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26 February 2012


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The Twisted Genius

It remains a mystery to me why all things Islamic, Arabic or Middle Eastern get the stink eye except for the Saudis and their unrelenting export of Wahhabi ideas. Although many of our woes are self-inflicted, Wahhabism does seem to be a major contributing factor to, if not a root cause of, our "war on terror" problems.



Syria is all about uncertainty – of interpretation, of policy choices, of expectations.

Almost all persons and societies are made uneasy by uncertainty. We depend on fixed reference points to orient ourselves; we depend on fixed ideas on how the world works to interpret what’s happening and what it means; we need fix expectations so as plan ahead; we need fixed standards to assay and to assess individuals, events and actions. Much of the time, we filter our perceptions of reality so as to avoid the challenge posed by the new, the different and strange.

American’s tolerance for uncertainty is especially low. After all, we are cocksure we know what’s right and wrong, what is normal and abnormal, how things are supposed to operate, what is godly and what is ungodly. Moreover, we are programmed to try and set matters straight when they deviate from the right/normal. By nature, we’re a pro-active and can-do people. ‘Don’t just stand there, do something!” neatly sums up that attitude. Little if anything is seen as being beyond our reach or our capacity. The very notion that some things are irritates us. The emotions cut much deeper when we try to solve a problem but can’t manage to make the supposed solution work. Anger, frustration, scape goating set in. Or, we engage in the avoidance behavior of denying the failure – Iraq and the legendary miracle working of David Petraeus. Now we are on the brink of failing again in Afghanistan and desperate for another mythmaker to come along whose magical alchemic powers can transform disaster into victory with one touch of his virtuosic finger on the PR button.

Yet the American instinct to find the answer, to solve the puzzle, to resolve matters persists. In the case of the revolutions in the Middle East, we already have rewritten history to bring it into line with American mythology. Thus, we have convinced ourselves that we played the crucial role in toppling dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya - even when leading from behind or hedging our bets. We fulfilled our Providential destiny.

If the outcome is not a clear cut success for freedom, democracy and decency, then it’s “their” fault. Just as it’s the fault of the Iraqi rag heads and Afghan homicidal maniacs. Syria, in principle, should be susceptible to the same treatment. Identify the good guys, anathemize the bad guys, and then figure out how to turn the former into winners. The basic identifications, in truth, are not that difficult. Victims and victimizers are pretty clear. However, there are other players on the scene: the Muslim Brotherhood, other violence prone Sunni groups, fearful Christians, Alawite innocents, the Druze and other “bystanders.” Too, there are players in the neighborhood – some well intentioned (for the most part), some not at all well intentioned = as pl enumerates. These considerations make figuring out what to do damn hard. Then there is the uncomfortable reality that politically feasible means may not work while the methods that likely would topple Assad at least are not feasible. Then there are the time-frames: what happens the day after tomorrow? the following day?

All of this is uncertain. So press for humanitarian assistance, of course. So try to establish contact with the key opposition factions, yes to get a feel for who’s who and what’s what. So push for targeted sanctions – the easy thing. Put off what to do next when they predictably fail. Do a lot of wing flapping, cackling and scurrying around the barnyard to show everyone at home and abroad that America is still the indispensable power. Never ever admit that we may not have the answer, may just have to live with uncertainty. That violates the American creed.

So if anyone is really desperate for surety, immerse yourself in the Republican primary contest where only certainties are allowed to enter. One convenient certainty is that if anything unwelcome happens it’s all Satan’s fault – Satan who has been working overtime to sap the nation’s vital fluids and corrupt its soul.

Babak Makkinejad

I observe here again that the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran - in their opposition to Wahabis - are on the same side.

It is called irony.


It seems that US policy pivoted towards the allies of Wahhabism a few years ago: Qatar and Saudi Arabia. A year after the start of the Arab Spring, the US supports a former bogeyman, the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

Confused? GWOT rest in peace. Now the bogeymen are mostly Shi'a (Iran, Hezbollah, Alawis in Syria, Houthis in Yemen, and the opposition in Bahrain.) Since most American are incapable of appreciating distinctions among Muslims, I'm surprised that the al Qaeda moniker has been transferred to Shi'a generally.

No wonder Putin says that American foreign policy is incoherent.

Medicine Man

It is interesting how good old fashioned American pragmatism survives with regards to Saudi Arabia, when it has fallen by the wayside for most of the rest of the region. Is it just the golden rule at play?


Where will Meshaal and the rest of Hamas's expatriate leadership base themselves if they come out against Assad?

William R. Cumming

Intervention in Syria will be tragic for USA IMO. Chinese and Russians perhaps opposed UN resolution knowing the the US could not resist the siren call of intervention and thereby weakening America's hold on MENA in the long run! Well maybe not so long!

Charles I

He was recently making nice with Jordan, announcing a new peaceful non terrifying posture that would accommodate a change of address and increased legitimacy apropos of the recent Palestinian makeup. Can't recall where I saw this but it was in the last week or ten days.

FB Ali

One factor not mentioned in the US position on Syria is the Israeli influence. Considering how pervasive this influence is in other policy areas, it is likely to have weighed heavily in this one.

The probable reason why the Israelis want Assad and his regime ousted is that Syria has been till recently the strongest potential military opponent of Israel. A significant danger in the context of a war with Iran which would likely draw in Hezbullah, and could cause the Syrians to intervene as well. That danger has now been blunted.

The Israelis don't mind strengthening the Wahhabi Sunnis of Saudi Arabia and the GCC, because they know that Wahhabis are religious Islamists, while the Saudi royals and Gulf emirs are corrupt to the core. Neither presents a threat to Israel.

Tim Vincent

Arm both sides and stand back.

Tim Vincent

Additionally, arm both sides and use the money to get the hell out of Afghanistan.



Dunno. Maybe Cairo or Riyadh. pl


FB Ali

IMO the Israelis are in a funk over this. the Cairo developments have rattled them badly. They very much want to replace Obama with one of their GOP lackeys. He has pushed back quite a lot. They don't want a secnd term. pl


It's a "double-double", TG. And not like the burgers we Californians enjoy by the same name at In-N-Out fast food restaurants, either.

FB Ali

I think I read somewhere that he is now based in Qatar. The Qataris are playing an interesting game: acquiring assets all over the Arab world. They already have a substantial footing in Libya, and stand to do the same in Syria if they can oust Assad (I believe their US-trained SF are operating there). They have used their money to acquire quite a clout in the Arab League (probably by financing Egypt or its military).

They have an interesting situation at home. 80% of the 1.7 million residents of the tiny country are expatriates. The indigenous Arabs are Wahhabis; their rulers are quite modern (the First Lady, Sheikha Moza, is quite a dish - wish I could post a picture of her here!).

Am not quite sure what the Emir and his advisers think they're up to, but one of these days they're going to get too big for their britches, and the Saudis will swat them down.

Mark Logan


Re: Hamas/Assad

Just caught this today. Looks like you could strike the "if".


Haaretz report that Hamas has officially taken sides against him.


I have always wondered: Is it the GOPers following the money of Israeli surrogates and partisans, or is it indeed a true streak in the GOP that Israeli surrogates and partisans support? Have Israeli surrogates and partisans come and actively wooed the GOP, or did the GOP, in their perpetual quest to defund the opposition while increasing their own contributions, come to them?


I should have been clearer about my question. I had seen the articles indicating that Meshaal had been traveling around and the rest of the Hamas leadership had left Damascus, but if Hamas explicitly comes out against Assad, as it appears they have done if Reuters/Haaretz is to be believed, then where will they set up their offices (assuming that they want some "address" outside Gaza)? And would setting up shop in another Arab capital signify the rehabilitation of Hamas in the Sunni Arab world? Most of that world is still loathe to anger the USA. Perhaps Cairo will welcome Hamas offices now that the MB seems poised to take over civilian leadership there and Egypt seems quite willing to tweak the USA.


Col Lang and FB Ali,

Please see my reply to Mark Logan and Charles I above. Why would Riyadh or Qatar be so willing to anger the USA by allowing Hamas offices? I've seen Col Lang's earlier remarks about the Saudis' reaction to the USA position vis a vis the Arab Spring and (if I understand the remarks correctly) their conclusion that the USA is unreliable. Is the rehabilitation of Hamas in Riyadh and Qatar a result of decreasing USA influence in the Arab world?


Dr. Brenner,

Re: "Don’t just stand there, do something!....The emotions cut much deeper when we try to solve a problem but can’t manage to make the supposed solution work."

Perhaps your compatriots could use a little wisdom from the ancients?



Enemy-of-my-enemy may (on occasion) be my friend....

g. powell

The difference between Syria and former UAR member Egypt is that Assad the Younger has decades left in his life expectancy while Mubarak was on the tail end. Good chance that Assad toughs this through the next decade. The Christians, Kurds, Alawites etc. have surely observed events elsewhere.

The beaver

No one is paying attention to Qatar.
What game(s) is Hamad Ben Khalifa Al-Thani playing?
Double-face wrt Gaddafi (he was with the Libyan Colonel against the Saudis at one point in time), friend of Israel ( yep one can fly from Doha to Tel-Aviv by Qatar Airways but you can't purchase the ticket on-line), refuge to the Libyan Islamist Ali Al-Salibi, the algerian Abassi Madani, the Egyptian Qaradawi et the Tunisian Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Ennahda and now governing an Islamist Tunisia.
How far will he go?


I agree--Israel wants to get rid of Obama.

Obama has obliged them by painting himself into a corner. High oil prices helped drive Carter from office, and they will probably drive Obama out, too.

Netanyahu's goal is for Obama to attack Iran, which would drive oil prices skyward. Obama knows that would be the kiss of death.

Instead of that, Obama's strategy has been to placate the Lobby, buying time, and tighten sanctions. That strategy has now backfired: all Iran had to do was intimate that it might push back, which roiled oil markets.

Obama's predicament is that he has 3-4 month window to get oil prices down significantly or kiss his re-election good-bye. Israel will not help. Neither will Iran. Obama has to do something else.

Obama's only alternative is to do a Nixon goes to China, announce a deal with Iran, and hope to sell it to the American people as a strategic breakthrough of such important that it overwhelms the inevitable firestorm of criticism from the hawks.

Only problem is that Obama has never shown himself capable of making the big decision. Nor has he shown the least interest in learning how to sell policies to the American people.

More likely, Obama will drive himself nuts trying to appease Netanyahu, a blackmailer who won't be impressed until his target has been destroyed.

Paul Escobar

FB Ali,

One of two things is happening:

1) Because the Qatari's have always been afforded the opportunity to play "rogue" by the west...the Sunni kingdom's are using them to do the dirty work they can't.


2) Because the Qatari's are "rogues" who have never particularly liked America or its friends (Saudi, Jordan, Israel, etc.)...they're making sure their sentiment is shared by the new leaderships across the region.

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