Saturday, December 24, 2011

Protesting the Butchers of Sudan’s DC Lobbyist

by Faith J. H. McDonnell

What’s the going rate for souls these days? How about $20,000 a month? Such was the deal offered by the National Islamic Front (also known as the National Congress Party) government of Sudan to Washington, DC attorney Bart S. Fisher for help getting Sudan removed from the U.S.’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

Act for Sudan, a new alliance of activists against genocide in Sudan,1 alerted U.S. Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) to the Islamist government in Khartoum’s hiring of Fisher. When Khartoum had tried the same thing in 2009, Mr. Wolf wrote a scathing letter to President Obama asking him to direct the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to deny any waiver requests by U.S. companies seeking to represent the government of Sudan. An OFAC waiver is necessary because in 1997 then President Clinton issued an Executive Order imposing a trade embargo against the entire territory of Sudan and total asset freeze against the Khartoum government. Clinton cited Sudan for “continued support for international terrorism, ongoing efforts to destabilize neighboring governments and the prevalence of human rights violations, including slavery and denial of religious freedom.” Not much has changed.2

On Tuesday, December 13, Wolf, who had written once again to President Obama, went to the House floor to condemn Khartoum’s arrangement with Bart Fisher, saying:

Mr. Speaker, I was appalled and outraged to learn yesterday that the genocidal government of Khartoum has hired a lobbyist to represent its interests here in Washington. . . Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan Bashir is an internationally indicted war criminal. Bashir is accused by the International Criminal Court of five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture and extermination, and two counts of war crimes.

But Khartoum’s crimes are not simply a thing of the past. . . .

My office has received regular reliable reports from individuals on the ground . . . We’ve learned of ongoing aerial bombardments in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states. We’ve heard nightmarish accounts of extrajudicial killings, illegal detention, disappearances, and indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Furthermore, evidence gathered through satellite imagery by the Satellite Sentinel Project shows at least eight mass graves found in and around Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan.

Literally thousands have fled the violence. Which begs the question: who is their lobbyist? They are in desperate straits having left behind their entire lives. Who is their lobbyist? They are facing malnourishment and prolonged displacement. Who is their lobbyist?

Further protest of Fisher’s arrangements with Khartoum came on Friday, December 16, when members of Act for Sudan were joined by other Sudan advocates to demonstrate outside of the law offices of Bart Fisher. Act for Sudan reported, “Carrying protest signs and chanting, ‘Mr. Fisher, step aside, you’re representing genocide,’ the activists called on the attorney to stop helping Sudan avoid consequences for ongoing government-sponsored genocide and mass atrocities.” Protestors were buoyed by the participation of Congressman Wolf, who warned President Obama, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the head of OFAC that “history will be their judge if they fail to act.” Jeff Walton, IRD’s representative at the protest, said that the timing could not have been better as lunchtime crowds were very interested in what the protestors had to say.

Stung by the public outcry, Fisher and the Obama Administration insist that he is not a lobbyist. Fisher says that he is providing “legal advice and counsel to the Embassy of the Republic of the Sudan.” David Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, replied to criticisms by Wolf and other Sudan advocates in Congress such as U.S. Representatives Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Michael Capuano (D-MA) that longstanding Treasury regulations allow Sudan to pay for legal work in the U.S. It does not seem to be a problem that such legal advice includes finding a way to remove Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

But Wolf says that Fisher tried to lobby him on the issue of U.S. sanctions against Sudan, which is not permitted under the license. “I never requested information from Mr. Fisher,” Wolf wrote last week in a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. “And yet yesterday, he called my chief of staff. And in his letter he tries to convince me, as a member of Congress, that the current sanctions…should be altered. If that’s not lobbying, I don’t know what is.” Capuano declares, “The license should be revoked and it should not be reissued until Sudan has done everything it is required to do.” And in a recent press statement Payne said, “It is absolutely unacceptable that the U.S. has allowed a murderer like Omar Hassan Bashir to hire a Washington emissary to do his bidding.”

Whether or not providing legal counsel to a regime that is in the process of committing serial genocide can be construed as selling one’s soul, it is definitely making a deal with a devil. ICC-indicted war criminal Omer Hassan al-Bashir and his cronies in Khartoum are responsible for the deaths of over 2.5 million and the displacement of over 5 million of Sudan’s own citizens during decades of genocidal jihad against black African Christian, Muslim, and animist Sudanese from South Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile State region. Khartoum’s war on the Darfuri of western Sudan has caused the death of at least another 500,000 and the displacement of millions. Under the watchful eye of the Khartoum regime, the Janjaweed have pursued a policy to “change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes.”

Even as the newly-liberated Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest nation, all hell broke loose across the remaining un-liberated Islamic Republic of Sudan. Al-Bashir’s campaign to exterminate the black Africans of South Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State has resulted in unknown thousands of deaths evidenced by mass graves in Kadugli, South Kordofan. Hundreds of thousands more civilians face incessant aerial bombardment, brutal ground attacks, and violent displacement while the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Northern Sector (SPLA/N) fights against Sudan’s armed forces and Islamist militias to defend them. Khartoum is denying humanitarian access to these refugees, a policy that is nothing less than deliberate starvation.

Marginalized Sudanese from across the country have been horrified by the second genocide in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State. Inspired by the courage of SPLA/N soldiers, Nubians in the far north, Beja in the east, and young freedom-loving Arab Sudanese throughout the country, have joined in the call for regime change. When such calls echoed from Tahrir Square, Tripoli, and Tunis, the Obama Administration was quick to respond: to help crush the regimes and usher in new leadership without a clear picture of just who exactly comprised that leadership. Now, when Sudanese who want freedom and secular democracy could provide new leadership that would be a far cry from the Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, and Al Qaeda sympathizers now running much of the Middle East, there is no similar regime crushing. Rather than responding to the calls for freedom from Sudan, the Obama Administration is, in the words of Frank Wolf on the floor of the House, “empowering the voice of their oppressors.”


1 Full disclosure: IRD, for which I direct the Religious Liberty Program and the Church Alliance for a New Sudan, is a founding member of Act for Sudan.

2 There are NO sanctions against the Republic of South Sudan.

Faith J. H. McDonnell


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Distorting Reality to Justify Jihad

by Raymond Ibrahim

Sheikh Ahmad Abu Quddum recently declared the legitimacy of offensive jihad for the world to hear:

When we declare Jihad against Germany, for instance, it is declared against the German state, for refusing to allow Islam to spread to the people of Germany. We give them a choice: Either to convert to Islam, or to pay the jizya and submit to the laws of Islam.

Otherwise, war is the third choice.

All well and good; the Sheikh is merely quoting standard jihadi doctrine.

But he did say something that revealed how utterly deluded he is, how he cannot comprehend the full significance of what he himself is preaching. After agreeing that there is a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam, he said:

If not for Jihad, Islam would not have reached us and all the other places. Within a quarter of a century, Islam reached most of the ancient world by means of Jihad. The common people want Islam. Anyone who doesn’t can stick to his own religion. Here in the Levant, most of our forefathers were not Muslims, but they converted to Islam because of its goodness and justice.

So, after telling us that Islam does teach jihad—that is, offensive war to spread Islamic hegemony; after telling us that “Islam reached most of the ancient world by means of jihad”; after telling us that those who do not wish to convert to Islam must pay jizya—which, as he well knows, involves much more than merely paying a tax, involves being a second-class dhimmi, whose worth is at best half that of a Muslim (he even alluded to this when he said “pay the jizya and submit to the laws of Islam”—after all this straightforward and honest talk, he resorts to fantasy by adding

The common people want Islam. Anyone who doesn’t can stick to his own religion. Here in the Levant, most of our forefathers were not Muslims [most were Christian during Islam’s invasion], but they converted to Islam because of its goodness and justice.

Really, now? Does it not occur to the Sheikh that his ancestors, when confronted by Islamic jihad and forced to decide between either joining the “winning team” or becoming second-class dhimmis, treated contemptuously, abused, and persecuted—as they still are to this very day—does it not occur to him that maybe that’s why many of his ancestors converted, and not because of Islam’s “goodness and justice”?

Does it not occur to him that Islam’s own apostasy law—Islam being the only religion that ensures people remain in its fold by threatening to kill them should they wish to convert to another religion—is a clear substitute for natural appeal?

Of course, Sheikh Quddum’s contradictions are but the latest example of how Muslim sheikhs totally distort history to justify jihad. They have no problem being honest about Islam’s history and doctrines of violence; but they must always frame the jihad as a “good thing” which “liberates” people.

Apparently treating people as second-class citizens if they don’t convert to Islam, and threatening those born into the religion with death if they try to leave it, is proof that “the common people want Islam”—that they “converted to Islam because of its goodness and justice.”

[For more, see this article by Egyptian liberal Khaled Montaser, which exposes the deep set “inferiority complex” infecting the Muslim world regarding the issue of conversion.]

Raymond Ibrahim


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Arab Apartheid

by Khaled Abu Toameh

In recent months, Egyptian authorities have finally began granting Egyptian citizenship to children born to Egyptian mothers and Palestinian fathers.

So far, according to Palestinian sources, more than 500 children have been issued Egyptian passports that enable them legally to live and work in Egypt without having to worry about being detained or deported. The Palestinian population in Egypt is estimated at approximately 100,000.

Egypt is only one of several Arab countries that have always subjected Palestinians to apartheid systems and discriminatory laws.

With the exception of Jordan, the Arab countries have refused to grant their citizenship to Palestinians. Arab governments claimed that this measure was aimed at "protecting the Palestinian identity" of the Palestinians so that one day they would be able to return to their original homes inside Israel.

In most Arab countries, Palestinians are banned from purchasing houses or lands. They are also denied many jobs in the private and public sectors.

This has been happening at a time when Arab citizens of Israel are free to purchase houses in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Upper Nazareth.

It is easier for an Arab to buy an apartment in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of French Hill, Pisgat Ze'ev and Armon Hanatziv than in Kuwait, Doha, Beirut or Bahrain.

It is no secret that most, if not all, Arab governments would love to see the Palestinians living in their countries leave, and the sooner the better.

The Egyptians, who have long been claiming to defend Palestinians and their cause, were the first to get rid of refugee camps. For years, many Lebanese have been dying to get rid of the 450,000 Palestinian refugees living in their country. Similarly, the Jordanians are not going to shed a tear if the millions of Palestinians living in the kingdom wake up one morning and leave.

After the establishment of Israel in 1948, several thousand Palestinians fled to Egypt. But King Farouq was not happy with the presence of Palestinians in his country and the three refugee camps that were established in Egypt for Palestinians were dismantled.

The Egyptians expelled many Palestinians to the Gaza Strip, which was still under Egyptian sovereignty. But those who were allowed to stay in Egypt were required to have an Egyptian "guarantor."

Former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser further eased restrictions on the Palestinians, allowing them to study in public schools and universities.

However, the new policy did not change the Nationality Law denying Egyptian citizenship to children of mixed Palestinian-Egyptian marriages.

Now the new government in Egypt has amended the Nationality Law so that children of Egyptian mothers and Palestinian fathers will be able to get Egyptian citizenship.

This step should be followed by other measures to fully integrate Palestinian refugees in Egyptian and other Arab societies. There is no reason why Palestinians living and working in the Arab world should be denied basic rights, such as owning a house or sending their children to public schools.

Khaled Abu Toameh


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Speak Not of Evil

by Frank Gaffney, Jr.

One of the most popular attractions in Washington, D.C. is a building that graces Pennsylvania Avenue with an exterior engraved with the First Amendment to the Constitution and its guarantee of, among other liberties, freedom of speech. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have been well advised to hold her three-day meeting last week with the some of the most determined enemies of free expression – increasingly doing business as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – at the Newseum, rather a few blocks away in Foggy Bottom.

After all, at that shrine to our most fundamental civil rights, the delegates would have found an exhibit about freedom of speech which declares: “For better or worse, the First Amendment helps shelter the varied results of free expression even when they are considered by some to be offensive or distasteful.”

Unfortunately, such shelter is precisely what the Organization of Islamic Cooperation wishes to eliminate when it comes to expression about its faith that the OIC’s 57 member nations and other Islamists find “offensive or distasteful.”

Advancing that agenda is the OIC’s purpose in the so-called “Istanbul Process” that it launched with Mrs. Clinton last July in Turkey. As the Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea pointed out in a withering indictment of this diplomatic exercise published last week in the New York Post, “the gathering was folly.”

Ms. Shea provides several reasons for that conclusion. Reduced to their essence, it is folly for America to be legitimating – let alone engaging in – a search for ways to “bridge” the gap between our First Amendment rights, on the one hand, and the Islamists’ belief that any expression that “offends” their religion is a capital offense, on the other. To do so is to affront the Constitution and threaten the free and tolerant society it has made possible in this country.

The Obama administration started down this ill-advised road by cosponsoring in 2009 an OIC-drafted resolution in the UN Human Rights Council that condemned “defamation of religion” – read, Islam. That initiative helped advance the Islamists’ twelve-year campaign to “prohibit and criminalize” such defamation in accordance with the “blasphemy laws” that are part of the totalitarian doctrine they call shariah.

Then, as more and more of the Free World began awakening to the danger posed by such efforts to compel them to submit to shariah, Team Obama helped engineer a new document at the Human Rights Council. Adopted in March, Resolution 16/18 focused, instead of banning defamation, on getting the world’s nations to combat “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”

In Istanbul in July, Mrs. Clinton kicked off her “process” with a passing nod to free speech: “We…understand that, for 235 years, freedom of expression has been a universal right at the core of our democracy.” She went on, however, to declare: “So we are focused on promoting interfaith education and collaboration, enforcing antidiscrimination laws, protecting the rights of all people to worship as they choose, and to use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don'tfeel that they have the support to do what we abhor.

In other words, the Obama administration believes it can silence those whose expressions are, in the words of the Newseum, “considered by some to be offensive or distasteful.” Or, in the words of the OIC, “Islamophobia.” It’s just that, instead of criminalizing such behavior, Team Obama will use “peer pressure and shaming.”

It gets worse. In the course of last week’s three-day, mostly closed-door confab at the State Department called to “implement” Resolution 16/18, the OIC focus seemed to be on how the United States and other non-Muslim, freedom-loving states would prevent “incitement.” Sec. Clinton asserted that we would only be obliged to counter incitement to “imminent violence.” But this is a classic slippery-slope, opening America to prohibitions on “hate speech” at the insistence of people who, irony of ironies, are more routinely engaged in incitement to imminent violence and religious intolerance than anyone else on the planet: the Islamists.

The appearance of U.S. submission to shariah was only exacerbated by the opening comments of the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Thomas Perez. As Ms. Shea put it:

“[[Perez’s] opening keynote address gave a one-sided historical depiction of American bigotry against religiousminorities, including Muslims, without explaining our relatively exemplary achievement of upholding individual freedoms of religion and speech in an overwhelmingly tolerant and pluralistic society.] He told the participants,some representing the world’s most repressive states, that America can learn to protect religious tolerance from them.”

It is particularly troubling that Nina Shea has just been removed as a commissioner of the U.S. Commission onReligious Freedom. That was the upshot of a compromise that saw Senator Dick Durban abandoning his stealthy bid todeny the reauthorization of the Commission, but only if Ms. Shea and nearly all of her colleagues lost their posts. Practically the only exception is Dr. Azizah al-Hibr, a woman who has espoused the creation of shariah courts in the United States.

If you haven’t been to – or, for that matter, been by – the Newseum lately, you might want to make a point of paying it a visit. See it before the diplomats decide that our pesky First Amendment condones “offensive or distasteful” expression that constitutes unacceptable “incitement,” and is no longer applicable.

Frank Gaffney, Jr.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Assessing the Surge in Iraq

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi


Adopted at the end of 2006–by far Iraq's bloodiest year–the troop "surge" marked a major shift in the George W. Bush administration's Iraq strategy. Indeed, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) project, which prefers to rely on confirmed media reports rather than studies extrapolating death tolls based on relatively small samples, estimates that there were 27,850 civilian deaths in 2006, compared with just 3,576 in 2010.[1] One analysis by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded that by November 2006, conditions on the ground resembled anarchy and "civil war."[2] It was around this time that two competing strains of thought on what change of course should be implemented were circulating among U.S. officials.

Both schools identified the root problem as a sharply escalating level of violence owing to the growing adoption of what the Iraq Study Group's (ISG) report termed "sectarian identities."[3] This referred to the heavy fighting taking place between Sunni and Shi'i militias–especially in Baghdad and other mixed ethno-religious towns–resulting in around 180 attacks per day on American forces during October 2006 (largely coming from Sunni insurgents).[4] Examples of active militant groups from that period include al-Qa'ida on the Sunni side and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades on the Shi'i side.[5] The latter is affiliated with a pro-Iranian party once called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. However, the name was later changed to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq due to fears of stirring up suspicions among Iraqis that the party was an Iranian client.

Overviewing developments on the ground in Iraq, the ISG recommended a gradual withdrawal to remove all U.S. troops from the country by 2008, while affirming that simply pulling out would likely increase the security vacuum and embolden al-Qa'ida. Thus, the report further advised a policy one might call "Iraqization,"[6] whereby responsibility for maintaining order in secured areas would steadily be handed over to the Iraqi army and police. In addition, the authors urged the United States to adopt an intense, multilateral diplomatic approach–even going so far as to counsel cooperation with Syria and Iran and redoubling efforts to solve the "Arab-Israeli conflict"–in order to stabilize the country.[7]

At the same time, one point strongly emphasized by the study was a belief on the authors' part that increasing troop numbers would probably not succeed in reducing the level of violence in Iraq. As the report puts it, "Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq, which is the absence of national reconciliation… [It] might temporarily help limit violence in a highly localized area. However, past experience indicates that the violence would simply rekindle as soon as U.S. forces are moved to another area."[8]

Owing to its suggestions on multilateral diplomacy in particular, the ISG came under heavy criticism. For example, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) issued a rival report entitled, "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq." Like the ISG, the AEI analysis did not deny the problem of sectarianism. Instead, it advised an increase in troop levels (specifically seven army brigades and Marine Corps regiments[9]), focusing primarily on Baghdad, as part of a suggested shift toward counterinsurgency (COIN) tactics. These tactics entailed a recommended ratio of one soldier for every 40 or 50 inhabitants[10] and a dramatic increase in reconstruction aid to secure the population's trust in the government and coalition forces.[11]

The Bush administration ultimately rejected the ISG's plans, opting instead for an approach broadly in line with the AEI's recommendations. Five additional army brigades were deployed primarily around Baghdad (although one of these brigades, the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, was sent to Diyala Province in April 2007), and a small number of extra troops were stationed in Anbar Province, a hotspot of Sunni insurgent activity. Furthermore, General David Petraeus, with in-depth knowledge of COIN theory, was appointed commander of the Multi-National Force Iraq, replacing General George Casey.

As the surge progressed, observers everywhere began to note the decline in violence across Iraq. An almost universal consensus drew a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the surge and the dramatic decrease in levels of violence, such that even Barack Obama declared in September 2008 that the surge "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."[12] This was in stark contrast to Obama's previous remarks in response to Bush's speech announcing his plans regarding the surge on January 10, 2007: "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is [sic] going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse."[13]

Petraeus was highly lauded for his efforts, and the "surge" strategy became the basis of Obama's shift in policies toward the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Indeed, as far back as the summer of 2007, Obama thought the surge in Iraq was working, as he called for a virtually identical approach in Afghanistan. This was contrary to the meme that the Obama was somehow pushed into a military escalation by American generals: "We should pursue an integrated strategy that reinforces our troops in Afghanistan…Our strategy must also include sustained diplomacy to isolate the Taliban and more effective development programs that target aid to areas where the Taliban are making inroads."[14]

Integral to the proposed shift in strategy above is the idea of a temporary boost in troop numbers and a focus on winning the "hearts and minds" of the local population, a clear parallel to the components of the Iraq surge strategy; but is the consensus view of the surge a truly adequate explanation for the drop in violence across Iraq? Moreover, is the current conventional wisdom underestimating the power of local Iraqi actors to influence events and overestimating the decisive role of the U.S. forces? How do the answers to these questions affect the lessons to be drawn for the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and potential intervention in future conflicts?

More recently, a revisionist interpretation (still by far in the minority) of the impact of the surge has emerged, comprising individuals such as Joshua Thiel,[15] Douglas Ollivant,[16] Joel Wing,[17] and the current author.[18] This interpretation prefers to view the decline in violence during the period of the surge through the lens of local Iraqi actors and trends that were already apparent by the end of 2006. However, this does not mean the surge had no effect whatsoever. Such a view seems untenable. In addition, the revisionist view does not intend to argue that the strategy advocated by the ISG was sound. If anything, its recommendations were highly unrealistic, especially regarding the prospect of diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria to stabilize Iraq. It is also strange that one could tie the "Arab-Israeli conflict" to sectarian tensions in Iraq.

As part of this analysis, it is first instructive to examine how the number of U.S. battalions changed by province in 2006-2007 and then 2007-2008. We should then compare the data with the number of recorded security incidents, or "Significant Kinetic Events" (SIGACTs), as noted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the period 2006-2008.[19] Thiel has usefully compiled such a statistical overview in his article for the Small Wars Journal. It will then be possible to determine if the increase in troop levels was in itself a significant factor behind the net decrease in violence.


Figure 1 shows that in eight of the nine provinces where the number of U.S. troop battalions was increased as part of the initial phase of the surge, SIGACTs actually increased. The exception was the particularly volatile Anbar Province, which witnessed a 48 percent decrease in SIGACTs. In Basra, there was a drawdown in the number of battalions but a 49 percent increase in SIGACTs. Thus, from these numbers alone, it would appear that in provinces where troop levels were altered, there is an overall positive correlation between deploying more battalions and the level of instability. Note also the massive fluctuations in attacks across provinces where no additional battalions were sent, ranging from a 475 percent increase in Sulaymaniyya to an 87 percent decrease in Maysan. The latter province is renowned as a base and source of arms smuggling for Shi'i militant groups and will be important to the subsequent discussion of the causes of the general decrease in violence.

On the basis of the statistics highlighted thus far, an observer could be forgiven for adopting some sort of "anti-imperialist" interpretation that a greater American presence simply provokes more resistance to foreign occupation. Nonetheless, there are many problems with such a view. Only five of the eighteen provinces exhibited less violence in 2006-2007, four of these areas being places where there was no change in U.S. troop levels. The one province with a drawdown in battalions during this period displayed greater instability. In addition, four regions that had no change in the number of American battalions present witnessed more SIGACTs, markedly so in three of these said regions: Irbil (+320 percent), Sulaymaniyya (+475 percent) and Qadisiyya (+171 percent).

Figure 2 provides a very different picture. At first sight, one might note that in all the provinces where the number of U.S. battalions deployed was reduced, there was also a decline in SIGACTs. However, with the exception of Maysan, which witnessed a sharp spike in SIGACTs (+282 percent), all the provinces where more battalions were sent also experienced a decline in violence. Likewise, apart from Dahuk (+4 percent), provinces that saw no change in the number of battalions deployed improved on stability in the period 2007-2008. Thus, the drop in SIGACTs in this period is clearly independent of U.S. troop levels. More generally, the data collected by Thiel for 2006-2008 demonstrate that there is no important correlation between the number of battalions deployed and instability during the surge.

Thus far, one has only discounted troop numbers as a significant variable in assessing the impact of the surge and the drop in violence. The question of the use of COIN tactics, of course, has not been considered. Yet in what follows, it is argued that the actions of local Iraqi actors and the established trends in the sectarian conflict by the end of 2006 are what really mattered. Hence, it is necessary to overview the background to the sectarian civil war that was particularly intense in Baghdad in 2006.


From the time the British installed the Sunni Hashemite dynasty in the Mandate of Mesopotamia after World War I, through to the territory's independence in 1932, the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958 and the establishment of the Ba'th regime in 1968, Iraq remained a country dominated by Sunni-Arab minority rule until the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The minority despotism was particularly evident under the Ba'thists, who concealed the nature of their rule under the guise of pan-Arab nationalism and socialism. In fact, between their two coups in 1963 and 1968, the Ba'thists launched major purges of all Shi'a in their upper ranks.

However, this fact does not mean that the Ba'thists did not have substantial numbers of Shi'a in their ranks. The Ba'th Party certainly had many Shi'i members, but they were overwhelmingly in the lower rank-and-file, while leadership positions were generally confined to Sunni Arabs–just as in Syria key officials of the Ba'th Party are Alawites while lower rank members include many Sunni Arabs. George Orwell's novel 1984 serves as a good literary model for explanation: The Iraqi Shi'a in the Ba'th Party might be thought of as the "Outer Party," while the Sunni Arabs could be deemed the "Inner Party." Indeed, as in North Korea and China, membership of the party was essential for advancing a professional career. Therefore, it is apparent that sectarianism was embedded in Iraq's political culture prior to the American-led invasion.

Nonetheless, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime led to the thorough institutionalization of sectarianism. Moderate politicians and public figures like Ghazi al-Yawar (a Sunni Arab) and Kanan Makiyya (a Shi'i) called on the Iraqi people to move forward and forge a common Iraqi identity based on appreciating the diversity of the nation's ethnic and religious composition.[20] However, the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which served under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and was established as a provisional government from July 12, 2003, until June 1, 2004, had its members selected on an entirely sectarian basis, aiming to correlate with the ethno-religious divisions among the country's population.[21] Specifically, thirteen Shi'a, five Sunni Arabs, five Kurds, one Turkmen and one Assyrian were appointed to the IGC.[22]

Among the Shi'i members, there were sectarian Islamists such as Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim and Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, whose real interests lay in implementing majoritarian Shi'i rule in Iraq.[23] Hence, the de-Ba'thification process–introduced by the CPA and nominally ended in the summer of 2004 with the formation of an interim Iraqi government for the period leading up to the 2005 elections–essentially became "de-Sunnification." This policy continued even after the CPA was disbanded.[24]

The most notorious aspect of de facto de-Sunnification was the sudden dismantling of the old Iraqi army and security forces on the order of CPA leader Paul Bremer, a decision encouraged and backed by the likes of al-Hakim.[25] Not only were thousands of Sunnis put out of work with no pension, but Shi'i militias were also allowed to fill the ranks of the new Iraqi army and police. In a similar vein, the new Iraqi interim government featured former Badr Brigade commander Bayan Jabr Sulagh as interior minister. Sulagh dismissed hundreds of Sunnis from jobs in the Iraqi government and bureaucracy, encouraging Shi'a to take their places.[26]

The de-Sunnification process was consequently an important factor behind the swelling of the ranks of the Sunni Arab insurgency–an insurgency that was to a certain extent inevitable anyway, as some Sunni Arabs would undoubtedly have felt discontented at the end of Saddam Hussein's regime. Nevertheless, another reason that must be considered is the sense of disconnect created by 70 years of minority rule between the Sunni Arabs and the rest of the population. It has often been noted how many Sunni Arabs have repeatedly accused demographic surveys of Iraq of under-representing their numbers.

That is no rhetorical bluff, but something they sincerely believed to the point that they actually thought they were in the majority as opposed to the Shi'a.[27] This meme was particularly strong among the Sunni insurgency's leaders. Even by the time attacks and reprisal attacks had led to a full-blown sectarian civil war starting in 2006, they thought that–by their supposed numerical advantage–they could either wipe out or subdue the Shi'a in the fight over Baghdad and thus reestablish Sunni control over the country.[28]

Now comes the crucial point. The sectarian civil war that raged around Baghdad in 2006 was not an inconclusive stalemate. See Figure 3, showing a demographic map of Baghdad at the time of the invasion. While there are the familiar sectarian neighborhoods such as the predominantly Shi'i Sadr City (then called Saddam City), most areas of Baghdad do not contain definite Sunni, Shi'i, or Christian majorities.

Note, however, that the preponderance of "mixed neighborhoods" does not mean that the communities intermarried. On the contrary, the norm across Iraq has always been for people to marry within their own sects, something that has frequently been achieved by arranged marriages with close cousins. Indeed, one researcher has estimated that around 50 percent of all marriages in Iraq take place between first or second cousins, a rate matched only by Nigeria and Pakistan.[29] Besides a general prohibition on marriage between Sunnis and Shi'a, the Christian sects likewise reject intermarriage such that Iraqi Catholics (whether Chaldeans, Syriac Catholics, Melkites, etc.) do not marry Iraqis who belong to Oriental Orthodox churches.

By mid-2006, there were some noticeable changes in the demographic composition of the city's neighborhoods. As Joel Wing summarizes, "Sadiya in the south for example, and Hurriya and Washash on the west bank of the Tigris went from Sunni to Shi'i majority. The three neighborhoods directly northwest of Sadr City (Hayy Aden, Sahab and Hayy Sumer) went from being mixed to Shi'i."[30] At this point, the Sunni insurgency had also made some gains, as the neighborhood of Jihad in southern Baghdad went from mixed to Sunni.

Interestingly, one trend that has not been explained is the emergence of some predominantly Christian local areas in the vicinity of the volatile Dawra (Dura) district in southern Baghdad. The explanation must lie in al-Qa'ida's philosophy of dealing with Christians as opposed to the Shi'a (as part of the Sunni insurgency, al-Qa'ida was notorious for its role in ethnic cleansing in Baghdad during the sectarian civil war). While Shi'a are perceived as heretics and apostates from Islam who must be converted or killed as per the radical doctrine of takfir, the Christians are required to accept either conversion, subjugation under the payment of the traditional jizya poll tax imposed on dhimmis, or death. Similarly, in the Riyad area of southeast Baghdad, a Christian enclave now clustered around predominantly Shi'i districts, the shift can be accounted for if one considers that the Shi'i militias returned the favor of al-Qa'ida and other Sunni Islamist insurgents by deeming Sunnis as heretics and legitimate targets for extermination, while Christians were to be left alone provided they accepted subjugation under Shari'a.

At the start of 2007, the sectarian civil war had by no means died down. The Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, for example, recorded 2,700 civilian deaths in February 2007, compared with 2,914 civilian deaths in December 2006.[31] A drop in casualties can be observed, to be sure, but there is still intensive fighting. In any event, it is evident from Figure 5 that Baghdad's neighborhoods have at this point become largely segregated. Mixed areas are now mostly confined to the Green Zone and its vicinity, while the Shi'i militias have overrun southwestern and southeastern Baghdad (albeit leaving the Christian neighborhood of Riyad intact). Sunnis are now restricted to neighborhoods in western Baghdad like the upmarket area of Yarmuk, and retain a hold on Dawra and Amiriyya in the south and north respectively. In short, Baghdad has become mostly Shi'i.

It was only in this context that Sunni insurgents generally began to realize that they were fighting a losing battle, and that any notion of a Sunni Arab majority in Iraq was pure fantasy. Hence, the question of survival now depended entirely on a willingness to negotiate with the Shi'i-majority government and the coalition forces and to work against al-Qa'ida. This development greatly strengthened a trend that had its roots in the Anbar Awakening (Sahwa) movement, which began as far back as mid-2005, when members of some Sunni-Arab tribes and their leaders in Anbar Province became disillusioned with al-Qa'ida's brutality (including mass-casualty suicide bombings and extortion of local Iraqi allies[32]) and strict imposition of Islamic law.

Around mid-August 2006, low-level contact was established between the Awakening and the coalition forces, and by the end of the year, in an initiative spearheaded by Shaykh Abd al-Sattar Abu Risha, a "collaborative pattern" between the Americans and Sahwa volunteers "spread rapidly throughout the province [of Anbar], and before long coalition forces were providing training opportunities, first in Jordan then in Anbar, to the growing number of volunteers, who often had previous army or police experience although not to Western standards."[33] The Sahwa volunteers were tasked with defensive operations such as manning checkpoints and providing intelligence on insurgent activities and locations.[34] These events, which were underway before the surge, explain the drop in the number of SIGACTs recorded for Anbar Province in Figure 1.

It therefore follows that the surge merely facilitated what was already taking place in Iraq by the start of 2007. More and more Sunnis in the tribal areas around Baghdad abandoned their fight against the government and coalition in fear of further losses at the hands of Shi'a militias. With coalition support at the height of the surge throughout 2007 and 2008,[35] the Sons of Iraq (SOI) movement, whose significance cannot be under-estimated in the weakening of the Sunni insurgency, was formed. This outcome explains the drop in SIGACTs throughout most of Iraq's provinces in the period 2007-2008 (Figure 2). In Baghdad itself, the surge entailed the construction of concrete blast walls throughout the city, a measure that further reduced violence in the city while solidifying the segregation of the city along sectarian lines.


The January 2005 provincial elections, which witnessed a voter turnout of just 2 percent in Anbar Province,[36] and the December 2005 parliamentary elections saw a plurality of seats taken by the Shi'i bloc of parties known as the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). Initially, the Shi'i Islamist Ibrahim al-Ja'fari was appointed as prime minister, but dissatisfaction among the parliament with his performance led to his ousting from power in April 2006, with the position taken up by Nouri al-Maliki on May 20, 2006. One of the key ways to understand Iraqi politics–more so than considering the influence of foreign powers such as Iran–is to take into account the personal power struggles among Iraqi politicians. Since assuming the premiership, al-Maliki has always sought to concentrate as much power as possible in his hands and those of his followers in the Da'wa Party.

This attitude was one of the main reasons for the political stalemate that followed the parliamentary elections in March 2010, eventually requiring a political compromise initiated by Massoud Barazani, an agreement that allowed al-Maliki to enjoy a second term as prime minister. Even now, al-Maliki's autocratic tendencies are apparent in his manipulative tactics to secure his grip on the Defense Ministry, which as per Barazani's compromise was supposed to be controlled by Ayad Allawi's al-Iraqiyya bloc.[37] However, as Joel Wing commented in August 2011: "Eight months have passed since then and the prime minister has rejected every single candidate put forward by the National Movement, while recently naming his own acting Defense Minister. This has all been part of the premier's ploy to maintain control of the security ministries, while wearing down his opponents until he can get his way."[38]

Initially brought to power by a Shi'i-led coalition–many of whose parties had their own militias involved in the sectarian civil war raging around Baghdad–al-Maliki, needing to consolidate his power base and fearing the threat of the Sunni insurgency, was at the minimum tacitly supporting the Shi'a militants[39] in their ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from mixed neighborhoods in the capital. Indeed, this assessment was the conclusion of an internal briefing written by a senior intelligence analyst and the military planner for the U.S. command in Baghdad.[40] The report, submitted to David Petraeus in mid-August 2007, urged for a shift away from COIN because of the government's involvement in Iraq's "low-grade civil war."[41]

Yet toward the end of 2007, several changes to al-Maliki's circumstances had arisen. He then fully appreciated that the Sunni insurgency was losing ground; he had reshuffled his cabinet to exclude those loyal to the likes of Muqtada al-Sadr;[42] and he now had at his disposal a developed and better-trained Iraqi army, which had largely been in the government's hands since General Casey created the Baghdad Operations Command in late 2006.[43] The prime minister therefore decided that he could fortify his grip on power by turning against the Shi'i militias active around Baghdad and in the southern provinces. This shift in attitude ultimately led to the Iraqi-led Operation Charge of the Knights in March 2008, directed against the Mahdi Army.

Following the offensive against al-Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army was disbanded under an Iranian-mediated ceasefire. The increasing conflict between the government and the Shi'i militias soon brought about a reduction in the number of SIGACTs even in the Shi'i-dominated southern provinces (Figure 2). However, Maysan Province naturally witnessed an upsurge in SIGACTs as the Shi'i militias needed arms supplies in their fight against the Iraqi security forces and coalition troops.


Amid all this analysis of Iraq's internal political dynamics, it is easy to go to the other extreme and argue that American actions had no influence at all. Yet such an opinion is mistaken. There are two significant ways in which the United States helped Iraq in its transition toward a reasonable level of security during the time of the surge.

First, President Bush deserves credit for ultimately choosing to "stay the course," in that, as Ollivant points out, he clearly indicated that the United States was committed to aiding the various political factions in Iraq in a drive to buffer and resolve internal disputes, at least until the end of his term.[44] This approach differed markedly from the ISG's recommendations and aroused skepticism from critics at the time. It did, however, reassure "senior Iraqi officials that they would not be abandoned,"[45] thereby allowing to a certain extent for the creation of "political space" for a common effort against the militant groups in the 2007-2008 period.

Second, in conjunction with the Iraqi Army, the Coalition Special Operations Units and Brigade Combat Teams incorporated new technology and methods (not part of COIN) during the time of the surge in their fight against al-Qa'ida in particular and to a lesser extent the Shi'i militant groups.[46] Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was then in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command, termed these innovative operations "collaborative warfare."[47] Such a development especially aided in the disruption of al-Qa'ida's car bomb networks, contributing to the reduction in civilian casualties.[48] In terms of this trend, however, the increase in the number of troops as part of the surge had little impact.[49]


In sum, it is worth repeating that the surge did have an impact on security in Iraq. However, the increase in the number of troops was in itself of little significance. Moreover, the actions of U.S. forces as part of the surge and COIN tactics only abetted trends that were already apparent by the end of 2006. The primary factors that must be taken into consideration when explaining the decrease in violence during the surge are the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis (for the most part) from mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad, which led Sunni insurgents to realize that hopes of reclaiming the pre-2003 status-quo were lost; some Sunni disillusionment in Anbar with al-Qa'ida and like-minded terrorist groups as far back as mid-2005; and Nouri al-Maliki's consolidation of his political power and the security forces in his turn against the Shi'i militias.

The implications of these conclusions for U.S. policy today and potential future conflicts are clear. Obama's strategy in Afghanistan has been based on the premise that the surge and COIN tactics in Iraq were the main reasons behind the reduction in violence and instability. This view imputes too much influence to the U.S. military and seems to deny the importance of local Iraqi actors.

Part of the problem has to do with the spread of "anti-Orientalist" and postcolonial discourse in U.S. military instruction on the Middle East and Muslim world at large. Writing in the Oxford History of the British Empire, C.A. Bayly pointed out that one of the consequences of the success enjoyed by Edward Said's famous book Orientalism (1978) has been the emergence of historical works that deny "Asians, Africans, or Polynesians 'agency' in their own histories more thoroughly than had the nineteenth-century Imperial writers."[50] Unsurprisingly, the belittling of local decisionmaking and actors has extended to the Middle East, although more recently, one has seen revisionist works that point to the importance of the Ottoman Empire's willing decision to throw in its lot with Imperial Germany during World War I as a crucial event behind the making of the modern Middle East;[51] and so it is with the orthodoxies of U.S. military strategy today: If only the focus be more on nation-building and winning "hearts and minds," so the reasoning goes, it will be possible to stabilize Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, as Matthew Hoh points out, "If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor,"[52] as a civil war is going on that has lasted more than 35 years (besides the Islamist insurgency spearheaded by the Afghan Taliban). That is not to say that one should simply view Afghanistan as a hopeless quagmire. On the contrary, shifts in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan are desperately needed, but the idea that the United States is the decisive game-changer must be abandoned. Yes, pressure can be placed on Karzai to decentralize power from Kabul, and one can aim for broader regional engagement–especially when it comes to the cold war between Pakistan and India that is partly playing out in Afghanistan and destabilizing the region as a whole–but it must be understood that much depends on the will of local actors.

Nonetheless, one need not be pessimistic. Daniel Pipes notes the renewed interest in works like those of Efraim Karsh that counter postcolonial orthodoxies,[53] and "impressed by the post-9/11 and post-Iraq cohort to enter the field of Middle East studies,"[54] he predicts that "by about 2015 the field will begin evolving in a more mainstream direction."[55] If Pipes' optimism is well-founded (as this author believes it is), then one can reasonably expect this trend to change U.S. military instruction for the better, and lead to the abandonment of the view that a troop surge and counterinsurgency are essential to achieve stability in a conflict zone. Instead, there should be an emphasis on appreciating internal political dynamics for such areas of instability.


Figure 1: Change in battalion numbers and percentage change in SIGACTs by province for 2006-2007[56]

Figure 2: Change in battalion numbers and percentage change in SIGACTs by province for 2007-2008

Figure 3: Baghdad in March 2003, around the time of the U.S. invasion[58]

Figure 4: Baghdad mid-2006, at the height of the sectarian civil war[59]

Figure 5: Baghdad in early 2007, just as the surge was beginning[60]


[1] IBC Database, Iraq Body Count,
[2] Michael R. Gordon, "Troop Surge Took Place amid Doubt and Debate," New York Times, August 30, 2008,
[3] James A. Baker and Lee H. Hamilton (co-chairmen of the study), The Iraq Study Group Report,, p. 9.
[4] Ibid., p. 10.
[5] Ibid., p. 11.
[6] Compare with Nixon's "Vietnamization" policy as part of his disengagement plan from the Vietnam War.
[7] Baker and Hamilton, The Iraq Study Group Report, p. 37-38.
[8] Ibid., p. 30.
[9] Frederick Kagan, Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq," American Enterprise Institute,, p. 1.
[10] Ibid., p. 15.
[11] Ibid., p. 1.
[12] Kim Chipman and Julianna Goldman, "Obama Says Iraq Surge Success Beyond Wildest Dreams," Bloomberg, September4, 2008,
[13] "Fact Check: Was Obama Against the Troop 'Surge' in Iraq?" CNN Political Ticker, September 25, 2008,
[14] Barack Obama, "Renewing American Leadership," Foreign Affairs (July/August 2007), p. 9-10.
[15] Joshua Thiel, "The Statistical Irrelevance of American SIGACT Data: Iraq Surge Analysis Reveals Reality," Small Wars Journal, April 12, 2011. Many thanks to Joel Wing for first drawing the author's attention to Thiel's useful diagrams on SIGACTs by province. See endnote 17.
[16] Douglas Ollivant, Countering the New Orthodoxy, New America Foundation, June 2011,
[17] Joel Wing, "Re-Thinking the Surge in Iraq," Musings on Iraq, August 22, 2011,
[18] Aymenn Jawad, "Assessing Afghanistan," Hudson New York, July 9, 2010,
[19] Wing, "Re-Thinking the Surge in Iraq."
[20] Jim Hoagland, "Restoring Iraqi Identity," Washington Post, December 12, 2004,
[21] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Iraqi Government in Crisis- Sectarianism, Corruption and Dissent," Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), April 18, 2011,
[22] "Iraqi Governing Council members," BBC News, July 14, 2003
[23] See, for example, Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "The Aftermath of the Iraq War Revisited," Hudson New York, February 28, 2011,
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ollivant, "Countering the New Orthodoxy."
[28] George Packer documented this delusional belief among Sunni insurgents in his book The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). See also Ollivant, "Countering the New Orthodoxy," p. 4, although this author believes that Ollivant is only partly correct that the "Sunni-majority" myth can be attributed to propaganda from Saddam Hussein's regime.
[29] Anne Bobroff-Hajal, "Why Cousin Marriage Matters in Iraq," Christian Science Monitor, December 26, 2006,
[30] Joel Wing, "Columbia University Charts Sectarian Cleansing of Baghdad," Musings on Iraq, November 19, 2009,
[31] Joel Wing, "How Many Have Died in Iraq and by What Means?" Musings on Iraq, May 1, 2009,
[32] Mark Wilbanks and Efraim Karsh, "How the 'Sons of Iraq' Stabilized Iraq," Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Fall 2010),
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] This author agrees with Ollivant, however, that the development of the SOI cannot primarily be put down to bribing Sunni Arabs to switch sides. As he points out, there was plenty of money to go around in the 2004-2006 period, so according to this theory the Sunnis should have switched sides well before 2006. See Ollivant, "Countering the New Orthodoxy," p. 3.
[36] Joel Wing, "Comparing the January 2009 to the January 2005 Provincial Elections (REVISED)," Musings on Iraq, February 1, 2009,
[37] Joel Wing, "Maliki Continues His Games to Control Iraq's Defense Ministry," Musings on Iraq, August 25, 2011,
[38] Ibid.
[39] For example, in 2006, al-Maliki was often accused by U.S. military officials of not doing enough to crack down on the Mahdi Army. It is more accurate to say that he was "actively protecting" the militia. See Wing, "Re-thinking the Surge in Iraq."
[40] Ann Scott Tyson, "New Strategy Urged in Briefing to Petraeus," Washington Post, September 1, 2007,
[41] Ibid.
[42] Al-Maliki had such a move in mind for many months. See, for example, "Iraqi PM Risks Shi'a Clash over Reshuffle," The Daily Telegraph, March 5, 2007,
[43] Ollivant, "Countering the New Orthodoxy," p. 5.
[44] Ibid., p. 6.
[45] Ibid.
[46] Ibid., p. 7.
[47] Bob Woodward, "Why Did Violence Plummet? It Wasn't Just the Surge," Washington Post, September 8, 2008,
[48] Ollivant, "Countering the New Orthodoxy," p. 7.
[49] Ibid.
[50] C.A. Bayly, "The Second British Empire," in Robin W. Winks (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: Historiography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 70., cited in Nicholas B. Dirks, "The Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India," (Princeton University Press, 17 September 2001) p. 309.
[51] See, for example, Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh, Empires of Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 27.
[52] Matthew Hoh, "Letter of Resignation to Ambassador Nancy Powell," September 10, 2009,
[53]Daniel Pipes, "Middle East Studies in Upheaval," National Review Online, July 5, 2011,
[54] Daniel Pipes, "Middle East Studies, Changing for the Better," Lion's Den: Daniel Pipes Blog, July 29, 2009,
[55] Ibid.
[56] Thiel, "The Statistical Irrelevance of American SIGACT Data."
[57] Ibid.
[58] Figure 3 and the following demographic maps of Baghdad were compiled by Dr. Michael Izady of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, accessed via Joel Wing, "Columbia University Charts Sectarian Cleansing of Baghdad," Musings on Iraq, November 19, 2009,
[59] Ibid.
[60] Ibid.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and is affiliated with the Middle East Forum.


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CAIR Targets Muslims Who Oppose Radical Islam

by David J. Rusin

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reserves some of its harshest words for Muslims who contribute to combating radicalism and terror. This was true a decade ago, when CAIR's rhetoric endangered reform-minded Muslim Khalid Durán, and it is just as true today.

Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-Michigan, is the latest to carry on the trend. The Investigative Project (IPT) reports that Walid, while appearing at a November 18 rally in New York to protest the NYPD's counterterrorism tactics inside the city's Islamic community, offered this unflattering portrayal of imams and other Muslims who assist law enforcement:

These days we have Pakistani Uncle Toms, Arab Uncle Toms, we have Uncle Toms masquerading as imams, Indonesian and Malaysian Uncle Toms. And we need to call them out. And these people are trying to speak on behalf of the community. … We as a community should rise up and say this Uncle Tom and Aunt Jemima does not represent the interests of the [mosques] and Arab organizations.

Walid's remarks followed a far more personal assault launched by CAIR-Minnesota and allied entities in a letter asking police to boycott a November 10 conference in St. Paul providing education on Somali culture. Their objection: two speakers, Abdirizak Bihi and Omar Jamal, who courageously spotlight the problem of Minnesota Muslims being recruited to join al-Shabaab jihadists in Somalia; the men often charge area Muslim leaders with complicity.

The letter describes the session as "anti-Muslim and anti-Somali" — though Bihi and Jamal are Muslims of Somali descent — insists that it is biased to refer to al-Shabaab as an "Islamic extremist terrorism" group, and employs ad hominem attacks that frequently backfire by underlining CAIR's own faults. It claims that Bihi and Jamal are "unrepresentative" of the Somali community, yet CAIR-Minnesota apparently includes no Somalis on its board. It asserts that neither has "experience relevant to the topics to be presented," ignoring that Jamal works for the Somali government at the UN and Bihi's nephew died with al-Shabaab. It accuses groups linked to the men of not filing tax forms, which is precisely how CAIR lost its tax-exempt status in 2011. It also harps on their overblown legal troubles — ironic, given CAIR's history in court. The educational event took place as planned, but threats against Jamal later emerged.

In another recent case of CAIR insulting an anti-Islamist Muslim, the head of its Chicago branch, Ahmed Rehab, called Zuhdi Jasser "a sock puppet for the axis of Islamophobia" when the latter emphasized Islamist ideology during a joint interview about the Pakistani government's disposition in May. Examples from previous years can be found as well, such as when onetime CAIR-Tampa bigwig Ahmed Bedier used a 2007 television appearance with Tawfik Hamid to dismiss the reformer as out of touch because "you're not from this country."

Two lessons: First, Muslims who provide an alternative to its party line frighten CAIR and deserve support for that reason alone. Second, if CAIR is against those who are against radical Islam and its various manifestations, can there be any doubt regarding what CAIR is for?

David J. Rusin


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Thursday, December 22, 2011

State Department 'Panders' to Islamists on Free Speech

by IPT News

The Obama administration is drawing fire for yielding what critics see as a huge propaganda victory to Islamist regimes seeking to curb American speech deemed "offensive" to Muslims.

The State Department hosted a three-day, closed-door meeting last week with representatives of the Saudi Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on measures to fight religious "intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization."

In her closing remarks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton portrayed the conference as a sign that Washington and the OIC are working together to protect religious freedom around the world.

"We have to get past the idea that we can suppress religious minorities, that we can restrict speech, that we are smart enough that we can substitute our judgment for God's and determine who is or is not blaspheming," Clinton said. "I think if we do our work right, in years to come, people will look back and say this was a great step forward on behalf of both (sic) freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and our common humanity."

But according to the Hudson institute's Nina Shea (who attended portions of the conference as an observer), the event was actually a step backward for religious liberty. The meeting seemed to be an exercise in "moral equivalency and pandering to Sunni tyrants in the Middle East," she said.

"The general theme seemed to be that the U.S. has problems just like Saudi Arabia with religious tolerance," she added. "There was a total absence of perspective on all counts."

Pointing to familiar events such the Muhammad cartoon violence, Quran burnings and Muslim objections to the film "Fitna," OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu argued that his organization regarded bigotry as a primarily Western phenomenon. He wrote that "no one has the right to insult another person for their beliefs or to incite hatred and prejudice," and that "freedom of expression has to be exercised with responsibility."

Zamir Akram, Pakistan's permanent representative of the OIC before the U.N. Human Rights Council was more emphatic. He claimed that Resolution 16/18, which expressed concern about "negative profiling" and religious "stereotyping," was driven by Western discrimination against Muslims. Akram also questioned whether Muslims engaged in discrimination, and said Muslims would not compromise on permitting "anything against the Quran, anything against the Prophet."

Given these comments – and Saudi educational materials that encourage the spread of Islam through jihad and demonize Jews, Christians and polytheists – Shea believes U.S. officials are "naïve" to think there will be reciprocity from the OIC when it comes to combating discrimination.

Despite Saudi Arabia's abysmal record of persecuting non-Muslims, the Kingdom received a note of dubious praise from the United Nations General Assembly, which on Monday passed a resolution condemning religious intolerance. According to Shea, the UNGA resolution – passed by consensus with U.S. support – singled out for praise a single program: A Saudi-built "religious dialogue" center in Vienna, Austria.

Given Saudi Arabia's relentless persecution of non-Muslims, the praise is "Orwellian," Shea told the IPT. "They don't dare establish such a program on their own territory."

OIC member states spearheading the anti-blasphemy campaign include Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – all of which jail or execute "blasphemers." In nations like Egypt and Iraq, Christians are attacked and their churches torched while Muslim-dominated governments are unwilling or unable to protect them.

"In these countries, you have 'cleansing' tolerated by the authorities," Shea noted. "Religious cleansing [of Christians] is underway right now in Egypt and Iraq. It's been completed in Saudi Arabia. Jews have been cleansed from the Sunni Muslim world."

By any measure, Muslims and other religious minorities in the United States face no dangers comparable to religious minorities in the Muslim Arab world. Indeed, like the Bush administration preceding it, the Obama administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to court American Muslims and portray their situation in a very favorable light.

Clinton's Dec. 14 remarks included a rebuke to Islamists who seek to silence people of other faiths. "But is our religion so weak that statements of disapproval will cause us to lose our faiths?" Clinton asked. She added that there is nothing wrong with "hav[ing] good debates with others."

But Shea emphasizes that the behavior of OIC participants like Saudi Arabia gives no indication that they are interested in dialogue with minorities in their countries. She said that at the conference, participants largely ignored the vast differences between the United States and OIC member nations in protecting religious minorities.

One legal official (State Department confidentiality rules barred observers from identifying him or his country) gave a "one-sided depiction of American bigotry against religious minorities, including Muslims" in his opening keynote address, Shea said, telling representatives of some of the world's most repressive regimes that America can learn from them about protecting religious tolerance.

But the official never bothered to explain that, when compared with other countries, America has an extraordinary record of "upholding individual freedoms of speech and religion," Shea told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. "The tolerance of the American people is misrepresented by omission."

Pointing to mounting reports of atrocities and intimidation against Middle East Christians and mass slaughter by the Islamist regime in Khartoum, Shea didn't mince words in characterizing the attitudes of the American conference participants toward their OIC counterparts.

"It's the equivalent of saying to Hitler: 'Well, you have a real problem with the way you treat minorities and we have a problem with limiting the rights of Aryans here.'"

Washington Retreats on Speech Codes

The OIC (previously called the Organization of the Islamic Conference) has pushed for a universal blasphemy law for more than a decade. Since the November 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands and the 2006 riots protesting cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammad, the group has pressured Western European nations to implement speech codes punishing criticism of Islam.

In March, the Obama administration thwarted the OIC's attempt to win United Nations Human Rights Council passage of a resolution calling for criminal penalties for the "defamation of religions." The following month, Washington engineered Council passage of Resolution 16/18, a nonbinding measure which did not censor speech.

The victory didn't last long. In July, Secretary of State Clinton revived the issue when she co-chaired an OIC session in Istanbul dealing with "religious intolerance." Clinton called on countries to "counter offensive expression through education, interfaith dialogue and public debate," while emphasizing that speech restrictions were unacceptable. She invited conference attendees to a follow-up meeting to continue the dialogue.

OIC officials seized on Clinton's offer by stepping up their campaign for blasphemy laws and speech codes.

Based on conversations with U.S. officials, Shea believes that many of them fail to grasp what the OIC represents. They lack essential information about apostasy and blasphemy laws and have "very little knowledge of the illiberal nature of the OIC," she said. "There's a sense of political correctness that prohibits probing of that organization and what it stands for."

Although the United States is unlikely to emulate Western European countries in enacting speech codes, "what we see is self-censorship" by agencies like the State and Homeland Security departments which are barred from discussing issues such as Salafism and jihad. Moreover, "in the media, academia and the entertainment world, we see self-censorship on behalf of Islam. Certain issues are off the table."

Shea believes that this "politically correct" approach to Islamism has disturbing implications for U.S. national security. In the case of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who massacred 13 of his fellow servicemen at Fort Hood in 2009, co-workers emphasized that they were deeply troubled by his jihadist ravings regarded him as a radical Muslim "but didn't report it for fear of being labeled "Islamophobes,'" she noted.

Similarly, a Senate committee issued a report documenting a culture of timidity at the Pentagon on the subject of Islam. Shea said the Fort Hood massacre is a "perfect example" of the danger posed by the U.S. government's failure to address the danger Islamism poses to our liberties.

IPT News (The Investigative Project on Terrorism)


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The Middle East: The Obama Administration Doesn't Get It

by Barry Rubin

The Obama administration has comprehensively lost its way on Middle East policy to an extent that poses tremendous dangers to the United States, Western interests, and the region as a whole. The cost of these mistakes will be–and already has been–serious losses, crises, and violent conflicts. People in the area will pay heavily in blood and suffering due to these miscomprehensions and miscalculations.

Despite these obvious problems, the mass media and academic experts have tended to ignore, misunderstand, or apologize for them. This failure of critical institutions to fulfill their watch-dog and evaluation tasks has worsened the situation, since corrections have not been made and honest debates have not taken place. Nothing illustrates the depth and extent of the problem more than a balanced survey. Consequently, this article presents three aspects of contemporary U.S. Middle East policy and the problems it faces. The first section provides the basic premises of the situation under the Obama administration. The second section discusses what its strategy should be. The third section looks at the various current issues with brief discussions on the gap between actual policy and preferable policy.


To an extent greater than any modern predecessor, the Obama administration has abandoned traditional diplomatic and international affairs concepts. This does not mean that they have been abandoned completely or that there is no continuity on Middle East policy, but the basic change has been greater than in the past. In particular, ideas such as realpolitik, power politics, leverage, rewarding allies and punishing enemies, credibility, and deterrence have been questioned or undermined. While the onset of the “Arab Spring” starting in January 2011 altered administration policy from the original framework in favor of reform and democratization–though, as shall be seen, not always–the same basic pattern continued. Some of the administration’s “new thinking” attitudes are discussed as follows.

First, is the importance of popularity. While wanting to be liked by other countries and their people is something of a theme in U.S. foreign policy history–in sharp contrast to almost every other government in the world–it has never become as high a priority as in the Obama administration. The desire to be popular has shaped administration policies. That Obama had made the United States popular again was one of the administration’s main claimed successes–though reliable polls did not necessarily show this to be true. To be popular, of course, required avoiding confrontations with others (even at times when there were conflicting interests) and showing special sensitivity (at times pandering) to what others wanted to hear. This was a perceived contrast with the preceding Bush administration, which was seen as making America especially disliked.

Together with popularity was the idea that the administration must get along with Islam. The interpretation was that being liked required a hypersensitivity toward Islam, going beyond the strong effort at carefulness followed by the preceding president in the wake of the September 11 attacks. While it was not noticed, there was far less emphasis on getting along with Arab nationalism. The president’s unique personal experience and sympathy with Islam was a partial factor in this orientation, seen in his Cairo and Istanbul speeches, his banning of anything that even seemed to hint at a problem with radical political Islamism, and such symbolic gestures as ordering the head of NASA to focus on appreciating (that is, largely forging) some great Muslim contribution to space exploration.

The next policy adjustment was the redefinition of the Middle East in Islamic terms. This is a revolutionary, albeit virtually unnoticed, change and was the core idea of Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech. Since the 1950s, the Arabic-speaking world’s politics functioned largely within the framework of Arab nationalism. Western policies dealt with the area in those terms. Yet Obama’s “Islamic” approach undermined that. This would become tremendously important with the development of the “Arab Spring,” when Arab nationalist regimes and identity clashed with Islamist identity and opposition movements.

Another new attitude has been the administration’s very specific view of terrorism and the threat to U.S. interests. According to the Obama administration concept, al-Qa’ida is a dangerous enemy because it attacked the United States directly. However, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and even the Taliban (it allegedly has a moderate wing with which the United States is negotiating) can be moderated and rendered non-hostile to the United States. If not for pressure from pro-Israel forces, the administration would probably extend this to Hamas (a position that Obama’s terrorism advisor, John Brennan, has stated privately). Thus, there is no war on terrorism (since only a small portion of terrorism is hostile and dangerous) and there is no war on revolutionary Islamism (since that might offend Muslims and many Islamists can be managed) but only a war on al-Qa’ida.

The Obama administration has also shifted its emphasis to reconciling enemies rather than supporting friends. Believing in the importance of popularity, the potential moderation of Islamists, the avoidance of conflict, the priority on conciliating Islam, etc., the administration has put the emphasis on winning over enemies. The Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and Syria are to be engaged. Compromise is possible with the Taliban (or part of it). No criticism is to be made of the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the Islamist-oriented Turkish regime.

At the same time, the concerns not only of Israel but also traditional Arab allies–former President Husni Mubarak’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and smaller Gulf Arab monarchies–have been neglected. These factors are not fully consulted and the Obama administration quickly backed Mubarak’s downfall. Similarly, while showing great consideration for the Egyptian and Tunisian oppositions that were challenging pro-U.S. governments, the Obama administration gave little help or even verbal support to the oppositions in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, or Turkey, which opposed anti-American governments.

Further, the administration has been downplaying American leadership. It very explicitly criticized U.S. policy in the past as being insensitive, imperialistic, and bullying while expressing a desire to be merely an equal partner. It placed more dependence on the choices of allies, the UN, and even the Arab League (notably on the Libya issue).

In addition, while other administrations criticized Israel and supported the Palestinians, the Obama administration went further in trying to distance itself from Israel in public perception. This situation should not be exaggerated. U.S.-Israel relations continued to function well on the military level, and there was no real pressure applied. Yet that is the point: the Obama administration wanted to be seen as further away from Israel and more supportive of the Palestinians as part of its strategy intended to win support from Muslims and Arabs.

Similarly, the Obama administration was not unique in its highlighting of Israel-Palestinian issues and putting a priority on the “peace process.” What made the administration different from its predecessors is that it continued this orientation even after failures might have been expected to make it change priorities. Thus, it seemed as if its attitude on the issue had a stronger aspect of ideological preconception rather than a pragmatic belief that progress could be realistically expected.

—The last element of the Obama strategy is the belief that change must be good and democracy inevitably triumphant. Similar to its domestic worldview, the Obama administration enthusiastically embraced the “Arab Spring,” clearly arguing that nothing could go wrong and that a revolutionary Islamist “hijacking” of these events and takeover of power was not possible. Ironically, this was a caricature of the Bush policy that Obama’s supporters had ridiculed.

All of these ideas are wrong, dangerous, and likely to lead to defeats for the United States, the weakening of its allies, the strengthening of its enemies, and the spawning of future crises.


To understand what U.S. policy should be, it is necessary to understand the current reality of the Middle East. The central issue is the struggle of revolutionary Islamists to seize control of individual countries and the region as a whole. They are seeking to overthrow existing governments, fundamentally transform those societies, wipe Israel off the map, and expel Western–and especially U.S.–influence from the region.[2] This is, to say the least, a critical challenge. Yet it is a threat that the Obama administration does not even recognize. The Islamist forces are not united and there are three basic groupings.

First are al-Qa’ida and its constituent groups organized in a loose umbrella, to mix a metaphor. This bloc can cause serious trouble and kill people, but its dependence on a single tactic, terrorism, also makes it much weaker than Islamist forces that are strategically wise and tactically flexible. Al-Qa’ida can blow things up, but it cannot seize state power. Consequently, this bloc that the Obama administration has focused on as the main threat is by far the least dangerous.

The second Islamist force is the Iran-led bloc. This consists of Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and the Iraqi insurgents. The Turkish regime has aligned with this group as well. It came into control of Lebanon too.

Last, is a possible Muslim Brotherhood bloc. The “Arab Spring,” however, strengthened Sunni Islamists, especially in Egypt and Syria while to a lesser extent in Libya and Tunisia. Consequently, a new Muslim Brotherhood bloc has emerged to some extent and has been attractive for both Hamas and Turkey. It is still far behind the Iran-led bloc, but a measure of power in Egypt would promote its interests greatly. If it can align many Sunni Islamists behind it in opposition to Shi’a, the Iran-led bloc could be circumscribed and lose some of its appeal.

There should be no illusion, however, that the problem is “only” al-Qa’ida or that radical Islamist elements from any grouping could be won over. They are all anti-American and anti-Western due both to their ideology and interests. When Islamists and radicals complained, for example, about U.S. support for the Mubarak regime, they were not decrying a lack of democracy but how Washington was blocking their own revolutionary success.

To meet this threat, the U.S. course should be clear. What is needed is American leadership of a broad and loose coalition opposing the spread of revolutionary Islamist power and rule. Such a non-institutionalized alignment would consist of the United States and Canada, European democracies, relatively moderate Arab states, and Israel. In terms of cooperation, it would also include opposition movements opposing radical regimes, notably in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. Eventually, it might also work with democratic forces horrified by growing Islamist power in their countries, notably in Egypt and Tunisia.

In order to provide such leadership, the U.S. government would have to have a clear view of friends and enemies, understand the revolutionary Islamist ideology and methods, maintain its credibility, and reward friends while punishing enemies. Unfortunately, this approach is virtually the opposite of the Obama administration’s policies, which have in fact undermined what is required for success. Without making any actual strategic gain, U.S. interests have suffered four serious defeats during the first half of the Obama administration:

First, was the loss of Egypt as America’s main Arab ally and its possible turn toward the other side. Second, was the consolidation of Hamas’ control over the Gaza Strip, now further fortified with its growing status as an Egyptian protectorate. The third factor was Lebanon’s takeover by a Hizballah-led government that looks to Syria and Iran as patrons. Last, was the virtual defection of Turkey, governed by an Islamist regime, to the other side.

Not all of these are completely Obama’s fault, but he bears a large measure of the responsibility. Moreover, potential gains–represented by revolts in Iran and Syria–were given no support by Washington. Additional secondary losses could also be listed.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict, which so often is put at the center of the region (and even crowds out every other issue in the consciousness of policymakers, “experts,” and the mass media), is of minimal importance in all this. One could provide a blow-by-blow description of the administration’s flailing about on this issue, but it is not really worthwhile. In the end, despite the sound and fury involved, the “peace process” diplomacy changed little and signified nothing.


The shortcomings of the Obama administration’s policy emerge with startling clarity when one inventories precisely what has happened and how it has managed these challenges. These are presented in alphabetical order:


The U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan was based on the erroneous belief that American military forces could help create a stable and developing democratic polity in that country. After an overly long decisionmaking process, Obama opted for withdrawing U.S. forces while seeking a deal with the “moderate wing” of the Taliban. The problem is that a war in Afghanistan is unwinnable; that the Taliban will not disappear and is already going on the offensive in anticipation of U.S. withdrawal; Pakistan is a thoroughly unreliable ally; and the Afghan government is a mess. The Obama administration might get credit for withdrawing U.S. forces, but the situation in Afghanistan will be a disaster. Clear anarchy at best, and a Taliban reconquest at worst, will not make the Obama administration’s Afghan policy look so good in future.


The situation in Egypt is arguably the greatest single setback to U.S. interests since Iran’s 1979 Revolution. In the first phase, the Obama administration strongly supported the overthrow of the long-allied Mubarak regime, trading this for an uncertain future. Thus, it lost the best U.S. partner in the Arabic-speaking world, a government that opposed revolutionary Islamism in general (and especially Hamas) along with Iranian ambitions.

The second phase seems likely to produce an anti-American government of fixed Islamist and radical nationalist views that is unlikely to support U.S. goals, likely to empty of content the Egypt-Israel peace (and conceivably go to war with Israel), and probably to become itself a supporter of anti-American and revolutionary Islamist forces in the region. It is difficult to conceive of a more total setback, yet the most basic points of the above analysis remain generally unrecognized in Washington.


After a long effort at engagement, which wasted time, the administration did finally support strong sanctions on Tehran in late 2010. The problem is that a number of loopholes were built in, which essentially excused China, Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates from having to implement the sanctions in practice. Moreover, while the administration was ostensibly tough on Iran’s nuclear program, it did not even seem to recognize Iran’s strategic threat. That is, little was done to oppose the expansion of Iranian influence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, or elsewhere. The principal Iranian challenge is through the use of backing revolutionary Islamist groups, covert warfare, funding, propaganda, and sponsoring terrorism–all elements to which the Obama administration has no serious response.

The Obama administration’s concept of “containing” Iran almost exclusively focuses on preventing Iran from using nuclear weapons, a worthwhile endeavor but far from the entire picture. Moreover, despite some escalation of verbiage, the administration made no systematic effort to support the Iranian opposition. Thus, Iran’s expanding power and influence was scarcely troubled by administration policy.


Although the Obama administration’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq makes sense on its own terms, in the context of a perceived weakening of American resolve and failure to confront Iran and other radical forces, it contributes to a sense in the region that–for allies–America is not reliable and–for enemies–that it is highly vulnerable. The Iraqi government is faction-ridden and plagued with internal problems. This, of course, is not the Obama administration’s fault, but it makes the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations most insecure. While Iranian influence will not easily gain hegemony there, it is a serious competitor for the United States, especially if Iran seems to be the winning side in Gulf regional terms.


The best way to characterize U.S.-Israel relations during Obama’s presidency is as relatively unchanged in material terms but very much undermined in terms of mutual trust and strategic cooperation. In other words, the bilateral military relationship has continued with little alteration and after all the storm and fury of administration rhetoric, there has been no real pressure on Israel or withdrawal of basic support. Still, the administration’s obvious eagerness to distance itself from Israel and its lack of understanding of that country’s needs reduce confidence in U.S. reliability. Specific mistaken U.S. policies have made Israeli leaders wary of trusting Obama, taking risks, or making concessions at his behest.

Ironically, Obama himself has been the greatest saboteur of an already stricken “peace process.” His mistaken initial focus on the stopping of all construction on settlements, his refusal to criticize or pressure the Palestinian Authority, his ill-fated call for quick negotiations in the fall of 2009, and many other actions eliminated any possibility for negotiations. The truth is that Obama and his White House team have little understanding of the issues involved and none at all of Israeli interests and motivations. The administration made the greatest mistakes on these issues not only by having bad policies but in having policies that were so visibly mistaken and failed.

Gaza Strip

The Gaza Strip is one of the administration’s greatest failures, though not one of the better understood ones. The policy of Israel, Egypt, and the Bush administration was to maintain pressure on the Gaza Strip to ensure that the Hamas regime remained weak and unstable, and thus less able to launch war on Israel or spread revolutionary Islamism. In addition, the idea was that a gap between a prosperous PA-ruled West Bank and a relatively impoverished Gaza Strip would increase popular support for the PA and decrease support for Hamas in both places.

The Obama administration trampled on this strategy. After the first Gaza flotilla, the administration could have done nothing. Instead, it handed the flotilla (and Hamas) a victory while getting nothing in exchange, by pressuring Israel to reduce sanctions on the Gaza Strip to a minimum. Then it paid hundreds of millions of dollars to the PA for use in subsidizing former PA employees in Gaza, an understandable step but a damaging one. Finally, by helping to bring down the Mubarak government, the White House guaranteed a pro-Hamas regime in Cairo and a virtually open border for shipping in weapons, money, and terrorists. By this behavior, the administration laid the foundation for a future Hamas-Israel, and possibly Egypt-Hamas versus Israel, war.


The deterioration of the political situation in Lebanon was not helped by the policy of the Bush administration in its latter years. Obama, however, made the situation much worse. Rather than back the moderate Sunni-Christian-Druze coalition, the administration followed a policy based on both non-intervention and a pro-Syrian stance. Despite some occasional statements, the U.S. government did nothing to stem a Hizballah-led, Syrian- and Iranian-backed takeover of the Beirut government.

The lack of U.S. support demoralized the moderate forces, while the openness of the U.S. government to Hizballah’s empowerment was also most damaging. During Obama’s watch, Lebanon has changed over to the anti-American, pro-Islamist bloc camp. Again, the administration does not even seem to comprehend the seriousness of the defeat there.


As with several other aspects of Obama administration policy, its dealings with Libya are close to being beyond belief. Frightened by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Libyan dictator Mu’amar Qadhafi was “scared straight,” abandoned his nuclear program, and behaved himself internationally. Of course, there is no doubt that Qadhafi was a terrible dictator, yet the U.S. decision to back an unknown opposition in a civil war with NATO forces seemed precipitate to say the least. The fact that it was explicitly based on “protecting civilians,” rather than on U.S. interests, was obviously arbitrary in terms of Middle East situations where this principle could have been better applied elsewhere.

Regarding Libya, the Obama administration made every mistake that its leaders and supporters had spent years criticizing when done by previous governments: a military intervention that had not been thought through, overstretching U.S. forces, and putting U.S. prestige into the hands of a questionable ally.

Muslim Brotherhood

One of the many remarkable shortcomings of Obama policy is its inability to figure out that the Muslim Brotherhood is an anti-American, revolutionary Islamist group that wants to wipe Israel off the map and transform Egypt into an Islamist state. To reach that conclusion did not seem the most difficult of tasks. Yet high administration officials asserted that the Brotherhood was moderate, nonviolent, non-Islamist, and even secular.

Before anyone even asked for his opinion, Obama declared early on in the revolution that the United States had no problem seeing the Brotherhood in government. In short, the administration took a major gamble on little intelligence that either the Brotherhood would not win elections or that if it did gain power, the group would be moderate. This could well turn out to be one of the greatest miscalculations in U.S. diplomatic history.

Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian Authority was discussed earlier under the Gaza Strip and Israel categories, but it should be added that the administration seemed totally incapable of dealing with PA intransigence. In fact, the White House intensified the problem. The PA refused to negotiate with Israel, rejected Obama’s public call for talks in late 2009, wasted the nine-month Israeli freeze on construction, broke its promise to Obama not to push for UN adoption of the Goldstone Report on Gaza, made a partnership deal with Hamas, and abandoned all of its previous commitments in order to push for unilateral independence without any prior deal with Israel. Yet none of these actions had the slightest effect on the administration’s virtually uncritical support for the PA.

Saudi Arabia

While Saudi Arabia is not an ideal society, it certainly has been an important U.S. ally for many years. The Obama administration virtually rubbed the monarchy’s face in the dirt–provoking the biggest rift in many years–and hardly noticed that it was doing anything to create a problem. It did not back Saudi efforts to keep Lebanon from becoming a Syria-Iran satellite. Then it did not consult the Saudis over Egypt.

Indeed, from the tone of U.S. rhetoric, one might have concluded that the White House backed the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy. As if that were not enough the U.S. government did not make the Saudis feel that it was going to protect them from Iran. Finally, it at first advocated the overthrow of Bahrain’s government, whose shortcomings in the treatment of the Shi’a majority did not outweigh the dangers of the country coming under the rule of an Iranian client regime. As a result, the Saudis–and the smaller Gulf states that had similar perceptions–intervened in Bahrain themselves; tried to develop their own ability to counter Iran; and drew another neglected and endangered moderate state, Jordan, under the protection of the Gulf Cooperation Council.


Even in a list of remarkably bad policies, the Obama administration’s approach to Syria stands out as especially misconceived. The idea that the United States would pull Syria away from Iran (a patron that backed its ambitions, lavishly subsidized Syria and Syria’s clients, and provided it with both religious cover and strategic protection) was simply ludicrous, as if the Tehran regime had embarked on a high-priority effort to turn the United Kingdom or Canada from being U.S. allies to partners with Iran. Equally misconceived was the belief that the United States could moderate the most radical and anti-American of contemporary Arab regimes, which has behaved in that way because such a posture well served the regime’s interests.

The Obama administration thus undid many of the Bush era sanctions while ignoring Syria’s help to terrorists killing Americans in Iraq, backing for Hamas and Hizballah, efforts to seize control over Lebanon, sabotaging of the peace process, and other actions. Then, when the Syrian people revolted against the regime–at a time when the Obama administration had proclaimed a policy of promoting change and democracy–the U.S. government gave Syria an exemption and continued to support the dictatorship. It would be hard to imagine a policy more totally opposed to U.S. interests and sheer common sense.


As in other cases, regarding Turkey, the Obama administration failed to perceive a major shift and thus developed a policy totally out of sync with the situation and contrary to U.S. interests. The Turkish regime, whatever the cleverness of its tactics and the patience of its progression, is an Islamist one. That government moved into alignment with Syria (at least before that country’s upheaval) and Iran, while backing Hamas and Hizballah, and becoming passionately anti-Israel.

That regime also acted contrary to U.S. policy on a number of issues, noticeably trying to sabotage the U.S. sanctions effort against Iran. It also steadily diminished freedom of speech within Turkey and arrested many critics. Yet despite some mention of the human rights issue, by mid-2011, the Obama administration acted as if nothing had changed and that Turkey was still a stalwart ally with no real problems in the relationship.

As the Turkish government whipped up anti-American fervor (and it is known–thanks to Wikileaks–that the U.S. embassy in Ankara was sending warnings to Washington), the U.S. government continued to be blithely ignorant about the danger. The administration constantly praised the Turkish regime–even holding it up as a model for Arabic-speaking states. This, of course, made the Turkish opposition feel betrayed and public opinion conclude that there was no cost for sticking a finger into America’s eye.


To say that Obama policy in the Middle East has been disastrous is not a partisan or ideological statement but merely a recounting of the facts. The damage to U.S. interests and regional stability are perilous indeed and will take years to reverse–if in fact it can be reversed. Yet to focus on U.S.-Israel relations or on U.S. policy and the Israel-Palestinian conflict is to miss the main point. For all the drama and passion expended on those issues, they are essentially a sideshow. The real problem is the decline in the U.S. strategic position in the region, the failure to address the great conflict taking place in the region, the self-inflicted reduction of U.S. credibility and leverage, and even actions that have strengthened America’s enemies.

None of the points made in this article are unknown in the Middle East. On the contrary, all of them are well understood both by America’s worried friends and by its emboldened enemies. Of equal importance is the failure of the Obama administration to learn from its mistakes and experiences.

While many career officials in the State and Defense departments are aware of the mistaken conception and strategy, they are unable to affect policy except at the margins. The Defense Department and military commanders are forced to fight three wars simultaneously based on a strategy set by the White House, despite many misgivings. When Robert Gates was secretary of defense, until July 2011, he made clear his discontent with several aspects of policy–notably the Libyan war. His replacement by a politician close to Obama, Leon Panetta, removed that impediment to White House strategy.

Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, also disagreed with aspects of Obama’s policy and was seconded by career Middle East experts in the department. On two issues–White House support for the overturn of the governments in Bahrain and Egypt–the State Department and the president came into open disagreement. On Egypt, the State Department lost; on Bahrain it won after convincing the president that a revolution would increase Iranian influence and might lead to the closure of the U.S. naval base there.

The secretary of state is the president’s former chief political rival and her own views have been repeatedly dismissed, thus making her into a cynical transmission belt for Obama’s own views. Although much of State Department embassy reporting has been good, its points–for example, the threat from the Turkish regime–do not penetrate into the highest levels. Consequently, there is no place in the policy process from which corrective ideas can come.

Moreover, Obama’s top tier of national security advisors on policy is extremely weak, further undermining a president with little knowledge of international affairs or the Middle East. The national security advisor is a political operative with no real authority or informed views. The first secretary of defense was a holdover from the Bush administration and did not enjoy the president’s confidence, while his replacement is a former congressman with little knowledge of military or strategic affairs (except, perhaps, on budgetary issues).

Aside from Obama himself–who lacks experience on war-making, national administration, international affairs, and the Middle East–those who played the main role in policymaking were relatively junior staffers at the National Security Council. These individuals had little experience or knowledge in the region but deep-seated ideological premises based on theory and academic backgrounds. In contrast to some previous administrations, there was no strong national security advisor to advise the president and affect his views. Another important factor in shaping policy was the CIA, which advocated the view that only al-Qa’ida was a real threat and that dialogue with revolutionary Islamists was the correct approach, even before Obama’s election. This view was also embodied in John Brennan, the president’s advisor on terrorism, who was outspoken in his belief that befriending Islamists would moderate them.

A more detailed picture, of course, will have to await the availability of first-person memoirs on policymaking from inside the administration. Nevertheless, it is already apparent that four more years of the same policy is not something one wants to contemplate. A number of crisis scenarios based on the developments presented above would pose tremendous challenges to an administration ill-equipped by both ability and worldview to handle them.


[1] This section is based on a thorough reading of statements by President Barack Obama and administration officials as well as documents and actions. Many examples are provided by the current author’s writings during the period since the administration took office.

[2] This author anticipated the challenges and responses of the Obama Administration in an article written just as he was taking office. More than two years later, this analysis looks quite accurate on both counts. See Barry Rubin, “U.S. Middle East Policy: Too Many Challenges and yet a Single Theme,” Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, June 2009,

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist for PajamasMedia. His latest books include Israel: An Introduction (Yale, 2012); The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.