Thursday, May 14, 2015

He's got a friend -- a crazy one -- but a fan




Tomorrow is supposed to be US President Barack Obama's big photo op at Camp David to prove that he's friends with the Arabs in the Middle East and that they stand with him.

Of course, they don't.  Not these days.

His embrace of Iran has disturbed officials in the region and threatens to result in instability or futher instability. 

In what has been interpreted as an international snub, Saudi Arabia's King Salman has refused to travel to the US for the event and has instead sent two Saudi princes.

Jeff Mason (Reuters) reports that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Prince Mohammed bin Salam were welcomed by Barack at the White House today.

The White House released this transcript of remarks at the brief photo op.

THE PRESIDENT:   Well, it’s wonderful to welcome back the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef, as well as Deputy Crown Prince Salman.  We are very pleased to have them both here today, as well as the delegation from Saudi Arabia.
As all of you are aware, the United States and Saudi Arabia have an extraordinary friendship and relationship that dates back to Franklin Roosevelt and King Faisal, and we are continuing to build that relationship during a very challenging time.
This gives us an opportunity to discuss some of the bilateral issues, including the crisis in Yemen and how we can build on the ceasefire that’s been established to restore a process for an inclusive,  legitimate government inside of Yemen.  And it will also give us a chance to discuss some of the broader issues that will be the topic of the GCC-U.S. Summit tomorrow. 
I can say that, on a personal level, my work and the U.S. government’s work with these two individuals, Crown Prince bin Nayef, on counterterrorism issues has been absolutely critical not only to maintaining stability in the region but also protecting the American people.  And I want to thank them for their extraordinary support and hard work and coordination on our counterterrorism efforts.  And they came in as a critical component of our coalition in the fight against ISIL, and I’m sure that we’ll have opportunities to discuss as well the progress that’s been made in the fight against ISIL in Iraq, as well as the continuing crisis in Syria, and the importance of us addressing not only the humanitarian crisis but the need to bring about a more inclusive and legitimate government there.
Well, I just thank you so much for your presence here today and for your longstanding friendship.

CROWN PRINCE BIN NAYEF:  (As interpreted.)  I would like to thank the President for your kind invitation extended to me and to His Royal Highness, the Deputy Crown Prince.  I wish to convey to you the greetings and appreciation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman, who attaches -- along with everybody in the Kingdom -- great importance to the strategic and historic relationship between our two countries.
This historic relationship we seek to strengthen and broaden and deepen with time.  Mr. President, you spoke about the situation in the region, and we look forward to, God willing, to working with you to overcome the challenges and to bring about calm and stability in the region.
Once again, Mr. President, I want to thank you for this meeting.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, everybody.

Q    Mr. President, what do you plan to tell the GCC leaders about Iran and the nuclear deal?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We’ll have a whole press conference, Julie.  You’ll get all kinds of questions.

Q    I’m holding you to that.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, guys.

Julie is Julie Pace, AP correspondent.

The President tried to spin pretty.  Andrew Beatty (AFP) observes:

But the warm words belied deep malaise over Obama's perceived disengagement from the region and willingness to talk to Iran.
The Arab and largely Sunni Muslim states suspect Obama's nuclear deal with Tehran is a harbinger of a bigger role for their Persian and Shiite arch-foe.

Barack's photo ops this week does not include the Sunni Arab delegation from Iraq.  But two of those visiting the US, former Finance Minister Rafe al-Assawi and the Governor of Nineveh Province Atheel al-Nuajaif (brother of Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi) were hosted at a Brookings Institution event on Monday which was moderated by Kenneth Pollack.  We've covered the event in the Monday and Tuesday snapshots.  Today, we'll note this section.

Kenneth Pollack: You [Rafe al-Assawi]  made the point -- and Governor feel free to disagree with this if you do but I have the sense that you also agree with this -- and it was certainly the impression that most of Washington got -- that the problem is not Haider al-Abadi per se.  Prime Minister Abadi wants to do the right thing and that was certainly  the impression that he left here in Washington, that he very much knows where Iraq needs to go and wants to do it.  The problem is not the what, the problem is the how.  And if that is something you both agree with, I'd love to get your thoughts on how you believe the United State might help him to better actually achieve those goals.  Rafe, would you like to start?

Former Minister Rafe al-Assawi:  Okay, thank you very much, Ken, again.  This a broad, very big question.  If we answer it, that means we'll liberate Iraq from ISIS but also from the militias  would save Iraq not just from ISIS and from the militias so all our presentations will answer that so thank you very much.  Look gentlemen -- ladies and gentlemen -- talking about Haider al-Abadi who inherited a very damaged political and security situation -- and he's a good guy.  Yes, I agree with you.  He's trying, yes. He needs to be supported -- both Americans, both Arab Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds, yes, I agree on that.  But until this moment, the program of the government has not been implemented according to his commitment in front of the Parliament.  I'm talking about the timetable.  So some of the stories like amnesty -- he talks about six months for example.  Now?  Nothing took place. And if you come to all other points of reconciliation, de-Ba'athifcaiton, etc.  So yes, I agree we should help Haider al-Abadi.  America can help to rebuild the Iraqi security forces that I talk about because without building national security forces it means Iraq would be controlled totally by militias on one side and by ISIS on the other side.  And this is the question -- the story of arming Sunnis: Would arming Sunnis divide Iraq?  The question is: Is Iraq united now?  More than 50% is under the control of ISIS.  We want to bring back, restore united Iraq by arming the Sunnis. So when we send Sunni fighters and Kurds to liberate territory from ISIS, we want to bring back the unity of Iraq.  So helping him in dismantling militias on the Shi'ite side, bringing back state of law, supporting him in the very rapid arming of the Iraqi fighters -- Kurd and Sunni according to our suggestion of this committee because central government keeps saying that if we push the weapons to the Sunni tribes and the Sunnis may push it.  Is it the Sunnis who will push the weapons or or the defeated Iraqi army who'll give his tanks in Mosul when he's defeated?  So you see, this is not justification.  You cannot keep saying -- putting question mark on everything. You have to trust people who are fighting ISIS.  So this is dismantlying militias putting all the resources of all the Iraqis supporting them in fighting ISIS, supporting Iraqis in presenting the draft of national guard because we agreed upon local forces that catch security on the ground in Nineveh on its own and in Anbar local, by the way, and on the southern province also so south has its own national guard.  The problem is national guard has not moved yet.  So these are the main topics on which America can help.  Finally, America can also work to support Abadi on oil because when the prices have collapsed, it's very difficult for the government to cover the costs of all these huge numbers of displaced people, the story of international funds may help also.

Kenneth Pollack:  Governor Atheel?

Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi:  I believe in the unity of the stronger groups. I think it will not be -- Iraq will not be united if we strengthen one group and weaken the others.  So what we need is to strengthen the Sunni group so that they can fight ISIS also they will return to balance the Iraqi forces.  And US can do that. It can strengthen the Iraq, the Sunni groups, the Kurds and the legal Shia group who are in the Iraqi Constitution.  

Kenneth Pollack:  Governor, let me follow that up with a specific question to you -- but, Rafe, I would also be glad to get your thoughts -- the process of reconciliation was something you both talked about, that Prime Minister Abadi talks about.  Again, it is clear that every Iraqi who knows anything about the situation understands that this is critical.  Does the US have a role to play in fostering that process of reconciliation because, again, we see people like you, we see people like the Prime Minister talking about the process of reconciliation [but] we don't really see it happening. Is it happening behind the scenes?  Is there more that can be done? Should the US be doing more? Governor?

Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi:  I think that there's a real wish for the reconciliation in Iraq especially when some of the Shi'ite groups get the authority and they didn't want to lose it.  So they want the reconciliation to keep the power in their hand and it cannot be a reconciliation like that.  If we are talking with real reconciliation, as I said, we need to strengthen the other groups to give them the freedom to choose their representatives so they will be in balance with others.  And that will work.  I'm talking about elections.  We need elections getting all of the groups of the Sunnis -- not only me and Dr. Rafe -- all the Sunni groups must be involved in that election.  And so we will have all the Sunni community inside the political process.

I'm not of the opinion that Haider al-Abadi is a "good person."

I honestly don't care whether he is or not or whether he wakes up smiling or has a pleasant bowel movement.

I care if he delivers on his promise.

He was installed (by the US government) to demonstrate to a fracturing Iraq -- and a targeted and disenchanted Sunni group -- that democracy -- in some form -- was still a possibility for Iraq.

We'll go into democracy or 'democracy' in Iraq in Thursday's snapshot.

But for now, let's just note that Haider's installation as prime minister was a last gasp effort to try to save Iraq -- last gasp effort by the US government.

And let's note that Barack declared, eleven months ago, that the only answer to Iraq's crises was "a political solution."

Now if that was sincere, if the whole point was to trick and screw over the Iraqi people (yet again), then the US government should have been aiding and facilitating reconciliation.

They should have made every weapon delivery, every equipment delivery, every bit of financial aid promised and delivered conditional upon steps towards national reconciliation.

Not empty words, mind you, but actual steps, actual actions taken.

You laugh he said you think you're immune 
Go look at your eyes they're full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you 
All those pretty lies pretty lies
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies
Only pretty lies just pretty lies

-- "The Last Time I Saw Richard," written by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Blue album

Those pretty lies aren't doing a damn thing to help Iraq.

And it's a sign of just how awful thug Nouri al-Maliki was as prime minister that Haider al-Abadi doing nothing for eight months is a sign of 'improvement.'

Or treated as though it is.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

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