Category Archives: U.S. Foreign Policy

UAE-Saudi Game of Bases: from South Arabia to Horn of Africa with Temporary Love and Money….

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“Somali President Mohammed Mohammed Abdullahi Farmajo request for mediation Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to persuade not to complete the establishment of a military base in “Somaliland”……..”

“Somaliland signs agreement allowing the United Arab Emirates to set up a military base in Berbera with a 25-year lease…”

An interesting and unexpected development in the Middle East in recent months. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is getting deeply into the business of foreign military bases. In one sense it has been in it for many years now. From early on, the UAE has had military bases on its territory for various counties: the United States, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, as well as Canada (canceled after a commercial dispute). All the while vigorously criticizing foreign (non-Western) bases in Iraq and Syria. Not bad for a country of a little more than 1 million citizens (plus about 6 million foreign residents).

Now the UAE, ostensibly a part-time and wary ally of Saudi Arabia, is getting into the dubious business of establishing foreign bases of its own. Basically the UAE are (for now) the strongest foreign power in the Aden area of South Yemen, having easily outsmarted and elbowed out the Saudi Wahhabis. The Saudis are closer allies to the deposed president Hadi and his corrupt old partners in misruling Yemen (the Islah, the local Muslim Brotherhood). The UAE rulers hate nothing more than the Muslim Brotherhood.

The main Saudi problem in Yemen is that they share a long border with that country. They occasionally get tempted to test these borders. Hence their fear of any perceived foreign (non-Western) influence over Yemen, be it real or imagined. The war they have been waging on Yemen for more than two years often comes back to haunt them in the form of Yemeni retaliatory attacks on their border towns and cities. As well as Yemeni rockets, reportedly local versions of Iranian and maybe Russian missiles.The rockets are a new introduction into the war, and the Yemenis in the capital Sanaa have promised more and more potent ones to come if the Saudis do not desist.

So the Saudis are stuck in a destructive but futile genocidal bombing campaign (with strong and indispensable American and British help), as well as a worrying border war. They are cornered, while the Emiratis expand their influence in South Yemen and now in the Horn of Africa. The Emiratis can better afford it than the Saudis who need to support and subsidize about 16 million citizens (there are also about 10 million foreign residents, a few million of them reportedly illegal).

To the Horn of Africa. That area seems like a favorite place for many powers to establish military bases in recent years. The Russians (Soviets) had a large base at Berbera for years under the Marxist Siad Barre military regime of Somalia. Eritrea and Djibouti have both had bases or presences of the French, Israelis, Iranians and others (including the famous pirates). Natural for an impoverished region. Now the UAE is establishing bases in Somaliland, formerly part of Somalia, which apparently still considers it part of its sphere. To the extent that Somalia can have a sphere. There have been earlier reports of a UAE base in Eritrea as well. There have been reports of a potential UAE presence in Libya as well, but that would be a foolish undertaking.

It is not clear what is the purpose of all these foreign bases and presences by a small country like the UAE. Only Oman among GCC states has had an extensive foreign presence until the 19th century, mainly in East Africa (including Zanzibar).

Oddly the Saudis don’t seem interested in foreign bases, except in Bahrain. But that is a historic cultural thing: Saudis, especially the elite Najdis of Central Arabia, were historically a landlubber people never known as sea-going people, unlike others like the Emirates (or Oman and Kuwait).

There is more. The UAE often splits from the Saudis on Yemen. The two alleged allies support different outlooks for Yemen, but the UAE can afford it financially although they have limited human resources and need local groups as allies. Hence the Hirak Movement which wants South Yemen (capital Aden) to regain the independence it lost in 1990.

My educated guess is that the UAE has the upper hand over the Saudis in that southern part of Yemen. But they need to reckon with three groups that have been strengthened by the destructive Saudi-led air war on Northern Yemen: the Southern Secessionists, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Islamic State (ISIS). These three groups have gained strength as the Saudis bombed their main enemies in Yemen, the Houthis.

In any case, in the end neither of these Arab allies can last in Yemen. It is already bleeding them, and will kill off many of their soldiers before they realize they have to leave. And they will leave: it has been the story of Yemen since the days of the ancient Persian and Roman empires. The rugged tribal country wears them down, and the aspiring conquerors are forced to give up and leave. A hostile foreign power cannot control Yemen, it has been the case since the days of the rule of Balqis, the Queen of Sheba.

More on this later, stay tuned.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Iran’s Khamenei Does a Trump: MAGA becomes MIGA……

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“Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei fleshed out his vision of a “Made in Iran” economy Tuesday, calling for a ban on certain imports and an end to the $15-billion smuggling trade. The annual speech on the first day of the Persian year serves as a sort of Iranian equivalent to the US State of the Union address, and Khamenei used it to provide more details about his calls for a self-sufficient “resistance economy” that has been his main theme in recent months. “The importing of products where an Iranian equivalent exists should be considered religiously and legally haram (forbidden),” he told a huge crowd in the holy city of Mashhad. He took aim at Iran’s rampant black market in smuggled goods, which he said was worth at least $15 billion annually. “Some speak of $20-25 billion,” he said. “We want greatness for our country, social well-being and security at the national level. Without a strong economy we cannot achieve all that…..”

Ayatollah Khamenei sounds almost like a Trumpista, but only in the economics of trade sense. I am exaggerating a bit: clearly Khamenei does not believe in a trickle-down economy, now set to become a gushing-up economy under Trump. He does not have a gaggle of billionaires around him defining his own “populist” comfort zone in Tehran. He mostly favors fellow mullahs.

Not as bad as many other Middle East leaders these days. Some groveling Arab leaders are the worst offenders, effectively throwing their fellow Muslims under the bus to please Trump. Before the November elections they expected a resounding Hillary Clinton victory. Their Wahhabi-Liberal mouthpieces in the press and social media obediently excoriated Trump. But that was then.

Soon after Mr. Trump issued his first unconstitutional Executive Order banning many Muslims from travel to the USA, surprisingly including legal residents, some Arab kings and princes reacted positively. Particularly Saudi and UAE rulers, who have certain demands of Mr. Trump for their own regional agendas, quickly praised his move. Even as many Americans and the US courts stood against it. Their hasty positive reaction was uncalled for, it was voluntary, did not even wait for the US court decisions, which turned out as I had expected.

Khamenei is also applying some pressure on President Rouhani in his election year, distancing himself from an economy that has not done as well. Some Iranian officials have recently expressed disappointment that the Nuclear Deal has not helped the economy as much as they had expected.

But the Iranians have become good at managing under forced self-sufficiency. The long decades of mostly-American sanctions have forced them to produce many of the tools, equipment, and weapons they have needed. An unintended positive by-product of the economic siege. Even with the reduction and lifting of sanctions, their country will continue to produce many of the goods it has been forced to make under the economic siege.
So, maybe its is the other way around: maybe Mr. Trump’s “Made in America” message is an imitation of the forced “Made in Iran” policy on the other side of the world. Ali Khamenei has not uttered the term “Make Iran Great Again” (MIGA), but his occasional exhortations and policy statements sound similar to “Make America Great Again” (MAGA). Without the goofy red Trump hat.

More on this later, stay tuned.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

America and the Saudis: Current ‘Operations’ in Yemen and Syria to Become the Next Endless War………

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“Yemen is a war inside a war inside another war, right next to & overlapping several other wars”  Me

“The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQ) is stronger than it has ever been. As the country’s civil war has escalated and become regionalised, its local franchise, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy. Reversing this trend requires ending the conflict that set it in motion. This means securing an overarching political settlement that has buy-in from the country’s diverse constituencies, including Sunni Islamists. As this will take time, steps must be taken now to contain AQAP’s growth……..” Crisis Group

“The attack (in Aden) struck troops loyal to the airport’s chief of security, who had refused to accept a government order that he be replaced. The incident was yet another sign of the inability of Yemen’s internationally recognized government to enforce order. But it was the first time its allies, the coalition of mostly Gulf Arab states, had intervened militarily in power struggles within the Yemeni armed forces. The Saudi-led coalition has launched thousands of air strikes against the government’s foes, the Iran-allied Houthis, in a campaign to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power. It helped wrest Aden from the Houthis, who control the capital, Sanaa, in the summer of 2015……….” Reuters

During his first week on the job White House spokesman Sean Spicer claimed that Iranian forces had fired missile at the US Navy from Yemen on the Red Sea. An un-truth, since there are no Iranian forces in Yemen: the only foreign forces in Yemen are with the Saudi coalition. Actually the Yemeni Houthis who control the capital and North Yemen had fired a missile (or was it a Yemeni drone that fired) at a Saudi warship that had been shelling their coastal towns. The Saudis claimed it was a suicide attack against one of their ‘peaceful warships’ (you don’t need to read Orwell to speak Orwellian).

This week, on Monday, President Trump had a lunch meeting with the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. He is the king’s son and widely expected future king, if his dad can swing it before he dies. He is also the minister of defense and architecture of the War on Yemen, a quagmire which just entered its third year. The Yemen war has enabled AQAP to expand in spite of American drone attacks. The war also introduced Islamic State (Daesh/ISIS) into Southern Arabia.

It is likely the Prince may have talked Trump into a more vigorous America role in the Saudi war on Yemen. Perhaps a more direct US role, this time not against the Jihadis, but against the coalition ruling most of Yemen. Which would be an act of desperation, since the Saudis have some of the best and most lethal American and British weapons and could not defeat the lightly armed Houthis and their allies ruling Sanaa. It would be just another never-ending Muslim war. Another twilight war.

The announcement indicated the Saudis will invest $ 200 billion in the United States (presumably new money). The prince also is quoted as having said that he supports the Muslim Travel Ban and that “Trump is a true friend of Muslims“. Such shameless groveling may indicate they got something from Trump: perhaps a promise to inch closer to the Mother of All Muslim Wars, a war of choice against Iran. That should be a doozy: it will certainly last through Trump’s tenure and will define his so-far unpromising legacy. The Prince may have gotten promises related to Syria, particularly Eastern Syria, or Iraq or Lebanon: risky promises the inexperienced Trump could have made in the absence of his secretaries of State and Defense.

As for Yemen, it is not “a” war, it  is a complex set of parallel and intersecting wars. I once called it “a war inside a war inside another war, right next to & overlapping several other wars”. Now even the Saudi proxies (mostly Islah Muslim Brotherhood and allies) and the UAE proxies are fighting each other. You get into Yemen, you get involved in all these wars and sub-wars. You can’t pick and choose in such a battlefield.

And you get stuck, losing soldiers and money, a lot of money, just like the Saudis have for more than two years, so far. Like Afghanistan all over again, only a fiercer war.

Back to the promise of $200 billion Saudi investments. I am not sure they can afford this when they are cutting back on their domestic spending. Maybe by moving funds from their sovereign fund that SAMA manages. And can you imagine Donald Trump touting it in, say Tennessee or Alabama, bragging to his Muslim-challenged ‘base’ they he’s gotten Muslims (and Wahhabis at that) to pay out hundreds of billions?

Interesting times coming soon to a war theater far away from you.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Offshore Rex vs the Contractors: Trump and the Privatization of American Foreign Policy…….

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There has been some recent speculation, mostly by me, about the whereabouts of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. I noted weeks ago that he has vanished after his swearing-in. I tweeted that he seems to have gone AWOL, joined Waldo in his undisclosed location.
Then there have been media reports that Donald Trump is gutting the State Department’s budget, shifting the savings to other departments, mainly Defense (prices of military-grade toilets must have skyrocketed since his election) and Homeland Security. It looks like Mr. Trump is getting ready to “go to the mattress”, in old Mafia parlance. Waging internal, external, as well as border wars.

Now my private barely credible source reports of rumors that the Trump Administration plans to keep Secretary of State Rex Tillerson out of sight. Making him an ‘offshore’ foreign-based cabinet member, perpetually traveling outside the country. Some mythical character like Ulysses or a ghost aboard the Flying Dutchman. He will discharge his shrinking duties from the various US embassies around the world.

Eventually, the whole State Department will be privatized, its policy functions taken over by the White House staff, its field duties contracted out to the private sector. Ambassadorial appointments and posts will no longer be based on experience or merit, not even on Party loyalty and donations to political campaigns. These desirable posts will go to the highest bidder.

When I expressed some doubts about the veracity of his report, my source pointed out to General Flynn. He noted that Flynn was reported to have been already a lobbyist for Erdogan, the strongman of Turkey, before Trump picked him to lead his National Security Council. He claimed that was a form of privatizing the National Security Council. A hint of what is to come when you run a country as a business: something that makes conservatives go orgasmic but does a lot of harm to the country.

It s all about privatization and the money. What W Bush privatized was peanuts compared to the new land grab that is unfolding under Trump“. My source said. He added “However, trump insists that all posts will go to American citizens. and all privatized departments will be run by Americans. The president said that ‘it would be unseemly to be seen to let Russians or Chinese or foreign potentates run US foreign policy. Bigly unseemly, or maybe just unseemly in a bigly way’.”

More on this later, stay tuned.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Bibi and Donald and Adele and Forcible Dates: Is the Thrill Gone Already?…………..

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Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu is coming to Washington this week. Meetings of world leaders with Netanyahu remind me of younger days and dating days. Sometimes the thrill is gone from the get go, from the first time. Sometimes afterwards she (usually) or he realizes they would not want a repeat.
In world politics it is that way too, except that these diplomatic dates are almost like “forcible dates”. If one lasts eight years as a leader he/she would have to keep on dating him or her often.

George W Bush kept his meetings with Netanyahu to a minimum: he already knew exactly what his date would say. Which always takes the thrill out of any date. Clearly Obama did not want a repeat after his first date with Netanyahu, but he had no choice: eight years in office is a long time. I doubt any world leader ever looks forward to meeting him. (American Congressmen and Senators are not world leaders, they are more like star-struck Bibi-groupies. Or maybe they can’t get another date with so many resources).

In fairness, almost all other Middle East leaders are also like Bibi in that respect: they all think others are thrilled to hear them whine out their wisdom.

I suspect, as some comments in the media have noted this week, that Donald and Bibi will start taking many bathroom breaks during their very first date this week. A real date is not like a long-distance post-election telephone date, you don’t see and hear the warts (a rude person would add that you don’t use your olfactory faculties).

Mr. Netanyahu is at a bigger disadvantage here when he meets Trump this week. He really has no new case to make anymore. The US Congress, both houses and almost both parties, have been making the case for him for several years. The Senators and Congressmen have made his visit to Washington redundant, just a cosmetic thing. A photo-op. Sort of like watching Beyonce and Adele walk and pause on the Red Carpet: it has nothing to do with the prize…..

But eye candy is much more pleasing to look at than older men plotting to step into the next military quagmire……

Cheers

M H Ghuloum

Will Eastern Syria Trigger America’s Next Endless Muslim War?……..

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“A professional ground force coalition-of-the-willing led by the United States is something this writer has been long urging. This would involve American combat skin-in-the-game along with ground forces from countries such as Turkey, Jordan, France, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The final three on the list have already volunteered forces to fight the Islamic State; recruiting the others would require hard-nosed diplomacy. But if the Islamic State is the threat the Trump administration says it is — and the people of Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, and Ankara, who have all suffered terror attacks at its hands, would agree — why would its neutralization be left to militiamen? In addition to putting the military defeat of the Islamic State in the hands of military professionals, the Pentagon’s plan for northern Syria must take several other factors into account………”

Forget the nonsense about the Coalition of the Willing (and Bribed if unwilling). It will be an American war, if it happens. After ISIS is defeated, kicked out of the major Syrian cities like Raqqa, it will be a different war. The Turks will want to crush Kurdish aspirations for autonomy, that will be their priority. It would be like pushing the toothpaste back into the tube. Expect more spectacular fireworks inside Turkey. The Saudis will want some kind of Wahhabi-ized regime in the liberated area. The Qataris (and the Turks) will want some say for the Muslim Brotherhood as well. The Syrian Jihadis, masqueraded as ‘moderate opposition’, will want some ethnic cleansing of Alawis and Shi’as. Some of the Arab allies from the Persian Gulf will try to get America to join their regional sectarian Jihad (as Obama warned last year), to enter a new conflict with Iran and Lebanon, who have either forces or advisers in Syria.
A recipe for another sectarian region-wide war. A war the pro-Jihadi Salafis and their potentates could not wage without the help of their enemies, the Americans.

America will be pushed to get involved in an even wider field of multi-wars in the Middle East. A regional war urged by regional potentates and princes as their only hope to push the menacing Iranian mullahs back. More Americans killed, more Arabs and Muslims killed. That is not a good recipe for fighting Arab Muslim radicalism. It could be a formula for expanding it.

Cheers

M. H. Ghuloum

A New Persian Gulf War? A Message from Marcus Licinius Crassus to Donald Trump……..

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“The Saudis have been bombing the Houthi rebels and ravaging their country, Yemen, for two years. Are the Saudis entitled to immunity from retaliation in wars that they start? Where is the evidence Iran had a role in the Red Sea attack on the Saudi ship? And why would President Trump make this war his war? As for the Iranian missile test, a 2015 U.N. resolution “called upon” Iran not to test nuclear-capable missiles. It did not forbid Iran from testing conventional missiles, which Tehran insists this was. Is the United States making new demands on Iran not written into the nuclear treaty or international law—to provoke a confrontation? Did Flynn coordinate with our allies about this warning of possible military action against Iran? Is NATO obligated to join any action we might take?………..”
Also sprach Pat Buchanan, now older and even wiser.

Mr. Trump is a Manhattan businessman and a showman. Which means he has mastered the arts of showmanship and bluffing (and bullying).
His nonsensical campaign promise to ‘Make America Great Again‘ was absurd, as if America is Egypt or Peru. But it was bought by enough of the desperate industrial working classes, and much of the campaign-money-donating upper classes, to get him into the White House. Even as he lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes.

His promise of America First looks set to be set on fire by his new adventurism in the Persian Gulf region. Possibly egged on by some of the same Arab and Jewish regional allies he detests so much. He has surrounded himself by a few former military men and civilian hawks who have a chip on their collective shoulders regarding the Middle East, especially Iran. They think they can win the wars of choice that Bush and Obama squandered.

Now they have made Donald Trump into a George W Bush on steroids. But a new military conflict in the Persian Gulf will last much longer than the hawks and chickenhawks think. Remember the Iran-Iraq war? It was started by Iraq as a blitzkrieg victory, but it lasted eight years and ended up destroying Iraq. This latest war in Afghanistan has lasted 16 years, so far. The latest Iraq war started in 2003, Syria is in its seventh year.

A lesson for Mr. Trump from ancient Roman history, if he and his new generals care to read. Read the story of the Roman consul and general Marcus Licinius Crassus, a friend of Julius Caesar. He collected a huge army of many invincible Roman legions to invade ancient Persia more than two thousand years ago. Another unprovoked war. Crassus and his Roman legions vanished somewhere in the Iranian Plateau, never to be seen or heard from again.
Lesson? Wars of choice half-way across the world are not a good investment (as you, Mr. Trump and your class would say).
Mr. Trump, there are no direct American national interests threatened by the Iranians. They have not broken the Nuclear Deal with the world powers. They have not attacked Americans or America’s regional allies, yet. So, tone down the bluffing.

Mr. Trump, you are used to playing the cheap game of Casino poker, but the mullahs play the more enduring game of Chess. A game their country invented when your ancestors were still lurking in the caves and forests of Central Europe.
So, call back the dogs of war, get them out of your White House. Don’t throw good money after bad in the Middle East. Save a few more trillions of dollars and many lives on both sides.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Trump Middle East Policy Confusion: America First? New Muslim Wars First?…….

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The slogan America First implies focusing on internal US affairs: the economy, trade, infrastructure, even immigration.
Yet the Trump administration is already being pulled into a new morass in the Middle East (the Muslim World in case you didn’t know). It is falling for the trap of an Iranian missile test that is apparently unrelated to the Nuclear Deal (JCPOA). Perhaps it is a test by the mullahs of a new administration that is already shooting itself in the foot in domestic matters (healthcare, immigration). The new alleged ballistic missile test, which at least Russia and China certainly consider unrelated to the Nuclear Deal, came quickly after reports of a phone call between Trump and the Saudi King that mentioned containing Iran.
The Iranians most likely look on their ballistic missiles as defensive weapons, since hey don’t have the threatening Western-made sophisticated warplanes that their potential regional enemies have. Part of their deterrence that would prevent a repeat of an attack similar to the Iraqi Baathist invasion of their country.

Or maybe the mullahs in Tehran were giving Mr. Trump and Netanyahu something to discuss when they meet next month. The latter would be eager to sell Trump the snake-oil of another Muslim war/quagmire that neither Bush (W) nor Barack Obama would buy from him. The Trump administration probably won’t get far in the UN Security Council: even the European allies may oppose them. New President Trump has no reservoir of goodwill in Western Europe, or in most of the world, to draw on. He never had any beyond his own base and his own party.

In fairness, the Trump administration apparently have discarded the silly notion of “tearing up” the Nuclear Deal. It is not really a “piece of paper” as experienced right-wing hawks like John Bolton still think. They now seem to realize that it can’t be undone beyond campaign rhetoric.

In response to reports of the recent Iranian missile test, the White House NSC issued a tough statement mainly attacking Barack Obama for it (Obama, not the UN). A very retro reaction. Expect a Trump tweet to follow soon. Also expect more muscle-flexing in the Persian-American Gulf region by both sides, something even allied regional governments worry about.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Trump State Department: Apes Taking Over the Zoo……..

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“A handful of senior U.S. diplomats are resigning their posts during President Donald Trump’s first week on the job, creating more high-level openings that the new president must fill. State Department Undersecretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, a career foreign service officer, planned to retire effective Friday, the State Department said. He was joined by two assistant secretaries, Joyce Barr and Michele Bond, who both resigned Wednesday. Gentry Smith, who directs the Office of Foreign Missions, was also departing.………..”

These are the men and women who keep the State Department bureaucracy functioning every day. Sort of like the wardens or curators do at a zoo. What was that common saying about the wardens quitting after the apes take over the zoo?……..
Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Advice Netanyahu Can Give President Trump: on Healthcare, Funding Free Abortion, and War……

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Forget about waging new wars against more Muslim nations or sanctioning more Muslim countries. That will surely be on Mr. Benyamin Netanyahu’s agenda as well when he arrives in Washington  next month, part of the snake-oil he has been trying to sell for years. The Bushes and Obama thwarted him. They looked into his eyes and saw the weasel that members of Congress could not see. What else could they see?

But that was then.
The Republican Party, post-Bush, is now effectively a sub-branch of the Likud alliance in Israel. Netanyahu is the new prophet of the American right. But at home, in domestic Israeli policy, he is further to the left of many American Democrats. Especially in matters of public healthcare and funding abortion (almost certainly with some funds voted by the rabidly pro-life American Congress).

Mr. Netanyahu can do the American people and President Trump a great service in other ways, all based on the Israeli experience. Like explain the benefits of the “right” of every Israeli to public Healthcare. Like the public funding of abortion (free abortion partly funded by American money). Republicans and the likes of Joe Lieberman consider that public health policy socialistic even though all industrial countries in Europe have that as well. The much-cited European right would never dream of taking away the public healthcare option: in that it is to the left of many U.S Democrats.

Among other useful examples of how Netanyahu can be useful to a US president, for once in his life.

In addition to the expected inevitable attempt of pushing a new stupid war against a new Muslim country.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum