Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

9
Sep

By Bill Keller

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The United States has just spent thousands of American lives in a distant land for a victory that now seems hollow, if indeed it can be called a victory at all. Our own country, moreover, is emerging from a recession, dispirited and self-absorbed, worried about the fragility of the recovery and the state of our democracy. Idealism is in short supply. So, as another far-off war worsens, Americans are loath to take sides, even against a merciless dictator, even to the extent of sending weapons. The voices opposed to getting involved range from the pacifist left to the populist right. The president, fearful that foreign conflict will undermine his domestic agenda, vacillates.

This is the United States in 1940. Sound a little familiar?

I’ve been reading two engrossing new histories of that time — “Those Angry Days” by Lynne Olson and “1940” by Susan Dunn — both focused on the ferocious and now largely forgotten resistance Franklin D. Roosevelt had to navigate in order to stand with our allies against Hitler.

Of course, 2013 is not 1940. The Middle East is not Europe. President Obama is not F.D.R. But America is again in a deep isolationist mood. As a wary Congress returns from its summer recess to debate Syria, as President Obama prepares to address the nation, it is instructive to throw the two periods up on the screen and examine them for lessons. How does a president sell foreign engagement to a public that wants none of it?

The cliché of the season is that Americans are war-weary from our long slogs in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is true, but not the whole story. To be sure, nothing has done more to discredit an activist foreign policy than the blind missionary arrogance of the Bush administration. But the isolationist temper is not just about the legacy of Iraq. Economic troubles and political dysfunction have contributed to a loss of confidence. Add to the mix a surge of xenophobia, with its calls for higher fences and big-brotherly attention to the danger within. (These anxieties also helped give rise to the expanding surveillance state, just as nativism in that earlier period gave license to J. Edgar Hoover’s obsessive eavesdropping.)

Isolationism is strong in the Tea Party, where mistrust of executive power is profound and where being able to see Russia from your front yard counts as mastery of international affairs. But sophisticated readers of The New York Times are not immune, or so it seems from the comments that arrive when I write in defense of a more assertive foreign policy. (In recent columns I’ve advocated calibrated intervention to shift the balance in Syria’s civil war and using foreign aid to encourage democracy in Egypt.) Not our problems, many readers tell me. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 8, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appears in print on September 9, 2013, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Our New Isolationism).
6
Sep

Europe’s posture in the face of Middle East unrest is best described as hiding under the bedcovers

By Philip Stephens

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Someone else can keep the peace. The west has had its fill of squaring up to tyrants. It is time for others to pick up the baton. So runs the shrug-of-the-shoulders response to the fires raging in the Middle East and the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. The snag, as can be seen from the paralysis in the UN Security Council, is that there is no “someone else”.

This week leaders of the Group of 20 leading nations are meeting in St Petersburg. Russia has proved a fitting venue for the gathering. The summit offers sight of a future for international relations in which competition prevails over co-operation and narrow national interests trump respect for rules. The host, President Vladimir Putin, counts such disarray a success. He sees the absence of global consensus as a cloak over inexorable Russian decline.

The purpose of the G20 was to broaden and strengthen the international system by reflecting the redistribution of power from west to east. Instead it holds up a mirror to the fractures and fissures in the emerging order. The rising nations cast themselves as guardians of state sovereignty against western imperialism. They may have history on their side: the established powers have anyway wearied of efforts to enforce international rules.

A vote in the Westminster parliament has seen Britain wash its hands of Bashar al-Assad’s crimes against the Syrian people. Were the looming decision in the US Congress to go against President Barack Obama’s call for intervention, the sole superpower would do the same. France, for all its Gallic self-regard, cannot go it alone.

The facts of globalisation have not changed. A glance at the present economic troubles faced by countries as distant as India and Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, retells the story of inescapable interdependence.

The US Federal Reserve is reining back the extraordinary injection of liquidity into the US and world economies after the global crash. Cheap American credit fuelled growth in the emerging nations. Now they feel the pain of its withdrawal. These nations pretty much shrugged off the 2008 financial crash. It would be cruel irony indeed to be laid low by a recovery in the US. Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on September 5, 2013.

5
Sep

By Dennis P. Halpin

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In the spring of 2007, reports reached Washington concerning a covert North Korean operation in the Syrian desert. Senior members of Congress, including my former boss, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, raised alarm bells with the State Department’s Six-Party negotiators on North Korean denuclearization. How could Pyongyang negotiate in good faith on nuclear issues while at the same time assisting a state sponsor of terrorism in the construction of a copycat Yongbyon-like nuclear facility? Such concerns, however, were largely put aside as the process of the Six-Party negotiations took precedence over the disturbing facts on the ground. The Israelis, increasingly concerned over Washington’s foot-dragging on the issue, did the world a favor on September 6, 2007 by taking out the Syrian nuclear reactor in a surgical strike. NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), citing “unidentified South Korean intelligence officials,” reported that ten North Korean support staff may have died in that attack. Their remains were allegedly cremated and returned to North Korea.

Not only have North Koreans reportedly been killed in Syria due to Syrian–North Korean joint proliferation, but Syrians also have died in North Korea. In April 2004, according to a report in the World Tribune, “a dozen Syrian technicians” were killed in an explosion at the train station in Ryongchon, near the Chinese border. While some speculated that the blast involved an assassination attempt against then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, whose train had passed through the station only hours before, the consensus reached was that the explosion involved “a train car full of missiles and components” to be shipped to Syria and that the accompanying technicians were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Then Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, during a visit to Japan in May of 2010, publicly stated, according to the Associated Press, that North Korea, Syria and Iran are cooperating as a new “axis of evil” and “pose the biggest threat to world security because they are building and spreading weapons of mass destruction.” The foreign minister further noted that “We saw this kind of cooperation only two or maybe three months ago with the North Korean plane in Bangkok with huge numbers of different weapons with the intention to smuggle these weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah.” Mr. Lieberman was making reference to a plane from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang seized by Thai authorities at Bangkok airport on December 12, 2009, which contained thirty-five tons of weapons. Read more…

Dennis P. Halpin is a former Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, former U.S. consul in Pusan, and former professional staff member, for more than twelve years, with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is currently a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS (Johns Hopkins University).

As published by The National Interest on September 4, 2013.

4
Sep

By Daoud Kuttab

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Throughout the post-colonial period, Arab countries have consistently failed to produce an efficient – let alone democratic – system of government. Now, after a half-century of competition between military or royal dictatorships and militant Islamist regimes, many Arabs are again seeking a “third way” – a path toward a credible form of representative democracy. But will their efforts prove as futile now as they have in the past?

The Middle East – named for its geographic position between Europe and East Asia – was under Ottoman rule for 400 years before the Allied powers, after defeating the Ottomans in World War I, partitioned the region into distinct political units that, under the Sykes-Picot Agreement, fell within spheres of influence carved out by the United Kingdom and France. But, in response to these new divisions, an Arab awakening – shaped by pan-Arabism and support for Palestine – was occurring.

Charismatic young military rulers-turned-dictators like Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Syria’s Hafez al-Assad used these popular causes to win public support. But their failure to deliver better lives to their citizens, together with the discrediting of left-wing ideologies following the Soviet Union’s collapse, fueled the rise of a rival movement: political Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood – established in the Egyptian town of Ismailia in 1928 and political Islam’s oldest, best organized, and most widespread proponent – was (and is) despised by both secular Arabs and Arab monarchies. Indeed, secular dictators have worked to suppress the Brothers at every turn – often violently, as when Assad ruthlessly crushed a Brotherhood-led uprising in Hama in 1982.

Forced to operate clandestinely, the Brotherhood built its support base with a social agenda that targeted the needs of the poor, while consistently reinforcing its Islamic ties, even using the compulsory zakat (annual financial contribution to religious causes) to build up its social network. The Brothers, with the help of a conservative society and the mosques, were prepared to seize power whenever the opportunity arose.

Another Islamist movement, Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front, almost had such an opportunity in 1991, when it won the first round of a general election. But the military prevented its victory by canceling the second round, triggering a brutal eight-year civil war in which an estimated 200,000 people died. Palestine’s Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, succeeded at the ballot box in 2006, but has since failed to deliver credible governance. Read more…

Daoud Kuttab is a former professor at Princeton University and the founder and former director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah.

As published in www.project-syndicate.org on September 4, 2013.

3
Sep

By Haizam Amirah Fernandez, Associate Professor at IE School of International Relations

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The worst forecasts are unfolding in Egypt. One year of the Muslim Brotherhood’s incompetent and sectarian governance polarised Egyptian society. For the past month and a half, the return to a regime dominated by the military has set Egyptians violently at odds with one another. Uniformed and bearded men now clash on the country’s streets on the basis of hatred, exclusion, cynicism and death. While many average Egyptians justify and applaud the actions of the army and the police, others consider themselves to be victims of a great injustice and cry out for revenge and martyrdom. This is how armed civil conflicts begin.

The sit-ins of the supporters of the deposed President Morsi constituted a serious threat to public order. The problem could have been resolved through political negotiation, which EU mediation advocated until the end. The army, however, along with some ‘liberals’ thought they could crush the Muslim Brotherhood and eradicate them as a political force by the use of force. In their cynicism, Islamist leaders needed to increase their list of martyrs; in their arrogance, Egypt’s generals are providing them with just that. The collective unreason and dehumanisation of the enemy seem to be the only points in common between the factions that are dragging Egypt towards social fracture, political instability and economic ruin.

Abandoning institutionalised politics and substituting it for machine guns, flaming torches and explosive belts is disastrous not only for Egypt; it also gives rise to nefarious ramifications in the entire Middle East and on both shores of the Mediterranean. Massive extrajudicial executions –widely distributed on social networks– in the name of the fight against ‘terrorism’ is fostering a new generation of radicals that will see that resorting to terrorist methods is justified. The prophecy will be self-fulfilled, although the return of a police state will not guarantee that instability will not lead to chaos, or even, lawlessness.

The Egyptian economy is in a critical state and is solely maintained thanks to Gulf-State petrodollars (mainly from Saudi Arabia). Today’s socioeconomic crisis is even more serious than when Mubarak was dislodged in February of 2011. The current head of the Egyptian army, general Sisi, will attempt to present himself as the ‘saviour of the country’, but in a context of increasing repression and instability he will find it very difficult to be the ‘saviour of the economy’. Even if the military are able to neutralise the Islamists, which is highly unlikely, the social upheaval on the streets will only continue. In the absence of democratic mechanisms to channel that frustration and search for solutions, the only paths available are the old formulas of repression, information manipulation and ‘conspiracy-paranoid’ nationalism. Read more…

As published in www.realinstitutoelcano.org on August 29, 2013.

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