• The “Game of Camps” Revisited: Why Qatar? Why Now?

    Brief background on Qatar

    Until recently, Qatar has managed to play a complex role in the Gulf as a small, very rich, Sunni-Arab sheikdom, with a citizen population of just 250,000-300,000 plus some two million “ex-pats” (the majority workers from South Asia on term contracts).

    Qatar, ruled by its monarchy, has until recently managed to navigate in such a way that it worked both sides of the geopolitical street. 

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    Between Two Worlds, Playing a Double Game

     On the one hand it takes part in the modern, Western-oriented, liberal world order.

    It hosts a vast U.S. airbase and related anti-terrorism facilities.

    It has created and funded Education City, an enclave for a half-dozen major American universities.

    Its national airline, Qatar Airways, has become one of the Gulf giants, challenging the legacy carriers of the US and Europe.

    And it continues to export vast quantities of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its huge reserves — the largest of which it shares with Iran.

      On the other hand, it

    • Has long supported the Muslim Brotherhood, which other Sunni regimes see as a threat.
    • Maintains very close working relations with Iran.
    • Is widely alleged to be the source of funding for terrorism.
    • Hosts and funds Al-Jazeera, whose programming Egypt and Saudi Arabia see as a threat, and
    • Hosts Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a highly-influential militant Muslim scholar whose program on Al-Jazeera has a wide audience throughout the region, and who has justified suicide terrorism (“heroic martyrdom operations”), and justified domestic violence against women as well as female genital mutilation.

    For more on Sheikh Yush Al-Qaradawi, see this profile at the Investigative Project (link here).

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    Why Are the Saudis, Egyptians, and Emirates taking on Qatar now?

    In an increasingly fraught Middle East, with Iran increasingly seen as the predominant regional threat, Qatar’s big neighbor, Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, and other Sunni states now have found this an opportune time to rein in their troublesome Gulf neighbor.

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     Additional Readings, setting the Qatar Crisis in the context 

    Eran Lerman’s essay (link here) provides an incisive treatment of this issue.  It is up-to-date and deeply-informed. (BESA, the Begin-Sadat Institute, Bar-Ilan University, Israel)

    The Qataris have been playing a dangerous game for years. They have provocatively supported the Muslim Brotherhood and actively promoted the destabilization of existing regimes, using huge sums of money as well as the pernicious influence of Al Jazeera TV. The dramatic steps taken against them over the past few days are thus hardly surprising, but they shed some light on the present stage in the struggle for regional hegemony. –Eran Lerman

     Yaakov Amidror writes a complementary essay (link here, also at BESA) arguing the Qatar crisis is a sign of weakness in the Sunni Arab world.

    The fact that the Sunni Arab world was unable to impose its basic approach on a small peninsular emirate is indicative of the deep crisis brewing in the Gulf over the lack of real leadership in the Sunni world.

    Sunnis are the vast majority in the Muslim world, making up some 85% of Muslims – and yet somehow, the Iran-led Shiite minority is the driving force behind the processes moving the Middle East. –Yaakov Amidror

     Michael Rubin, writing at Commentary, urges the US to “Support the Anti-Qatari Coalition: A Long-Overdue Epiphany on Terrorism

    The simple fact is that Qatar supports destablizing, radical movements across the region. –Michael Rubin

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    Robert Lieber, a professor at Georgetown, is one of the country’s leading analysts of US foreign policy, with special interests in the Middle East, Europe, and energy.

    His most recent book is Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (Cambridge University Press).

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, June 13

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Reports that Trump is considering firing Mueller as Special Counsel  (New York Times)

    The comments came from a Trump friend, Christopher Ruddy, but the White House would not confirm them.

    His comments appeared to take the White House by surprise.

    “Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in a statement hours later. “With respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment.”

    Allies of the president cast doubt on the idea that Mr. Trump would take such a drastic step, and White House officials said Mr. Ruddy had not met directly with the president while he was there.

    Comment: Firing Mueller is within the President’s authority, but it would set off fireworks since they would appear that Trump could not withstand an investigation.

    Mueller, however, has done himself no favors by hiring major Democratic donors for his staff. His friendship with Comey is also a problem and should be reason enough for him to recuse himself from that portion of the investigation.

    Comey got a “steely silence” from Loretta Lynch when he confronted her over political interference in Hillary investigation (Circa)

    Ex-FBI Director James Comey has privately told members of Congress that he had a frosty exchange with Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year when he confronted her about possible political interference in the Hillary Clinton email investigation after showing Lynch a sensitive document she was unaware the FBI possessed, according to sources who were directly briefed on the matter. –Circa

    Comment: Sure looks like Lynch was in the tank for Clinton.

    AG Jeff Sessions will testify publicly before the Senate Intel Committee Tuesday  (Washington Post)

    The Democrats are in attack mode.

    Democrats plan to ask about his contacts during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, which the attorney general failed to disclose fully during his confirmation hearing.

    They also want him to explain his role in the firing of Comey, despite the attorney general’s recusal in March from the Russia investigation after revelations about his meetings with Kislyak. –Washington Post

    Comment: The Democrats have made incendiary assertions about Sessions having improper meetings with the Russians and lying about them.

    But so far, there is simply no evidence of anything wrong. That’s what the hearings will be about.

     North Korea sent drones to spy on US anti-missile system in South Korea  (Reuters)

    The drone crashed on its way home.

    Comment: All this effort to spy, so little effort to feed and clothe the tyrannized population.

     France’s Macron: in a year and a half, he came out of nowhere to win the Presidency and now dominate the National Assembly (New York Times)

    Comment: Parties of the right and left have collapsed. Now, Macron is in a position to move a major reform agenda.

     The Palestinian Authority wants to pressure Hamas, so they have asked Israel to cut back on electricity supplies to Gaza. Israel has agreed.  (Los Angeles Times)

    Israel has approved a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut by roughly a third the electricity it provides to the Gaza Strip.

    The move is aimed at undermining the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for the last decade.

    But the decision reached Sunday by Israel’s security Cabinet is stoking concern that it could trigger a humanitarian crisis among Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians and a new round of fighting between Hamas and Israel.

    In a statement on Monday afternoon responding to news of the Israeli decision, Hamas said that power cuts are “dangerous” and would lead to an “explosion.” –Los Angles Times

    Comment: Hamas is under considerable pressure, given the Muslim Brotherhood loss of power in Egypt, the sanctions on Qatar, and increasing resistance from international donors, who are themselves under pressure for funding terrorism indirectly.

    Although Israel is no friend of the Palestinian Authority, they know Hamas is much worse.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 11

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Turmoil within the Tory party after election failure

    The Sunday Telegraph has the most accurate headline, above a picture of Prime Minister May:

    In office, but not in power: Enemies circle Theresa May as she becomes a sitting duck (Sunday Telegraph)

    Boris Johnson, foreign minister and former mayor of London, is a likely challenger for Conservative leadership:

    British foreign minister Boris Johnson has been asked by five other ministers to launch a bid to replace Theresa May as the country’s prime minister after she failed to win a parliamentary majority in an election last week, the Sunday Times reported. (Story here, at US News)

    Pressure in Britain builds on Theresa May to step aside as her top aides resign, her party plots her possible ouster (Washington Post)

    The aides who resigned played a major role in the campaign and were under attack from other Party members. The WaPo goes on to quote Britain’s pro-Tory papers:

    The Daily Mail, an anti-immigrant, nationalist tabloid that has spent the past year cheering on May, published a photo of a graven-faced prime minister along with the headline “Tories Turn on Theresa.”

    The Times of London, a beacon of establishment conservatism that had enthusiastically endorsed the prime minister, published an editorial arguing that she had created “a national emergency” by misjudging the mood of the country and that she was now left “fatally wounded.”

    “If she does not realize this it is another grave misjudgment,” the paper wrote. “More likely, she is steeling herself to provide what continuity she can as her party girds itself for an election to replace her.” –Washington Post

     Qatari capital brims with fear, uncertainty and resilience as Arab crisis intensifies (Washington Post)

    It’s been a week since several Arab countries — led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt — severed ties and imposed an economic blockade on Qatar after they accused it of supporting terrorism. The mood in this waterside Persian Gulf capital is a mix of fear, uncertainty and resilience as residents struggle to cope with a political and diplomatic crisis few imagined would so dramatically upend their world. –Washington Post

    Trump continues to take a strong stand publicly. Sec. of State Tillerson was more diplomatic.

    Bernie tells his troops it’s time to take over the Democratic Party (CNN)

    Also, he doesn’t like Donald Trump.

    Comment: His move to take over the Democratic Party is interesting, given that he is not a Democrat. As soon as he lost to Hillary, he formally reverted to being a Socialist, who caucuses with Senate Democrats.

    Van Jones made similar points, adding “Clinton Campaign ‘Took a Billion Dollars and Set It on Fire’ “ (Fox News)

    Comment: Great phrase. Of course, Hillary would never have done that. It would have offended her environmental supporters.

    ◆ Marches across US against Sharia law. Marches are small, often outnumbered by counter-protesters

    LA Times headline: Anti-Sharia rallies around the U.S. denounce Islam while stoking concerns among Muslim groups

    Speaking out about what they believe are the ills of Islam, anti-Sharia law activists demonstrated nationwide Saturday, but were met by counter-protesters who assailed their rhetoric as insensitive and demeaning. –Los Angeles Times

    Chicago Tribune: Chicago protest against Sharia law outnumbered by counter-protesters

    About 30 people gathered at northwest corner of Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue, carrying signs that read “No killing Gays” and “Sharia abuses women.”

    The group was split into two factions. One group of protesters along Wabash Avenue hoped to bring awareness to specific Sharia practices they claimed oppressed Muslim women and children. They wanted to distance themselves from what they said was a more “radical” faction –protesters gathered near the Heald Square Monument, whose anti-Muslim rhetoric was met with anger and frustration by counter-protesters. –Chicago Tribune

    Comment: It is entirely reasonable to protest cultural restrictions, but it is shameful to engage in racist-style rhetoric. 

     The Daily Mail is reporting that international charities are part of the effort to smuggle refugees out of Libya and into Europe

    Refugee charities are paying people smugglers to ferry migrants to their rescue boats patrolling off Libya, it was claimed last night.

    A senior Libyan coastguard official told The Mail on Sunday he had evidence that aid agencies were stumping up cash for migrants desperate to reach Europe but who cannot afford to pay ruthless traffickers.

    Colonel Tarek Shanboor said he had obtained bank details and phone records that proved the charities were making payments to criminal gangs who have put hundreds of thousands of migrants into unseaworthy boats – leading to thousands of deaths each year.

    His claim will raise concern because there have long been fears that Islamic extremists could be among the migrants. –Daily Mail

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  • Why the Six Day War Remains So Important . . . and Why the Media Get it Wrong. Remembering Israel’s victory on its 50th Anniversary

     A War for Survival

    Fifty years ago this week, Israel, with its survival at stake, overcame daunting odds to defeat its Arab adversaries in the Six Day War.

    The consequences of that epic victory can be found in Israel’s continuing control of the West Bank with its largely Palestinian population. 

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    Getting It Wrong

    For the MSM, it’s all about the “Occupation”

     To mark the anniversary, The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Economist have all published multi-page sections on the “Occupation,” primarily from the standpoint of the Palestinians.

    In the process, they gloss over the reasons why, after half a century, it has been impossible to achieve a peaceful end to the conflict.

    These news outlets–and many more–consistently portray Israel as the dominant and more intransigent partner.

    Although the Palestinians are not held blameless, the analyses pin the blame mainly on Israel, particularly its settlements. The Jewish State, they say, is the primary obstacle to peace.

    Their proposed solution follows from that perspective.

    To break this impasse Israel, as the stronger party, must make far-sighted concessions to achieve peace.

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    Getting It Right

    Valuable Essays by Bret Stephens and Michael Mandelbaum

     The most fitting corrective to this reductive treatment can be found in concise, instructive essays by Bret Stephens and Michael Mandelbaum.

    Stephens, writing in the New York Times, criticizes widespread “ahistoric nonsense” and fittingly summarizes the record of Arab intransigence which in the Palestinian case has no end in sight.

    On June 19, 1967 — nine days after the end of the war — the Israeli cabinet decided it would offer the return of territories conquered from Egypt and Syria in exchange for peace, security and recognition. The Arab League categorically rejected peace with Israel at its summit in Khartoum later that year.

    In 1973 Egypt and Syria unleashed a devastating surprise attack on Israel, puncturing the myth of Israeli invulnerability.

    It took a decade after 1967 for the Egyptian government of Anwar Sadat finally to accept Israel’s legitimacy. When he did he recovered every inch of Sinai — from Menachem Begin, Israel’s right-wing prime minister. Syria remains unreconciled.

    It took another decade for Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization to recognize Israel and formally forswear terrorism. But its pledges were insincere. –Bret Stephens, column in the New York Times

    Stephens’ concludes the essay powerfully, with a reference to a true peacemaker, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat:

    In 1967 Israel was forced into a war against enemies who then begrudged it the peace. Egypt, at least, found its Sadat. The drama of the Six-Day War will close when Palestinians find theirs. –Bret Stephens

    Mandelbaum, writing in Commentary, offers an equally insightful analysis:. The whole article is worth reading, but he summarizes his analysis in a single, astute sentence,

    In fact, each side has wanted the conflict to end, but in radically different and indeed incompatible ways that have made a settlement impossible: The Israelis have wanted peace; the Palestinians have wanted the destruction of Israel–Michael Mandelbaum

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    PHOTOGRAPHS: Before and After the Six Day War

    Captions by Charles Lipson

     

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    UPDATE: The article has been updated to correct the publication where Michael Mandelbaum’s analysis and quote appear. His article is in Commentary. magazine, not The American Interest, where he published an article on a related topic. The link has been updated to reflect the change.

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    Robert Lieber, a professor at Georgetown, is one of the country’s leading analysts of US foreign policy, with special interests in the Middle East, Europe, and energy.

    His most recent book is Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (Cambridge University Press).

  • ZipDialog Roundup for June 1

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Oddly, no new scandal today.

    No terrible new allegations or fierce rebuttals.

    No new leaks from the intelligence agencies.

    Makes me wonder if the internet is down in Washington.

     House Intel Committee Issues Subpoenas to Unmask Obama’s Unmaskers (Real Clear Politics)

    Some familiar names, but one new and important one: Samantha Power, Obama’s UN Ambassador who previously served on the National Security Council.  No one had mentioned her before, though Trey Gowdy may have hinted at her in a cryptic question last week.

    House investigators told [James Rosen at] Fox News they are now devoting more scrutiny to Power, and they have come to see her role in the unmasking as ‘larger than previously known.’ Allegedly eclipsing the others named. –Real Clear Politics

    Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, was also named in the subpoenas.

     Comey will testify in public next week.

    The Democrats think of him as a White Knight, riding to the rescue.

    Republicans think of him as the Knight Who Says Ni. 

    Comment: Comey thinks of himself a

    • a white knight
    • who has done absolutely everything right and nothing wrong in his public life, and
    • is now in the fight to redeem his reputation, which, he thinks,
    • will require him to destroy Trump
    • without saying that he, Comey, failed to report obstruction of justice, as he was required to do.

    This is going to be nasty, very nasty.

     Paris Climate Discord: Trump could pull US out of it this week, as he promised during the campaign.

    The New York Times has a primer on the accord itself.

    The opposition is well framed in the op-ed in the WaPo: If Trump quits the Paris climate accord, he will lead the U.S. into the wilderness

    If the United States withdraws from the accord, it would find itself in farcically lonely company. The pact was signed by 195 countries, with only Nicaragua and Syria bowing out. . . . Some climate experts actually suggest that, given Trump’s steady dismantling of environmental protections, it’s better for the United States to leave the pact altogether than to undermine it from within.

    The other effect of a withdrawal: the disappearance of U.S. leadership on a fundamental issue affecting the future of the planet. –Washington Post op-ed

    A pro-Trump take, from the Washington Examiner: “Trump could rally GOP, reward voters with Paris Agreement exit”

    Comment: There has been a ferocious fight among Trump’s White House advisers, but it looks like the “pull out” side won.

     China sees an opening in relations with Germany after Merkel’s spat with Trump  (New York Times)

    India is also visiting Berlin.

    Comment: Germany is playing a larger global role these days. But that role will be limited unless it can round up support from other Europeans for a collective effort.

    Robert Lieber has just published a brief post on ZipDialog voicing skepticism that the Europeans really can come together. (Lieber post here.

     Solar Energy Storage systems are getting smaller, cheaper, better, allowing some solar homes to begin disconnecting from the grid (Deutsche Welle)

    Comment: Batteries and storage have been the bottleneck for a long time, and a major focus of research. Progress has been steady, but still far short of consumer needs.

     Lebanon bans new Wonder Woman movie because the lead is an Israeli actress (BBC)

    Lots of Lebanese viewers want to see it but, as one upset potential customer puts it, “a vocal minority” was against.

    Comment: Yep. The kind of vocal minority whose movie critic blows up the theater.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 30

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     No more Mr. Nice Guy: America changes tactics on ISIS, don’t make them flee, make them die (Fox News)

    Defense Secretary James Mattis said Sunday the U.S. has switched to “annihilation tactics” against the Islamic State and is focused on completely surrounding the militants instead of moving them from place to place.

    “Our strategy right now is to accelerate the campaign against ISIS. It is a threat to all civilized nations. And the bottom line is we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot,” Mattis said. –Fox News

     Iran to renew funding for Hamas terrorists  (Times of Israel)

    This was actually not an easy negotiation since they two differed over Syria, with Iran backing Assad, Hamas opposing him.

    They also come from different Islamic sects, Shiite for Iran, Sunni for Hamas.

    The deal to restore Hamas’s financial support came after marathon meetings in Lebanon between officials from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hamas, and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group, the report said.

    Relations between Iran and Hamas have been rocky since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, when the Palestinian terror organization came out against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is backed by Tehran. –Times of Israel

    Comment: Despite their differences, these Hamas and Iran do have one thing in common. They love killing Jews.

     Pentagon will test new anti-missile system as North Korean offensive capabilities continue to advance  (CNN)

    Comment: The issue is rapidly coming to a head as Pyongyang speeds up its testing. Intel experts are forecasting North Korea will be able to miniaturize its nuclear missiles and reach the US in as little as 3 years. South Korea and Japan will be in the crosshairs sooner.

    The danger here is profound, not only from a North Korean nuclear attack but from a conventional war. Seoul, South Korea, is a huge city and within easy reach of thousands of North Korean short-range missiles in hardened sites.

    As the US works hard on this system, with millions of lives in multiple countries at stake, the short-sighted politicians who have opposed anti-missile research for decades have a lot to answer for. 

     All Germany’s top politicians agree with Angela Merkel’s criticism of Donald Trump, say Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands” (Washington Post)

    As they campaign against each other ahead of national elections in September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her chief political rival, Martin Schulz, find themselves united in opposition to President Trump.

    Speaking at a beer hall rally in Munich on Sunday, Merkel suggested that the era when Europe could rely on the United States may be coming to an end and that the continent “really must take our fate into our own hands.” . . .

    Yet rather than criticize his rival or her Christian Democratic Union-led government for the strained relationship with Trump, Schulz has passionately offered support. –Washington Post

    Comment: It is unclear what “taking their fate into their own hands” actually means. If it means a Europe led by Germany, the world order will shake, but not before France and Russia do.

     Venezuela in chaos: opposition leaders injured (Reuters)

    Two Venezuelan opposition leaders were wounded on Monday by security forces dispersing protests in the capital Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro, according to one of the leaders and an opposition legislator.

    Maduro’s adversaries have for two months been blocking highways and setting up barricades in protests demanding he call early elections and address an increasingly severe economic crisis that has left millions struggling to get enough to eat.

    Fifty-nine people have died in the often violent street melees, which Maduro calls an effort to overthrow his government. –Reuters

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, May 27

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Comment: Trump’s Trip in a Nutshell 

    • Saudi: Completely reverses Obama’s disastrous tilt toward Iran, reorients US policy to fight Iran and terrorism, makes a promising effort to incorporate a large coalition of Muslim states in the fight; good speech, too
    • Israel: Hard to say whether the Palestinian-Israel talks will go anywhere; what Trump did in Saudi does set a positive context, but it is still a stretch; the negatives are that Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas will do everything they can to stop it, and the Palestinians have no effective government to make peace with, nor has their population come to grips with the far-reaching and permanent concessions they will have to make; the Israelis have no confidence that a peace deal would be adhered to or give them more security
    • NATO: Telling the Europeans the hard truth that they need to pay up is good. What’s bad is Trump’s failure to restate the core principle of NATO, that an attack on one is an attack on all (Article 5). That omission could send a catastrophic signal to Russia about the vulnerable Baltic states, which are NATO members. The only reasonable explanation is that Trump is signaling the Europeans that, if you don’t pay up, you cannot expect us to treat you as full alliance partners. Very risky business.

     Jared Kushner’s talk with Russians during transition included possibility of establishing back channel to discuss issues such as Syria  (Washington Post)

    Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports. . . .

    The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

    The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

    Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team. –Washington Post

    Comment: Initial public interest has focused on the idea of a “back channel.” That’s not what’s important here; back channel communications are common. What’s important here is two things. First, the idea of using the Russians’ equipment to communicate this is amazingly amateurish and reckless (or at least at seems that way to me, as a non-professional in secret communications with adversaries). This scheme was probably Flynn’s misjudgment and Kushner’s inexperience. Second, it says the Trump team was extremely concerned the Obama administration was monitoring everything they had to figure out a different way to communicate securely.

    A third issue is bound to come up. What did they want to talk about? If they were talking about Syria, you could criticize them for undermining the sitting president. If they were doing anything that affected the business interests of private parties–and there is no indication they were–then that would be corruption.

     Hillary reappears at Wellesley Commencement, bitter, and attacking Trump (Washington Post)

    Comment: This has to be a Republican plot. It has to be.

    Only the Republicans could possibly gain from having Hillary out there hectoring the crowds, her shrill voice and tone-deaf delivery proving she still cannot give a decent speech, despite her having received tens of millions for giving them. (That’s a cruel joke, of course. She was paid because she and Bill provided access to power. It was a corrupt, rent-extraction game on a vast scale.)

    For Democrats, the real problem is that she reminds people of the none-too-glorious past and makes it harder for the party to develop new faces for the future. To recharge things, the Democrats need some new voices. It would help if they were not yet living in a retirement community on Social Security and a Reverse Mortgage.  

     US, worried about North Korea, plans a test shoot-down of ICBM  (ABC)

    Comment: The dangers from North Korean nukes are real and present. Their last test was a solid-fuel rocket (which means it can be launched quickly) and went to a very high altitude (which means it can already hit targets as far away as Guam).

    To kill these intercontinental missiles, which leave the atmosphere, is different from killing shorter-range missiles.

    The US has been working on this incredibly complex technical task since Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). The latest iteration is what they will be testing.

    There is a partisan-political dimension here, too, aside from the need to fund the program. Now that America needs a serious anti-missile defense to protect against a North Korean attack on the continental US, people might want to look back and ask who has opposed, undermined, and underfunded that research at every stage over the past three decades. These political opponents, unlike North Korean missiles, won’t be especially hard to identify.

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  • A Brief Guide to Trump’s upcoming NATO Summit

    What Can NATO Do in Today’s Threatening World?

    May 25, the NATO heads of state will meet in Brussels. It’s an important meeting for the world’s most important alliance, the cornerstone of America’s military and diplomatic partnerships.

    If NATO is important to the US, the US is critical to NATO. It is the organization’s de facto leader because it has the diplomatic and military muscle and because it contributes 70 percent of NATO’s $890 million budget.

    What issues are on the table when Trump arrives in Brussels? The same ones that have plagued the organization since the Soviet Union fell in 1991.
    1. Is NATO obsolete?
    2. If not, what is its mission?
    3. Is NATO a paper tiger? If it is, how can it become more relevant?

    A Little Background

    The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in the late 1940s to contain the Soviet Union and safeguard the security of its original fourteen state members. It expanded occasionally during the Cold War, adding Greece and Turkey in the early 1950s, for instance, to contain Soviet probes to gain influence (and a warm-water port) in the Mediterranean.

    After the Cold War, NATO took in many of Eastern Europe’s new democracies, former Soviet satellites eager to form close connections with the West. In the process, the original 14 members doubled to twenty-eight, with Montenegro scheduled to become the twenty-ninth.

    NATO is both political and military

    Although the sub-text of NATO’s mission is to prevent conflict, in reality its reason for being is not peace.

    Today, NATO’s primary purpose is to constrain a belligerent and expansionist Russia.

    That is both a political and military task, and NATO has both dimensions. Or, rather, it has them in principle but not always in practice.

    NATO did not respond to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea or its bombing of the Syrian military and civilian opposition. Russia also guaranteed that Syria’s chemical weapon inventory would be totally liquidated. Not so. Last month the Syrian government committed a chemical attack resulting in the deaths of scores of opposition fighters and civilians. Again, NATO did not respond, although the US did with a barrage of cruise missiles.

    How should the US approach NATO now?

    The contemporary threat array facing the US and NATO is
    • Russian expansionism,
    • A hostile ISIS-Islamic Caliphate, and
    • Acts of domestic terrorism, which struck the West again this week.

    What should NATO’s role be in tackling these threats? My assessment is that NATO is still germane to constraining Russia, but it is not capable of countering ISIS or domestic terrorism.

    The US can regain its global leadership responsibility by using and supporting NATO, provided the NATO member states recognize, define, and implement their limited role as diplomats who are dressed in military uniforms. This is an expensive charade.

    The NATO member state budget commitment is two percent of their GDP. Compare the US 3.6 percent contribution and the 2 percent commitment made by Estonia, Greece, Poland, and UK, with the other 23 states that do not meet their commitments.

    NATO should stay in its lane.

    America’s focus–our national interest–lies in protecting the Baltic states from Russian military aggression, providing military weapons to the Ukraine (a non-NATO member), and re-integrate Turkey into NATO.

    The US can regain its global leadership position and responsibility by leading, using, and supporting NATO.

    Bottom Line: Keep NATO, but consider reducing its budget by 50 percent to allay US critics who seek to terminate the alliance because it is not cost-effective.

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    Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, May 21

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     My quick take on Trump’s Trip:

    There are two key elements to Trump’s trip, in my opinion.

    The first is to reorient US policy in the Middle East after what most of the region considers the disastrous Obama years.

    Pres. Trump is saying “we are back and we oppose Iran.”

    In return, Trump wants (and expects) local partners to start cutting off terror funding from their locals and participate in the larger battles against Iran and terrorism.

    This stage of the trip, now completed, went very well and included a full-throated speech by Trump that touched the right issues without stepping on toes. It ended, significantly, with “God Bless America,” a phrase seldom uttered in the Land of the Two Holy Places.

    The speech was far-better received than Obama’s famous speech in Cairo, which was a prolonged apology for American policy and included ample references to the Koran. Those were overshadowed by his weak stance toward friends, even weaker stance toward enemies, and refusal to give the speech unless the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood could sit among the dignitaries–another of his disastrous miscalculations, as the region quickly came to see it.

    Trump’s second goal is to reestablish strong ties with NATO, while still pressing the Europeans for more payments.

    His visit to Israel does not have such clear objectives; we’ll know more soon.

    The Vatican trip is simply for show.

    ◆ Further comments: Dan Pipes calls the Saudi speech “pretty good”.

    Pipes is not an easy grader, so that’s a high mark. His praise is related to Trump’s reorientation of US policy toward Iran and Islam more generally.

    But he has some withering criticisms, too, calling the speech “incoherent” and “neither eloquent nor insightful.”

    It’s farcical to announce the opening in Riyadh, the headquarters of Wahhabism, of a “Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology.” –Daniel Pipes

    As always, he is well worth reading.

     Conservative media owner Sinclair is buying the Tribune’s broadcast TV stations. The MSM does not like it.

    The NYTimes has already opposed it, vigorously. Now the Washington Post does, too.

    Here’s the WaPo headline: Sinclair’s TV deal would be good for Trump. And his new FCC is clearing the way.

    When French voters resoundingly elected a centrist president rather than a right-leaning antiglobalist this month, one reason may have been the nation’s news media.

    As a French newspaper editor commented: “We don’t have a Fox News in France.”

    The United States certainly does have one. Pretty soon, it may have the equivalent of two.

    Sinclair Broadcast Group has struck a deal with Tribune Media to buy dozens of local TV stations.

    And what Fox News is for cable, Sinclair could become for broadcast: programming with a soupcon — or more — of conservative spin.

    Already, Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. If the $3.9 billion deal gets regulatory approval, Sinclair would have 7 of every 10 Americans in its potential audience.

    That’s too much power to repose in one entity,” Michael Copps, who served on the FCC from 2001 to 2012, told me. –Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post media columnist

    Comment: There is a real possibility Sinclair will form a national, conservative network to rival Fox, which has struggled recently.

    You would expect Fox to be grumpy. Nobody likes competition.

    But opposition by the Washington Post and New York Times is different. They don’t oppose Sinclair because it will compete with them for revenue. Their opposition is ideological.They oppose Sinclair because it will compete with them for hearts and minds. 

    Still, you have to be amused when the paper owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos trots out anti-trust reasons.

     World Health Organization moves around in style, spending more on travel and upscale hotels than on fighting AIDS  (NY Post)

    The UN health agency blows around $200 million a year on travel costs so its honchos can fly business class and stay in five-star hotels — more than what it reserves for battling some of the world’s biggest health crisis, the AP reports. –NY Post

    The travel budget was also larger than the amount they spent fighting malaria or TB. They did spend more fighting polio.

    Comment: The WHO seems to have adopted Marie Antoinette’s motto. They should remember: it did not work out well for her.

     NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio honors a Marxist-Leninist, Puerto Rican terrorist  (PJ Media)

    Ron Radosh lacerates Pres. Obama for releasing the miscreant, de Blasio for honoring him, and the NY Times for papering over the evil:

    A few days ago, a New York Times headline informed readers that the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade held in New York City  would honor Oscar Lopez Rivera, a person they described as a “long-jailed militant” and a “nationalist” — certainly  a misleading description of the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist and terrorist.

    If you’re wondering how this could have happened, you should thank President Barack Obama, who paid off any debts he had to the far left by granting Lopez Rivera clemency in the last few days of his administration. –Ron Radosh at PJ Media

     The real story is much hotter than the AP headline: “California Democrats take aim at Trump, GOP Congress  Well, d’uh.

    Here’s the real, crude, and disgusting story:

    In a sign of the vigor of the party’s distaste for the president, outgoing party Chair John Burton, a longtime Democratic lawmaker and powerbroker known for his blunt and profane manner, extended two middle fingers in the air as the crowd cheered and joined him.

    “F— Donald Trump,” he said. –AP

    Comment: Read that again to see what bias looks like. This crude, foul treatment of a democratically-elected leader is called “a sign of vigor.”

    Ask yourself this, if the Republican convention in Texas or Minnesota had chanted “F**k Obama” and held up middle fingers, do you think the Associated Press would have called it “a sign of vigor”? Not a chance. They would have blasted it with their biggest cannon.

    If you treat the same event differently, depending on whose ox is gored, then your reporting is biased.

    That’s one reason Trump’s backers are incensed that the MSM, which was somnolent during so many scandals in recent years, has come out of hibernation now that they have found a President they can hate.

     

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Tom Elia
    for the California Democrats story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, May 7

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Biggest event of the day: French election  Why? First, it’s already been important because the country’s main parties are out. Voters are not happy.

    Second, if Marine Le Pen is elected France could well exit the European Union, which it helped form.

    The latest ripple is massive computer hack of Emmanuel Macron’s computer files. (BBC)

    The main suspect is Russia, which is backing Le Pen.

    Macron is heavily favored. (Reuters)

    Comment: Even the prospect will rock European politics. It should have already done; there is clearly widespread dissatisfaction with the excessive bureaucracy, lack of democratic controls, erosion of national control over borders, and other key elements of the European project.

    There is also fury over the massive migration of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa who are not integrating into European society, reject many elements of Enlightenment liberalism and toleration, and, in some cases, pose terror threats.

    Le Pen is expected to lose to center-left candidate, Emmanuel Macron. Whether he can lift France from the economic and social doldrums is another matter.

     Next up on Health Care: Trump and Mitch McConnell try to craft a deal (Washington Post)

    For months, McConnell, the consummate political insider, has been dispensing his counsel to Trump, the ultimate outsider, who has been absorbing the Kentuckian’s words. The dynamic has provided a degree of stability in the still-forming relationship between the low-key Senate leader and the loquacious president, who are starkly different types of people.

    But cracks have also emerged in their partnership, most notably when Trump has casually suggested that McConnell change the long-standing rules of the Senate and McConnell has bluntly brushed him off.

    Their fragile alliance is about to face its biggest challenge yet in the next phase of the Republican effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care laws. –Washington Post

    Comment: Trump will surely rely on McConnell to work on the deal in the Senate itself, with Vice President (and former Rep.) Mike Pence as the main intermediary for the White House. Trump will be involved enough to show he cares a lot about it and then push harder when the Senate deal is close to done. 

    Of course, the Senate bill and the House bill will be different, requiring a conference committee–the kind of thing that used to be standard before the Obama years essentially jettisoned normal Congressional procedures.

     The New York Times wastes no time attacking: “Health Act Repeal Could Threaten U.S. Job Engine”

    How? Because fewer people might be employed in health care. They report devastating numbers in manufacturing in Ohio and then say, well, treating people for illnesses has softened the blow to employment.

    Comment: Oddly, this editorial was printed as a news story.

     Warren Buffett: I’m a ‘broken record’ on the US economy, we’re stuck at 2% growth  (CNBC)

    Don’t pay much attention to the quarterly numbers, which oscillate, he says. It’s been slow and steady since the autumn of 2009.

     Colombian civil war: Should the US fund the peace deal, as Obama wanted? Monica Crowley says no.  (NY Post)

    In mid-April, President Trump had a brief, cordial exchange with two former presidents of Colombia — Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana — at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. After the Miami Herald reported the encounter, critics suggested it might “undermine” the Colombian “peace deal” struck by the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

    In fact, it’s less a peace agreement than a pathway to dictatorship for a key US ally and to an expansion of drug trafficking here — developments that would pose grave challenges to Trump’s national security agenda and fight against opioid addiction.

    Remarkably, this disastrous course will likely be partially financed with nearly half a billion US taxpayer dollars — promised by then-President Barack Obama — unless Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan deny the appropriation to implement the deal. –Monica Crowley in the New York Post

    Comment: This deadly civil war has lasted for decades. Colombian voters rejected a previous peace deal.

    I simply don’t know enough about the current situation to comment on it, or on Crowley’s views, intelligently.

     Richard Dawkins reports on very disturbing views in North Africa

    The underlying article is here (National Secular Society, UK) It reports on a large survey in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine.

    Just 45% of Egyptian men believed there should be laws “criminalizing domestic violence, including marital rape.” And only 70% of Egyptian women agreed with this statement. –National Secular Society

    Comment: This matters for women in the region and it matters for Europe, where refugees from North Africa are retaining the views for generations, not adapting to liberal western values.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Marcia Sukenik Weiss
    for the Colombia peace deal
    ◆ Seth Charnes
    for correcting me on Pence serving in the House, not the Senate