international affairs, middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

United States, Tortura Rex

The CIA Torture report released by the US Senate Intelligence Committee is horrifying in its detail (read it here). Interested observers can read for themselves the kinds of techniques used to extract information from those whom the CIA captured. The methods are grisly enough to shock despite everybody already knowing that the Bush-43 administration tortured its detainees. Reading the 500+ page executive summary (redacted) and experiencing the imagery that the words elicit is a harrowing experience in and of itself. One can only imagine what it was like for the detainees, regardless of what they’ve done.

Though President Barack Obama essentially put an end to the bulk of CIA torturing (closing down the international network of secret “black site” prisons) when he came into office, he hasn’t been open to the prospect of prosecuting those who presided over the CIA torture regime which, if one is serious, committed serious war crimes. The “war on terror” has been a bloody one, and if one takes international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention seriously, then the CIA torture techniques amount to war crimes. But much of the corporate media refused to use the term “torture” in describing this officially sanctioned, world-wide regime, and many continue their complicity to this day. In fact, even the report itself doesn’t use the term “torture,” which is truly an absurdity.

The slogan “Look forward, not back” has been used by the Obama administration when it comes to torture in the George W. Bush era following 9/11. In other words, Obama says that this issue, though difficult and probably illegal, are better left in the dustbin of history. No need to look at them anymore. Time to move on. The logic may seem somewhat harmless on a superficial level, but its implications are grave.

By saying “look forward, not back,” the Obama administration is essentially leaving torture on the table as a viable policy option for future regimes. It’s setting a precedent by which torture (the most systemic and invasive kind) can be authorized and implemented with impunity as far as the US government is concerned. That’s one hell of a precedent to set, and Obama is setting it.

The 6000-page report, which has caused a tremendous amount of friction between the Senate and the CIA (the White House isn’t “taking sides“), cost about $40 million and several years to put together. It was an open question at one point whether the mammoth document would even be made public (the Obama White House held up the publication of the report for months). After much haranguing, the Senate Intel Committee decided to publicize a redacted version of the executive summary. It concludes that torture doesn’t work, but doesn’t make a judgement as to whether the “enhanced interrogation techniques” are legal. It also states that the CIA lied about much of what it was doing, and that torture had no real role in the tracking down and killing of Osama Bin Laden. Among other revelations, the CIA routinely covered up its crimes, excused cruel interrogators, presided over at least a couple of torture-induced fatalities, detained an “intellectually challenged” man for leverage against his family, engaged in “rectal rehydration” (use your imagination), routinely detained/tortured innocent people, tortured its own informants by accident, and so on and so forth. (See here.)

Moreover, the CIA tried to cultivate the press by feeding it false information in an effort to control public opinion on the issue of torture, and competed with the FBI when it came to how much credit would be given in public for certain “accomplishments.” The scandalousness is almost endless, and reveals the incestuous nature of bureaucratic politics when one considers the fact that the Department of Justice routinely okayed many of the techniques used, even though the CIA went on to implement several unauthorized techniques. And let’s not forget the importance of the psychologists involved, namely the Spokane, Washington-based firm Mitchell Jessen and Associates, which got paid around $81 million to devise the techniques used by the CIA. The “war on terror,” if nothing else, is the gift that keeps on giving.

It has given rise to what the New York Times journalist James Risen calls the “national security-industrial-complex,” where government and private organization alike profit off of the opportunity work counter-terrorism, regardless of the efficacy of their methods. This is the era we live in; a society that pays any price for the illusion of absolute security. The US has invaded countries abroad and militarized its police at home to disastrous results. It has birthed an international surveillance system that essentially aims to know everything about everybody at all times, thereby displacing privacy as a modern human condition.

The problem is that, in addition to destroying important aspects of hard-won civil liberties, none of this has made the world any safer–not even those living inside the US and its allies. Though the spectre of terrorism is usually just a spectre, the heavy-handed surveillance and policing policies implemented by the US and its allies will antagonize much of the world and segments of its own citizenry. This is not a recipe for peace, but its very opposite.

Photo Credit: Members of Witness Against Torture blockade a major entrance to the CIA in Langley, Virginia./CC

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international affairs, middle east, obama, politics

Amid the Cease-Fires, a Broken Peace Process

Published by the American Conservative Magazine on August 5th, 2014

Following yet another ill-fated push at a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the latest Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip has been marked by the making and breaking of cease-fires, the latest reportedly starting this morning. The human toll has been devastating—overwhelmingly so for the Palestinians. Over 1,700 Palestinians and 60 Israelis have died (so far) in the 28-day operation, overtaking the death toll of “Operation Cast Lead” (2008-09), which lasted 22 days. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for yet another inquiry into what it sees as “possible war crimes,” just like it did for “Operation Cast Lead” (2008-09), which produced the Goldstone Report. Israel’s global image is suffering as the Palestinian dead mount.

Whatever the long-term consequences of this latest episode in the most protracted military occupation in modern history, many Israelis may very well come to see Netanyahu’s rejection of the latest peace plan, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as a missed opportunity.

Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s leading correspondents, spoke to numerous senior U.S. officials who were involved in the latest Kerry-led push. Barnea’s conversations with these officials provide a rather clear picture of what Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was willing to concede to his Israeli counterparts:

He [Abbas] agreed to a demilitarized state; he agreed to the border outline so 80 percent of settlers would continue living in Israeli territory; he agreed for Israel to keep security sensitive areas (mostly in the Jordan Valley – NB) for five years, and then the United States would take over. He accepted the fact that in the Israeli perception, the Palestinians would never be trustworthy.

He also agreed that the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and agreed that the return of Palestinians to Israel would depend on Israeli willingness. ‘Israel won’t be flooded with refugees,’ he promised.

In other words, Abbas and the P.A. gave away the house. They conceded key settlement blocs, the Jewish parts of East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian right of return. A two-state solution based on U.N. Resolution 242, 338, and 194 would not have included such concessions to Israel.

Still, Netanyahu said no, demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and that Israel maintain “complete control over the territories.” Then, Israel’s Housing and Construction Ministry, headed by Uri Ariel (“an extremist who opposes any agreement with the Palestinians,” according to Barnea), announced the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem by 700 housing units. The entire Kerry process fell apart, and Abbas began to focus on forming a unity government with Hamas.

This act of national reconciliation, by which Hamas essentially adopted Abbas’ program for dealing with Israel, was what ultimately provoked the latest punishment of Gaza. Hamas provided no repudiation of Mahmoud Abbas’ concessions after moving into reconciliation. Despite its awful charter, Hamas has, according to a 2009 report by the United States Institute of Peace, sent Israel “repeated signals” that it is willing to accept peaceful co-existence in a two-state resolution of the conflict based on international law.

None of this was good enough for the Netanyahu government. Netanyahu’s administration then used the deaths of three Israeli teenagers this past June as a pretext to raid the West Bank, killing five Palestinians and arresting hundreds. This resulted in a barrage of rockets from Hamas about a month after the West Bank raid began, precipitating the current Israeli operation.

Noted U.S. scholar Norman Finkelstein has pointed out in his authoritative account of Operation Cast Lead that, according to Israeli political strategist Avner Yaniv, Israel is reacting violently to what he calls the Palestinians’ “peace offensive.” Yaniv used the phrase in his book Dilemmas of Security (1987) to characterize the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 1982. According to Yaniv, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) at that time, led by Yasser Arafat, was contemplating a two-state solution with the Israelis. The problem was that nobody in Israel wanted to allow for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. So, in September 1981, Israel made plans to invade Lebanon, where the PLO was based at the time. The war that ensued put a stop to any possibilities for serious negotiations.

As history continues to repeat itself in the 21st century, Israel’s track record of bad timing calls into question its willingness to negotiate in good faith. The Kerry process, insofar as the Barnea piece (among other “leaks”) reveals, already favored the Israeli desire to permanently swallow up crucial parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The occupation and the planned, permanent annexation of Palestinian land both constitute crimes under international law. According to “Article 49” of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Moreover, the Palestinians were essentially leaving the refugees’ right to return (as per U.N.S.C. Resolution 194) up to Israel’s “willingness.” With Abbas and the P.A. making substantial concessions, and Hamas being backed into a corner financially and politically, the Israelis could have accepted the Kerry-brokered deal. It was an offer that clearly favored Israel. Instead, the world witnessed yet another incursion into Gaza.

If Israel is given the chance to permanently annex parts of the West Bank and push the ever-growing Palestinian population into cantons, then it can expect a much more desperate, perhaps violent, Palestinian response. If that moment arrives, then Israelis may very well regret not taking the Kerry deal when it was on the table. It won’t just have to deal with rudimentary Hamas rockets then, but also with the roughly two million Palestinians currently living in the West Bank who will be forced into an even more desperate situation.

So why didn’t Netanyahu and the Israelis simply say “yes” to such a complimentary deal? The answer, according to the American negotiators, can be found in Israel’s desire to expand settlements. Israel approved plans for nearly 14,000 new settler homes during the nine months it was involved in peace talks with the Palestinians. The entire military occupation, including all settlements, covers about 40 percent of the West Bank. Evidently, Israel’s broader ambition includes the permanent seizure of the land that it currently occupies.

Once Israel implements even more “facts on the ground,” it may very well go back to the negotiating table, and, along with a weak Palestinian Authority, accept a U.S.-brokered deal that includes all the original concessions. At that point, any Palestinian movement for self-determination will be hampered by the Palestinian Authority’s acceptance of a deal that clearly overlooks it.

[http://www.theamericanconservative.com/amid-the-cease-fires-a-broken-peace-process/]

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international affairs, middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

The Dogs Are Eating Them Now, By Graeme Smith: A Review

Published by Muftah.org on August 1st, 2014

It can be tough to wrap one’s head around the fact that the war in Afghanistan is the longest the United States has ever fought. Indeed, the conflict has lasted longer than World Wars I and II, longer than the Vietnam War, and longer even than the Iraq war. That thought itself begs the obvious question of “why,” or, to put it another way: “what were the invaders doing and what took them so long?”

Graeme Smith’s The Dogs are Eating Them Now is a Canadian war memoir that examines this question from multiple angles. Smith was the Globe and Mail’s correspondent in southern Afghanistan from 2006 to 2009. He is a person who has lived in the country, been shot at, and had “the charred flesh of suicide bombers” stuck to his shoes. His memoir is a series of dispatches that details his findings and view of the mission there.

Although he admits to lacking the same in-depth experience throughout the whole of Afghanistan, Smith notes that the south “serves as a useful case study.” Indeed, it was in the South “where the war became most intense” and where the international coalition’s “policy most obviously went wrong.”

Smith’s book is not—and does not aim to be—a geopolitical analysis of what happened or may happen in Afghanistan (Smith notes that one cannot expect to form an accurate picture of Afghanistan by thinking “on the level of theory”). It is his hope the reader will come away with a more informed view of the conflict by the time he reaches the last page.

At the end of the book, Smith concludes that the international community should not exit Afghanistan hastily and without a sense of responsibility. With parts of the country unattended, “anarchy” or “civil war” may end up filling the vacuum. Whether or not one agrees with these final assessments, Smith’s brave reporting on a number of important issues stands on its own merits. His willingness to acknowledge his initial naiveté, contributes to an honest picture of Afghanistan’s current state, from his point of view.

An Evolving Understanding of Western Failures

Smith’s voice is weary, but sharp and collected. He started his correspondence for theGlobe as a 26-year-old with high hopes the West was going to bring “the whole basket of civilization” to Afghanistan, a country that desperately needed it. But Smith also starts his book by acknowledging the international coalition’s objectives were not reached, and that assumptions policy makers made about Afghan society seriously hindered efforts to remake the country.

By the time the “world’s great armies” had gathered in Southern Afghanistan, in the beginning of 2002, the Al-Qaeda camps had long disappeared and the Taliban were no longer in power. The mission evolved from chasing global jihadists to a much grander plan: to remake the country in the West’s image and to establish a peaceful, democratic state. It is quite obvious by now that the international community failed at this. Smith notes that no international force has ever managed to control all of Afghanistan without controlling the South’s biggest city: Kandahar. Coalition troops routed the Taliban in that region again and again (with Canadians often leading the way), but the fighting never seemed to reach a rational end-point.

As time went on, Smith began to recognize the deep flaws in the methodology adopted by Western forces. Major military operations against the southern insurgency failed to win hearts and minds. Coalition forces wanted to use the presence and threat of the Taliban to justify their own invasion. They wanted to recast themselves as fighters against the “real invaders:” the Taliban. After witnessing the Battle of Panjwai in 2006, an offensive that saw the Taliban routed once again by coalition troops, Smith realized the residents of Southern Afghanistan were a tough crowd when it came to the “Taliban vs. good foreigners” narrative.

Afghans were not always cooperative with the International Security and Assistance Force’s (ISAF) efforts to root out the Taliban. In fact, Afghans with loose ties to the Taliban became the enemies of many Western troops on the ground. These Afghans joined the insurgency to repel what they thought was a foreign invasion led by international powers to control their country’s future.

An Out-of-Touch Approach

Smith notes how the Western mission in Afghanistan failed to predict how strong this anti-invasion sentiment would be. This “out-of-touch” attitude is itself one of the more revealing, if not startling, aspects of Smith’s observations, which call for a reassessment of NATO’s interventionist strategies. As Smith notes in the introduction, such self-reflection “is not likely to happen” because “NATO claims victory.”

The book includes a section detailing findings from discussions Smith and his Afghan researcher had with dozens of Afghan insurgents —an  endeavor which was made into an Emmy Award-winning video series called “Talking to the Taliban.” Because his Afghan researcher was able to conduct interviews in areas off-limits to foreigners, Smith is able to offer rare, first-hand insight into the worldview of Taliban insurgents. The 42 interviews also provide a good sense of the complexities beneath the official, often jingoistic, assertions coming out of NATO and its member states.

To begin with, it is quite obvious that, at least in Southern Afghanistan, ISAF has been dragged into a conflict that contains complex tribal dynamics, which it has yet to fully grasp and engage with effectively. Hamid Karzai and his weak administration are made up of a few tribes, which are exclusively responsible for governing the country. This has antagonized other tribes throughout Afghanistan. This kind of tribal rivalry has fueled the insurgency. The Zirak Durrani tribal federation, which includes Karzai’s Popalzai tribe, dominates the Afghan government. The insurgents surveyed were all ethnic Pashtuns who were part of tribes that inhabited the South. When it comes to building Afghanistan’s future, these tribes feel excluded by Karzai’s inner circle.

NATO’s use of airstrikes has further compounded the problem by causing “collateral damage” among the civilian population.  According to Human Rights Watch, in 2007, civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes “almost tripled” compared to 2006.

Smith also outlines another Western strategy that backfired:  the destruction of poppy fields in order to cut off funding to the Taliban. Again, Western forces found themselves caught up in a complex dynamic they did not appreciate quickly enough. The logic seemed simple: poppies fuel the opium trade, which is used to fund the insurgents. Fewer poppies must mean less insurgents. Unfortunately, the destruction of poppies also meant the eradication of many Afghanis’ livelihoods. In a country with a crippled economy and limited industry, growing poppies was a means of survival for many Afghan farmers. Angry farmers who had their soil destroyed by airstrikes, or who had their fields burned by foreign occupiers naturally saw the invaders in the worst possible light. This helped fuel the insurgency.

Smith provides superb (and brave) reporting on how corrupt and powerful Afghan officials have themselves been involved in drug trafficking. Near the end of the book, Smith recalls a memorable episode involving a drug trafficker caught by Afghanistan’s Counter-narcotics Police, who carried a letter of protection signed by Mohammed Daud Daud, the deputy minister of interior responsible for counter-narcotics. Daud was Afghanistan’s most powerful anti-drug czar before being killed in 2011.

The Torture of Detainees

Among ISAF’s many errors, the detainee torture scandal has received perhaps the most attention. The hand over of prisoners by Canadian Forces (CF) to the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Directorate of Security(NDS) resulted in detainees being systematically tortured.

Investigations into the matter, as well as information from whistle-blowing diplomats, seem to suggest CF knew torture was happening and refused to act. A subsequent investigation into the matter by the Military Police Complaints Commission concluded CF brass actively kept its investigators in the dark about the detainees’ situations. The watchdog noted that Canada’s Harper administration actively stonewalled its investigation, threatening the commission’s independence while insisting it ought to have final say over information disclosed to the public.

Leaving Afghanistan

Sadly, this gap between government policy and reality has remained consistent throughout the Afghan war. Smith hopes the international community will change course and find new ways to serve Afghans. Yet the mystery here is how, after fighting a prolonged war with such a stubbornly flawed mindset, the United States and the rest of NATO can find it within them to radically change course.

The United States and its allies want to exit Afghanistan without losing face. That means focusing on repeating successes while glossing over errors and failures. Though the West has been able to improve certain aspects of Afghan life, such as decreasing the rate of infant mortality, the country, known as the “Graveyard of Empires,” is a more violent place now than before the invasion.

Smith leaves his audience with more questions than solutions. But the points he raises are necessary to consider for policy makers and those who care about Afghanistan. Only by acknowledging failure can Afghanistan’s future be accurately assessed. Perhaps that is why the international community’s relationship with Afghanistan has been, and is likely to remain, a rather depressing one.

[http://muftah.org/book-review-dogs-eating-now-graeme-smith/]

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obama, politics

Obama and the Nature of Democracy

Preface

Nelson Mandela makes the candid admission in his popular autobiography Long Walk to Freedom that, post-Robben Island, he preferred dealing with the straightforward racism of P.W. Botha than the two-faced diplomacy of F.W. de Klerk, whose forked tongue caused the first black South African president many-a-headache.

Botha was 11 years the head of the rightwing National Party, rejected the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and refused to testify. De Klerk ended up sharing the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela.

The arc of history is littered with figures whose popular reputation shields a hidden past of sins.

Many of them, like de Klerk, are generally viewed today as champions of “liberal” values and cool, centrist “objectivity”: Woodrow Wilson (who supported a new world order of peaceful nations states!), Winston Churchill (who led the free world against Hitler! And Won!), John F. Kennedy (who faced down Khrushchev and Castro, and slept with Marilyn Monroe!), Bill Clinton (who delivered a rare surplus, and slept with…many people!!), etc.

A few decades from now, Barack Obama will be added to that list. In fact, there’s really no reason why we can’t throw him on top of the heap right this moment.

Obamabot Deception V. 2012

People more or less acknowledge that Obama couldn’t deliver much of what he “promised,” which, for those of us with a working memory, wasn’t very much.

Obama will not stop dealing in the dark with those who hold real power: corporation and Wallstreet. For starters, his “Grand Bargain” with the Republicans will see Medicare, Medicaid, and social security cut in exchange for modest tax hikes on the rich. Did America vote for this? Probably not. Does Obama care? No.

But my real point is this:

Those who supported him pre-2009 were told time and time again by acutely critical observers that Obama’s deeds as President won’t really match his rhetoric. The warnings were passed off as pessimistic and judgmental. Today, those same supporters, without shame, turn to the cameras and tell the rest of us almost exactly what we told them from the very beginning: that (1) Obama’s rhetoric is hollow, that (2) real politics is about pushing Obama to do the right thing, and that (3) despite what kind of person Obama is, he will experience serious structural constraints as President.

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Now shameless Obamabots want to play it cool by stressing point (3) in order to say, “Hey, Obama’s only human, don’t be so harsh, he’s just another politician and we need to push him.” It’s the most shameless about-face in American political history.

Obama’s minions use this technique to shield him from further criticism. Now that Obama has won, the one thing he’s going to need from skeptics and supporters alike is pressure. He needs it because (1) mass criticism in institutionalized form will push him to do the right thing, and (2) the best way to guarantee your irrelevance is to back a politician unconditionally: your concerns will not be taken seriously by that candidate since you’re going to vote for him/her anyway.

One interesting-if-trivial case in point too good to not point out is the actor Olivia Wilde.

There’s really nothing in the world more reprehensible than a celebrity being passed off as some sort of figure who selflessly juggles his/her busy schedule to care for the world. All the while, those who do the real work: those who organize the rallies, who put up the posters, sends out the mail, and campaigns out in the cold, remain faceless. Their names will never be recorded in history books.

Obama thanked Wilde personally on the phone in 2007 for travelling Iowa in support of his first presidential campaign.  She gushed in an interview saying how she was “squealing” for 15 seconds out of sheer star-struck excitement, while thinking she had hung up.

Then, a few months ago, on The Hour, Wilde, with a straight face, explained that although she’s disappointed, Obama is still a smart guy, so instead of criticizing him, everyone should just focus on changing the political circumstances instead. This conveniently asserts the obvious while shielding Obama and his blindest supporters from accountability. Celebrity culture, as vapid as it is, can be an accurate reflection of the decayed nature of our public conciousness.

Those who were smart enough not to be emotionally and intellectually manipulated by Obamamania have every right to recall the profoundly stupid political discourse pedaled by the ‘bots leading up to 2009. It’s to remind everyone that staying critical and asserting pressure are virtues when it comes to making change. The opposite: handing a politician what he or she wants, unconditionally, is nothing but a variant of whoring.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Islamists vs. Liberals: a simplistic portrayal of the future

Published on: Embassy Magazine, September 26th, 2012 (with slight revisions)
[http://www.embassymag.ca/opinion/2012/09/25/islamists-vs-liberals-a-simplistic-portrayal-of-the-arab-spring/42520]

To Canadian foreign correspondent Hadeel Al-Shalchi, coverage of the Arab Spring by Western media tends to gloss over certain complexities.

“The term ‘Arab Spring’ itself is sort of a slogan,” said Al-Shalchi, a Reuters journalist based in Tripoli, Libya. She spoke to an audience of about 100 people at Carleton University last Wednesday in a lecture organized by the Centre for Media and Transitional Societies.

“The Arab Spring is comprised of a number of different conflicts, each with its own regional dynamic and implications,” she said. For example, the major framework of analysis and speculation that many analysts use when talking about these conflicts, be it in Egypt or in Syria, tend to boil down to the “Islamists versus Liberals” paradigm.

To Al-Shalchi, this type of reductive phrasing saves time and space, but is a weak tool for understanding the real situations in those Arab countries experiencing social and political turmoil. Indeed, she is right.

The ascent of Muslim political parties in Egypt and Tunisia, and the involvement of extremist militias in the Libyan and Syrian uprisings have experts worrying about the future of the Arab Spring.

Fear that powerful parties like the Muslim Brotherhood will impose theocratic rule and eclipse the aspirations of a liberal democracy are probably not wholly uncalled for. The problem, however, is not this and other similar concerns, but rather in the way such concerns are expressed in many major media outlets.

In other words, what does one really mean when one invokes the “Islamists versus Liberals” framework of analysis? The trouble with these terms is that they mean different things to different people.

Canadian political theorists like Charles Taylor and Nader Hashemi have pointed out this problem of definition time and time again. Hashemi says that the term “secularism” has had very different manifestations in Turkey, for example, than in France. Both societies have had their own experiences with political religiosity, and both have come up with unique ways of neutralization.

Nor are Middle Eastern societies neatly divided into liberals and Islamists, each with its own set of predictable sociopolitical behaviors. Al-Shalchi spent a substantial amount of time on the ground in post-Mubarak Egypt, and noted that many so-called liberals ended up voting for Mohammed Morsi, the “Islamist” candidate.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is the only political entity in Egypt with a coherent vision for the future,” Al-Shalchi said. “Those who are more left-leaning and liberal-minded did not consolidate themselves after the fall of Mubarak, and fell out of the race in many ways.”

She then noted that she was disappointed as a Canadian that the Harper administration has not engaged effectively with the Arab Spring, and has made a number of “questionable” policy decisions. Unfortunately, she did not elaborate on what these decisions were when asked to do so.

Nonetheless, one can delineate along general lines why there may be hesitancy on the part of the Canadian government when dealing with Muslim majority countries. Prime Minister Harper has publically expressed his concerns with international “Islamicism,” and the purported threats it poses to Canadians.

The success of Islamist political parties (the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is also the main opposition group in Syria, anchoring the Syrian National Council) across the Middle East in the past year-and-a-half probably don’t serve to quell Harper’s concerns.

Whatever the merits of such an assumption, it should be noted that the Arab Spring, a push toward general democracy and civil engagement, is a good thing for those frightened of violent groups in religious garb.

Vali Nasr, the dean of the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, has pointed out that the best way to treat religious parties who are upset with the status quo is to channel their momentum into the official political process.

For decades, organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood have been banned in their respective countries by dictators. Chances for armed political resistance only increases under such circumstances. But when incorporated into the electoral system of democratic representation, “Islamist” platforms and agendas are exposed to the public for scrutiny. A dialogue between the elected and those who do the electing can actually occur.

Naturally, when put under the pressures of social democracy, organizations such as the Brotherhood has to take into account those with differing views and beliefs, who also make up a substantial portion of the population. All this undermines the simplistic paradigm of a strict “Islamists versus Liberals” dichotomy, which boxes complex peoples into categories, and, as Al-Shachi pointed out, don’t correspond very much with reality.

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obama, politics

The future of Libya

Published on: The Canadian Charger, April 14th, 2011
[http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=868]

The airstrikes on Libya, as authorized by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, has a veneer of “internationalism” about that that needs to be addressed.

Compounded by the calls for a no-fly-zone from the Arab League, the African Union, and the provisional council set up by the Libyan rebels themselves, the air strikes—especially in the usual media corners—seem to be much, much more than an effort anchored by the United States.

This is a myth. The coalition forces of France, the United Kingdom, etc. was led by a U.S. commander—General Carter Ham.

The helm has since then been passed on to a Canadian official, who is supposedly heading up a joint NATO venture.  The U.S. has contributed substantially to a barrage of 110 Tomahawk missiles on Libya’s air defenses on March 19th, 2011. Named by the U.S. as “Operation Odyssey Dawn,” the multi-phased no-fly-zone/airstrikes operation was just beginning—and right off the bat, the Associated Press reported that the United States deployed a slew of B2s, F-15s, F-16s, Navy EA-18G electronic warfare planes and Marine attack jets. In other words—despite the carefully crafted image of “limited military action” from the Obama administration—it is clear that the United States is calling the shots and doing the heavy lifting.

The rebels have since then called for a ceasefire after losing one of their key oil ports, Ras Lanuf, while also being stopped at Brega.

Whether international intervention helped or not is a tough question to answer, given mixed results. Qaddafi’s forces have not been able to fight where they wanted to, but rebel leaders have also come out to criticize the foreign airstrikes. “NATO is not doing their job, the airstrikes are late and never on time. NATO is not helping us. Gadhafi still gets ammunition and supplies to his forces–that’s why he is pushing us back,” says Mohammed Abdullah, a rebel who defected from loyalist ranks. The UK Daily Telegraph has also reported that “strafing runs” have been carried out by NATO helicopters trying to rescue fallen allied pilots. This practise has put civilian lives at risk.

The purpose for Resolution 1973 was, basically, to obtain a ceasefire. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has made it clear that Operation Odyssey Dawn seeks to implement genuine regime change. This lack of overlap in terms of end goals gives some indication of what each party has at stake in Libya. Despite its rhetoric of massacre prevention and international cooperation, the Obama administration’s geopolitical vision extends beyond the conditions of war, and into the conditions of peace. Suffice it to say that if Libya was a land known for carrots, Qaddafi’s troops would not be facing constant airstrikes.

By now, the most likely scenario is a partitioned Libya, and thus a divided Libya. The rebels in Benghazi—aside from asking for a ceasefire—have also rejected an overture from the African Union to broker talks, and for good reason, given that 15% of the AU’s expenses were paid by the Qaddafi regime. Furthermore, the Transitional National Council in Benghazi has agreed to a temporary “trust fund” to help channel assets from “international donations,” according to Al Jazeera English. All this indicates that the situation in Libya is perhaps entering a stage of stalemate. Subsequent planning is not clear, and long-term peace may indeed—like many feared—be subject to the interests of the NATO powers who have so much at stake in Libya.

If the endgame involves the removal of Qaddafi and the dissolution of his regime (it is hard to imagine the coalition forces allowing Qaddafi to stay in power), then an imposition of a no-fly-zone will most likely be protracted into a “long war”. Indeed, according to a report by Reuters, Obama has already signed off on a presidential “finding” (although no admission has been made), that authorizes “covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government…”

The best case scenario of course is for Qaddafi to be eliminated permanently, or to have him remove himself from power. This may be a possibility if the no-fly-zone is kept in place and works fluidly in order to protect places like Benghazi and Tobrouk from reprisals. If this happens, it may be possible to negotiate a political settlement. The talks can be brokered by international coalition forces and will most likely include the removal of Qaddafi—or at least an agreement from him to submit to parliamentary elections (or a trip to the International Criminal Court?). This, however, may be wishful thinking. For now, Libya’s war of liberation is looking more and more like a civil war. Support for Qaddafi is tough to quantify, and estimates have ranged from 10% all the way up to 30%.  Obama may do well to let the pro-Qaddafi towns alone, and focus strictly on protecting civilians. This will prove to be more and more difficult as airstrikes take on new configurations.

One can only hope that Resolution 1973 (1) does more good than harm when it comes to civilian protection, (2) works to facilitate more civilian involvement instead of restricting it, and (3) does not lead to foreign troops on Libyan soil.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics

Nemesis in Egypt

Published on: The Canadian Charger, February 10th, 2011
[http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=781]

When Hosni Mubarak steps down from power in the near future, as I am sure he will, it will be a day that marks the beginning of a new era—one where no one can ever tell me again that serious political change is not possible. In fact, thanks to the determination of those in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, etc., that era has most likely already begun.

Regardless of all the obvious geopolitical implications, the current revolts in the Middle East lay waste to those in the Western world who believe political change is mostly a pipe dream. Those in Egypt, who understand the power of collective demonstration, put to death the craven belief that real change is only possible through the collaborating and backing of those in power.

The Egyptians get it. They are not afraid to use the language of class warfare. Those who showed up to form the mammoth crowds in Tahrir Square do not fear separating and antagonizing themselves vis a vis those who own the country. The rest of us, sitting at home, tolerating the cowardly presence of the Obamas, Harpers, Sarkozys, and Berlesconis, watch—green with envy—at the monumental fall of one of the Middle East’s most lasting dictators.

What will it take for those in the United States and Canada to leave behind their trepidation for a “Day of Rage?” When will we have realized that the Egyptians, always at the butt of some idiotic comment regarding the Muslim Brotherhood or fundamentalist Islam, just schooled the rest of us in a lesson on democracy? Embarassed, our leaders cannot escape the inevitability of looking stupid when they struggle to “balance” support for an oppressive regime along with lip-service for “democratic aspirations”. The fight is against tyranny, and the emperors have been stripped stark naked.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry reached deep into its sleeves and unleashed waves of paid thugs and prisoners to pose as “pro-Mubarak” demonstrators. Armed with live ammunition, Molotov cocktails, and knives, they killed hundreds of pro-democracy activists while injuring thousands more. The Mubarak establishment, in a last bid to stay in power, has attempted to transform a peaceful movement into a pulsating mob—and Tahrir Square into a war zone. They failed. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians returned the very next day to hold the “Day of Departure,” another major push to dismantle the Mubarak-centered Egyptian regime. The Egyptians remain steadfast to this very day.

The poor of Egypt, living on less than two dollars a day, have showed the rest of the world what it means to channel a radicalized existence into productive action. Their example and their martyrdom will undoubtedly usher in a new Middle East, one not so amiable towards the United States. And if the fruits of their labour eventually ripen into serious elections, those who achieve power may very well carry a substantial amount of Islamic colouring. Those of us in the West need to learn that the Egyptians do not see us the way we see ourselves. In their eyes, we are not harbingers of a proud democratic tradition. We have no legitimacy or authority to “guide” the decisions of those in the Middle East. No matter what regime replaces that of Mubarak’s, it will certainly embody the response to the chaos and suffering the West has brought upon the Middle East in the past decades. The more we ignore this fact, the more painful the backlash will be.

We in the West spoke to the Arab and Muslim world in the language of power and force. Now, they are speaking back. The secular Arab regimes, backed by the United States, have appeared before the people as the grandest of failures—accented especially by the impotence of the Palestinian Authority and their beloved “peace process”. I suspect that the rise of powerful Islamic forces will now take over, a transition that seems as inevitable as rain. True, unlike the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Egyptian revolts are not led by clerical forces. There is no Ayatollah Khomeini as the figurehead. The Muslim Brotherhood, a late comer in the recent revolts, is forced to speak in the language of cosmopolitan and progressive aspirations. However, if free and fair elections do take place as a result of further upheaval in Egypt, it is hard to not see the Muslim Brotherhood claiming a large piece of the political pie. And why shouldn’t they—as the leading oppositional force in Egypt?

The anachronistic language of Pan-Arabism in the Nasserite hue (and the original Baathists) has become a farce. It has been co-opted by the corrupt and authoritarian secular regimes in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, etc. Communism allows little room for religion, and globalized capitalism in the corporate sense has only enriched the elite. Islam is, whether one likes it or not, the remaining element. The fatal courage of Hamas and Hezbollah is attractive not because they are religious, but because they embody serious aspirations for self-determination. People are attracted to them because they vow to fight back. Egyptians and the rest of the Arab/Muslim world are tired of being crushed under a mass of appealing rhetoric and failed policies.

The death of the Mubarak regime will most likely mean the withering away of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and, hopefully, the opening of the Rafah border—a crucial opening into the Gaza Strip currently under a brutal blockade by Israel. The United States, already compromised in the region, will lose further cooperation from the countries that once guaranteed its interests in the Middle East. The intelligence agencies of the region will most likely dampen their current relationship with the CIA. Israel will be left with no allies in the Middle East—and perhaps not in the rest of the world.

The Middle East, if things go the way of the protestors in Egypt (and I’m sure they will), will have achieved dignity and self determination without the help of those of us in the West. They demonstrated with flying colors that they can speak the language that we thought we spoke so well. Their actions render us mute. As we gaze at the sacrifice and determination of those in Egypt, we have to accept the ironic shame that the protestors now reflect at us. Compared to them, we are sheep. While they tirelessly and unabashedly shake the roots of a brutal regime, we settle for piecemeal change within a system headed by an administration that despises its own people.

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