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On Qatar in Libya 2, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa, Qatar.
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I’ve been so horrendously busy of late that I’ve not even had time to publicize my latest article on Qatar in Foreign Affairs. Thus far it’s got a lot of good comments, so thanks to all. And a quick thanks to the editors too who made it even snappier.

Gause on the Middle East 20, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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Gregory Gause has another excellent article, this time in Foreign Affairs discussing the rule of the Middle East. Here’s the key paragraph:

…the new administration needs to remind itself of the rules of the local game — the traditional contest for influence among regional states. It is played out more in political terms than in military ones, although the possibility of violence is never far. The players are the stronger regional powers (Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey) and the playing fields are the weaker powers (Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories) whose governments cannot prevent outsiders from interfering in domestic politics. The tools of influence are money, guns, and ideology — and the scorecard is judged by the political orientations of the weaker states.

By this metric, Iran is doing rather well. In Iraq, its influence is greater than that of any other regional power. Iran’s closest Iraqi ally, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, did not do well in recent provincial elections, but Tehran’s ties to the political party of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and to the Sadrist movement, a Shia party built around Muqtada al-Sadr — both of which fared better in provincial elections — remain strong. Meanwhile, Hamas, Iran’s longtime client, emerged from this winter’s war against Israeli forces in Gaza bloodied but unbowed, much as Iran’s ally Hezbollah did from its own war with Israel in 2006. Hamas and Hezbollah now dictate the course of politics in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, respectively — far more so than the central governments controlled by “moderate” Arabs with pro-Western inclinations.

To anyone with a fair knowledge of the Middle East, nothing that Gause says is particularly new. Rarely, however, is swathes of Middle Eastern history, politics, intrigue and modern-day machinations so well summarized.

Iconoclastic thinking 20, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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I have been a fan of John Mueller for a long time. Indeed, I tried (and failed miserably) to emulate his work in a dissertation of mine. Mueller is that rare thing in hyperbole-ridden the international politics/security discourse: a calm, rational, empirical, unflappable and iconoclastic analyst. In 2006, he wrote an excellent essay for Foreign Affairs which took the American Government, most academics along with mainstream thought to task over the implicitly accepted notion that America was in imminent danger from a terrorist attack. This was, and indeed still is, a difficult line to take. In the May 2009 edition of Foreign Affairs he uses that same kind of critical view-point to ask serious questions about Afghanistan. Would it immediately revert to an Al Qaeda strong hold if Western forces withdrew immediately? Mueller thinks not for a host of persuasive reasons that I don’t quite have time to go into, leaving you the only option of reading for yourself