Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Packed & Shipped

Syrian refugees packed into small boats off the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos

DDGD November 11, 2015

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Today’s Post is brought to you by: The Pact of Dildo-Wielding Fashionable Autocrats: together for more efficient, subtle and tastefully packaged forms of oppression.

The Delirica

UmReeka: On foreign policy, Obama shoots at the right target. In this interesting op-ed, David Ignatius argues that

“Obama’s presidency has been a wager that we live in a rational world where other major powers will follow their interests, too. That’s certainly the premise of Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s nuclear deal with Iran and his new attempt to start a peace process in Syria.”

Then, he contends that

“Obama knows his belief in rationality is hard to square with human history. As he said in his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize address, “Make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary… is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

Only to conclude by saying that

“Obama has sometimes fired blanks in his foreign policy. But he’s shooting at the right target.”

There several things that require some additional clarification here:

* Obama’s blanks (pun unintended) have helped break up a country, strengthened and legitimate two major imperialist powers (Russia and Iran), and hastened the demise of the global order without offering any alternative.

* But Obama’s problematic behavior in the realm of foreign policy cannot be simply reduced to the issue of firing blanks. There is more to that. There is something inherently wrong in Obama’s basic view of the nature of the world we live in, and of what it means to be rational. First of all, ideology and traditional modes of belonging are still relevant in many parts of our contemporary world, and tends to shape the motives of the peoples involved and color their understanding, elites and masses alike, of otherness and of what constitutes a basic interest. People can behave very rationally even while motivated by any number of irrational ideological beliefs, but that does not mean that we live in a rational world or that we can agree on a specific definition of what constitutes interest.

* Since Obama acknowledges the existence of evil, and the limits of nonviolence when people like Hitler are involved, and since he is obviously not a moron, he should have foreseen how the nonviolent protest movement against Assad would fare. Still, he did nothing to prevent the mayhem we are witnessing today. Why? Because for all his self-righteousness and all his eruditeness, he didn’t think it’s any of his business. But now that the country is irrevocably broken and we have IS/Daesh controlling major swaths of it, and Iraq, and metastasizing everywhere, intervention has somehow become a must, and much more complicated than it would have been.

What is a leader with minimal prognostic skills and no foresight?

Even when Obama and his acolytes diagnosed some problems correctly, they still ended up adopting the wrong policies, because there was something inherently wrong with their basic assumptions about the world.

Still I do agree with the assertion that Obama’s critics on the right are often disingenuous. For judging by their statements on foreign policy, it’s clear that many of them would have adopted similar or even worse courses of action, e.g. Rand Paul, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson.

How humorless they all seemed when there was peace!
But his critics on the left have been spot on. Take this article by Steven Heydemann, a political scientist who specializes in the comparative politics and the political economy of the Middle East, with a particular focus on Syria, and a very good friend of mine. In his article, Heydemann argues that

“The authoritarian stabilization pact between Russia, Iran, and Syria that has kept Bashar al-Assad in power offers a stark example of an emerging international landscape in which democracies will find their room for maneuver increasingly constrained. Existing international institutions, notably the UN Security Council, have proven inadequate to respond to the challenges posed by the rise of such transnational authoritarian networks. Without a coordinated effort among democracies to overcome the institutional paralysis that has prevented decisive international action in cases like Syria, including formal legal standing for norms such as the Responsibility to Protect, democracies will find themselves at a significant disadvantage in resolving major regional and international conflicts, even as they—along with millions of Syrians—are compelled to bear the growing adjustment costs imposed by an increasingly polarized international order.”  

So, as a result of this major failure by democracies to coordinate their policies, at a time when autocracies are busy honing their coordination skills, diplomatic efforts such as the Vienna Meetings meant to resolve the Syrian conflict are meaningless, because they are designed to fail, and to be used as cover to advance undemocratic agendas at the expense of creating more misery for Syrians, among other peoples. Indeed,

“Such diplomatic dissembling would be easy to dismiss if it were not part and parcel of a larger, intensely coercive and deeply destabilizing effort to ensure the survival of the Assad regime; assert a rigid, absolutist conception of state sovereignty designed to insulate autocrats from accountability; contain the ability of democracies to act in support of populations that resist authoritarian repression; and advance authoritarian ambitions to weaken the institutions of global governance established as a check against precisely the kind of genocidal acts in which the Assad regime is complicit.

The Daily Delirynth

The Vienna Congress II: Exclusive: Russia to propose Syrians launch 18-month reform process – document. They also propose that Syrian opposition be represented by one delegation when they finally get involved in the process, and that the composition of this delegation should be agreed by all parties beforehand. "(They should) share the goals of preventing terrorists from coming to power in Syria and of ensuring sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Syria, as well as (the) secular and democratic character of the state." The goals are always reasonable sounding; the means are always macabre and criminal. Still, somehow, we need to find a way of snatching some measure of progress from amidst all this.

Milk & Honey with a spot of garlic: Netanyahu envisions 'three more Israels' in Mideast, N. Africa? Far for it for me to defend the primary carrier of the Yahu Virus, but “Envisions” is pretty ideological interpretation of Netanyahu actually said. This is what he actually said: “Imagine a Middle East without Israel. What do you think would happen in our immediate vicinity?” Then he added, “Now imagine a Middle East with three Israels: one in Afghanistan, one in Libya, one near Yemen. It'll be a far different situation.” In other words, Mr. Yahu was using a hypothetical in order to suggest that Israel plays a stabilizing role in the region. Whatever one thinks of this argument, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan, not to mention Syria and Iraq, are already broken, and Israel had nothing to do with that. And no, foreign powers did not create the internal conditions that eventuated this situation. Had these societies been built on solid foundations, and heaven knows that the ruling regimes had ample time to do so and gain some legitimacy in the process, none of these countries would have collapsed with or without foreign intervention.

North of Holy: Life After ISIS and Assad: A Journey in a Free Syria “After Kurdish militias push out ISIS, people are eking out livings in a border area where state services have collapsed.” With or without a state, authority has always expressed itself in our parts in oppressive ways. There is a cultural dimension to this problem, and the solution will not be possible until we learned how to identify it and deal with it.

Gendrification: Activist women in our part of the world are fighting against tremendous odds and taking big risks, as these two stories show: Meet the creator of a secret network of women’s shelters in Iraq, Meet the Nigerian woman taking on Boko Haram. Sometimes they meet with tragic incomprehensible ends: Mystery surrounds death of Jordan’s Salti sisters, Fate of Syrian activist Razan Zeituneh still a mystery. But more often they work far from the spotlights, and no one hears of them.

Refugenics: Germany reinstates Dublin rules for Syrian refugees “Berlin plans to send more Syrian refugees back to the first EU country they entered while traveling towards Germany, officials say. The decision would not apply to Greece, one of the main entry points for the bloc.” The Germans have been doing much in this regard, alongside the Swedes and the Dutch. But their system for handling the inflow has been taxed to the maximum, and they are currently trying to expand it and make it more flexible. I am sure that, once sufficient progress is made in this regard, they would revisit this decision. It’s not that the Europe cannot handle the influx, but building the necessary administrative infrastructure will take some time. Considering how many countries are involved this won’t be easy, with the European Commission and Parliament trying to coordinate efforts.

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Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same. --Ronald Reagan

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