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27 April 2012

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William R. Cumming

Great letter. I would argue that the US is naive and believes power can be given and not taken. The history available to the 21st Century repudiates the former notion.

Will2

The October Surprise II,

An all encompassing DEAL has been struck between IRAN and the USA, and the GCC folks know about it more or less, but they are in panic mode trying to digest the whole thing. Its positive effects will range from Afghanistan all the way to Africa, with everything in between.
The Israelis know that and they are quite unhappy about the Geopolitical implications down the line..., but cooler heads will prevail, hence General Gantz's position on the issue, despite Barak's gesticulations of late...
Israel is in the process of caving in to Team Obama...
That's all Folks!

Matthew

Col: What benefit do we derive from being as "reliable" as the Soviets?

Is there some strategy here, or is that hopelessly naive?

The beaver

This is what Mr Al-Misry is referring to wrt RAK:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/ruling-family-detains-pro-reform-member-in-possible-uae-crackdown-on-islamists/2012/04/25/gIQAvwmmgT_story.html

Is R2 working behind the scene on behalf of UAE:
http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/tag/reflex-responses/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1387319/Blackwater-founder-Erik-Prince-Reflex-Responses-R2-training-secret-commandos-desert-mercenaries-UAE-Arab-sheik.html

David Habakkuk

"In the other hand, regaining the confidence on the same old bases will deprive the region of a soft landing into the required change, therefore opening up a situation that will be very messy indeed."

But is there a "soft landing available into the required change" available for most of these regimes?

The fact that a system of government is oppressive, has difficulty responding to the aspirations of a population sections of which are increasingly sophisticated, and cannot find answers to economic problems which may in any case be intractable, does not necessarily mean that there is an easy route to a more hopeful future.

And this is all the more so when the population is divided on religious or ethnic lines -- and in particular where minorities rule over majorities.

The lessons of Russia in 1917 and 1991 might be relevant -- perhaps even those of France between 1789 and 1871, or indeed many other European states in the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth.

Babak Makkinejad

Not "An all encompassing DEAL" but a limited one to avoid war.

Tim Vincent

Big surprise.
US foreign policy (from the faculty lounge)is in a shambles.
But....compared to the wreck of the Obama economy:
A mere "bag a shells."

HankP

Very interesting, but as the author points out wrt Mubarak there doesn't seem to be a lot that the US (or anyone else for that matter) can do. There are three responses the elites in power can take, tightening their grip, allowing reforms or do nothing. Absent some sort of mind control ray I 'm not seeing what the US can offer that it isn't offering already to change their minds. Sometimes there's a good reason for feeling paranoid, and it has nothing to do with the US.

Babak Makkinejad

I think you are overestimating the ability of the Arab polities to learn from others' historical experience

The total number of books translated into Arabic during the 1,000 years since the age of Caliph Al-Ma’moun [a ninth-century Arab ruler who was a patron of cultural interaction between Arab, Persian, and Greek scholars] to this day is less than those translated in Spain in one year.

[The number of books written originally in Arabic: 7,230, 7,080, and 5,910 books written originally in Arabic and published across the Arab world in 2006, 2007, and 2008 respectively.]

All of this for more than 300 million people.

Arab culture evidently has been an oral one for millenia.

turcopolier

Yusuf al-Misry wrote

Part of the Russian calculation in their support of Bashar Al Asad is to send a message to all in the region that Moscow does not do what the US has done - and maybe is doing - with its allies in the region..It could be an open invitation to reconsider their alliances..I am not sure of that but it is an assumption I have in my mind for few weeks now waiting for any sign that it could be wrong or right

Morocco Bama

This ebb and flow in the Middle East can largely be explained by the inability of the West, who for several centuries now has sought to mediate the region, to truly understand the Arab, acknowledging that even the use of that term falls short in properly describing the complexity of the diverse peoples who inhabit the Middle East. One such person who gave it a proper go, if you will, was T.E. Lawrence. For certain, I'm sure there are many who take umbrage with his treatment and characterizations, but at least he made the effort, regardless of how accurate that effort was. Yes, it's one man's opinion, but his descriptions display an eloquent articulation that is sadly absent in the 21st century. As an example, here's a quote from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It's from the introduction to the book. It describes the Arab Tribesmen.

The common base of all the Semitic creeds, winners or losers, was the ever present idea of world-worthlessness. Their profound reaction from matter led them to preach bareness, renunciation, poverty; and the atmosphere of this invention stifled the minds of the desert pitilessly. A first knowledge of their sense of the purity of
rarefaction was given me in early years, when we had ridden far out over the rolling plains of North Syria to a ruin of the Roman period which the Arabs believed was made by a prince of the border as a desert-palace for his queen. The clay of its building was said to have been kneaded for greater richness, not with water, but with the
precious essential oils of flowers. My guides, sniffing the air like dogs, led me from crumbling room to room, saying, 'This is jessamine, this violet, this rose'.

But at last Dahoum drew me: 'Come and smell the very sweetest scent of all', and we went into the main lodging, to the gaping window sockets of its eastern face, and there drank with open mouths of the effortless, empty, eddyless wind of the desert, throbbing past. That slow breath had been born somewhere beyond the distant Euphrates and had dragged its way across many days and nights of dead grass, to its first obstacle, the man-made walls of our broken palace. About them it seemed to fret and linger, murmuring in baby-speech. 'This,' they told
me, 'is the best: it has no taste.' My Arabs were turning their backs on perfumes and luxuries to choose the things in which mankind had had no share or part.

And this description of the Tribesmen is juxtaposed with the Arab villager or urban dweller.

To live, the villager or townsman must fill himself each day with the pleasures of acquisition and accumulation, and by rebound off circumstance become the grossest and most material of men. The shining contempt of life which led others into the barest asceticism drove him to despair. He squandered himself heedlessly, as a spendthrift: ran through his inheritance of flesh in
hasty longing for the end. The Jew in the Metropole at Brighton, the miser, the worshipper of Adonis, the lecher in the stews of Damascus were alike signs of the Semitic capacity for enjoyment, and expressions of the same nerve which gave us at the other pole the self-denial of the Essenes, or the early Christians, or the first Khalifas, finding the way to heaven fairest for the poor in spirit. The Semite hovered between lust and self-denial.

Spafford

Here in Michigan and the neighboring "rust belt" states the auto industry has done quite well with Obama economics. Mitt wud of let them go under and the MANY suppliers of parts. The auto companies paying back the loans to us tax payer quite well. The "trickle down" econ of the Repubs has never worked out well for the middle class. Biz does not need tax breaks, they need customers!

Tim Vincent

You mean the totally mismanaged auto industry AKA UAW rescued by Obama using my money?
Mitt's right.

Since 2008 (the Obama reign):
US loses AAA credit rating.
National debt increased by 50%;now equals GDP.
(We are now officially "Greece.")
Unemployment still over 8%.
Gasoline price 2X.

That's why he's running on giveaways and "I killed Bin Laden."

citizen

Sheer stupidity on the part of Bahrain's rulers. A few well placed, magnanimous gestures towards the Shiite population, and a little share of the money would do wonders for the situation. Why is it elites wait until a point when acquiescence no longer looks like generosity or wisdom but weakness?

One can commiserate with Mubarak, who had a large clientele to satisfy, and a large country with an expanding population to rule and with no oil wealth to help finance it all. Sort of OT, but the presence of large numbers of Western tourists could not have made Mubarak's job better. Contra the received wisdom that people getting to know each other is always a good thing and diffuses hatred, I'm not sure Western tourists, and that includes Russians, are a net benefit in the ME. Familiarity does breed contempt, and jealousy. It may be a wild speculation, but I've wondered to what extent European low-budget tourism destabilized Egypt.


steve

As a result of GM failing to make cash deposits to its pension/healthcare retiree fund, the UAW was the largest unsecured creditor of GM and received 40 cents on the dollar, much of that consisting of GM stock rather than cash.

The UAW also lost one-third of its workforce as a result of the Chapter 11.

GM hourly workers have not received a wage increase since 2003 and won't, if ever, until 2015.

It's hardly the sweetheart deal you make it out to be. GM's secured creditors, the Wall St. investment firms, received 100 cents on the dollar.

Chrysler's only secured creditors--Wall Street investment banks that had been buying up secured bonds at pennies on the dollar in anticipation of a big payoff in bankruptcy, received 28 cents on the dollar. They were told if they didn't like it, go liquidate Chrysler and receive less. Bear in mind, these were firms that had received tens of billions in bailout funds.

Fred

At least you are consistent.

turcopolier

Tim Vincent

Recalling your scorn of the USIC and CJCS I wonder if you feel the same way about IDF GS intelligence and LTG Gantz? pl

Babak Makkinejad

You also might have wanted to mention that for 50 year and more US Federal Government sucked funds out of the industrialzed Mid-Western states and pumped it - in the form of government defense contracts and transfer payments - to the rest of the United States.

It left precious little capital for re-investment in manufacuring, creating a husk - the so-called Rust Belt - in its wake.

Almost simultaneously, the Finance sector of US Economy expanded - lile a cancer - causing harm to those parts of the economy in US that actually produced things that people wanted to buy. Why eeking out a modets living (5-7 % in capital returns) in manufacturing - in a drab dark and dirty plant - when you can be in a glass building surrounded by girls in tight mini-skirts making 3 or 4 times as much?

Morocco Bama

That is an excellent point, BM, and one that is not stressed often enough. Once upon a time, there used to be a thing called a capital equipment sinking fund that was used to set aside monies to replace aging capital equipment. We learned the accounting treatment for it in my undergrad and graduate training, but it was a holdover from an earlier time and used with increasingly less frequency. It's pretty much non-existent today with some rare exceptions. It underscores the fact that everything these days when it comes to business is for the short-term. It's why I laugh when execs ask for a five year plan. They have to be joking. A five year plan in this day and age where things are now changing substantially on a daily basis instead of a yearly basis? It also explains why the U.S. is unwilling to invest in domestic infrastructure projects. Since short-term thinking rules the day, no one wants to commit funds to something with a forty or fifty year payback. It's a discouraging predicament, and I'm sure the intelligent audience here can appreciate the ramifications of this latest philosophy, if you can call it that.

The U.S. auto market is a failed business model. It was always reliant on the growth of suburbia, and we all know that trend is on the precipice of reversing. Shareholders require growth in revenue and earnings, so if your target market is about to shrink precipitously, your revenue and earnings will follow suit. Who would be foolish enough to invest in such a venture besides the crooked U.S. Gov who wants to keep the facade of the American Dream alive. Keep in mind that a substantial percentage of the Big Three's (they're not so big anymore, are they) sales are being subsidized with sub-prime loans meaning many of these vehicles are going to be repossessed. Considering that, these current sales are really fictitious, but they're not be accounted for as such. It's a clever way of kiting, and eventually that kite has to fall, and it's going to fall hard, like a lead balloon.

Bruno


I'm not sure if it's the ideas/thoughts expressed in this letter that are confusing or it is the author that is confused?
However when I read about "Minorities ruling over majorities. Very closed ruling equation. Disregard of the deep changes occurring particularly in the middle class. A stagnant political and social environment. Unemployment real or disguised..." I wonder how familiar is the author with the GCC countries? My guess is that his knowledge in that regard is bookish at best if not popular/populist.

The ruling structure of those Monarchies is definitely based on a tribal structure. And to argue that in those countries a minority could rule over the tribal majorities is ignorant of what the tribal structure is and how community life is policed within that frame. It is also ignoring the region's centuries of history with its palace plots, coups and infighting that often reflected albeit indirectly the changes of political direction expressed by those people .

Also, the political and social environment of the GCC is anything but stagnant:
In 2011 The National Election Committee (NEC) of the UAE led to the first fair and direct representation of the Emirati people at the Federal National Council. 2006 saw also the establishment of the Allegiance Council in KSA under the leadership of King Abdullah who also declared in 2011 that women will be allowed to run as candidates in the government’s municipal councils. I could also list a multitude of reforms that have been brought about by the ruling family of Bahrain (first Jewish Foreign Minister ever in this area ...). But for some reason some choose to ignore these major developments.
One could argue that the pace of reform is too slow. But as Prince Turki Al Faisail mentioned once to a reporter, those countries have a tradition of change through evolution and not revolution. Socialism has not sipped through the social fabric of those countries the way it did in Algeria, Yemen, Syria or Egypt. (note it is those countries today that are experiencing the most instability)
But things are changing in the GCC countries and they are changing fast regardless of what the author would want us to believe.

That the author also chose to mention the middle class in the GCC is further evidence to me of his scant knowledge of those countries.

There is indeed unemployment and countries like the UAE and KSA have put in place programs to tackle those issues (Emiratization and Saudization programs). The Saudi program has just recently been updated. One could argue on the quality of those programs but I would certainly not call them "not smart". They have also put in place great entrepreneurial/leadership programs for the youth that are effective and bear fruits. Saudi Arabia has recently decided to reconsider its position regarding allowing women sports clubs within the country.
The author might chose to criticize the quality of those programs but they still remain evidence that leaders over there are aware of some of their domestic issues and try to do something to tackle them. But you will certainly not read about those programs and their achievements in the MSM.

Furthermore, to suggest that Emile Nakhleh's words could through panic among the GCC leaders is ludicrous. The GCC countries and Saudi Arabia at their helm are fully aware that the support they get from the US is temporary only. That's precisely why Prince Turki Al Faisal as much as Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud have pushed for a more integrated unified GCC. But there is no evidence that they are in a panic mode.

The author main points seems to be clearer at the end of his letter when he mentions the position of Saudi Arabia and the others in the region vis-a-vis the Shiite question. He seems to believe that those Monarchs "should believe that there antiquities of redefining “us” against “them” ( Sunnis verses Shiites) is not going to carry them far." and that's what "deprives" them of "a soft landing". "People should be preoccupied with that particular mission", he says. This is a very simplistic and partisan view of the political and social issues that those countries face today. It is also evidence of the author's limited knowledge of the GCC countries and more particularly the Shiite question.

And to even suggest that Assad's calculation in Syria could be an indirect invitation to the GCC countries to join in the great Russian alliance is not only laughable, it is ridiculous. It is evidence of the tendency in many Arabs in the region to see plots and conspiracies where there is none. Saudi Arabia rarely takes strong public positions regarding another country's foreign policy. But Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister could not have been sterner in his public scolding of Russia after its veto at the UN regarding Syria. And we all remember what happened the last time Saudi Arabia publicly scolded Russia! Saudi Arabia, nor anyone else in the GCC is going to switch alliance in favor of Russia.

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