With the rise of al-Qaeda, increasingly repressive regimes, and weak, even collapsing states, the Arab Spring is looking more and more like a nightmare for U.S. security interests. Perhaps, then, it makes some sense that the Obama administration would increase security assistance to the Middle East, from 69 percent of the total budget request for 2014 to 80 percent. However, this also entails a significant reduction in democracy assistance to the region, which will drop from $459.2 million to $298.3 million. Congress might further deepen these cuts.
But to look at this as a security problem risks conflating cause and effect. Today’s Middle East is a product, at least in part, of failed democratization, and one of the reasons it failed was the timid, half-hearted support of the Obama administration.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Louafi Larbi]
We’ve seen the amazing photos of the uncharacteristically early and intense snowstorm that blanketed the Middle East last week (and if you haven’t, head on over to In Focus), but sometimes you just can’t beat the view from 440 miles above Earth’s surface. On Monday, NASA released the image below, taken by Terra, a more than 11,000-pound satellite roughly the size of a small school bus.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry appear to have run the table in Middle East diplomacy. An interim nuclear agreement with Iran has been reached, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are underway, and peace talks to end Syria’s civil war are slated to begin in January.
For an administration under siege domestically, press coverage declaring the triumph of Obama diplomacy over Bush-era militarism is a political godsend.
Read more. [Image: Jason Reed/Reuters]
AMMAN, JORDAN—A pair of golden dragons crowns the inflatable red archway in front of Amman’s International Motor Show Center, guarding the entrance to a exhibition ground featuring more than 32,000 square feet of machinery, solar panels, car seats, wind turbines, LED street lights and gas station equipment. Inside, Chinese salesgirls march around the booths with clipboards, dressed in black skirts and high heels. Arab men in business suits, accompanied by their wives, stroll about in small groups, stopping every once in a while to look at the assembled products and give out business cards. Chinese, Arabic and English buzz through the air: “Ya salaam, I need the NC double cutter,” “We make visa for your engineer to come,” “You know Hebei? Hebei very cheap!”
Welcome to the 10th annual China Fair Jordan 2013, an event proclaiming itself the “Largest China Fair in the Near East.” Set in two weeklong sessions in September, the exhibition features over a thousand Chinese suppliers displaying 12,000 made-in-China products for customers from across the Middle East.
The fair coincides with King Abdullah II’s trip to China this week, which is the Jordanian monarch’s 7th official state visit to the country since 1999. As the world negotiates over neighboring Syria and the Jordanian people worry about refugees and chemical attack, Abdullah is touring the Huawei research center, Shanghai’s Jinqiao economic zone, and the first China-Arab States Expo in Ningxia, a northwestern province known for its sizeable Muslim minority. King Abdullah’s interest in China reflects the closer ties between the two countries; Chinese-Jordanian trade has grown at steady double-digit rates in the last decade and China is now Jordan’s 3rd largest trade partner, all while war and political instability have thrown Jordan’s neighbors into turmoil.
Read more. [Image: Feng Li/AP]
Recently the Daily Show joined the growing consensus of commentators declaring that arbitrary, carelessly drawn imperial borders are to blame for all that’s wrong with the Middle East today. In doing so, they demonstrated that it’s easy to be incredibly funny and dangerously wrong at the same time. There’s plenty to criticize about the legacy of colonialism, but dwelling on colonial borders only increases the risk that our future interventions in the region will further undermine its already fragile states.
The idea that better borders, drawn with careful attention to the region’s ethnic and religious diversity, would have spared the Middle East a century’s worth of violence is especially provocative at a moment when Western powers weigh the merits of intervention in the region. Unfortunately, this critique overstates how arbitrary today’s Middle East borders really are, overlooks how arbitrary every other border in the world is, implies that better borders were possible, and ignores the cynical imperial practices that actually did sow conflict in the region.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
The toppling of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt was a major setback for Qatar. The uber-wealthy Gulf emirate had pumped billions of dollars into Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, only to watch it fall to the Egyptian military seemingly overnight. Within days, Qatar’s Saudi rivals swooped in, declaring support for the military’s fight against “terrorism and extremism" and pledging $5 billion in aid.
The Saudis are the Gulf’s traditional power brokers, and they have been waiting for this moment. They were left in the dust in 2011, when their longtime ally Hosni Mubarak was toppled. Qatar, a country with longstanding antipathy for the Saudis, gave the Brotherhood a seemingly endless line of credit to inflate Morsi’s popularity and let him ignore the need for economic reforms that would have prompted unpopular austerity measures. When Brotherhood movements began rising across the region, the Saudis appeared to have lost the race.
But Saudi patience has paid off. In a Middle Eastern version of Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare, the Saudis have regained regional influence while the ambitious Qataris overextended themselves and then lost steam.
Read more. [Image: Michael Dalder/Reuters]
A sneak peek at our September issue, which will be available online tomorrow morning. What do you think of the cover?
Americans, Jews, Iranians, Saudis — a short list of all the people the Lebanese believe have a hand in their nation’s problems.
Read more. [Image: Ali Hashisho/Reuters]
As Israel enters yet another round of peace negotiations with Palestinians, the fundamental concern that will guide its decision-making is security. And that’s one issue that creates a quandary unique to this moment in history.
Israel has arguably never been safer than today. At the same time, the country’s strategic position beyond this moment looks hazier than ever.
Israel’s enemies have, for the moment, set aside the obsessive attention they normally expend on the Jewish state and have focused on more urgent matters of revolution and civil war. For its foes, Israel is a secondary issue right now. That provides a measure of security, however temporary.
Today, the Arab Middle East, Israel’s neighborhood, is in turmoil, distracted from its anti-Israel sentiment. Iran, meanwhile, has seen its principal allies, Syria and Hezbollah, coming under enormous pressure. but Hamas is weaker than ever. Syria is self-destructing. The Muslim Brotherhood is on its heels. As a result, Israel is the quietest, most stable, safest country in the region. But in the region more broadly, the only certainty is change.
Read more. [Image: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters]