The China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia has shuffled the deck in the Middle East, cutting the US out of the pot.
Over the weekend, in a surprising development to most Middle East watchers, China brokered a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore some bilateral ties between the Islamic powers after seven years without them. The agreement was a very basic one, with the two countries agreeing in principle to exchange ambassadors within two months, reactivating a security cooperation agreement, and restoring some economic and cultural exchanges. This is the first formal rapprochement between the Islamic Republic and the Kingdom since 2016, when the Saudis executed a prominent Shia cleric, sparking violent protests at its embassy in Tehran and precipitating the break in relations. Since that split, the underlying conflict between the two states on either side of the Persian Gulf has rapidly escalated, with Iran taking the aggressive lead. Its proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, have attacked Riyadh directly, while Iran itself has launched cruise missiles at Saudi energy infrastructure, crippling a major refinery for weeks back in 2019.
Given this recent history, the fact that any kind of deal was struck shows that key changes are occurring in Middle Eastern politics. The agreement, basic as it was, did not force Iran to cease its aid of international terrorists or non-state proxies, even those which target the Kingdom; this was a conciliatory move on behalf of the Saudis towards the Iranians. This step towards normalization of relations without addressing some of the proverbial elephants in the room – the malign regional activities of Iran, the Shia-Sunni dispute, relations with Israel – fits well within the Chinese diplomatic playbook, as does the language of the agreement. In the text, both Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to the principles of “respect for the sovereignty of states and noninterference in their internal affairs,” a classic Chinese formulation that Beijing uses to ignore human rights abuses abroad and gloss over its own at home. There are a wide variety of implications and impacts from this diplomatic coup for China, both in the Middle East region and further afield.
The Russian war in Ukraine has been going on for over a year now, with hundreds of thousands of casualties on each side. What has happened over the past 12 months of conflict? Where does the war stand now? What will happen next? What lessons can we take away from this conflict? Those questions and more are answered in this episode of the Rational Policy podcast, commemorating and recapping a year of warfare.
November 2022 has been a busy month in terms of international affairs. We’ve seen continuing protests against the theocratic regime in Iran, major counteroffensives by Ukraine against Russia, and the COP27 global climate conference in Egypt. In this Foreign Telegram, we discuss all three – recapping recent events, analyzing their impact, and explaining why you should care about each. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this tour around the world of foreign policy!
Boycotting the Qatar-hosted 2022 World Cup is the right and moral thing to do, for myriad reasons.
If you’ve been following this site for awhile, you may recall my piece in January urging you to boycott the Winter Olympics being held in Beijing. In the end, that was an easy choice for me, despite my love for the event itself; China is a brutal totalitarian dictatorship which is committing genocide and actively seeks to destroy the American-led world order. Missing out on some hockey and skiing was a small sacrifice compared to the suffering of those persecuted by the CCP regime.
As with the Winter Olympics, I love the World Cup, the globe’s most important and prestigious soccer tournament, and enjoy watching it every 4 years. I have fond memories of watching my favorite teams – Italy and France – win the tournament in 1998 and 2006, and was very happy to see Les Bleus take the title during my bachelor party in 2018. But I won’t be tuning in this year.
The 2022 World Cup is starting today in the Middle Eastern host nation of Qatar. This year’s version of the quadrennial tournament is an outlier in many ways, not least of which is that it is being held in November, whereas the Cup is traditionally awarded in July. The other reasons, however, are far more disturbing – Qatar is a corrupt, autocratic, discriminatory regime which has no reason to host such a major international sporting event. To be sure, Qatar is no China, but it is still deserving of the boycott treatment. Here’s why.
In episode 3 of the Rational Policy Podcast, host Mike Coté premieres a new recurring format – the Foreign Telegram. In this Foreign Telegram, for October 2022, Mike discusses three major topics in international affairs that have been on his mind over the past few weeks: Italian elections, Iranian protests, and the escalating Russo-Ukrainian War. Starting off, Italy’s recent parliamentary elections are briefly explored and mainstream narratives about the right-wing victors debunked. The reaction to this event is a microcosm of the broader trend over the past decade or so of populist issues being overlooked by the EU. Next, Mike talks about the growing anti-regime protests in Iran which were sparked by the religious police killing of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, for the “crime” of improper hijab. He recaps the situation, analyzes the potential impact, and lays out several suggestions for US policy. Also touched on are some common criticisms of this hawkish and direct approach. Lastly, the escalating war in Ukraine is broken down and major recent events explained, from the Ukrainian counteroffensives, to the Russian mobilization and annexation of Ukrainian territory. Mike also considers the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage, the nuclear rhetoric emanating from Moscow (and isolationist reactions), and what may happen next. Tune in for this comprehensive session on foreign policy and America’s role in responding to recent events.