Connecting the Dots
March 28, 2015 12:15 PM   Subscribe

With all the upheaval in the skies and on the ground, here is one person's opinion on why the U.S. is fighting beside Iran in Iraq and against it in Yemen. Putin tells Iran that an immediate ceasefire is needed in Yemen. All the while...negotiators from six world powers (the P5+1) are attempting to strike a deal with Iran to restrict its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. As Iran nuclear talks 'enter endgame' in Switzerland...China and Russia say they will show up tomorrow. Keeping things cloaked in intrigue: the US accuses Israel of spying on nuclear talks with Iran and Putin says Western spies plot against Russia before polls, blurs the picture further.
posted by Emor (57 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The Great Game March Madness Edition!
posted by srboisvert at 12:18 PM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

So this diagram is actually very clear?
posted by infini at 12:33 PM on March 28, 2015

So this diagram is actually very clear?

Attributed to Here's the actual source (kind of interactive, even).

(he's pretty good at graphs. I liked the powerful one in this article, which illustrates why opinions are bad and should be banned: "If you have two opinions, it means 50% of them are wrong. If you have three, then 66% of them are wrong, and if you have four, then 75% of them are wrong. It is clear that more opinions mean more falsehoods and untruths.")
posted by effbot at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Right! Dominating the Middle East is Turkey's job!
posted by 1adam12 at 1:22 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

effbot, good thing you found the URL in the bottom right hand corner of the image, then!
posted by infini at 1:26 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

This all reminds me of a time where my company was negotiating a deal with a much larger company.

"But why would they deal with us, when they have this other division that already does what we do?"

"It's a big company. Its individual parts operate with their own agendas. They're so big, this kind of right-hand-left-hand dissonance doesn't really matter."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:34 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a great report on Kobane: "No land, no home." (graphic)
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:20 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

the US accuses Israel of spying on nuclear talks with Iran

Remember the issue here isn't the spying, that's expected, it's that (ignore the denials of this) Israel took what they learned and tried to undermine the executive branch of the federal government by going directly to members of Congress with this information in an attempt to sabotage any deal.

The current government of Israel has basically aligned themselves with the Republican party. This is going to prove to be a huge mistake. They had both parties in their pocket before, and most Americans had no problem with that. Once you decide to turn an issue partisan though, none of the details matter, you have just sacrificed a huge amount of support in the pure two party American political theater. It would be a good move if it meant preserving the safety of Israel, but to win an election for one politician....Wow just such a mistake.

I don't understand American opposition to a deal with Iran. We don't have anything to lose. We will still be watching them closely and can do the insane "Bomb Iran" plans if they don't honor their side. What do we have to lose by TRYING to shake some hands instead of continuing a pointless history of back and forth opposition between us? I can't think of any other two countries that both have legitimate beefs with each other but who both could gain so much by burying them. Maybe India and Pakistan.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:33 PM on March 28, 2015

Oops I kind of borked the link. This is it: "No land, no home." (graphic)
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:48 PM on March 28, 2015

This Land Is Mine

(applies equally anywhere wars are fought)
posted by Drinky Die at 2:55 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's not who we're fighting against, it's who we're fighting for.

The US has three basic political priorities in the Middle East: support Israel, keep the Saudis friendly, and preserve some semblance of the 2004 Iraqi constitution and political order. Everything else does -- and, realistically, probably should, come secondary.

Israel on balance prefers Saudi to Iranian suzerainty, and the Saudis definitely don't want a radical Shiite rebel movement controlling a thousand miles of desert border with them ... so the position in Yemen is almost self-evident.

But getting back to Iraq -- there basically is no way to prevent ISIS from dismembering Iraq without a professional led and supported Shiite militia component of the defense, or a US ground division getting its boots back on the sand ... and that leadership and support simply can't be provided by anyone but Iran, and nobody in the US wants to send a division back there. I'm sure the Saudis and Isrealis don't like it, but they can't provide that leadership and support themselves, and they each want ISIS neutralized for their own reasons, so the awkwardness doesn't arouse any opposition.
posted by MattD at 3:18 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

@borzou: "In epic remarks, Kuwait emir attempts to bury last four years of Arab political turmoil as disaster"
In his speech before the Arab Summit, Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah said that Arab leaders are meeting "four years after our region has experienced a stage of chaos and instability, which some called it the Arab Spring," adding that some imagined that it would change "the geography of the Arab World."
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:54 PM on March 28, 2015

All parties involved should cease fire, group together and invade the shit out of Liechtenstein.

They'd never expect it, the war would last twenty minutes, and everyone would go home feeling good about their victory and would be more relaxed and ready to negotiate.

We could slip Liechtenstein a couple of hundred bucks afterwards for the inconvenience.
posted by delfin at 4:12 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bwithh: "In both Persian and Arabic, this phrase - "God Willing!" is ubiquitous and everyday and has an ambiguous and/or context-based meaning/function"

Literally used to take information from a local mosque for our "religious services times/places" newspaper listing, and every time I'd say, "Great, thank you so much, that'll run in our Thursday and Friday editions," he'd be like "Insha'Allah!" The first two times I felt like, "Does he think I'm a flake who won't follow through so he has to be like '... sure, if God wills it'?" but then I realized it was just like, "Oh, great!" or "Looking forward to it!" or "Thanks for your help!" or "This is a future event that I look forward to occurring because the universe is in the merciful hands of Allah!" In my defense, I was like 19 and at Catholic college. In these people's defense, they're dumb.

Anyway anyone who thinks John Kerry is a crypto-Muslim because he said "Insha'Allah" needs to leave their house more.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:23 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

effbot, good thing you found the URL in the bottom right hand corner of the image, then!

Yeah, otherwise I wouldn't have had a good excuse to link to that blog which I found pretty entertaining. Also, interactivity!

(PS. There's also a 3-D version.)
posted by effbot at 4:30 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wonder if someone in the Delegation muttered "Skull and Bone" by accident.

"so the position in Yemen is almost self-evident."

I have to agree, the matter know is how. The Saudis used other forces in conjunction with their forces in previous engagements. If the Eygptians send in armor, well.
posted by clavdivs at 4:31 PM on March 28, 2015

Reuters - Turkey's Erdogan says can't tolerate Iran bid to dominate Middle East

Hey, Erdogan: Iran's only 51% Persian.

You can 1. stop being shitty to the Kurds, and the Mullahs will start feeling hot under the collar about their Kurdish minority.

You can 2. stop being a chickenshit bastard on general principle, and the Mullahs will start feeling hot under the collar about their Azeri minority.

Or, I know, you can do both! Won't that be awesome?
posted by ocschwar at 4:33 PM on March 28, 2015

@NegarMortazavi: "Iranian student in Switzerland just saw John Kerry buying chocolate. Asked him about #IranTalks. He said: Inshallah!"
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:41 PM on March 28, 2015

I like you, John Kerry.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:46 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Chechen Wars Cast a Long Shadow
According to Mark Galeotti’s new book Russia’s Wars in Chechnya 1994–2009, it’s “worth questioning just how much of a victory this really was for Moscow.”

Galeotti is a Russian security analyst and professor at New York University. In the book, he asks — the terrible cost in lives and wealth aside, just what kind of bargain did Moscow make with Grozny to end the conflict?

That is, if the war ever really ended.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:56 PM on March 28, 2015

"Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that military operations against Yemen would only lead to further destabilization of the region."
posted by clavdivs at 5:45 PM on March 28, 2015

The Master Plan.
posted by clavdivs at 6:05 PM on March 28, 2015

Gary Brecher, aka "The War Nerd," has a new and fascinating piece up over at PandoDaily: A Brief History Of The Yemen Clusterfuck (March 28, 2015)

... The real action moved up north to Houthi territory, where Nasser, hope of the Arab world in the 1960s, decided that a modern, Arab-nationalist regime in Yemen would be a big move for him, Egypt, and the Arabs.

Arabs were getting very “modern” at that time. It’s important to remember that. You know why they stopped getting modern, and started getting interested in reactionary, Islamist repression?

Because the modernizing Arabs were all killed by the US, Britain, Israel, and the Saudis.

That was what happened in the North Yemen Civil War, from 1962-1967. After a coup, Nasser backed modernist Yemeni officers against the new Shia ruler. The Saudis might not have liked Shia, but they hated secularist, modernizing nationalists much more. At least the Northern Shia kings ruled by divine right and invoked Allah after their heretical fashion. That was much better, to the Saudi view, than a secular Yemen.

And the west agreed. To the Americans of that time, “secular” sounded a little bit commie. To the British, it sounded anti-colonial and unprofitable. To the Israelis, it raised the horrible specter of an Arab world ruled by effective 20th-century executives. States like that might become dangerous enemies, while an Arab world stuck in religious wars, dynastic feuds, and poverty sounded wonderful.


So the West put its weapons and its money in on the side of “Allah and the Emir” over and over again, against every single faction trying to make a modern, secular Arab world, whether on the Nasserite, Ba’athist, Socialist, Communist, or other model.

It worked very well . . . or badly, if you prefer. It left Yemen festering, like most of the Arab world, with a weak royalist regime in the north and an even weaker socialist state in Aden. In 1990, after the collapse of the USSR, that southern Yemen state dissolved, taking the last of its fading “socialist” posters and slogans with it. Yemen was reunited, in theory; a poor, sectarian, anti-modern nightmare state.

posted by Auden at 7:06 PM on March 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

Turkey is a fascist power, recognize, it just is, who's abruptly aligned with Russia, another fascist power.

Iran is an immense, populous nation where the religious authoritarians are ever more ineffectual and sidelined further with each election.

Israel has all of .5 seconds to recognize which way the wind is blowing. Congress can't help Bibi now. Iran buying on secured credit a fleet of Abrams M1 tanks in exchange for giving up the nukes in 3... 2... 1...

And the House of Saud will be all sad faced. Was it the skyscrapers falling in New York that made the Americans upset? Can we do that over with people not from our country? Yes, the new Not-Rebublican president made the US the largest oil producer in the world, but we're all still BFF's? Right? Blow some more shit up in Yemen, please?

Iran and the USA. Aligned against Russia, as Iran demands more democracy, and the Theocracy is either too corrupt or stupid to stop it.

Iran does subtle better than we do. The Grownups now in charge in DC get this.

Interesting times.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:33 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Saudi-Iran powerplay behind the Yemen conflict
The problem is, however, that fear of Iran is clouding Saudi Arabia’s judgment. Iran is not the root cause of the conflict in Yemen, and bombing the country is not “standing up to Iran”; it is plunging the country further into violence and chaos. Unless bombing is used circumspectly as a tool to bring Houthis to the negotiating table, it is unlikely to have any positive impact on the situation in Yemen.

Seeing the spectre of Iran behind all the challenges that it faces in the Middle East reduces Saudi Arabia’s capacity to make sound strategic assessments of the state of play in the region. Iran did not orchestrate the uprisings in Bahrain; local oppressed Bahrainis genuinely came together to call for more rights. And Iran did not create the militias in Iraq; Iraqi Shias voluntarily joined militias in order to defend themselves and their country. Iran seeks to exploit areas where it believes it can expand, and works to bolster local actors who are pursuing genuine grievances so as to increase its own power, influence and leverage. Further oppressing those actors is not the answer.

If Saudi Arabia genuinely wants to undercut Iran’s influence in the Middle East, it must acknowledge and address the pain and suffering of marginalised groups across the Middle East. Giving them their rights and bringing them to the negotiating table is the best way to insulate them from Iranian influence.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:13 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

World War Next, Heaven knows, insh'Allah, auditioning now in the mid-East.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:57 PM on March 28, 2015

A Brief History Of The Yemen Clusterfuck (March 28, 2015)

Pretty good article, but what? It's much more the right that calls them the voice of Muslim people.

Leftists demand respect for fascist thugs like Islamic State, as if they were the voice of the Muslim people.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:34 AM on March 29, 2015

Pretty good article, but what?

Well, there are these guys: "It goes without saying that we internationalist communists are die-hard enemies of the ultra-reactionary social and political program of ISIS [...] But ISIS today is in battle against the local tools of U.S. imperialism, the main enemy of the world’s working people. A setback for the U.S. in Syria might give pause to Washington in its military adventures, including by encouraging opposition at home. Such opposition adds to the tinder that must be ignited in class struggle against the capitalist rulers who, in their quest for ever greater profits, beat down the workers, black people and immigrants."
posted by effbot at 7:59 AM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, I always forget that "leftists" means crazy marxists.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:49 AM on March 29, 2015

effbot, is that satire? That's really pushing towards Poe's law.
posted by ocschwar at 9:14 AM on March 29, 2015

"...always forget that "leftists" means crazy marxists."

Nono, "troubled theorists"
posted by clavdivs at 12:27 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

The battle for the Middle East's future begins in Yemen as Saudi Arabia jumps into the abyss
But the closer a nuclear deal comes between the US and Iran, the more forcefully their partners in the Arab world will push their cards. What provoked the Saudis into their extraordinary adventure in Yemen was not the approach of Houthis towards Aden but the approach of US-Iranian agreement at Lausanne.
posted by xqwzts at 4:05 AM on March 30, 2015

Reuters - Iran seeks nuclear deal but not normal ties with 'Great Satan'
Loyalists of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, drawn from among Islamists and Revolutionary Guards who fear continued economic hardship might cause the collapse of the establishment, have agreed to back President Hassan Rouhani’s pragmatic readiness to negotiate a nuclear deal, Iranian officials said.

"But it will not go beyond that and he (Khamenei) will not agree with normalizing ties with America," said an official, who spoke in condition of anonymity.

"You cannot erase decades of hostility with a deal. We should wait and see, and Americans need to gain Iran’s trust. Ties with America is still a taboo in Iran.”
posted by rosswald at 10:28 AM on March 30, 2015

The Case for Disengagement in the Middle East (The Nation)

The Weirdness of Ross Douthat's Pax Americana
Douthat builds his argument on a distinction between a “Pax Americana system” that he clearly favors, which implies a robust American presence in the region and the use or threat of military force to influence events, versus the “offshore balancing system” that the Obama administration allegedly prefers. This would entail a significantly lighter American footprint in which Washington would influence the region and ensure a favorable political order from the outside, only intervening against terrorists and nuclear proliferators. Let me reiterate that I do not believe the White House wants the United States to be an offshore balancer; it is more likely they do not know what they want. They seem to be merely trying to keep up with events. That said, given Washington’s tragic encounter with the Middle East over the last decade and a bit, Douthat’s idea of a Pax Americana is, well, odd.

I don’t know Douthat and I don’t know where he has been, but he seems to forget that even during the era of undisputed American dominance of the Middle East—from March 1991 until March 2003—it was often difficult for Washington to drive events in the region. The United States failed to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis, failed to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear technology or Syria from supporting terrorist organizations, and failed to transform Hosni Mubarak into a democrat. The fantasy of Douthat’s Pax Americana is the idea that people in the Middle East do not have the ability to calculate their own interests and pursue their own politics even in the face of Washington’s “overwhelming military might.” His imaginary Middle East is even stranger given the invasion of Iraq, which sapped American power, destroyed a major Middle Eastern state, and handed the country over to Washington’s archenemy in the region, Tehran. Debates about whether he could have gotten a Status of Forces Agreement aside, Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq was likely too hasty, but the truth of the matter is Iraq was broken (irreparably) and American influence in the region was on the wane when President Obama was still State Senator Obama.
The Method to Obama’s Middle East Mess (Douthat)
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:29 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

How does Iran's theocrat class maintain power, when (I'm guessing) most Iranians would prefer a secular government?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:57 PM on March 30, 2015

fff, my guess would be the Council of Guardians arm of the government.
posted by Emor at 6:18 PM on March 30, 2015

Putin In Egypt: Hero’s Welcome A ‘Slap In The Face’ For Washington and he presented Mr Sisi with a Kalashnikov AK-47 rifle when he arrived.
posted by Emor

US releases military aid to Egypt, cites national security
posted by rosswald at 12:05 PM on March 31, 2015

Hackers, Corporate Spies Targeted by Obama Sanctions Order
That will let the Treasury Department freeze the assets of people, companies or other entities overseas identified as the source of cybercrimes. The federal government also will be able to bar U.S. citizens and companies from doing business with those targeted for sanctions.
posted by Emor at 9:01 AM on April 1, 2015

Souciant: Iran in Yemen
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:39 PM on April 2, 2015

I liked that Souciant link, this part in particular:
The Houthis began exploring ties with Tehran in order to better leverage themselves against Hadi’s US-Saudi backing. However, it is wildly misleading for commentators to argue that the group is a reflection of Iranian ambitions in the region. Until a few years ago, the Houthis had nothing to do with Iran. Iran only entered the conflict much later. In a December 2009 cable, Embassy Sana’a is still uncertain:
“Little is clear about the Houthi leadership, aside from the fact that Abdulmalik al-Houthi is the rebel group’s current leader. Houthi field commanders do not seem to agree on key ideological and religious principles. The Houthis’ numbers range from the hundreds to the thousands, though it is difficult to determine how many of these adhere to Houthi ideology and how many are tribesmen who have joined the Houthis’ fight for other reasons.”
The cable is also critical of the Houthis for a number of important reasons, including its use of child soldiers. Broadly, it suggests that international actors are perfectly aware that their rhetoric about the Houthis being ‘Iran-backed militants’ is misleading. They are perfectly aware that the group’s evolution over the past decade warrants more subtlety. They are perfectly aware that the Houthis are a tribal-religious alliance reacting to decades of marginalization, and a long list of transgressions by the central government.

It seems that the coalition involved in Operation Decisive Storm doesn’t really care. The war in Yemen is being used for geostrategic considerations that have little to do with the country, such as the legitimacy crisis faced by Sisi’s Egypt, and King Salman’s Saudi Arabia. It doesn’t matter if Iran is backing the Houthis or not. The war’s sheer hypocrisy, and seemingly misguided strategic goals, are the result of a new generation of cynical elites attempting to consolidate their regional power. The alleged schemes that are being hatched in Tehran are secondary.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:52 PM on April 2, 2015

Related: Iran Agrees to Framework of Nuclear Deal
Negotiators said they had reached a surprisingly specific and comprehensive understanding about limiting Iran’s nuclear program, but that some issues need to be resolved before a final agreement in June.
posted by Fizz at 4:26 PM on April 2, 2015

President Obama’s full remarks announcing a ‘framework’ for a nuclear deal with Iran
The core of its reactor at Arak will be dismantled and replaced. The spent fuel from that facility will be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor.
Where will it go?
posted by Emor at 8:57 AM on April 3, 2015

Where will it go?

The official statement only says "will be exported". I have no idea if/when the full agreement will be released.
posted by effbot at 9:58 AM on April 3, 2015

A while back they were saying Russia.
From the BBC November 25, 2014:

Iran is reportedly offering to freeze the current number of operating centrifuges for three to seven years. After that, it argues, there must be sufficient enrichment capacity to produce fuel for the Bushehr power plant when its fuel supply agreement with Russia expires in 2021.


In return, Iran says it would ship almost all its stock of low-enriched uranium to Russia and accept more intrusive inspections by the IAEA.

The P5+1 has noted that Russia, which recently agreed to build two new reactors in Iran, is prepared to supply fuel for Bushehr for its lifetime.
posted by Emor at 10:16 AM on April 3, 2015

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