Middle East update: April 26 2018


During his Tuesday press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Donald Trump did the thing where you say the quiet part out loud and also in an extremely stupid way:

“Countries that are in the area, some of which are immensely wealthy, would not be there except for the United States and, to a lesser extent, France,” Trump said at a news conference Tuesday.


“They wouldn’t be there except for the United States,” he went on. “They wouldn’t last a week. We are protecting them. They have to now step up and pay for what is happening.”

Donald is obsessed with sending bills to other countries, which is fascinating given that he never paid any of his bills as a businessman. He wants NATO to pay the US for being in NATO. He wants Saudi Arabia to pay the US to stay in Syria. He wants the Saudis and “other countries that are in the area” to pay the US for allying with them. This is not how the world works. Some of the countries to which I assume he’s referring would, to be sure, find themselves in a serious crisis if the US stopped protecting them. But most would still “be there” without the United States, they’d just have other alliances. If they weren’t “there” then other countries would be, and those countries would have their own alliances. Contrary to popular opinion in Washington, the US is not indispensable.

What’s great about what Trump said on Tuesday, apart from how it’s another example of our wet-brained idiot president farting another dumb thought out of his empty head, is that it was of course immediately picked up by Iran, the country Trump says he wants to counter, whose head of state accurately characterized it as “a humiliation”:

It’s not a humiliation for Khamenei, mind you. He’s not a US ally. It’s a humiliation for every Middle Eastern country that is a US ally. Most of those countries are Iran’s regional adversaries. They all basically had to eat Trump’s shit on Tuesday and tell the whole world that it was actually a delicious ice cream, and for what appears to be no reason other than the president had another one of his outbursts in public.


The Syrian military continues to pound away at Yarmouk and neighboring areas, while the ISIS and other insurgent fighters there continue to not surrender and leave for some reason. The UN says that conditions for those Palestinian refugees who remain in the Yarmouk camp has deteriorated. The Syrian government is responsible for that to be sure, but the US has celebrated each of the places it’s helped liberate from ISIS despite the massive civilian suffering incurred in the operations to liberate them. The UN has been consistent in its warnings about harm to civilians, but anybody looking to frame Yarmouk as another of Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes should take a gander at what happened in Raqqa last summer and try to explain the difference.

Russian and Syrian authorities brought 15 Syrians allegedly from Eastern Ghouta to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ offices in The Hague on Wednesday to show that they were unaffected by the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma on April 7. This is a bit like me rounding up a dozen double cheeseburgers to prove that, contrary to reports, I did not eat a double cheeseburger for lunch three days ago. Maybe I really didn’t eat a double cheeseburger for lunch three days ago, but if that’s my defense then I’m not doing a very good job of proving it and it might even start to look like I’m protesting too much. One of the 15 did resemble someone in one of the hospital videos that purported to show the aftermath of the attack, but that’s pretty weak sauce.

Meanwhile, a new law out of Damascus threatens to confiscate property from millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. More than 10 million Syrians have until early next month to claim their homes or forfeit them to the Syrian government. They have to be present to do this, something that’s impossible for the vast majority of displaced, and to provide proof of ownership, something that may be impossible if, say, your deed got blown up with your house. The government is unlikely to start confiscating millions of homes, but it may use the law to ensure that rebels and rebel sympathizers are forced to resettle away from important areas like major cities and as leverage over returning refugees.


So, about Macron’s plan to negotiate a newer, bigger, hotter Iran deal after Trump (likely) scuttles the current nuclear deal next month. Remember how I said that Iran might not be too keen on that idea? That’s certainly what the Iranians are saying in public:

“Any change or amendment to the current deal will not be accepted by Iran,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the semi-official Iranian news agency Fars reported.


“If Trump exits the deal, Iran will surely pull out of it … Iran will not accept a nuclear deal with no benefits for us,” Velayati told journalists.

The only path toward a more comprehensive agreement with Iran would seem to come via upholding the nuclear deal and thereby demonstrating good faith. Scrapping the nuclear deal tells the Iranians (and everybody else–oh hi, Kim Jong-un, I didn’t see you there) that the United States can’t be trusted and therefore there’s no sense negotiating anything with Washington, ever. Asking Iran to then accept a far more restrictive deal that offers no additional benefits to Iran is…let’s say “unrealistic.” All the more so when Russia and China are also making it clear that they don’t want any part of a new or different arrangement:

Russia and China are both putting their feet down about the talk in the US and France about renegotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 agreement on freezing and curtailing Iran’s nuclear enrichment program by the UN Security Council and Germany in return for lifting international sanctions. US President Trump is threatening to withdraw, while French President Emmanuel Macron urges that the deal be kept but renegotiated to widen restrictions on Iran.


The pushback comes as the US continues to violate the spirit of the agreement by retaining severe sanctions on Iran, which it had implied it would drop. The Department of Justice is even said to be planning action against Chinese smartphone Huawei for selling its products in Iran. You can imagine how this is going over in Beijing.

Meanwhile, in case it even matters anymore, even Trump’s own Iran hawk defense secretary thinks the nuclear deal should be preserved.

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