Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ 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.

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).

 

16
Aug

These relics of empire pay hardly any UK tax – but when the neighbours cut up nasty, they demand the British protect them.

By Simon Jenkins

Gibraltar-Spain border, 9/8/13

Nothing beats a gunboat. HMS Illustrious glided out of Portsmouth on Monday, past HMS Victory and cheering crowds of patriots. Within a week it will be off Gibraltar, a mere cannon shot from Cape Trafalgar. The nation’s breast heaves, the tears prick. The Olympic spirit is off to singe the king of Spain’s beard. How dare they keep honest British citizens waiting six hours at Spanish border control? Have they forgotten the Armada?

The British empire had much to be said for it, but it is over – dead, deceased, struck off, no more. The idea of a British warship supposedly menacing Spain is ludicrous. Is it meant to bomb Cadiz? Will its guns lift a rush-hour tailback in a colony that most Britons regard as awash with tax dodgers, drug dealers and right-wing whingers? The Gibraltarians have rights, but why British taxpayers should send warships to enforce them, even if just “on exercise”, is a mystery.

Any study of Britain’s currently contentious colonies, Gibraltar and the Falklands, can reach only two conclusions. One is that Britain’s claim to them in international law is wholly sound, the other is that it is nowadays wholly daft.

Twenty-first century nation states will no longer tolerate even the mild humiliation of hosting the detritus of 18th- and 19th-century empires. Most European empires were born of the realpolitik of power, mostly the treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Paris (1763). The same realpolitik now ordains their dismantling. An early purpose of the United Nations was to bring this about.

Of course those living in these colonies have a right to be considered, but such rights have never overridden political reality. Nor has Britain claimed so, at least when circumstance dictated. The residents of Hong Kong and Diego Garcia were not consulted, let alone granted “self-determination”, when Britain wanted to dump them in the dustbin of history. Hong Kong was handed to China in 1997 when the New Territories lease ended. Diego Garcia was demanded by and handed to the Pentagon in 1973. The Hong Kong British were denied passports, and the Diego Garcians were summarily evicted to Mauritius and the Seychelles. Read more…

As published in www.theguardian.com on August 14, 2013.
14
Aug

Russian President Vladimir Putin has created an anti-CNN for Western audiences with the international satellite news network Russia Today. With its recipe of smart propaganda, sex appeal and unlimited cash, it is outperforming its peers worldwide.

By Benjamin Bidder

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The political evening program often kicks off with a mixture of chaos and tabloid news. Abby Martin, the American host working for the Kremlin, has her lips slightly parted and is applying red lipstick, which goes well with her black top, high heels and ankle tattoo. Then she swings a sledgehammer and destroys a TV set tuned to CNN, the American role model and nemesis of her employer, the Russian international satellite TV network Russia Today.

This show opening is apparently meant to illustrate one thing over all else: that Russia is aggressive and enlightened — and looks good in the process.

A photo of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower the United States wants to bring home to face charges, is projected onto the studio wall. Then there is a report on the detention camp at Guantanamo, which has hurt America’s reputation. Russia Today uses the source material America supplies to its rivals untiringly and with relish. Even Washington’s relatively minor peccadilloes don’t escape notice. For instance, the show also includes a story about Gabonese dictator Ali Bongo Ondimba, whom US President Barack Obama supports.

Many in the West are also interested in seeing critical coverage of the self-proclaimed top world power. Russia Today is already more successful than all other foreign broadcast stations available in major US cities, such as San Francisco, Chicago and New York. In Washington, 13 times as many people watch the Russian program as those that tune into Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster. Two million Britons watch the Kremlin channel regularly. Its online presence is also more successful than those of all its competitors. What’s more, in June, Russia Today broke a YouTube record by being the first TV station to get a billion views of its videos. Read more…

As published in www.spiegel.de on August 13, 2013.

9
Aug

By Conrad Black

American soldiers clearing a Japanese bunker near Buna, New Guinea, in 1942.

American soldiers clearing a Japanese bunker near Buna, New Guinea, in 1942.

It is generally recognized that the United States is steadily withdrawing from several areas of the world where it has had a large military presence for many years, especially the Middle East, Western Europe, and parts of the Far East.

It is, in fact, engaged in a broad strategic retreat. But this must not be misconstrued as the collapse or permanent decline of that country. It remains an extremely rich nation, with the most productive workforce in the history of the world, and a relatively motivated and overwhelmingly patriotic population. The great majority of Americans are proud of their country and are capable of fighting and sacrificing for it in a plausible cause. Courage is valued and revered; and the performance of the United States armed forces in recent wars has been exemplary.

The United States has never been an aggressive power. Only when the Germans insanely attacked American commercial shipping on the high seas did the United States enter World War I, just as Russia was defeated and left the war. The Americans provided the final margin of victory for the beleaguered French, British and Italians (who took 4-million war dead and nearly 7-million wounded between them). The Americans then turned their back on Wilsonian internationalism and their president’s League of Nations, and emerged from isolation only once Franklin D. Roosevelt, who spoke German and French and knew Europe well, and whose family’s fortune was earned in the Far East, concluded that the United States alone could keep the British Commonwealth in the war, ensure Stalin did not make a separate peace with Hitler (as he attempted to do with the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939), and prevent Japan from overrunning the entire Western Pacific and Far East.

As America led the Allies to victory, Roosevelt developed atomic weapons and founded the United Nations to convince his countrymen that the world was a safer place than they had formerly thought — and to have an international cover for the exercise of America’s dominant post-war influence in the world, as Britain and its Dominions, and the Latin American countries, could all be reasonably assumed to vote with the United States in a permanent American-led majority. Read more…

As published by the National Post on August 3, 2013.

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