The Tangled Mess In The Persian Gulf Echoes 1914

The current situation in the Persian Gulf is all too similar to Europe in 1914, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG). In “Averting the Middle East’s 1914 Moment,” the ICG makes the case that the situation in the Persian Gulf has gotten so complicated and volatile that, as ICG’s Iran Project Director, Ali Vaez. put it, “Just as in Europe in 1914, a single incident has the potential of sparking a military confrontation that could, in turn, engulf the entire region.”

The comparison to 1914 is obviously chilling, but the sheer number of actors connected to the U.S.-Iran standoff and the unmanageable array of potential trigger points in the region make it apt. Tightening U.S. sanctions, as part of the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure campaign,” and the response they force from Iran means steadily rising tensions and raises the possibility that at some point, Iran could take a step to which the U.S. or Israel feels it must respond militarily. Read more at LobeLog

Graham And Neocons Push For A U.S.-Israeli Defense Treaty

The staunchly militaristic Jewish Institute for the National Security of America (JINSA) has proposed a mutual defense pact between the United States and Israel. JINSA frequently publishes papers and analyses around strategies that it would like to see pursued by the United States, Israel, or both, but this one is a little different. In this case, JINSA has enlisted Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to help them sell the idea in both Israel and the United States.

Graham is a long-time member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and one of the most consistently outspoken hawks in the Senate, especially on the Middle East. His foreign policy voice is influential even when his party is in the minority, and it is particularly impactful now, because of his close relationship with President Donald Trump. Although Graham has had a hot-and-cold relationship with the mercurial president, in recent months he has largely remained in Trump’s good graces by duly fawning over him, and has gained access to Trump’s ear as a result.

Graham is also very connected in Israel, where his staunch support for every Israeli policy and action—the more draconian, the better—has made him many friends in the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. All of this comes together to make Graham the perfect salesman for JINSA’s proposed agreement. And Graham seems like a very eager helper. Read more at LobeLog

The Danger Of Trump’s Hasty Exit From Syria

When Donald Trump announced that he was immediately removing all U.S. troops from Eastern Syria, I was surprised by the reaction. There was near glee in anti-war corridors. The initial response is understandable; the United States should not be in Syria, and that is true for many reasons. Moreover, many of those objecting to the decision are doing so because it doesn’t fit with their objectives to heighten tensions with Iran and continue to pursue endless conflict in the name of fighting terrorism. But leaving the way Trump intends is foolish and will not lead to a good outcome. Read more at LobeLog

A Progressive Response To Saudi Crimes Begins, Not Ends, With Yemen

Donald Trump’s statements and actions are so blatantly awful, so thoroughly misguided and immoral, that he gets blasted from a spectrum of political commentators, from the far left all the way to Lindsey Graham (R-SC). But through all the criticism, little is said about what should be done.The backlash against Trump’s shocking apologetics for Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has been powerful. Most Americans, including a significant number of Republicans, do not support a foreign policy based solely on cynical self-interest. They also object when the president makes it clear that if the price is right, the United States will allow an ally to get away with murder. Read more at LobeLog

Preparing for a Post-Abbas Palestine?

On December 31, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas closed out a year of stinging defeats by signing on to 18 374713108_04a72adb2b_zinternational accords. Included among these was the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The reaction in Jerusalem and Washington was apoplectic.

The United States rebuked Abbas, and Israel immediately vowed harsh reprisals. Shortly thereafter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that although Israel would not increase settlement growth—a routine method of punishing the Palestinians—it would withhold the tax and tariff revenues it collects for the Palestinians. The Obama administration also announced that it was reviewing the annual U.S. aid package to the Palestinian Authority. Read the rest of this article at LobeLog.

Congress Ignoring Palestinian Deaths

It may be just a footnote to the current violence in Gaza and Israel, but it’s important for Americans to see what is being said in our names. The AIPAC-crafted bills in Congress reflect the very ugly sense of valuing Israeli lives and not Palestinian ones at all. I can only wonder how that feels to Arab-Americans, especially Palestinians. I explore at LobeLog.

Rapid Reaction to the Iran Nuclear Deal

This article originally appeared at LobeLog, just a few hours after the Iran nuclear interim agreement was announced.

Catherine Ashton and Mohammed Zarif at the UN in September

Catherine Ashton and Mohammed Zarif at the UN in September

These are my initial thoughts on the deal struck between the P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) and Iran. They come after a few hours of watching the speeches, reading the briefings from the US State Department and the White House and some heavy-duty work on Twitter, both reading and writing (check my feed at @MJPlitnick if you’d like to see some of it).

1. There are going to be tough political battles in both Washington and Tehran. But the reality is that pretty much everything the P5+1 has granted can be reversed at the figurative snap of a finger. If Iran dilutes or converts all of its 20% enriched stockpile, it will take time to build that back up. From the point of view of a hardliner in Iran, when that point is combined with the complete halt to work at Arak, the total halt to enrichment above 5%, the freeze on new centrifuges and limits on replacement and the earlier agreement Iran struck with the IAEA (which happened outside of the Geneva process, so there was no quid pro quo), this is a very long list of concessions. In exchange, Iran gets only minor sanctions relief, potentially worth as much as only $7 billion and an agreement that the West will leave the limit on Iran’s oil revenue where it is. Continue reading