international affairs, politics

The Dangers of Naïve Diplomacy

Published on April 17th, 2014 by The American Conservative

When Russian soldiers descended into the Ukrainian province of Crimea last month, many observers rightly rebuked the move as a precursor to eventual annexation. They condemned the deployment as illegal, dangerous, and capable of sparking a much larger conflict. Still, some of these spectators took things a step further and saw an opportunity to condemn what they observed as an intrinsic duplicity to the global peace movement.

The loudest participants argue that the antiwar left shows its hypocrisy by not getting on the streets to protest Vladimir Putin’s aggression. They ask: if hundreds of thousands of people showed up on the streets of Western cities to protest the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, then why can’t Ukrainians get the same show of international support?

Take Nick Cohen, writing for the conservative British magazine The Spectator, who says that Ukrainians “should be glad that they do not have the support of the relativist left” because of its “pliable” politics. Or take The National Post’s Andrew Coyne, who goes on to condemn the apparently spineless left for being “pacifists” who have become the “PR reps” of tyrants.

There’s no doubt that Russia’s actions amount to an illegal encroachment on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Historian Timothy Snyder explains that Putin’s broader strategic objective is to have Ukraine join something called the “Eurasian Union,” which is essentially a group of authoritarians and dictators banding together to preserve their regional hegemony.

That sounds very unappetizing, but unlike what Cohen and Coyne seem to suggest, just because millions of leftists aren’t filling the streets doesn’t then mean they all endorse Russian expansionism. In fact, there has been quite enough knee-jerk moralism and grand, sweeping rhetoric already escalating Ukraine’s crisis. The peace movement’s resources are limited, and it’s simply not possible to have colossal protests whenever a conflict arises. Not to mention that it’s probably not in Ukraine’s interests to amplify anti-Russia messaging right now. It’s also hard to imagine any commentator, Cohen and Coyne included, showing the same level of outrage if the left failed to protest for, say, the island nation of Palau, if any of its larger neighbors decided to invade it. This kind of selectivity says much more about the ideological framework through which commentators like Cohen look at the world than it does about the left.

Ukraine, of course, is not Palau. The aggressor here is Russia, a chief geopolitical actor in the world whose global agenda doesn’t always align with that of the U.S. and its closer allies. Palau and its neighbors are not symbols of a larger global rivalry in the way that Ukraine and Russia are. Russia still symbolizes opposition to the “Western world” for many in the American political establishment who prefer to remain stubbornly connected to the outdated narratives of the Cold War. As the Soviet Union was perceived to impede the progress of liberal capitalism and democracy throughout the world, Putin’s Russia now disrupts the “unipolar moment,” when the U.S. should be free to project its overwhelming power for global goodness. Or so the (neoconservative) story goes.

In truth, Ukraine is caught between this broader, global rivalry. The admirable impulse of its people to attain a more just country is dwarfed by the ideological myopia of both Russia and the U.S. In the melodramatic narratives that have come to dominate the way the mainstream discusses this crisis, Ukraine’s democratic will should be backed by the ultimate purveyor of freedom in the world, the United States. With its help, plucky little Ukraine will escape Putin’s clutches and go on to enjoy the perks of the European Union, and maybe even NATO.

But reality is different. In the real world, Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukraine has long been a strategic partner of Russia. It was a country still within Putin’s limited sphere of regional influence. If it goes, then Russia loses. Russian interests are at stake, and so it must act to protect them. This, above all, remains the primary impediment to Ukraine’s democratic goals. Did the U.S. State Department not recognize it? If it did, then why did it not apply a reality-based diplomacy that reminded the Euromaidan movement to avoid making Russia feel like a loser in all this?

As John Mearsheimer notes in his New York Times op-ed, Russia “drew a line in the sand” when NATO announced in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia will become members. The Russians already watched Poland and the Baltic states accede. Ukraine was simply a step too far. Putin, as it turns out, would rather not tolerate NATO expansion right up to his doorstep. An excuse to act was all he needed. Euromaidan’s success in throwing out Yanukovych provided that excuse.

Now, Ukraine’s sovereignty remains violated. Instead of advising caution, the U.S. took a more activist approach, symbolized by Victoria Nuland’s handing out of cookies to protestors in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the Euromaidan movement. As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Nuland decided not to warn the protestors that they may be making a strategic error by forcing Yanukovych out instead of voting him out. The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, also failed to take a more strategic approach, instead calling the ouster of Yanukovych “a day for the history books.” The failure to see the Russia’s reaction to all this as incredibly relevant to Ukraine’s chances of maintaining a sovereign, democratic state has a lot to do with where the crisis is today.

An establishment still nostalgic for the thinking and rhetoric of the Cold War may present Ukraine’s well-being as the West’s primary concern. But the inability to see all this from Russia’s perspective has ruined Ukraine’s chances for a smooth transition out of Russia’s immediate sphere of influence. This is the same kind of naïve and sentimental idealism that characterizes many of America’s ill-conceived forays into the world, including those in the Middle East. It is of course directly related to the neoconservative view of global influence: project American power, whatever it takes. Vladimir Putin is playing the same game, responding in kind to the aggressive expansionism of Russia’s rivals.

The truth, of course, is that plenty of people have expressed distaste for all aggressive interventions, be it by Russia or the United States, or anyone else for that matter. In addition to a Crimea firmly in Putin’s clutches, the Ukrainian interim government and major political parties (who will contend in a general election next month) are chock-full of candidates with their own records of corruption. The far-right Svoboda party now has five ministerial posts in this interim regime, including deputy prime minister and prosecutor general. The leader of the neo-nazi Right Sector party, Dmytro Yarosh, is now Ukraine’s deputy national security chief.

Now hawkish Cold Warriors within the United States are calling for NATO forces to be deployed into Western Ukraine, or at least on it’s border with Poland. U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, has been given a mandate to draw up plans to counter Russia’s move and “reassure NATO members nearest Russia that other alliance countries have their back.” Breedlove says that he wouldn’t “write off the involvement of any nation, to include the United States.”

If that happens, Russia will almost certainly declare and execute an official invasion into eastern Ukraine. What follows such a disaster is anyone’s guess.

[http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-dangers-of-naive-diplomacy/]

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middle east, muslims, politics

No-Fly Zone in Libya: let us be clear

What is “liberal intervention” but a deceptively labelled concept meant for making military intrusion possible? The abstract idea of a utopic and humanitarian bouquet of bombs and missiles may be easy to imagine in a world filled with disinformation, but history has taught us that such pseudo-events do not exist. Remember the former Yugoslavia? Remember Iraq and Afghanistan? Those who tell us that Libya 2011 is “unique” embrace the overbearing clichés  churned out by the corporate media.

Libyans must determine their own fate. If a no-fly zone is unquestionably what the rebelling Libyans want, then so be it. But let us harbour no illusions and tell it like it is. Full stop. A no-fly zone imposed upon Libya will be a serious, multifaceted, military operation controlled by the United States and its lapdog, the United Kingdom (perhaps also France). Russia and China have both expressed serious reservations. Thus, the usual suspects have returned, as have the vague “responsibility to protect” (R2P) non-ideologies they espouse. It is like a bad dream recurring over and over again.

The top-dogs of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Central command, Robert Gates and General James Mattis respectively, have both concurred that the implementation of a no-fly zone means—without any doubt—the destruction of Libya’s air defenses. This appears to be a standard prerequisite for the sending of any jets from a “protecting power”. Getting the United Nations to back a no-fly zone is tough enough, given the reservations by Russia and China, but certain international agreements (rules of engagement) will have to also be addressed, just so the forces controlling the air do not shoot at each other—or a civilian airliner for that matter.

The implementation of a no-fly zone is also commonly perceived as a reduction of violence. This is not true. First of all, it is ludicrous to say that Qaddafi’s instruments of death are confined by the air. His usage of mercenaries (mainly as snipers) is infamous by now. Second, a no-fly zone would mean more—not less—planes and missiles flying through the skies. What will this do to the surrounding areas?  If the Qaddafi air force is as formidable as some R2P apologists will have it, then a battle in the skies will ensue. What will this mean for the people on the ground? Anti-aircraft weaponry also includes missiles shot from the ground, operated by their corresponding personnel. This means U.S.-U.K.-France troops directly on the ground in Libya. What will become of them when—God-willing—Qaddafi is ousted?

Furthermore, how serious is Qaddafi’s aerial power—actually? The official numbers are 227 fighter aircrafts and 35 attack helicopters. It is certainly a scary tally, and should not be underestimated. However, let us again be clear. Most Western countries have their planes repaired, maintained, and serviced around half of the time. The rate is astronomically higher in Libya. So far, not more than a few planes have attacked the rebels. The bombardment of Brega, a key oil port in eastern Libya (quite close to Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte), was carried out by a single jet that dropped all but two bombs. Military and air force analysts have noted that “lone-wolf” operations are extremely rare to begin with, due to high risk, not to mention only to drop two bombs. This is the closest real indication of the Libyan air force one can get thus far. It means that either the Libyan air force has some seriously disenchanted pilots (the two bombs dropped on Brega were—according to some eye-witnesses—purposely off-target, and left no casualties), or that the fleet is so deficient that no more than one or two planes can get in the air at one time.

Given these ramifications, how desirable is a no-fly zone? Suffice it to say that a more serious assessment of Qaddafi’s military power will have to be done by the media (a difficult proposal given that the international media in Libya is  under lock-down and cannot move freely).

Wahid Burshan, a Libyan political analyst and activist, has expressed that “taking Libyan air defenses out…and things like that…in order for them [the U.S./U.K.-France] to manage the skies…could be problematic. The Libyan people may consider that hostile and it may tip the point to Qaddafi’s favour.” Burshan also pointed out on Al Jazeera English’s Inside Story that the military in Libya is not always 100% pro-Qaddafi, and seriously antagonizing the army may not be the best strategy. It may be useful to remember the two Libyan pilots who defected from the Qaddafi camp in February and landed their planes in Malta after a refusal to obey orders and bomb fellow Libyans.

At best, it seems that the Libyan people are divided on the idea of a U.S.-U.K.-France imposed no-fly zone. Based on all the information one can gather from rather opaque reports coming out of Libya, a no-fly zone may not be worth it right now—but a better assessment may be available to us and the people of Libya in the future.

Note that serious reservations for a no-fly zone as of now is not grounded in the opinion that it simply will not work. It may work, especially given Libya’s weak defenses. Rather, serious reservations arise out of several concerns: (1) once Western powers are involved in the Libyan revolution, they are involved in that revolution’s future outcomes—and the future of Libya—Qaddafi or no Qaddafi, (2) the information regarding the will of the Libyans themselves is extremely opaque, and a serious cost-benefit decision has yet to be made by Libyans, and (3) despite some calls not to compare Libya’s situation to other similar (proposed) interventions previously, serious analysts take into account the past behaviour of Western powers.

On that last point, let us just say that suspicion is a much understated sentiment as of now. Given that Prime Minister Cameron recently returned from a trip selling arms to his Gulf despot friends, the principle motivation for this R2P inspired spirit of intervention is just too hard to take seriously.

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

Israel at a Crossroads: the Iranian Threat

Published on:
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26003.htm
http://rebelnews.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=326421
http://mycatbirdseat.com/2010/07/israel-hiding-behind-the-iranian-threat/
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=513

With the recent formation of “The Emergency Committee for Israel”, the neoconservative and Likudnik characters on the American right have yet again stepped up their lobbying efforts. The usual characters from the Christian hard-right like Gary Bauer have again joined forces with neoconservatives Bill Kristol, Noah Pollack, Michael Goldfarb, etc. to stand up for Israel. Among other things, they have yet again brought up the imminent threat of a nuclear Iran, and how such a nation will tear the region apart with its fanaticism.

Israel’s obsession with Iran is real. While some genuinely perceive a nuclear Iran as a major threat, others on Israel’s far right recognize the much more pragmatic, if not cynical reasons for Israel’s rancid rhetoric. With the occupation of Gaza (and blockade) and the West Bank continuing to destabilize the region, Netanyahu’s administration is undoubtedly trying to use the Iranian threat to create a climate of fear. Such a climate will not only pull the world’s attention away from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but also reiterate Israel’s “scared bond” with the United States in a war against “Islamic Terrorism”.

Considering that Israel’s American-backed arsenal of nuclear weapons do not receive nearly as much attention in the corporate media as compared to Iran’s alleged attempt to acquire nuclear capabilities (still short of actual nuclear weapons), one should look at things form Iran’s perspective. Both Israel and the US have been talking nonstop about containing or attacking Iran. Iran has some rather weak (but still damaging) sanctions implemented on it by the US, and a genuine nuclear power in Israel constantly shouting about attacking it. Recently, the US navy just shipped missiles and over 300 “bunker busters” onto the African island of Diego Garcia, within striking distance of Iran. Furthermore, several of the countries that share borders with Iran have US troops in them (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, etc.).

Considering these factors, along with the threats from Israel and the United States (Israel is also not a signee of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty), even hawkish analysts within the Israeli establishment have noted the need for Iran to at least have the option of a nuclear deterrent. Israeli strategist Martin Van Creveld, for example, has noted that Iran’s president is “Not crazy at all,” and that he would essentially do what Ahmedinejad is doing right now if he were in his position. On the other hand, UN Resolution 1887 states that threats of force are illegal when settling nuclear disputes. Also, it goes without saying that a war with Iran would cause the entire region to destabilize.

For the United States, Iran’s Islamic Revolution ushered in regimes that did not conform with its imperial designs in the region. Both Russia and China do business with Iran, which has emerged as the true beneficiary of the Iraq War, and backs both Hizbullah and Hamas. None of this is in the US’s interest, let alone in Israel’s. However, these “threats” are still rather hollow, given the military and economic capacities of both the US and Israel. Although Hizbullah has on occasions embarrassed a stronger Israel, its threats (along with those of Hamas) are far from existential.

Therefore, Israel’s paranoia with Iran mirrors Iran’s rhetorical backlash. By making the Islamic regime look crazy, Israel draws attention away from the Palestinian question. By now, after the Gaza Massacre and the Flotilla incident, it has become clear that Israel is becoming a strategic liability to the United States. The Israel Lobby in the US is trying (with great success) to conceal this fact, but Israel is very much at a crossroads. It seeks to reinvigorate the US-Israeli alliance by exaggerating the Iranian threat, while not answering for its own nuclear arsenal. But Israel has very little choice. Although its only chance of preserving a Jewish state is through a two-state solution with the Palestinians, settlement-building throughout the years have pretty much destroyed that option. It has effectively dug itself a hole too deep to climb out of.

The Israeli-Palestine conflict is so protracted that it inevitably shakes up the whole region, precipitating hatred aimed at both the US and Israel. Given the US’s need for oil in the future, a lack of allies in the Middle East would prove disastrous. But Israel’s unpopular presence in the region is costing the US all kinds of strategic leverage. Confronted with the reality of having no friends in the world, the Israeli regime is desperately trying to use the Iranian threat to illustrate to the US its “strategic worth”.

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