• Michigan’s infamous Mddle East specialist, Juan Cole, comes up with another doozy

    Carbon dioxide, Cole says, is “a far more deadly gas” than what was used in “the gas attack in Syria on April 4.”

    His basic argument is encapsulated in the headline of his recent article in The Nation:

    The Other Poison Gas Killing Syrians: Carbon Dioxide Emissions

    If Trump and his cronies really cared about children killed by noxious gases, they wouldn’t be trying to spew ever more CO2 into the atmosphere –Juan Cole

    You see, it’s about drought. Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s the drought that caused everything to go wrong in Syria.

    Oh, yes, and Trump is to blame. Plus, he’s a hypocrite for bombing a Syrian base to stop more chemical weapon attacks because Trump doesn’t also agree with Al Gore on climate change. If you can follow that logic, check with your doctor. If you agree with it, apply to graduate studies with Prof. Cole at Michigan.

    Again, to quote the professor:

    The Syrian civil war has left more than 400,000 people dead, among them graveyards full of children and innocent noncombatants. About half the country’s 23 million people have been left homeless, and of those, 4 million have been driven abroad (some of them contributing to Europe’s refugee crisis and its consequent rightward political shift). The war occurred for many complex reasons, including social and political ones. The severest drought in recorded modern Syrian history in 2007–10, however, made its contribution. –Juan Cole


    Comment:  Notice that, in the fine print, Cole relegates the drought to a much more ambiguous status. It “made a contribution” to the humanitarian disaster, he now says. How much contribution? He refuses to say.

    Yet the whole point of the article is that carbon dioxide in Syria is more deadly than poison gas attacks, which are war crimes (for good reasons). In short, the article is bait-and-switch, seasoned with hyperbole, political correctness, and a steadfast refusal to look true evil in the eye.

    The most appropriate comment comes from the movie, Billy Madison. It is pitch perfect for Prof. Cole’s analysis:

    In other words, a drought may have contributed, indirectly, to the carnage in Syria. But to emphasize it as a major cause is misleading, tendentious, and wrong.

    To put it differently, California had multiple years of drought and, according to recent statistics, the civil war there has claimed far fewer than 400,000 lives. Perhaps under 300,000.

    Hey, let’s at least give Jerry Brown some credit for avoiding barrel bombs in the Central Valley. So far.


    Hat Tip: Daniel Pipes and Campus Watch. They found the Cole article and publicized it. Kudos.

    Tom Blumer at NewsBusters, who initially publicized the article.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 20

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

     Tillerson, Mattis turn up the heat on Iran. Says it is still sponsoring terrorism throughout the Middle East  (Washington Post)

    But they do not want to overturn the nuclear agreement. They see cheating at the margins but not full-frontal violations

    Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis slammed Iran as a destabilizing influence, particularly in Yemen, during a visit to Saudi Arabia. “Everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran,” Mattis told reporters.

    This week, the Trump administration said it will undertake a comprehensive, 90-day review to judge whether lifting sanctions on Iran serves U.S. interests. So expect to hear more about this topic in the coming months.

    In the meantime, amid all the criticism, here’s a development worth noting: Iran has met all of its commitments under the nuclear deal so far, the administration officially told Congress this week. –Washington Post

     The sheer fun of reading a slash-and-burn column. Not good as a steady diet, but, like cheese cake, great fun as an occasional treat.

    Here’s Howie Carr’s take-down of Elizabeth Warren and her new book. The succession of nicknames alone is worth the read, and so is his parody of what she claims is her favorite curse word: poop. Really. That, she claims, is a f*^king curse word. (My own is “drat.”)  Howie’s column is here. (Boston Herald)

    This is a rough week for Chief Spreading Bull to be starting her tour of the trustafarian gated communities and alt-left fake-news media that are her main, make that only, constituencies. The authors of the Hillary campaign post-mortem, “Shattered,” are also making the green-room rounds. Ditto Bernie Sanders and the DNC’s Dumb and Dumber — Tom Perez and Keith Ellison.

    That’s a lot of poop for the non-working classes to be wading through, but nevertheless, she will persist. . . .

    “Trump slammed back at me repeatedly,” she says on page 226, “hitting me over and over with his lame nicknames.”

    Like, what, Liewatha? What kind of poop did he hit you with? Was it something about your, ahem, Native American heritage? Why no mention of that anymore? She’s still demanding that the president release his taxes. Maybe he should agree to — right about the time she puts out her employment applications to the two Ivy League law schools that hired her as a
    “woman of color.” –Howie Carr

    Comment: Cowabonga.

     Scott Walker continues policies opposing mandatory unions, this time on state construction projects (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

    Contractors won’t have to work with unions on taxpayer-funded building projects and parents will have an easier time getting an anti-seizure drug derived from marijuana, under legislation Gov. Scott Walker signed Monday.

    The measure on labor agreements, which passed the Legislature on party-line votes, is the latest in a series of moves to roll back union power by Republican lawmakers in recent years. –Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

    Comment: Wisconsin rises, Indiana Rises, Illinois sinks, California Sinks. Notice a pattern? Local voters do.

    ◆ Terror and the Fresno Murders: A comment 

    Kori Ali Muhammad has admitted killing three people–he was caught in the act–and said he wanted to kill more “white people.”

    Police has said that, although he yelled “Allahu Akbar,” his crime was based solely on race, not Islamic terror.

    What he did IS terrorism, in the sense that he meant to cause terror and did.

    The question is whether it is connected to the broader movement of Islamic terror, included “inspired” lone-wolf actions.

    Right now, it is hard to know whether he yelled the Arabic phrase as

    • A signal of black nationalism (National of Islam style),
    • Pure hatred of America,
    • Support for global terrorism, or
    • Some other motive.

    Since he has already begun talking, he might say more about his motivations. We’ll gain other information, too, as police uncover his internet search history, personal and political affiliations, and more.

    As Fresno police and the FBI release their findings, we will gain a sense of how these murders are is connected to the larger Islamic terrorism issue, as well as Muhammad’s hatred of white people.

     Hillary campaign working to discover who leaked embarrassing info for new book, Shattered (NY Post’s Page Six)

    We’re told the details in the book, which depicts the campaign as inept, “could only have come from someone in the inner circle.” Dennis Cheng, the finance director of Clinton’s presidential campaign, has been sending out messages to determine where the leaks come from.

    One source said, “The knives are out to find the people who spoke about the campaign to the authors of this book. –NY Post

    Comment: In other news, the Adlai Stevenson campaign is doing a “top-to-bottom look at why we lost and what to do next.”



    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Bryan Caisse 
    for the Howie Carr piece on Elizabeth Warren


  • New Feature: ZipDialog Explainer. Today’s topic: Egypt’s Coptic Christians

    Another Islamic terrorist bombing is the horrific and all-too-familiar news out of the Middle East. This one was directed at Coptic Christians worshipping in Egypt on Palm Sunday. ISIS has claimed responsibility.

    The media naturally rush to cover the breaking news. That understandable and completely proper. ZipDialog tries to find the best and clearest report and add some brief commentary. (For instance, today’s terror bombings are well covered by Reuters.)

    Sometimes, though, we need a little background to understand the breaking news.

    That’s the goal of this new feature, “ZipDialog Explainer.” It aims to provide some essential background and do it succinctly. 

    The topic could be anything in the news, from the economy and technology to popular culture in other countries.

    Most ZipDialog posts will continue to be news and commentary, with occasional injections of blues and humor. When an “explainer” topic arises, we’ll include that, too. Feel free to suggestion them.


    Who and What are Egypt’s Coptic Christians?

    Coptics are the largest branch of Christianity in North Africa and the Middle East, including Egypt. The exact number in Egypt is disputed. Estimates range from 6 million to 20 million. There are about 80 million Egyptians, making it the largest Arab country. (Like many non-democratic states, Egypt is not eager to count various social groups, fearing the political impact when the true numbers become known.)

    Christianity in Egypt dates to the very beginning to the religion and established some of its early features, such as monasticism.

    The distinctive branch of Coptic Christianity dates to a church council in the fifth century, when local leaders differed from their counterparts in Rome and Constantinople over the nature of Jesus’ divinity, as well as the relationship between his divinity and humanity.

    The name itself comes from the Greek and is based on an earlier name for Memphis, the original capital of Ancient Egypt.

    Organizationally, the Coptic Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria has jurisdiction over all Africa, which is why the terrorist bombings in that city carry special significance for all Christians in the region–and for Islamists who wish to drive Christianity out of its historic home in the Middle East. In fact, the Coptic Pope had just completed a service in one of the churches bombed.

    There have been deadly bombings and attacks on Coptic Christian homes for many years, especially since 2010.

    One silver lining: after a deadly 2010 bombing in Alexandria left 21 dead, thousands of Muslims came to the Christians’ defense, standing stood guard as human shields so Coptics could attend Christmas Mass in January 2011.


    If you have a topic to suggest, please let ZipDialog Explainer know.  You can email charles.lipson (at) gmail




  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . International Focus today on Friday, February 3

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Nikki Haley, new US ambassador to United Nations: blunt talk to Russia over Ukraine (CNN)

    The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea.

    Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine. –Amb. Nikki Haley

    Comment: There is zero chance that the Putin regime will pull out of Crimea and slim-to-none that any successor regime would.

    Here’s my interpretation: The sanctions stay until Putin gives up something significant to Trump. My assumption here is that Trump is transactional and ready to bargain, but he will never give up anything without full compensation. Same for Tillerson. Big difference from Obama and Kerry. 

     “Decline, Not Collapse: The Bleak Prospects for Russia’s Economy” Important new paper from the Carnegie Foundation’s Moscow Center

    Russia faces bleak economic prospects for the next few years. It may be a case of managed decline in which the government appeases social and political demands by tapping the big reserves it accumulated during the boom years with oil and gas exports. But there is also a smaller possibility of a more serious economic breakdown or collapse. –Andrey Movchan at Carnegie’s Moscow Center

     UK Prime Minister Theresa May strongly supports NATO. Now, she will press Europeans to contribute more (BBC)

    Britain’s strategic ambition to act as a bridge between Europe and the United States long predates Brexit, but it has now become a central component of the government’s hopes of keeping and building influence in the world.

    But pressing for higher defence spending looks like a tough ask.

    And her hopes of becoming a bridge – or honest broker – between the EU and the US won’t be easily fulfilled either. –BBC

     Comment: This bridge needs building, but it cannot be built from the middle pier. It must have a strong anchor in Washington and buy-in, literally, from European nations that have been paying too little.

     Wall Street Journal reports that Trump Administration will sanction 25 Iranian entities for its missile test and provocations by regional proxies

    Comment: Washington’s simple message to Iran’s mullahs: “Under New Management”

    The Free Market. It’s like Uber, But for Everything.” –Robert Tracinski

     Sarah Silverman goes off the rails, calls for a military coup. She does it on Twitter. Perfect for a bird-brain idea



  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Monday, Dec. 19

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Home construction has lagged the rest of the US recovery. (Wall Street Journal)

    ◆ Before the Kardashians, there was Zsa Zsa Gabor. The same idea: bling, glamor, strange voice, no talent except for publicity. Now Zsa Zsa is dead dead.  She was 99. (LA Times)

    ◆ It is with great personal pleasure I announce the following: my spellcheck does not recognize the word “Kardashian.”

    ◆ Most reports about Trump’s nominee to be US ambassador to Israel have been critical, emphasizing his conservative views and lack of foreign policy experience. Elliott Abrams has a far more positive view of the nominee, David Friedman. (Abrams’ blog at the Council on Foreign Relations)

    ◆ Well, that was a bad idea, Attorney General Loretta Lynch says of her meeting with Bill Clinton. Jake Tapper of CNN does a fine job bringing out her views. (CNN)

    ◆ For years, Middle East Studies departments in US universities have been cesspools of hatred for Israel and for anyone (Jewish, Evangelical, or other) who supports Israel. They have received no pushback from university administrators or faculty. The federal government has funded them for language training, even though the departments’ hatred of the US government is strong and deep. Now, Middle East Studies Departments across the country are lashing out at the prospect of a Trump presidency, using the language of victimization they have taught students for years, writes Cinnamon Stillwell and Michael Lumish at Campus Watch.

    ◆ GQ has an article entitled “Mitch McConnell is the Real Evil One.” The subtitle is equally subtle, “Where Do You Think Trump Learned to Gaslight America?”

    I am not being hyperbolic when I say that Mitch McConnell is evil. The coming Trump Presidency is already an assembly line of shitty, apocalyptic consequences getting cranked out 24/7, and the fact that McConnell now holds near-total power over Congress is perhaps the most unbearable side effect of them all. –Drew Magary in GQ

    Comment: When I need political analysis, I go to GQ for fashion advice.



  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Sunday, Dec. 11

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ New Sec. of Education, Betsy DeVos, will toss out Common Core (NY Post)

    For several years, Common Core has been one of the more controversial issues in K-12 education. Now, it’s likely to be gone before it took hold.

    Comment #1: Common Core’s problems are deeply instructive. The program began as a cooperative initiative among individual states to make K-12 education more rigorous and introduce some commonality. What happened was two-fold. The program was seized by Washington and the ed. school professors. The families back home didn’t like the transformation one bit. 

    Comment #2: Buckle up. Big changes ahead at Ed, EPA, Labor, and more.

    ◆ GOP wins the open Senate seat in Louisiana, giving them a 52-48 margin in the new session(NOLA.com)

    Close race? Nope. The winner, John Kennedy, got over 60%.

    Kennedy embraced Trump’s winning strategy of anti-Washington rhetoric, adding his own twang and homespun folksiness to its delivery, and coasted to a victory in the final four weeks.

    Throughout the campaign, Kennedy lambasted the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, played up his anti-abortion and 2nd Amendment bona fides, and blasted those he called “Ritz Carlton Democrats.” He supported Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border, to “drain the swamp” in Washington of lobbyists and special interests and to apply an “extreme vetting” process to all immigrants.

    And he delivered these vows with a mix of countrified metaphors, most famously saying he would rather “drink weedkiller” than cooperate with “Washington insiders.”  -NOLA

    It’s hard to remember that, as late as election day, the pollsters and betting markets figured the Democrats would win both the Senate and the Presidency.

    Lest you mark it down to Louisiana always voting Republican . . . the governor who took office last January, John Bel Edwards, is a centrist Democrat.

    ◆ Rising tensions between Donald Trump and CIA over the agency’s conclusion that the Russians tried to help Trump win the presidency and its larger conclusions about Russian ambitions.  (LA Times)

    CIA leaders . . . are bracing for a potentially adversarial relationship with Trump’s White House, especially over what the spy agency sees as Russia’s malign role on multiple fronts, according to two officials who requested anonymity in speaking about internal discussions.

    “It sets up one of the great crises in the history of the executive branch,” said Glenn Carle, a former senior CIA officer . . . “All the agency can do short of insurrection is to present the facts when allowed to the executive we serve.” –Los Angeles Times

    ◆ More US Special Ops headed for Syria (Washington Post)

    Question: What, pray tell, would be the strategy? Does the US have one?



    ◆ Send interesting stories to
    Charles (dot) Lipson at Gmail (dot) com



  • Arab Development Report: Grim numbers on terror and battle deaths

    ◆ The Arab Human Development Report for 2016 lays out the awful data for millions of innocents living in the region.

    • 5% of the world’s population
    • 45% of the world’s terrorist attacks
    • 68.5% of the world’s battle-related deathsarab-development-report-2015


    The report was compiled by the UN Human Development Programme, Regional Bureau for Arab States. A free download is available at their website.

    ♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Martin Kramer
     for this story

  • After Trump Victory, Sisi Smiles, Egypt Shrugs

    Donald Trump’s election may have been met with incredulity and concern by some US allies, but the leader of at least one Middle Eastern nation is thrilled.

    Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi may have been the first foreign leader to call and congratulate the new US President on the Wednesday after the election. Sisi was effusive in his congratulations, echoing his September comments that Trump would be a “strong leader.” Trump as well has had kind words for Sisi in the past, calling him a “fantastic guy.”

    The Trump-Sisi connection is likely to rest on more than mutual admiration. As pointed out in Al-Monitor, “the two men also share similar views on a number of issues.”

    The major areas of agreement include an openness to Russia, a refusal to back Syrian Rebels and deep skepticism of the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has also shown little desire to push human rights concerns with regards to the Egypt’s mass incarceration of Muslim Brotherhood members and Arab Spring protesters.

    All of this may bring Egypt back to the negotiating table on a host of Middle Eastern issues given its potential for a leadership role in the region and as a link between the US and Russia.

    However, many Egyptians see less room for optimism.

    Recent protests by Egypt’s”Movement of the Poor” have recalled the anger directed against President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but with little success. Instead, Sisi has pursued massive crackdowns, a policy likely to continue in light of Trump’s vocal criticism of US support for Mubarak’s ouster.

    The main emotion felt by Egyptians however, might simply be a rueful cynicism. Proof of that emotion, and a little schadenfreude, can be seen in the picture above of former Egyptian spy chief and Vice President, Omar Suleiman. In 2011, Suleiman claimed the Egyptians were not ready for democracy. Now, many in Egypt believe that the tables have turned.

  • The Saudi-Iranian Struggle Is Ripping Apart the Middle East

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    Today, most of the Middle East is caught in the vortex of Iran’s struggle with Saudi Arabia. They are fighting proxy wars across the entire region–and decimating it in the process.

    This article by Max Fisher in the NYT provides a valuable overview, along with a brief history of the struggle since the Iranian Revolution.

    US Policy in the Persian Gulf

    US policy has shifted dramatically under Pres. Obama, from stiff opposition to Tehran to a more balanced position between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

    The Saudis have seen that as abandonment–an exaggeration but an understandable one.

    Meanwhile, the Iranians have taken the financial windfall from the nuclear deal and increased their already-malevolent role across the region.

    Pres. Trump inherits his regional mess and confusion over US strategy when he takes office in January.

    ♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Martin Kramer’s Sandstorm
     for this story

  • Is Egypt Ready for its Close-up?

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    The Middle East has loomed large throughout the presidential campaign with contentious exchanges on Iraq, Syria, terrorism, and the Iran nuclear deal marking the debates. Conspicuously absent however, has been any mention of the most populous Arab country; Egypt.

    This silence betrays a widely perceived belief that Egypt is unable to play a leading role on the world stage. Just five years removed from the Arab Spring, which reshaped the entire region and two years after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s election, Egypt has gone from standard bearer, to cautionary tale, to virtual nonentity.

    So how did Egypt, which captured the world’s attention for 18 days in Tahrir Square, drop off our international radar?

    In this case, no news is certainly not good news.

    Since 2011 terrorism, especially in the Sinai, has skyrocketed. High profile bombings targeting security forces and civilians have reached all the way to Cairo and, in 2015, the Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate managed to bring down a chartered plane filled with Russian tourists.

    On the economic side, billions of dollars in aid have achieved little and the country faces huge budget deficits (link). Overvalued currency and lack of structural reforms have made The World Bank and the IMF hesitant to commit further funds. Domestic repression has also resulted in threats to cut off US aid, though military funding has been little affected.

    Still it is Egypt’s responses, not its challenges that are keeping it in the shadows.

    Reform or Status Quo?

    Instead of structural reform, President Sisi has engaged in a series of white elephant projects that have cost billions and seen little return (link). The digging of a “second” Suez canal, in essence a $9 billion dollar lane widening project, has yet to increase revenues and comes at a time of declining global trade.

    Without new domestic sources of revenue, Cairo has leaned heavily on Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has been pumping cash infusions into the country since the overthrow of Morsi’s Egyptian Brotherhood government. However the Kingdom’s role has not been uncontroversial and the planned transfer of two Red Sea islands (link) by Egypt to Saudi Arabia have fueled popular protests. With oil prices predicted to remain low for the immediate future, and new sources of tension (link) over Syria and Egypt’s involvement in the Yemen campaign, it’s unclear how much longer Riyadh will decide to keep Cairo afloat.

    Hundreds of death sentences handed out for Muslim Brotherhood members have further stoked tensions with Turkey and Qatar, as well as human rights groups (link). Combined with the massive campaign of detentions against those who led the Arab Spring, Egypt has effectively outlawed a huge percentage of its population.

    Even Egypt’s successes have been misplayed. The most successful aspect of the country’s foreign policy may be the unprecedented level of anti-ISIS security cooperation (link) with Israel in the Sinai, yet government officials prefer to remain mute for risk of backlash.

    Little of this seems to worry the country’s leadership who put their faith in spectacle and military might.

    President Sisi in particular is convinced he is delivering a star turn. In February the army unrolled a 2 mile long red carpet for Sisi to drive over while openin♦g a housing complex for the poor. the press and citizens immediately blasted the hypocrisy. Yet, the government seemed caught off guard, with a military spokesman claiming (link),

    It gives a kind of joy and assurance to the Egyptian citizen that our people and our land and our armed forces are always capable of organizing anything in a proper manner. —Egyptian Military Spokesman

    Such cluelessness may fall short of a “let them eat cake” moment, but until Egypt confronts its systemic problems, its red carpets are unlikely to lead to the world’s stage.

    Walker J. Gunning is the executive director of CPOST (Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism) and a media commentator. His pieces have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune. He was formerly the associate editor at Al-Monitor.com. Walker holds a MA and BA in Near Eastern Studies from NYU and previously worked in independent and documentary film production. His views are his own.