Looking back, the events of September 2015 seem strangely unreal. Hundreds of Germans gathered at Munich’s central station to applaud incoming refugees. A smiling Merkel posed for selfies with Syrians at asylum-seeker homes, and ordinary Germans opened their doors for “welcome dinners”. I remember feeling both excited and a little nervous. Something extraordinary was happening and we were there to witness it first-hand ... Germany is [now] bitterly divided on the refugee question. Neighbours and families are divided. The poisonous atmosphere has been fuelled by rightwing hatemongers. But the adherents of the Willkommenskultur, in my view, are also to blame. Where did it all go wrong?Konstantin Richter writes in the Guardian on the fate of Germany's Willkommenskultur towards Syrian refugees. [more inside]
In the Atlantic's April cover story, Jeffrey Goldberg interviews President Obama about his foreign policy philosophy and ultimately, its lasting legacy. [more inside]
The Kurdish key - "Kurds are key to a Middle East solution as they hold the balance of power in Iraq and Syria, as well as being in the midst of an insurrection in Turkey. The US needs the Kurds as much as it needs the Turks in its efforts to defeat Isis." (also btw /r/Kurdistan: Who Exactly Are 'the Kurds'?; End Times for the Caliphate?)
What It's Like Experiencing Canada as a Refugee [video] “Amidst ongoing attacks from public figures such as Donald Trump, it's easy to forget that Syrians and other desperate refugees are, in fact, people. One person is pushing back and rolling out the red carpet: Kourosh Houshmand. [more inside]
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who built a barbed wire fence around his country to keep out the migrants, was also [at a Brussels summit]. He saw, and enjoyed, seeing [Angela] Merkel in a fix. He took the floor and said: "It is only a matter of time before Germany builds a fence. Then I'll have the Europe that I believe is right." Merkel said nothing at first, a person present at the meeting relates. Only later, after a couple other heads of government had their say, did Merkel turn to Orbán and say: "I lived behind a fence for too long for me to now wish for those times to return."-The Isolated Chancellor: What Is Driving Angela Merkel? by Markus Feldenkirchen and René Pfister of Der Spiegel.
A Syrian Refugee's first month in Canada Vanig Garabedian, 47, was on board the first government-organized flight of Syrian refugees to Canada on Dec. 10. He came with his wife Anjilik Jaghlassian and their daughters Sylvie and Lucie, 12, and Anna-Maria, 10. The very first people to leave the plane, the family’s arrival in Toronto was widely photographed, as was their meeting with the prime minister. One month later, Garabedian, an obstetrician/gynecologist for 15 years in Aleppo, has settled into an apartment in the suburbs of Toronto.
NATO-Russia Tensions Rise After Turkey Downs Jet [The New York Times]
Two big powers supporting different factions in the Syrian civil war clashed with each other on Tuesday when Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane that Turkey said had strayed into its airspace. The tensions immediately took on Cold War overtones when Russia rejected Turkey’s claim and Ankara responded by asking for an emergency NATO meeting, eliciting more Russian anger and ridicule. After the meeting, the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, called for “calm and de-escalation” and said the allies “stand in solidarity with Turkey.”[more inside]
Why Turkey is bombing the Kurds more than Islamic State - "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bombing campaign — capitalizing on the nationalist, anti-Kurd sentiment that has been steadily growing inside Turkey — could help him regain his AKP party's absolute majority in parliament now that coalition talks have failed and snap elections are likely." [more inside]
Historians of war and society would like to believe that military conflicts have fixed beginnings and ends. Conventional depictions of the Lebanese civil war are no exception and typically confine that conflict within the notional temporal parameters of 1975–90. But the key aggravating features generally identified with the events of the Lebanese civil war—class resentments, echoes of the Arab-Israeli conflict on a regional scale, domestic geographical inequalities, sectarian rancor, and political infighting across the Lebanese scene—had been accumulating since 1948, and even earlier. [more inside]
In terms of sheer devastation, Syria today is worse off than Germany at the end of World War II. [more inside]
Women of the Islamic State: A manifesto on women by the Al-Khanssaa Brigade is a manifesto by women, for women "that aims to clarify the realities of life and the hallowed existence of women in the Islamic State, in Iraq and in al- Sham, and to refute the rumours that detractors advance against it." [more inside]
President Obama will announce today that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is submitting his resignation. According to the New York Times, "The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ." [more inside]
It sounds like a jet approaching, and all of you, for a matter of instants, stare at one another, your words stifled in your mouths; but it’s only a gate that slides and shuts. A hatchet chopping firewood is a burst from a Kalashnikov; the step of a woman’s heel, a sniper shot. We look normal, in Aleppo. Fear is a cancer that wears us out only from within. [more inside]
The militant Sunni group Isis has said it is establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria. This is not the first border we will break, we will break other borders," its spokesman warns. Standing on a border sign he threatens to "break the borders" of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. [more inside]
And if a series of well-timed massacres by the regime would provoke outrage in the West, Assad also knew that images of carnage would cause Gulf states to arm the Islamist opposition and escalate the sectarian warfare. This was his strategy: to make intervention so unpalatable that the international community would take no steps to alter the course of the conflict. “These jihadists who have come in, largely courtesy of private Gulf money, these are his enemies of choice,” says Frederic C. Hof, the Obama administration’s former envoy to the Syrian opposition and currently a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “I call it a coalition of co-dependency.” - An in-depth piece in The New Republic Examines Bashar Al Assad
A Plea for Caution From Russia (SLNYT) My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Since the end of March, the Wall Street Journal's new Middle East Real Time blog has written about Turkey's "unstoppable" export boom in soap operas, Saudi Arabia's "life after jihad" rehab program, the persistence of obviously fraudulent bomb detectors across Iraq, YouTube branding discussions among Syrian rebel factions, a rising media star Sunni cleric in Lebanon, a post-revolutionary Cairo arts festival, and attempts to overcome conservative objections and change the Saudi Thursday-Friday weekend to match the rest of the business world. Previous non-paywalled WSJ Real Time blogs include Korea, China, Canada, India, Brussels, Emerging Europe, Japan.
Murder Update: "Syria's Lebanese allies are trying to undermine the Hariri investigation from within, and are expected to escalate their efforts very soon, maybe even this week."
The Salvador Option --sending Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, in imitation of our actions in El Salvador. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. More here, including this: In Iraq, in fact, as in many other places where the United States has tried to train ethical armies to fight dirty wars, the Iraqi troops are tacitly expected to do what American troops won’t. A fundamental purpose of the upcoming elections on January 30 is to create democratic legitimacy for whatever extreme measures the newly organized military decides to take.
Is Syria next? Or understanding the Syria Accountability Act. Interesting criticisms by Rep. David E. Price, who voted for it but with certain reservations here.
Official confirms that Syria allowing Qaida to operate in Lebanon Ok Israeli intelligence so I assume some will dismiss this as propaganda, though clearly US knows of this and works along with Israeli intelligence. And Syria occupies Lebanon with thousands of troops and thus runs the country. Meanwhile, we will (or will not) busy ourselves with Iraq.
Syria takes over Security Council rotating presidency Now at long last we can get some good moral leadership. This is the same international organization of Truth, Peace, Justice that does not allow Israel a chance to join the rotating chair. Go ahead, flail me with posts, but kind of an organization is this?
Middle East war predictions "..what we are witnessing looks like joint preparations by the Palestinian Authority, Syria, its Lebanese client, Iraq, and Iran, for war on a regional scale, against both Israel and U.S. interests. I fear we may face a major, sudden, external assault on Israel, meant to precede U.S. action against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, and indeed prevent the U.S. from going there by enmiring it in the defence of Israel. [From The Ottowa Citizen, lead link in today's Wall Street Journal Best of the Web]
Syria on brink over conflict with Lebanon Our good friends on the far Left never address this other occupation in the Middle East, an occupation that is not the Israelis in Palestinian lands; and our policy makers in Washington almost never discuss the issue either, but to the people who live in Lebanon it is their country that for many years has been occupied by some 35 thousand man army of Syrians against their will. And it is beginning to anger them.