Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

26
Aug

Posted by Dexter Filkins

This time it’s different.

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For months, Bashar al-Assad, in Syria, has been suspected of using chemical weapons against the rebels who are trying to remove him, in violation of international treaties and the Obama Administration’s threats. Syrian opposition groups say that Assad has used chemical weapons as many as thirty-five times, often with low concentrations of sarin gas. In each case, the attack appears to have been intended to cause as much panic as death, and without provoking a Western response. The result—carefully calculated by the Assad regime, no doubt—is that the death toll from chemical weapons has been kept low. In June, Benjamin Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, said that between a hundred and a hundred and fifty people had been killed in all of the gas attacks together. This, in a fratricidal war that has killed more than a hundred thousand people.

But Wednesday’s early-morning attack appears to be something very different in scale. According to reports from the scene, four large rockets landed in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta at just after 2 A.M. This time, the gas appeared to be more concentrated: on Thursday, the Syrian Support Group, a rebel advocacy organization in Washington, put the death toll at 1,302, with nearly ten thousand others contaminated. Two-thirds of the dead were women and children, the group said. You don’t have to believe the Syrian Support Group, but a look at videos posted on the Internet—here, here, and here—seems to support their account, and suggest that something new and terrible is happening in Syria.

The Assad government denied it had carried out the attack, as it has on previous occasions, suggesting that the allegations reflect desperation on the part of the rebels. The Russian government blamed the rebels, accusing them of trying to create a pretext for Western intervention; at the same time, the Russians urged Assad to coöperate with U.N. inspectors, who are inside the country. (The Obama Administration has continued to maintain that the rebels do not have any chemical-weapons capability.)

If the S.S.G.’s account is confirmed, which could take some time, the question is: What can be done? A year ago, President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would constitute the crossing of a “red line” that would trigger a more vigorous American response. At the time, it appeared that the Assad regime was teetering, that the rebels were closing in. Since then, Assad, whose position grew stronger thanks, in large measure, to military support from Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia, has called Obama’s bluff. In June, the Assad regime declared that it had recaptured Qusayr, a town near the Lebanese border, which serves as a principal conduit for Hezbollah guns and missiles coming from Iran. The same month, Rhodes declared that the White House had “high confidence” that Assad had used chemical weapons “several” times. The President’s advisers let it be known that the President had decided to change his policy—that the U.S. would begin sending small arms and ammunition to the rebels. That is, rifles and bullets. It was the least Obama could do while still changing his policy, and insufficient to help the rebels win. Indeed, there is no evidence that American weapons of any sort have even started to arrive. Read more…

As published in www.newyorker.com on August 23, 2013.

22
Aug

The country has battled water shortages, rising food prices, and declining oil production, and it’s fueling the current conflict.

By Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

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With more than 600 people killed and almost 4,000 injured from clashes between Egyptian security forces and Muslim Brotherhood protesters, the country’s democratic prospects look dismal. But while the violence is largely framed as a conflict between Islamism and secularism, the roots of the crisis run far deeper. Egypt is in fact on the brink of a protracted state-collapse process driven by intensifying resource scarcity.

Since the unilateral deposition of President Morsi, the army’s purported efforts to “restore order” are fast-tracking the country toward civil war. The declaration of a month-long state of emergency–ironically in the name of defending “democracy”–suggests we are witnessing the dawn of a new era of unprecedented violence with the potential to destabilize the entire region.

Underlying growing instability is the Egyptian state’s increasing inability to contain the devastating social impacts of interconnected energy, water and food crises over the last few decades. Those crises, already afflicting other regional states like Yemen and Syria, will unravel prevailing political orders with devastating consequences–unless urgent structural transformation to address those crises becomes a priority. The upshot is that Egypt’s meltdown represents the culmination of long-standing trends that, without a change of course, can only escalate with permanent repercussions across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and beyond.

A major turning point for Egypt arrived in 1996, when Egypt’s domestic oil production peaked at about 935,000 barrels per day (bpd), dropping since then to about 720,000 bpd in 2012. Yet Egypt’s domestic oil consumption has increased steadily over the past decade by about 3 percent a year. Since 2010, oil consumption–currently at 755,000 bpd–has outpaced production. It is no coincidence that the following year, Hosni Mubarak was toppled. Read more…

As published by The Atlantic on August 19, 2013.

20
Aug

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A surprising number of world leaders and foreign policy experts have effectively acquiesced in the continued brutality of Egypt’s generals, arguing that support for the military is the only way to restore stability in the Arab world’s most populous state and limit wider regional turmoil. But this is just one of several false choices misinforming the debate and one that is certain to ensure more unrest, not less.

After overthrowing Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, the military could have been a positive force if it had put in place a transition plan that included all groups, including Mr. Morsi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. But instead of encouraging Egyptians to settle differences through democratic means — elections, for instance — the generals and their anti-Morsi allies, invoking the threat of “terrorism,” took the ruthless, likely fateful, decision to crack down on peaceful demonstrators. The death toll of more than 1,000 now includes 36 Morsi supporters who died on Sunday under suspicious circumstances in police custody.

The choice the generals are promoting is that the world must decide between them or instability. “At this point, it’s army or anarchy,” one Israeli official told The Times. Israel has been vigorously lobbying the United States and Europe to back the generals. Over the weekend, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia strongly endorsed the crackdown; he and other gulf monarchs, who hate the Brotherhood, have pumped billions into Egypt’s treasury.

There is a better path, and that is to choose not to help the military, which is making things worse, and could fuel a generation of Islamists to choose militancy over the ballot box. (The possible release of ousted President Hosni Mubarak from prison would be the ultimate repudiation of the 2011 revolution.) Is that really in the best long-term interests of the United States? Obviously not. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on August 19, 2013 (a version of this editorial appears in print on August 20, 2013, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: False Choices on Egypt).

 

7
Aug

By Robert D. Kaplan

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For over two years, the civil war in Syria has been synonymous with cries of moral urgency. Do Something! shout those who demand the United States intervene militarily to set the situation there to rights, even as the battle lines now comprise hundreds of regime and rebel groupings and the rebels have started fighting each other. Well, then, shout the moral interventionists, if only we had intervened earlier!

Syria is not unique. Before Syria, humanitarians in 2011 demanded military intervention in Libya, even though the regime of Muammar Qaddafi had given up its nuclear program and had been cooperating for years with Western intelligence agencies. In fact, the United States and France did lead an intervention, and Libya today is barely a state, with Tripoli less a capital than the weak point of imperial-like arbitration for far-flung militias, tribes, and clans, while nearby Saharan entities are in greater disarray because of weapons flooding out of Libya.

The 1990s were full of calls for humanitarian intervention: in Rwanda, which tragically went unheeded; and in Bosnia and Kosovo where interventions, while belated, were by and large successful. Free from the realpolitik necessities of the Cold War, humanitarians have in the past two decades tried to reduce foreign policy to an aspect of genocide prevention. Indeed, the Nazi Holocaust is only one lifetime removed from our own—a nanosecond in human history—and so post–Cold War foreign policy now rightly exists in the shadow of it. The codified upshot has been R2P: the “Responsibility to Protect,” the mantra of humanitarians.

But American foreign policy cannot merely be defined by R2P and Never Again! Statesmen can only rarely be concerned with humanitarian interventions and protecting human rights to the exclusion of other considerations. The United States, like any nation—but especially because it is a great power—simply has interests that do not always cohere with its values. That is tragic, but it is a tragedy that has to be embraced and accepted. Read more…

As published by The National Interest on August 1, 2013.

31
Jul

By Zachary C. Shirkey

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By most accounts the United States will soon shift from being the world’s largest importer of petroleum to being a major global exporter.

This will result from greatly increased domestic discovery and production of petroleum combined with growing energy efficiency and expanded use of U.S.-produced natural gas. While this profound energy transition is bound to have large implications for both the American and global economies, what will its impact be on U.S. foreign policy, especially towards the Middle East? Perhaps, surprisingly, energy independence will not have a large effect on American foreign policy towards this area of the globe.

The Middle East has been a vital area of U.S. foreign policy since the early decades of the Cold War. While this owed in part to America’s global policy of containing the Soviet Union, the region’s petroleum reserves have always been one of the major reasons for U.S. interest. Indeed, the United States’ presence in the Middle East has only increased in the decades since the end of the Cold War.

However, if the United States is no longer dependent on oil imports, might not its interest in the region wane?

Though growing energy independence seemingly would allow the United States to vastly reduce its role in the Middle East, this is unlikely. Despite temptations and pressures to recede from the region, the United States will continue to have a vital interest in maintaining stable global energy markets and in countering security threats emanating from that part of the world.

The case for shifting U.S. attention and resources from the Middle East is straightforward. Both Latin America and especially Asia are growing in economic and strategic importance and will demand greater American engagement. This has already been reflected in the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia.” Given that American foreign-policy resources are limited, for these other regions to receive a bigger share, other locations have to receive less. While Europe is a candidate for less attention, growing U.S. energy supplies make the Middle East a candidate as well. Simply put, energy independence seemingly eliminates the main reason for U.S. policy makers to concern themselves with the Middle East. Indeed, to the extent that U.S. policy has created enmity in the region, lowering America’s profile could have significant benefits, such as reducing popular support for groups such as Al Qaeda. Read more…

As published by The National Interest on July 29, 2013.

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