30
Sep

Gobal debate in recent weeks has centered on President Barack Obama’s initiative to prevent the advance of ISIS. But another force has emerged as an unlikely rampart against the barbaric and delusional leaders of the self-proclaimed caliphate: Lebanese pluralism. Indeed, despite the shortcomings of its political system, Lebanon can provide a template for managing cultural diversity and rejecting radicalism in an unstable and fragmented setting.

Last month, the Lebanese Army showed considerable fortitude as it fought ISIS militants in the Bekaa town of Arsal, near the border with Syria. Though the Army has sustained heavy losses – including two soldiers who were beheaded – it has managed to compel the militants, who were operating inside a Syrian refugee camp, largely to withdraw. And it continues to fight when the need arises. International aid is now flowing toward the Army, with Saudi Arabia alone pledging more than $3 billion.

But the international community should move beyond military aid to support Lebanon’s real strengths: its moderate, pluralist and vibrant society. After all, that is what has enabled the country, against all odds, to avoid all-out conflict, making it a beacon – however faint – of hope in a crisis-ravaged region.

Lebanon’s resilience has confounded expectations, given its lack of a shared national identity – a result of deep social divisions that resemble, to some extent, those besetting Iraq – and notoriously weak state institutions. In fact, Lebanon’s political system has been paralyzed by disagreements over Syria’s civil war, the consequences of which have been pouring over the Lebanese border. The country has not had a president since May; the Parliament is not functioning; and the Cabinet is practically powerless.

When ISIS arrived at the border, however, most of Lebanon’s political parties, media and civil society rallied together. Billboards were erected appealing to Sunnis to preserve moderation. Media outlets informally agreed not to provide a platform to radical militants. And performing-arts festivals featuring international figures went ahead – signaling the Lebanese people’s refusal to give in to radicalism and violence.

Moreover, the Army received an outpouring of public support, which is understandable, given the lack of any other unifying institution. Even the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has caused deep fissures in Lebanon by helping to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, supported the Army’s campaign (though the party’s desire to allow others to die fighting Assad’s opponents was undoubtedly a key motivation).

Ironically, the weakness of the Lebanese state may be contributing to the strength of its civil society. In Lebanon, unlike in other Arab countries, no single religious group enjoys a majority. Shiites and Sunnis compete to ally themselves with the Christian community, recognizing its vital social and political role in the country.

Lebanon’s acceptance of cultural diversity and pluralism has enabled the country to emerge whole from 15 years of civil war, to withstand decades of Syrian and Israeli occupation, and finally to stand up to ISIS. It may have taken years of violence, but Christians, Sunnis and Shias seem to have internalized the lesson that they cannot impose their will on one another.

Today, Lebanon is bustling with the cosmopolitan spirit and energy that once characterized the entire region. And the impact of its people’s creative activities is increasingly visible worldwide, with, for example, the fashion designer Elie Saab dressing Hollywood stars and Lamia Joreige’s art being exhibited in the permanent collection of London’s Tate Modern. Furthermore, both pluralism and moderation remain the dominant forces in the country; tellingly, ISIS could not find a single Lebanese to volunteer to act as its emir over Lebanon.

But this inspiring model is under threat, as Lebanon struggles to cope with a massive public debt and the spread of abject poverty in rural areas, especially among Sunnis. Making matters worse, more than a million Syrian refugees have poured into Lebanon since the start of the war in Syria in 2011 This is the equivalent, in proportional terms, of 80 million Mexicans suddenly arriving in the United States.


Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Commentary/2014/Sep-30/272421-against-barbarism-an-imperfect-lebanon-deploys-pluralism.ashx#ixzz3EnttDMhH

Published by Marwan Muasher on Sept. 30th.

29
Sep

A Turning Point in the Fight for Hong Kong

Written on September 29, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights

HONG KONG — Future generations may well commemorate Sept. 28, 2014 in the history of Hong Kong as the day when the famously apolitical city turned unmistakably political. Tens of thousands of protesters, calling for “true democracy” — that is, no Beijing-led nomination process in the planned 2017 election for the city’s chief executive, its top government official – confronted the police in the heart of Hong Kong. The smell of tear gas hung in the air near Prada and Gucci shops in glitzy Central area. Police in full riot gear marched on thoroughfares normally congested with traffic in the Admiralty district, where the government is headquartered. By midnight, hundreds of protesters blocked the main roads in Causeway Bay and Mongkok, two bustling shopping areas favored by locals and tourists alike.

Even a day earlier, it had not seemed that Beijing’s relationship with Hong Kong, a former British colony and now a special administrative region of China, would deteriorate this quickly. On Sept. 27, university students, joined by some high school students, had called for a school strike and stormed a small plaza in front of the Hong Kong government headquarters, which resulted in forcible removal by police and arrest of dozens. But most protesters were unharmed and were released within hours.

Matters escalated with shocking speed when protesters began to block roads in the Admiralty district on the afternoon of Sept. 28. Riot police arrived en masse and deployed tear gas against the gathering crowd in the early evening. The police even held up signs warning the protesters that they would be fired upon if they did not disperse. Protesters held up umbrellas against pepper spray, and made gas masks using lab goggles and saran wrap.

The protesters were brought together by the student organizers and the Occupy Central campaign, a civil disobedience movement that had threatened to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in order to pressure Beijing into giving Hong Kong open nomination rights in the 2017 chief executive election. Occupy Central was highly controversial, with many worried that such a movement would taint Hong Kong’s business-friendly reputation and negatively affect its freewheeling markets. Multiple surveys conducted prior to September 2014 all showed that more than half of Hong Kongers did not support Occupy Central, with a significant minority in favor. Two separate surveys released in August 2014 showed that more than half of Hong Kongers were willing to accept the flawed nomination process.

That narrative has now changed for good after Hong Kong police’s rash response on Sept. 28. The images of Hong Kong as a war zone — where police used tear gas, batons, pepper spray, and rubber bullets against unarmed protesters — were deeply unsettling to residents here. Local online discussion boards are now full of discussions of police brutality. Many Hong Kongers on Facebook, a popular social network here, have changed their profile photos into a yellow ribbon in support of the protesters and talked about supporting students with funding and supplies.

 The real action (or inaction), however, is taking place in Beijing, some 1,200 miles north. The current chief executive Leung Chun-ying, commonly known as C.Y.,admitted in a press conference today that he and the Hong Kong government have no authority to request the People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, to withdraw its decision on the electoral plans for Hong Kong as the protesters have demanded.

 And Beijing has shown no sign of budging since handing down the decision on Aug. 31. On Sept. 28, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency called the protests “unlawful,” Beijing’s representative office in Hong Kong “strongly condemned” the Occupy Central movement and claimed that the People’s Congress’ decision “cannot be challenged.” The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China’s State Council also issued a statement avowing that the electoral framework has an “unshakeable legal basis and effectiveness.”

Given Beijing’s intransigent stance, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters are unlikely to get what they want — but many probably also knew that when they organized boycotts or took to the streets. The real battle, still very much ongoing, is for Hong Kong’s people’s hearts and minds. After watching protesters facing down the riot police, C.Y. apparently doing Beijing’s bidding, and students being arrested, even moderate Hong Kongers are likely to become even more distrustful of the Hong Kong government’s willingness to look out for their interests. A sign making the rounds on social media — “I cannot keep calm because Hong Kong is dying” – shows an increasing unease and anger among the population. Governing the special administrative region is about to become even more difficult for Beijing.

By Rachel Lu

Published on Sept. 28 in http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/28/the_fight_for_hong_kong_moves_to_a_new_battlefield

26
Sep

When foreign dignitaries arrive in New York City for the annual gathering of the UN General Assembly, it’s often difficult to determine which world leaders are rolling past in which dark limousines. But one country’s representatives typically stand out. It’s the country whose embassy and consulate on Second Avenue are enclosed within a double row of metal barriers. A solid line of NYPD squad cars occupies every inch of surrounding curb; a white police booth stands guard at the entrance to the building. That country is Israel, and on a recent September morning I made my way through all of these obstacles to meet the man behind the fencing: Ambassador Ron Prosor.

The latest General Assembly session, which opens this week, may be more preoccupied than usual with the Jewish state, given the Gaza war over the summer. Perhaps even more importantly, this summer’s other crises—in Syria, in Iraq, in Ukraine, in the South China Sea—provide much that many nations are anxious not to talk about. The Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Group of 77, even the European Union: All can project unity if, and only if, the topic is Israel. In this respect, the Jewish state performs for the world community the same service that the weather or the dogs perform for a troubled family: a safe diversion from awkward disagreements.

Scan UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on the subject of Israel over the decades, and you’ll see that some, like one declaring the “permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” are adopted and re-adopted so often as to constitute an annual ritual on the UN calendar. No other problem or conflict on earth has generated so much UN activity. Here’s one stark way to visualize the disparity: Since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, the UN General Assembly has adopted four resolutions on one of the deadliest explosions of violence since 1945. In that same period, the General Assembly has adopted eight resolutions calling on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syrian rule.

In much of the developed world, the UN has lost considerable importance since the romantic days of the 1940s and 1950s. It’s inconceivable now that a former U.S. presidential nominee would accept the UN ambassadorship as an appropriate position, as Adlai Stevenson did under President Kennedy. The role is instead seen as a stepping stone to a higher rank; President Obama’s first UN ambassador, Susan Rice, now serves as his national security advisor. In some less-developed countries, the UN job offers a profitable capstone to a political career—a chance for a former foreign minister or even head of government to live in New York with a staff, a car, and a driver.

 For Israeli diplomats, meanwhile, the mission to the UN is a role second only to the mission to the United States. Because Israel is so central to the UN, the UN is inescapably central to Israel. The Washington job, however, is carried out among mostly friendly people. The UN ambassador must work under adverse and even hostile conditions to achieve even a small measure of the recognition that every other country enjoys as a matter of right. Read more…
Published by David Frum on Sept. 24, 2014 in http://www.theatlantic.com/
25
Sep

Winston Churchill once famously said that, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all of the alternatives.” He could have been speaking of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy.

For six years I have criticized the administration’s policies toward Iraq, Syria, and the wider Middle East (mostly excepting its Iran policy). But since the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State in June, at least where Iraq and Syria are concerned, I can find little to criticize and much to praise. The administration has reversed course in both countries, shifting from stubborn disengagement to smart leadership. Since the stunning ISIS offensive in Iraq in June, Washington’s moves have been uncharacteristically deft: promising greater military support to Iraq as leverage to effect political change there; providing air support and weapons to the Kurds to halt the ISIS offensive; launching a sustained air campaign against ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria; and deploying advisors and weapons to Iraq, to name a few.

The administration’s new approach has resulted in several important developments. Nouri al-Maliki was forced to step down as prime minister of Iraq. That country has a new, more inclusive government that’s committed both to fighting ISIS and accommodating the demands of its alienated Sunni community. Humanitarian tragedies have been averted at Mount Sinjar and Amerli. ISIS has been driven back from Mosul Dam and the approaches to Erbil. And many of the states of the region have signed on to the U.S.-led effort.

These are merely first steps in the right direction, but that in itself is an important achievement. When Mosul fell, the Middle East was plummeting into chaos. Today, at least in some key areas, it has started to pull out of that nosediveeven if it has not yet started to gain altitude. But there is one piece of the strategy that the Obama administration has not articulated and does not yet seem to be preparing for.

We must also start gearing up for nation-building, particularly in Syria.

 Both Iraq and Syria are classic intercommunal civil wars. ISIS is the symptom of that underlying problem, not the problem itself. And unless we stabilize both countries and end the civil wars there, we will never be rid of ISIS or the other threats to our interests in Syria and Iraq. As we have learned from both our successes and failures, healing civil wars requires a long-term process of nation-building. There is no way around that.

In Iraq, the framework of such a process is already in place, left over from the successful period of 2008-2010. Moreover, much of Washington’s heavy lifting already has been about how to get Iraq’s political leadership back on the path toward the stability and political functionality that were created back then. There are still many hurdles, and doing so will take a great deal of effort and luck, but it is of a different category entirely than what needs to be done in Syria.

Indeed, Obama himself recognized this unavoidable reality in his interview with Tom Friedman of The New York Times in August. The president said he learned from the Libyan strikes in 2011 that military intervention that was not backed by a major effort to build a functional state afterward would lead to chaos and new threats to American interests. In the interview, Obama seemed to be imply that this was one reason he didn’t want to intervene in Syria: because he was not ready to commit to such a program for Syria.

Well, the president has now committed to just such an intervention in Syria. Having done so, ensuring that the intervention turns out welland does not create more problems than it solvesmeans that he is also going to have to commit to nation-building there. Read more…

Kenneth M. Pollack is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Published on Sept. 24 in http://www.newrepublic.com/

24
Sep

UN climate summit: China pledges emissions action

Written on September 24, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Energy & Environment, News

 

Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli speaks at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, 23 September 2014

China has pledged for the first time to take firm action on climate change, telling a UN summit that its emissions, the world’s highest, would soon peak.

Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli also said China would make its economy much more carbon efficient by 2020. US President Barack Obama said climate change was moving faster than efforts to address it, and the US and China had a responsibility to lead other nations. The summit was the largest high-level climate meeting since 2009. Hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, it aimed to encourage 120 member states to sign up to a comprehensive new global climate agreement at talks in Paris next year. As he closed the summit, Mr Ban hailed the meeting, saying “never before have so many leaders gathered to commit to action on climate change”.

US President Barack Obama walks past a sign before speaking at the Climate Summit at the UN headquarters in New York  (23 September 2014)
Mr Obama said the world needed to follow a new course in the battle against climate change

The UN has previously warned that the impacts of global warming are likely to be “severe, pervasive and irreversible”, leading to problems such as sea level rises, greater flood risks and changes to crop yields. Mr Zhang told the summit that by 2020, China would aim to reduce its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by 45%, compared with levels in 2005. He said China wanted to have emissions peak “as early as possible”. “As a responsible major country, a major developing country, China will make even greater effort to address climate change,” Mr Zhang said. “All countries need to follow the path of green and low carbon development that suits their national conditions, [and] set forth post-2020 actions in light of actual circumstances.” Correspondents say it is the first time China has said it is willing to take firm action to cut carbon emissions. However, Chinese President Xi Jinping was not at the summit, held before the formal start of the UN General Assembly session.

 Speaking earlier, Mr Obama said that he had spoken to Mr Zhang, with the pair agreeing that the world’s two biggest emitters “have a responsibility to lead”, but that all nations must play a part. The “urgent and growing threat of climate change” would ultimately “define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other” issue, he added.
Read more… Published on Sept. 24 in http://www.bbc.com/news/world-29334807