America • Americanism • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Middle East • military • NATO • Post • Terrorism

2,000 Against Millions

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Proclaim victory and pull out!

On December 19, Donald Trump tweeted his own version of this classic military maxim as the president announced the withdrawal of America’s 2,000 soldiers from the war against the ISIS caliphate in Syria.

Allies reacted with shock. Enemies mocked and gloated. Neither reaction should come as a surprise.

The president’s defenders emphasize that America has nothing to show for the $7 trillion it has spent on this war. The United States, they say, has much greater concerns at home and in East Asia. Few analysts, regardless of how they feel about America’s withdrawal from Syria, understand why such conflicts drag on and on, despite enormous losses. Historians and journalists rarely examine the demographic data that explain why deadly wars can last for decades or centuries.

Even the killing ground of Europe from 1500 to 1945 escapes their attention. And when it comes to Syria, they are utterly clueless about the link between rapid demographic growth and the long and bloody wars that have devastated this region. Explosive population growth results in explosions on the battlefield.

Between 1900 and 2015, Islam’s global population increased by a factor of nine, from 200 million to 1.8 billion people. Christianity, though still the largest religion worldwide, only quadrupled (from 560 million to 2.3 billion). Since 1950, Islam has added nearly 1.4 billion people to its fold, despite the fact that Iran, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Turkey—which together have 180 million inhabitants—are now in a post-growth phase (defined as fewer than two children per woman).  This lower birth rate also applies to the approximately 20 million citizens in the rich sheikdoms between Bahrain and Kuwait.

But nine Muslim countries belong to the 68 nations of the world that have what I call a “war index” that is higher than 3—that is, they have 3,000 or more youths between the ages of 15 and 19 for every 1,000 men aged 55 to 59 who are close to retirement. For four Islamic countries outside the Middle East—Afghanistan (5.99; 36 million), Sudan (4.65; 42 million), Mauritania (4.17; 5 million) and Pakistan (3.39; 200 million)—the war index is even higher.

Today, there are about 100 million Arabs (up from 15 million in 1950) living in countries that have the high population growth that leads to a high war index: Iraq (5.80; 40 million), Palestine (5.46; 5 million), Yemen (5.41; 29 million), Syria (4.02; 18 million), Jordan (3.95; 10 million).

Since 1960, these five countries have been involved in almost 40 armed conflicts. “Only” seven of these conflicts involved attempts to annihilate Jews in Israel. The most virulent players of the Middle East and North Africa region may take occasional breaks from violent conflict. But until at least 2030, when their war index will have fallen well below 3, the region will have to establish a balance between the ambitions of its millions of unemployed young men and the too-few available jobs.

As it becomes more and more difficult for these potential fighters to get work or find social welfare outside their region, we can expect an increase in bloody rebellions against domestic elites, with frustrated young men demanding and fighting for a place in society. A continuation of the region’s low economic growth will make the fighting worse. In 2017, the five countries applied for nine (nine!) high-caliber international patents under the Patent Cooperation Treaty. More than 200 times as many applications came from Israel.

Since most of the victims of internal violence are Muslims as well, their elimination is usually justified as a mandate from the Most High. In this respect, the ISIS Caliphate under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi provides lessons about the past and a peek at the future, as well. Because of Trump’s intervention in the war, ISIS has lost 98 percent of its territories and at least 60,000 men. Is this number frightening to them? Certainly! Does it mean an end to the ability of ISIS and its successors under some other holy banner to absorb losses?

Certainly not.

Due to very high birth rates up to 2015, the number of 15-29-year-old males in Iraq and Syria alone will rise by 3.5 million through 2030 (from 7.75 million to 11.25 million).

As a great danger, allegedly overlooked by Trump, it is emphasized that 30,000 hidden ISIS fighters would still have to be defeated before withdrawal can be considered. In actual fact, the number of angry young Islamists striving upwards by violence is at least 100 times higher. By staying in Syria, the 2,000 Americans risk their lives for coming battles that may not even be winnable for 100,000 western soldiers.

For Russians and Persians, who are now in a triumphant mood, Syria will not be a walk in the park either. Above all Putin, constrained by a war index of 0.67 (1,000 older men are followed by only 670 younger ones), loses the support of even ardent supporters in the event of significant losses. These powers can send their own sons to die in Syria and Iraq, or simply try to confine the revolutions in which competing brothers kill each other to the brothers’ own countries. None of this will happen peacefully.

Genocide threats from the belligerent young men of the Islamic world are not directed against Israel alone. Kurds are also targeted, and not just by Ankara. The aging, low birth rate West, in which every man who falls on the battlefield may terminate a family line, cannot do much to stop the years of violence that lie ahead. But strategic support for the survival struggle of threatened nations remains possible. Red lines around Israel and Kurdistan, the crossing of which would trigger air strikes against the heartlands of the attackers, would be one way of achieving such a goal.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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America • Center for American Greatness • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Middle East • military • Post • Russia • Terrorism • The ME Agenda

Trump’s Syria Withdrawal Hinges on Turkey

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Whether pulling the remaining U.S. troops from Syria turns out to be a bold and beneficial move or a stupid, harmful one depends on what Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will do. That, in turn, depends in no small part on what constraints he senses from President Trump—as well as from Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Here, to the best of my understanding, are the circumstances and the possible consequences of the president’s decision to withdraw from Syria.

Erdoğan had been menacing a military attack on the Kurds in Northeast Syria who, working with U.S. troops, are finishing the dirty work of killing off ISIS. The U.S military has been warning the Turks not to do that, at ever higher levels. But when Trump called Erdoğan to talk him out of attacking our troops’ partners, it seems that Erdogan simply talked him into removing our troops.

Departing Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s anger is understandable. The boss undercut him after, following orders, Mattis had given orders down the line, as well as his word to fellow fighters. National security advisor John Bolton, too, would have been dismayed: he and Trump had agreed that we owe the Kurds a lot, and that the Kurds south of Turkey’s border provide a natural barrier to a variety of enemies of America, not least Erdoğan. Bolton might well have resigned along with Mattis if Trump had merely bowed to Erdoğan. Whether Trump bowed or not depends on whether or not there is more to the story.

Erdoğan is America’ s enemy. As far back as 2003, he forbade use of Turkish ground and airspace for U.S. operations in Iraq, including the U.S. Air Force base at Incirlik. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he has turned Turkey from a NATO ally into an Islamist dictatorship.

Neither wise nor competent, he aims to resurrect something like the Caliphate, with Ottoman Turkey its seat and himself as the Sultan in all but name. To this end, he supported the Brotherhood’s attempted takeover of Egypt, supports Hamas in Gaza, and a host of Sunni terrorist groups, in Syria as well. Only with Turkey’s active help was ISIS able to market the oil it got from Iraqi and Syrian fields, buy arms, receive recruits from abroad, etc. ISIS became more than a minor nuisance only because Erdogan provided it with a hinterland.

Erdoğan meant to use ISIS as the head of the Sunni spear to overthrow Syria’s Alawite  (a version of Shia) regime. However, Erdoğan also opposes Sunni Saudi Arabia, mainly because he is financed largely by Qatar, which is in a very bitter quarrel with Saudi Arabia. In part because of Qatar, he believes he has some kind of understanding with Iran, though it is on the opposite side of the great Sunni-Shia war. He welcomed Russia’s intervention in Syria, though it brought Iranian influence to his southern as well as to his eastern border. Passionately anti-American and in disregard of Turkey’s secular geopolitical adversary relationship with Russia, he seems to be satisfied with Vladimir Putin’s de facto overlordship of the Middle East.

Making war on the Kurds at home and abroad, however, seems to be Erdoğan’s consuming passion. He revived restrictions on the Kurdish language, and renewed military raids on majority Kurdish areas. This runs against demography: Kurds are some 20 percent of Turkey’s population, concentrated in the Southeast. While ethnic Turks are declining in number, the Kurds are prolific. Twenty years hence, the majority of Turkey’s military-age men will be Kurds. All around Turkey’s southern and Eastern borders, in Syria, Iraq, and Iran are some 15 million Kurds who feel kinship with their Turkish brethren. Erdoğan has bombed Iraqi Kurdistan, and his army has attacked Syrian Kurds under the pretext of attacking ISIS—which Turkey used to support openly and to which it continues to give clandestine support. What Erdoğan thinks his war on Kurds will accomplish only he knows.

Putin’s Russia does not share Erdoğan’s animus against the Kurds. One may safely suppose that Russia’s Putin would prefer to see Turkey’s borders continue to be occupied by forces that make Turkey uncomfortable. Moreover, Russia now being in charge of the Middle East’s zoo, Putin’s interest lies in opposing any party therein getting any bigger in its britches, and in the continuation of as much balance as possible. In short, no one would have to encourage Putin to warn Erdoğan not to strike the Syrian Kurds. But someone may well have urged him to deliver such a warning—John Bolton, for example, when he visited the Kremlin in October to discuss U.S.-Russia relations.

Donald Trump may well have delivered the same warning to Erdoğan even more directly during their pivotal conversation on December 14. After all, Trump had called precisely to deliver that warning. Erdoğan’s “Why don’t you remove your troops?” was a clever counter. But unless Trump is witless as well as vile, he would not have needed Bolton to tell him to answer with something like: “OK. We’ll pull our troops out. But you must agree to leave the Kurds alone. And you must know that, if you renege, our planes from the carriers, in the Gulf, and maybe even from Incirlik, will make you wish you had kept your word.” If that was the deal, keeping it quiet would have been part of it.

We know that, after Trump announced the withdrawal, Erdoğan announced the “suspension” of what had been his impending attack on the Kurds. We don’t know whether this was in consequence of such a deal, or whether Erdoğan intends the suspension to be permanent, or whether Trump intends to enforce it. And of course, we don’t know how Putin is counseling Erdoğan in this regard. Events will tell us soon enough.

Photo credit: Burak Kara/Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • military • Post • Religion and Society

‘You Have Been in Afghanistan, I Perceive’

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President Trump’s decisions to withdraw from Syria and to start drawing down the number of our troops in Afghanistan should come as welcome news to all Americans. The pointless wars in the Middle East and the Hindu Kush have been going on since 9/11—longer if you count the entirely unnecessary incursion into Iraq in 1991—and have brought only misery in their wake. If Trump does nothing else but put an end to the endless wars bequeathed to us by the house of Bush, his will have been a consequential presidency.

That these orders have seemingly resulted in the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis is not necessarily a bad thing. Trump is a churning force, as his track record already shows, and if his appointees disagree with his policies, then they go, not the policies. Just ask Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson. Like John Kelly, currently on his way out the door as White House chief of staff, Mattis is a distinguished officer in the United States Marine Corps—but no conservative. As anyone who understands the USMC knows, Marine officers are not ideologues; indeed, by training they are apolitical, owing their allegiance to the Constitution and the commander-in-chief. I’m not sure whether this is still true today, but when I was a kid growing up on various Marine duty stations, they didn’t even vote.

A great many on the Right disagree with Trump. They fear “chaos” and “instability.” But we have been living for decades with presidents (George H.W. Bush, take a bow) who made a fetish of stability and in so doing condemned the world to the very definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result. Thus we have had the eternal “peace process” between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the simple reason that no one seriously desires a definitive solution.

Nonetheless, a solution is only a solution when it is dispositive. This is something our current generation of politicians and warfighters do not wish to acknowledge: hence, the endless war that Bush I began against Saddam Hussein for no particular reason (did or does anyone really care about Kuwait?); was left unfinished; was restarted in the wake of 9/11 by Bush II—again, for no particular reason, since Saddam had little or nothing to do with the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Here we are, 18 years later, with only dead and maimed American soldiers to show for it. Neither Iraq, if it survives, nor Afghanistan will ever be Jacksonian democracies, nor do their inhabitants wish them to be.

This is not to denigrate the heroism of our troops, nor their skills. They may well be, as many say, the best warriors we’ve ever put in the field. But, just as in Vietnam, they’ve been allowed to fight, but not to win. Essentially, they’ve been told to play to an eternal draw, just enough to keep the lid on things over there, but not to materially affect the political structures in place. Thus, by mouthing the liberal pieties in Bush II’s second inaugural address about how the desire for freedom is the natural human condition (it plainly is not) and that America’s duty is to spread the gospel of liberty throughout the world (ditto), our rulers have obscured the lethal realities of our presence overseas.

These are not easy, or happy, conclusions to reach. But we must ask: what have we gotten from our misadventures?

Saddam may have been a tyrant, but he was just one of many, especially in that part of the world. Whether he abused his own people (what tyrant doesn’t?) may have been cause for editorial-page fretting, but not for bellicosity. In effect, both Bushes made the same mistake JFK and LBJ made in Vietnam: thinking that inside every foreigner was an American yearning to get out, when even a cursory glance at the history of Southeast Asia or the Islamic ummah should instantly have disabused them of that notion.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, nothing has changed and nothing ever will change. The last outsider to have any effect on the region was Alexander the Great, and he did so at the point of his sword. Since then, Islam has come and gone and come again, the British fought two wars there, and the Soviets first signaled their systemic vulnerability by not being ruthless enough in their attempt to conquer the “country.” Had they applied the same tactics they used on Hitler’s Germany to Afghanistan we might be living in a very different world today, but they did not. And so now the Soviets have vanished while the Afghans live on in their remote and savage land.

As for Syria, the last foreign occupiers to have a positive effect on that parlous place were the Crusaders, who established the Principality of Antioch, which included Aleppo, in the late 12th century; it collapsed about a century later. Since then, Syria has been the plaything of various warring Muslim factions but offers no menace to American national security, and is far too weak seriously to threaten Israel. As in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, we have no strategic or economic interests in those areas, especially as the United States has emerged once again as the world’s leading energy producer.

The way to deal with these places, therefore, is to withdraw and leave them to their own devices. Sure, the Russians will fiddle around the edges if only to keep their hands in the game and to create an object lesson for their own restive Muslim minorities. So what? The “kingdom” of Saudi Arabia in all likelihood won’t last much longer than Bohemond’s did. As for the religious clash between Sunni and Shi’a Islam, represented on the chessboard by the Saudis and the Iranians, we can only hope that they both lose, and lose badly.

The first words uttered by Sherlock Holmes to Dr. John H. Watson, M.D. are: “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” This startling deduction was made on the detective’s assessment of his future amanuensis’s physical condition: a wounded war veteran recently returned from the battle of Maiwand during the Second Afghan War. This Holmes can see at a glance, including the good doctor’s enervation from enteric fever.

But it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to see that the endless war has been bad for America, and the sooner it’s ended, the better for all of us. Only then can the tremendous damage to American foreign policy brought on by the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama succession of insufficient presidents be remedied, and the nation start to heal.

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Administrative State • Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • Post • Religion of Peace • The ME Agenda

Trump Is Smarter Than the Generals

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A bipartisan consensus among the foreign policy elite holds that America needs to maintain its de facto overseas empire. This includes both preserving stability, as well as fomenting deliberate instability, including regime change in places like Syria. This consensus among elected officials, defense contractors, general officers, talking heads, and various experts is not shared by the vast majority of Americans, who elected Barack Obama and Donald Trump on their promises to end “stupid wars” and put America first.

The American people have good instincts on these matters.

The Confused Syria Campaign
Our Syria campaign has been a confused affair from the beginning. In the waning days of the Arab Spring, Obama supported various rebel factions seeking to oust Bashar al-Assad, as he had earlier in Libya and Egypt. Syrians soon found themselves in the midst of a brutal civil war, and in this vacuum—as in Iraq only a decade earlier—jihad tourists from all over the Middle East soon joined the fray.

The various enemies of the Syrian regime included the so-called “moderate” rebels, Kurds, and Sunni extremists, the latter of which were divided between al Nusra and ISIS. There are no obvious good guys here, and America’s initial support for regime change created the vacuum in which ISIS grew, just as America had created a vacuum in which ISIS’s parent organization began in Iraq. While the vacuum was the outcome of bad planning and misplaced idealism in the case of Iraq, in Syria, it was deliberate . . . and reckless.

Trump inherited this war where we were simultaneously fighting ISIS and the regime with the help of the so-called Free Syrian Army. At first, he defined the mission more narrowly, focusing on eradicating ISIS. This too was controversial, but few could argue with the desirability of defeating ISIS. Most aid to anti-regime rebel groups ended, and the combination of U.S. forces, the Syrian Arab Army, and the Russians fighting alongside the Syrian Arab Army, reduced ISIS from a quasi-state to a ragtag band fighting for survival.

While the U.S. did engage in punitive attacks on the Syrian regime after its alleged gas attacks, under Trump it has almost exclusively focused on ISIS, the only enemy that has threatened American and European security. Where Obama succeeded only in prolonging the civil war and giving birth to ISIS, Trump narrowed his focus and effectively achieved the goal of defeating ISIS.

Having succeeded in this mission, why should our troops stay?

In response, we hear what amounts to word salad. We need to ensure stability, protect the Kurds, shore up Israel, remain on scene for contingencies, protect Iraq’s western border (while we neglect our own), lest we “pull defeat from the jaws of victory.”

This is all unpersuasive. Wars should be fought to protect our people and further their interests. The world is too big and complicated for us either to ensure peace everywhere or to reform the deep pathologies of the Islamic world.

As we learned in Iraq, we soon become the irritant around which multiple groups can unite if we embark on open-ended commitments to and occupations of strange foreign lands.

Revolt of the Generals
Trump apparently defied the advice of his generals in this decision, leading to Defense Secretary Mattis’s announcement that he would retire in February. Mattis, while impressive and highly educated, is correct that he and Trump are not on the same page, and that “you [Trump] have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects . . .”

His forthrightness is commendable, but in the remainder of his letter, Mattis only repeats the globalist conventional wisdom out of the pages of the New York Times.

Part of the reason Republicans fall over themselves in deference to generals is that they have not had an intelligent foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. On this, mainstream Republican thinking is a mash, amounting to a more unilateral and kinetic expression of the “sole superpower” concept that unites both parties.

One thing that is frustrating about the consensus of the wise men is how parochial it is. It does not ask intelligent questions about why the United States has not decisively won a war since the first Persian Gulf War, why the military was so ill-prepared to fight a counter-insurgency in 2001 (even though almost all wars since 1945 have had this feature), or how we can realistically address friction with China, Russia, the Middle East, and Latin America all at the same time.

While Mattis may be impressive, the generals and other members of the defense establishment are not, generally speaking. Consider such dim lights as Tommy Franks, who neglected to give much thought to the challenges of Iraq’s occupation, or Ricardo Sanchez, who spent most of his tenure in Iraq denying the nascent insurgency, when he wasn’t bullying his subordinates.

Generals have told us for 17 years we need to stay the course in Afghanistan, although little has been accomplished there for a very long time, other than the occasional murder of an American soldier by one of our grateful Afghan allies.

Even those on the more creative end of the scale, such as General David Petraeus, have focused almost exclusively on the tactical or operational level. Petraeus counseled that counterinsurgency coupled with a surge was a magic bullet and declared its success in Iraq. The surge’s results were evanescent because the ultimate problem in the Middle East is not al-Qaeda, ISIS, or insurgents, but endemic extremism and violence, regardless of what brand it chooses. Such extremism finds a perpetual source of energy in Islam that is magnified by its votaries’ encounters with the West and its armies.

Almost none of the experts seems to have considered whether intervention in the Middle East advances the goal of protecting America, which is blessedly distant from this tar pit, and whose resources can be more effectively applied on shutting down the open gates through which terrorists enter to do us harm.

I also sense a rather obvious opportunism among Trump’s critics from both political parties, including those in the defense establishment.

For all the kvetching about the withdrawal from Syria, why were they not sounding the alarm on the poorly resourced Iraq effort, the destruction of order in Libya, or the inherent contradictions of our two-front war on ISIS and the Syrian regime fighting it? Why was all the talk of civilian control of the military when Bill Clinton pushed gays and Obama pushed transsexuals and women in combat? Now insubordination is a virtue apparently—an insubordination that aligns with the broader “resistance” of the unelected parts of the government to President Trump and the wishes of the American people.

Our Anti-Terrorism Strategy Should Mostly Be Defensive In Nature
The problem with the military and foreign policy establishment is that it substitutes activity for strategy. Strategy requires some articulation of goals and priorities, as well as some correspondence between mean and ends.

Defeat Germany before defeating Japan is a strategy. An alliance against a common enemy can be a strategy. Attrition can be a strategy. Encouraging a regime’s security forces to overreact is a perennial strategy of insurgents. Fighting everyone, everywhere, all the time, lest we lose sole superpower status is not a strategy. It’s only a thoughtless bad habit, the product of a failure to prioritize among security risks. The long-term result of this bad habit will be perpetual war, overstretch, exhaustion, and decline.

Of the many controversial things Trump said during the campaign, none seemed to grate more than his suggestion that he “knows more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.” It turns out, that’s true. Not only did he step on the gas against ISIS and abandon the parallel (and contradictory) goal of regime change in Syria, he also knows that a successful campaign must eventually be brought to a conclusion.

ISIS is a manifestation of the broader problem of Islamic extremism. Our tactics for weakening Islamic extremism have run through several phases, some of which seem to work—punishing nation-state sponsors, disrupting financial networks, and strengthening borders—but other components, including the utopian goal of making Iraq a democracy or trying to repeat that “success” in Syria, have proven to be costly dead-ends. More important, the latter missions not only failed in enhancing our security, but they have generated new problems, like the birth of the Islamic State, which then took even more resources to address.

The Syria campaign has been smaller, less scrutinized, and mercifully less costly than the earlier Iraq campaign. But, if it were to continue, it would suffer from the same defects and mediocre results as the earlier Iraq campaign and the never-ending Afghanistan campaign. There is no way for these campaigns to end well, because the resources and tactics we employ cannot defeat the deeper sources of Islamic extremism, and our mere presence in certain respects renders this extremism more virulent.

When we look for answers, we should look beyond our parochial and conflicted elite to the wisdom of the past. For all the study of Clausewitz in our military academies, one wonders if our strategists have forgotten his advice on the general superiority of defensive measures as a strategic matter: “What is the object of defense? To preserve. To preserve is easier than to acquire; from which follows at once that the means on both sides being supposed equal, the defensive is easier than the offensive.”

In other words, we are better off securing our border, building a wall, limiting immigrants from hostile lands, and avoiding the Middle Eastern cul de sac, than playing whack-a-mole with terrorists. Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria is the most courageous and controversial manifestation of his broader promise to put America first.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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Administrative State • Foreign Policy • Middle East • military • Post

Mattis Is Wrong—This Scholar-General Was Right

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OK, let’s combine today’s two most obnoxious Washington-speak clichés into one ugly mashup:

Trump has thrown the last adult in the room under the bus.

Mattis Exit Paves Way for Global Chaos” was the sober CNN top headline during the hours following the announcement Thursday of the defense secretary’s resignation.

The end is near. If the Church of Mammon heard confessions, Washingtonians would be queued out along Constitution Avenue waiting to be shriven and wondering if Mammon even cared if they were heartily sorry.

James Mattis will join Nikki Haley on the outside of the Trump Administration, where Bill Kristol has been wanting them to be, the better to be available on Kristol’s dream team of prospective NeverTrump candidates for president in 2020.

Sixteen months ago, Mattis was riding high within a Trump Administration with a different makeup. In August 2017, he joined other top officials in getting the president to postpone carrying out his campaign promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“The game plan agreed upon at Camp David,” said a report in RealClearDefense, “was a triumph for Mattis and [then-national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R.] McMaster, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, a military analyst. The two worked hand-in-hand with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence.”

McMaster had arranged for Pence to cut short an official visit to Latin America, becoming a diplomatic no-show in key capitals in order to join Tillerson and Mattis in strong-arming Trump into postponing the Afghan withdrawal. Four-star General John Kelly, who recently had become White House chief of staff, also was one of the advisers urging Trump to keep American soldiers in Afghanistan.

By caving to a national security adviser he said “looks like a beer salesman” and a chief diplomat he now recalls as “dumb as a rock,” Trump won “Strange New Respect” in The Swamp. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised Trump’s decision. Across the aisle, Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said it was a positive step inasmuch as it went in the direction McCain wanted to go.

Today Trump is behaving with the shrewdness and self-awareness of a civilian commander-in-chief who knows, with Clemenceau, that war is too important to be left to the generals. Trump recognizes too, with another French leader, Charles de Gaulle, that the cemeteries are full of indispensable men.

Mattis, it must not be denied, is a patriot and a man of learning and intellectual discipline. But he’s not infallible. Military and civilian leaders with comparable qualities have disagreed and will disagree with him.

As the Trump Administration implements the president’s promises to get troops out of Syria and Afghanistan, the wisdom of one of the great Cold War scholar-generals should be a major policy guide.

Army Lt. General William E. Odom (1932-2008) was one of the bravest and most brilliant military intelligence officers of his generation. An expert on the Soviet Union with a doctorate in political science from Columbia, he was President Ronald Reagan’s director of the National Security Agency, the electronic spying outfit. A thinking man as well as a fighting man, he was one of the architects of what Margaret Thatcher remembered as Reagan’s winning the Cold War “without firing a shot.”

Odom taught at Yale for two decades following his retirement, and his warnings about U.S. military deployments in the Middle East were wise and prophetic.

A large body of Odom’s writings about the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and related Middle East security issues is collected on the website of the Harvard Nieman Fellows program.

In August 2005, Odom wrote “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?”—an article that made him persona non grata in the George W. Bush administration.

“If I were a journalist,” Odom began, “I would list all the arguments that you hear against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, the horrible things that people say would happen, and then ask: Aren’t they happening already? Would a pullout really make things worse? Maybe it would make things better.”

Odom went on to list the arguments—many of the same arguments Trump heard applied to Afghanistan from Mattis and McCain and McMaster and Kelly and Tillerson and Pence 16 months ago; and the same as we are hearing from almost everywhere today.

Here are a few notes from the familiar refrain, with the essence of Odom’s responses:

We would leave behind a civil war.

“Iraqis are already fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans. That’s civil war.”

We would lose credibility on the world stage.

“A hyperpower need not worry about credibility. That’s one of the great advantages of being a hyperpower: When we have made a big strategic mistake, we can reverse it. And it may even enhance our credibility. Staying there damages our credibility more than leaving.”

It would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy.

“The U.S. will not leave behind a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq no matter how long it stays. Holding elections is easy. It is impossible to make it a constitutional democracy in a hurry.”

The scholar, soldier and strategist whose words our government needs to consider most of all today is the late William Odom, who said presciently:

“Those who fear leaving a mess are actually helping make things worse while preventing a new strategic approach with some promise of success.”

Photo Credit: Terry Ashe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

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Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Israel • Middle East • Post • Russia

Out of Syria

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Wednesday afternoon Israel time I was outlining with my collaborator Yoav Kapshuk our paper on the meaning of the Syrian civil war and its resolution for the future of world order. As soon as I got off the phone with Dr. Kapshuk, I saw on my news feed that President Trump had declared victory against ISIS and ordered American troops out of Syria.

On Thursday afternoon, Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned over the president’s decision, choosing not to emulate General George Marshall who refused to resign when overruled by President Truman on the recognition of the Jewish State.

We are seeing a lot of criticism of the president’s decision to pull out of Syria from people who, until Wednesday, were unaware the United States had troops in Syria. We are also seeing a lot of talk about America betraying the Kurds to Assad from people who don’t know that Bashar al-Assad and the Kurds aren’t enemies, that they haven’t really been fighting, and that Assad for all his atrocities is a better strategist than to wind up a civil war he didn’t start by starting a new one for no reason at all. Assad has no reason to side with the Turks, who are hostile to his regime, against the Syrian Kurds, who are not, or to welcome Turkish intervention against the Kurds within Syria.

Whether we like it or not, Assad has won his war. True, he needed the help of the Iranians, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah from Lebanon, and the Russians. But it is also true that some of the Sunni Islamists who fought him were jihadis who are actually genocidal, who proudly rape and enslave, and who inspire copycat groups and lone wolves throughout the world.

A continued U.S. presence in northern Syria is obviously in the interest of the Syrian Kurds. The Kurds do not have a recognized state of their own but are, thanks to the settlement of World War I, divided among Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. The Kurds have fought so many battles that it is understandable they welcome the help of anybody willing to fight their battles for them. And here in Israel the defense and foreign policy establishments, the same people who have been wrong for a generation on the conflict with Palestinians and run to the media to undermine the elected Prime Minister at every opportunity, are sure that the United States has created a vacuum that will be filled by Putin and the Iranians to Israel’s detriment.

I see things playing out a bit differently. As Assad consolidates his rule, the role of foreign forces in his country will diminish, not increase. Hezbollah fighters are in Syria as mercenaries, and Assad is not going to pay them when he has no battles to fight. The Iranian ability to project power abroad is threatened by unrest and a crumbling economy at home—though it doesn’t help that the same people attacking President Trump for withdrawing in Syria were just a short while ago trying to undermine the war against Iran and her proxies in Yemen.

The Russian presence in Syria, viewed from a strictly Israeli lens, is basically a tripwire force: it does not menace Israel directly, but interferes with our ability to act in Syria because it is backed by Russia’s offshore nuclear might.

Apart from Israel, I cannot see how Russia’s presence in Syria threatens America’s interests or America’s allies. The Russians have and will continue to have bases in Syria, but they do not have the modern navy or air force to project power from those bases that has anything like the capacities of the United States and its allies in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Declaring victory and getting out may not always be the right move. But perpetual war in Syria would be the way to go only as part of a strategy of containment. President Trump’s critics need to explain to Americans who engagement in Syria means to contain. They need to explain why those threats are of the magnitude to require a global strategy of containment. They need to explain why Syria is a good place to fight.

Mattis in his resignation cites the menace of China and Russia. China, which in the foreseeable future will overtake the United States as an economic power, is projecting power and influence into the Caribbean through its increasing entanglement with the collapsing Maduro regime in Venezuela, and is currently trying to cow the Canadians to do its bidding rather than that of the United States.

Russia, as wise man Paul Nitze used to say of the Soviet Union before it, is basically a third-world country with nuclear missiles. According to 2017 figures, Russia ranks 73rd, just behind the Seychelles, in per capita GDP. Would-be architects of a new new world order, those who want to show how America can continue to lead the world to greater peace and wider prosperity, need to to show how, when, and where a rising China, not a stagnating Russia and a collapsing Iran, need to be contained. Syrian Kurdistan is surely not the place.

Photo Credit: Ali Imran/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • Post

Trump Is Right About Syria (and Turkey)

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The United States is no longer the sole superpower in the world. Of course, it is the most dominant force on the planet, but that dominance—relative to the capabilities of other countries—has declined. Revanchist states, such as Russia, China, or Iran—even “friendly” states that have become disenchanted by the West, such as Turkey—are now arising to complicate U.S. foreign policy in ways not experienced since the nineteenth century. This is particularly true in the vital region of the Middle East.

If the world has entered a multipolar age in which many, variegated powers compete with one another in an endless game of dominance over limited territory and resources, then the Mideast is the definitive example of the trend. All of the problems the United States is facing today are playing themselves out with terminal intensity in the land between Europe and Asia, also known as the Middle East.

Riven by ethno-religious, tribal, and historical tensions, the Middle East is experiencing harrowing changes. In many respects, the same kind of turmoil that drove Europe mad during their religious feuds several centuries ago are now driving politics in the Middle East today; the only difference being more advanced weaponry. Today, a potentially nuclear-armed Iran is gobbling up the region, as are the Russians.

Meanwhile, the increasingly Islamist and autocratic Turkey—a NATO member—is distancing itself from the West. The Russians and Iranians (as well as the Chinese) have happily embraced the troubled Turkey, as it seeks new allies to replace its old Western ones.

It is true that this is an alliance of convenience, but the United States can still act to divide that alliance in its infancy. I believe this is precisely what Trump is doing by pulling out of Syria.

Pearl-Clutching Is a Washington Sport
Everyone in Washington is screaming that Trump is handing Syria (and the wider Middle East) over to Russia, Iran, and their newfound allies in Turkey, while at the same time selling out America’s erstwhile Kurdish friends to be annihilated by the Turks over long-standing religious, political, and historical differences.

The experts, once again, are wrong. Their appraisal of American military power and reach undercuts the fact that the United States still will be capable of striking back against enemy targets that may appear in Syria after American forces pull out.

By pulling out U.S. forces, Trump is likely giving Turkey time to recognize that neither the Iranians nor the Russians will prove receptive to their goal of reconstituting the Ottoman Empire in the region. Israel will not be too keen on the idea, either.

Trump isn’t “handing” Syria over to anyone. The president is merely recognizing that geopolitics is about leverage. Compared to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, as well as the Russians, Iranians, and Turks, the United States has little leverage there. Keeping 2,000 Americans on the ground in Syria, with big targets painted on their backs, will not “stabilize” the region. It will likely compel Russia, Iran, and others to take harsher action against perceived U.S. interests in the region.

Those in Washington lamenting the drawdown believe that American troops are “stabilizers.” They are not. They give false hope to people who could never achieve a workable independence on their own without risking a major war. Neither is the American force operating in Syria large enough truly to bring about a peace that would better comport with U.S. national security preferences.

Even as those 2,000 U.S. troops have come to occupy nearly two-thirds of Syria, their hold is tenuous at best. The Russians, Iranians, and Syrian Arab Army (the forces loyal to Syria’s besieged strongman leader Assad) intend to keep Syria together and devoid both of jihadist “rebels” as well as the United States.

Yes, American forces have performed admirably under harsh conditions and they have managed to do great physical damage not only to ISIS in Syria, but also to significant amounts of Russian, Syrian Arab Army, and Iranian forces. Yet the Assad regime, operating alongside Turkey, Russia, and Iran, have actually formed a political solution to the Syrian civil war. The United States has no workable political resolution to the conflict. The most our “best and brightest” in Washington can achieve is to keep a constabulary force in Syria indefinitely, as they’ve done in Afghanistan, while that small force is hit on all sides by multiple enemies.

That’s not a strategy!

Great Power Politics Returns
If the world has entered a multipolar age, then America must embrace the classical geopolitical concept of realism. This means a degree of retrenchment and restraint is needed. Trump has rightly identified both a nuclear-armed Iran and the various, mostly Sunni Muslim jihadist terror organizations as direct threats to the United States. Trump understands that repeating the excess George W. Bush or exhibiting the weakness of Barack Obama will not yield the kind of results in the Middle East that America needs. Such actions will merely weaken the United States at a critical time.

Balancing against Iran by creating a Sunni Arab alliance (led by Saudi Arabia) aligned with Israel is vital, but not enough. The previous balance-of-power that existed in the region was backed up not only by the Sunni Arab autocrats and democratic Israel, but Turkey in the north as well. Today, however, because of deteriorating relations between the West and Turkey (over Turkey’s increasing preference for Islamic autocracy and their continued hostility toward the Kurds), Turkey has been compelled to move closer toward the budding Chinese-Russian-Iranian alliance.

Those who worry that the Syria pullout will create a vacuum in the region that the Russians and Iranians will exploit simply don’t understand: the vacuum was created in 2013, when the Obama Administration refused to intervene to stop the Syrian civil war from spilling out the way it did. The Russians and Iranians stepped in almost immediately and backstopped the flailing Assad Regime. Since then, no vacuum has existed: the Russians, Iranians, and even the Turks have steadfastly controlled the political situation on the ground.

Short of a war, there will be no way that America’s relatively small force will make a lick of difference in Syria. The other powers simply want Assad to remain in charge much more than the United States wants to depose him (and, thereby hand over the country to the head-chopping jihadists arrayed against Assad).

Taking Turkey Back
If Iran is the threat that many in the Trump Administration believe it to be, and if American military power is no longer as effective in the region as everyone previously thought, then why not step back, reserve the right to attack any foe that may arise in Syria at a later date, and seek to make nice with the weaker members of this new Russo-Iranian-Turkish alliance?

Turkey, despite its many problems, still needs the United States. It continues to be a NATO member and has, until recently, been a longtime rival to the Russians. Moreover, while it is in league with Iran now, Turkey paradoxically needs to weaken Iran in order to accomplish its goal of reestablishing the Ottoman Empire. To say that Turkey is an erstwhile member of the Russo-Iranian alliance is and always will be an overstatement.

Instead, Turkey is likely waiting to be enticed to return to the West, if only to check against Iran and Russia. In essence, Turkey wants to be a middle-man in the region. The United States should let Ankara take on this role. Besides, the United States needs a northern defensive perimeter to contain Iran.

Of course, this is a gamble. Maybe Turkey does not want to work with the United States right now. Unfortunately, the alternatives are too costly to imagine. Thus Trump is right to try a diplomatic balancing strategy whereas those who disagree with him—even those like James Mattis—are wrong. The Syria pullout is about breaking the budding Russian-Iranian alliance by giving Turkey some breathing space.

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Photo Credit: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

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Foreign Policy • Middle East • Post • Religion of Peace

Francis in Arabia: How to Think About the Papal Visit to Abu Dhabi

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The first visit by a Roman Catholic pope to the Arabian Peninsula is slated for February 3-5, when Pope Francis celebrates mass and meets with with Muslim and Christian leaders in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The visit could portend improved relations between Christians and Muslims around the world, with special attention to the situation of the minority Christian in the Arabian Peninsula. The visit also could strengthen diplomatic efforts for an Arab-Israeli peace, a prospect less remote today than it was just a few years ago.

The UAE is a federation of seven principalities (emirates) along the Persian Gulf coast, bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman by land, and situated across the gulf from Iran. Each emirate is ruled by a separate hereditary dynasty. The seven dynastic regimes combine to form a single “nation-state” for purposes of foreign and military policy, membership in the United Nations and other international organizations, and in some aspects of federal government within the UAE, for example, federal highways and other public works.

According to the UAE constitution, the hereditary ruler of Abu Dhabi is ex officio the federal president and the ruler of Dubai is prime minister. These two emirates are the wealthiest and most influential of the seven, Abu Dhabi by virtue of oil and gas riches and Dubai because of its status as an international port, financial center, and travel destination comparable to Singapore and Hong Kong.

The UAE is Saudi Arabia’s closest political and military ally. The federation ranks second to Saudi Arabia in wealth and power within the Gulf Cooperation Council. Today, the UAE is closely aligned with its fellow Sunni Muslim state Saudi Arabia in regional conflicts versus Shia Iran and Iran’s clients and co-religionists, the Houthi in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Assad regime in Syria. While the UAE is powerful in its own right and is not a client state of Saudi Arabia, it is likely that it coordinated with Riyadh when making its historic and sensitive decision to invite the pope.

Signaling to Christians
This papal visit should be seen as a positive development simply because it is a goodwill gesture by influential Gulf Arab Sunni regimes towards all Christians. Regardless of how the Sunni states may wish to accrue reputational advantages versus their Shia rivals, it should be recognized that by no means are the pope and the Catholic Church attempting to “take sides” in the Gulf Arabs’ confrontation against Shia Iran.

The Vatican has for many years maintained diplomatic ties with Khomeinist Iran as close or closer than those with the Sunni Gulf Arabs, and there is no intention to impede or reverse the existing Vatican-Iranian relationship. Surely Pope Francis would accept an invitation to visit Iran, too, if circumstances were favorable.

Many conservative Christians, including some faithful Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, are disaffected—and quite rightly so—with Pope Francis. He’s sown confusion about some important questions of Christian doctrine and moral discipline. He’s taken what some of the faithful would call an inordinate interest in political and public policy questions, such as how to respond to climate change.

Be that as it may, these issues are not especially relevant to the visit to Abu Dhabi. What is essential in the visit is that it will be an occasion for Arabian Peninsula Muslims to increase their awareness of Christians in general and to witness an example of hospitality and religious tolerance on the part of their rulers.

Arab Muslims for the most part do not understand the disagreements between Protestants and Catholic, or the other divisions within Christianity. They don’t know enough about Christianity to make the distinctions. They certainly cannot be expected to be informed about current disputes that are largely internal to the Roman Catholic Church.

Even Arab Muslims with a keen interest in the Western world, including a desire to understand Christians and Christianity, are not well informed. For example, when I lived and worked in Saudi Arabia from 2009 through 2015, one of the Saudi Arab middle managers at Aramco liked and respected the Western world and wanted to become better informed about it. He told me once that he had smuggled into Saudi Arabia Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” novels, and he had read them with fascination.

It fell upon me to explain that not all Christians believe in a coming Rapture as projected in the “Left Behind” series. Many Evangelicals today believe in the doctrine of the Rapture, but most other Protestants do not. The official teachings of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches do not include a doctrine prophesying a Rapture.

This point and many other aspects of Christian faith are simply unknown to most Arab Muslims.

Just as most Western Christians have only a superficial understanding of the Islamic world and may regard as monolithic a religious body that is actually quite fractured, so, too, do Middle Eastern Muslims tend to look upon the Christian world as far more unitary than it is. This is a key reason why the UAE’s diplomatic gesture is made to the Roman pontiff.

While sophisticated Muslim leaders know that Christians are not united and that the Roman Catholic pope is not the leader of an undivided Christendom, he still serves a symbolic purpose to them as the closest thing to such a leader. To take this point even further, it could be argued that, strangely enough, while the secularized West has smothered Christendom and pronounced it dead, Arab Muslims still look to the West and perceive that, to their way of thinking, something like a Christendom exists.

A bloody-minded minority of Muslims including ISIS and al-Qaeda want to destroy Christianity. While I may be criticized for oversimplifying, the truth is that most Muslims today, while probably believing that the ultimate conversion of the whole world to Islam is inevitable, want some form of peaceful coexistence with the Christian world during our lifetimes.

Mirror-imaging is not a sound means of international understanding, and the global Christian and Muslim faiths and communities by no means are mirror-images of one another. Nevertheless, one key belief they do share is in the eventual conversion of the world to what each considers the One True Faith.

A Coming Saudi Openness?
The pope’s visit will be on the very doorstep of Saudi Arabia. This makes it an occasion with potentially great significance for Saudi Arabia’s internal and external policies and conditions.

No less authoritative a periodical than The Economist recently reported that Saudi Arabia is re-examining its long-held doctrine that Christian houses of worship should not be permitted to exist on the Arabian Peninsula, or at least not within the borders of Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam’s two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. Those making the case that the Saudi government might change its policy cite archaeological evidence that Christian churches did exist in Arabia for some time after the overall Muslim conquest of the territory, presumably with the approbation of Mohammed and his successors.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who because of the war in Yemen and the killing of his Saudi political opponent Jamal Khashoggi now is the bête noire of much of the permanent political class in Washington, recently has been in the forefront of gestures of greater Saudi openness to the overt practice of Christian faith in his kingdom. He welcomed the cardinal-patriarch of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic Church to Riyadh a year ago, and he later hosted in the Saudi capital another cardinal from Rome, Pope Francis’s chief adviser on inter-religious dialogue. Both of these well publicized, unprecedented visits by leading Catholic cardinals were meant to raise expectations that Saudi Arabia might change policy so as to allow the construction and maintenance of Christian church edifices within its national boundaries.

In November, the Saudi crown prince welcomed an unprecedented visit of U.S. Evangelical Christian leaders to Riyadh and met with them for two hours. This group is significant both because it represents many of the more fervently practicing Christians in the United States, and also it is the segment that ardently supports Israel. At the heart of this group’s enthusiasm for “Christian Zionism” is its belief that the re-establishment of a Jewish state in Jerusalem and the Holy Land is necessary to fulfill biblical prophecies. While this is a minority view among all Christians worldwide, it is a doctrine animating one of the most powerful political constituencies in America. On the same visit to the region, the Evangelical delegation traveled to the UAE for a meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia and U.S. Interests
Notwithstanding the horrors of the war in Yemen and the brutal treatment the Saudi government sometimes inflicts on its domestic opponents, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been a crucial participant with the United States in diplomatic efforts that are widely believed to be aimed towards full diplomatic recognition of Israel by Saudi Arabia and Israel’s recognition of a Palestinian state. Already Saudi Arabia is well known to be engaged in close intelligence and security cooperation with Israel.

Self-righteous American politicians today who cannot restrain themselves from feckless gestures condemning the Saudi crown prince for the issues of Yemen and Khashoggi should be made to recognize that their moralistic posturing jeopardizes a very real and immediate chance for a nearly comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

Associated signs of Gulf Arab rapprochement with Israel were the past month’s visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Oman, and the visit of the Israeli culture minister to the UAE. Neither of those countries have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, but they are behaving in ways that indicate formal relations may be contracted soon.

Gulf Arab leaders understand that Pope Francis and other Christian leaders have a valuable role to play in bringing about accord between Israel on the one side and the Palestinian and Gulf Arabs on the other.

In all of the Gulf Arab states besides Saudi Arabia, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant church buildings and parishes already exist.

In Saudi Arabia itself, Christians do conduct organized worship and catechesis. This practice of Christian faith is tolerated by the government, as a means of retaining needed foreign workers, so long as Christian communities have no official status and no church buildings, and as long as they remain invisible to the Muslim population. Never, ever, is a Christian allowed to proselytize a Muslim in that country.

The Catholic Church alone estimates it has more than 1.5 million members in Saudi Arabia; there easily could be a million or more Christians of other denominations also living in the Kingdom. Most of the Catholics are expatriate workers from India and the Philippines. Tens of thousands of Christian Arabs—Copts from Egypt, Chaldeans from Iraq, and Orthodox and Catholics from Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Syria—also live in Saudi Arabia.

Many of these Christian guest workers are accompanied by their families and live for decades in Saudi Arabia, some indeed for most of their lives. The Christian communities of Saudi Arabia, hidden though they are, probably exceeds 10 percent of the country’s entire population. In the UAE, the Christian population—which is not hidden—is probably greater than 15 percent.

A single Catholic bishop resident in Bahrain has oversight of the churches of four countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. Another Catholic bishop, based in Abu Dhabi, tends to the flocks in the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

The Catholic bishop responsible for Saudi Arabia maintains a website for his vicariate—equivalent to a diocese. Here he reports:

The Catholic community respects the sensitivities of the region and has always maintained a low profile. Relations with the local authorities are generally good. The country allows Roman Catholics and Christians of other denominations to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work. The situation of the Church in Saudi Arabia is similar to that of the early Christian communities.

In a few days, English-speaking Christians of all denominations, including many thousands in the hidden congregations of Saudi Arabia, will sing these words from the Christmas carol “O Holy Night”:

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Hope, one of the theological virtues, is not merely a suggestion for Christians; it is an obligation.

Westerners—especially believing Christians and Jews—who want more peace and less conflict coming out of the Middle East, need to understand and keep in focus the hard realities that make relations between Islam and the West so difficult. But at the same time, they should give their attention to prayer and hope when Pope Francis visits Abu Dhabi.

Photo Credit: Luka Gonzales/AFP/Getty Images

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Foreign Policy • Intelligence Community • Middle East • Post

Why Are We Giving Foreign Hackers Diplomatic Immunity?

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In 2017, as the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar was heating up, a Moroccan named Jamal Benomar was employed by the Qatari government as part of a broad effort by the tiny, Iran- and Islamist-supporting country to spy on that nation’s friends and enemies. Some of this spying entailed hacking email accounts, so that Qatar’s enemies could be harmed through leaks of sensitive information to the press. Other efforts involved more traditional espionage.

Scandalously, the U.S. State Department just found that Benomar was entitled to diplomatic immunity based on a request from his native Morocco. The government of Morocco forwarded documents to the State Department claiming him as a diplomat and asking that he be granted the usual immunities from the laws that diplomats enjoy.

Should the court hearing the Benomar case go along with that decision, it would set a very dangerous precedent, and the ramifications could be great for America’s national security.

Anyone acting as an agent of a foreign government effectively would be immune from prosecution—or even civil lawsuits—for whatever they did in the service of that government. Think about the proverbial Russian agents trying to sway American elections: whether or not they were Russian citizens, as long as they were acting in the service of the Russian government, they would be immune from American law. They could commit whatever crimes they wanted, do whatever harm they wished, and no one could hold them accountable.

Of course, the specific details of Benomar’s case make it even more clear that the claims of immunity are bunk. He wasn’t working as a diplomat in the service of Morocco; he was a hired spy working for the Qatari government.

We know this is true because his own court filings depend upon it. Benomar claims, in addition to whatever immunity he enjoys as a diplomat, his actions on behalf of the Qatari government are entitled to sovereign immunity. Benomar preposterously argues that, because a court in the Central District of California once found that Qatar is “immune under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act,” he should be immune as their “agent.”

Benomar is clearly guilty of violating both the international rule and the American clarification of that rule. He has engaged in paid work for the Qatari government to spy upon both its friends and its enemies, including citizens of the United States. This matters because international law governing diplomacy forbids diplomats from any professional or commercial activity. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) states this explicitly in its Article 42.

The United States’ own mission to the United Nations recently clarified their understanding of how that treaty applies. “Diplomatic privileges and immunity would apply,” the 2016 circular note reads, only to those who “perform on behalf of the Member State, diplomatic duties directly related to the work of the United Nations on a full-time basis [i.e. at least 35 hours a week] and shall not practice for profit any professional or commercial activity in the United States.” (Emphasis added.) Certainly, spying and hacking American citizens for profit counts as a “commercial activity” of a kind, even if it is illicit.

The law is not on Benomar’s side here, making it a perplexing question as to why the State Department seems to want to let the Qataris get away with this hacking scheme. After all, even actual officials of foreign governments are not protected from immunity for their conduct by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. That law really intends to protect heads of state from being arrested or prosecuted, not just any agent of any government. For example, anyone could understand why it would be destructive to diplomatic relations if the Queen of England should be hauled into court during a state visit, just because someone dreamed up some lawsuit to target her.

Jamal Benomar, however, is hardly the King of Qatar; he is not even a Qatari citizen, and he is not here on a state visit. In fact, he isn’t on any kind of visit: he has lived in the United States for decades. As such, he ought to be subject to American law. Benomar is, at most, entitled to diplomatic privilege when he is working for the government of Morocco in his alleged role as a U.N. diplomat. His commercial transactions for other countries are not part of that work. He is therefore not entitled to immunity for his commercial operations.

We can hope the court hearing the Benomar case will understand the importance of being able to hold foreign agents to account for what they do here. Election meddling is only one way in which agents of foreign governments can cause mischief that is harmful to our way of life. The law exists to preserve good order in our society. Foreign agents cannot be immune to American law.

Photo Credit: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • military • Post • the Presidency

America Must Stand with Saudi Arabia in Yemen

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Yemen has become the latest battleground in a regional intra-religious semi-cold war between the Sunni Arab states, nominally led by Saudi Arabia, and the Shiite-dominated Islamic Republic of Iran. The stakes are high as the two sides compete for primacy in a region that is home to a large portion of the world’s essential energy supply, as well as a transit point for some of the world’s most important maritime trading routes.

Should the United States get cold feet in Yemen and abandon its Saudi allies, then, it will ensure Iran becomes the region’s new powerhouse.

Currently, Houthi rebels—who are nothing more than pro-Iran malcontents—seek to dominate Yemen, turning it away from a pro-Saudi (and therefore moderately pro-American) country into a decidedly anti-American one. Those who worry about the humanitarian costs of the conflict are not wrong. They may be extensive. Yet, Washington must always concern itself with what’s in America’s national interest first. Yemen becoming a pro-Iranian enclave is more of a grave concern for us than the fact that the country’s civil war has become a shameful humanitarian disaster.

Take, for instance, the fact that Yemen’s coastline straddles some of the world’s busiest maritime trading routes. In particular, the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden (and the wider Indian Ocean). Yemen is also just across—separated by the waterway—from Djibouti (where China now has some of its most important overseas military bases).

Regional Stability At Stake
When the internationally recognized, pro-Saudi regime ruled Yemen, global stability was assured, as vital trade occurred unabated. With the civil war having gone on for years and Iran intensifying its commitment to the Houthi rebels, the Saudis may lose their client in Yemen. With that the entire regional order would be destabilized further.

Consider this: most of the trade passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb either emanates from or travels to Egypt’s Suez Canal—meaning that as Yemen goes, so goes 8 percent of the world’s trade. And as Yemen becomes a major destabilizer along the Bab-el-Mandeb, the stability of the far more crucial Egypt will be next.

Consider, too, that the Egyptian economy receives roughly $5 billion a year from maritime trade passing near Yemen’s coastline. Cairo anticipates an increase in trade revenue to around $13 billion by 2023. One of the primary causes of the Arab Spring—which brought on the overthrow of the pro-American autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, and replaced him with an ardent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, until the military took him out—was Egypt’s dire economic situation. Imagine what depriving Egypt of such important maritime trade could do to the political stability of Egypt and the wider region.

More important for our own interests is the fact that four percent of the world’s oil supply passes through the strait.

While some have proposed reopening old pipelines to lessen the world’s dependence on the Bab-el-Mandeb, as I argued several months ago, this is simply not a viable possibility. Yes, old pipelines could offset some of the economic damage. But no matter what, pipelines alone could not offset the loss of this waterway (at least not in the near-term). Therefore, transportation of oil would become more costly and the overall costs to consumers worldwide would increase.

No Concessions to Iran
By not fighting in Yemen, Saudi Arabia all but concedes the region to an empowered Iran. The Iranians already enjoy the ability to threaten global trade closer to their shores, in the even more important Strait of Hormuz. Should Iran gain a strategic foothold in Yemen, the mullahs would be able to threaten yet another maritime choke point in the Bab-el-Mandeb. Iran would also have another place to target its medium-range missiles at the Sunni world—and losing Yemen would compel Saudi Arabia to fulfill its threat of purchasing a stockpile of nuclear weapons from Pakistan. No one should want Riyadh, with its large population of Islamists, to possess even one nuclear weapon.

The Trump Administration has rightly pointed out the threat to the world that Iran poses. This is the reason for Trump having abandoned the ill-advised nuclear deal that former President Obama made with Iran in 2015. While not wanting to commit more American forces to another Mideast quagmire, President Trump astutely recognizes that the United States doesn’t have the luxury of simply abandoning the region. If it leaves forthwith, as some on both the American Left and even on the Right seem intent on doing, then other, less savory powers—such as Iran, but also Russia and China—would happily move in to dominate the world’s energy flows and major maritime trading routes.

Thus, Trump has decided to empower the Sunni Arab states (led by Saudi Arabia) as well as Israel to contain Iran. Abandoning the Saudi cause in Yemen means abandoning Saudi Arabia, which, in turn, means abandoning Israel, which all but assures Iran becomes the region’s new master. Virtually overnight, then, the entire American alliance system collapses, as others in the region compete to curry favor with the region’s new masters and abandon the United States.

Meanwhile, farther afield, other twitchy allies might start wondering whether they’ll be abandoned in their hour of need. While America should be more judicious about our alliances, we still cannot allow for our allies (and enemies) to believe we’re seeking to abandon the world; that would be against our interests.

Unfortunately, for now, the United States must either support Saudi Arabia or watch as Iran empowers itself—and threatens the United States.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo Credit: Saleh Al-Obeidi/AFP/Getty Images

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Big Media • Donald Trump • Middle East • Post • Religion of Peace • The Left • The ME Agenda • the Presidency

Our Childish Elite Shed Crocodile Tears for Khashoggi

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In the playpen that has become our politics, feelings are everything. It doesn’t matter what the facts are, only the emotional effect those facts and their attendant consequences might have on the party holding the short end of the stick. Lose an election? Whine and sue. Don’t like the notion of a sovereign nation defending its borders from an attack using non-lethal means? Emotionalize and propagandize a picture of a mother and her children fleeing. Everything must have an emotional component, behind which lies the unspoken accusation: how would you like it if this happened to you?

Nor are international affairs spared this childishness. The gory murder of a non-American Muslim in the former capital of a Muslim country by a group of Muslim assassins from another Muslim country has somehow been transformed into an American problem. Why should that be? The decedent in question occasionally wrote propaganda pieces disguised as journalism for a preening American newspaper in Washington, D.C., whose motto is “Democracy dies in darkness.” In fact, what died in the darkness of the Saudi embassy in Istanbul was Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national of whom no one in the Western world had heard until a month ago.

Cue the crocodile tears: the reflexively anti-Trump, crudely reductionist, historically ignorant American media immediately transformed a rather ordinary Arab bit of bloody business into the greatest crisis since the Perdicaris Affair, and ever since the murder has stamped its tiny feet, demanding that the United States immediately “punish” the Saudis for a crime committed on sovereign Saudi diplomatic territory in Turkey. Part of this is phony professional solidarity based on the most generous possible interpretation of Khashoggi’s real occupation of Muslim Brotherhood activist and anti-regime agitator as that of “journalist.” The other is rather more complex.

Friends, Frenemies, and Enemies
In the media sandbox, the entire geopolitical situation must be judged by the ideological sympathies of the institutional players du jour.

During the Obama Administration, whose foreign-policy bureaucracy was staffed by the same kind of like-minded Ivy Leaguers who populate the leftist pundit class, it was natural for the media to root for the John Kerry-Samantha Power-John Brennan school of America Last, and in particular for the so-called Iran nuclear deal framework, which turned American policy decisively in favor of the Shiite Iranians over the Sunni Saudis. Never mind that Obama once publicly bowed to the Saudi “king”—our money, including pallets of cash, went where his heart was: Iran.

Never mind as well that Islamic Iran has been, since the hostage crisis of Jimmy Carter’s administration, an implacable foe whose people and leaders shout “Death to America” with soporific regularity. Under Obama, America tilted away from our traditional frenemies, the Saudis, toward an avowed enemy, and paid them for the privilege of giving them what they wanted.

Donald Trump’s perfectly sensible restoration of the U.S.-Saudi alliance, as morally odious as that alliance is (Saudis made up the bulk of the 9/11 hijackers, and yet you never heard the Left call for punishing the kingdom in 2001), represents not simply a return to the status quo ante, but an explicit rejection of  Barack Hussein Obama’s “legacy,” and thus must be fought against with the passion of the defeated segregationist South battling for the Lost Cause.

Enter, at last, the grownup in the romper room: secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who set the record straight regarding Democrats’ “caterwauling” over Khashoggi in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday:

Is it any coincidence that the people using the Khashoggi murder as a cudgel against President Trump’s Saudi Arabia policy are the same people who supported Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Iran—a regime that has killed thousands world-wide, including hundreds of Americans, and brutalizes its own people? Where was this echo chamber, where were these avatars of human rights, when Mr. Obama gave the mullahs pallets of cash to carry out their work as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism?

Saudi Arabia, like the U.S.—and unlike these critics—recognizes the immense threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the world. Modern-day Iran is, in Henry Kissinger’s term, a cause, not a nation. Its objectives are to spread the Islamic revolution from Tehran to Damascus, to destroy Israel, and to subjugate anyone who refuses to submit, starting with the Iranian people. An emboldened Iran would spread even more death and destruction in the Middle East, spark a regional nuclear-arms race, threaten trade routes, and foment terrorism around the world… Abandoning or downgrading the U.S.-Saudi alliance would also do nothing to push Riyadh in a better direction at home.

As Pompeo knows, great-power politics are not to be subjected to the moralistic whims of the emotionally weakest members of the body politic. The modern Left, which has shorn itself of its do-gooder, midwestern Protestant origins and is now wholly godless, nevertheless still uses our founding religious scruples against us, in line with Alinsky’s famous Rule No. 4: “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.” (The “Christian church” bit is a nice, characteristic and indicative cultural-Marxist touch.)

Time was all politicians understood this. Living in the tough neighborhood known as Planet Earth, all countries must eventually lie down with the devil, jungle up with some pretty ripe characters, and hope to muddle through with as much of their dignity as possible, but not one shred more if it defeats the larger objective. As we become increasingly infantilized, however, the idea that great political decisions often must be separable from domestic moral considerations becomes ever harder to explain.

“That’s not who we are,” sobs the Left as it gleefully indulges its reflexive anti-American nature. What they forget is that actions speak louder than words, and that it is in the best interests of the United States at the moment to pretend to like the Saudi “monarchy” even as we do our best to undermine it—“the crown prince has moved the country in a reformist direction, from allowing women to drive and attend sporting events, to curbing the religious police and calling for a return to moderate Islam,” wrote Pompeo, patting the Kingdom on the back for doing the very things that will help bring it down.

As Mikhail Gorbachev found out, glasnost led to perestroika which led to Christmas Day 1991, the day the Soviet Union vanished onto the ash heap of history. The death of Khashoggi is an internal Saudi affair, with some repercussions for its relationship with its other rival for Islamic supremacy, Turkey: it is, literally none of our business. And as all kindergarten teachers used to know, sometimes you have to kill the little monsters with kindness.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Foreign Policy • Middle East • Post • Religion of Peace • The ME Agenda • The Media • the Presidency

What Is Saudi Arabia to Us?

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It seems that Saudi Arabia’s rulers murdered an opponent. The U.S. media and political class is shocked, shocked, to find that murder is going on in such precincts. Who did they imagine the Muslim world’s leaders are?

Moreover, our chattering class demands that President Trump do whatever it takes to make sure that they do nothing like that again. Do what? Does anyone really think that swapping sheik A for sheik B would improve their kind’s moral standards? Do they have any idea of what keeps A on top of B, what it would take to switch them, or what the repercussions would be in foreign policy? Are they naifs, idiots, or are they just playing with foreign policy to make life a little harder for Trump?

What follows is politically incorrect information on what Saudi Arabia is, what role it plays in American politics, and what it means for our foreign policy. Then, I will suggest how American foreign policy from the Founding to around 1910 would deal with today’s Middle East.

Saudi Arabia’s rulers are a subspecies of the desert rats endemic in the region. The ones on the cheese now are of the clan of seven sons out of old king Saud’s favorite wife, Suda, and hence are known as Sudaris. The previous ruler, Abdullah was the only son of another wife. When Abdullah’s birth-order turn came, in 2005, he took the throne thanks only to having mobilized the national guard of Bedouins for war against the national army (and everything else) controlled by the Sudaris. Today, when you read about Mohammed bin Salman’s “anti-corruption reforms,” you should know that they target primarily Abdullah’s son and other relatives. In other words, what is going on, including murder, is a purely dynastic power play. But that is Saudi Arabia’s nice side.

The fundamental reality is that this is a slave society, (the Arabic word for black man is the word for slave) which considers work something that inferiors do for superiors, prizes idleness, and practices cruelty as a means of asserting superiority. Everyone knows that women, treated as property, end up disproportionately in the harems of the wealthy. But few stop to think that this custom dooms the majority of Saudi men to lives without legitimate sex, never mind families.

As for who gets what, that comes strictly either from birth or from connections with the powerful. Nor are the young clamoring for the kind of useful work that would lift them up. They compete, all right, but for favor. Saudi students in U.S. colleges—and even in military training programs—just don’t do their work. A degree is a passport to a job which somebody else performs.

Religion? The ultra-puritanical Wahhabi sect, which authorized the House of Saud to take power by murdering non-Wahhabis, is inexorably interwoven with the Saudi power structure. No doubt, many believe its teachings. And yes, Wahhabis pay for radical mosques throughout the world, America very much included. But hypocritical corruption is at its core. Fly first class from Riyadh to Paris or London. Watch the women with Burqas step onto the plane. Off comes the headgear. On take-off, they doff the Burqas, revealing Dior fashions with plunging necklines. And the booze flows.

Saudi Arabia is marvelously well-connected in America—and especially in Washington D.C.—thanks to countless millions of dollars spread in all manner of ways to any and all who might be useful to the Kingdom over decades. Between 1983 and 2005, as Saudi ambassador to the United States, and then as secretary general of the Saudi National Security Council (where he managed the kingdom’s American affairs), Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud did not let pass any occasion to get to know and to invite and to gift. But vacations in Aspen or on the Riviera, and fellowships and connections, are small stuff compared to the billion-dollar bonds built with scores of American contractors and close friends of the very powerful. The Saudis have been able to get away with whatever they wanted.

In the aftermath of 9/11, not only did the U.S. government fly Osama bin Laden’s family out of the country forthwith, it also flew out the Saudi consular officials who had helped the hijackers. Sections of the 9/11 commission report dealing with Saudi Arabia remain classified. Since the security camera photos of the 19 Saudi hijackers do not match the names on their passports, to this day, we still do not know their real identities. Nor has anyone investigated whence came the money for the operation.

Saudi foreign policy has been far from U.S.-friendly. Until around 1990, it might well have been described in one word: “pay.” Who? Anybody, to keep them from making trouble for the Kingdom. Thus the Saudis were the Syrian Assad regime’s main financiers. The money went to buy Soviet weapons. The same was true for Egypt prior to 1979, after which the money went to buy U.S. weapons. The Saudis paid most of the bill for Saddam Hussein’s war on Iran. And yes, they financed the PLO until, in 1990, both the PLO and Saddam turned against them—which led to firming up connections with the United States.

But those connections did not prevent the Saudis from playing a double game during the Iraq war—entirely understandable from the Saudi standpoint, but the acceptance of which by the U.S. establishment proved its abysmal incompetence. In short, the Saudis wanted above all to protect Iraq’s formerly ruling Sunni minority. That is why they lobbied hard and successfully to turn the successful U.S. invasion of March-April 2003 into the disastrous 2003-2010 U.S. occupation. Worse, during that occupation, the Saudis were the principal financiers of the Sunni war against U.S. forces, and the suppliers of most suicide bombers.

Today, the war between Saudi Arabia and Iran—effectively between the Muslim world’s Sunni and Shia blocs, is the great issue in the Middle East.

The Saudis rightly fear Iran. Make no mistake: Much as Iran rails against the Great Satan, (America) and the Little Satan (Israel), Saudi Arabia is its chief enemy. Whatever faults Iranian forces may have, whatever equipment they lack, they are still superior to the Saudis. Most important, the Saudis and their Sunni allies in the Gulf lord it over Shia minorities (in Bahrain they are the majority) who look to Iran for relief. The Shia in Saudi inhabit the oil-producing regions. The Saudis know how vulnerable they are. The United States does not have to convince them to be anti-Iran. Since Iran is far more a danger to them than to us, they will always be more anti-Iran than we.

Nor do we have to treat them gingerly because they are the principal part of OPEC. In fact, the world oil price is now set largely by American production. Much as the Saudis would love to raise the price by cutting production, they know that maximizing their income requires pumping as much as they can at whatever the world price happens to be.

In short, we owe them nothing.

Our relationship with Saudi Arabia should flow from our own needs—not theirs—based on the realities of the region.

Were John Quincy Adams to whisper in Trump’s ear, he might well say the following: Just as in 1823, when we premised our dealings with Europe by making clear the contrast between the republican principles by which we live and those of monarchical Europe, we should now draw a bright line between our way of life and that of the likes of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Now as then, this is primarily for the American people’s benefit. Now as then, we cannot change others, but must deal with them. We don’t have to like them, and they don’t have to like us. Good diplomacy does not pretend. We will not lower ourselves to asking the Saudis to pretend they have become liberals, nor fool ourselves into thinking that they are on the way to doing so.

We have some concurrent interests. Only some. And for our own different reasons. And the concurrence is conditional.

There are certain things we can and should do for the Saudis, mainly by limiting Iran’s economy. But for us to do that, the price of oil has to be kept in an acceptable range for a range of allies. Hence we must demand that the Saudis cooperate. We can and should protect the Saudis against major Iranian military moves, especially by providing better missile defense. But we are not going to involve ourselves in trying to put down Shia revolts against Sunni hegemony. In Syria, we have only two interests: limiting Iran’s reach to Israel and safeguarding the Kurds. Any Saudi action that we judge non-supportive of these interests will lead to a reduction of our support in other areas.

Above all, we realize that Saudi Arabia is even less a permanent fixture of the international scene than the Soviet Union was. It is even more unstable. Stabilizing it, saving it from the consequences of its congenital dynastic wars, is beyond our capacities, as John Quincy Adams might have said. That is why now, as in 1823, the essence of good American foreign policy is to be very clear about our very few interests, to commit to those, and to let the rest of the world fight their own battles.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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Big Media • Deep State • Foreign Policy • Intelligence Community • Middle East • Post • The Media

The Media Is Gaslighting Us on the Khashoggi Affair

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In a world with a great many tragedies and crimes, I couldn’t care less about the death of Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Khashoggi. While his death at the hands of Saudi intelligence agents in Turkey reportedly was brutal, as well as a violation of the ordinary rules of the game insofar as it happened in the Saudi consulate, what the hell does any of this have to do with me, the United States, or anyone other than Khashoggi himself?

The relentless and breathless reporting is chiefly in the service of embarrassing Trump and influencing his behavior. A typical editorial from the Denver Post declares that “Khashoggi’s murder will stain Trump (and America) forever.”

We have seen this movie before, where propaganda-style reporting out of some godforsaken corner of the earth is elevated above all the other godforsaken corners of the earth until the Marines are deployed. These media campaigns include Bosnia, Somalia, Liberia, Haiti, Libya, and Syria, notable for their arbitrary selection. Indeed, we see it with the countries involved, as Turkey and Saudi Arabia have both killed and tortured numerous dissidents, but only Khashoggi’s death has achieved this level of attention.

This reporting is designed to derail Trump’s return to the historical U.S.-Saudi alliance. The alliance began in the Cold War and has always been a marriage of convenience. Saudi Arabia has plenty of oil and has functioned as a counterweight to Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution. It has also adopted a tacit alliance with Israel against Iran. Saudi Arabia is otherwise a country with which we share almost nothing in common.

The alliance faced pressure from recent events. President Obama engaged in a rapprochement with Iran, sending them literally planeloads of cash as part of the nuclear deal. Trump has repudiated the deal altogether and, this is apparently unpopular in certain circles at the State Department and in the CIA. There is evidence that the current leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, is either a ruthless despot trying to consolidate his power, or a reformer, addressing decades of accrued corruption. The terms of the debate reveal an important bias: could he not be both? Either way, he’s apparently “our guy,” and various parts of the vaunted “intelligence community” don’t like that. As if more evidence were necessary, this is another reminder that the “Deep State” does not believe that it is there to provide information to the elected President, but rather to control him.

Khashoggi’s story has also risen to prominence because he’s a journalist and is therefore one of the “Davos people,” a writer for the Washington Post. The Post has long had a cozy relationship with the CIA, and has been a particularly rich source of CIA-leaks regarding this assassination. Khashoggi, while being painted as a sterling and debonair reformer, was an outspoken critic of the crown prince, a member of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, and rumored to be a sometime spy for various factions within the new Saudi regime, the Turks, the CIA, or some combination thereof.

Most insultingly, we have been told to care about his brutal murder because he was a “U.S. resident” and “green card holder,” as if that means anything. Having watered down citizenship through decades of immigration from unassimilable aliens, the media now wants us to treat “green card holders” as citizens. There is a certain logic, of course, as green card holders are not distinguishable from many of our newcomers, but this does not even pass the straight face test. It turns out this “green card” claim was itself an exaggeration; he was on a visa, in other words, a temporary visitor.

The media’s similar meltdown about the poisoning of various ex-KGB spy defectors in London similarly had almost no emotional resonance for me. This is a hazard of the business, the predictable end of a life of intrigue, broken promises, and dangerous liaisons. We are equally nonplussed when someone like Whitey Bulger is killed in prison. It’s technically illegal but entirely predictable.

I am generally skeptical of our alliance with the Saudis. It has dragooned us into supporting a brutal proxy war in Yemen, where Iran is supporting the rebels. We know a majority of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, and some were supported by high-level figures in the Saudi regime. It is not obvious that Iran is much worse than Saudi Arabia; after all, Iran is fighting ISIS in Syria, and, while it is hostile to Israel, does not necessarily have to be implacably hostile to the United States. Persians include a large cohort of civilized and educated people, as anyone who has spent time with them can attest.

Finally, as in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, there is likely some benefit to the West if Muslim extremists from the Sunni and Shia sides of their faith are more concerned with fighting one another than directing their energies towards the United States and Europe. Now that the Cold War is over, there are fewer compelling reasons for the United States to pick sides. We are in a position to adopt a highly practiced and beneficent neutrality.

Trump’s restrained assessment of the Khashoggi killing is a thumb in the eye to idealists like Samantha Power, as well an expression of defiance to the game-playing by his own State Department and the CIA. Trump takes the position here (as in Korea and in dealing with China) that he is in charge, and that our foreign policy will not be steered off course by becoming overly concerned with other countries’ internal affairs, particularly when we’re in no position to do anything about it.

The lodestar should always be what advances the interests of the United States. If this requires averting our eyes to the unsavory acts of the ostensibly allied Saudi or explicitly hostile North Korean regimes, so be it. This used to be common sense, and it was the basis of our alliance with the Soviet Union in World War II, as well as a great number of anti-communist alliances during the Cold War.

The good thing with Trump’s position—and that of realists more generally—is that it is amenable to persuasion. Realists may conclude that our ongoing support for the Saudis is no longer in our interest—as I believe—and this does not require lamentations to the injustice done to Khashoggi, but rather a cool-headed assessment of what our country is receiving in exchange for this relationship.

The moralists who cry for Khashoggi, while ignoring so many other injustices, are so blinded by their hatred for Trump and excited by the prospect of tinkering with the Middle East, that they see no difference between American citizens and mere visa holders, Islamist dissidents and authentic human rights activists, and they see nothing wrong with a CIA so impressed with its own virtue that it publicly leaks intelligence in order to embarrass and control an elected president.

Photo Credit: Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Big Media • Center for American Greatness • Democrats • Intelligence Community • Middle East • Post • The Left • The Media

Big Media’s Power Games and the Khashoggi Affair

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Jamal Khashoggi was a thoroughly charming and charismatic person. In March 2012, I took the last available seat at a luncheon table at the 20th Public Relations World Congress in Dubai. By sheer accident I found myself sitting next to Khashoggi and conversing with him for an hour or so. It was the first and last time I had any contact with the man.

His gruesome murder last month distressed me deeply. Here was a human being, a prominent one in his own part of the world, who had accorded warmth and courtesy to me, a foreigner in his region. I love Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, which embraced my family and me as our adoptive home for a number of years. I would like to see the tens of millions of citizens of Saudi Arabia enjoy peace, prosperity, and greater freedom.

It’s in interest of the West—and that of the whole world—for Saudi Arabia to establish good relations with all of its neighbors, including Israel—a prospect that once seemed impossible—as well as a prospect that today seems impossible, Iran.

Khashoggi’s murder, and the revelation that it had been committed on orders of the government in Riyadh, are a setback to the people of Saudi Arabia and their near-term chances for more constructive engagement with the rest of the world.

What I want to discuss, however, has mostly to do with the dishonest, hypocritical posturing by powerful interests that want to exploit decent people’s revulsion at the murder for dark and selfish ends that will not be conducive to human development and peace in the Middle East.

The Journalist Was a Spy
In our lunch conversation, Khashoggi and I found we had a thing or two in common. We both worked in public communications for entities controlled by the Saudi Arabian government or members of its royal family. From 2009 to 2015, I lived in Dhahran, the headquarters of Aramco, the Saudi state-owned oil company. An American citizen and former staff member of the White House and State Department, I was part of a large expat community that worked at Aramco headquarters. I wrote English-language speeches for the minister of petroleum, the company CEO and the other top Saudi oil executives.

Khashoggi and I had a lot to talk about, as well as boundaries as to what we sensed we shouldn’t talk about.

He was a longtime Saudi intelligence operative, especially close to Prince Turki Al-Faisal, who for many years led the Saudi secret intelligence agency and also served as Ambassador in London and Washington. Khashoggi also had an intermittent presence in the Saudi newspaper and broadcast media.

Khashoggi was a celebrity in his corner of the Arab world, and this was indicated by the interest he attracted as a speaker and participant at the conference. Saudis and other Arabs thronged around our table as Americans back in the day might have sought proximity to, say, Dan Rather at a P.R. conference on our shores.

It was no secret that Khashoggi was prominent in the Saudi intelligence community, nor did anyone believe or pretend that there was anything independent about the newspapers and broadcasting networks for which he occasionally worked. These, no less than the oil company, were controlled by the Saudi regime. Nephew of the billionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, Jamal Khashoggi was in the highest echelons of Saudi wealth and power outside of the royal family itself. He was a fixture in the ruling class.

With immense charm Khashoggi told me about a new job he was about to undertake as head of a startup enterprise—a Saudi news broadcasting network that would seek to compete with Al Jazeera, the enormously successful state-controlled broadcasting operation of Saudi Arabia’s neighbor and rival, Qatar. He made the new venture sound like something challenging and fun. This new network was to be headquartered, “for greater ease of doing business,” he told me, just across the King Fahd Causeway from Saudi Arabia in the Gulf island ministate of Bahrain. The network’s owner was the “Saudi Warren Buffett,” nephew of kings, super-investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Bahrain is to Saudi Arabia what Phenix City, Alabama, once was to Fort Benning, Georgia—a place across a bridge over a shallow body of water in another jurisdiction where, verboten on the other side, liquor flowed and hookers plied their trade. The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based on the island. Bahrain does not have a foreign policy independent of Saudi Arabia’s. It is a client state of Saudi Arabia whose dynastic rulers are related by marriage to the Saudi royal family.

Khashoggi’s new gig was to put him at the helm of a network called Al-Arab. Unlike Saudi Arabia—a hard place to get into and, for some of its citizens, to get out of—Bahrain granted no-fuss visas to most foreign visitors immediately on arrival. This convenience and the aforementioned amenities made Bahrain an attractive place for the global flying circus of ink-stained wretches, matinee-idol TV news presenters, technical personnel, hangers-on, and think-tank dons and other such characters serving as permanent or guest talking heads.

Khashoggi’s Fall from Royal Grace
My genial lunch partner and I understood one another. Just as I did not commit the absurdity of claiming to be an independent energy issues writer who by pure coincidence happened to be on the payroll of the Saudi government’s oil company, he made no pretense that Al-Arab would be an enterprise in independent journalism. There was, and there still is, no such thing as independent journalism in Saudi Arabia. Al-Arab was intended as an elaborate influence operation to project Saudi power just as Al Jazeera projects Qatari power.

Al-Arab, like many such enterprises in its part of the world, took a long time to get up and running. It began broadcasting on the first day of February 2015. Eleven hours later Bahraini “security forces” arrived to shut it down. Why did the Bahrain government do this? The most likely answer is that the new Saudi King Salman, who had ascended to the throne only a week earlier following the death of his brother King Abdullah, did not want to permit such an operation controlled and favored by rival members of the family, and he instructed Bahrain to put Al-Arab out of business tout de suite. This sort of sudden, crushing power play is a much-loved tactic in the Middle East.

Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia in late 2017, the same time that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman detained Khashoggi’s patron Prince Alwaleed and other royal and non-royal oligarchs at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton on allegations of corruption. Khashoggi soon was writing occasional columns for the Washington Post. Now that his faction of the royal family was on the outs, he had undergone an epiphany. He had discovered the desirability of respect for human rights, and even democracy! In his Post articles he waged a persistent campaign of criticism of the crown prince.

Was the new Khashoggi a lonely, idealistic individual or the instrument of Saudi factions in opposition to the ascendant crown prince? Common sense would suggest there’s greater probability in the latter thesis.

Khashoggi, and whoever were his masters in the campaign opposing Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were in a transactional relationship with the Washington Post. They used the Post to undermine their rival and elevate their status. The Post in turn used Khashoggi for its ends of virtue-signaling and accumulating the sort of prestige and power it values. The Post and Team Khashoggi were cooperating, consciously and I daresay cynically, in influence operations for their mutual benefit.

In the interest of political correctness, Americans are instructed by the Post and the rest of the leftist Big Media to deplore foreign oligarchs. As even conservatives in America are practitioners of liberal democracy, it’s easy enough for us to comply. Russian oligarchs are very bad. Arab autocrats are also, by their very nature, bad. OK. That’s plain. We all get that.

But what was Jamal Khashoggi, warm and disarming as his personality may have been, if not a powerful player within a faction of a foreign oligarchy? We can deplore it as much as it makes us feel good to do so, but there is no democracy movement in Saudi Arabia, nor is there any culture to support democracy there. Like it or not, that is the reality. Whatever Khashoggi was working for on his final mission, it was not a project to transform Saudi Arabia into a sandier version of Montgomery County, Maryland.

And what are the Washington Post and other big leftist media empires if not powerful oligarchical institutions? In current political science jargon, the media empires are “non-state actors” with influence exceeding that of many nation-states.

Another Overwhelming Power Play
The saga of Ed Rogers deserves attention here. An acolyte of the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater and the affable Haley Barbour, Rogers is one of Washington’s highest-paid lobbyists. For several years he has been writing columns at the invitation of the Washington Post. To be as charitable as possible about it, his columns are not illuminating. No one in his right mind would describe Ed Rogers as a journalist.

Why then does he produce columns for the Post, and why does the newspaper publish them?  It can’t be for the money, but the relationship is transactional. Rogers and the Post swap influence and they provide a sort of mutual protection to one another—except when the Post decides to declare a margin call.

Rogers until a month ago had an extremely lucrative contract lobbying for the Saudi embassy. When Khashoggi was murdered, the Post saw an opportunity to carry out an overwhelming power play. The Post publicly demanded that Rogers drop his account representing the Saudis—or else his column would be banished from its pages.

Rogers promptly rolled over. Millions of dollars vanished from the future balance sheets of the Rogers family.

The Saudi embassy will hire other lobbyists, neither worse nor better than Ed Rogers. The ways of Washington will go on as always. Rogers will continue writing columns, even more worthless than before, and the Post will publish them. The Faustian bargain is intact.

Such is the hideous strength of the Washington Post to blackmail and ravage the reputations of its erstwhile allies or minions. Sometimes I wonder if I am the only person in the world who believes that Rogers’ capitulation to the Post was not just a miscalculation, it was immoral.

The public humiliation of Ed Rogers vastly increased the Washington Post’s valuation in the zero-sum-game influence market.

Has anyone noticed whether the coup de main against Rogers and Big Media’s round-the-clock Khashoggi coverage have contributed to the advancement of justice, peace, human rights, democracy, and respect for human dignity and the rule of law in Saudi Arabia or the greater Middle East?

No? Well, on a more modest scale, have Big Media’s actions avenged the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

It would seem not.

Try this thought experiment: Suppose Ed Rogers were kidnapped, tortured and murdered by Antifa, and that the crime had been televised. Does anyone think the Washington Post would declare war on The Left? Would the Post proclaim that all bets were off because a “journalist” had been martyred? Would it cut all of its ties to leftists and leftism and demand that everyone else do the same or else face the direst exclusion from respectable membership in the human race?

Big Media Propaganda and Lies
The Post also wages disinformation campaigns to play mind games against its declared enemies and to enlarge its reservoir of power. For example, it employs a preposterously annoying person with no journalistic experience or talent and no conservative political credentials. Her name is Jennifer Rubin.

Rubin has been installed as the newspaper’s “conservative” columnist, and her work consists entirely of diatribes against conservatives and conservatism. In Jennifer Rubin, the Post insists against all evidence that it has found the world’s only “real” conservative, just as O.J. Simpson is determined that one propitious day he will track down Nicole’s “real” killer.

Post writers past and present including David Ignatius, Walter Pincus, R. Jeffrey Smith and, of course, Bob Woodward, practice transactional power politics often in combination with leftist ideological aims. A well-remembered example of this activity was during the Reagan administration, when the Post had a symbiotic relationship with Soviet government propagandists and U.S. government leakers. So feverish and implacable was the Post’s campaign against missile defense and other Reagan strategic policies that it is a wonder success in the Cold War was ever achieved.

Under the ownership of Jeff Bezos, the Post adorns itself with the motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” It’s strange, therefore, that its martyr of the moment, Jamal Khashoggi, while possibly having been a decent human being regardless of what he actually did for a living, definitely was a man to whom democracy, and the culture necessary for democracy, were alien.

At the same time, the Post’s neighbor up north, the New York Times, has wrapped its corporate branding in the sacred mantle of “The Truth.” This is strange, too, for a media enterprise whose value system utterly rejects the existence of objective moral truth.

Those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder obviously have something to hide. Shamefully, so do powerful interests that are trying to exploit outrage against the murder for their own selfish and twisted purposes.

For their part, the Western world’s Big Media enjoy freedom to tell the truth without fear of censorship or reprisal. This is a rare, a precious privilege. Why then do they engage in propaganda, disinformation, flat-out lies?

Big Media’s constant description of Khashoggi as having been a mere “journalist” is a huge and consequential deception. It’s not clear exactly for whom or for what powers and interests Khashoggi was working when he wrote his Washington Post columns, but anyone who understands how the world operates should have a high degree of confidence in saying that he was never a journalist in the sense that word is understood in the free nations of the West.

Of course, he had the writing, editing and broadcasting skills of a journalist, but so do a myriad of other foreign intelligence agents around the world who use journalism as a cover—and in the case of publishing or broadcasting enterprises owned by authoritarian governments, it’s a completely see-through cover. To mischaracterize Khashoggi as having been a journalist is a disservice to the few independent journalists who remain on the planet. It’s a dishonor to women and men who don’t have lavish lifestyles and who report with integrity without being agents of foreign governments.

The Washington Post, which has a direct pipeline to the CIA that bypasses the White House, knows this all too well.

What are the Post’s cunning and persistent disinformation campaigns if not cloaks of darkness that harm democracy? Cui bono?

Jamal Khashoggi was a lively, attractive, interesting human being. No one deserves his cruel fate. His murder was a horrific crime, not only against one man but also against stability and security in the Middle East. That said, justice is not served by Big Media’s misleading reporting. Justice requires reporting clearly and honestly who and what Khashoggi really was. Truth requires uncovering the motives and detailing the consequences of Big Media’s disinformation campaigns.

Photo Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • Post

Israel and the Sunni Arab States Cannot Resist Iran Alone

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The small democratic state of Israel finds itself outnumbered—and potentially outgunned—as the Iranian threat, supported by its Hezbollah terrorist allies, amasses to its north.

Recently, though, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got itself in an even bigger mess. After allowing for Qatar to transfer $15 million in financial aid and gasoline to the blockaded Gaza Strip, Hamas, the terror organization that controls the rebellious Gaza, along with their allies in the Islamic Jihad group, fired off nearly 500 rockets into southern Israel.

The response from Israel, usually a forceful practitioner of decisive counterterrorism, has been strangely muted.

When it comes to the unruly Gaza Strip, the Israeli government tends to take a low-cost “mowing the grass” approach. Instead of trying to implement regime change (because their options for replacing the ruling Hamas range from bad to worse), the Israeli military prefers to let Hamas grow in strength. Then, once Hamas gets too big for its britches, the IDF marches on Gaza and cuts Hamas down to size. Netanyahu’s response to the recent violence has confused everyone in the region.

Netanyahu is known to Westerners as a counterterrorism hawk. After he failed to respond militarily to the recent rocket attacks, his even more hawkish defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned in protest. Lieberman was vehemently opposed to Netanyahu’s initial approval for the transfer of $15 million from Qatar into Hamas coffers. At the time, Lieberman likened Netanyahu’s decision to that of protection money one pays to the mafia.

In that, Lieberman proved correct. But is that the whole story?

Netanyahu likely opted for discretion in handling Hamas because he could not afford to deter the growing and potentially nuclear Iranian threat to his north while simultaneously pacifying the restive Gaza Strip to his south. Since both Egypt and Qatar (and, therefore, the rest of the Sunni Arab states) were spearheading the attempted stabilization of the Hamas-Israeli relationship, had Netanyahu hit Gaza as hard as others may have wanted, it might have pushed the Sunni Arab powers away from Israel at a critical time.

This isn’t merely about counterterrorism. This is about Israel’s survival and the staying power of the United States in the region.

Many MAGA-minded conservatives are disinclined to accept that the United States even has a role to play in the Middle East. They should make no mistake, however: a Middle East without the serious influence of United States is a Middle East that will threaten the West as never before.

The Trump Administration has postulated that a Sunni Arab-Israeli alliance predicated on containing Iran’s growing power in the region is the only way for the United States to remain a key player in the region—without sending troops to invade another Muslim country.

What the recent Israeli experience tells us, unfortunately, is that the alliance may not be possible right now.

There are many in Washington who, behind closed doors, insist that Israel—with its advanced and potent military—will ride this out and directly launch a preemptive attack against Iran if Tehran is within a hair’s breadth of deploying a viable nuclear weapons arsenal. Yet for years, Israeli leaders have insisted that they do not have the logistical capabilities to launch such a raid deep into Iranian airspace. Netanyahu’s decision effectively to ignore Hamas’ provocations in southern Israel indicates that Israel’s military is in no shape even to protect its own borders let alone attempt a dangerous air raid deep within Iranian territory.

This comes at a time when there is great dissension in the Sunni Arab world, as Saudi Arabia is attacked by the international community for its apparent hamfisted murder of Muslim Brotherhood member (and occasional Washington Post contributor), Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Today, Russia, Iran, and Turkey are moving fast against the Sunni Arab states—and weakening them. To counter Iran, America is going to have to increase its involvement in the region exponentially.

After decades of Middle Eastern war, such a scenario is not really palatable to anyone in the United States. So perhaps Trump could form a united front with Netanyahu and the Sunni Arab leaders, fly to Moscow, and work on using Russia as a bridge to opening talks with Tehran? Moscow is Tehran’s greatest benefactor on the world stage. Yet Washington has refused to attempt such a deal with Russia out of sheer pride. Without Russian diplomatic help, though, the United States will face the dangerous choice of either courting war with Iran or abandoning the region entirely to Iran.

Time is not on Trump’s side. Unfortunately, neither Israel nor the Sunni Arab states appear capable of hanging on for too long without international support.

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Photo Credit: Luiz Rampelotto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • Post • Russia

It Doesn’t Matter If Iran is a Rational Actor

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The operating assumption from many on both sides of the political aisle has been that Iran is a rational actor. Former President Barack Obama clearly adhered to this notion and it explains his signature on that terrible Iran deal. What few will tell you, however, is that operating behind Obama’s theory on Iran was the assumption that if Tehran was allowed to develop nuclear arms—and if the United States stepped back from the Mideast, leaving only Israel, the Sunni Arab states, and Iran—these powers would balance each other, creating relative peace.

As with so many of Obama’s ideas, this assumption was entirely theoretical and painfully naïve. Fact is, had the Obama Administration’s deal with Iran been continued, the Saudis inevitably would have bought nukes from Pakistan. While the Saudis may have reasons to be an ostensible ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia is home to some of the most ardent Sunni Islamist groups in the world.

What’s more, the ruling Saudi royal family maintains power through brutal autocratic practices. If the Saudi people were left to their own devices, it is more than likely that they would depose the Saudi royal family and replace them with a Sunni Muslim regime that mirrored Iran’s Shiite Muslim regime. And, if that Islamist Saudi regime had nuclear weapons—even if they remained nominally aligned with the United States against a nuclear-armed Iran—such a situation would hardly be peaceful.

In such a scenario, a nuclear-armed Israel, nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia, and nuclear-armed Iran would square off against each other. It would be a tripolar balance of power. Yet, tripolar orders are rarely stable; no grouping of three powers is likely to be evenly balanced against each other. Because of the inevitable imbalance of power, conflict becomes all but certain. In such a Mideast tripolar scenario, that conflict would be nuclear. Once started, a regional nuclear war, surely would expand into a world war, sucking in other powers, such as the United States, Russia, and China.

This nightmare scenario has been avoided because Iran has been unable fully to obtain a functional nuclear weapons capability. By the time the Obama Administration’s executive agreement with Iran was enacted, Obama had little more than a year left in office. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency in 2016, this deal would have been further advanced, and we likely would be in the midst of the nightmare scenario above outlined. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 brought these terrifying developments to a halt.

The Trump Administration has made the proper decision to empower Israel and the Sunni Arab states in a balance-of-power paradigm meant both to contain Iran’s expansionism as well as to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The plan was working, too. Rather, the plan was working until the Saudi-backed murder of Muslim Brotherhood member, Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Now that Khashoggi’s gruesome murder has been revealed, Washington’s spineless political elite are up in arms—demanding that Washington discontinue its vital weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and that the current leader of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman, be removed from power.

Should Salman be removed from power and American weapons sales to Saudi Arabia stopped due to the moral squeamishness of some in Washington, not only would jihadist elements within Saudi Arabia be empowered, Iran would be emboldened by Saudi Arabia’s weakness as well.

With the loss of Saudi Arabia as a viable partner in blocking the spread of Iranian power, the Trump Administration would be forced to revisit the oft-repeated notion that Iran is a rational actor. President Trump would have to renege on his campaign promise of ending the terrible Obama era Iran deal. He would have to reverse course and effectively reinstitute the Obama deal with Iran, in order to gain new leverage over Tehran. In other words, Trump would have to surrender the Middle East to Iran, selling out Israel in the process, just as Barack Obama did.

One can understand why Obama lackey, former CIA Director John Brennan, wants Mohammed Bin Salman to go.

Even if Trump did what Washington’s elites wanted, there’d be no promise of stability in the region. Instead, solidifying Iran’s rise would ensure a larger conflict—either with nuclear-armed Israel striking out first against Iran, or with Saudi Arabia going totally crazy, getting their own nukes, and starting conflict with their sworn Shiite enemies in Iran. Then again, more likely, such a scenario would lead to Iran handing off nuclear material to their terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, where either Israel, Europe, or the United States would be targeted in an act of nuclear terrorism.

I don’t want to risk everything to find out if Iran is rational or not. America must support Saudi Arabia. If the United States fails to do so, then Iran will march on the region and acquire nuclear arms.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo Credit: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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Big Media • Middle East • Post • The Media

Why the Media Couldn’t Care Less About Khashoggi

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People die. Every day. It’s our lot. Some deaths attract more attention than others. Sometimes for good reasons. Sometimes for nefarious and dishonest ones.

The largest metropolitan U.S. cities see deadly violence every weekend. And those run by the Democratic Party for the last several decades are especially prone to it. Recently, Baltimore witnessed seven murders in less than 24 hours. How much coverage does the Washington Post or CNN give those murders? In fact, New York City made headlines this week for having had the first homicide-free weekend in 25 years. This was news because it is so anomalous. How perverse.

So what about Jamal Khashoggi? Yes, it is now clear that Saudi Arabian man was murdered. But what are the facts of his death and do they matter to you? Or to America?

First things first. It is important to understand that Khashoggi—whose name the mainstream media seems to be having such difficulty pronouncing, even though no one had any difficulty for decades with his uncle Adnan Khashoggi, the late billionaire arms dealer—was neither an American nor was he strictly speaking a journalist.

Khashoggi was a Saudi national who recently moved to the United States. How a man with his past obtained a green card from the State Department is another interesting question, and more on that momentarily.

Secondly, he was not a journalist. At least not in any conventional sense of the word.

Journalists have a beat. Journalists are accredited and cover news stories, from the local police blotter to the White House. Khashoggi was a newly minted U.S.-based commentator, an opinion piece writer, after having spent much of his life as a subject about which journalists write (he was a friend of the Osama bin Laden family and an activist for a decidedly dark cause). To call him a journalist would be just a wrong as calling me a journalist on account of the opinion pieces I write.

So, ask yourself, why does the mainstream media complex almost exclusively refer to him as a journalist?

These may seem to be technical mistakes but when added to the hagiography and selective coverage of Khashoggi’s past now flooding the media, it is obvious this is no accident.

Take the U.S. newspaper where Khashoggi had published his commentary, the Washington Post. With a straight face its employees have lavished praise on the missing Saudi national, lauding him as a champion of free speech and democracy.

“Free speech” and “democracy?” This is a man who was a fully paid up member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the ideological mothership that gave us Hamas, al-Qaeda, and, eventually, the Islamic State. He is the same man who, under the banner of his organization, DAWN (Democracy for the Arab World), was providing the glide path for Islamists to pervert and subvert any nascent structures of representative government in the Middle East. Shades of Orwell and 1984’s “War is Peace” Newspeak. But this time it’s “Democracy is Salafist Theocracy.”

None of the above can be used to justify torture, let alone an extrajudicial execution by an international hit squad. But they are facts that the media is failing to report, or worse, intentionally keeping from the American people. And they are facts that bear directly on the question of how the Trump Administration should respond to the death of this foreign national who was killed on foreign soil.

In addition to “lapses” in honest coverage there is the question of professionalism and balance among the media.

Some may have become inured to the precipitous drop in media ethics and journalistic tradecraft since our 45th president’s inauguration, which brings us now to an age in which all you need is one anonymous “source” to build a story attacking the Trump Administration and a market in which more than 90 percent of media coverage about President Trump is negative. But the depths to which media brand-names have sunken would embarrass a high-school newspaper.

Allegedly serious outlets are publishing stories about the Khashoggi death relying on little more than hearsay, as in “someone who spoke to a Turkish official who knows someone who heard the audio of . . .” As far as “journalism” goes, this is laughable, especially when one considers the Turkish government and what Erdogan has wrought as he tries turn Turkey into his own neo-Ottoman play thing, imprisoning thousands along the way, including more journalists than any other government in the world.

And as to balance and perspective, well, the mainstream media hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory here either.

I hereby challenge a budding cub reporter or journalism student—ideally, one who is not afraid of being fired or given an “F”—to author a comparative study. Question: How many column-inches have already been expended on this one foreign death overseas in the past three days, versus those dedicated to the deaths of four American nationals, including a serving ambassador, in the whole month after the Benghazi attack in September 2012?

Or—and here let’s ignore the conspiracy theorists and stick to major outlets—as former CNN defense correspondent and radio host Chris Plante has recently asked, how many hours of TV coverage have already been broadcast on Khashoggi’s fate as opposed to Seth Rich’s murder? Rich, after all, was an American working at the center of American politics who was killed in the nation’s capital. It would be safe to say that CNN and MSNBC have already dedicated more air-time this week to one Saudi national’s death in Turkey than to Rich’s July 2016 murder. Why? Well, because the media has an agenda. It has an axe to grind.

In accord with some simplistic mathematics of political revenge, these outlets must attack President Trump for his deft, devastating, and repeated use of the moniker #FAKENEWS. These “journalists,” 90 percent of whom admit to being left-wing, can’t stand having their integrity impugned by a successful president who—unlike the GOP establishment for far too long—simply does not care what they say about him or anything else. They see the Khashoggi story as the perfect cudgel with which to bash Donald J. Trump and so regain their vaunted status. “See! See! He gives us no respect and then this is what his allies do!” And that is how an insalubrious pro-Brotherhood Saudi agitator magically becomes a “U.S. journalist who championed democracy.”

When I served in the White House, many in the press team considered my treatment of the media strange, even unseemly. I had no interest in talking on or off record to most who call themselves “journalists.” Especially if they worked for the Washington Post or the New York Times. Why? Simple. I don’t help those who are enemies of the MAGA agenda and who have lost all professional scruples and see it as their duty to lie about and undermine a duly elected president simply because they voted for his rival.

Khashoggi did not deserve to be killed. At the same time, in their coverage of his murder, the majority of the American media has proven that they do not deserve America’s respect.

Photo Credit: Aditya Irawan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Big Media • Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Middle East • Post

Saudi Hit Squads May Saw My Bones, But Words Can Never Hurt Me

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We do not know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who disappeared after stepping into a Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul last week.

The Saudis say that he left the consulate, unharmed, through a back door. The Turks say the Saudis ambushed him, dismembered him with a bone saw, stuffed his remains into diplomatic bags, and smuggled them out of the country on two private jets.

Neither side has released evidence to support their claims, though there are reports the Turkish government has audio and video recordings corroborating their allegations. Needless to say, we all hope that Jamal Khashoggi is alive and well.

But as time has dragged on without any sign of Khashoggi, prospects are increasingly grim he’ll emerge in one piece. And his disappearance, along with the plausibility that the Saudi government did in fact kidnap or assassinate him purely for his political commentary and activism, should serve as a helpful reminder to an increasingly hysterical American media of what oppressive governments actually looks like.

The Trump Administration is not imprisoning journalists for criticizing the president. And it certainly isn’t killing them and dismembering them with bone saws.

The free press is alive and well in the United States. In fact, it is hard to turn on a television without hearing “objective” news anchors, political pundits, and other such cretins demeaning and insulting both President Trump and members of his administration.

But according to many in the media, Trump’s disdain for an openly hostile press and his willingness to fight back constitutes an unconstitutional and dangerous attack on the free press.

And now, some are even blaming President Trump for Khashoggi’s disappearance. They argue his willingness to call members of the media the “enemy of the people” contributes to an increasingly dangerous environment for journalists around the world. They argue that he has emboldened authoritarian leaders to lock up dissidents.

Well, if that’s true, then the media’s frenzied and often dishonest reporting has certainly emboldened an increasing trend of Leftist violence that the media has mostly ignored. After all, if you call someone a dangerous and demented fascist who will plunge us into another world war, you shouldn’t be surprised if some people start using violence to “resist.”

In fact, some in the media have heaped praise upon Antifa—a hate-filled group that has promoted violence in order to resist Trump’s supposed fascism–while adding, almost as an afterthought, that no one should condone violence. Because when there’s violence from the Right, these people point to it as a systemic issue directly tied to Trump’s incendiary rhetoric. But when there’s violence from the Left, they shrug their shoulders and say, “oh well, no organization is perfect.”

So perhaps the media should refrain from blaming the president for emboldening authoritarian governments for imprisoning foreign journalists, lest we blame them for emboldening violent leftist mobs. Perhaps they should not compare a president insulting them to an attack on the media, lest we compare them insulting the president or funding artistic depictions of his death to a call for assassination. Those in glass houses should not throw stones.

American journalists live in one of the freest countries in the world. And while this freedom ought to come with responsibilities, they have decided to shirk these responsibilities. They should not be surprised when the president aggressively calls them out on it.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo Credit: Johnny Green/PA Images via Getty Images

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Democrats • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • Obama • Post

Obama Aides Guilty of Tyrant-Coddling Hypocrisy

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Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security advisor and former United Nations ambassador, has offered a new reason President Trump should be considered a patsy for strongmen: He spoke too softly about a diplomatic clash between close ally Canada and strategic regional ally Saudi Arabia. That was the subject of Rice’s recent New York Times op-ed, with the blaring headline: “President Trump: The Autocrats’ Best Friend.

Branding Trump an authoritarian who admires bullies and thugs is, of course, right in tune with elite Democrats’ karaoke. Leading liberals, from the credentialed Madeleine Albright to the hackish E.J. Dionne and others are warning loudly that Trump is part of a global movement supporting resurgent fascism.

Rice’s argument departs from the flimsy trope that Trump is a puppet, or at least a pal, of Vladimir Putin. (In truth, despite Trump’s objectionable, gushy rhetoric toward the dictator with whom he would forge more peaceable relations, his actual policies have been tough and confrontational toward the Russian Bear.)

Rice’s novel criticism fabricates an ugly slander in veiled defense of her own administration’s failed Middle East policy.

Rewarding Saudi Brutality? Hardly
Some brief background: Saudi Arabia’s new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is taking surprising steps to normalize and modernize the Kingdom. He is pursuing these ends, however, by ruthless and brutal means. Commenting on these abuses, Canada’s foreign minister tweeted concerns about jailed dissidents and human rights activists. Saudi Arabia responded aggressively, recalling its ambassador and threatening to disrupt trade and travel between the two countries.

A State Department spokesperson made a brief comment calling upon the nations to resolve their differences diplomatically; the United States cannot do it for them. Rice would have preferred that the United States defend fair Canada’s honor and read bin Salman the riot act. Because Trump didn’t jump in with both feet against the Saudis, she says he’s rewarding Saudi brutality and intransigence.

Rice’s criticism comes poorly from a top advisor to a president whose own damaging foreign policy legacy has been glossed over by the media and awaits examination by historians. In truth, Barack Obama added to Middle East instability and conflict. He is the biggest enabler of state brutality of any modern president, with bloody fingerprints stretching from the Americas across Europe and through the Middle East.

International Relations as 8th-Grade Intrigue
Before explaining that thesis, let’s be clear about something. A critical examination of Obama’s foreign policy is not “whataboutism.” It doesn’t preclude debate or even condemnation of Trump’s actions. It places them in context, helps to identify current political norms and American standards, and tests the credibility of critics with their volume dialed up to 11. Are they sincere critics or merely partisans, blasting Trump for conduct more benign than the abuses they happily perpetuated just a few years ago?

Back to Rice. Her argument is that the U.S. should have been louder on behalf of our close northern ally and it makes international relations sound like 8th-grade intrigue for powerful adults. More important, the attack should be seen as sour grapes and self-justification from the administration that sided with Iran against Saudi Arabia in the competition for major Middle East influence. Obama bet on, and tried to construct, a future with Iran as the regional hegemon.

Trump is making a different bet, cooperating with the Saudis and pressuring Iran. The surprising recent thaw of icy relations between Israel and several other Arab powers suggests Trump’s wager may have been the right call and support American interests. The de facto reshuffling of regional cooperation indicates a number of Arab leaders share American and Israeli concerns about an ascendant Iran ruled by radical Islamist Mullahs pursuing nuclear weapons. Obama is not fond of watching Trump erase his legacy in the sand.

Obama’s Sordid Choices
Rather than make her case in geo-strategic terms however, Obama-loyalist Rice forces it into the Trump-loves-dictators storyline for the simplistic reason that (she says) she fears Trump is speaking too softly about a tiff between two other countries. By taking this tack, Rice invites—practically demands—scrutiny of her former boss’s dealings with tyrants. It’s a sordid story.

One of Obama’s early foreign policy episodes came improbably from Honduras in Central America. President Manuel Zelaya, a would-be Marxist dictator in the mold of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Manuel Ortega, and Nicolás Maduro was maneuvering to run for a constitutionally prohibited second term. The Honduran Supreme Court, legislature, and military were united in opposing Zelaya and seeking his ouster. The military removed Zelaya, while leaving the court and legislature in power.

Simply and awfully, Obama sided with the aspiring autocrat against the rest of the nation. He demanded Zelaya’s reinstatement. Honduras eventually prevailed; Zelaya did not seize another term. But the small and vulnerable country spent years hounded and marginalized by earth’s most powerful nation.

Also early in Obama’s presidency, the Green Revolution broke out in Iran. Students, mothers, shopkeepers, and others courageously protested in the streets against one of the most brutal, oppressive governments on earth.  The massive demonstrations earned Obama’s cool indifference.

He didn’t offer a word of moral support to the protestors. He limply observed that he disapproved violence and the world would “bear witness” to events in Iran. Of course, Americans didn’t know Obama was looking forward to his unilateral reversal of American policy. He was steering for the deal that would fortify and enrich the radical Mullahs who were even then torturing many thousands of brave Iranians in the infamous Evin and other prisons.

A Bad Bet on the Muslim Brotherhood
Events played out differently in later Egyptian unrest against strongman Hosni Mubarak. Though no exemplar of human rights, Mubarak had maintained serviceable relations with America, observed Egypt’s historic peace with Israel, and suppressed radical Islamist forces in the nation. Evidently a bad scorecard in Obama’s book. He made clear the United States would offer Mubarak no support and it was time to go. Then, Obama leaned in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood to take power in a national election.

Predictably, the Brotherhood moved to seize total control, quash democratic norms, and silence dissent. Of greater concern to Egyptians, the gang of dictators couldn’t make the trains run, or the water, or the electricity. Conditions collapsed. Unrest flared. Protesting millions flooded the streets. When the military, to the relief of millions of Egyptians, removed the Brotherhood from power, Obama’s resentment was palpable.

Much could be said about Obama’s secretly negotiated and dishonestly sold nuclear deal with Iran approaching the end of his term. The salient point here is not the pact’s defects as arms control, but Obama’s obvious purpose to enrich, empower, and entrench the ruling radicals in Iran. He had no interest in smiling on civic resistance some six years earlier. Now, he was at great pains to elevate some of earth’s worst sponsors of state terror and perpetrators of domestic blood and horror. It defies benign explanation.

Enriching the Castros at America’s Expense
A final example of Obama’s indifference to oppression by the “right” kind of oppressors comes from his opening to Cuba. Fidel and Raul Castro for decades had impoverished a rich and lovely island while visiting pain, horror and hardship on all who speak out. Some critics argued the poverty results from isolation and economic sanctions. Improvement required recognition and the end of sanctions.

Whether they were right or wrong, there obviously was an immense benefit to Cuba’s government in being “normalized,” freed from sanctions, and legitimized on the world stage. A U.S. president who offered those things plainly held enormous leverage to press for human rights, release of political prisoners, and curtailing state oppression. Obama came up empty. Cuba’s living martyrs got nothing. Raul Castro and his cabal of kleptocrats got everything they wanted.

The as yet untold story of Barack Obama is this: He never encountered a beaten and beleaguered people whose plight he was not willing to condone or actively to make worse. Susan Rice’s column in the New York Times accusing Trump of coddling autocrats is unwitting self-satire.

Photo Credit:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Middle East • military • Post

War with Iran is Coming

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In recent weeks, two seminal events have occurred that make war with Iran more likely. First, Iran (currently struggling with growing domestic unrest because of the horrific economic conditions in that country) has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. Second, Iranian-backed Houthi Rebels in Yemen have attacked two Saudi Arabian-flagged oil tankers operating in the Bab-el-Mandeb.

The U.S. government has ranked seven of the world’s most important “oil chokepoints”—strategic waterways through which a majority of the world’s oil is transported. If these waterways are blocked, the world economy would grind to a halt.

The Strait of Hormuz divides the coastlines of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Bab-el-Mandeb links the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. It is located between Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula and touches Djibouti and Eritrea.

The Strait of Hormuz, however, is more important. According to Bloomberg, the Bab-el-Mandeb is “significantly less crucial than the better-known Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran” for shipping crude oil. Combined, though, Iran’s recent actions are meant to be strong signals to the United States (and its allies in Israel and the Sunni Arab states).

Since taking office, President Trump has reversed course on his predecessor’s Iran policy. This is part of the Trump Administration’s overall pressure campaign designed to extract better deals from other countries, friend and foe alike. Trump is now stuck between either abandoning the region to Iran or standing firm with our imperfect allies—even at the risk of a wider war.

A greater conflict is exactly what is shaping up between the Sunni and Shiite spheres of the Islamic world in the Middle East.

Previously, the Islamic world was torn apart by another Sunni-Shiite conflict, the Iran-Iraq War. In that bloody war, which spanned eight years between 1980 and 1988, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein attempted to annex the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Even with financial support from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia—and with implicit backing from the United States—Saddam’s Arab army couldn’t achieve its goals.

During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians began targeting all Sunni Arab oil tankers operating in the Strait of Hormuz—notably those belonging to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—in retaliation for Iraq having targeted Iranian oil-tankers beginning around 1981. This prompted a wider American intervention to protect the Saudi and Kuwaiti tankers (by re-flagging the tankers as American ships and having the U.S. Navy escort them through contested waters, such as those of the Strait of Hormuz).

Yet, even at the height of the so-called “Tanker War” Saudi Arabia never took the drastic step of altering their oil flows as they did this last week over their two tankers being attacked by Iranian-backed Houthi Rebels out of Yemen. Riyadh’s decision to suspend oil flows through the Bab-el-Mandeb undoubtedly will cause oil prices to spike globally. And, given the unrest occurring in Iran, as well as the fact that the Trump Administration appears only to be getting started with its pressure campaign against Iran, expect hostilities in the region to escalate.

Further, I would anticipate spikes in the global price of oil for the foreseeable future (by the way, this undoubtedly would make Moscow happy, since Russia depends on higher-than-average oil prices to sustain its economy and military modernization program). Should these increases continue for the foreseeable future—and if Iran continued both with its illicit nuclear weapons program and regional expansion—the United States will be forced to intervene military.

Also, eventually, Washington will have no choice but to either enforce its strict de-nuclearization policy for Iran or to step back, be humiliated by Iran, and watch the Iranians run roughshod over the region (since there is little hope that the Saudi-led Sunni Arab states will fare any better against Iran than Saddam’s armies ever did).

It is unlikely the Trump White House would favor this outcome.

Instead, the administration will more likely seek to escalate the situation with some form of direct American involvement (a combination of naval operations to keep the vital oil chokepoints open and potential air strikes to attack suspected Iranian nuclear sites as well as Iranian naval bases).

Meanwhile, the Sunni Arab states (and likely Israel) recognize that they alone cannot defeat Iran. They would prefer to escalate tensions as high as possible, prove unable to push Iran back, and prompt a direct American military engagement against Iran.

As for Iran’s besieged mullahs: they would prefer to distract their angry population by fighting the infidels of the West (and the apostates of the Sunni states) rather than be overthrown by popular unrest at home.

War—whether limited or unlimited—with Iran is coming.

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Photo credit: Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

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