Colonel Thomas Veale has had the unenviable task of announcing the first official Western attempt to partition Syria on ethnic-sectarian lines. Whether or not he realises the implications of his extraordinary statement a few days ago, Colonel Veale – a Kansas University and US Military Academy graduate who rejoices in the title of “Public Affairs Director at Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve” – was quite open about the creation of another new and largely Kurdish force which will, in theory, control tens of thousands of square kilometres of Syria. Arab members of the same 30,000-strong “Border Security Force” will man checkpoints further south along the Euphrates river valley.
The Saudis may be holding the Lebanese Prime Minister hostage but their apparent plan to topple the Beirut government has gloriously backfired. Far from breaking up the cabinet and throwing Hezbollah’s ministers to the wolves, the Lebanese nation has suddenly woken up to what it’s like to be united – against the Saudis. The Lebanese government has announced that it does not accept the resignation statement which Saad Hariri was obliged to make in Riyadh, and overnight hashtags have appeared on several Beirut streets saying “kul na Saad” – “We are all Saad”. Even the Sunni Muslims of Lebanon are furious at their Sunni counterparts in Saudi Arabia.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a media-savvy man, and he has just pressed the button he knew would make headlines: Saudi women will be able to drive for the first time in the history of the kingdom. And the act begat the headlines and the headlines begat a tweet from the President of the United States who himself begat a $110bn arms contract with the Saudis three months ago. And so it came to pass. For 24 hours, the world was told about the lifting of the driving ban rather than the chopping-off of heads, the arrest of human rights activists and the horrific war in Yemen.
A message came through from Syria on my mobile phone last week. “General Khadour kept his promise,” it read. I knew what it meant.
Donald Trump sets off on Friday to create the fantasy of an Arab Nato. There will be dictators aplenty to greet him in Riyadh, corrupt autocrats and thugs and torturers and head choppers. There will be at least one zombie president – the comatose, undead Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria who neither speaks nor, apparently, hears any more – and, of course, one totally insane president, Donald Trump. The aim, however, is simple: to prepare the Sunni Muslims of the Middle East for war against the Shia Muslims. With help from Israel, of course.
Not since Ibn Batuta, travelled the Middle East in the 14th century has anyone set out with higher ambitions that Donald Trump. Batuta, a Moroccan Muslim traveller and scholar, had a few things in common with Trump. He reached what is now Saudi Arabia. He went to Jerusalem. He even had a keen eye for nubile ladies – there were a few wives, not to mention a Greek slave girl to be groped. But there the parallels end. For Ibn Batuta was sane.
Do they feel no sense of shame? What callousness. What disgrace. How outrageous that our compassion should dry up the moment we realised that this latest massacre of the innocents wasn’t quite worth the same amount of tears and fury that the early massacre had produced. It fact it wasn’t worth a single tear. For the 126 Syrians – almost all of them civilians – who have just been killed outside Aleppo, were Shia Muslims being evacuated from two government-held (ie Bashar-held) villages in the north of Syria. And their killer was obviously from al-Nusra (al-Qaeda) or one of the Sunni “rebel” groups we in the West have armed – or quite possibly from Isis itself – and thus didn’t qualify for our sorrow.
Funny how another nation’s sectarian hatred comes seeping over the national frontier of its neighbours. Mexico is now fighting off the US President’s wall mania. Justin Trudeau’s Canada looks squeaky clean compared to America. You can forgive the Prime Minister’s vanity – Trudeau is now posing Tom Cruise style, eyes narrowed in love towards his wife in her cringe-making Women’s Day photo-op with her husband. Not long ago, the same couple blessed the cover of Vanity Fair. But he’s the guy who walks talk on immigration, welcomes Syrian refugees with affection, tells them they’re “home” and generally makes Trump look like a scumbag.
You’d think, given the harsh anti-Muslim Trump administration in Washington, that the Arab kings and dictators would be lining up to condemn the ruthless sectarian laws being drawn up by an American president who approves of torture. All that claptrap about “bad dudes” and “Islamic terror”. Pretty sinister stuff. Not a bit of it. The potentates have been overwhelming the White House switchboard with calls, both Egypt’s Sissi and the Gulf Arabs. The Emirates actually expressed approval of Trump’s policies. The Jordanian monarch, who of course got to Washington first, is being followed in quick succession to the Trump throne room by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan had it coming. The Turkish army was never going to remain compliant while the man who would recreate the Ottoman Empire turned his neighbours into enemies and his country into a mockery of itself. But it would be a grave mistake to assume two things: that the putting down of a military coup is a momentary matter after which the Turkish army will remain obedient to its sultan; and to regard at least 161 deaths and more than 2,839 detained in isolation from the collapse of the nation-states of the Middle East.