The Middle East Channel

President Obama meets with Palestinians as rockets are launched from Gaza

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Ramallah, a city in the West Bank, to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The talks are likely to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but expectations are low for the meeting. The U.S. President was met in Ramallah by about 150 Palestinian demonstrators protesting his visit, accusing him of sidelining the Palestinian quest for statehood. However, he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict saying "We seek an independent, viable, and contiguous Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel so that the two sides enjoy prosperity and peace." In a news conference on Wednesday, Obama said "I will consider this a success if, when I go back on Friday, I am able to say to myself I have a better understanding of what the constraints are." Obama spent much of Wednesday in meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during which they discussed concerns about the conflict in Syria and seemed to have come to a consensus on Iran's nuclear development program. Meanwhile, Palestinian militants fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip on Thursday morning, hitting the southern Israeli town of Sderot. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks and police said there were no injuries or damage reported. Up to three other rockets were also fired.


The Syrian government and opposition forces have called for an international probe into an attack that may have involved chemical weapons. The Syrian government asked the United Nations for an "independent" investigation into a strike on Tuesday on Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province which it blames on opposition forces. Opposition fighters have accused the regime of staging the attack as well as blaming it for another attack allegedly using chemical weapons in Atayba near Damascus. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said that the request for an inquiry is being studied. U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered his own investigation. Speaking from Israel, Obama said, "Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer." Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported opposition forces have overtaken several towns along Syria's ceasefire line with Israel near the Golan Heights.


  • Imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan has declared a "historic" ceasefire to the 29-year-long conflict with Turkey which has killed an estimated 45,000 people.
  • Kuwait's Parliament passed a bill which would grant citizenship to "4,000 foreigners," or stateless people, locally know as Bidoon who have long fought for elevated standards and rights

Arguments and Analysis

Why the Left Must Oppose Negotiation Renewal (Mikhael Manekin, MOLAD)

"For the last twenty years, the Israeli Left has reflexively supported direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This was always considered the preferred route, or perhaps the only route, that would put an end to the conflict. Time after time and without exception, the Left camp has legitimized a Right-led peace process in the eyes of the Israeli public and the international community without considering the earnestness of right-wing leaders and the destructive consequences that come with a failed process.

When it comes to negotiations, the Left has repeatedly aided and abetted the Right -much as cheerleader from the sidelines might. The pattern is as follows: the Right opens negotiations, the Left lends them support, demonstrating their enthusiasm, the process fails, and then -without fail - the Left pays the price, even though they merely stood aside. Even worse, when negotiations lack all potential for success and are presented by propagandists from the Right, their failure has real destructive consequences for the two state solution.

The automatic backing given to every round of hollow or forced negotiations for the last two decades demands that the Left renew its line of thinking: Might it be that we've turned talks into ends and not means? Have we thereby abandoned our original goal - a political agreement with the Palestinians? Have we not strengthened the right with our own hands, a right which isn't at all interested in an agreement? Have we thereby participated in hemorrhaging processes whose sole purpose has been to stall for time?"

Jordan's Unfinished Journey: Parliamentary Elections and the State of Reform (Curtis R. Ryan, POMED)

"Despite efforts on the part of the Jordanian government to favorably portray its commitment to reform, a perception gap regarding the process and pace of transition to a constitutional monarchy persists. Recent parliamentary elections, heralded by the monarchy as a significant step in a broader reform initiative have been cast by the Kingdom's critics as an insignificant response to popular demand for greater participation in the democratic process. That response has included certain efforts to combat electoral fraud - foremost among which was the creation of an Independent Electoral Commission - but the extremely unequal distribution of seats, combined with boycotts by major opposition parties, has meant that the new parliament largely resembles its predecessors, with similar loyalties and little authority. In every aspect of its engagement with Jordan, the U.S. government should increase its focus on domestic political reform, articulating in clear and consistent terms the importance of empowering parliament, rectifying imbalances in the electoral system, fostering free speech and ensuring that political representation more accurately reflects Jordan's electorate."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey


The Middle East Channel

The Iraq War: Ten Years in Ten Numbers

While observers of the Iraq War anniversary argue over the scale of the mistake -- a colossal folly rooted in imperial ambition and hubris, or simply an error based on faulty intelligence and misplaced fear -- the devil is in the details. These numbers, assembled by some of the 29 contributors to the Costs of War Project based at Brown University, help put the past 10 years in perspective. 

0: Al Qaeda had no presence in Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion. But a new organization, known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, has since formed and has attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces, and wages regular attacks on Iraqi civilians. Additionally, by 2013, AQI had spread offshoots and technical know-how to Syria, Jordan, and Libya. If Iraq became a "front" in the war on terrorism, as Jessica Stern, former member of the National Security Council and current fellow at the Hoover Institution, and her co-author Megan McBride, say "it is a front that the United States created."

2 plus 2: Conflicts exacerbated by the Iraq War. Iran and North Korea were apparently not intimidated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, nor deterred from pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Conversely, the war in Afghanistan was arguably prolonged by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and has escalated into Pakistan, with a corresponding increase in military spending and loss of life. 

8th: Iraq's ranking on a scale of corruption. While Iraq has established the formal institutions and practices of a democracy, it was ranked the eighth most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International last year. Middle East Politics expert Melani Cammett of Brown University points to increasing authoritarianism in Iraq, such as the creation of an approximately 6,000 person Iraqi Special Forces para-military force under the direct command of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the "Fedeyeen al-Maliki." Nadje Al-Ali of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) finds that women continue to be underrepresented politically, in Iraqi government ministries, and in the labor force, but overrepresented in the population of unemployed, illiterate, and poor.

2.5 and 10 microns: The size of toxic dust particles that soldiers and bystanders have been breathing in Iraq. Soldiers returning from Iraq (and Afghanistan) have elevated levels of respiratory and cardiovascular disease over soldiers returning from other wars. The dust in Iraq has been found to have dangerously high levels of particulate matter measuring 2.5 and 10 micron particles per million (PPM) -- too small to be filtered by a human lung. Robert Miller, pulmonary expert from Vanderbilt University Medical School, reports that the dust, sulfur from an early 2003 mine fire and toxic residue from burn pits, is likely to blame for several respiratory disorders among Iraq War veterans, including increased rates of constrictive bronchiolitis. Of course Iraqi civilians continue to live with the dust and other airborne pollutants produced by the war. 

84: The number of psychiatrists working in Iraq is fewer than .05 per 100,000 people. After the 2003 invasion, about 18,000 physicians fled Iraq. Some have returned, but in 2012 there were only 84 psychiatrists and about 22,000 physicians for a population of over 31 million people. In separate papers, Mac Skelton and Omar Dawichi of the American University of Beirut found that many Iraqis travel abroad -- to India, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon -- for oncology and surgical care while basic care, such as some childhood immunizations has lagged.

190,000: The minimum documented number of people killed in the war. The majority of those killed in Iraq since 2003 have been civilians. The dead also include 4,488 U.S. soldiers, and up to 3,400 U.S. contractors and nearly 11,000 Iraqi police, 318 allied military, and 62 humanitarian workers. But while the numbers of U.S. soldiers killed is known, Catherine Lutz of Brown University shows that we still don't know the full extent of contractor deaths and injuries. And, as Neta C. Crawford from Brown University discusses, there are disagreements about how many civilians have been killed directly by violence because documented deaths may be a fraction of the actual number of people killed. Further, it is likely that many more have died as an indirect result of the devastation of Iraq's physical and health care infrastructure.

349: The number of U.S. active duty military suicides in 2012. Ken MacLeish of Vanderbilt University suggests that this toll is not only higher since the Iraq War began, but may climb as the trauma from war often manifests in soldiers years, sometimes decades, after they return home.

2.5 million: U.S. service men and women who have deployed in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 1.5 million have already left active duty and become eligible for veterans medical and disability benefits. Linda Bilmes of Harvard University shows these veterans are already very sick -- with one-third diagnosed with mental health issues. High rates of traumatic brain injury, the need for prosthesis, and musculoskeletal disorders, have put a burden on Veterans Affairs to process all the applications for benefits and treatment of the soldiers. The costs of medical and disability care for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will rise, and Blimes projects they will reach over $970 billion by 2053.

$1.7 trillion: The cost of the Iraq War to U.S. taxpayers before adding future care for veterans and interest on war borrowing. Adding anticipated future costs for veterans care, Iraq's share of the $4 trillion spent and obligated for Iraq and AfPak rises to over $2.1 trillion. The Bush administration estimated the Iraq war would cost $50 to 60 billion.

$4 trillion: Cumulative interest on borrowing for Iraq through 2053. The United States did not increase taxes to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Economist Ryan Edwards of Queens College, CUNY calculated only the interest that is due on borrowing to pay for the military and state department costs. Interest costs on both wars will exceed $7.5 trillion. Iraq's share of Defense Department and State Department war appropriation spending from 2001 to 2013 is 54 percent. You do the math.

Many opportunity costs of these wars cannot be enumerated -- but there are some lessons that can be drawn. If I had one to impart to the next generation of foreign policy decision makers it would be to remember to balance the tendency to over-estimate the utility of military force with a sober assessment of the risks and costs of action. Those costs always add up. The costs of this war will constrain U.S. possibilities -- both foreign and domestic -- for decades to come.

Neta C. Crawford, a Professor of Political Science at Boston University, is Co-Director with Catherine Lutz of the Costs of War Project based at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.