The Imperative to Contain Middle East Conflicts

December 8, 2018

With rising but controlled tension over the Kerch Strait incident, a cancelled Trump-Putin meeting, uncertainty regarding U.S.-North Korea dialogue, the war in Yemen, continuing turmoil in the broad Middle East, U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, the prospect of a widening China-U.S. trade war with political consequences, the rise of populism, Brexit, yellow-vests in France, poor global governance and lack of leadership, world agenda has become even more complicated.

The Syrian conflict which remained on top for almost a decade no longer seems to be a priority. In earlier years this was about the future of the Assad regime, dialogue between Damascus and the opposition, a new constitution, elections. Now, however, the content appears to be shifting away from these towards a confrontation between the U.S. and the Astana format. The shift can be explained to a good measure by Trump administration’s anti-Iran policy jointly defined with Israel and supported by the Saudi-led coalition. An interrelated issue is Washington’s cooperation with the PYD/YPG.

Guarantors of the Astana format met in Kazakh capital on November 29, 2018. Their Joint Statement (*) had two messages. Continue reading

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Notes on the G20 Summit

December 3, 2018

The remedy to world’s problems is effective multilateralism. Since the U.N. resists reform and is dysfunctional, regular international gatherings of leading countries understandably create expectations. The G20 is such a group. Collectively, G20 members make up 85% of the world’s economic output, 66% of its population, 75% of international trade and 80% of global investment. Countries which chair key regional groups are invited to the summits making it more representative. Thus, it is one of world’s leading international forums on global affairs where members can rise above narrow agendas and engage in meaningful dialogue.  For that to happen, however, there must be a collective will which is lacking. Had there been such a will perhaps the U.N. wouldn’t have been such a disappointment. Continue reading

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Khashoggi, Turkey and the Yemen War

November 26, 2018

After “The End” in a movie comes the closing credits with the names of the director, writer, producer, leading cast, supporting cast, director of photography and others who have contributed to its making. “The End” in the Khashoggi tragedy is unlikely to come any time soon but the audience already knows the story and the leading cast.

“Statement from President Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia” issued on November 20, 2018 summed up Washington’s position: Iran is “the world’s leading sponsor of terror” and the Saudis have been a great ally in the fight against Tehran and that is not going to change. Continue reading

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The Path to Middle East Supremacy

November 20, 2018

Arab spring and the Syrian conflict have led some observers to look at Middle East developments through the prism of regional “rivalry” or “competition”. Countries generally mentioned are Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Israel is also prominently involved in regional affairs but the current emphasis seems to be on confrontations between Muslim countries which can’t even manage get around a table to address regional problems. Thus, all three are said to be in a “fierce struggle” for regional supremacy and the latter two for the leadership of the Sunni world. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has provided the discussion with additional material.

There can be different paths to regional supremacy. To embark on such a path a country needs power. And, power has economic, military and political components. Continue reading

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The Paris Get-together

November 14, 2018

What brought some sixty world leaders to France last week-end was the centenary of the end of the First World War. They were invited to take part not only in commemorative ceremonies but also to attend the Paris Peace Forum.

Its website says that “The Paris Peace Forum is neither a summit nor a conference. It is a new annual event based on a simple idea: international cooperation is key to tackling global challenges and ensuring durable peace. To support collective action, it gathers all actors of global governance under one roof…”

Indeed, the whole Paris get-together proved neither a summit nor conference. It was a solo performance by President Macron. Throughout the commemorative events the spotlight was constantly on him. President Trump who enjoys being the center of attention appeared frustrated while others just watched.  Chancellor Merkel and UN Secretary General Guterres made some remarks at the opening of the Paris Peace Forum and that was it. It seems that as Mrs. Merkel approaches the end of her remarkable political career, Mr. Macron has set his eyes on succession for Europe’s de facto leadership. Europe, however, is in disarray and as President Trump’s barrage of tweets on Mr. Macron’s call for a European army and his low approval ratings show so is the transatlantic relationship. Continue reading

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Armistice Day and Ataturk

November 11, 2018

November 10, 2018 marked the 80th anniversary of Ataturk’s passing.

Today marks the centenary of the Armistice signed between the Allies and Germany at Compiègne, France, ending the First World War.

Eleven days before that, the Armistice of Mudros signed on October 30, 1918 had brought about the cessation of hostilities between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied powers. The Armistice meant total surrender. Anatolia was in ruins.

And, on August 10, 1920 the Treaty of Sèvres was signed carving up the Ottoman Empire. In the decades leading to the First World War Ottoman Empire’s demise had become a foregone conclusion.

In brief, Ataturk lived only twenty years after the Central powers admitted defeat at Compiègne and eighteen years after the Ottoman Empire became history at Sèvres. Continue reading

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Iran Sanctions

November 8, 2018

On November 2, 2018 Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin held an on-the-record briefing on Iran sanctions. The former said that these were part of the campaign aimed at depriving Tehran of the revenues that it uses to spread death and destruction around the world. The latter called Iran world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. And a few days later, in responding to a question regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Mr. Pompeo said that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been an important partner for the U.S. in attempting to change the behavior of Iran. Continue reading

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