November 16, 2016

What about Israel and Saudi Arabia?

This story made me curious about what exactly is going on between Israel and Saudi Arabia. In 2015, the Economist called them “the new Frenemies.” What can we tell from the google?

Better (friendlier) Saudi media coverage of Israel, according to jpost: “Saudi state-run media appears to be softening its reporting on Israel, running unprecedented columns floating the prospect of direct relations, quoting Israeli officials and filling its newsholes with fewer negative stories on Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians.” (or here, here, here) Or, Saudi Arabia “remained notably quiet during Israel’s bombing campaign against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip” in 2014. In 2014, “former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal published an op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.”

Meetings between Saudi and Israeli officials:  Anwar Eshki, a retired Saudi major general, and Dore Gold, a former senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official. They began secret contacts in 2014 and went public in 2015. Eshki visited Israel and met with Gold at a hotel, not the Foreign Ministry. (The Saudi government denied Eshki was an official emissary.) On May 5, 2016, “former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal and retired Israeli Major General Yaakov Amidror spoke together at a Washington event hosted by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.”

Diplomatic formalities. After Egypt gave (returned) two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in April 2016, the “Israeli Defense Ministry confirmed that Riyadh had given Israeli policymakers written assurances of the continued safety of the Straits of Tiran.” (and here)

They have economic ties: “Saudi Arabia has developed clandestine business deals with Israeli companies in recent years, even though Riyadh officially maintains a stringent boycott on Israeli goods. To circumvent the trade boycott, Israeli goods have been shipped to Saudi Arabia under the purview of foreign companies. This circumvention has allowed Israeli IT products and irrigation technology to enter Saudi markets.” And seltzer.

And military arms or cooperation?

  1. Rumors that Israel offered Saudi Arabia the Iron Dome missile system have been denied.The alleged idea was to help Saudi defend itself against rockets from Yemen.
  2. In 2013, Britain’s Sunday Times reported cooperation on a possible military attack on Iran (in Ha’aretz’s words): “According to the diplomatic source quoted by the Times, Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israel use its air space, and assist an Israeli attack by cooperating on the use of drones, rescue helicopters and tanker planes.”
  3. In 2016, Amos Yadlin, head of military intelligence 2006-2010, suggested cooperation “is done below the screen.” Reports of “an uptick in backdoor dealings.” Intelligence cooperation regarding Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah seems likely.

Aside: in Nov, 2015, Israel opened a diplomatic mission in the United Arab Emirates.

Do you have more useful links on Israel and Saudi Arabia? Let us know.

November 11, 2016

20 Reasons Trump Beat Clinton

This election was super-close. Trump didn’t win key states by much. I say that because that means that if you change many different factors, each one might have changed the outcome. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

  1. Trump’s slogan was clearer (Make America Great Again) and it was easy to see how he tied it to policy change on trade and migration. I don’t think #StrongerTogether has the same umph or link to policy.
  2. Clinton is a woman. Some people who might support a generic Democratic candidate won’t support a female one. Gender.
  3. Trump claimed the change mantle. He was a true outsider, never been in government, never worked in DC, never given a thought, as far as I can tell, to the collective good. Contra the Clinton speeches to Wall Street argument and emphasis on all her experience in government.
  4. Hard for a party to win a third straight term. (thus h/t George H.W. Bush. h/t FDR.)
  5. GOP voter suppression. For example, one report suggested 300K voters were turned away in Wisconsin due to Wisconsin’s voter ID law. If people with ID problems skew lower class, Clinton likely lost many more votes there. Also, see North Carolina.
  6. Trump went for major non-transparency and pulled it off. Broke the bipartisan norm and refused to release his tax returns, I assume because they would show he cheated, he wasn’t worth as much as he claimed, he gave little or nothing to charity, and/or he had investments in Russia. Similarly, his talk of how as president, he would create a “Blind Trust” for his businesses. His refusal to be transparent cost him less politically than what the information would have showed.
  7. Was Tim Kaine a good VP pick? What did an old-ish eastern, white guy add to the ticket? (OK, maybe a VA victory)
  8. Enough people had pro-Trump/anti-Clinton motivation and were willing to overlook a) non-stop lying by Trump b) his anti-women views 3) his bigotry. Some of his macho stance and bullying probably appealed to some voters: he’s tough; he wins; he puts people in their place.
  9. Clinton has been in the national spotlight for 25 years. That is unprecedented for a presidential candidate. It gives your opponents decades to slime you. And if they keep throwing slime, even if all most of it is false, you look slimed. And people believe the next slime because they remember the last one even if the last one was total BS.
  10. Clinton’s alleged email problem. The substance was a big nothing-burger. But the obsession with it, including by the media to the detriment of policy coverage, was amazing and reinforced. (It was par for the course for DC – see Colin Powell as Secretary of State, see 22 mn missing emails from GW Bush administration. But you cannot argue everyone else did it or even they did it more. See #3 above) Politico had a great story on how it actually happened and what that tells us about the US government (and what starving the govt of funding does to its IT resources).
  11. Comey’s late intervention. His last-minute statement, one report suggested, led to a 3-point Clinton drop in the polls.
  12. Unprecedented foreign meddling in a US election. R-u-s-s-i-a. Wikileaks. We may learn more about Russia as time passes.
  13. The Democrats have a great story about helping those bypassed by globalization and the information economy. Helping people get health care (ACA). Pro-education. Providing a cushion in tough times. Obama’s call for massive infrastructure investments (blocked by GOP). I didn’t hear Clinton tell that story. Honestly, maybe she did on the stump, and I missed it.
  14. Trump’s bigotry. Clearly the white nationalists, the KKK, the alt-right (I detest that term) were emboldened by his candidacy. He tapped into cultural anxiety which is a polite way of saying displeasure at equal rights for all regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, and the like.
  15. Clinton was not a great candidate. I hear that. I think it relates to other things I have mentioned, her being a female wonk with a lot of baggage. Not as charismatic an orator.
  16. Campaign choices. See #13. Also, should she have been more about here’s what I am going to do and less here is why Trump is unfit? Did she campaign in the states that needed her presence most? Or, did she appeal enough to the left and Bernie voters? OR, were GOTV allocations spread to the right states?
  17. Trump got free media. A ton. He is great at hogging the spotlight.
  18. The national GOP (e.g. Ryan, McConnell) mostly decided to embrace and support a candidate they knew was unfit to be president. Had they broken with Trump, some GOP voters would have followed.
  19. Trumpism is built on years of national GOP rhetoric and polices. The national GOP paved the way.
  20. The electoral college. She may win by as many as 2 million votes and still lose. She won over more people than he did.

What would you add?

August 4, 2016

After Trump

I am by no means certain that Donald Trump will lose in November. There are ample reasons why he should lose, but I also can see a handful of reasons why he could win. But if we assume, for the moment, that he does lose, what are the questions and likely consequences that follow?

  1. What happens to his millions of die-hard supporters? I tend to think Trump himself will move on to other matters rather than stay around to fight for the soul of the Republican Party. Will another leader try to fill the Trump slot and build on his approach?
  2. Trump has legitimized overt bigotry. Look, we were not in a post-racial America even before this campaign. But large segments of the US population have moved, over the last 50-75 years, away from normal acceptance of some important forms of overt discrimination. Trump brought it back into the mainstream. At best, I imagine people will have to re-fight the fight of de-legitimizing such overt bigotry. Even that raises two concerns a) not easy and b) wastes energy that could have been spent pushing for progress in other ways.
  3. Are the GOP leaders who bravely (sarcasm) stood by Trump forever tainted by their association with the Trump debacle? Let’s set aside for the moment whether  conservative GOP leaders aligned themselves with a ‘fake’ conservative. It is often the case that party leaders are significantly more, or less, conservative (or liberal) than the party presidential nominee. I am more interested in the question of his 1) bigotry and 2) impugning of the US military and those who served. (the late Humayun Khan; Sen. John McCain) The backlash is striking. Will leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forever be seen as having put narrow self-interest ahead of country and principle? We know they could have made another choice because lesser known GOP figures, e.g. Rep. Richard Hanna, have done so. (leaving aside the formers and the retireds like Bush, Bush, Bush, and Romney)
  4. Does the Republican Party blame this on Trump or on itself? If the former, I wonder whether the party will truly grapple with the aspects of the party that helped bolster Trump. Trump did not emerge from nowhere. OK, well he kind of did. But overt bigotry, especially toward Muslims, and trouble winning votes from people of color plays on covert bigotry (See dog whistling, law and order, or Lee Atwater) and years of trouble winning votes from people of color in presidential elections. [UPDATE: See this article for more on the Republican Party and its future.]
  5. Trump did not build this post-fact America where what he asserts is ‘true’ despite being false. But he sure eggs it on. Can we recover a sense of science, a sense of discourse built on evaluating claims and making some effort, even if not total, to agree on what the evidence is even if we continue to disagree about how to interpret it and which evidence to highlight? (I should defer to my colleague, Michael P. Lynch, on this question.)
  6. In 2020 and beyond, will we start to see more and more celebrity candidates? Is it about building a brand and then jumping in the national political fray? I do not quite have my finger on what defines a celebrity candidate, but it looks pretty different from a regular candidate or even an outsider like Ross Perot or Carly Fiorina. In short, to what extent has Trump, even if he loses, re-written the playbook for how to try to win the presidency? Or is this 2016 run just a blip?
  7. Does a President Clinton – remember, I am assuming for the sake of discussion that she wins – do anything to attack the economic bases of support for Trump? Trump’s answer is blame the foreigners, build a wall, talk tough, risk massive trade wars etc. I don’t see that as a part of a Clinton presidency. But Sen. Bernie Sanders had a different answer which was to use government to address some of the same societal inequities. One example is free higher education. That won’t happen either, but would a President Clinton try to use re-training, education, health care not tied to employment, and income redistribution policies to get at the economic grievances which, fairly or not, are often tied to globalization and trade deals? Or would these economic issues fester, as has been the case with the 1%/99% debate?

What questions or comments would you add?

June 19, 2015

The People Who Were Murdered: A Challenge to Colin @WNPR

I am issuing a challenge to a local talk show host on WNPR, Colin McEnroe:

How about a full show, 60 minutes, that is not about the lessons, the broader meaning, and the politics of the killings in S. Carolina. How about spending an hour on the nine people who were gunned down? Who they were, what they were like, what they did, who they loved and led, where they came from. Maybe, maybe, maybe if we get deep into the humanity that has just been stolen from our earth, we can start to break down the walls that prevent really grappling with race, guns, and murder.

April 15, 2013

Patriots’ Day

As a child of the Boston area, a word about Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts. The day is now celebrated as a holiday in Massachusetts on the third Monday of April (thus Monday, April 15, 2013), and is based on April 19, 1775, the day the American Revolution started at Lexington and Concord, MA. Capt John Parker, leader of the Minutemen gathered on the Lexington green, is reported to have said, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

In the modern era the Massachusetts holiday includes reenactments of the first skirmishes (I still remember that President Gerald Ford and actual British regulars came to Lexington for the bicentennial year); a daytime Red Sox game; and the Boston Marathon. Growing up, it was always part of April school vacation week.

What a day it always was. Sadly, memories of marching Redcoats, pancake breakfasts, and Heartbreak Hill will now be joined by today’s tragedy.

April 11, 2013

Mideast Matrix

I now publish most of my posts over at Mideast Matrix. Check it out!

March 1, 2012

Misperceptions, Foreign Policy, and Iran

A new post at the Monkey Cage, co-authored with my colleague Stephen Benedict Dyson:

In an article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko rightfully draw attention to the way in which threats to U.S. national security appear overblown today. But because they understandably focus on demonstrating the relative safety of the United States, they do not give as much attention to research on the question of why threats get overblown. When they do turn to the cause, they underplay the central role of psychological factors.

MORE HERE….

February 7, 2012

“Will the US Restrain Israel on Iran? Unlikely”

I did a guest post over at the Monkey Cage: “Will the US Restrain Israel on Iran? Unlikely.”

February 7, 2012

Arab Spring, One Year Later

I did a Q & A on the one-year anniversary of the Arab uprisings.

January 27, 2012

Conference on Arab Uprisings, March 27 at UConn

If you are in the CT, New England, or NY area, come join us for a one-day conference at UConn in Storrs, CT:

“The Arab Uprisings and the Changing Global Order” (flyer)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Student Union 330 (Storrs, CT)

9:00 am — Opening remarks

Panel #1: Political Change in the Arab World
9:15 – 10:45 am

Issandr El Amrani, The Arabist
Eva Bellin, Brandeis University
Amaney Jamal, Princeton University

[coffee break]

Panel #2: Regional Dynamics
11:00 am – 12:30 pm

Robert Blecher, International Crisis Group
Gregory Gause, University of Vermont
Jillian Schwedler, University of Massachusetts

[lunch break]

Panel #3: The Uprisings and the United States
2:00 – 3:30 pm

Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress
Sarah Kreps, Cornell University
Malik Mufti, Tufts University

[coffee break]

Panel #4: Concluding Roundtable
3:45 – 4:30 pm

Sponsored by the Alan R. Bennett Professor, CLAS, and POLS.
Co-sponsored by the Human Rights Institute and Middle Eastern Studies.

For questions, please contact jeremy.pressman@uconn.edu.