Monday, April 24, 2017

The New Yorker

Rescuing the Last Two Animals from the Mosul Zoo
By Robin Wright
Mosul’s forlorn little zoo, a collection of rusted cages in a park near the Tigris River, was abandoned by its keepers in October, as the Iraqi Army began to liberate the city from the Islamic State. For three months, the zoo was a staging ground for isis fighters. More than forty of the zoo animals died, either as collateral damage—trapped between warring combatants—or from starvation. By January, when the eastern half of Mosul was freed, only two animals had survived: Lula, a caramel-colored female bear, and Simba, a three-year-old lion.

Animals, like people, suffer from war psychoses, including P.T.S.D. During the most intense urban combat in history, Lula ate her two cubs from hunger and stress. Simba had been one of three lions. Simba’s father, weak and emaciated, was killed by his mate to provide food for herself and Simba. In the wild, lionesses hunt for the entire pride. She, too, soon succumbed.

Concerned about the fate of Lula and Simba, residents in Mosul sent frantic Facebook messages to Four Paws International, an animal-protection agency based in Austria, appealing for help. In mid-February, the organization dispatched Amir Khalil to Mosul. Khalil is an Egyptian veterinarian who has spent a quarter century saving animals in war zones on three continents. He found Lula deeply traumatized and starving; her snout protruded through her cage’s rusted bars, anxiously seeking food and water. Simba had grown so scrawny that his rib cage was exposed. He wouldn’t stop pacing in his small enclosure. Read on...

Friday, April 14, 2017

The New Yorker

War, Terrorism 
and the Christian Exodus from the Middle East
By Robin Wright   
A decade ago, I spent Easter in Damascus. Big chocolate bunnies and baskets of pastel eggs decorated shop windows in the Old City. Both the Catholic and Orthodox Easters were celebrated, and all Syrians were given time off for both three-day holidays on sequential weekends. I stopped in the Umayyad Mosque, which was built in the eighth century and named after the first dynasty to lead the Islamic world. The head of John the Baptist is buried in a large domed sanctuary—although claims vary—on the mosque’s grounds. Muslims revere John as the Prophet Yahya, the name in Arabic. Because of his birth to a long-barren mother and an aged father, Muslim women who are having trouble getting pregnant come to pray at his tomb. I watched as Christian tourists visiting the shrine mingled with Muslim women.
At least half of Syria’s Christians have fled since then. The flight is so pronounced that, in 2013, Gregory III, the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, wrote an open letter to his flock: “Despite all your suffering, stay here! Don’t emigrate! We exhort our faithful and call them to patience in these tribulations, especially in this tsunami of stifling, destructive, bloody and tragic crises of our Arab world, particularly in Syria, but also to different degrees in Egypt, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon,” he wrote. “Jesus tells us, ‘Fear not!’ 
Syria’s Christians are part of a mass exodus taking place throughout the Middle East, the cradle of the faith. Today, Christians are only about four per cent of the region’s more than four hundred million people—and probably less.Read on...

The New Yorker

Trump Drops the Mother of All Bombs
By Robin Wright 
The Mother of All Bombs--the largest conventional weapon in the US arsenal--is so big it cost $300 million to develop and $16 million apiece to produce. The US used it for the very first time this week against the smallest militia it faces anywhere in the world.
When it was first tested, in 2003, the largest conventional weapon in the United States arsenal set off a mushroom cloud visible for twenty miles. The potential damage from the twenty-two-thousand-pound bomb was so vast that the Pentagon ordered a legal review to insure that the device wouldn’t be deemed an indiscriminate killer under the Law of Armed Conflict, the body of law that regulates behavior during wartime. The MOAB was compared to a small nuclear weapon. It’s so large that no U.S. warplane is big enough to drop it: it has to be offloaded from the rear of a cargo plane, with the help of a parachute. Read on...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The New Yorker

The Assad Dynasty:
Nemesis of Nine U.S. Presidents
By Robin Wright
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s first meeting with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, in 1973, dragged on until almost eleven p.m. It ran so long, the Times reported, that the media began to speculate about whether America’s top diplomat had been kidnapped. Assad “negotiated tenaciously and daringly like a riverboat gambler to make sure he had exacted the last sliver of available concessions,” Kissinger recalled in his memoir, “Years of Upheaval.” The marathons were typical. In 1991, Secretary of State James Baker famously waved a white flag “in submission” after almost ten hours because he needed a bathroom break. Baker called negotiating with Assad “bladder diplomacy.”
Since the bloodless coup, in 1970, that brought the family to power, the Assad dynasty—the founding father, Hafez, and his heir and second son, Bashar—has exasperated nine American Presidents. “Time-consuming, nerve-racking, and bizarre,” Kissinger said of his sessions with Hafez al-Assad. Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have coaxed and cajoled, prodded and praised, and, most recently, confronted and condemned the Assads to induce policy changes....Read on

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The New Yorker

Trump Embraces Sunni Autocrats
By Robin Wright
On February 11, 2011, shortly after 3 p.m., President Obama stepped before a microphone in the Grand Foyer of the White House. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had just resigned after weeks of mass protests, in Tahrir Square and nationwide, and a final nudge from the White House. “There are few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place,” Obama said. “This is one of those times.” He compared the peaceful overthrow of Mubarak—who had been the centerpiece of U.S. policy in the Arab world for three decades—to the fall of the Berlin Wall and Gandhi’s civil disobedience against British colonialism.

“The wheel of history turned at a blinding pace as the Egyptian people demanded their universal rights,” Obama said. Two months later, Mubarak was detained on allegations of corruption, embezzlement, abuse of power, and negligence for failing to stop the killing of hundreds of peaceful protesters. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The wheel of history is now turning, at an equally blinding pace, in reverse. Mubarak was freed last month; he returned to his mansion in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. His two sons and other Mubarak-era officials, also jailed for corruption, are free now, too. On Monday, President Trump hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former field marshal who orchestrated a military coup, in 2013, against Mubarak’s successor.
Read on....