, and Orlando, as well as Paris, Nice, London, Brussels. And the daily attacks in Iraq, Pakistan, and the bombings in Kuwait and Tehran. And more. The same Wahhabis whose clerics have often claimed that Jews are “descendants of apes and pigs“.

Mr. Trump, of course, has a different view of history. He stood in the capital of Wahhabism and pointed his greedy fat finger across the Persian Gulf and declared that the mullahs on Iran are responsible for terrorism in the world.

Like I said, anything is possible in the Middle East these days. Just look at the predicament of Qatar and the GCC.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum