Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Unmaking of the Global Order

United Nations representatives from all regions of the world formally adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.
DDGD – October 12, 2015

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 Editorial Comment

Most pundits and analysts writing about Syria today tend to ignore that year-long period where the nonviolent protest movement flourished and dictated the pace of events, despite the massive crackdown unleashed by the Assad regime. Had it not been for the indifference with which it was met on the international scene, a civil war could have been preempted. But no one wants to deal with the question of preemption, even when the portents of upcoming mayhem are evident, just as no one wants to deal with the global responsibility to protect civilians, be it from natural disasters or actions by their governments.

Indeed, world leaders and pundits are quite comfortable with ignoring something very important about the United Nations: its raison d’être is not only to protect the peace but to spread respect for human rights as well (UN Charter: Preamble, Article 1.2 and Article 1.3).

Meanwhile, the actions of all those rebels fighting against their oppressive governments are endorsed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself, provided such actions of course do not lead to war crimes (“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble)

The founding documents of our existing international order and all subsequent documents and accords that sought to flesh out certain articles included in them, such as the Responsibility to Protect, point towards a certain direction, towards a world where human rights are universally respected, and humanitarian interventions are encouraged. Without input from the United States, neither the UN Charter nor the Universal Declaration of Human rights would have come out the way they did. This is why the policies and the worldview of the Obama administration have been far more harmful than a Russian or Chinese veto.

Indeed, serving as the leader of the free world has repeatedly proven to be a thankless job, especially because the U.S. is not a perfect neutral entity whose entire reason for being is to play such a role. But the choice made by the Obama administration to simply resign from this position and re-consign the U.S. to its pre-WWII, or even WWI, role of being a power among powers, interested only in protecting its own interests and defending itself, not bothering to lead the free world and steering the rest in a certain direction, that choice is the kind of turnaround that represents a total betrayal of the whole system, including its values, and the promise of liberty. People who believe in human rights and democracy are now completely on their own and have no place to turn to. Cynical and ideological pundits would say that the U.S. has always been the wrong choice for partners in this regard, but then, what is the right choice: Russia? China? Iran? Because when the Syrian people tried to do it on their own, they found themselves facing a regime that was not on its ow, but was heavily supported by Russia and China. With the U.S. and Europe refusing to interfere on their behalf, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar stepped in, and because these countries cared little for democracy, and addressed the conflict, just the Assad regime did from a sectarian angle, the result was the current mess we see today in which democratic and moderate forces are marginalized.  

The point: 70 years-worth of progress on the human rights front has been undermined, reversed in fact. This might seem good only for those who are lucky enough to live in places where their rights are not being abused, and who have no personal connection whatsoever to anyone whose rights are being abused. That excludes a lot of people; some will say the majority of all humankind. How could this be good?

 Articles & Commentary

·         Putin: Russian airstrikes in Syria aimed at helping Assad (so please put those doubts of yours to rest).
·         Putin meets Saudi Crown Prince and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince in Sotchi.

What a good day to be a doomsdayaholic! It is the End of the World as we know it, of that there could be little doubt. But it’s the same human folly driving it all: ends, beginnings, and the lulls and doldrums in between that allow us to believe in something somewhat meaningful for a while, before we are sunk in absurdity again.
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When your enemy is indeed weak but is still willing to be quite aggressive, you should be seriously concerned not busy gloating. Unfortunately, Obama gloats.

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Yes, Obama was faking it in Syria, that is, he wasn’t seriously fighting the Islamic State. But why?

Is it really to help Israel fulfill its obsession with weakening Syria, as this Counterpunch pundit writes? Or is it, as I argued before, to give cover to a political vision committed to creating opposing poles in the Middle East, ones that can balance each other out and create an envisioned stability on the long run?

The problem with the first hypothesis, which is in effect a conspiracy theory, is that, as is always with conspiracy theories, it requires a level of commitment, coordination and secrecy between the different protagonists, in this case: Israel, the United States and a number of European countries that flies in the face of the haphazard nature of policymaking in democratic states, and the sheer incompetence of so many in the political class. So unless you believe in the existence of a secret government coordinating all these happenings, the theory you posit doesn’t make sense. I see no more proof for the existence of such government than there is for the existence of God. It’s something people have to take on faith, I guess, and I am not a man of faith.

A policy paper like the Clean Break has been generating all sorts of conspiracy theories since it emergence, and there could be no doubt that it is informing policy-making Israel, but, for crying out oud, there is another side to this equation: the Assad regime, and it’s the choices made and actions committed by this regime that paved the way to the current mayhem in Syria than anything Israel did or doing. The paper was produced and made public in 1996, and the Assad regime has known about its existence since that time. There is nothing strange about the paper considering that Israel is in an official state of war with Syria and most Arab countries, so why not have a plan to weaken your enemies.

What’s strange is the behavior of the Assads who knew of the paper and of Israel’s desire for all these years, and yet failed to enact the political and socioeconomic reforms that could have fortified their state had shielded from inner turmoil. Instead, they, especially Bashar Al-Assad, ended up adopting exactly the kind of policies that hastened the current upheaval. We should also assign some blame here on the political opposition in Syria for the failure of its members to rise to the challenge of leadership, and to show a better understanding of the regional and global dynamics as they tried to represent the cause of their people.

Indeed, the prodemocracy activists who led the nonviolent protest movement back in 2011 and 2012 were genuinely motivated by their desire to achieve democratic transition. The world has failed them. None one has so far provided a convincing answer as to why the U.S. refrained from acting against Assad at a time when the majority of the protesters were committed to nonviolence, and Assad was using tanks, artillery, gunboats and MIGs to try to bomb them into submission? It was not a civil war then. So that excuse that Obama proffered after the protest movement turned into an armed uprising that it is not the U.S. job to decide the outcome of other people’s civil war, had no meaning during the initial phase of the Revolution.

It easy to insert here that the reason was exactly this desire to see Syria weakened. In fact Israeli officials made comments to that effect at the time. But the more obvious reason for why Obama failed to intervene at the time was that he was running for reelection. By the time the elections were behind him, the armed insurgency was in full swing. But even then, Obama had a number of choices to deal with:

  • Impose a no-fly zone without providing enough support to the nationalist rebels to allow them to defend their positions, then, call for a meeting to talk about transition in Geneva.
  • Provide support to the nationalist rebels who dominated the scene at the time without imposing a no-fly zone. This option had the backing of Secretary Clinton and General Petraeus at the time.
  • Keep dithering.
As we all know, Obama went with last option, but he did so for reasons not related to Israel, including the desire to keep Iran on the negotiation table, and out of commitment to the worldview hinted at earlier.

In a sense, by trying to bring in Iran from the cold, Obama is trying to balance Israeli influence in the region. I don’t think Israel is too happy with having a growing Iranian presence on its borders. This is why they are now coordinating with the Russians. In other words, there is a downside about the weakening of Syria that Israel has to deal with now. All in all, chaos in Syria is not turning out to be such a win for Israel. Had Obama been as committed to Israeli interests as our conspiracy theorists suggest, he would have done a lot of things differently.

It’s not my intention hear to defend Israel, as some might conclude. It’s just where some see conspiracies and secret governments, I see raisons d’états, interest-based power politics, new alliances forming, old alliances being tested, underdeveloped states failing on account of their underdevelopment as well as the greed and incompetence of their rulers. I also see an axis forming where autocratic regimes, organized crimes, security agencies and terrorist networks are fusing and posing an incredible challenge for world security in the coming decades. 

Politics is becoming messy and violent again, and we have a number of states, regional powers and non-state actors engaged in a very dangerous game of geopolitical realignment. The game is not completely clandestine, but it’s not all transparent as well, and the nature of the game, which is as old to human groupings, allows even for democracies to behave with callous disregard to people’s basic human rights. Still, having had the misfortune of being ruled by autocrats armed with maniacal egos and foolish ideologies, I don’t want to see them victorious. Reforming the errant ways of democratic states in the international scene will not be easy, especially because we need to do it in a manner that does not jeopardize their survival, strengthen their emerging oligarchs, or undercut the spread of democratic values. But this is the only way to go for those of us who are interested in promoting human rights and democracy.

The best relationship that could exist between democracies and autocracies is détente. This is how autocrats themselves view things even when they choose to partially open up their economics to foreigners. The limits they establish in this regard have nothing to do with the interests of their people, but with the interests of the ruling cliques. The only way we can move beyond this détente and war is when democracy becomes a universal value. This is why democracy promotion is so important.

But I am not advocating for a utopia. As life in the U.S. and other democracies around the world proves, democracies are far from being utopian. Democracy and human rights are not utopian dreams, and should never be treated as such. Putting an end to mass slaughter, and enacting fast response policies for effectively dealing with a variety of humanitarian disasters will make the world a better place, but not a utopia.

If we are not guided by such ideals, then, what the hell is the point? What kind of world are the “realists” hoping to transition us into? A new Westphalian order where states refrain from interfering in each other’s affairs? Hmm. How did that work last time? As far as I recall, it worked until it didn’t, then it worked again, until it didn’t again, and so on and so forth, and each time it failed there was a big war and millions died. Then, there was this whole part of the world, most of it in fact, that was not included in the Westphalian Order, in which all members of the Order intervened at their leisure, if and when they could. So, a return to such a state of affairs is supposed to be better than working to promote democracy and respect for basic human rights, and to preventing mass slaughter? Westphalian “stability” established at the expense of human rights might work for the oligarchs, warlords and crime bosses, but, if the historical precedence proves anything, it’s that the majority of the people will be enslaved.  

 Quote of the Day

“Carry on any enterprise as if all future success depended on it.” Cardinal Richelieu

 Tweets of the Day


So #ISIS just killed a hundred Turkish citizens and Turkish Government threatens #YPG who are fighting ISIS. https://t.co/mt2CJ220DY

 The No-Fly Zone: Comments, statements & policies that just make no sense (i.e. they don’t fly)

Writing for the Washington Post, Mr. Daniel W. Drezner says:

I don’t have a lot of good things to say about the Obama administration’s Syria policy, but I will say that it possesses one virtue: The president has determined that Syria is not a core American interest and therefore does not warrant greater investments of American resources. It’s a cold, calculating, semi-competent strategy. But it has the virtue of being better than the suggested hawkish alternatives.

The problem that is missed here, and is always missed when it comes to the situation in Syria at this stage, is the consistent inability to see the larger picture involved: the undermining of the global system that took place as a result of letting it fester.

Mr. Drezner wants the hawks to answer a question: how can their proposed intervention contain the mess and re-stabilize the situation, especially after ousting Assad? This is a fair question now. The situation was allowed to fester for too long, intervention with the aim of re-stabilizing the country now requires more investments of resources, a regional ground force supported by American and European special operations forces to safeguard Damascus, while Russia and Iran protect the coast, and a serious political process involving all regional players. The process will be messy and long, but it has a good chance of working if there is a commitment.

The real question is not how, for when there is a will, there is a way. The current administration does not have that will.

 Video(s) of the Day


 Artistic Delirium

"The Kiss" by Ammar Abdulhamid from "Reflections on Liberty and Revolution Series - a digital deconstruction of Delacroix's famous Oeuvre "Liberty leading the people."
 Cartoons




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