Richard Whittall:

The Globalist's Top Ten Books in 2016: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

Middle East Eye: "

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer is one of the weightiest, most revelatory, original and important books written about sport"

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”

Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach: "James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport: “Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”
Play the Game: "Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal: "No one is better at this kind of work than James Dorsey"
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated: "Essential Reading"
Change FIFA: "A fantastic new blog'

Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life:
"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"

Christopher Ahl, Play the Game: "An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Variations on a theme: The Gulf crisis settles into a family squabble

Sheikh Tamim and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed

By James M. Dorsey

A three-month old crisis in the Gulf that has pitted Qatar against an alliance led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia has settled into a family squabble in which the protagonists appear to be singing different variations of the same song.

Qatar and its detractors disagree on how they view the world around them and how they would like to shape it, but are in tacit agreement on the fundamental political structure of their respective states that seems designed to put a 21st century veneer on traditional autocratic and tribal rule.

To be sure, Qatar has couched the defense of its controversial foreign policy and relationships with Islamic militants in the language of a forward-looking state that embraces concepts of democracy and press freedom. The UAE defends its approach as a pillar of the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Yet, several interviews in which senior UAE diplomats make no bones about their defense of autocracy and the fact that their country’s alignment with the United States is based on interests rather than shared values is just as applicable to Qatar, which advocates greater political freedoms for others rather than itself.

At the core of the dispute in the Gulf are different strategies for regime survival as Gulf autocracies are forced to diversify and rationalize their economies and rewrite social contracts that no longer offer citizens cradle-to-grave welfare in exchange of surrender of political rights. The different strategies are rooted in perceptions of how to come to grips with a post-9/11 world and a region whose fundaments were rocked by the 2011 popular revolts.

Qatar’s embrace of the rise of political Islam and the quest for change that exploded onto the political scene with the uprisings that toppled four Arab leaders, constitutes, despite naively assuming that the Gulf state itself can remain immune to transition, a direct challenge to survival strategies adopted by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt.

Among the four, the UAE has been the most radical and consequential in its effort to ensure the survival of its rulers. More than any other Gulf state, the UAE opted to discard past sensitivity to public empathy with Islamic causes in favour of wholly aligning its counter-terrorism policies with those of the United States, positioning itself as an indispensable military ally, and brutally suppressing dissent.

The policy overhaul aimed to ensure US military support for a country whose sense of security has in part been shaped by Iran’s continued occupation of three Gulf islands, Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. Iran seized the islands in 1971, two days before the UAE achieved independence. The policy change also constituted a response to the rejection on national security grounds by the US Coast Guard and Congress of a 2006 bid by Dubai Ports World to take over the management of several major American ports. “Having a company right out of the heartland of Al Qaeda manage those ports…is madness,” US Representative Peter King thundered at the time.

The rise of US President Donald J. Trump with his apparent empathy for Arab autocracy and lack of interest in the traditional US promotion of democratic values, has emboldened UAE officials to be more forthright about the political philosophy that informs their system of government.

”We have our own style of democracy. We have something called the majlis system, which is open forums where people address their leaders, where they voice their grievances and they come and they say, ‘I need this’ or ‘This is a problem’ or ‘My son’s school isn’t working,’ and this is the Bedouin style of democracy. Is this the Jeffersonian style of democracy? No. But it works for us, it works for our culture, it works for our identity,” Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s influential ambassador to the United States, recently told The Atlantic magazine.

“If you asked the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Bahrain what kind of Middle East they want to see in 10 years, they would have opposed that of Qatar," Mr Al Otaiba said in a separate television interview. Instead, he said, Qatar’s detractors were pushing for "strong, stable and prosperous secular governments."

Mr. Al Otaiba’s promotion of Western style-secularism appeared in contrast to the lyrics of the UAE’s national anthem that embodies Islam as part of the country’s identity. “You have lived for a nation whose religion is Islam and guide is the Qur’an,” the anthem says.

The arrest in Abu Dhabi only days after Mr. Al Otaiba’s remarks and sentencing to a year in prison of two Singaporeans, a man and a pre-operative transgender woman, on charges of cross-dressing suggested that the ambassador’s notion of secularism was more akin to public norms extolled in the anthem than any notion of secularism. The sentences were subsequently reduced and the two Singaporeans allowed to return home.

In yet another interview, Omar Ghobash, the UAE ambassador to Russia, was equally blunt in his defense of autocracy. “We do not claim to have press freedom. We do not promote the idea of press freedom. What we talk about is responsibility in speech.” Ghobash appeared to justify the UAE’s position on the same argument implicit in Mr. Al-Otaiba’s statements: the country’s rulers rather than its citizens know what is best for them. “Speech in our part of the world has a particular context, and that context can go from peaceful to violent in no time simply because of words that are spoken,” Mr. Ghobash said.

Messrs. Al Otaiba and Ghobash’s portrayal of the UAE’s political philosophy seemed more in line with a decades-old news clip in a music video entitled ‘$heikh it’ by Kuwaiti-American hip-hop group Shafiq Husayn & the Sons of Yusuf than with a cutting-edge, 21st century state.  “A man torn between two worlds. He’s an Arab sheikh who was born in an old Arabia and will die in a new one. He worships Allah, loves the desert, and is one of the richest men in the world. His forefathers ruled the world from the back of a camel, he rides it in a limousine. But he remains, as they were, the centre of tribal life. He’s the man you serve, the man you hunt with, and the many you fight for. Above all, he’s the man who leads,” the news reader intoned.

To be fair, the news reader’s portrayal of change in the Gulf is equally true for Qatar, where the Gulf crisis has sparked a new wave of nationalism that centres on support for the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Like his counterparts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Tamim is “the man who leads” and brooks no dissent. Time will tell whether that is a political model that can withstand far-reaching economic reforms, the radical rewriting of social contracts, and unstoppable technological advances. So far, however, it has allowed Qatar to stand its ground in a dispute in which the protagonists have beyond their differences much in common.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and four forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa as well as The Gulf Crisis: Small States Battle It Out, Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Trump's Afghan Military Solution Will Fail (JMD on The Real News Network)

  August 29, 2017

James Dorsey tells Paul Jay that Trump's plan is to force the Taliban to negotiate, but there is no reason for them to do so

Full video at 


James Dorsey
 is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies, and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture and the author of The Turbulent World of
Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative
Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and
North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and four forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in
the Middle East and North Africa as well as The Gulf Crisis: Small
States Battle It Out, Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the


PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay. Donald
Trump continued the circus show that is his presidency and was his
campaign with a speech which was a rant, a tirade, an attack on just
about everybody who says anything critical of Donald Trump. I
personally, I have to confess, I'm enjoying every moment of this. I
think the more dysfunctional this presidency is, the better for the
people of the world. I would hate to see the same objectives executed
by someone who seems to be more functional and looks certainly more presidential, that's Mike Pence, so I'm not one of the ones that is in any
hurry for Donald Trump to exit the scene. What do leaders around the
world think of all this, and then particularly, what do the Chinese leaders
think of this? Add to that Pakistan and India, because it was only the day before this that Trump delivered a speech on what was supposedly new American strategy in Afghanistan. There wasn't a heck of a lot new about
it, except much more inflated rhetoric about Pakistan's role in what they called harboring and creating safe havens for the Taliban, and maybe
even more, bringing in, inviting India into Afghanistan as a major investor, which, greatly inflaming the Pakistan-Indian tensions.
Now joining us to dissect all of this is James Dorsey, who joins us from Singapore. James is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and co-director of the University of Würzburg's
Institute for Fan Culture, and he writes extensively on the Middle East and
on Asia and on geopolitics. Thanks for joining us.

JAMES DORSEY: My pleasure to be with you.

PAUL JAY: It's hard to know where to start with Trump. His Afghan
speech called for essentially upping the stakes of pressure on Pakistan
and its support for the Taliban. There's nothing new about all this. In
fact, Pakistan's support for the Taliban, at least in the beginning,
certainly earlier support of Pakistan's support for Al-Qaeda's jihadist
forces in Afghanistan, was U.S. policy. This whole thing is rooted in
Brzezinski and Carter and the idea of sucking the Russians into
Afghanistan, and working with jihadists and working with Afghan fundamentalists that they want to call Islamic terrorists, this was U.S.
policy, and Pakistan's just sort of continuing it in its own interest. But
all that being said, this policy of Trump weighting in to bring India,
tipping the balance to some extent on how the U.S. plays its cards in
that region, and with the ultimate real confrontation, potentially, with
China, which, both have serious positioning in Pakistan and tensions
with India, how, before we get into the deeper geopolitics of this, how
do these countries take anything the Americans do right now seriously
when it's President Trump?

JAMES DORSEY: Well, for starters, I think, because it's the United States
and what the United States represents, you can't ignore it, no matter
who is at the head, who is President of the United States. Trump adds a
layer of difficulty to that because he's unpredictable, because he's full of
flops, and because he, obviously, mitigates between, on the one hand, a
very rational speech, whatever you think of the policy that he laid out on South Asia and Afghanistan, and the kind of very emotional rant that we s
aw in Phoenix, Arizona, merely 24 hours later.
What that means is that on the one hand, foreign leaders have to take
Trump into account, but in many ways, will look at ways in which they can assert their own interests simply because the United States no longer is a reliable partner, or if it's not a partner, it's not even a reliable force.

PAUL JAY: Just to recap, his main plan, he's apparently not saying how
many, increase troops, but they've already announced the new troops
are already arriving in the next few days in Afghanistan. There's some
talk about three, 3,900, 4,000 new U.S. troops, but if you have now set
the bar that the United States cannot leave Afghanistan without
essentially forcing some kind of negotiation, creating some kind of government structure there, negotiations that the Taliban may someday
be part of, you're essentially calling for endless war for anyone, I think,
knows the region. That is not going to end with 4,000 troops. That was
just to recap, I think, the main point of what Trump called for in his
Afghan speech plus the inclusion of India. You're sitting in Beijing. The Chinese are the other uber-power in this region. How do you take all this,
and what are your next moves?
I know within just a couple of hours of Trump's speech, China issued a--Foreign Minister Yi issued a statement in support of Pakistan, and then
the Pakistani Foreign Minister, he issued a statement talking about how they're going to rely more on this trilateral committee, which is India, Pakistan, and ... I'm sorry, Afghanistan, Pakistan, mediated by China. I
mean, does all this really lead to a bigger Chinese role, I guess is what
I'm asking.

JAMES DORSEY: Well, the bigger Chinese role is already there. China's investing more than $50 billion into Pakistan, primarily into energy and
into infrastructure projects. It's the single largest investment it's making
as part of its One Belt One Road initiative, the initiative that's supposed
to create this infrastructure linkage across the Eurasian landmass. China
already has enormous stakes in Pakistan, and enormous interests. The problem here is that in some ways, China's attitude is a mystery, at least
a mystery to me. That is to say, China has supported Pakistan in its
support for militant groups and militant leaders, or at least its selective support for some militant leaders. It's only a few weeks ago that China vetoed, if I'm not incorrect, for the third time in a year and a half, the designating of a Pakistani militant by the UN Security Council as a
global terrorist.
The mystery about this is ... The obvious assumption is that they're
doing this because this militant is anti-Indian, very active in disputed
Kashmir, and therefore it needles the Indians. The mystery is that the
heart of the Chinese investment in Pakistan is the province of
Balochistan in western Pakistan, which borders on Iran. That's where
the key port is, and that's where the road, from where the road-railway linkages are supposed to go into northwestern China. And the
northwestern Chinese end of this this is particularly important, because
that's where the Chinese have problems with a restive Muslim
population, Turkic Muslim population, and that they're hoping that
through economic growth in Pakistan, economic growth will be duplicated
in Xinjiang, northwestern Chinese province, and that's how they're going
to solve their own problem. Now, if you're protecting militants, you're not going to pacify an already volatile part of Pakistan that has been racked
by violence, multiple attacks killing scores of people, including Chinese nationals.

PAUL JAY: Meaning Balochistan.

JAMES DORSEY: Meaning Balochistan, yes.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, there's been numerous terrorist attacks in Balochistan,
many targeting Chinese. The guy you're talking about, tell me his name

JAMES DORSEY: Masood Azhar.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. I mean, he's been linked, apparently, to terrorist attacks
in India. I mean, it seems like you're having, like Trump and the people around him seem to be more committing to this, not that it's a complete departure from Obama, but the idea of an American-Indian bloc versus a Chinese-Pakistani, perhaps Iranian, bloc, but why are the Chinese doing
this? I mean, why can't China play both ... Why can't they play this game
with Pakistan without alienating India? They seem to be poking a stick in India's eye.

JAMES DORSEY: Well, you've had rising tensions with India for a while,
also along the border where there are unsettled border issues between
China and India. But what I think you're going to see happening is that
if, indeed, the Trump administration moves to pressure the Pakistanis
on the issue of support for militant groups, the Pakistanis are going to
look at China and Russia as their escape route. Frankly, what American invests into Pakistan pales in comparison to what the Russians are
investing. Sorry, the Chinese are investing. So aligning themselves with
China and, on a secondary level, with Russia, makes perfect sense. I
think, ultimately, the Pakistanis are choosing for a short-term solution,
and that is going to backfire on them, because they do have a problem
in terms of their support for, or selective support for militant groups.
There's going to be a point where the Chinese and the Russians, but
primarily the Chinese, are going to say to the Pakistanis, "Enough is
enough. You've got to clean up your act."

PAUL JAY: The longer-term projection of this, if in fact--I say "Trump,"
it's Trump, but very much the professionals around Trump, the various generals, to a large extent, of sections of the foreign policy
establishment, who are behind this quote-unquote "new Afghan
strategy." But if India really is to take a bigger role in Afghanistan,
which Trump is asking them to do, in fact pressuring them to do ... In
his speech, we'll play a clip of this, he actually says, "India, you have
such big market in the United States, and you make so much money out
of the American economy and such." Like, "You owe us something, and
what you owe us is to come into Afghanistan," that I thought was kind
of weird all into itself.

JAMES DORSEY: I think, let's take a step back. I think you have three
basic issues with the policy that Trump laid out. The Indians are present
in Afghanistan, and they have very strong interests there. In fact, part
of the Pakistani attitude and the hostility or the tensions that exist with Afghanistan, and Pakistani support for the Taliban, has to do with the
Indians. The Pakistanis are determined at whatever price to reduce
Indian influence in Afghanistan, so what Trump is essentially doing is,
he's ... And it doesn't matter how many troops he puts into Afghanistan, because the problem is not solvable militarily, if it's at all solvable, and therefore he's going to be aggravating the situation by escalating
things on the military front. He's going to pressure Pakistan, which is
going to ... And he's asking India at the same time to come to America's
aid in Afghanistan, which means that you're escalating the whole
conflict at a moment in which you're pushing Pakistan closer to
those who already have tensions with the Indians, namely the

PAUL JAY: How dangerous is it?

JAMES DORSEY: It's dangerous. I mean, I wouldn't go as far as
saying we're risking nuclear conflict, although, of course, we're
dealing with two nuclear states, but what I do think you're getting
is a situation in which America will be sucked in further into the war
in Afghanistan. I don't see how they're going to come out of this with
what Trump called an honorable and satisfactory solution, although to
be fair to him, if you look very closely at what he said, he, by
implication, differentiated between, on the one hand, groups like the
Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, and on the other hand, the Taliban. He
held open the door for negotiations with the Taliban. The problem,
of course, is, why would the Taliban enter into negotiations if the
military conflict is not going to force them to do so? That's unlikely.
On the other hand, you're going to get stronger Pakistani support
for the Taliban, as if and when the United States supports or
pressures Pakistan to diminish its relations with militant groups, the
Pakistanis are going to move further away from the U.S., and that,
again, is going to add to the tensions between Pakistan and India.
So you're getting into a vicious circle of which there is no immediate
good exit.

PAUL JAY: What do you think's really driving U.S., Trump foreign
policy here? I mean, if I'm in the arms industry, I'm salivating. The
volatility in the region is, generally volatility is good if you know how
to play it, even in the finance side. What are the real objectives here? Because what they're talking about seems rather obvious isn't going
to lead anywhere, at least not in the normal ... Not in the stated
objectives, at any rate.

JAMES DORSEY: To me, it seems, if you look at seven month, or
whatever it is, of Trump in office, there were two major constants.
One is, he believes in military force, and he believes that military
force can achieve things. Two, his almost single-minded focus is
terrorism, and he believes that the problem of militant groups can
be resolved militarily. I don't think that's true in Afghanistan. I don't
think that's true in Iraq, and I don't think it's true in Syria, but until
he realizes that what ... Exclusive use of military power, rather than
the use of military power and law enforcement that is embedded in
far greater policies and the social, economic, and political issues,
and those are not short-term, achievable objectives, but unless you
embed your military efforts in the broader policy, they're going to fail.

PAUL JAY: All right, thanks for joining us, James. I hope we start

doing this regularly.
JAMES DORSEY: I would like to do so. Thank you very much for
having me.

PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.