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“The House Kharijites”: The Freedom Caucus’ Forebears; The Original Islamic Extremists

So how is it exactly that even the most conservative leaders among House Republicans, such as Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), have become vilified as a bunch of sellouts by the Tea Party base and its faction in Congress, the Freedom Caucus?

The compromises of governance have truly infuriated the House GOP’s far-right wing — and now they want it all to stop. The participants in the current crisis over the speakership, with a minority fringe of House Republicans threatening to vote against the GOP leadership itself on the House floor, are now going way over the top in a variety of ways: comparing the leaders to dictators; calling for the rise of “Valley Forge Americans” in the spirit of the American Revolution; boasting that they’ve taken down their own party leaders; and issuing a set of demands for total purism that would trigger a government shutdown (plus the impeachment of the heads of the IRS).

But there might actually be a great basis of comparison for these wreckers, who prize the cause so much that the party itself has become their hostage: The Freedom Caucus mirror nothing else so much as the earliest Muslim extremists, known as the Kharijites — although the caucus members are probably the last people on Earth who would admit to the resemblance.

As is commonly known in the West, the seeds of the Muslim schism began after the death of Muhammad, with the question of succession creating rival camps around the Prophet’s father-in-law and partner Abu Bakr, whose faction became the majority Sunni; or his son-in-law Ali, whose followers are the minority Shia.

Ali did in fact become the caliph, after 26 years of deference to other men — but by the time this occurred, the Muslim empire itself was splitting in the first Islamic civil war, which erupted after an angry mob had assassinated the previous caliph Uthman.

After years of horrific bloodshed, resulting in the deaths of possibly many tens of thousands of people, Caliph Ali eventually entered into negotiations with his primary rival, the breakaway leader Muawiyah, to reach a settlement that ultimately granted huge concessions of autonomy (and even equality) to the latter.

And that’s when Ali’s most ardent followers got really angry — at Ali, for betraying God’s holy will that had animated the cause of… Ali.

From an excellent book on the history of Islam, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary:

Compromising with the enemy disappointed a faction of Ali’s most committed followers, and these younger, more radical of his partisans split away. They came to be known as Kharijites, “ones who departed.” This splinter group reformulated the ideals of Ali’s followers into a revolutionary new doctrine: blood and genealogy meant nothing, they said. Even a slave had the right to lead the community. The only qualification was character. No one was born to leadership, and mere election could not transform someone into the khalifa. Whoever exhibited the greatest authentic devotion to Muslim values simply was the khalifa, no election needed. He was, however, accountable to the people. If he ever fell a hair short of complete moral excellence, he forfeited his right to high office and someone else became khalifa. Through what actual machinery all this demotion and promotion was to occur, the Kharijites didn’t say. Not their problem. They only knew that Ali had squandered his entitlement and needed to step down; and since he didn’t step down, one young Kharijite took matters into his own hands. In the year 40 AH [approx. 661 C.E.], this hothead assassinated Ali.

The lesson here: If the cause is made out to be holy and sacrosanct, then not even the most dedicated leaders are safe from the true believers.


By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, October 16, 2015

October 17, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, House Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Substitute For A Saudi-Iranian Dialogue”: Blame These Two Countries, Not The United States, For The Current Crisis In Iraq

There is plenty of blame to go around for the current mess in Iraq, but reprimanding Washington, Iraqi President Nouri Al-Maliki, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will solve nothing. The real fault should be assigned to those actors who, despite having tremendous influence and real leverage over the majority of the Iraqi antagonists, have so far decided not to intervene politically. That’s Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A dialogue between the Iranians and the Saudis is desperately needed not just to stop Iraq’s bleeding and prevent another full-blown civil war, but to extinguish at least the major Sunni-Shi’ite fires throughout the Middle East that are fueling this violence and chaos.

This is not a naive call for putting an end to an old and fierce rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and to an historic feud between the two biggest branches of Islam. That’s just not going to happen. Instead, this is a realistic invitation for two regional heavyweights who, for better or worse, speak for the majority of Sunnis and Shi’ites in the Middle East, to negotiate a path out of this catastrophic situation. Call it arms control, dialogue, or cooperation. The bottom line is that they need to sit down and talk about ways to manage or stabilize their regional competition by agreeing to hard rules that would benefit both, otherwise Arab League chief Amr Moussa’s nightmare scenario of the gates of hell opening in the Middle East will turn into a reality.

In Iraq, Al-Maliki is a big part of the problem, but he is a problem that the Iranians (along with the Americans) created and can easily solve. Saudi Arabia knows that Al-Maliki is Iran’s man in Baghdad, so the first item on the hypothetical Saudi-Iranian negotiating agenda is a new power-sharing arrangement in Iraq that removes Al-Maliki and reintegrates the Sunnis into political life. Because the Shi’ites are the majority in Iraq, the balance of power will always tilt in their favor, but this doesn’t have to translate into Sunni exclusion and Shi’ite domination (as it has been the case under Al-Maliki), and the Iranians and the Saudis can negotiate that.

In Bahrain, Yemen, and Lebanon, similar realistic bargains can take place. Iran should have no business fomenting unrest in Saudi Arabia’s backyard: in Bahrain by supporting radical segments of the opposition there, and in Yemen, where Iran is suspected of sending arms to the Houthi rebels. In Lebanon, while Iran will not instruct Hezbollah to relinquish its weapons (it’s much more complicated than that), it certainly can influence the powerful Shi’ite group’s future in ways that can help it address the concerns of Lebanon’s Sunni players (and Christians and Druze), the most relevant of whom are allied with Riyadh. And even inside the Saudi Kingdom, Iran should reassure Saudi Arabia that it has no intentions of stirring trouble in the Eastern Province, which is predominantly Shi’ite.

Syria will be the toughest nut to crack. The Saudi-Iranian differences there are most acute. Saudi Arabia has spent a vast amount of material resources to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Iran has had to incur even heavier costs to do the exact opposite. At present, Iran seems to have the upper hand in Syria, but the conflict is anything but stable and Saudi Arabia has not said its final word yet. Progress on the other regional issues could help pave the way for some sort of deal that cuts Saudi losses, caps Iranian gains, and preserves major Saudi and Iranian security interests in the country, including the defeat of extremist elements that are associated with ISIL and Al Qaeda.

As the United States mulls its options in Iraq, the smartest thing it can do is encourage, with the help of Britain, France, and Russia, the Iranians and the Saudis to announce a summit for high-level, comprehensive political talks between their leaders.

This is the most important conversation that should be happening today in the Middle East, and we are not too far from it. Today, there is an open invitation from Saudi Arabia to a dialogue with Iran, but Iran has yet to respond. Instead, it seems to be more interested in brokering deals with Washington in Vienna by offering security cooperation in Iraq. A potential U.S.-Iran meeting in Vienna could produce tactical gains but it is absolutely no substitute for a Saudi-Iranian strategic dialogue.


By: Bilal Y. Saab, Senior Fellow for Middle East Security at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security: The New Republic, June 16, 2014

June 22, 2014 Posted by | Iraq, Middle East | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Brutal Neoconservative Legacy In Iraq”: Empowering And Strengthening The Worst Elements In The Entire Middle East

When we take stock of American policy in Iraq and its effects over the last decade, reasonable and humane people tend to focus on the devastating toll in blood, treasure and reputation. Hundreds of thousands dead, even more injured, families torn apart, trillions of dollars burned and bombed away, priceless artifacts destroyed, and America’s moral standing in the world severely diminished.

The less sophisticated neoconservative responses are to simply deny the truth or the importance of these losses, or to somehow blame them on political opponents who either actively opposed the invasion or were dragged into tepid support of it under threat of jingoistic political attacks in a country rabid for revenge against “the perpetrators.”

The more intellectual neoconservative answer has been to minimize the immediate losses while focusing on the ultimate legacy of the invasion from a bird’s eye view. They argue that removing Saddam Hussein from power will have been the right decision in the long run, that a free and democratic Iraq will ultimately be an ally of the West and an invaluable geopolitical prize, serving as a bulwark against extremism. It’s a dispassionate dodge, but one that has always been hard to fully discredit because of the very “we’ll have to wait and see” nature of the argument.

But over a decade after the invasion and with Iraq seemingly entering a disastrous sectarian civil war, it seems abundantly clear that whatever the long-term effects of the invasion may be, the near to mid-term result has been to empower Shi’ite theocrats in Iran, and to radicalize Sunni factions in Iraq. As of this writing, Sunni extremist groups expressly intent on establishing a global caliphate are threatening to overrun Baghdad. The corrupt Shi’ite government of Nouri Al-Maliki is counting on and receiving support from the Ayatollahs in Iran.

Neither of these developments have even a silver lining behind them. The hold of the theocratic regime in Iran has been weakening under popular protest over the last many years; its best hope of holding onto power over time has been to direct the anger of its citizens outward against the West. The efficacy of that appeal has been waning–but a newly engaged threat from Sunnis right across the border will almost certainly strengthen hardline rule in Tehran.

The radical Sunni threat from ISIS and its allies is even more dangerous, and was precipitated directly by the invasion. Whatever Saddam Hussein’s crimes may have been (and they were many), his regime was not ardently theocratic. Indeed, under Hussein Sunnis in Iraq avoided much of the radicalization that befell fellow sectarians in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and elsewhere. With Saddam gone and a corrupt and unresponsive Shi’ite regime in his place, Iraq has suddenly become a ground zero for Sunni extremism.

That’s a very ugly legacy for neoconservatives to face. Not only were they directly responsible for the horrific loss of life and treasure during and after the invasion, they are also responsible for empowering and strengthening some of the worst elements in the entire Middle East. It’s not pretty from any perspective.


By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 15, 2014

June 16, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq, Middle East, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Lost Iraq?”: The Iraqis Did, With An Assist From George W. Bush

It is becoming increasingly likely that Iraq has reached a turning point. The forces hostile to the government have grown stronger, better equipped and more organized. And having now secured arms, ammunition and hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from their takeover of Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city — they will build on these strengths. Inevitably, in Washington, the question has surfaced: Who lost Iraq?

Whenever the United States has asked this question — as it did with China in the 1950s or Vietnam in the 1970s — the most important point to remember is: The local rulers did. The Chinese nationalists and the South Vietnamese government were corrupt, inefficient and weak, unable to be inclusive and unwilling to fight with the dedication of their opponents. The same story is true of Iraq, only much more so. The first answer to the question is: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lost Iraq.

The prime minister and his ruling party have behaved like thugs, excluding the Sunnis from power, using the army, police forces and militias to terrorize their opponents. The insurgency the Maliki government faces today was utterly predictable because, in fact, it happened before. From 2003 onward, Iraq faced a Sunni insurgency that was finally tamped down by Gen. David Petraeus, who said explicitly at the time that the core element of his strategy was political, bringing Sunni tribes and militias into the fold. The surge’s success, he often noted, bought time for a real power-sharing deal in Iraq that would bring the Sunnis into the structure of the government.

A senior official closely involved with Iraq in the Bush administration told me, “Not only did Maliki not try to do broad power-sharing, he reneged on all the deals that had been made, stopped paying the Sunni tribes and militias, and started persecuting key Sunni officials.” Among those targeted were the vice president of Iraq and its finance minister.

But how did Maliki come to be prime minister of Iraq? He was the product of a series of momentous decisions made by the Bush administration. Having invaded Iraq with a small force — what the expert Tom Ricks called “the worst war plan in American history” — the administration needed to find local allies. It quickly decided to destroy Iraq’s Sunni ruling establishment and empower the hard-line Shiite religious parties that had opposed Saddam Hussein. This meant that a structure of Sunni power that had been in the area for centuries collapsed. These moves — to disband the army, dismantle the bureaucracy and purge Sunnis in general — might have been more consequential than the invasion itself.

The turmoil in the Middle East is often called a sectarian war. But really it is better described as “the Sunni revolt.” Across the region, from Iraq to Syria, one sees armed Sunni gangs that have decided to take on the non-Sunni forces that, in their view, oppress them. The Bush administration often justified its actions by pointing out that the Shiites are the majority in Iraq and so they had to rule. But the truth is that the borders of these lands are porous, and while the Shiites are numerous in Iraq — Maliki’s party actually won a plurality, not a majority — they are a tiny minority in the Middle East as a whole. It is outside support — from places as varied as Saudi Arabia and Turkey — that sustains the Sunni revolt.

If the Bush administration deserves a fair share of blame for “losing Iraq,” what about the Obama administration and its decision to withdraw American forces from the country by the end of 2011? I would have preferred to see a small American force in Iraq to try to prevent the country’s collapse. But let’s remember why this force is not there. Maliki refused to provide the guarantees that every other country in the world that hosts U.S. forces offers. Some commentators have blamed the Obama administration for negotiating badly or halfheartedly and perhaps this is true. But here’s what a senior Iraqi politician told me in the days when the U.S. withdrawal was being discussed: “It will not happen. Maliki cannot allow American troops to stay on. Iran has made very clear to Maliki that its No. 1 demand is that there be no American troops remaining in Iraq. And Maliki owes them.” He reminded me that Maliki spent 24 years in exile, most of them in Tehran and Damascus, and his party was funded by Iran for most of its existence. And in fact, Maliki’s government has followed policies that have been pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian.

Washington is debating whether airstrikes or training forces would be more effective, but its real problem is much larger and is a decade in the making. In Iraq, it is defending the indefensible.


By: Fareed Zakaria, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 12, 2014



June 16, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq, Iraq War | , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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