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Is Saudi Arabia the Middle East’s Next Failed State?

Is Saudi Arabia the Middle East’s Next Failed State?

Ibn Khaldun—the famous Tunisian historian, geographer and social theorist—believed that decadence leads to collapse for Muslim dynasties. Such a scenario may be playing out with the Saudis, reports Daniel Lazare.


Reports are growing that Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s hyperactive crown prince, is losing his grip. His economic reform program has stalled since his father, King Salman, nixed plans to privatize 5 percent of Saudi Aramco. The Saudi war in Yemen, which the prince launched in March 2015, is more of a quagmire than ever while the kingdom’s sword rattling with Iran is making the region increasingly jumpy.

Heavy gunfire in Riyadh last April sparked rumors that MBS, as he’s known, had been killed in a palace coup. In May, an exiled Saudi prince urged top members of the royal family to oust him and put an end to his “irrational, erratic, and stupid” rule. Recently, Bruce Riedel, an ex-CIA analyst who heads up the Brookings Institution’s Intelligence Project, reported that the prince is so afraid for his life that he’s taken to spending nights on his yacht in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

A statue of Ibn Khaldun in Tunis, Tunisia. (Kassus / Wikimedia)

Channeling Ibn Khaldun

What does it all mean? The person to ask is Ibn Khaldun, the famous Tunisian historian, geographer, and social theorist. You might have trouble getting him on the phone, though, since he died in 1406. But he’s still the single best guide to the deepening Saudi crisis.

If you do somehow channel him, the message might be grim. In a nutshell, it’s that if MBS goes, he’ll likely take the Al-Saud with him, and that the people waiting in the wings will not be the “moderates” beloved of Washington, but ISIS and al-Qaida. A modern state bristling with shopping malls, superhighways, and high-tech weaponry thus will succumb to a ragtag militia riding Toyota pickups and waving AK-47s.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Corporate Media’s About-Face on Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis

Corporate Media’s About-Face on Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis

U.S. corporate media spent years dismissing the role of neo-Nazis in Ukraine’s 2014 coup but it is suddenly going through a conversion, as Daniel Lazare reports.


Last month a freelance journalist named Joshua Cohen published an article in The Washington Post about the Ukraine’s growing neo-Nazi threat.  Despite a gratuitous swipe at Russia for allegedly exaggerating the problem (which it hasn’t), the piece was fairly accurate.

Entitled “Ukraine’s ultra-right militias are challenging the government to a showdown,” it said that fascists have gone on a rampage while the ruling clique in Kiev closes its eyes for the most part and prays that the problem somehow goes away on its own.

Thus, a group calling itself C14 (for the fourteen-word ultra-right motto, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”) not only beat up a socialist politician and celebrated Hitler’s birthday by stabbing an antiwar activist, but bragged about it on its website.  Other ultra-nationalists, Cohen says, have stormed the Lvov and Kiev city councils and “assaulted or disrupted” art exhibits, anti-fascist demos, peace and gay-rights events, and a Victory Day parade commemorating the victory over Hitler in 1945.

Yet nothing has happened to stop this.  President Petro Poroshenko could order a crackdown, but hasn’t for reasons that should be obvious.  The U.S.-backed “Euromaidan” uprising not only drove out former president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, who had won an OSCE-certified election, but tore the country in two, precisely because ultra-rightists like C14 were in the lead.

When resistance to the U.S.-backed coup broke out in Crimea and parts of the country’s largely Russian-speaking east, the base of Yanukovych voters, civil war ensued.  But because the Ukrainian army had all but collapsed, the new, coup government had no one to rely on other than the neo-fascists who had helped propel it to power.

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War Fever

War Fever

There is a fever that seizes this land from time to time and it is the fever of war, a condition that this time seems immune to all known cures, starting with reason, as Daniel Lazare explores. 


What happens when an unthinkable war meets an unbeatable case of war fever?  Thanks to Russia-gate, unsubstantiated reports about the use of poison gas in Syria, and a slew of similar factoids and pseudo-scandals, the world may soon find out.

In saner times, including during the Cold War at even its most heated, political leaders knew not to push a conflict with a rival nuclear power too far.  After all, what was the point of getting into a fight in which everyone would lose?

Cooler heads thus prevailed in Washington while more excitable sorts were shipped off to where they could do no harm.  This is what kept the peace during the U-2 affair, the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban missile crisis and what promised to continue doing so even after the advent of American “unipolarity” in 1989-92.

But that was then.  Today, the question is no longer how to avoid a fight that can only lead to catastrophe, but how to avoid a showdown with a country that “in the past four years has annexed Crimea, intervened in eastern Ukraine, sought to influence the American election in 2016, allegedly poisoned a former Russian spy living in Britain and propped up the murderous government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria,” to quote the bill of indictment in a recent front-page article in The New York Times.

Given that the list of alleged atrocities expands with virtually each passing week, the answer, increasingly, is: no way, no how.  Since Russia is bent on spreading “conflict and discord” throughout the west – if only in the eyes of the U.S., that is – confrontation grows more and more likely.

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NYT’s Assault on Press Freedom 

NYT’s Assault on Press Freedom 

Exclusive: The New York Times, which once postured as the champion of a free press, now is seeking crackdowns on news that the public gets from the Internet under the guise of combatting “Russian propaganda,” explains Daniel Lazare.


Once upon a time the danger to a free press came from the right. But since Russia-gate, liberals have been busy playing catch-up.

The New York Times building in Manhattan. (Photo credit: Robert Parry)

The latest example is a front-page article in Tuesday’s New York Times. Entitled “YouTube Gave Russian Outlet Portal Into U.S.,” it offers the usual blah-blah-blah about Kremlin agents engaging in the political black arts. But it goes a step farther by attempting to discredit a perfectly legitimate news organization.

Reporters Daisuke Wakabayashi and Nicholas Confessore begin by noting that RT, the Moscow-funded TV channel formerly known as “Russia Today,” is now an Internet powerhouse and then observes that when it became the first YouTube news channel to surpass one million views, YouTube Vice President Robert Kyncl “joined an RT anchor in a studio, where he praised RT for … providing ‘authentic’ content instead of ‘agendas or propaganda.’”

Cue the ominous background music. “But now,” the article continues, “as investigators in Washington examine the scope and reach of Russian interference in United States policy, the once-cozy relationship between RT and YouTube is drawing closer scrutiny.”

Why? Because RT took advantage of its “prominent presence on YouTube’s search results” to pepper viewers with negative videos about Hillary Clinton. According to Wakabayashi and Confessore:

“As the presidential election heated up in the spring of 2016, RT consistently featured negative stories about Mrs. Clinton, according to United States intelligence officials. That included claims of corruption at her family foundation and ties to Islamic extremism, frequent coverage of emails stolen by Russian operatives from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, and accusations that she was in poor physical and mental health.”

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The Dangerous Decline of US Hegemony

The Dangerous Decline of US Hegemony


The showdown with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a seminal event that can only end in one of two ways: a nuclear exchange or a reconfiguration of the international order.

President Donald Trump being sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

While complacency is always unwarranted, the first seems increasingly unlikely. As no less a global strategist than Steven Bannon observed about the possibility of a pre-emptive U.S. strike: “There’s no military solution. Forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s no military solution here. They got us.”

This doesn’t mean that Donald Trump, Bannon’s ex-boss, couldn’t still do something rash. After all, this is a man who prides himself on being unpredictable in business negotiations, as historian William R. Polk, who worked for the Kennedy administration during the Cuban Missile Crisis, points out. So maybe Trump thinks it would be a swell idea to go a bit nuts on the DPRK.

But this is one of the good things about having a Deep State, the existence of which has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt since the intelligence community declared war on Trump last November. While it prevents Trump from reaching a reasonable modus vivendi with Russia, it also means that the President is continually surrounded by generals, spooks, and other professionals who know the difference between real estate and nuclear war.

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Democrats’ Blind Obsession on Russia-gate

Democrats’ Blind Obsession on Russia-gate

Exclusive: Instead of focusing on President Trump’s poor policies – or fixing their own shortcomings – Democrats obsess over Russia-gate, though the case is flimsy and reeks of McCarthyism, as Daniel Lazare explains.


Democrats are jubilant now that “Trumpcare” has bit the dust. But they should be careful because Russia-gate, the pseudo-scandal that they’ve latched onto in hopes of driving Donald Trump out of office, is also flashing red. The more they ignore the warning signs, the greater the odds that they’ll go down in flames as well.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, following his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 28, 2015. (UN Photo)

Russia-gate, of course, is the story of how the Kremlin allegedly used surreptitious means to hijack the American political process and place a “Siberian candidate” in the White House. It purportedly started five years ago when, according to the famous Christopher Steele dossier, Vladimir Putin foresaw that Donald Trump would become president and set about turning him into a compliant tool of Russian interests.

The Kremlin supposedly threw sweetheart real-estate deals his way (although a lucrative hotel plan never materialized for unexplained reasons) and fed him valuable intelligence about his opponents, all the while blackmailing him with a secret video showing him cavorting with prostitutes at Moscow’s Ritz Carlton.

Then, at the height of last year’s election, Russia was said to have followed up by hacking Democratic National Committee computers and releasing thousands of private emails to WikilLeaks in order to embarrass Hillary Clinton and tip the contest in favor of Trump. This audacious effort succeeded when Trump eked out a victory by virtue of the Electoral College. As a result, Vladimir Putin now controls not one presidential office but two, one in Moscow and the other in Washington, DC.

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Will Reckless Saudis Seek War with Iran?

Will Reckless Saudis Seek War with Iran?


Now that Saudi Arabia has severed diplomatic ties with Iran and reportedly bombed Iran’s embassy in Yemen, the big question is whether the Saudis are desperate and unhinged enough to launch an attack across the Persian Gulf. While Saudi leaders insist they have no such intent, there are mounting pressures pushing them in that direction.

The ruling family is under unprecedented strain. Its economy is shrinking; it’s bogged down in a seemingly endless war in Yemen; and its human-rights policies are an international scandal. If countries could have nervous breakdowns, Saudi Arabia would be well on its way. And when breakdowns occur, nations do crazy things.

King Salman the President and First Lady to a reception room at Erga Palace during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

King Salman the President and First Lady to a reception room at Erga Palace during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Of course, there is always the possibility that sanity will suddenly descend upon the Saudis.  But reason seems to be in increasingly short supply. Here’s a quick rundown of the reasons why Saudi Arabia is in such dire straits that war with Iran might appear to Saudi leaders as the best remaining option.

Reason #1: Economic collapse.

The 70-percent crash in oil prices since mid-2014 is not unprecedented. Crude plunged some 70 percent during and after the 2008 financial crisis, though it quickly bounced back once central bankers began cutting interest rates. But this time around the realization is growing that the prices will not be coming back anytime soon.

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Making Excuses for Saudi Misbehavior

Making Excuses for Saudi Misbehavior

Exclusive: Saudi-Israeli apologists are doing back flips to justify why the U.S. interest in having peaceful relations with Iran should take a back seat to sectarian and regional desires of Riyadh and Tel Aviv, including that peace with Iran will cause the Saudis to misbehave even more, notes Daniel Lazare.


As the former publisher of the The Wall Street Journal, Karen Elliott House is as close to journalist royalty as they come. But that doesn’t make her all bad. Her 2012 book, On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines – and Future, is actually well worth reading. The product of years of behind-the-scenes reporting, it provided readers with a fascinating tour of a kingdom drowning in sleaze, decadence and hypocrisy.

“Islam as preached is not practiced,” House wrote. “Jobs are promised but not delivered. Corruption is rampant, entrapping almost every Saudi in a web of favors and bribes large and small, leaving even the recipients feeling soiled and resentful. Powerful and powerless alike are seeking to grab whatever they can get, turning a society governed by supposedly strict Sharia law into an increasingly lawless one, where law is whatever the king or one of his judges says it is – or people feel they can get away with.”

Saudi King Salman bids farewell to President Barack Obama at Erga Palace after a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The result is a grotesque combination of oppression, regimentation, and street-level anarchy. In other countries, for instance, young people are free to drink beer, see movies, go to all-night raves, or do any of the other dumb stuff that young people the world over like to do. But in Saudi Arabia, where all such activities are forbidden, young men have one option only: steal cars.

 

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