The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

There are third way options on Syria still – just as there were in 2011-2014

The best account – of only one – in terms of a way out of the false choice posited in the NYT article blogged on below: either arm the “rebels” and start a wider war with Bashar OR join the baby killer.

James Traub just wrote about it – from Nir and the HD folks…. although there is a lot along these lines.

One thing James overlooks in his piece in FP:  the overwhelming moral argument for stopping this war as soon as possible far outweigh a negotiated settlement with the Bashar regime – far.

He is right to finally throw it to the syrians themselves – instead of what Andrew Tabler in DC or any of the other pro-large scale/new war crowd. My sense is that there is a wide majority of syrian citizens who want this war to finally stop even if that means partitioning off from and then living in proximity with a “devil” as Traub headlines it.


Written by nickbiddlenoe

December 1, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

NY Times bold headline analyzing “eroding” US standing over Syria based on…ONE analyst’s account

Anne Bernard’s piece in the NY Times the other day unfortunately suffers from its reliance on only a few anecdotal discussions with anti-Assad individuals (who would say what they said of course) despite the wide headline for the piece that clearly suggest broad agreement  – as Angry Arab said yesterday. Indeed, she claims this in the beginning of the piece:

Their dismay reflects a broader sense on all sides that President Obama’s policies on Syria and the Islamic State remain contradictory, and the longer the fight goes on without the policies being resolved, the more damage is being done to America’s standing in the region…”

– Where did the “ALL sides” suddenly come from? Well, sadly, the use of only a few anti-assad activists and skype chats in the piece is not the main problem by any stretch.

The key failings are twofold:

1) Anne, for some reason, relies on only ONE analyst to support her broad claim and headline… and it is Emile. She gives NO context to where Emile’s ideological roots are or what he has been arguing for years (essentially that military force is the ONLY and best thing that will work against the “Resistance Axis” and, at every turn, that wide military force should/must be pursued to this end). I have disagreed with Emile many times over the years – of course he, like Anne, are exceptionally sharp, hard working etc… – and I am certainly on a particular side of the debate. But to posit Emile as some kind of balanced, disinterested analyst is exceedingly problematic for Times readers (same would go if it was done for me). Emile has been a constant critic from the right of the Obama Admin and a proponent of some of the most aggressive policy recs out of the Beltway for more than a decade. Either way – he is the ONLY analyst cited in a piece whose headline feeds into exactly what the Obama admin’s opponents have been saying for sometime - a line of attack devoid of alternative, effective solutions, devoid of context (such as why accelerating violence is a really really bad short and long term “idea” that does not work and has never worked in any comparable situation…) and which narrowly cherry picks some of the administrations mistakes only (mistakes which I would criticize too, albeit from an opposite policy prescription stance that seeks conflict mitigation rather than conflict acceleration).

2) Anne paints a false choice between Emile’s barely concealed preferred strategy (a wide war against Bashar and ISIS…. and hopefully against Hizbullah and Iran as well) and what she mysteriously calls the approach of “Supporters of Mr. Assad.” Angry Arab criticized her rightly for this unhelpful, anon sort of journalism. For me the far deeper problem is her construction of a false choice.

Anne is well aware that the other alternative is NOT ONLY (as she posits): “that the United States should ally with [Assad] and his main backer, Iran. They note that Iran’s proxies have already worked indirectly with American-backed forces to fight ISIS in Iraq, and that in Syria, those forces appear far better organized than Mr. Obama’s putative allies, mainstream Syrian insurgents opposed to the Islamic State.”

– This makes it seem as though you are either with bombing Bashar and widely arming nice guy rebels OR you are with the baby-killing Bashar regime. This formulation is of course absurd and Anne knows that the UN’s de Mistura and many others have proposed alternatives which do NOT involve allying with Bashar or fighting in concert with him but do involve coming to a political settlement with a regime still led by him, settling on de facto stabilization/cease fire lines… ending the killing on all sides (though originally sparked of course by Bashar’s regime), and then better focusing regional energy on the fight against ISIS by being able to stabilize the rebel-Assad front for an extended period of conflict mitigation.

Many of us have argued that this approach – a third way of several which Anne ignores – is the best approach for a variety of actors – but especially for ending the misery of war, which has a large moral and strategic benefit for many, especially at this point in the conflict. Many have and are trying to fill in the policy and political blanks here – led by de Mistura of course. But none of this is posed in the piece which instead goes for the “with good or with evil” maxim, thus giving Obama’s critics more ammunition to pursue their preferred (likely disasterous) approach and giving readers less insight into the real possibilities that are emerging and that have, in fact, been evident very early on as I argued here in the NY times almost three years ago.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

December 1, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

FINAL deadline Dec. 1 for applying to our 12th Beirut Politics Conference January 4-14, 2015!

Well we are almost set for the January 2015 Beirut Exchange – our Twelfth program since 2008! Yamen and I will be leading the group for ten days, though a bit more limited in geographic scope than in past years for obvious reasons. THERE IS STILL ONE SLOT LEFT OPEN for Deadline No. 2 on December 1. And there is financial aid still available. If you would like to apply or know someone who might be interested, email for an application!

January 4-14, 2015
Application Deadline I November 20, 2014/Deadline II December 1, 2014
Limited spaces available/Rolling acceptance

The Beirut Exchange program rests on two tracks:

Academic – Participants will attend a series of lectures and colloquia led by leading academics and public intellectuals in Lebanon. Topics will include: The Arab Uprisings; The Syrian conflict and its regional implications; The Islamic State; The Special Tribunal for Lebanon; The United Nations as peacekeeper and mediator; Engaging political Islam; Asymmetrical conflict: The July 2006 Lebanon War; Human Rights in Lebanon and the wider Middle East; Sectarianism and its deployment, as well as a range of other topics.

Dialogue with Leaders – Participants will have the opportunity to meet, listen and engage leading social, political and economic actors from across the spectrum in Lebanon – with a particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on exposure to Islamist and opposition currents.

NOTE: Due to the current security situation in Lebanon, the Twelfth Beirut Exchange will generally restrict its meetings in and around Beirut, although at least one trip to the North and one trip to the South is planned.


Previous Speakers (partial list of non-party speakers only):

·Bilal Baroudi, As-Salam Mosque Tripoli
·Nicholas Blanford, Times of London
·Richard Chambers, International Foundation for Electoral Systems
·Alastair Crooke, Conflicts Forum
·Abdullah Dardari, Frm. Syrian Arab Republic
·Robert Fisk, The Independent
·Toufic Gaspard, Economist
·Hanin Ghaddar, NOW Lebanon
·Timur Goksel, Frm. UNIFIL
·Judith Palmer Harik, Matn University
·Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch
·Farid El-Khazen, AUB
·Eli Khoury, Quantum Communications
·Karim Makdisi, AUB
·Sayyid Mohammed Marandi, Tehran University
·Omar Nashabe, Al-Akhbar
·Nir Rosen, Journalist
·Paul Salem, Middle East Insitute
·Milos Struger, Frm. UNIFIL
·Fawwaz Traboulsi, AUB

View a previous full program for the Beirut Exchange at:

Visit our Facebook page and ask alumni questions at:

All of our programs in the region, including in Tunisia, the Gulf and Turkey, can be viewed at:

View the CNN report on The Beirut Exchange at:


Tuition – $1200; Partial financial aid is available for those students and individuals that can demonstrate need.

Accommodation & Conference Location – Except for those students already residing in Lebanon, we recommend that all participants in the Exchange reside at the conference hotel during the duration of the ten day program. The hotel, located near Downtown Beirut, is priced at $60 per person/per night, including all taxes and breakfast, for a shared double room (we will arrange for sharing). Single rooms are available for $110 per night.

Airfare – $400, approximate from the European Union.

At the discretion of the student, tuition is 50% refundable up to two weeks before the program commences. (Airline tickets and accommodation should be purchased with travel insurance.)


Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 29, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Having successfully negotiated prisoner swaps for decades w/ Israel, Hizbullah still seems best in field against Syrian insurgents

Translated today from

Remember – only ONE Hizbullah fighter has been taken as a prisoner to date (it seems)… an incredible feat that one must consider vis-a-vis the opposing and allied forces in the field and beyond.

On November 26, the independent, leftist As-Safir daily carried the following report: “Hezbollah installed a new equation in the realm of its confrontation with the terrorist groups on the Syrian lands under the headline “prisoners for prisoners.” Outside the context of the confrontation with the Israeli occupation, Hezbollah wasn’t used to making any swaps of prisoners from the party… In Syria, the Free Syrian Army tried to take advantage of the fact that one Hezbollah fighter was taken hostage following a battle in the Qalamoun barren areas… Fighter Imad Ayyad’s photos were shown and so were the demands of the kidnappers.

“Clearly, the Free Army wanted to take advantage of the situation like ISIL and An-Nusra. A Syrian mediator moved between the Free Army and Hezbollah. The kidnappers increased their demands and asked for the release of dozens of prisoners from the Syrian prisons in addition to asking for millions of dollars.

“The party turned a deaf ear to all the demands pertaining to releasing prisoners from the Syrian jails as well as the financial demands. One elite unit from Hezbollah staged an operation against one Free Army location in the barren areas of Qalamoun inside the Syrian lands. Two Free Army members were kidnapped thus re-launching the negotiations according to a new ceiling.

“However, the kidnappers tried again, through the Syrian mediator, to lift the ceiling of their demands by suggesting a swap that includes Ayyad and some twenty prisoners from the Syrian jails in addition to the money. Hezbollah refused any suggestion of this kind. It insisted on swapping Ayyad in return for the two Free Army prisoners and threatened that the party might kidnap other Free Army members.

“At this point, Ayyad’s kidnappers realized that once the party has taken a decision, it doesn’t take it back. Thus, they agreed to the “2 to 1” swap via the Syrian mediator who oversaw all the details of the negotiations. Some Lebanese security channels were completely aware of these negotiations…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 26, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Key Muslim Brotherhood figure arrested in Jordan begs dangerous question of monarchy: What do you want exactly?

Translated today by (for a free trial email

Key point comes at the end: Arresting recently released salafist (proto-ISIS) figures and now the “mainstream” Brotherhood opposition figure is arrested leaves everyone wondering what the heck does the Hashemite regime want exactly when it comes to their internal opponents. It is a very dangerous question left unanswered…

On November 26, the Qatari-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi daily carried the following report by its Amman office Chief Bassam Bdareen: “The Jordanian government’s viewpoint in regard to a controversial issue that is still provoking debates in the Kingdom under the headline “the arrest and prosecution of Sheikh Zaki Bani Irsheid,” is still stable along two axes, as it was directly understood by Al-Quds al-Arabi from Minister of Communication and Government Official Spokesman Dr. Muhammad al-Mumani. The first is that the arrest and prosecution of [Muslim Brotherhood] Deputy General Observer Sheikh Bani Irsheid is a “limited measure” with a legal aspect, linked to a direct violation represented by the offense towards a brotherly state, without there being any intention to carry out escalation against the Muslim Brotherhood group.

“The second is that the circumstances of the “offense towards the Emirates” by the most prominent leader in the MB, does not leave any legal, political or practical room for it to be disregarded, especially since it violated a rule that was set on the highest levels to prevent the “move” of any polarization, problems or disputes related to the Muslim Brotherhood file in particular to the Jordanian internal scene. The one who violated that rule, and consequently the law, is in the government’s opinion Sheikh Bani Irsheid, a few days before a planned visit by King Abdullah II to Abu Dhabi… Despite that, Al-Mumani assures that the government still considers the Islamic Movement to be part of Jordan’s national and social fabric, and there are no plans to escalate the situation with it. On the other hand, it would not be wise for the MB to concoct fictive scenarios based on a purely legal measure.

“This is especially true since this measure was adopted following a blatant violation of the law that cannot be ignored, considering that what Bani Irsheid said about the Emirates does not fit in the category of “political criticism…” Al-Mumani thus explained that the legal measure adopted in the case of Bani Irsheid was purely Jordanian, unlike what is being said about the fact that pressures were deployed in this direction… Also, according to the official viewpoint, Sheikh Irsheid’s wing is not appreciating the government’s respect of Jordanian specificity. Indeed, the MB file is escalating in all the neighboring countries and they are being banned by major states, without them being harassed in Jordan. According to the authority, the Muslim Brotherhood command is not showing enough appreciation for this issue…

“But according to the Islamic movement, to human rights [associations] and civil society circles, the prosecution of Bani Irsheid is purely political and carries security dimensions, in the context of the series of practices that are provoking the Muslim Brotherhood and surrendering to the Emirati and Egyptian pressures on Jordan. Hence, according to the MB media official, Sheikh Murad al-Adaila, the government’s pretexts and excuses are weak and the arrest of Sheikh Bani Irsheid is a message enhancing the conviction in the prevalence of the logic of “suppressing public freedoms” and targeting the Islamic movement in particular… Al-Adaila hinted to the fact that these provocations were programmed and that the Islamic movement did not specifically know what was required of it. However, it knows it will not recant its religious and political role and will continue to assume it…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 26, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Europeans getting fed up with Turkey’s open door policy with Sunni Jihadists

Translated from our (for a free trial email

On November 19, the independent, leftist As-Safir daily carried the following report by Wassim Ibrahim: “Many European officials cannot understand what Ankara is thinking and why it is acting in a way that directly exposes their security. Thousands of western “jihadists” are crossing the Turkish borders, which turned the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant into a security threat at the very heart of their countries [i.e. the European countries]… These conclusions are emerging now as the Europeans are extensively discussing the revival of a joint security and defense policy.

“Europe admits that it suffers from a definite gap in its military capacities and the necessary structure to preserve its security. For this reason, the defense ministers of the EU met yesterday… The general goal consists of increasing Europe’s capacities to deal with the growing challenges in the East where the conflict with Russia is at its pinnacle thanks to the Ukrainian crisis and also in the South where the civil wars in the Arab countries have turned into a fire cornering the old continent.

“Several European countries asked for including ISIL as a main clause on the agenda of this discussion and to deal with this group as being a “common threat.” This is what a European official who took part in preparing for the meeting told As-Safir… The defense ministers of these countries, topped by Germany, wish to work on building a unified European policy to confront the threat of the “terrorist” group. They do not want this endeavor to be confined to the desire and concerns of some specific countries.

“The European official clarified this point by saying: “This is a general threat. To say that only some countries are threatened is wrong.” He then added: “The start now consists of launching this political discussion. This is important even if we have now started to plan some practical actions.”

“…Such a discussion called for the presence of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg who met with the defense ministers. The void between the NATO’s borders and the borders of the EU is filled by only one state: Turkey, which is adjacent to Greece. From this void now comes “a major security threat” as dubbed by the EU documents. This threat consists of thousands of “jihadists” who crossed there from the borders. ISIL is threatening to use them to avenge the raids of the international alliance… Turkey now practically represents the weak side of the world’s strongest military alliance. One must recall that the NATO forces crossed massive distances to fight in Afghanistan under the flag of counter-terrorism. However, terrorism is now crossing the borders of the NATO on its way in and out.

“As he was heading to the meeting, As-Safir asked the NATO secretary general for his comment on this situation. Stoltenberg first said that the “jihadists” represent “a major security problem. For this reason, the NATO decided to work closely between the different allies to swap pieces of information and intelligence data…” But what about the “security weakness” on the borders of the NATO, mainly from the Turkish side? Stoltenberg clearly heard the question but avoided to respond directly. Clearly, this matter is causing a growing embarrassment…

“Some European officials are no longer embarrassed to address Turkey’s role. Elmar Brok, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the European Parliament spoke about that to As-Safir. This prominent politician who is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party responded to our question by saying: “There must be a better cooperation (between Turkey and the Europeans) on who gets in and out of the borders.” He then added using a blaming tone: “In the past, ISIL elements obtained support and treatment in the Turkish hospitals.”

“Without showing any evasiveness, Brok said: “I think that we must not give the ISIL fighters or their likes a safe haven in our back yard for them to get well. The (Turkish officials) must not support ISIL either directly or indirectly through these tools.” He added that “this has happened in the past and I am not sure it is still taking place today.”

“…A number of European politicians criticized the European methods and the failure to come up with a common policy to confront the threat of the “Jihadists.” Nine countries are closely coordinating their policies considering that they are the most exposed to this phenomenon [the phenomenon of terrorism]. This pushed one opposing politician to say recently: “If I am a terrorist and I want to carry out an attack, I would of course opt for one of the other nineteen countries” in the union that includes 28 states…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 19, 2014 at 11:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Quds al-Arabi says Peshmerga aware of ISIS oil sales in its areas

Partial translation today in the Daily Briefing [free trial:]:

On November 14, the Qatari-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi daily carried the following report by its correspondent in Baghdad Omar al-Jabouri: “A Kurdish security source said to Al-Quds al-Arabi on condition of anonymity that the purchasing of crude oil from the Islamic State organization was taking place inside the border of the [Kurdistan] province with the knowledge of the Peshmerga forces. This statement was made against the backdrop of the reports carried by Kurdish media outlets, regarding the involvement of several influential figures, some of whom belonging to Barzani’s family, in the purchasing of crude oil from the Islamic State organization. The Energy and Natural Wealth Committee in the Kurdistan parliament had assured there was an investigation commission that addressed the smuggling of the Islamic State’s oil, and that some individuals were indeed arrested, including military elements…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

November 14, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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