Columnist Nathan Patin takes a deeper look at the politics of the Middle East, providing focused analysis of security and terrorism issues.

Salman Rushdie knows first-hand what it’s like to stir up controversy in the Muslim world. In 1989, the year following the publication of his critically-acclaimed novel, The Satanic Verses, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death due to the book’s supposedly blasphemous nature. Lest Rushdie mistakenly believe that the Islamic Republic has let bygones be bygones, the bounty on Rushdie’s head has, as of two weeks ago, been raised to $3.3 million. So when Rushdie stopped by The Daily Show last week to promote his new memoir, Joseph Anton, which recounts his life under the shadow of Khomeini’s death warrant, it seemed like a pertinent question for host Jon Stewart to ask in light of the protests, riots, and even deaths occurring throughout the Muslim world over the anti-Islam “Innocence of Muslims” movie trailer posted to YouTube:
One of my colleagues here at Aslan Media, Parisa Saranj, posted on Facebook yesterday that she’s going to have to break out a pin she wore back in 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq. The pin exclaims, “NO WAR on IRAN!” and unquestionably portrays the feelings of many Iranians and Israelis alike. While it’s impossible to be completely certain, I’d venture to say that Parisa and likeminded Iranians and Israelis need not worry – Israel won’t (and shouldn’t) attack Iran.
Michael Rubin, a scholar at the neoconservative think tank AEI, recently argued in a blog post for (equally neo-conservative) Commentary that Turkey should not host the 2020 Olympic games. Why? Well, for a slew of very bad reasons.
Two blog posts ago, I argued that the differences between Mitt Romney’s and Barack Obama’s stances toward Iran were negligible. In his recent visit to Israel, the Republican presidential hopeful reiterated these similarities with one significant exception.
Maybe it was a Freudian slip. The fine folks at CNN’s Security Clearance blog tweeted on Monday, “EXCLUSIVE: Israel in ‘open war’ with Iran,” only to correct their mistake an hour later: “Clarifying – Our original tweet should have said that Israel’s president said #Iran is in an ‘open war’ with #Israel.” Not a big deal, really. I’ve surely made a hapless error or two on Twitter as well. CNN would have been right, either way, though. Iran and Israel are at war with each other, and have been for some time. Call it a “shadow war,” or a “covert war,” or a “secret war” – it’s all the same. Iranian and Israeli operatives are playing a macabre game of Spy vs. Spy, and there are no signs that it will be abating anytime soon.
Mitt Romney, when looking for weaknesses to exploit in President Obama’s Iran policy, has often described current US policy toward the Islamic Republic as feckless. What we need, according to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is credibility: “Only when the Ayatollahs no longer have doubts about America's resolve will they abandon their nuclear ambitions.” When it comes to putting that oft-referenced other option on the table, we simply aren’t convincing. What would a President Romney do to reassert American military credibility vis-à-vis a country that simply refuses to bend to the will of the US and its allies? Among other things, he would “restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously.”
Wednesday, 04 July 2012 06:44

Don’t Declare Victory Against al-Qaeda

Osama bin Laden maven Peter Bergen argued last week that it’s time to declare victory against al-Qaeda “and move on to focus on the essential challenges now facing America, notably the country’s sputtering economy.” Bergen maintains that America’s “quasi-war” with the jihadist organization will continue indefinitely into the future for the simple reasons that we’re not going to succeed in killing or capturing (most likely killing) every last member of al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda isn’t going to surrender. Therefore, Bergen continues, because al-Qaeda is on the ropes and America’s defenses are robust, we ought to declare victory and call it a day.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to say something that hasn’t already been said about Egypt’s presidential election. Here’s the news, though, in case you’ve missed it: The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate (officially of the Freedom and Justice Party), Mohamed Mursi, has taken the prize, edging out the more secular member of the old guard, Ahmad Shafiq, by a slim margin—a million or so votes, according to initial tallies.
With the aid of al-Qaeda “baseball cards,” Barack Obama personally approves of every drone strike in Yemen and Somalia, and has the final say on approximately a third of those in Pakistan. Who are the targets of these attacks? Suspected al-Qaeda militants, of course, and those deemed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda, among whom are “military-age males … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” This cheery sneak peek behind the scenes of America’s ongoing war against al-Qaeda (or “War on Terror” or “Overseas Contingency Operations” or whatever you want to call it) is compliments of a 6,000-word piece by the New York Times and “three dozen of [Obama’s] current and former advisers,” who helped shed a little light on one of the most opaque components of Obama’s national security policy—especially for an administration that was supposed to usher in a new era of transparency.
Happy belated Memorial Day, dear readers. For those of you living outside the United States who may not know, Memorial Day is an annual holiday in which Americans commemorate those men and women who died while serving their country in the United States Armed Forces. For better or for worse, it also serves as an opportunity to get out of town and visit family and friends, or head to the beach for an extended weekend. In any case, what better time to blog about Arlington Cemetery.
Two of my colleagues here at Aslan Media, Samreen Hooda and Shamez Babvani, recently penned a provocative piece on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East entitled, “A U.S. War on Secularism?” The title is a bit misleading, because as one approaches the middle of the article it becomes clear that Samreen and Shamez don’t necessarily think that the U.S. is waging a war on secularism, but rather, Shiism. In answering the rhetorical question they pose in the fifth paragraph—“So, why is the United States supporting Assad’s removal?”—they argue that the United States is calling for Assad’s ouster in order to promote the establishment of Sunni regimes throughout the region so as to balance against Iran.
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 09:55

Updates and Underwear (Bombs)

My computer is on the fritz—by which I mean, it's dying. It's six-plus years old now, so it doesn't exactly come as a surprise, but I wanted to offer some sort of explanation for this shorter-than-usual post. Not to worry, though. I'll be able to get my hands on a new laptop in no time now that I've transitioned from my internship at the American Enterprise Institute to a job (that's right!) as a technical writer for a small federal contracting firm that specializes in defense-related issues. So that's the update portion of the post. Onto the underwear.
I like debates. And (respectful) disagreements. So when articles and essays serve as the inspiration for a post of mine here on the Mideast Note, I’m almost always offering a critique. (See, for instance, here and here and here.) This time, however, I’ll offer an endorsement. Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist who was physically and sexually assaulted by the Egyptian police last November, has written an excellent piece for Foreign Policy on the plight of women from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula. In “Why Do They Hate Us,” Eltahawy provides a bevy of cringe-worthy anecdotes and statistics to back up her contention that the revolutions convulsing the Arab world have not truly begun until they include completely new “revolutions of thought—social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.”
Wednesday, 25 April 2012 09:41

Rebutting Rove: How to Not Beat Obama

In the March/April issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie penned a piece entitled " How to Beat Obama, "  which argues that Barack Obama is much more vulnerable on foreign policy issues than is commonly thought.
My boss at AEI, Danielle Pletka, recently wrote a blog post commenting on a Washington Post piece that reports on the gains the US intelligence community has allegedly made on Iran’s nuclear program since 2006. (Before I go on, I should note that, while it’s probably not advisable to unnecessarily challenge your superiors, in the spirit of promoting intellectual freedom and debate, I’ll do so anyway.)
“I wouldn’t trust Iran with sharp objects, let alone a nuclear program.” This was by and large the tone and sentiment of a talk that John Bolton, former U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and American Enterprise Institute senior fellow, gave on the Hill a couple of weeks ago at an AEI-hosted event I attended. (Full disclosure: I’m currently interning at AEI.) The event was entitled “Iran vs. the West: Is War Inevitable in 2012? A Conversation with John Bolton.” Ambassador Bolton wishes he could answer the question posed in the title of the talk with a resounding “Yes!” (“The ideal military intervention took place 4 years ago,” he bemoaned) but, alas, he doesn’t know if the Israelis will go it alone in an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and he is quite certain the U.S. won’t attack Iran while Barack Obama is Commander in Chief.
Sunday, 08 April 2012 23:00

Keeping Egypt Clean

While browsing Twitter recently, I happened upon an interesting tweet by Reem Abdellatif, a self-described “Egyptian-American journalist based in Cairo”: #McDonald's has set up trash bins in #Cairo, mainly in #Zamalek, in efforts to "keep Egypt clean," as the red bins say in #Arabic. — Reem Abdellatif ريم (@Reem_Abdellatif) March 27, 2012
Tuesday, 27 March 2012 22:00

How a Rogue State Can Start a War

The New York Times ran a story last week on a classified, two-week long war simulation held earlier this month by the United States Central Command, or CENTCOM. The purpose of the war game was to analyze the potential consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities — not, American officials speaking to the Times assured, a dress rehearsal for an American attack.
An "Islamic awakening" has swept the region, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said last month, and "is just like the yell that the Iranian nation let out against America and against global arrogance and tyranny" in 1979. Speaking at Friday prayers at Tehran University, Khamenei gave some unsolicited advice to Egyptians: The enemy is trying to create despair, to make you believe you can’t achieve your aims. However, the promise of God says that we want to help those who were oppressed in the land…to achieve their aims, so be sure, be totally confident, in the promise of God.
In last week’s column, I postulated what an Iranian counterattack against Israel might look like in terms of its ballistic missile capabilities. I concluded that although Iran possesses a considerable arsenal of ballistic missiles, because of their inaccuracy and relative impotence, they would not serve as a sufficient deterrent to a preemptive Israeli strike. But as I noted, ballistic missiles are just one arrow in Iran’s quiver. Among other things, Israel must also take into account attacks by Iranian proxy groups, most notably Hezbollah. So, would Hezbollah launch a reprisal of some sort against Israel in the event of an Israeli strike on its main benefactor’s nuclear facilities? I’ll be the first to tell you that I just don’t know. Without the benefit of sitting among Hezbollah’s leadership in its Advisory Council or being privy to classified intelligence on its current decision making, the best I can do is provide an informed assessment based on past behavior and present context.
Tensions between Iran and Israel over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program may soon erupt into armed conflict. That is if we are to believe key officials in both the American and Israeli governments who have recently made statements to the effect that a preemptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, if it is to happen, will come sooner rather than later. In a much-discussed op-ed by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is reported to believe that, “There is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May, or June” of this year. When asked to comment on the piece, Panetta declined, but then added, “What I think and what I view, I consider that to be an area that belongs to me and nobody else.”
A couple of Fridays ago, while making the dreaded trek down I-95 after work (for readers who don't happen to live on the East Coast, this is pretty much what rush hour on the Beltway is like), NPR's Science Friday came on the radio, kicking off with a segment on Martian meteorites. So what does that have to do with the Middle East? Well, the Martian meteorites being discussed on the show were those that fell in Morocco last July --a once-every-fifty-years event; and upon doing a little research, it turns out that meteorites of all origins --not just Martian-- are not uncommon finds throughout the Sahara Desert in North Africa, though they’re rare enough to fetch a pretty penny.
"How is that place nowadays?" That's the question a friend asked me when I mentioned that I had stayed in Cairo for six weeks in the summer of 2010. My answer? "Not so great." That's putting it mildly, really. In fact, the situation in Egypt under Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), of which he is the head, is worse in many respects than life under ousted president Hosni Mubarak. And what better time to reflect on the less-than-favorable circumstances in which Egyptians find themselves than on the one year anniversary of their revolution this week. The difficulty with writing a piece on Egypt's faltering revolution is trying to decide where to begin. A year ago, protesters appealed to the military to protect them from the contemptible police force, which killed some 800 demonstrators during the 18 days it took to overthrow the Mubarak regime. Now "crackdown" is the word one most often hears in conjunction with Egypt's ruling military junta.