Bartle Breese Bull

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Syria in early 2011, on the cusp of revolution, was the most sophisticated and secular country in the Arab world. There was no oil curse. The state worked. Tourists from around the world visited the ruins of Palmyra and drank French wine in the boutique hotels of Aleppo and Damascus. It was not tribal like Yemen or Libya. Nor was it Iraq; the sanctions that criminalized and impoverished Iraqis never plagued Syrians. And any sectarian wounds that may need to heal in Syria are not as profound.

There is no question that President Bashar al-Assad’s rule is nearing its end. Tyrannical minority regimes that shell their own people will eventually fall.…  Seguir leyendo »

During the Iraqi parliamentary elections on Sunday, this city’s main thoroughfares presented an almost overwhelming visual mosaic of politics. From the Karada neighborhood in the south to the Adhamiya district in the north, from poor Sadr City to rich Mansour, posters for the capital province’s 1,300 candidates hung from almost every tree and lamppost. Billboards crowded medians and roundabouts, promising Change, Justice, Unity, Jobs, Security and more.

Iraq’s underlying political currents are even more cacophonous: among the candidates are soccer stars, TV news anchors, judges and prostitutes. Still, it is the images of Iraq’s big political players that dominate the city’s landscape, especially Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and his two predecessors in that post, Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaffari.…  Seguir leyendo »

Barack Obama and John McCain have plenty of disagreements, but one thing they are united on is promising a troop surge in Afghanistan. Senator McCain wants to move troops to Afghanistan from the Middle East, conditional on continued progress in Iraq. Senator Obama goes much further, arguing that we should have sent last year’s surge to Afghanistan, not Iraq, that Afghanistan is the “central front” and that we must rebuild Afghanistan from the bottom up along the lines of the Marshall Plan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is on board, too. He has endorsed a $20 billion plan to increase substantially the size of Afghanistan’s army, as well as the role and numbers of Western troops there to aid it.…  Seguir leyendo »

When the populist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr emerged from 14 weeks of invisibility on May 25, it was hard not to focus on his typically passionate anti-Coalition rhetoric: “No, no to America; no, no to occupation,” he thundered from the mosque at Kufa, Iraq, a ragged town a few miles north of rich holy city of Najaf.

It reminded me of my first visit to the Kufa mosque, in August 2004. I had just walked and driven up from Najaf, where Mr. Sadr’s second great uprising against Coalition troops was in its dying stages after more than three weeks. I was the only visible foreigner in the mosque for an unusually packed and angry Friday prayers.…  Seguir leyendo »