Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Neither Awe nor Credibility!


DDGD – November 3, 2015

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Editorial Comment

President Barack Obama might be remembered by some for doing some good on the home front and for having signaled an important milestone in the ongoing Afro-American struggle for civil rights in this country, but, on the international stage, the desperate and cynical attempts by a variety of “realist” spin doctors to rebrand failure notwithstanding, he will remembered as the man who broke the global order.

True, blame in this regard should actually be borne by each administration since the end of the Cold War, but it was Obama who delivered the knockout blow. He began doing so when he misdiagnosed America’s problem on the international scene as too much intervention, then, proceeded to prescribe a variety of remedies that backfired, including cynical retrenchment, cynical engagement, reset buttons and pivots away from where the big problems lie and where he drew ghost red lines to where he has absolutely no idea what is happening or what to do.

As the world’s only superpower par excellence, and even if in certain regions, its power is bound to be challenged one or another, for better or worse, America does have a responsibility to maintain a certain of balance between the requirements of advancing human rights and democracy, goals that are clearly stated in the UN Charter, and maintaining global peace, another one of UN’s goal. In the aftermath of the Rawanda Genocide, and the Balkan Wars, a new international legal agreement was reached, the Responsibility to Protect, that clearly criminalized the kind of mass slaughter we are witnessing, Yemen, South Sudan and the Central Africa Republic, among other places, and clearly called on the international community to undertake the necessary action to stop it, including military action.

Samantha Powers, Susan Rice and even Barack Obama used to be major supporters of R2P, then, they donned the mantle of power.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution back in March 2011, the Obama Administration remained committed to a course of action that virtually relegated R2P to the dustbin of history, and set the clock back on human rights and democracy promotion. With this, a UN that was beginning to feel its way towards relevance relapsed into an uninspiring caricature of the uninspired caricature it once was. Welcome to Brave New Dystopia we have always dreaded, and wanted only to experience through science fiction novels, movies and TV programs.

The challenges facing an American President on the international state are never easy, and they won’t be anytime soon. But ever since the end of WWII, retrenchment has ceased to be a viable option. The challenge might have even become one of intervention management rather than avoidance. This is a perpetual battle, indeed, and does require a strong military component and a willingness to undertake actions that may prove unpopular, both at home and abroad. But the cost of all remains far more manageable than those resulting from the creation of geopolitical vacuums only to have them filled by all the wrong elements. True, your enemies might get sucked in and defeated at first, but, sooner or later, so will you: Afghanistan as a case in point. It defeated the Russians, and now it is defeating the U.S. Interventions and conflict management is costly but possible. Chaos management, on the other hand, is an exercise in futility. But this is exactly what happens when we shirk our responsibilities, and insist on firmly shutting our eyes to avoid accepting the ugliness of the reality we created, or allowed to be created.

Avoiding war at any cost in a world where there are still so many powers unwilling to do the same and so many autocrats still willing to engage in mass slaughter is hardly a realistic or noble choice. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledges the right of people to engage in an armed insurrection against an oppressive government.

“…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…” UDHR: Preamble

Wars might become obsolete one day, and that will be a happy day indeed. But in order to get us there, we need to ensure that UN Charter goals are largely achieved and UDHR ideals are largely fulfilled. This calls for engagement, for democracy promotion, for pushing a human rights agenda, and for standing up to dictators, especially when they are willing to do the kinds of things Bashar Al-Assad has been willing to do over the last 5 years. In fact, it would be much better to try to preempt such a possibility by calling him out early in the game, by drawing real red lines and by being willing to enforce them. Obama has done none of that, and Bernie Sanders and Paul Rand are promising none of that.

Enough with electing foolish renegades who promise us the sun and the moon only to deliver Hades! America and the world beyond need an American leader who won’t run away just because the battle is tough, and who won’t conflate democratic leadership with submission to the popular will at every step. The people are not always right, and there are times when a good democratic leader has to challenge their “wisdom,” and ask for their trust as he leads them in a direction that is different from what most of them might have wanted or expected at one point. As for that inherent fear of fuckups that some may possess, it should be noted that the risk of fucking up are no less serious even in the case of retrenchment and inaction. This is an inherent risk that comes with leadership. Good leaders know all too well that this is among the many risks that they have to accept and find ways to manage if they are to be successful, if they are to be credible, and if they are to inspire awe. This world is still full of thugs, and thugs are bad at "calculus," and their deductive skills leave much to be desired. Without a real show of force, they will never change their ways.  

Indeed, so long as there are people like Bashar Al-Assad and his clique, people willing to turn against their own and perpetrate mass slaughter in order to stay in power; and so long that there exists countries and rulers elsewhere willing to support them and to justify their actions, we may not have much of a choice about engaging in warfare, perennial or not.

See: Syria decision the latest blow to Obama's Middle East legacy “The administration’s announcement troops would be deployed to fight Isis in Syria leaves officials at a loss to explain how it computes with earlier promises.” Obama fumbles for credibility in Syria as Russia and Iran seize initiative “New US plans to beef up its military response in the Middle East smack of fear as the desire to avoid entanglements once again founders on geopolitical realities.”

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A casual perusal of Palestinian and pro-Palestinians Facebook accounts and websites reveals a rather disturbing phenomenon, more so to me because I am an Arab and I do support Palestinian rights. Still, it is distressing how the same Palestinian who are busy deploring Israeli violence against their own posting videos showcasing Israeli soldiers doing their worst, also celebrate the random "stabbing operations" carried by Palestinian youths against Israelis. Occasionally, they even accuse “the Jews" of staging scenes of their “innocent” victims by putting knives beside them to justify their murder, something that might have happened in some cases, but since they themselves celebrate certain “stabbing operations,” it is clear that they know that it doesn’t happen in every case. So, they deplore Israeli violence and racism while celebrating their own, and accusing Israelis of staging it, while knowing that, in most cases, this accusation is nothing more than a blatant lie! How Kaforwedian (Kafkaesque, Orwellian and Dickensian)!

Israeli soldiers stand around the body of a Palestinian, seen on the ground, who was shot and killed after stabbing an Israeli soldier.
The Palestinians have to be better than this, they have to be morally superior to the people occupying their land and denying their basic rights, otherwise they will keep on giving birth to leaders who will turn against them as well, adding another layer of oppression to their lives against which they have to fight. They need to be morally superior and to reflect this in their actions of resistance, otherwise they will end up justifying their own oppression, in effect making their enemies’ case for them. This is already happening in fact, and has been for a couple of decades now. The fact of the occupation in itself does not provide much of a moral high ground, and will not get the critical global support and the domestic sympathy among Israelis without which the Palestinian struggle is lost.

So even if Palestinians cannot bring themselves to love the ethics nonviolence for their sake, they should embrace them because these ethics are the best tool in their possession as they continue to struggle for their right be it in the form of one- or two-state solution.

I can understand why there is so much frustration and anger, the Israeli forces of occupation, Israeli settlers and rightwing fanatics of all stripes are creating conditions that can only foster such a development, but that does not justify embracing it, nor does excuse the Palestinian leader’s boundless moral cowardice and opportunism when face with it. No one has hurt the Palestinian cause more than the Palesti9naisn themselves. The same goes for the Syrian revolutionaries as well.  

Briefly Noted

UN and Red Cross scold world leaders over 'conflict paralysis'. To scold and shame, this has long become one of the main tasks of the UN and international aid organizations, and the window of opportunity for moving beyond that has indeed closed by now. There is simply too much fickleness in the air, a disease that continues to defy cure.

Obama Licenses Iran to Ship Missiles to Hezbollah. Legitimating Iranian hegemony in the region, and treating it as a fait accompli long before it was made so, endangers not only Israel but all Arab states, as it obviously came at the expense of Syrians, their security, liberty and aspirations for a better life. When realism and the realists insist on legitimating the fruits of war, violence, oppression and corruption, how can we hope to avoid them? How can we dream of a better life? How can we work peacefully to challenge them? How can we, in so many instances, even live? The realism of the realists seems more like appeasement, but with appeasement comes greater appetite, for the appeased.  
Analysis: A human rights record worse than Ahmadinejad’s. Our so-called reformers in the region have always worked in this rather mysterious way. Just ask those who pinned their hopes on Assad. You cannot reform the broken. You cannot save the ideologue or the cretin from himself. This is where confrontation is necessary even if costly. Accommodation is even costlier.

First 'KFC' to open in Iran shut down after 24 hours for being too American. Because "The U.S. is one of Iran's major enemies and this will have grave dangers for the country." Well, at least the U.S. is no longer considered as the major enemy. All Obama has to do now, is give them Egypt and Jordan to add their growing non-imperial presence in the region (because imperialism is the prerogative of the West only, Thus Spake ZaraChomsky), and Iran’s leaders might even begin to hate America even a little less.

Syria conflict: Russia's scars from Afghanistan. Of course, some wounds don’t heal, and these were quite deep. The situation in Syria remains quite different so long as Putin refrains from sending large number of troops to the frontlines, still, the impact of even such a relatively smaller-scale intervention on the psyche of people who have been traumatized by conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya, not to mention the humiliating collapse of their earlier imperial project, is huge. Hell, the Russians haven’t yet forgotten the crimes of Stalin and are not taking Putin’s attempt to “paper over” lightly.

U.S. Brings Dogfighters to Counter Russians Over Syria. So we can all now safely stop describing the situation in Syria as a proxy war, at least as far as the Americans and Russians are concerned, as some direct showdowns might be looming ahead. In reality, at this stage, such moves can be seen as part of the saber-rattling that both sides are doing as they negotiate in Vienna.

Russia stance on Assad suggests divergence with Iran. So, I guess all those people who thought that Russia interfered in Syria following a request by Iran made during a visit by General Kassem Soleimani to Moscow were actually wrong. Or perhaps Iranians were as smart as some thought them to be. Personally, I still believe that the move came as a result of Putin’s initiative and that Iran had no choice in the matter but to play along, after all, it is the junior partner in the alliance, and even as they disagree with Russia not simply about Assad’s fate, but also about the extent of Russian dabbling of Syria’s domestic affairs in the future, they cannot pick a fight with Putin at this stage, as the potential fallouts could go far beyond Syria’s borders. Assad’s fate is in Russia’s hands, and if Iran wants him its leaders have to find ways to convince Putin of their point of view, or just play along. After all, both sides by now have their people in the regime, and they can make sure that it doesn’t fall even after Assad’s departure. The negotiations taking place between the Vienna parties are about turfs and degrees of influence, not Assad’s fate per se.
Syrian conflict: Islamic State advances in Homs Province. So we have two global powers allegedly bombing targets belonging to the IS/Daesh in Syria, and yet both has so far prevent it from advancing further and occupying new territories at the expense of both the rebels and the regime! Well, that makes no sense at all. What happened to Russian and American satellites all of a sudden that they could not see enemy convoys advancing on open highways in the desert, with nary an obstacle or geological features to hide their movement? We already know that the Russians are lying about targeting IS targets, so how about our boys in jets, or rather the politicians giving them their orders? In reality, and on the basis of the available evidence, the only force in Syria seriously trying to stand up to IS/Daesh is made up of the very rebels who receive little support from anyone, including the Americans.  

Caged and in danger: Syrian soldiers become human shields for rebels. The move by Jaish Al-Islam and its leader Zahran Alloush has been vehemently criticized by Syrian human rights activists who long accused Alloush and his group of war crimes, including summary executions and kidnappings. The move comes days after a missile attack by the regime left hundreds of dead and wounded, and seems designed to appease the local population and distract them from the inability of their rebel leaders to protect them, more than to stop future attacks, as the Assad regime has shown repeatedly before that it cares little for the fate of its imprisoned soldiers and loyalists. Also, it is well-established that the Assad regime has used this tactic more effectively before. Indeed, this is just another case of cynical violence meeting its counterpart while helpless people pay the price.

Huge ice flash flood sweeps across Saudi Arabia (VIDEO). These events are not as rare as people think. In arid climes when it rains it always floods, and Saudi towns and cities are often caught unawares, despite the billions of dollars in official expenditures on infrastructure. But nepotism, corruption and mismanagement often trump efficiency and quality. And the people are angry. Yet, Saudi rulers continue to focus their attention on their internal squabbles and the Iranian threat, which albeit quite real, cannot be effectively countered with a disaffected population.

The Outer Margins (of our attention span): 15 die when militants lay siege to hotel with bombs and guns in Somalia. This is what happens when you let a conflict fester, or when you intervene without a plan and a readiness for a long-term commitment, decades pass and suffering continues.

The No-Fly Zone: For Sale in Moscow: "Support Assad" Shirts. Because, hey, you can't have too much vodka on the brain until you had that much vodka on the brain. If only you had a brain…  

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