The Weird Worries of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi speaks with Russian president Vladimir Putin at his country residence outside Moscow, September 12, 2013
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi speaks with Russian president Vladimir Putin at his country residence outside Moscow, September 12, 2013 (Kremlin)

There he is again, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, stirring up all sorts of trouble on the global stage.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, has been putting his fingers into too many pies lately. From mercenaries in Yemen to bombing runs in Libya to cozying up to Israelis, the UAE’s supreme commander defies just about every Middle Eastern geopolitical stereotype. He is no flag-burning theocrat, nor a chest-thumping Arab nationalist: he’ll kill jihadists, Muslim Brothers and Ba’athists equally, given the chance. (And torture Emirati liberals for good measure.)

Now he’s been caught up in the middle of the Russia-Trump spy affair. Read more “The Weird Worries of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed”

Donald Trump is Going to Love Egypt’s Dictator

Vladimir Putin Abdul Fatah Sisi
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi of Egypt tour the Russian missile cruiser Moskva in Sochi, August 12, 2014 (Kremlin)

Call a spade a spade: Abdul Fatah al-Sisi is as much a president, with its democratic connotations, as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Egypt now rates a dismal 26 from 100 on Freedom House’s Freedom Index, just behind Qatar and barely above dysfunctional Iraq.

Some may quibble that Sisi is more a “strongman” than a dictator; in terms of political outcomes, that’s the difference between holding rigged elections and having no elections at all.

And now al-Sisi is coming to kiss the Trump ring. Read more “Donald Trump is Going to Love Egypt’s Dictator”

How Climate Change Will Be the Biggest Geopolitical Crisis of the Century

Russian Arctic tanker
A United States Coast Guard icebreaker escorts a Russian tanker through the Bering Strait, January 6, 2012 (Coast Guard)

America is out of the environmental protection businesses; so says the haughty God-Emperor Donald Trump, whose word is apparently law.

Too bad even god-emperors cannot change facts. Too bad, especially, for the billions who are almost certain to be disrupted, displaced and decimated by the looming geopolitical effects of climate change.

That basic truth is denied heartily by many who have incentive to play games for short-term gain. These are old-school industrial concerns, for whom environmental regulation hammers a bottom line; alt-right, alt-truthers, for whom simple science is a threat to their incoherent worldview; and shattered working classes, seeking a simple scapegoat for the complicated story of their economic dissolution and disenfranchisement. Read more “How Climate Change Will Be the Biggest Geopolitical Crisis of the Century”

The Forces Shaping the French Election: Populism, Pride and Prejudice

Elysée Palace Paris France
The gate of the Elysée Palace, the residence of the French president, in Paris, June 1, 2013 (Nicolas Nova)

And why is it so critical? Nothing less than the European Union is at stake — and with it, the geopolitical contract that has bound Germany and France together since World War II.

After the defeat of anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders early this month in the Netherlands, it is reasonable to ask if populism as shaped by the alt-right has hit its limit. Europeans have watched the confusion in Britain over Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. Now they are revisiting both their Euroskepticism and their willingness to gamble on ideologies not yet fully tested.

Yet France is subject to powerful forces quite different than the Netherlands, which has only a fraction of its population and international obligations. A large, unassimilated Muslim and African population simmers; an aging, conservative voter base roils; a discredited, weakened left wavers; and nobody knows what to do with the neoliberal threads that hold together the European Union yet impoverish just about anyone not in the upper classes. Read more “The Forces Shaping the French Election: Populism, Pride and Prejudice”

The Global History of the Alt-Right

Marine Le Pen Geert Wilders
French and Dutch nationalist party leaders Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders in The Hague, November 13, 2013 (AP/Peter Dejong)

When I was a teenager, I had to drive my older brother to downtown Phoenix. He couldn’t drive himself; he’d made a series of poor life choices, so it fell to me, the relatively responsible one, to ferry him about.

As we drove, he ranted to me about blacks, Mexicans and Jews, using all the tried and true tropes of the traditional white-supremacist right — tossing in, for my “education,” that the Bible had given blacks over to whites as slave-animals. When we pulled up to our destination, a Mexican guy was hanging out on the Phoenix equivalent of a stoop; my brother would have to pass by the guy. I asked him, in that teenaged point-blank manner, what he thought of the man.

“Oh no,” my brother replied. “He’s one of the good ones.” Switching off from racist extraordinaire, he proceeded to carry out his errand and have a light, polite chat with the very man whose race he’d spent much of our journey together trashing.

It was my first encounter with the doublethink that would swirl to become the alt-right. Read more “The Global History of the Alt-Right”

America Has No Deep State. Egypt Helps Prove It

View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, September 28, 2017
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, September 28, 2017 (Ted Eytan)

It’s become the phrase of the week: the deep state, a cabal of anti-Trump ideologues seeking a coup against a democratically-elected president hiding within the warrens of the CIA, State Department and any other agency that can be labeled as “shadowy”.

The reputed deep state is the boogeyman of the Trumpistas frustrated that their president is unable to enact his agenda instantly and without opposition. Read more “America Has No Deep State. Egypt Helps Prove It”

The Future of the Middle East is Turkey, Iran and Islamic Socialism

Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders is shown a map of Turkey in Ankara, January 6, 2015
Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders is shown a map of Turkey in Ankara, January 6, 2015 (BZ/Aad Meijer)

It may not seem it, what with the Islamic State’s suicide bombers lashing out, Israeli soldiers shooting wounded Palestinians and the war in Yemen grinding on, but the Middle East’s broad new outlines are starting to show.

They appear in front of the Turkish tanks on their way to Raqqa; in the brightly-lit press conferences of the White House; in the ballot printing factories of Tehran and in the banks of Dubai.

They are both a return to history and step further into it. Nation states founded on the borders of great empires are reasserting themselves and the assault on neoliberal economics will give way to Islamist socialism. Read more “The Future of the Middle East is Turkey, Iran and Islamic Socialism”

Syria’s Endgame

It has taken at least 400,000 dead and over ten million internally and externally displaced Syrians, but we are finally coming to the end game of the Syrian Civil War.

Last week, Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan blithely announced in a news conference that Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State, would be the final target of the Turkish invasion.

Today, Pentagon sources leaked that the United States might send large combat forces into Syria.

This comes on the heels of talks between Iran, Turkey and Russia aimed at ending the conflict.

At long last, a confluence of interest is emerging that is the beginning of the end of the Syrian Civil War. Read more “Syria’s Endgame”