This is a chilling account of a cover-up by the U.S. military of the exposure of 200,000 American soldiers in the first Gulf War to nerve gas.

http://www.newsweek.com/how-us-nerve-gassed-its-own-troops-then-covered-it-317250

All eyes at the moment are glued to the news about the aerial attacks by a coalition of Saudi, GCC and Jordanian planes (with more to come it seems) on Huthi and military targets in Yemen. This is not a scenario I want to see; this is not a commentary I want to write. Yemen is imploding, the victim of long standing foreign involvement, local rivalries fueled by the insecurity with the removal of Ali Abdullah Salih and, in large part, the insatiable drive of Salih and his supporters to regain power. The Arab Spring removal of Salih was relatively peaceful, at least in terms of a military standoff and an explosion that could easily have ended Salih’s life but for the grace of the Saudis to put him back together. Guns abound in Yemen, as everyone knows, but the kind of hate-fueled warfare that has engulfed Iraq and Syria had not erupted. There was a national dialogue that most, but not all, groups participated in. There was a glimmer of hope.

This morning that glimmer seemed much dimmer, following on the rapid turn of events since the Huthi takeover of Sanaa and the recent escape of President Hadi to Aden. Yemen’s fragmented military is no match for the Saudi coalition arsenal directed by American intelligence. A bunch of gabilis in pick-up trucks may look tough on first glance, but they might as well be riding chariots. Reports suggest Saudi Arabia has assembled a force of some 150,000 at their border, with fears that a local RISK game will break out after the bombing has nullified the capacity of the Huthis to resist any advance. (more…)


The GCC States and the Viability of a Strategic Military Partnership with China

By Imad Mansour, Qatar University, The Middle East Institute, Mar 17, 2015

The term “strategic partnership” has been increasingly used in GCC circles to signify that relations with China are important and worthy of long-term investment. In a March 14, 2014 speech during his visit to Beijing, Saudi Arabia’s then Crown Prince Salman announced that “we are witnessing the transformation of the relationship with China to one of strategic partnership with broad dimensions, to the benefit of both our countries.”[1] Saudi Arabia’s position was echoed by the emir of Qatar during a 2014 visit to China in which issues of common concern to all GCC states, especially combating terrorism, were discussed.[2] Abdel-Aziz Aluwaisheg, GCC general assistant secretary for negotiations and strategic dialogue, has also noted that there is growing interest in the Gulf to develop a “strategic dialogue” with China.[3]

Despite this growing GCC recognition of China’s strategic role in the region, what exactly a “strategic partnership” or “strategic dialogue” would look like remains unclear. This essay discusses why officials in GCC member states might be hesitant to embrace the idea of China as a viable strategic military partner, while at the same time recognizing the need to further develop relations with China.

Securing Independent Military Capabilities

From the perspective of GCC leaders, the main military advantage of partnership with China is Beijing’s potential willingness to provide weapons that the United States is currently reluctant to sell. Given the United States’ lukewarm responses to recent regional unrest, the GCC countries are seeking to augment their independent capabilities, and China could be an important supplier, whether or not it is a full “strategic partner.”[4] These GCC views are based on the understanding that as economic interdependence grows, China might be more willing to provide advanced weapons systems in greater quantities. It is important to note that looking to China for arms sales is consistent with the GCC states’ broader strategy of expanding their network of suppliers.[5]

However, GCC leaders continue to assess the benefits of such an arrangement through the prism of their enduring relationship with the United States. This is largely due to historical momentum. GCC states have long procured most of their military hardware, training, intelligence systems, and combat systems directly from the U.S. government or from American businesses. In addition, the United States and its allies share GCC concerns about containing regional conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the region-wide threat posed by al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates.[6] Furthermore, it seems that despite its reluctance to sell certain weapons directly to the GCC, the United States has tacitly approved GCC purchases of such weapons from China.[7] This balance―whereby the United States sells the GCC most of its conventional weapons systems, while GCC states purchase other approved weapons elsewhere―allows the GCC to accrue the benefits of remaining within the U.S. umbrella while also buttressing its defenses. Obtaining military hardware from China that the United States has not approved would involve an extremely delicate diplomatic game—one in which the GCC stands to lose more than it would currently gain. (more…)

There is an excellent analysis of ISIS as a cult recently posted on War on the Rocks.

Here is the start, but click here for the full article…

Why Cults Work: The Power Games of the Islamic State and the Lord’s Resistance Army
by Eleanor Beevor

Graeme Wood’s article “What does ISIS really want?” has become the most discussed foreign policy article of the year. Yet the piece’s power lies not in the title question, but in Wood’s blunt assessment of a paradox that leaves Western leaders flummoxed: How does one explain the traction of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while also denying its religious legitimacy, in order to combat anti-Muslim bigotry? Wood didn’t mince words in refuting this hesitancy:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic… the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

What follows is a fascinating piece of research, and a frustrating read. Despite addressing all the right aspects of ISIL’s ideological content to understand its power, Wood’s argument is guided by the wrong question: “How Islamic is ISIL?” For him, denial of ISIL’s Islamic nature is why we fail to understand it. The analytical pitfalls of quantifying “Islamic-ness” should be self-explanatory. Are some of Islam’s 1.6 billion practitioners less Muslim than others if they are less violent? How do we explain the religious devotion of politically “quietest” Salafism, compared to the British ISIL fighters who purchased Islam for Dummies pre-departure? This is not to say that religion is irrelevant in the analysis of ISIL. ISIL uses Islam as an existential anchor, so its actions have to be influenced by it in order to work. It also freely capitalizes on global Islamist sentiment. But to say the whole structure is uniquely, potently Islamic is not just a logical fallacy, but part of the very illusion that sustains loyalty to it. Actually, the features that Wood claims represent ISIL’s Islamic orthodoxy – its obsession with “purity” and the apocalyptic prophecy it stakes its claim on – have “been done,” and not just by Islamists. This is revealed by comparing ISIL with another notoriously violent army, led by another self-styled holy man.

ISIL and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) represent grabs for power, but power of a cosmic kind, beyond what human society can grant them. In examining both, I suggest a word substitution. The ways in which ISIL works, to extraordinary success, are not uniquely Islamic. They are uniquely “cultic.” And to examine ISIL as a cult is to see chinks in its armor. ISIL’s territory may be shrinking, but that alone won’t kill the loyalties of its cadres, nor slow the spread of its bloody sectarian ideology. In ISIL, as in the LRA, knowledge is power. If we can challenge the leaders’ tight hold on that power, ISIL’s ideological grip on its fighters might just begin to crumble…

Time Magazine has a photographic essay on “Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt.”

I have been wondering for some time if there is any profession in the world more disgraceful and pathetic than that of being a politician. I realize that there have been and are decent people that get elected to public office and even some good intentioned folk who gain power through other means. I am also aware that every profession has its crazies and I have known my fair share of academics who fit that characterization. But two things came across my Facebook radar today that are too absurd not to call for a commentary. One is an elected official, the Tea Party Wunderkind Tom Cotton, who in only a few months appears to have been drinking something far stronger than the tea of the party that elected him. Given his fast start out of the gate of congress, I am tempted to think he signed a Hollywood movie contract before he ran for office. Perhaps Arnold has already been pegged to play him. Cotton has been having a ball acting like a boll weevil on a Fox News feeding frenzy. Managing to convince 40-odd fellow senators to sign on to a letter that is in some sense an act of treason for anyone who does care about the Constitution was certainly an opening act hard to duplicate. Our allies are surely excited to know that one section of our government has little intention of honoring what the president is authorized to do before he even does it.

But more pathetic than this silly letter, which surely must frighten Iran into accepting everything a tea partyer might dream up, is his Rambo attitude towards his fellow citizens, assuming he considers a large portion (perhaps that percentage noted by Romney in the last election) citizens. I can see the logic here. The bulk of our military today relies on poorer individuals, lots of Hispanics and Blacks. So if we increase the military he must think we will get these potential criminals off the streets where the white folk live. As for those who do not enlist or who return to discover there are few decent jobs for war veterans (unless they are rightwing enough to run for congress), we will obviously need a lot more prisons to hold them all. Perhaps if we invade another country (Iran or some evil state like that) we could set up a penal colony and deport the unwanted. I am sure a select committee in congress could fashion a comprehensive bill defining who deserves to stay in America and who should be sent packing. I can see a possible motto for the act: “America, leave it now whether you love it or not because we hate you.” The list could start by deporting anyone who ever received food stamps and that would make it easier to close down the Food Stamp program.

But then perhaps I am being unfair. If al-Qaida allies with the Mexican drug lords, then we will see shariah law west of the Pecos. If East Coast liberals continue to push for gay marriage (and the Presbyterian Church USA just moved to perform gay marriages), then our population will decline so drastically that the Republicans will never have a chance to rule the country into the ground forever. Then there are those hippies in San Francisco who need to be weeded out (same goes for Coloradans and all those other psychedelic states). If we start the draft again (I remember how popular it was when I was of draft age but I think it would be better to have it run by annual income rather than birth date to make sure only the lower class goes off to fight), then these druggies can go off somewhere, kill our enemies (which are everywhere) and get high all they want on the drugs overseas. We could send more to Afghan and give them first dibs on the poppy fields.

Then there is Egypt. It seems that a notorious belly dancer wants to run for parliament. I think there is no question that she would harbor any sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood. One of her music videos could be a rather effective campaign message. Imagine a politician who can shake her belly and not just fill it up with bribes. The world needs more female politicians for sure, so who would not support this candidate. And she has talent beyond belly dancing. Looking at the video I linked here demonstrates that she can shake her bosom, perhaps even more than her belly. And, again looking at the video, she does her own laundry, even what she buys at Victoria’s Secret. So this would appeal to a conservative (even a Salafi I think) who thinks a woman’s place is at home washing her panties. It seems she once remarked to conservative bearded critics that her music videos provided an alternative to pornographic movies. I do not see how she could lose, because the number of Egyptian males who watch porn would be enough to elect even Bibi (if he ran as a porn star in drag).

So who should be a politician? It seems that the more bizarre you are, the more incentive there is to run for office. But I think I have been asking the wrong question. The real question is who should be a voter that elects politicians? If the majority of those elected is a representative sample, then it may be that no one should vote. Sorry Athens, but democracy is just too dangerous to promote any more. Now with Cotton in congress and Sama al-Masri attempting to dangle both her upper and lower zaina (well covered of course) in Sisi’s newly formed Egyptian parliament, the new model for government should be Sparta. Hail Leonidas.

The first Egyptian silent film apparently appeared in 1923 under the title Barsoum Looking for a Job
برسوم يبحث عن وظيفة
It is now on Youtube. It has poor, hungry Egyptians, lots of fighting, a dinner party and a drunken ending…


The photograph illustrates Luce Ben Aben, Moorish women preparing couscous, Algiers, Algeria.

There is a trove of old photographs from around the Middle East at the website http://www.azerbaijanrugs.com/oldphotos/old-photographs-me.htm


Kurds in national costumes


Young girl of Bethlehem. This color photochrome print was made between 1890 and 1900.

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