Opinion | A Geopolitical Earthquake Just Hit the Mideast – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“For once, I am going to agree with President Trump in his use of his favorite adjective: “huge.”

The agreement brokered by the Trump administration for the United Arab Emirates to establish full normalization of relations with Israel, in return for the Jewish state forgoing, for now, any annexation of the West Bank, was exactly what Trump said it was in his tweet: a “HUGE breakthrough.”

It is not Anwar el-Sadat going to Jerusalem — nothing could match that first big opening between Arabs and Israelis. It is not Yasir Arafat shaking Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn — nothing could match that first moment of public reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

But it is close. Just go down the scorecard, and you see how this deal affects every major party in the region — with those in the pro-American, pro-moderate Islam, pro-ending-the-conflict-with-Israel-once-and-for-all camp benefiting the most and those in the radical pro-Iran, anti-American, pro-Islamist permanent-struggle-with-Israel camp all becoming more isolated and left behind.

It’s a geopolitical earthquake.

To fully appreciate why, you need to start with the internal dynamics of the deal. It was Trump’s peace plan drawn up by Jared Kushner, and their willingness to stick with it, that actually created the raw material for this breakthrough. Here is how.”

Opinion | Lebanon’s Explosion Is Down to Incompetence – By Faysal Itani – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Itani is a political analyst.

Credit…Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

“My first summer job was at the port of Beirut. It was the late ’90s and I was just a teenager. I spent muggy months entering shipping data as part of an ambitious new program to move the port from analogue to digital log keeping. It was as unglamorous as you would expect from a bottom-rung job in the bowels of a Middle East bureaucracy. But despite the heat and the monotony, there was optimism.

The port was critical infrastructure in an economy rejuvenating after 15 years of civil war. Digital log keeping was part of the future — and an attempt to introduce much-needed order and transparency to a recovering public sector. This was, after all, the same port that had been rendered unusable during the civil war by sunken vessels and unexploded ordnance, save for one area controlled by a militia.

The Lebanon that emerged from that rubble is gone, gradually choked by a cynical political class. Yesterday, it was finished off. The port of Beirut was blown up in an explosion that killed at least 100 people (and counting), wounded more than 4,000 and destroyed blocks of the city. Lebanon now faces a new type of catastrophe for which decades of war and political instability were poor preparation.

By all appearances the port disaster did not involve the usual suspects — Hezbollah, Israel, jihadist terrorism or the government of neighboring Syria. The truth seems to be both duller and more disturbing: Decades of rot at every level of Lebanon’s institutions destroyed Beirut’s port, much of the city, and far too many lives. It is precisely the banality behind the explosion that captures the particular punishment and humiliation heaped on Lebanon.

So far, Lebanese officials are in agreement about what happened, though it’s likely that more than one “official” account will emerge. After all, this is Lebanon, a country deeply divided by politics, religion and history. But here is what we know as of now, according to reporting by credible Lebanese media: Some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate unloaded from a disabled vessel in 2014 had been stored in a port warehouse. Then yesterday, a welding accident ignited nearby fireworks — which caused the ammonium nitrate to explode.

Ports are prime real estate for political, criminal and militia factions. Multiple security agencies with different levels of competence (and different political allegiances) control various aspects of their operations. And recruitment in the civilian bureaucracy is dictated by political or sectarian quotas. There is a pervasive culture of negligence, petty corruption and blame-shifting endemic to the Lebanese bureaucracy, all overseen by a political class defined by its incompetence and contempt for the public good.

It’s unclear what combination of these elements let a bomb-in-waiting sit in a warehouse for almost six years, moved fireworks next to it and allowed irresponsible work practices to be carried out nearby. But the catastrophe, while exceptionally severe, is the result of business as usual in Lebanon. The country is familiar with explosions, and it is just as familiar with disasters caused by failures of public services: a garbage crisis that dates back to 2015, an environmental catastrophe in 2019 and power outages this year that last up to 20 hours a day.”

Opinion | Trump’s Wag-the-Dog War – by Thomas Friedman – The New York Times

“Some presidents, when they get into trouble before an election, try to “wag the dog” by starting a war abroad. Donald Trump seems ready to wag the dog by starting a war at home. Be afraid — he just might get his wish.

How did we get here? Well, when historians summarize the Trump team’s approach to dealing with the coronavirus, it will take only a few paragraphs:

“They talked as if they were locking down like China. They acted as if they were going for herd immunity like Sweden. They prepared for neither. And they claimed to be superior to both. In the end, they got the worst of all worlds — uncontrolled viral spread and an unemployment catastrophe.

“And then the story turned really dark.

“As the virus spread, and businesses had to shut down again and schools and universities were paralyzed as to whether to open or stay closed in the fall, Trump’s poll numbers nose-dived. Joe Biden opened up a 15-point lead in a national head-to-head survey.

“So, in a desperate effort to salvage his campaign, Trump turned to the Middle East Dictator’s Official Handbook and found just what he was looking for, the chapter titled, ‘What to Do When Your People Turn Against You?’

“Answer: Turn them against each other and then present yourself as the only source of law and order.”

America blessedly is not Syria, yet, but Trump is adopting the same broad approach that Bashar al-Assad did back in 2011, when peaceful protests broke out in the southern Syrian town of Dara’a, calling for democratic reforms; the protests then spread throughout the country.

Had al-Assad responded with even the mildest offer of more participatory politics, he would have been hailed as a savior by a majority of Syrians. One of their main chants during the demonstrations was, “Silmiya, silmiya” (“Peaceful, peaceful”).

But al-Assad did not want to share power, and so he made sure that the protests were not peaceful. He had his soldiers open fire on and arrest nonviolent demonstrators, many of them Sunni Muslims. Over time, the peaceful, secular elements of the Syrian democracy movement were sidelined, as hardened Islamists began to spearhead the fight against al-Assad. In the process, the uprising was transformed into a naked, rule-or-die sectarian civil war between al-Assad’s Alawite Shiite forces and various Sunni jihadist groups.”

I was against the demonstrators in Portland, until I read a NYT comment by a 74 year old woman, retired educator, who testified that she witnessed the armed soldiers, our Federal soldiers, shoot into peacful demonstrators and beat some of them. She reported the vandalism was very limited.
Most of the week’s news has left me unexcited, but Thomas Friedman put my deepest concerns into words in this column, in which he wrote: “I have zero tolerance for any American protesters who resort to violence in any U.S. city, because it damages homes and businesses already hammered by the coronavirus — many of them minority-owned — and because violence will only turn off and repel the majority needed to drive change.
But when I heard Trump suggest, as he did in the Oval Office on Monday, that he was going to send federal forces into U.S. cities, where the local mayors have not invited him, the first word that popped into my head was “Syria.” “
The demonstrators should all go home and relax, unless they can figure out how to control their very few troublemakers with the fire crackers and stones.

Idlib Was Their Last Refuge. They Couldn’t Hide From the Bombs.The New York Times video

Idlib Was Their Last Refuge. They Couldn’t Hide From the Bombs.

Millions of Syrians have fled to Idlib Province seeking safety. During a rare reporting trip, The Times found that President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies are still bombing them.

Children Freeze to Death as Attack Prompts Largest Exodus of Syrian War – The New York Times

“REYHANLI, Turkey — The baby wasn’t moving. Her body had gone hot, then cold. Her father rushed her to a hospital, going on foot when he could not find a car, but it was too late.

At 18 months, Iman Leila had frozen to death.

In the half-finished concrete shell that had been home since they ran for their lives across northwest Syria, the Leila family had spent three weeks enduring nighttime temperatures that barely rose above 20.

“I dream about being warm,” Iman’s father, Ahmad Yassin Leila, said a few days later by phone. “I just want my children to feel warm. I don’t want to lose them to the cold. I don’t want anything except a house with windows that keeps out the cold and the wind.”

Ahmad Yassin Leila and his infant daughter Iman, who froze to death.

Syria’s uprising began in a flare of hope almost exactly nine years ago. Now, amid one of the worst humanitarian emergencies of the war, some of those who chanted for freedom and dignity in 2011 want only to ward off the winter cold.”

 

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
There is misery, suffering, blood and death on Trump’s hands. When he stabbed the Kurds in the back, by removing our small force that protected them from airstrikes from Russian and the Syrian government, he unleashed this terror on them and on our other allies in the area, the Syrian rebels, who I think, were being protected also by the military prowess of the Kurds. I am disgusted, and embarassed by our current president, and his subservience to Putin ofRussia, Bashar Al Assad of Syria, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey.

For Thousands of Years, Egypt Controlled the Nile. A New Dam Threatens That. – The New York Times

Ethiopia is staking its hopes on its $4.5 billion hydroelectric dam. Egypt fears it will cut into its water supplies. President Trump is mediating.

“MINYA, Egypt — The Egyptian farmer stood in his dust-blown field, lamenting his fortune. A few years ago, wheat and tomato-filled greenhouses carpeted the land. Now the desert was creeping in.

“Look,” he said, gesturing at the sandy soil and abandoned greenhouses. “Barren.”

The farmer, Hamed Jarallah, attributed his woes to dwindling irrigation from the overtaxed Nile, the fabled river at the heart of Egypt’s very identity. Already, the Nile is under assault from pollution, climate change and Egypt’s growing population, which officially hits 100 million people this month.

And now, Mr. Jarallah added, a fresh calamity loomed.

A colossal hydroelectric dam being built on the Nile 2,000 miles upriver, in the lowlands of Ethiopia, threatens to further constrict Egypt’s water supply — and is scheduled to start filling this summer.

“We’re worried,” he said. “Egypt wouldn’t exist without the Nile. Our livelihood is being destroyed, God help us.” “

Opinion | Mother Nature Scoffs at Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

By

Opinion Columnist

 

“TEL AVIV — To get a different perspective on the Trump-Kushner peace plan, I decided to call the best Middle East analyst I know. Her name is Mother Nature.

So, Mother Nature, what did you think of the Deal of the Century?

Well, Tom, not a lot. For starters, it mentioned me in only a few short sentences. Let me take you on a tour of the neighborhood, as I see it. Warning: My maps have no boundary lines, no walls — and no Areas A, B and C in the West Bank.

You can be sure that President Trump, who has declared climate change a hoax, has no idea that the Eastern Mediterranean has experienced drought conditions for 15 of the last 20 years, which is unparalleled in the modern historical record. A recent study by Tel Aviv University predicts that the Eastern Mediterranean will get steadily hotter and drier and gradually lose two months of winter — i.e., rainfall months — within the next 25 years. Meanwhile, in 1948 Israel’s population was 800,000. It’s now 8.7 million. Jordan’s was 450,000. It’s now 10 million. Syria’s was three million, and it’s now 17.5 million. So, the future is steadily more people and less water.

What are the implications?

Israel used to pump up to 500 million cubic meters of water a year out of the Sea of Galilee, a freshwater lake, to meet domestic needs, including for agricultural fields in the south of Israel, to turn the desert green. In 2018, Israel could pump out only 30 million cubic meters!

In the summer of 2018, the Sea of Galilee was so low from droughts and water withdrawals for rising populations that it was threatening to become another saline lake, like the Dead Sea. You remember that Jesus walked on water in the Sea of Galilee? Well, you could have done that, too, because it was so low that two islands were visible in the middle of the lake.”

Opinion | Suleimani Is Dead, Iraq Is in Chaos and ISIS Is Very Happy – By Ali H. Soufan – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Soufan is a former F.B.I. special agent and the author of “Anatomy of Terror.”

Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

“In 2016, Donald Trump, then a candidate for president, described Barack Obama as the “founder of ISIS.” In the end, it may be Mr. Trump who comes to be known not as the terrorist group’s founder, but as its savior.

The Islamic State has been weakened considerably since its peak in 2015, when it controlled a territory the size of Britain, but the Trump administration’s targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani may have poised the group for a comeback. Just as the misguided American invasion of Iraq in 2003 revitalized Al Qaeda, some 17 years later, a return to chaos in the same country may yet do the same for the Islamic State.

Granted, the White House was correct to identify General Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, as an enemy of the United States. Using the militia groups he cultivated and controlled, he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of coalition soldiers in the late 2000s and early 2010s. But war in the Middle East is nothing if not complex; General Suleimani’s proxies also indirectly served American interests by fighting the Islamic State — to great effect.

Still, contrary to the breathless eulogies to him in Iran, he was not some indispensable hero who single-handedly defeated the Islamic State. Other commanders will fill his shoes, if not in star power then at least in strategic expertise. The real boon for the jihadists will be the second-order effects of his death.

Opinion | John Kerry: Diplomacy Was Working Until Trump Abandoned It – The New York Times

“Let’s get one straw man out of the way. General Suleimani was a sworn, unapologetic enemy of the United States, a cagey field marshal who oversaw Iran’s long strategy to extend the country’s influence through sectarian proxies in the region. He won’t be mourned or missed by anyone in the West. Occasionally, when American and Iranian interests aligned, as they did in fighting ISIS, we were the serendipitous beneficiaries of his relationships and levers, as were the Iraqis. But this was a rare exception.

That underscores the tragic irony of Mr. Trump’s decision to abrogate the nuclear agreement: It played into General Suleimani’s hard-line strategy by weakening voices for diplomacy within the Tehran regime. What Iranian diplomat would be empowered by a skeptical supreme leader to explore de-escalation with a country that broke its word on a historic agreement and then, in their words, “martyred” arguably Iran’s second most powerful figure?

Presidents make lonely, difficult decisions about the use of force to protect our interests — usually with the solace of knowing at least that diplomacy had failed. The tragedy of our current plight is that diplomacy was succeeding before it was abandoned.”

Biden Says He Didn’t Oppose Raid That Killed Bin Laden – 10/20/2015- The New York Times

“When asked specifically whether he had advised against the raid, Mr. Biden said: “Let me put it this way: My advice was, follow your instincts, knowing what his instinct was.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden’s evolution continued. Before an audience at George Washington University, Mr. Biden said he never gave Mr. Obama definitive advice on controversial issues in front of other officials, mindful that he did not want the rest of the team to see a difference between his opinion and that of the president. With others around them, Mr. Biden said he suggested one more pass over the Abbottabad compound with an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone.

After the meeting in the Situation Room, though, Mr. Biden said he privately gave the president his real view. “As we walked out of the room and went upstairs, I told him my opinion, that I said that I thought he should go but to follow his own instincts,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday.”