Tag: Kurds

Serious diplomacy needed

Turkish President Erdogan is wrong about many things: the post-coup-attempt crackdown, his flirtation with Russia, his inattention to widespread corruption, and his effort to rule Turkey without a serious opposition. Turkey has clearly moved away from the promising European path he started out on and turned instead to its Middle Eastern roots, which are much less salubrious for both its citizens and its leadership. Nationalism and despotism have bad records, even if they build nice palaces. Freedom and respect for minority rights has a far better record, even if they don’t always win elections.

That said, Erdogan is not wrong about everything. His concern about the Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey, and the assistance it gets from Syria, is well-founded. The insurgency’s main protagonists, the PKK and its PYD Syrian allies, have long frustrated the Turkish security forces and would be glad to do it again if given an opportunity. This is no peaceful uprising. The PKK is well-armed and kills lots of people. The US, as well as Turkey and the European Union, regard it as a terrorist group.

The United States has equipped and trained the PYD fighters (known as the YPG) to fight the Islamic State inside Syria, where the Kurds have been remarkably successful with American air, intelligence, logistic and other support. That fight, however, is now largely completed. The task now is to stabilize the areas taken from the Islamic State, many of which are predominantly Arab, not Kurdish. One is a particular bone of contention with Turkey: Manbij, which lies west of the Euphrates river less than 25 miles south of the Turkish border.

Secretary of State Tillerson spent the better part of the past two days talking with the Turks. He now has likely heard more about Manbij than he would want to remember, as did National Security Adviser McMaster on a recent visit. Ankara wants the Kurds out of Manbij, a mostly Arab town of about 100,000 before the war. That is what Vice President Biden promised the Turks in the summer of 2016. He said the Kurds would move east of the Euphrates and stay there, thus preventing them from moving westward to link up Afrin, a majority Kurdish enclave, with the rest of what the Kurds call Rojava, the PYD-dominated parastate that extends along the Turkish order from the Euphrates eastward.

The Turkish view is that the US made a commitment on Manbij to a NATO ally that has to be fulfilled. The American generals, to whom the President has delegated so much authority, aren’t interested in pushing too hard on their Syrian Kurdish friends, who want to control as much of Turkey’s southern border as possible. To add insult to injury, some of those Kurdish friends have been moving westward through Syrian government controlled territory to confront the Turkish forces in Afrin.

It is difficult for Americans to see Erdogan in a positive light these days, but restoring good relations with Turkey should now be a priority. Quite apart from any promises made about Manbij, the Turks are allowing the Americans to use their bases from which to fly the combat support they need in eastern Syria, including the planes that last week blunted an Iranian/Russian/Syrian attack on US forces and their Kurdish friends. Loss of access, or even new limitations on US use of Turkish bases, could change the military situation in eastern Syria dramatically.

Can we solve the Kurdish puzzle in a way that meets Turkey’s needs? We should certainly try, by getting the Syrian Kurds to leave Manbij, ending the flow of their fighters to Afrin, and extracting from them a serious commitment not to support attacks inside Turkey. The Turks would have to pitch in by ending their offensive in Afrin, which isn’t going well, re-establishing the ceasefire with the PKK, and restarting peace talks.

That’s a tall order. Tillerson needs to stop gutting the State Department and get busy trying to deliver some serious diplomatic results.

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Peace picks, January 22-26

  1. Ending Civil Wars | Monday, January 22 | 2:30pm – 4:00pm | U.S. Institute of Peace | Register here |

The cause of civil wars and effective policy responses have been debated extensively for decades, and the United States has often stressed counterinsurgency doctrine and state-building to restore political and societal stability. However, 21st century rebel movements, shifting geopolitics, and the high costs of intervention bring the “standard treatment regime” for resolving civil wars into question. Join us as experts discuss their findings and recommendations on how the United States can better respond to intrastate conflict and promote both development and stability to create lasting peace. Featuring former Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry (Stanford University), Nancy Lindborg (President, U.S. Institute of Peace), Steve Krasner (Stanford University), Stephen Biddle (George Washington University), Susanna Campbell (American University), Clare Lockhart (Director and Co-Founder, Institute for State Effectiveness), and Paul Wise (Stanford University).


  1. Turkey, the Kurds, and the Struggle for Order in the Middle East | Tuesday, January 23 | 12:00pm – 1:30pm | Hudson Institute | Register here |

The American-led campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) has empowered Syria’s Kurds and, as a result, alienated Turkey. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran have expanded their presence in Syria. Washington, Moscow, and Tehran now find themselves in a complicated diplomatic contest over the orientation of Turkey and various Kurdish polities and factions. How should the U.S. manage its role in this contest? Hudson Senior Fellows Eric Brown and Michael Doran will discuss the current state of affairs in the region and offer recommendations for future U.S. policies. Hudson Fellow Peter Rough will moderate the conversation.


  1. What Does 2018 Have in Store for Turkey? | Wednesday, January 24 | 12:00pm – 1:00pm | Middle East Institute | Register here |

Turkey began 2018 embroiled in domestic dissent and diplomatic friction. Last April’s constitutional referendum was met with widespread criticism as an attempt by President Erdogan to consolidate power. Activists and journalists face increasing restrictions on their rights, the government continues its crackdown on the opposition, and debates swirl over the future of Turkey’s economy, the Kurdish question, and relations with the United States and European Union. These various issues are coming to a head in advance of 2019’s presidential election. The Middle East Institute (MEI) will convene a panel of experts to examine these key issues and more, featuring Soner Captagay (Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy), Howard Eissenstat (St. Lawrence University), and Max Hoffman (Center for American Progress). MEI’s Director for Turkish Studies Gönül Tol will moderate the discussion.


  1. Bringing Armed Groups into the Peace Process in Afghanistan | Thursday, January 25 | 9:30am – 11:00am | U.S. Institute of Peace | Register here | 

Peace negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan remain elusive, despite years of effort and a growing consensus that no side is likely able to defeat the other militarily.  The Afghan government, United States, and Taliban leadership all profess openness to a peace deal, but efforts have suffered from mistrust, conflicting objectives, and each party’s efforts to break the military stalemate.  Afghanistan in the meantime continues to face widespread violence, insurgent control of large swathes of the countryside, and major economic challenges. The Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum at the U.S. Institute of Peace will host a panel of leading experts to discuss options for advancing peace talks, reaching an inclusive political settlement, and transitioning Taliban and other insurgents off the battlefield and into nonviolent politics. Featuring Johnny Walsh (U.S. Institute of Peace) as moderator, with speakers Alexander Ramsbotham (Conciliation Resources), Laurel E. Miller (RAND Corporation), and Javid Ahmad (Atlantic Council).


  1. The Impact of Trump’s Jerusalem Move: A Conversation with PLO Ambassador Husam Zomlot | Thursday, January 25 | 12:00pm – 1:15pm | Middle East Institute | Register here |

President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to relocate the U.S. embassy there was met with Arab and international censure. The United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions, for a resolution demanding that the United States rescind this declaration. Human rights groups decry the decision as a death knell for the two-state solution. The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host a conversation with Ambassador Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO General Delegation to the United States. Ambassador Zomlot will address the implications of this announcement on Palestinians as well as their Arab neighbors, and how a future peace process might be revived. MEI’s Senior Vice President for Policy Research and Programs, Paul Salem, will moderate the discussion.


  1. Current Challenges in US-Turkey Relations | Thursday, January 25 | 2:00pm – 3:00pm | SETA Foundation | Register here |

President Trump’s win in the November 2016 election was met with cautious optimism in Turkey, however, as the first year of his administration draws to a close, the bilateral relationship still faces a number of challenges. The National Security Strategy issued in December 2017 promises a “dramatic rethinking” of US foreign policy as National Security Advisor HR McMaster put it, but it is unclear what prospects it holds for US-Turkey relations. Moving forward into 2018, how will the divergent approaches between the US and Turkey in Syria affect the broader bilateral relationship? Please join the SETA Foundation at Washington DC for a discussion on the challenges facing the bilateral relationship between the US and Turkey. Featuring speakers Luke Coffey (The Heritage Center), James Jeffrey (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), Kilic B. Kanat (SETA Foundation), with moderator Kadir Ustun (SETA Foundation).


  1. People Power Movements and International Human Rights: ICNC Monograph Launch | Thursday, January 25 | 4:00pm – 5:15pm | Atlantic Council| Register here |

From winning freedom for slaves to achieving recognition of women’s rights, the real source of many historical breakthroughs in international human rights has been the bottom-up resistance efforts of ordinary people to collectively and nonviolently fight injustice and lack of freedoms. The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict’s (ICNC) monograph author and legal scholar Elizabeth A. Wilson (Rutgers University) will explore a legal framework for understanding the relationship between civil resistance movements and international human rights. A moderated discussion will follow, featuring Maria Stephan (U.S. Institute of Peace) and Sean Murphy (The George Washington University Law School), moderated by Maciej Bartkowski (International Center on Nonviolent Conflict). Mathew Burrows (Atlantic Council) and Maciej Bartkowski will deliver welcoming remarks.

  1. Islamist Politics in the Middle East and North Africa | Thursday, January 25 | 5:30pm– 7:00pm| Project on Middle East Democracy (Elliott School of International Affairs) | Register here |

The past decade has witnessed major changes as Islamist parties and movements across the Middle East and North Africa were democratically elected, ousted from power, formed coalitions, splintered internally, faced increasing repression, and governed. This panel of top scholars will discuss innovative new political science research on Islamist movements and parties, examining who votes for these organizations, their internal dynamics, and how our study of them continues to evolve. Featuring panelists Lindsay Benstead (Portland State University), Steven Brooke (University of Louisville), Quinn Mecham (Brigham Young University), Jillian Schwedler, (Hunter College, CUNY), and Joas Wagemakers (Utrecht University), moderated by Marc Lynch (George Washington University).

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It may not last

I spent three days last week in Baghdad: two talking with people from all over the Middle East (with the important exception of Turkey) about the current situation and one talking with Iraqis.

First Baghdad: It is looking and sounding far more peaceful than it did six years ago, when I last visited. No detonations, lots of trees and other plants, heavy traffic, and bustling sidewalks. I didn’t get out of the Green Zone a lot, but we did stop in Kadhimia and Adhamiyah to see the main mosques. Apart from the all too evident sectarian character of both (the former Shia and the latter Sunni), there was nothing remarkable: just people going about normal life shopping, chatting, praying, strolling, and honking. What a change from 2004-2011, when I visited a couple of times per year. Adhamiyah during part of that time had to be surrounded with T-walls and checkpoints to protect its population from slaughter.

The Iraqi leadership: We of course only met a few people in high places, including the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of parliament, and one minister, in addition to a member of parliament and some of the prime minister’s staff. All are happy to see the Islamic State defeated on the battlefield and all are concerned not to allow it to revive. All are also looking to make cross-sectarian or cross-ethnic alliances in advance of next year’s May 12 election. None were waving sectarian or ethnic identity as their main calling card. This data suggests why (sorry for the size–Wordpress won’t scale it up):

In the general population, sectarian and ethnic identities are still terribly important. While Ayatollah Sistani’s call for volunteers roused some Sunnis to the cause of fighting ISIS, the Popular Mobilization Units he spawned are mostly aggressively Shia and believed to harbor political ambitions. Nor has the Kurdish retreat from pursuing independence reduced popular Kurdish enthusiasm for their own, independent state.

But the leadership has come to understand that gaining a majority in parliament and thereby control of the state requires, under the somewhat ramshackle 2005 constitution, coalitions. Besides, most Iraqis are looking for civil or secular technocrats to run the country. That reduces the relevance of ethnic and sectarian identity, of which Iraqis seem to have had their fill, at least as qualifications for governing.

None of this means the competition among the elite is finished, or even attenuated. To the contrary: all the main sectarian and ethnic blocks are fragmenting. The Kurds are no longer as united as once they were, among the Shia both the Dawa party and what used to be the Supreme Council are split, and there is no clearly dominant figure among the Sunnis. This should make cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian alliances a far more important factor than they have been in the past.

The other Middle Easterners: The mood among the other Middle Easterners attending this session of the Middle East Institute’s Dialogue was likewise more sanguine and friendly than I would have anticipated. All, like the Iraqis, are glad to see the Islamic State dealt defeat in Iraq and Syria, even if they anticipate that it will go underground and re-emerge as an insurgency. All disapproved but seemed more puzzled than angry about President Trump’s announcement on moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. All were happy to see Iraq in a better place.

There the commonalities seemed to end. The Iranians, who in the past have sometimes appeared irascible, were calm and analytical as well as concerned that their victory in Syria brought responsibilities they would rather avoid and anxious for a political solution in Yemen. They also seemed concerned that Iran’s effort to defend itself by supporting Shia proxy forces in the region was at its limit.

The Saudis and Emiratis were enthused about the new direction Riyadh is taking not only in Iraq but also in Yemen and in domestic Saudi policy. Others from Arab countries (Egypt and Jordan) were more reflective and a bit unsure what to make of the “new” Saudi Arabia. Several were concerned that the war is not really over: an Israeli or American attack on the Iranians or Hizbollah there could renew hostilities, not to mention the risk of an American clash with the Russians.

Unfortunately there were neither Turks nor Kurds in these group discussions. Had there been, the atmosphere and substance would have been more contentious. The uncertainty about American policy towards the Syrian Kurds is still big: will the Americans restrain them from attacking inside Turkey, or helping the Kurdish insurgents there? Will the Americans try to take back the heavier weapons they provided? Will the Americans withdraw precipitously? There are a lot of known unknowns that could affect the situation in Syria dramatically.

The extra-regional great powers: While a Moscow-based participant was quick to suggest that Russia had defeated ISIS, the Russians and Chinese were concerned, not happy, that post-ISIS Syria is their responsibility. They want the US involved, for both political and financial reasons. The Americans are showing no such inclination. Their assumption is that the Astana/Sochi process run by the Russians with cooperation from Iran and Turkey has superseded the Geneva process run by the UN to resolve the political conflict in Syria. They see no reason beyond defeating ISIS and possibly countering Iran for the American presence in Syria.

Bottom line: Despite the war in Yemen and the uncertainties surrounding how the war is ending in Syria, there is more reason to be sanguine about the region than people in Washington perceive. The bad news is it may not last.


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Wilting or protected?

No time to write this morning, but here is the video of yesterday’s meeting I moderated on the treatment of religious minorities in Iraqi Kurdistan: 

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Peace picks December 4 – 8

  1. 8th Annual Conference on Turkey | Monday, December 4 | 9:00 am – 3:30 pm | Middle East Institute (held at the National Press Club) | Register Here |The Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation are pleased to host MEI’s 8th Annual Conference on Turkey. At a time of critical internal developments and international tensions, this program of three panels on Turkey’s domestic politics, economy, and foreign relations will feature Turkish, European, and U.S. office-holders, policymakers, and expert analysts from both sides of the Atlantic. The conference’s first panel, “Turkey’s Domestic Politics,” will feature Aykan Erdemir of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Ahmet Kuru of San Diego State University, Giran Ozcan of the People’s Democratic Party, Güneş Murat Tezcür of the University of Central Florida, and moderator Lisel Hintz of Johns Hopkins SAIS. The second panel, titled, “Turkey’s Economy,” will include Arne Lietz of the European Parliament, Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan of the University of Maryland, and Omer Taspinar of the National Defense University. The Brookings Institution’s Kemal Kirisci will moderate. For the final panel, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy,” moderator Amberin Zaman of Al-Monitor will be joined by Dimitar Bechev of the Atlantic Council, Jonathan Cohen of the U.S. Department of State, Kati Piri of the European Parliament, and Ozturk Yilmaz, a member of the Turkish parliament representing the Republican People’s Party. Michael Meier of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and Gönül Tol of MEI will deliver opening remarks, and Michelle Müntefering of the German Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee will be the keynote speaker.
  2. Rebuilding Syria: A Localized Revitalization Strategy | Monday, December 4 | 12:30 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East is launching the first report of its two-year project, Rebuilding Syria: Reconstruction and Legitimacy. Over the course of the project’s first year, the Hariri Center has pooled expertise from specialists on the many issues surrounding rebuilding Syria, including economics, finance, development, infrastructure, political economy, civil society, food security, energy, law, and employment. From these insights, gleaned from multiple roundtable workshops, interviews, and commissioned research and writing from inside Syria, the project has created a strategic roadmap to rebuilding based on a localized, ground-up approach. The report, authored by Hariri Center Senior Fellow Faysal Itani and independent international security analyst Tobias Schneider, lays out this vision and offers concrete actions that can be taken now towards the long-term goal of revitalizing Syria with the participation of Syrians and the support of the international community. Itani and Schneider will be joined by moderator Mona Yacoubian of the United States Institute of Peace for this discussion. The Atlantic Council’s Ambassador Frederic C. Hof will introduce the panel.
  3. Conditions Facing Religious Minorities in Iraqi Kurdistan | Tuesday, December 5 | 3:00 – 4:30 pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | Surrounded by conflict and grappling with a rapidly changing political landscape, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) stands out as a locus of relative stability in its region. A recently-released report by the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), entitled “Wilting in the Kurdish Sun: The Hopes and Fears of Religious Minorities in Northern Iraq,” highlights the difficulties faced in the KRI to address religious freedom. The report underscores the KRG’s struggle to protect the region’s many vulnerable religious communities and discusses the grievances of the communities, and offers recommendations on how to address them in the sensitive, post-ISIS environment. The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host a panel discussion drawing on the report, featuring Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman (KRG), Jomana Qaddour (USCIRF), and Randa Slim (MEI). MEI senior vice president for policy research and programs Paul Salem will moderate the event.
  4. Turmoil Across the Middle East: What Does It Mean? | Tuesday, December 5 | 9:30 – 11:00 am | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | What should we make of the Middle East’s upheavals? In recent weeks, the Islamic State (ISIS) “caliphate” collapsed. Syria’s Assad regime all but won the six-year war, thus consolidating Iranian and Russian influence. Saudi Arabia purged parts of its royal family. Lebanon’s prime minister abruptly resigned. Iraq’s Kurds voted for independence, triggering confrontation with Baghdad. Years of U.S. and international engagement has failed to rebuild fractured countries, and the very viability of states like Iraq and Syria has been challenged. At USIP, distinguished Middle East analysts will explore where the region is headed, and the U.S. roles amid this tumult. In the face of the region’s challenges, the Trump administration has voiced strong support for Israel and Saudi Arabia, while confronting Iran. Mike Yaffe, vice president of the Middle East and Africa center at USIP, will moderate this discussion with Robin Wright, who has reported from the region for four decades, Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the CIA, Mona Yacoubian, who recently coordinated U.S. assistance to much of the region, and Aaron David Miller, who advised Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on Middle East policy over two decades.  
  5. The Global War on Terrorism: Myths, Realities & Solutions | Wednesday, December 6 | 6:00 – 8:00 pm | Rise to Peace (held at George Washington University) | Register Here | Rise to Peace (risetopeace.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating others on the dangers of extremism and terrorism, particularly how these groups prey on and recruit the youth. In this discussion, hosted by Rise to Peace, the panelists will examine the Post-9/11 “Global War on Terrorism” and address such questions as: Have military operations in the Middle East and Africa suppressed terrorist safe havens? Have domestic surveillance efforts helped or hindered internal security in the United States? Have diplomatic efforts fostered cooperation among the United States and its allies to thwart the rise of extremism? Panelists will include Ambassador John W. Limbert of the United States Naval Academy, Christopher A. Kojm of George Washington University, Gawdat Bahgat of the National Defense University, Ahmad Shah Mohibi of Rise to Peace, Michael R. Sherwin of the U. S. Department of Justice, and Alicia Fawcett of Rise to Peace.
  6. The Nuke Ban Treaty: Now What? | Wednesday, December 6 | 12:00 pm | Stimson Center | Register Here | In July, 122 states voiced support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty will enter into force 90 days after 50 states ratify it. But what effect, if any, could this treaty have given that none of the nuclear weapon states have signed it? And if a goal of the treaty – as stated in its preamble – is to bring about complete nuclear disarmament, how could this be achieved through further treaty developments or other efforts? This event will be an on-the-record discussion co-hosted by The Washington Foreign Law Society and The Stimson Center on the prospects of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and how complete nuclear disarmament can be achieved. The discussion will feature Barry M. Blechman of the Stimson Center, Ambassador James E. Goodby of the Hoover Institution, Mallory Stewart of the Stimson Center, and Cymie Payne of Rutgers University. Stimson’s Debra Decker will moderate the panel
  7. Lessons from the Syria Crisis: Old Rivalries, New Dynamics | Thursday, December 7 | 3:00 – 5:00 pm | Turkish Heritage Organization (held at the National Press Club) | Register Here | Recent developments in the Syria crisis have shaken up established rivalries and alliances in the region. NATO member Turkey is experiencing historic lows in its bilateral relationship with the U.S., while it is working closely with traditional rivals like Russia and Iran to manage the conflict on its southern border. However, President Trump’s recent promise to President Erdogan that the U.S. is looking to adjust its current military support to the YPG in Syria is a reminder of the commitment of both countries to continue efforts to resolve differences that have created strain in their relationship. Join THO at the National Press Club on December 7 to hear from a panel of distinguished experts on the new international dynamics that have arisen from the ongoing crisis in Syria. Speakers will include Barry Pavel of the Atlantic Council, Seyed Hossein Mousavian of Princeton University, Lincoln Bloomfield of the Stimson Center, and moderator Sinem Vatanartiran of BAU International University.
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Pushback isn’t working

A colleague yesterday told me not to worry about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) overreaching in his effort to push back against Iran. The Saudis, he said, will talk a good line but not really do anything. They are too lazy.

That is little comfort and not accurate. MbS has launched a now more than two-year war in Yemen against the Iranian-supported Houthis, a diplomatic offensive against Qatar that aims (among other things) to break its good rapport with Iran, and the purported resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, whom the Saudis think too tolerant of Iran’s Hizbollah proxies. The United States appears to have greenlighted all these moves, the first under President Obama and the second and third under President Trump.

The net effect so far is not good. Iran, through Hizbollah, will own Lebanon, whether Hariri returns there or not. Qatar is weathering the Saudi blockade with the aid of the Turks and Iranians. Doha is arguably closer to Tehran now than it was before the Saudi initiative, though it continues to host a major US air base. The stalemated Yemen war has precipitated a massive humanitarian crisis throughout the country. MbS’s Washington-encouraged pushback against Iran is not working well.

Oddly, the one place neither the Washington nor Riyadh has pushed backed against Tehran is Syria. The US has assiduously tried to avoid conflict there with Syrian government forces, the Russians, and Iranian proxies, firing on them only when they appear to be getting ready to attack US or US-supported forces. Riyadh has organized, and is getting ready to re-organize, the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee, but the Kingdom’s military support to the opposition is fading, along with that of the Americans. Even Russian promises to keep Hizbollah far from the border with Israel appear to be evaporating.

The sad fact is that Saudi Arabia is a weak reed for the US to lean on. The Kingdom has purchased an astounding quantity of US and other weapons but has little capability to use them effectively. Financially strapped due to lowered oil prices, MbS is rushing to conduct long-overdue domestic reforms under the rubric Vision 2030, as well as an anti-corruption campaign that has the added virtue of eliminating some of his rivals. Even if thoroughly and assiduously implemented, the main positive effects of these domestic initiatives are a decade or more in the future.

Besides, reform plans in Saudi Arabia have a long history of getting stuck in the desert sand. Trying to do too many things at once will guarantee that some of them suffer that fate. And attacking Iran in peripheral places like Qatar, Lebanon, and Yemen may cause suffering to their populations but is unlikely to cause the Islamic Republic much heartburn. Tehran could suffer setbacks in all three without minding all that much. It is Syria that really matters to Iran, which is why it has sent its best there: the Quds Force and Hizbollah. Confronting them in Syria would be a lot more meaningful than the sum of all the Saudi initiatives elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Iranians are also escalating. Despite Tehran’s denial, Bahrain claims Iran was behind a gas pipeline bombing last week, the Iranians backed Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi’s successful offensive against Kurdistan, and they are pushing their proxies to establish the much-coveted “land bridge” from the Iranian border through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. If the Trump Administration has a regional strategy to push back against Iran, it is not working. MbS has overreached, to no good effect.


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