All Worth Your Time

It’s the holiday season. And with so much time spent traveling, working, wrapping up the year, and preparing for the next, our content has suffered. No doubt there’s more coming soon but for now we’d like to point you in the direction of some interesting articles.

Iraq: What I remember” by Michael Xavier Ortiz

By almost any measure the Iraq War is over for the United States–even though many Americans tuned out years ago. American troops no longer patrol the country, occupy massive sprawling bases, or command the skies. Ortiz, who served in Iraq, offers striking photography along with a beautifully written and equally tragic account of his experience being ambushed. Americans would be wise to meditate on the war’s cost and purpose, eight years after its controversial beginning and quiet, slow-motion ending. This isn’t the kind of stuff we usually share at Al Ajnabee. Normally we focus on big-picture policy talk.

Will the GCC stay on top?” by Marc Lynch

Right now, it [i.e. the GCC] is indeed driving the regional agenda and it has a lot of cash to spread around and cards to play. But its power rests on much shakier foundations than is generally recognized. Its internal divisions will likely re-emerge, its domestic political stability likely won’t last, and larger regional rivals will eventually return to the game. Yemen’s ongoing travails will cause more and more problems. And Bahrain’s horrible response to its domestic opposition, sectarianism, and ongoing repression will continue to poison the Gulf from within. There are limits to what money can buy, and regional leadership may well prove to be one of them.

Was surprised about the mixed reviews this post received from my peers. Everything Lynch writes is worth reading, even if you don’t agree with it. My two cents: really the only flaw I see with Lynch’s approach is that there’s no real timeline. It may take a decade for traditional centers of power in the Middle East–like Cairo and Baghdad–to become major players looking beyond their own borders again. That leaves a long time for the GCC to burnish its brand and secure its new role. And It’s also hard to see where, how, and when the Gulf monarchies will be challenged by a genuinely dangerous domestic opposition. Bahrain is one example, sure, but it remains unique because of its chronic instability and structural weakness, which its neighbors do not share. Lynch is absolutely worth reading. Especially if it gets Gulf watchers off the fence and debating where the GCC goes from here.

Barricaded in Bahrain” by Joost Hiltermann and Kelly McEvers

Excellent article detailing today’s Bahrain. Hilterman and McEvers visited the Gulf statelet when the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report was delivered in late November. The authors question the regime’s willingness to implement the report’s recommendations, now that it’s findings have confirmed the worst and surprised many who expected the document to overlook abuses. Recommendations are also offered to Washington: “Reform is overdue, but nobody knows how to break the impasse. The Obama Administration could escalate its pressure on the regime to ensure that it implements the Bassiouni recommendations and uses them to increase political participation and establish representative government. The White House has some leverage: a deal to sell $53 million of military equipment to Bahrain, currently on hold; the Fifth Fleet, whose presence in Bahrain is arguably more important to the regime than to the United States; and the US-Bahrain free-trade agreement, in effect since 2006, which could be suspended. Short of another large-scale crackdown on protesters, however, the US is unlikely to take any sort of drastic action.”

Potential Attack Threatens Peaceful Movement for Change” by Reza H. Akbari and Azadeh Pourzand

Reza wrote an outstanding piece for us back in October on what’s dividing different conservative factions in Iran ahead of Parliamentary elections there in March. This week, he and Azadeh Pourzand pushed back against hawks who argue for striking Iran. Both experienced the Iran-Iraq war personally and draw from their memories with great effect. They believe an American or Israeli intervention could be used as a pretext for liquidating what opposition is left after the 2009 Green Movement shook the Islamic Republic to its core. They write:

Even if quite weakened internally, a regime like Iran’s benefits from an imminent threat posed by a foreign enemy — it binds the people more tightly to a central power that can defend the national borders. Despite the differences between the Iran of today and during the years of the war with Iraq, a military strike would almost certainly awaken the patriotic sentiments of the people, leading them to set aside domestic political considerations in defense of their land against the external adversary. With war, we fear that the peaceful demonstrators of the Green Movement will be forced to pick up arms against foreign invaders instead of continuing their arduous path of demanding reform.


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