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A New Year Opens in the Middle East

Unsurprisingly enough, the first big story of the year is coming at us from the Middle East. That constantly troubled region was already troublesome enough for the rest of the world, what with civil wars breaking out in Syria and Libya and Yemen and elsewhere and the refugees spilling into the west in unmanageable numbers and ballistic missiles test being conducted by aspiring nuclear powers and terrorist attacks occurring from Paris to San Bernardino, but now we’ve got that whole Shi’ite versus Sunni thing coming to a head with increased tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Shi’ite versus Sunni thing goes back more than 1,400 years, and so far as we can tell has something do with whether Mohammad’s family or closest friends should have inherited his spiritual authority, but we’ll skip ahead to the present day when Iran is the most powerful Shi’ite country and Saudi Arabia is the most important Sunni country and the old hatreds still persist. The two countries were already fighting proxy wars in Yemen, where Iran-backed rebels had overthrown the Saudi-backed government, and in an even more complicated war in the former portions of Iraq and Syria that are now controlled by the Islamic State, which is Sunni but threateningly crazy even by Saudi standards, where the Saudis’ ineffectual fighters are also opposed by the Iran-backed Syrian regime and their suddenly dominant Russian ally, but now the tensions have again ¬†been significantly increased. After a couple of decades of imprisonment the Saudis chose the date of January Second to execute, by beheading or firing squad, 46 crazy-even-by-Saudi-standards Sunni terrorists and one prominent Shi’ite cleric. That lattermost execution seemed calculated to inflame Shi’ite sensibilities and quickly led to an arson assault on by an angry mob on the Saudi embassy in Iran, which was clearly tolerated by the otherwise repressive Iranian regime. Since then there’s been a suspension of diplomatic ties and talk of outright war, as well as the usual diplomatic dissembling.
It’s enough to roil the international stock markets and recall Iran’s past assaults on its guest embassies and spur conspiracy theories about how the plunging price of oil is provoking a mutually beneficial war, and it’s bound to affect the ongoing politics of the United States of America. Even such harsh critics are ourselves won’t blame the Obama administration for the more-than-1,400-year-old Sunni versus Shi’ite thing, but even the administration’s most determined apologists can’t muster an argument that the past seven years of American foreign policy have worked out well. The retreat from Iraq is looking very much like a mistake, even if America’s entry into the country is so widely regarded as a mistake that even the leading Republican candidates feel obliged to say so, and that awful deal giving Iran $150 billion and no meaningful restraints on the nuclear weapons program they’ve been flouting ever since it went unsigned is looking more awful than ever, the planned retreat from still-troublesome Afghanistan now looks as if it might await another administration or two, and even modern liberalism’s exquisitely well-intentioned guiding principle about abandoning traditional allies and extending open hands to traditional enemies is now clearly called into question.
The Republicans will be challenged to come up with a plausible solution to this more-than-1,400-year-old mess, and we have little confidence they will, but we expect that even the most stridently xenophobic and reactionary policies they propose will seem more plausible than whatever the Democrats can come up with. The Democrats are by now obliged to pretend that whatever ails the world surely has nothing to do Islam, and that whatever more-than-1,400-year-old problems do seem to be occurring can surely be blamed on George W. Bush’s crazy cowboy ways, and that at any rate climate change is the more pressing concern, so we expect they’ll find themselves in a defensive position by Election Day. There’s no telling what will happen between now and then, but another terror attack on the west seems more likely than an outbreak of peace.
We have little regard for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian but not quite so crazy as Islamic State regime of Saudi Arabia, and none whatsoever for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian and soon-to-be-nuclear-armed regime of Iran, and at this point our only rooting interesting in the region is for democratic and humane Israel and the last of the Christians and Yazidis and Zoroastrians and secular agnostics and other religious minorities in that dismal part of the world, and we won’t pretend to have solutions to this more-than-1,400-year-old problem. Something different is obviously called for, however, and one way or another we do expect that will eventually occur.

— Bud Norman

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Of Metal Detectors and Failed Policies

Secretary of State John Kerry was subjected to a metal detector before seeing the Egyptian President and military dictator General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi on Wednesday, just like any schlub trying to pay a parking ticket at Wichita City Hall. Some lingering sense of patriotic pride is offended by the obviously deliberate insult to America’s highest-ranking diplomat, but when America’s highest-ranking diplomat is John Kerry it seems almost appropriate.
One labors mightily to imagine any previous Secretary of State being subjected to such taunting treatment, much less accepting it from the military dictator of a second-rate power with an apologetic “tweet” instead of a vigorous protest, but so much of America’s recent foreign policy is unprecedented that nothing really surprises any more. Kerry’s stop in inconsiderate Cairo was part of a trip to the Middle East to attempt negotiation of a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas terror gang of Gaza, and nothing about it makes sense. The mission is unlikely to succeed, would be harmful to the region’s chances of lasting peace if it did, and will further weaken America’s standing the world in the process.
The Hamas terror gang, which makes no secret of its genocidal intentions toward world Jewry, has lately been murdering Israeli teenagers and launching thousands of deadly rockets randomly into Israeli territory. Israel has been able to keep its civilian casualties low by use of its remarkable “Iron Dome” missile defense system, but has responded by striking carefully targeted retaliatory strikes at the launch sites after warning the civilian to evacuate the areas, and has more recently launched a ground assault under unusually strict rules of engagement against the elaborate network of tunnels that Hamas has created since Israel’s evacuation of Gaza. Any previous Secretary of State would have ventured to the region only to offer unequivocal support for Israel’s restrained response, and urge that it continue until Hamas’ ability to kill innocent Israeli civilians had been thoroughly degraded, but Kerry is heading there to urge further restraint and end Israel’s efforts before they are satisfactorily concluded.
The effort also takes Kerry though Egypt, where his rude reception was predictable after America’s flailing foreign policy regarding that troubled land. Readers who have been sufficiently distracted by that homosexual football player and that racist basketball team owner can be forgiven for having forgotten, but President Barack Obama launched America’s bold new foreign policy in the Middle East by flying to Cairo for a much-ballyhooed speech offering an olive branch to the Islamic and insulted the then President and military-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak by insisting that the radical Islamist group The Muslim Brotherhood be given a seat of honor at the front of the audience. There’s no telling what Obama’s oration had to do with it, but a popular uprising backed by the Obama administration toppled Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood briefly seized power in the country. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule predictably proved devastating to the country’s economy and freedom the Obama administration continued to back it with both words and money, even after a military dictatorship that reverted to support for Israel and opposition to Islamist radicalism reasserted itself. Despite its many flaws, being a military dictatorship chief among them, the Egyptian military dictatorship has been laudably firm against a Hamas terror gang that is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it cannot be expected to extend the usual diplomatic protocols to a Secretary of State that represents America’s recent peculiar policies.
Kerry can expect more polite treatment from the Israelis on his next stop, but he shouldn’t expect them to take him any more seriously. The administration has been making all the obligatory statements about Israel’s right to defend itself against a terror gang that rains down rockets on its people, but the Israelis are savvy enough to have noticed all the added language about restraint and all the other code words for capitulation. Despite their extraordinary efforts to prevent civilian casualties even at the risk of Israeli soldiers, the Israelis are no doubt well aware that Kerry was overheard during a broadcast on the Fox News network sneering that their response was “A hell of a pinpoint operation.” The official line was that it the outburst was entirely inadvertent, as if such an experienced hand as Kerry would let loose in front of the microphones and cameras of the hated Fox News network, but in any case it is clear that he expects the Israelis to be even more restrained in their response to the thousands of rockets being lobbed into their country. They’ll also note that the Obama administration continues its generous subsidies to the Gaza government, even after the Hamas terror gang joined it as a partner, and that Kerry blamed the israelis for making his unlikely peace treaty “go poof” after Hamas become involved, and they could also be forgiven for subjecting him to a humiliating step through a metal detector.
Kerry might well claim that he’s going by that “international test” that he so ruinously proposed during his ill-fated presidential campaign, but at the moment he’s lagging well behind international opinion. Such fashionable western powers as France have expressed stronger support for Israel’s right to self-defense, and the kristallnacht-like rioting against the local Jewish populations seems only to have strengthened its resolve, and even the Sunni Arab countries are all offering off-the-record support for Israel’s against a terror gang backed by the Shi’ite Persian country of Iran that is cruising without meaningful American interference toward a nuclear bomb that will forever change the precarious balance of power in their powder keg regions.
None of these threatened countries will be reassured by America’s less-than-stalwart defense of its oldest allies, and none of America’s enemies will be placated. The Egyptians might as well have asked Kerry to empty his pockets, because America has relinquished its influence in the world’s most dangerous neighborhood.

— Bud Norman