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Interrogating the Qatar Rift

7 Jun

 

The abrupt announcement that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE, Yemen, the Maldive Islands, and the eastern government in divided Libya have broken all economic and political ties with Qatar has given rise to a tsunami of conjecture, wild speculation, and most of all, to wishful thinking and doomsday worries. There is also a veil of confusion arising from mystifying reports that hackers with alleged Russian connections placed a fake news story that implicated Qatar in the promotion of extremist groups in the region. Given Russian alignments, it makes no sense to create conditions that increase the credibility of anti-Iran forces. And finally the timing and nature of the terrorist suicide attacks of June 7th on the Iranian Parliament and on the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini adds a particularly mystifying twist to the rapidly unfolding Qatar drama, especially if the ISIS claim of responsibility is substantiated.

 

Four preliminary cautionary observations seem apt: (1) the public explanation given for this rupture is almost certainly disconnected from its true meaning. That is, the break with Qatar is not about strengthening the anti-ISIS, anti-extremist coalition of Arab forces. Such an explanation may play well in the Trump White House, but it is far removed from understanding why this potentially menacing anti-Qatar regional earthquake erupted at this time, and what it is truly about. (2) Any claim to provide a clear account of why? And why now? should be viewed with great skepticism, if not suspicion. There are in the regional context too many actors, crosscurrents, uncertainties, conflicts, mixed and hidden motives and contradictions at play as to make any effort at this stage to give a reliable and coherent account of this Qatar crisis bound to be misleading.

 

(3) Yet despite these caveats, there are several mainly unspoken dimensions of the crisis that can be brought to the surface, and sophisticate our understanding beyond the various self-serving polemical interpretations that are being put forward, including the centrality of Israeli-American backing for a tough line on Iran and the realization that Gulf grievances against Qatar have been brewing for recent years for reasons unrelated to ISIS, and led to an earlier milder confrontation in 2014 that was then quickly overcome with the help of American diplomacy.

 

And (4) The anti-Iran fervor only makes sense from the perspective of the Gulf monarchies (other than Qatar) and Israel, but seems radically inconsistent with American regional interests and counter-ISIS priorities—Iran is not associated with any of the terrorist incidents occurring in Europe and the United States, and ISIS and Iran are pitted against each other on sectarian grounds. Intriguingly, neither Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), nor Israel, that is, the principal antagonists of Qatar, have been ever targeted by ISIS.

 

The main contention of the anti-Qatar Arab governments, led by Saudi Arabia, is that this coordinated diplomatic pushback is motivated by anti-terrorist priorities. On its face this seems to be a ridiculous claim to come from the Saudis, and can only make some sense as part of a calculated effort to throw pursuing dogs in the hunt for ISIS off a course that if followed would inevitably implicate the Riyadh government. It has long been known by intelligence services and academic experts that it is Saudi Arabia, including members of its royal family, that have been funding Jihadi extremism in the Middle East and has for many years been spending billions to spread Salifist extremism throughout the Islamic world.

 

By comparison, although far from innocent or consistent of terrorist linkages, as well as being internally oppressive, especially toward its migrant foreign workers, Qatar is a minor player in this high stakes political imbroglio. For the Saudis to take the lead in this crusade against Qatar may play well in Washington, Tel Aviv, and London, but fools few in the region. Trump has with characteristic ill-informed bravado has taken ill-advised credit for this turn against Qatar, claiming it to be an immediate payoff of his recent visit to the Kingdom, ramping up still further the provocative buildup of pressure on Iran. To claim a political victory given the circumstances rather than admit a geopolitical faux pas might seem strange for any leader other than Trump. It is almost perverse considering that the al-Udeid Air Base is in Qatar, which is the largest American military facility in the Middle East, operated as a regional command center actively used in bombing raids against Iraq and Afghanistan, and serviced by upwards of 10,000 American military personnel.

 

Netanyahu warmongers will certainly be cheered by this course of events and Israel has not hidden its support for the anti-Qatar moves of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It achieves two Israeli goals: its longtime undertaken to encourage splits and disorder in the Arab world and its campaign to maximize pressures on Iran.

 

Interestingly, Jeremy Corbyn at the start of the week when the momentous British elections are scheduled to take place, called on Teresa May to release a report (prepared while David Cameron was prime minister), supposedly an explosive exposure of Saudi funding and support for Islamic extremism in the Middle East. All in all, a first approximation of the Qatar crisis is to view it as a desperate move by Riyadh to get off the hot seat with respect to its own major responsibility for the origins and buildup of political extremism in the Middle East, which has indirectly produced the inflaming incidents in principal European cities during the last several years. Such a move to isolate and punish Qatar was emboldened by the blundering encouragement of Donald Trump, whether acting on impulse or at the beckoning of Israel’s and Saudi leaders, confusing genuine counter-terrorist priorities with a dysfunctional effort to push Iran against the wall. Trump seems to forget, if he ever knew, that Iran is fighting against ISIS in Syria, has strongly reaffirmed moderate leadership in its recent presidential elections, and if Iran were brought in from the cold could be a major calming influence in the region. True, Iran has given support to Hezbollah and Hamas, but except in Syria not with much effect, and on a scale far smaller than what other actors in the region have been doing to maintain their control and push their agendas. In effect, if Washington pursued national interests in the spirit of political realism, it would regard Iran as a potential ally, and put a large question mark next to its two distorting ‘special relationships,’ with Saudi Arabia and Israel. In effect, reverse its regional alignments in a way that could replace turmoil with stability, but this is not about to happen. The American media, and thoughtful citizens, should at least be wondering ‘why?’ rather than staring into darkness of a starless nighttime sky.

 

But this is not all. The Saudis, along with the UAE and Egypt, have long resented and maybe feared the early willingness of Qatar to give some sanctuary and aid and comfort to various elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. It is hardly farfetched to assume that Israel is outraged by the Emir of Qatar’s friendship and earlier support for the Hamas exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal. Saudi Arabia strives to obscure its incoherent approach to political Islam. It loudly proclaims Sunni identity when intervening in Syria, waging war in Yemen, and calling for confrontation with Iran, while totally repudiating its sectarian identity when dealing with societally or democratically oriented Islamic movements in neighboring countries. Such an anti-democratiing orientation was dramatically present when Riyadh and Abu Dhabi scolded Washington for abandoning Mubarak’s harsh authoritarian secular rule in Egypt back in 2011 and then welcoming the anti-Morsi coup led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi two years later, even welcoming its bloody suppression of Sunni adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood. As has been long obvious to close and honest observers of the Kingdom, the Saudi monarchy has become so fearful of an internal uprising challenging its oppressive rule that it will oppose any liberalizing or democratizing challenge anywhere in its neighborhood. The Kingdom is particularly wary of its Shia minority that happens to be concentrated in locations near where the main Saudi oil fields are located. Similar concerns also help explain why Bahrain behaves as it does as it also fearful of a domestic Shia led majority opposition, which has made it a strategically dependent, yet ardent, adherent of the anti-Qatar coalition.

 

Also far more relevant than acknowledged is the presence of Al Jazeera in Doha, which at various times has voiced support for the Arab Uprisings of 2011, criticism of the Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinians, and provided an Arabic media source of relatively independent news coverage throughout the region. Qatar is guilty of other irritants of the dominant Gulf political sensibility. It has arranged academic positions for such prominent Palestinian dissidents as Azmi Bashara and more than its neighbors has given welcome to intellectual refugees from Arab countries, especially Egypt. Given the way the Gulf rulers close off all political space within their borders it is to be expected that they find the relative openness of Qatar a threat as well as consider it to be a negative judgment passed on their style of governance.

 

Qatar is very vulnerable to pressure, but also has certain strengths. Its population of 2.5 million (only 200,000 of whom are citizens), imports at least 40% of its food across the Saudi border, now closed to the 600-800 daily truck traffic. Not surprisingly, this sudden closure has sparked panic among Qataris, who are reportedly stockpiling food and cash. The Doha stock market dropped over 7% on the first day after the Gulf break was announced. Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and is a major source of Turkish investment capital. Western Europe is wary of this American project to establish an ‘Arab NATO,’ and sees it as one more manifestation of Trump’s dysfunctional and mindless impact on world order.

 

What this portends for the future remains is highly uncertain. Some look upon these moves against Qatar as a tempest in a teapot that will disappear almost as quickly as it emerged. The U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, have urged mediation and offered reassuring comments about anti-ISIS unity remaining unimpaired. It is true that the existence of the Udeid Air Base in Qatar may in time dilute deference to the Saudi-led desire to squeeze the government in Doha, possibly to the point of its collapse. A more fearsome scenario is that the Trump encouraged confrontation sets the stage for a coup in Qatar that will be quickly supported by Washington as soon as Riyadh gives the green light, and will be promoted as part of the regional buildup against Iran. The notorious ceremony in which King Salmon, Trump, and Sisi were pictured standing above that glowing orb with their arms outstretched can only be reasonably interpreted as a pledge of solidarity among dark forces of intervention. Many of us supposed that George W. Bush’s policy of ‘democracy promotion’ that provided part of the rationale for the disastrous 2003 attack on Iraq was the low point in American foreign policy in the Middle East, but Trump is already proving us wrong.

 

While this kind of ‘great game’ is being played at Qatar’s expense in the Gulf, it is highly unlikely that other major players, especially Iran, Russia, and Turkey will remain passive observers, especially if the crisis lingers or deepens. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Mohammed Zarif, has non-aggressively tweeted to the effect that “neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed,” stating his view that the occasion calls for dialogue, not coercion. If the isolation of Qatar is not quickly ended, it is likely that Iran will start making food available and shipping other supplies to this beleaguered tiny peninsular country whose sovereignty is being so deeply threatened.

 

Russia, has been long collaborating with Iran in Syria, will likely move toward greater solidarity with Tehran, creating a highly unstable balance of power in the Middle East with frightening risks of escalation and miscalculation. Russia will also take advantage of the diplomatic opportunity to tell the world that the U.S. is seeking to raise war fevers and cause havoc by championing aggressive moves that further the ambitions of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Such Russian diplomacy is likely to play well in Europe where Trump’s recent demeaning words in Brussels to NATO members made the leading governments rethink their security policies, and to view the United States as an increasingly destabilizing force on the global stage, such feeling being reinforced by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

 

Turkey seems to believe that its immediate effort should be similar to that of the Tillerson and Mattis approach, having tentatively offered to mediate, and advocates finding a way back to a posture of at least peaceful co-existence between Qatar, the Gulf, and the rest of the Arab world. Turkey has had a positive relationship with Qatar, which includes a small Turkish military facility and large Qatari investments in the Turkish economy.

 

To cool things down, the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Sheik Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, while denying the allegations, has also joined in the call for mediation and even reconciliation. Bowing to Gulf pressures, Qatar has prior to the current crisis withdrawn its welcome from Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood exiles, and seems poised to yield further to the pressures of the moment, given its small size, political vulnerability, and intimations of possible societal panic.

 

While the civilian population of Yemen is faced with imminent famine as an intended consequence of the Saudi intervention, the Saudis seems to be again using food as a weapon, this time to compel Qatar to submit to its regional priorities and become a GCC team player with respect to Iran—joining in the preparation of a sectarian war against Iran while maintaining a repressive hold over political activity at home. One preliminary takeaway is that ISIS dimension is serving as a smokescreen to draw attention away from a far more controversial agenda. The Saudis are deeply implicated in political extremism throughout the region, having likely paid heavily for being treated, temporarily at least, as off limits for Jihadi extremism. Qatar, too is tainted, but mainly by being a minor operative in Syrian violence and in 2015 paying ISIS an amount rumored to be as high as $1 billion to obtain the release of 26 Qataris, including members of the royal family, taken hostage while on a falcon hunting party, of all things, in Iraq. We can gain some glimmers of understanding of what is motivating these Arab governments to act against Qatar, but little sympathy. In comparison, the new U.S. foreign policy in the region defies any understanding beyond its adoption of a cynical and unworkable geopolitical stance, which certainly does not engender any sympathy from the victimized peoples of the region, but rather fear and loathing.  

Trumped Up Diplomacy in the Middle East

20 May

 

In his first overseas trip since moving into the White House, Donald Trump is leaving behind the frustrations, allegations, rumors, and an increasing sense of implosion that seems to be dooming his presidency during its second hundred days. At the same time, a mixture of curiosity and apprehension awaits this new leader wherever he goes making his visit to the Middle East and Europe momentous occasions for the host governments, wide eyed public, and rapacious media. We need to remember that in this era of popular autocrats and surging right-wing populists, Trump is a ‘hero of our time.’

 

Even if all had gone smoothly for the new president in his home country, there should be expressions of deep concern about his travel itinerary. He visits first the two countries with which the United States has ‘special relationships’ in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel. What has long made them ‘special’ are a series of pre-Trump departures from realist and normative foreign policy orientations by successive American presidencies. These departures were motivated by oil geopolitics, arms sales and strategic alliances, hostility to Iran, and a disguised American sweet spot for foreign royalty. It is has long been obvious that uncritical deference to Israeli priorities has seriously undermined U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, which would have benefitted much more from policies designed to encourage peace and stability by refraining from regime-changing interventions, massive arms sales, and a diplomacy of respect for the politics of national self-determination.

 

Most remarkably, the U.S. Government has for decades winked at the billions of support given by Saudi members of the royal family to Wahabism, that is, to promote fundamentalist Islam, throughout the Muslim world. The first words uttered by Trump on his arrival in Riyadh were that it ‘an honor’ to be visiting.

Then came signed deals adding up to $110 billions in arms sales and the declaration of a common strategic vision, that is, a super-alliance, called an ‘Arab NATO’ in some circles, a dagger aimed at Iran’s heart. Why turn a blind eye toward the Saudi role in fanning the flames of jihadism while ramping up a military threat to relatively passive Iran that reelected Hassan Rouhani as its president, who has consistently championed moderation at home and normalization abroad.

 

How can we explain this? Trump has been critical of most aspects of the foreign policy agenda of his predecessors, but on the promotion of the special relationships he seems intent on doubling down on the most misguided aspects of earlier approaches to the region. The shape of his travel itinerary during his days confirms this impression. In this regard, Trump repudiates Obama’s hesitant, but in the end successful, efforts to bring Iran in from the cold, while trying to please Saudi Arabia by ignoring its extreme denial of human rights to its own people as well as its contributions to anti-Western terrorism.

 

If Trump was truly intent on putting America first, as he insistently asserts, then he could do so very directly and effectively by taking three major steps toward the protection of national interests: first, demand a firm commitment from the Saudi government to cease using private funds and public diplomacy to spread Wahabism beyond its borders. Any credible public statement along these lines would weaken ISIS and other terrorist movements throughout the world far more than cascades of Tomahawk missiles dumped on a Syrian airfield. Such a challenge to Saudi policies also raises the possibility, however remote, of an endgame in the ‘war on terror.’ If such a reset of Saudi relations could be coupled with an indefinite freeze on arms sales to the Gulf countries that would have been even better, sending a signal throughout the region that America will no longer engage with the bloody conflicts that have brought so much suffering and devastation to the Middle East. This might give some belated meaning to ‘America first.’

 

The second step would have been even harder for an American president to take. It would require Trump to tell Mr. Netanyahu that no further military assistance for Israel would be authorized until an unconditional freeze on settlement expansion was in place and enforced, and the blockade of Gaza lifted once and for all.

 

It does not require a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies to appreciate that the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the region and the adoption of effective steps to minimize the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Islam would improve future prospects for this horrendously disrupted political realities, at last reducing tensions and risks of wars. Nor does it require special knowledge to identify the obstacles such actions—the one government that already possesses nuclear weapons and the government that feels threatened by a challenge to its regional preeminence. Saudi Arabia and Israel both regard Iran as enemy number one, although it poses no existential threat to either one, and Israel will not even discuss giving up its nuclear arsenal despite being assured by Washington that its qualitative edge in conventional weaponry relative to its neighbors will be upheld.

 

The special relationships block even the consideration of enlightened initiatives, take them entirely off the table. This contrasts with the American proclivity for coercive diplomacy, which always assertively leaves the military option on the table. Without tension-reducing measures, a few false moves could easily give rise to a major war with Iran, which might bring smiles to leaders in Riyadh and Tel Aviv, but would be disastrous for the societies involved and for the United States, as well as for the region.

 

Given the leverage and militancy of pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States, more realistically pursuing American national interests toward Israel and the Middle East, seems tantamount to issuing invitations to Trump’s beheading, and despite his wildly gyrations of policy and mood, he has shown no disposition whatsoever to take on AIPAC, inc.. Quite the contrary.

 

Of course, I am not so naïve to think that the advocacy of rationality in foreign policy will have the slightest echo in Washington in the course of Trump’s current diplomatic foray into uncharted territories. What I wish to point out is that this kind of foreign policy fantasy, however desirable if it were to be enacted, has become a species of political suicide. Any political leader who moved in more rational directions would be risking his own life, at least politically. The proposals mentioned above tells us what an American president should do if a rational and humane political system was in place and organized in such ways as to allow the pursuit of national interests, the realization of values associated with peace and human rights, and to attain the benefits of just and sustainable Isreali/Palestinian peace arrangements.

 

As long as these dysfunctional special relationships are relied upon to define American national interests in the Middle East, violent extremism and turmoil will persist, the authority of the United Nations and international law will suffer, and the credibility of American regional and global leadership will further erode. And maybe worst of all, the mounting ecological and nuclear challenges of global scope and apocalyptical risk will be remain unattended in what has become the greatest display of species indifference to its own survival throughout human history.

 

Mainstream advice on the Middle East being proffered to the Trump presidency by Beltway sharpshooters takes for granted the geopolitical status quo questioned above. The problems presented by the two special relationships are not even mentioned. Given these perspectives there are three broad kinds of approaches recommended for the region: (1) don’t aim too high, lower expectations, and don’t touch raw nerves in Israel or the Arab world (e.g. moving the American embassy to Jerusalem or telling Israel to dismantle the separation wall, stop expanding settlements, or handle the ongoing hunger strike humanely)[See Aaron David Miller, “From My Twenty Years of Failing at Middle East Peace,” Foreign Policy online, May 19, 2017]; (2) gang up on Iran, which will please both Israel and Saudi Arabia, and will have some positive resonance back in the United States [e.g. Michael Doran, “A Trump Plan for the Middle East,” NY Times, May 19, 2017]; (3) adopt the Israeli hard right view, now pushed within the United States, that the best road to ‘peace’ is to give Israel a green light to exert even greater pressure on the Palestinians to the point of their surrender. [a position repeatedly advocated by Daniel Pipes on the online listserv Middle East Forum and elsewhere, see Pipes, “The Way to Peace: Israeli Victory and Palestinian Defeat,” Commentary, Jan. 2017; Pipes boasts of his work with the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus that wants the U.S. Government to stop talking about ‘the two state solution,’ and support an Israeli shift from managing the status quo to launching a campaign to defeat Palestinians so decisively as to end the conflict.]

 

The first of these approaches is a cautionary warning to Trump the maker of grand deals not to exceed the boundaries of the feasible. The Israel/Palestine conflict is not ripe for resolution, Israel has no incentive or inclination to reach a fair compromise and even if it were, the Palestinians are currently too fragmented and poorly led to provide a reliable negotiating partner. The second geopolitically oriented approach makes matters worse, pushing the sectarian and secular divides in the direction of a regional confrontation, even combat. The third is geopolitically triumphalist, assuming that the Palestinians can be induced to give up their century old struggle, and go the way of other indigenous lost causes that have succumbed to predatory settler movements.

 

As Trump dominates the news by his visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel we should not be tricked into thinking that his ‘achievements’ are hopeful developments. The only true beacons of hope for the peoples of the Middle East are the contrarian affirmations of the Palestinian hunger strike, the Rouhani electoral victory, and the BDS Campaign. The fact that such developments are ignored or condemned by the dominant political forces in the West should at least alert us to gathering storm clouds in that tormented region and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should the Palestinians Seek Justice NOW at the International Criminal Court?

23 Feb

Should the Palestinians Seek Justice NOW at the International Criminal Court?

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is a modified version of an opinion piece published by Middle East Eye on February 20, 2017. It calls particular attention to the punitive treatment of recourse to international law tribunals to address perceived grievances that is meant to discourage Palestinians from seeking relief at the International Criminal Court. On one level this form of lawfare underscores the weakness and vulnerability of Israel when the conflict is shifted from the battlefield to the courtroom. On another level it is meant to deny the Palestinian people, and their representatives, all legitimate amd moderate options by which to pursue their claims and address their grievances. It signals that the ‘enforcers’ of world order repudiate their own accountability with regard to the rule of law, while purporting to hold others to account, for instance, by criminalizing all forms of violent resistance to prolonged and abusive occupation as ‘terrorism.’]

 

 

Weakening the Two-State Consensus

 There is little doubt that the mid-February Netanyahu/Trump love fest at the White House further dampened already dim Palestinian hopes for a sustainable peace based on a political compromise. The biggest blow was Trump’s casual abandonment of the two-state solution coupled with an endorsement of a one-state outcome provided the parties agree to such an outcome, which as so expressed is a result almost impossible to suppose ever happening in the real world. Israel would never agree to a secular one-state that effectively abandons the Zionist insistence on a Jewish state with deep historical roots and biblical validation. The Palestinians would never agree to live in such a Jewish one-state that essentially abandoned their long struggle to achieve national self-determination, thereby gaining liberation from the last major remnant of the colonial era.

 

With geopolitical bravado suitable for the real estate magnate that he remains, despite the presidential trappings of his formal role, Trump also vaguely promised to negotiate a grand deal for the region that evidently reached beyond the contested territory of Palestine so long locked in conflict, and thus encompassed neighboring countries or possibly the whole region. It is easy to speculate that such murmurings by Trump were not welcomed in either Jordan or Egypt, long favored by rightest Israelis as dumping grounds for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Such added ‘political space’ is attractive from an Israeli perspective, both to ensure that Israel maintains a comfortable Jewish majority if the one-state solution were ever forcibly implemented by Israel. At the same time the prospect of population transfer would allow Israel to achieve a higher degree of racial purity, a feature of the dominant Zionist imaginary long before Israel became internationally recognized as a state.

 

An inflammatory part of this new political environment is the accelerated expansion of the existing network of unlawful Israeli settlements located in occupied Palestine. Although near unanimously condemned in Security Council Resolution 2334 last December, Israel responded by defiantly announcing approval of thousands more settlement units, endorsing plans for an entirely new settlement, and by way of a Knesset initiative provocatively legalized settlement ‘outposts,’ 50 of which are distributed throughout the West Bank in direct violation of even Israeli law. It is possible that the Israeli Supreme Court will heed anticipated judicial challenges to this latest move, and eventually void this Knesset law, but even if this happens, the passage of such a law sends a clear message of iron resolve by the political forces currently steering Israeli policy never to permit the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

 

In these circumstances, it becomes incumbent upon the Palestinian Authority to show the world that it is still alive, and it currently has few ways of doing this. Given these realities it would seem a no brainer for the PA to light up the skies of public awareness of the Palestinian plight by vigorously demanding justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC). After all there is a wide consensus on the global stage that all the settlements, and not just the outposts, are in violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These settlements have for decades served as a major obstacle in the search for a satisfactory diplomatic solution of the conflict. Of course, it would be naïve to expect Israel to comply with an adverse judgment of the ICC, or to participate in such a proceeding in ways other than by challenging the competence of the tribunal, but a favorable outcome would still be of great value for the Palestinians. It would cast Israel in an unfavorable light in relation to the UN, international law, and world public opinion, and undoubtedly encourage the further development of the already robust global solidarity movement.

 

Yet, despite these circumstances that makes the ICC seem such an attractive option, a PA decision to take this path is far from obvious. The former Foreign Minister of the PA and member of Fatah’s Central Committee, Nasser al-Kidwa, effectively dismissed the ICC option by calling it ‘complicated’ without any further explanation, leaving the impression that the costs of taking such a step were too high. However, the issue is not yet settled as mixed signals are emanating from Palestinian leadership circles. For instance, the PLO Secretary General, Saeb Erekat, in contrast to Kidwa, minced no words in his insistence that the ICC investigate “the colonial settlement regime.”

 

It seems useful to speculate on why there should be this ambivalence among Palestinian leaders. After all, international law, international public opinion, and even most European governments are all supportive of Palestinian claims with regard to the settlements. Israel remains more defiant than ever, and shows every sign of further expansion, possibly with an eye toward soon unilaterally declaring an end to the conflict, a move that Washington might find temporarily awkward, but in the end, acceptable. At the core of this debate about recourse to the ICC is the tricky question as to whether deference to the muscular vagaries of geopolitics serves Palestinian interests at this time.

 

Recourse to the ICC: Pros and Cons

 

The argument favoring recourse to the ICC is almost too obvious to put forward. It would back Israel into a corner. The Netanyahu government is certain to react with anger and concrete expressions of hostility to any such move by the PA. Such a reaction would be widely seen as a convincing confirmation of Israel’s vulnerability to any impartial test as to whether its settlement policies meet the minimum requirements of international law. And most importantly for the PA it would demonstrate that despite recent political disappointments the Ramallah leadership was prepared to embark upon a controversial course of action that displayed political courage, including a willingness to endure expected vindictive acts of retaliation. Recourse to the ICC would play well with the Palestinian people, especially those living under occupation. They experience daily tensions with violent settler groups and see no future for themselves absent confrontation with Israel. If the PA chooses such a course, it would help restore support for the flagging claims of the PA to serve as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people at the global level. This is turn could lead finally to durable arrangements of unity as between Hamas and Fatah, which would raise confidence levels that the Palestinians were prepared for this latest, difficult stage of their national movement.

 

The arguments against going to the ICC are somewhat more elusive. There is no doubt that Palestine, recognized by the UN as a state now enjoys the jurisdictional qualifications to participate in ICC proceedings. What is less clear is whether the ICC would be responsive, and able to circumvent technical obstacles, such as finding suitable Israeli defendants. During its 15 years of operation the ICC has been very reluctant to be pro-active except in Africa, and even there it has been recently stung by an intense pushback by African governments and the African Union. The ICC has been reluctant to stir up political opposition in the West, which would certainly occur as soon as the ICC launched a full investigation of Palestinian criminal grievances against Israel.

 

There is also the reverse problem of ICC action that might disappoint the PA. To appear balanced, the ICC would probably extend its investigation to include allegations relating to indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. It could then decide that a strong case of probable criminal responsibility attributable to Hamas existed, while allegations against Israel failed because of the inability to establish criminal intent. Although a setback for the PA, such an outcome at the ICC would be internationally criticized as contrary to reasonable interpretations of international law, and be widely regarded as a reflection of political pressures exerted by Washington.

 

Likely, the PA is most inhibited by the ‘lawfare’ campaign being waged by Israel and the United States. Already during the Obama presidency there was Congressional legislation terminating financial assistance to the PA in the event of any recourse to the ICC. Since Trump these warnings have escalated, including the total suspension of financial aid, the closing of the PLO offices in Washington, and threats to put the PLO and Fatah back on the US list of terrorist organizations. It is evident that the PA is taking these unseemly threats seriously.

 

There are also PA fears that any ICC initiative would induce Israel to move more quickly toward closure with respect to the underlying conflict, annexing most or all of the West Bank. Such a reaction would both be in keeping with Israel’s tendency to respond disproportionately to any formal action directed at the legality of its policies and practices. Israel is particularly sensitive about war crimes charges, and vows extraordinary measures should any of its citizens be so charged. Now that Netanyahu can count on unconditional support in the White House and the US Congress it would not be surprising to see him use the occasion of an ICC initiative to proclaim Israeli sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine.

 

Conclusion

 

In light of the above, it seems almost certain that the PA will not act take advantage of the ICC option any time soon. The PA is likely to adopt a posture of neither/nor, that is, neither explicitly ruling out recourse to the ICC, nor activating the option. This reflects the reality that the PA is caught between the rock of US/Israel bullying tactics and the hard place of an increasingly restive Palestinian population, being acutely reminded of its ordeal by the grim realization that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation.

 

The United States posture, although somewhat more belligerently pro-Israel as a result of the Trump presidency, is really nothing new except in style. Even during the Obama presidency the US opposed every attempt by the PA to rely on international law or the UN to advance its national struggle. Instead of welcoming the use of law rather than weapons, the US Government castigated efforts of Palestine to gain membership in the UN System or to seek even symbolic relief for its grievances in international venues. This turn against international law, as well as against the UN, is clearly a signature issue for the Trump presidency, and not just in relation to Palestine, and this is not good news for the world.

Israel’s Legalizes Settlement Options as a Prelude to the Netanyahu Visit to Trumpland

13 Feb

Responses to four questions posed by Rodrigo Craveiro, a journalist from the Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense

 

1- How do you see the decision of the Knesset taken last night about legalizing settlement outposts and what are the likely consequences of this legislative initiative? 

It is one more act of defiance by Israel that is both a repudiation of international law relating to settlements in Occupied Palestine and of the UNSC, which in December passed Resolution 2334 condemning settlement expansion and reaffirming their illegality. Whether Israel experiences adverse consequences depends especially on the reaction of European governments and of civil society. Israel expects that Trump’s presidency will insulate the country from any show of real pressure at the UN or via sanctions, but there are mixed signals as usual emanating from the White House. The Knesset’s provocative move of legalizing the 50 or so settlement ‘outposts’ that were previously illegal even under Israeli law, an internationally controversial move that may in due course be nullified by Israel’s judiciary. Actually, the move was not so radical as the Israel state had long accommodated the outposts by providing them with subsidies and security, and overlooking their formally unlawful status in domestic law.

 

2– Do you believe Israel is interested in annexing West Bank? Why?

Israel’s leadership and public seems split on this. The most vocal leaders of the settler movement and the extreme right in Israel favor annexation, and always have and always will. Netanyahu and the Israeli center right prefer to keep their true intentions ambiguous, that is, proceeding with de facto annexation while continuing to maintain an international diplomatic posture that claims a willingness to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions implying an eventual willingness to accept at some point the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Some in Israel favor annexation for historical/biblical reasons associated with their convictions that Israel should embrace the whole of ancient Palestine, with the West Bank known as Samaria and Judea. Other Israelis favor annexation as the fulfillment of the project of secular Zionism, and also contend that a greater Israel will enhance the security of the state of Israel. The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has long favored annexation of the entire West Bank to complete the Zionist project, and couples this forthright rejection of a two-state solution with a controversial commitment to treat Palestinians as fully equal citizens in such an expanded Jewish state, accepting even the possibility that Palestinians become at some point a demographic majority, and manage to achieve an electoral mandate for  a Palestinian political party to govern the country.

 

3– In what ways do you believe Netanyahu is taking advantage of the fact that Trump is in the presidency of US for taking polemical measures?

It would appear that Netanyahu is proceeding on the basis that whatever Israel chooses to do, even if in the Obama years it might have produced disapproval, will in the Trump presidency be fully supported. Netanyahu may be testing how far he can go with such an approach without generating a costly diplomatic backlash by Arab neighbors, a new cycle of violent resistance by Palestinians, and an escalation of global civil society pressures taking the form of a more robust Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign. In my view, Netanyahu is playing a dangerous game, and for the sake of Israeli expansionism and one-statism, maybe overstepping prudent limits. Perhaps, the biggest and most dangerous test of all is Netanyahu apparent desire to heighten tensions with Iran, leading possibly to the repudiation of P5 + 1 Nuclear Agreement negotiated by Obama presidency in 2014 and to a military confrontation. Trump called for the repudiation of the agreement during his campaign, but has been urged not to carry out the pledge by many, including senior former Israeli security experts and government officials. It will be of the greatest importance that this agreement with Iran maintained, and not undermined by any ratcheting up sanctions and an increased confrontational diplomacy.

 

4– Do you believe Trump could be seen as a source of influence in favor of Israel, due to his adherence to conservative positions that are the same as those favored by Netanyahu?

 There appears to be a natural affinity between these two leaders based both on their autocratic approach toward governance and reactionary substantive positions. I would not call their ideological outlook genuinely ‘conservative’ as it seeks to create ruptures with prior political, social, and cultural values. Although both leaders are demagogues and ideologues, they also act in opportunistic and impetuous ways. Both are swayed by considerations of expediency, and so their apparent marriage of convenience to one another could easily be broken. Perhaps, after their meeting this week, it will be clearer as to whether their personal chemistry is sufficiently positive to sustain their relationship over time. For the sake of peace and justice, I would hope that tension rather than harmony develops as they come to know each other better. It is certainly time for the US Government to realize how much damage its ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia have contributed to the tensions and turmoil that currently beset the region.

 

 

Open Letter to President-elect Donald Trump on Nuclear Weapons

8 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The text below is an Open Letter to the next American president urging complete nuclear disarmament as an urgent priority. The letter was prepared under the auspices of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and its current list of signatories are listed below. It is hoped that concerns with nuclear weapons policy will rise to the top of the global policy agenda and will engage people everywhere. It is our view that the elimination of nuclear weaponry is a matter of upholding the human interest of all peoples, as well as promoting the national interest of each country.]

 

https://www.wagingpeace.org/open-letter-trump/

 

Open Letter to President-elect Trump: Negotiate Nuclear Zero

As president of the United States, you will have the grave responsibility of assuring that nuclear weapons are not overtly threatened or used during your term of office.

The most certain way to fulfill this responsibility is to negotiate with the other possessors of nuclear weapons for their total elimination.  The U.S. is obligated under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to engage in such negotiations in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament.

 

A nuclear war, any nuclear war, would be an act of insanity.  Between nuclear weapons states, it would lead to the destruction of the attacking nation as well as the attacked.  Between the U.S. and Russia, it would threaten the survival of humanity.

 

There are still more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, of which the United States possesses more than 7,000.  Some 1,000 of these remain on hair-trigger alert.  A similar number remain on hair-trigger alert in Russia.  This is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

 

Even if nuclear weapons are not used intentionally, they could be used inadvertently by accident or miscalculation.  Nuclear weapons and human fallibility are a dangerous mix.

Nuclear deterrence presupposes a certain view of human behavior.  It depends on the willingness of political leaders to act rationally under all circumstances, even those of extreme stress.  It provides no guarantees or physical protection.  It could fail spectacularly and tragically.

You have suggested that more nations – such as Japan, South Korea and even Saudi Arabia – may need to develop their own nuclear arsenals because the U.S. spends too much money protecting other countries.  This nuclear proliferation would make for a far more dangerous world.  It is also worrisome that you have spoken of dismantling or reinterpreting the international agreement that places appropriate limitations on Iran’s nuclear program and has the support of all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

 

As other presidents have had, you will have at your disposal the power to end civilization as we know it.  You will also have the opportunity, should you choose, to lead in ending the nuclear weapons era and achieving nuclear zero through negotiations on a treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.

 

We, the undersigned, urge you to choose the course of negotiations for a nuclear weapons-free world.  It would be a great gift to all humanity and all future generations.

 

To add your name to the open letter, click here.

Initial signers:

 

David Krieger

President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Richard Falk

Senior Vice President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Daniel Ellsberg

Distinguished Fellow, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Noam Chomsky

Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 

Oliver Stone

Film director

 

Setsuko Thurlow

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivor

 

Anders Wijkman

Co-President, Club of Rome

 

Helen Caldicott

Founding President, Physicians for Social Responsibility

 

Ben Ferencz

Former Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor

 

Robert Jay Lifton

Columbia University

 

Hon. Douglas Roche, O.C.

Former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament

 

Martin Hellman

Professor Emeritus, Stanford University

 

Robert Laney

Chair, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Rick Wayman

Director of Programs, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Ruben Arvizu

Latin America Representative, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Jonathan Granoff

President, Global Security Institute

 

Medea Benjamin

Co-Founder, Code Pink

 

Peter Kuznick

Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute, American University

 

Barry Ladendorf

President, Veterans for Peace

 

Dr. Hafsat Abiola-Costello

Founder and President, Kudirat Initiative for Democracy

 

Marie Dennis

Co-President, Pax Christi International

 

Elaine Scarry

Professor, Harvard University

 

Richard Appelbaum

Board of Directors, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

 

Sandy Jones

Director of Communications, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Joni Arends

Executive Director, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety

 

Sergio Grosjean

Instituto Mexicano de Ecologia Ciencia y Cultura

 

John Avery

Associate, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Leonard Eiger

Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action

 

April Brown

Marshallese Educational Initiative

 

Jill Dexter

Board of Directors, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Robert Aldridge

Associate, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Charles Genuardi

Board of Directors, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Bill Wickersham

Associate, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

John Hallam

People for Nuclear Disarmament

 

Mark Hamilton

Board of Directors, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Mary Becker

Former Board member, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Judith Lipton, M.D.

Security Committee, Physicians for Social Responsibility

 

Sherry Melchiorre

Board of Directors, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Elena Nicklasson

Director of Development, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

Daniel Smith

Appellate Lawyer

 

 

Cletus Stein

The Peace Farm

 

 

Mario Fuentes

Sector Salud

 

Jim Knowlton

Blue Ocean Productions

 

Peter Low

Adjunct Senior Lecturer, University of Canterbury

 

Jenny Maxwell

Hereford Peace Council

 

Rodrigo Navarro

Comunicar para Conservar

 

Sergio Rimola

National Hispanic Medical Association

 

Julian Rodriguez

#Revolucionando

An Open Letter to Myself

30 Dec

An Open Letter to Myself on New Year’s Day 2017

 

Forebodings

Trump 

I have a politically active liberal friend who in the aftermath of the Trump victory believes rather fervently that ‘clarity,’ not ‘hope,’ is the opposite of ‘despair.’ To be awake to unpleasant, even dire, realities and resist the temptations of denial demands increasing resolve in the face of the mounting evidence that the human species is facing a biopolitical moment threatening civilizational collapse and species decline and fall as never before. Wakefulness can give rise to mindfulness, encouraging radical choices of right action individually, and even possibly collectively. My friend’s clarity was more narrowly focused—limited to recovering and carrying on in America after the unexpected electoral victory of Trump. For those of us living here, the fear of what Trump will do ‘to make America great again’ is overwhelming and deeply depressing without taking the slightest account of the biopolitical crisis threatening the future of the human habitat as well as already producing the extinction of many species that are being swept away by forces beyond their, and more often, our control.

 

The wonderful Euromed Team that lends valuable civil society support to the Palestinian people and their prolonged struggle, counsels a different spirit in their holiday message: “Keep Calm, Stay Human.” I will do my best to heed this advice. Calmness rather than hysteria, human as profiled by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially in the often neglected, yet aptly visionary, language of its Preamble. Treat others, near and far, with the dignity they and you deserve, and do your utmost to protect those vulnerable within your reach whether family, community, country, world.

 

Another source of insight relevant to this moment comes from the brilliantly progressive Jean Bricmont, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Louvain and author of Humanitarian Intervention: Using Human Rights to Sell War (2006) and other books, who insists that all positive political action rests on a foundation of ‘hope and indignation.’(p.7) I view ‘hope’ as a matter of informed will as contrasted with optimism, which is often an escapist refusal to acknowledge surrounding risks, harms, and dangers. Optimists too often greet the future with a vacuous benign smile as if there is nothing to worry about so long as you meditate twice a day. To be authentically hopeful under current conditions presents a difficult essentially spiritual challenge, which depends on some form of faith, given the depth of the multiple crises that imperil human and non-human futures. ‘Indignation’ is an appropriate response to the pervasive wrongs associated with corruption, exploitation, patriarchy, and unjustifiable discrimination, and serves as a necessary foundation for raising political consciousness, making mobilization feasible and transformation possible.

 

 

Right-wing Populism: A Vehicle for 21st Century Fascism?

 

Others are sounding various alarms in anxious response to the rise of right-wing populism in a series of countries around the world, warning us that a 21st century fascist virus is viciously attacking hearts, bodies, and minds, often with a democratic mandate, giving rise to a new generation of popular autocrats. This virus is dangerously contagious imperiling the body politic of an increasing number of societies. It appeals especially, even if unconsciously, to those escaping from the discontents of and alienation brought about by the predatory effects of neoliberal globalization. In Europe and North America, especially, these discontents are being dangerously aggravated by anti-immigration nativism, hysteria, demagoguery, libertarian gun policies, and monetized politics. Some perceive fascism in different guises emerging in a variety of societies, capturing and magnifying state power, scapegoating minorities, reversing feminist gains, encouraging a science-defying consumerism, and diverting attention from the menaces posed by the possession, development, and deployment of nuclear weaponry, as well as by a planetary temperature that is pushing against thresholds of irreversibility.

 

I found the following cautionary list composed by the eminent Yale historian, Timothy D. Snyder, author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010) and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (2015), perceptive, instructive, and above all, a stimulus of further thought. Pondering Snyder’s list of 20 lessons is to be forewarned. The intended audience seems to those of us living in the West, either Europe or North America.

 

 

Snyder List of 20 Lessons (dated Dec. 1, 2016)

 

“Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

 

  1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

 

  1. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

 

  1. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

 

  1. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

 

  1. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

 

  1. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

 

  1. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
  2. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

 

  1. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

 

  1. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

 

  1. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

 

  1. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

 

  1. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

 

  1. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

 

  1. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

 

  1. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

 

  1. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

 

  1. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

 

  1. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

 

  1. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.”

 

[Snyder suggests that if this list seems useful, print it out and pass it around!

 

I find this list of concerns to be suggestive and useful, despite not perceiving quite the same trajectory of political threat. In some respects, the vigilance proposed by Snyder is summarized by Pastor Martin Niemoller’s extraordinary poem written beneath the crushing weight of Nazi Germany:

thFirst They Came

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

 

**************************************

 

 

What seems beyond questioning in the present context within the United States is the political imperative to become maximally engaged. It is crucial that there be many highly visible citizens of conscience and that we all remain on high alert with respect to the dangers posed by a governing process dominated by a media oriented demagogue that has mobilized right-wing populism in the US as never before and is surrounding himself with dedicated reactionary ideologues.

 

Although this last commentary narrows concerns to American forebodings, the intended and unintended consequences are certain to be much broader. The United States acts as a global state. When Washington makes mistakes they tend to reverberate around the world. This is most obvious with regard to the economic, environmental, and security policy agendas, and also there are likely to be various negative impacts on geopolitical behavior raising risks of international warfare, although this is not entirely clear at this stage. If Trump’s opening to Russia is not thwarted by the American national security establishment, which is how I mainly interpret the Obama move to sanction Russia in retaliation for the recent hacking episode. The American reaction of outraged innocence seems wildly overblown considering our own cyber attacks on Iran and the many flagrant interferences over the years under CIA auspices with foreign elections and even elected governments. Thankfully Putin is so far repudiating the tit-for-tat game, and would deserve credit, along possibly with Trump, for halting this disastrous push by the deep state in the United States to revive the cold war, this time with high hot war risks.

 

 

The Calmer Liberal Option

For still others, for whom political activism in a largely liberal mode is the key to avoiding a deeper descent into a planetary inferno the call is: ‘don’t despair, organize and resist.’ The brilliantly attuned filmmaker and cultural critic, Michael Moore, offers Americans a five-point plan for resistance worth reflecting upon: 1) visit local congress representatives to express concerns; 2) insist on the drastic reorganization of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) taking the form of progressive leadership; 3) form local rapid response teams of 5-10, consisting of friends, neighbors, family that can protest adverse developments as they occur; 4) Participate in the protest events in Washington relating to the inauguration of Donald Trump as the next American president, as well as protests elsewhere; 5) Devise a Plan B because as bad as you think things will be, they will actually will be worse. Moore’s proposal is very much responsive to the peculiarities of the current American political landscape, essentially relying on liberal values and associated procedures for energizing constructive forms of participation in this type of constitutional democracy. Whether it goes nearly far enough to counteract the Trump surge is a question not likely to be answered by the end of 2017 at the earliest, but I have my strong doubts. Without addressing the roots of the malaise, which are shaped by neoliberal capitalism, militarism, nuclearism, and patriarchy, we are, at best, in my view, playing for time. At worst, fiddling while the planet burns.

 

 

The Progressive Case for Trump: Abstractions Lost in the Ruins

I have several admirable overseas progressive friends that continue to rejoice in the defeat of Hillary Clinton, equating the rejection of her candidacy with a major defeat for the US national security establishment. It is important not to dismiss these views. It is well to remember that during the electoral campaign most Republican defense stalwarts and high profile neocons denounced Trump and threw their support to Clinton. Added to this were several substantive issues. Trump’s campaign calls for an end to regime-changing interventions and state-building ventures throughout the Middle East. If implemented, this seems to presage a kind of welcome geopolitical retreat from the region. And, of course, Trump’s much publicized support for a cooperative relationship with Russia, despite the crimes of Vladimir Putin, angered and worried the establishment consensus. It should be appreciated that Trump seems to be stepping back from Obama’s irresponsible diplomacy with respect to Russia, a dynamic that Clinton would certainly have accelerated against a background of Beltway applause.

 

The most telling opposition of security insiders to Trump’s candidacy arose in my view because he seemed to be proposing an abandonment of what I have in the past called the ‘Global Domination Project,’ which was the grand strategy associated with American ambitions to play a hegemonic security role associated that was to be expected of the first global state in human history. Anti-Trump militarists should not be too discouraged as Trump promises ‘to rebuild the American military’ and has appointed a series of notorious militarists to the most critical security positions, making his ‘America First’ rhetoric unlikely to be translated into policies associated with lowering the American security profile around the world. There are likely to be ambiguous and questionable responses to Trump’s encouragement of foreign governments to invest more in their own defense and his seeming complacency about the further proliferation of nuclear weaponry.

 

Despite these weighty considerations I feel strongly to that Trump’s ascendancy to power is posing apocalyptic risks that all sane persons should act to avoid. Also Trump’s victory overlooks the likely impact of his domestic policies on the vulnerable (immigrants, minorities, women, especially African Americans, Muslims, Hispanics) and poor, a prospect given frightening potency by an irresponsibly right-wing Congress and a supportive Supreme Court. It also fails to take account of Trump’s counter-terrorist extremism (‘crush ISIS,’ revive waterboarding, and authorizing even worse forms of torture) and seeming casual embrace of nuclearism, both by seeming to tell allies to consider developing their own nuclear weapons arsenal and promising to retain a position on top of nuclear weapons pyramid even if means unleashing an expensive and dangerous arms race.

 

There is bound to be uncertainty and confusion associated with the early stages of the Trump’s presidency. Despite trembling at the prospect, no one knows exactly what to expect. For one thing, Trump contradicts himself frequently, or restates his most provocative proposals with decidedly more moderate ideas about implementation. For another, there is a tension between his primary persona as an exemplary entertainer of the digital age and his hard line cabinet and staff appointees who seem primed to actualize a reactionary agenda. Whether the president as commander-in-chief will turn out this time to be the entertainer-in-chief is at this point anyone’s best guess. And just maybe, given the alternatives, the world will be better off with an entertainer, especially if the political class steps back to let the show go on! What might be most toxic would be a kind of collaborative governing process that provides media performances as spectacular distractions (bread and circuses of our time) while an unfolding assortment of regressive programs, policies, and practices were being enacted.

Turkish Realignment: Prospects amid Uncertainty

3 Dec

In recent months the Turkish President, Recep Teyipp Erdoğan, and his principal advisors have not made it a secret that they are reconsidering Turkey’s relations with neighbors, with the countries of the region, and with leading geopolitical actors.

 

The Early Agenda of AKP

 When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 it set about almost immediately to fashion a post-Cold War foreign policy based on the idea that it was time to supersede the Cold War posture of almost total Turkish deference to the United States, especially within NATO and bipolar contexts, and depict a conception of Turkish interests developed in Ankara rather than adhere to Washington’s blueprint. In its early period of national leadership, the AKP seemed to pursue four interrelated international goals:

            –resolve the Cyprus conflict;

            –give priority to seeking full membership in the European Union (EU);

            –improve diplomatic and political relations with Arab World;

            –seek continuity in U.S./NATO/EU relations, but with overall independence.

 

During the Foreign Ministry of Abdullah Gul, reflecting and incorporating some of Ahmet Davutoğlu ideas and his ambitious conception of the proper Turkish international role, this new assertiveness of Turkish foreign policy achieved with impressive results. Turkey’s signature approach of ‘Zero Problems with Neighbors’ (ZPN) was initially seen as the adoption of a regional conflict-resolving perspective, and given early credibility by transforming relations with Syria from hostility to harmony. Syria became the poster child of ZPN, and the new approach was reinforced by a rapid expansion of economic and cultural relations with countries throughout the Arab World. Beyond this, Turkey extended its foreign policy with substantial economic and diplomatic success to the non-Arab parts of the Islamic World, as well as to sub-Saharan Africa. Istanbul, rather than Paris or London, quickly became the preferred hub for a wide variety of international political gatherings of interest to the Global South.

 

There was also a large emphasis placed by during the early AKP years on the acceleration of accession diplomacy with the EU, leading to an unexpected civilianizing of the Turkish government in ways that reduced the leverage of the armed forces in domestic politics and definitely moved in the direction of meeting the preconditions of human rights, democratization, and secularity that would seem to qualify Turkey to become an EU member, comparing favorably with the record of several East European countries that gained membership in the EU without confronting strong accession obstacles. The AKP also had domestic reasons to build a firewall against any future coup by the armed forces whose leadership was imbued with Kemalist belief, including a feared encroachment of political Islam on the governing process.

 

While developing a more pro-active and independent foreign policy, the AKP leadership continued to affirm its relationship with the United States, and as a staunch NATO ally. This affirmation was somewhat tested in 2003 when Washington pressed Turkey to allow a portion of the planned attack on Iraq to proceed from Turkish territory. The Turkish Parliament refused to give its consent, and the Erdoğan leadership under pressure from the United States, submitted the American request a second time with an executive recommendation of approval, but Parliament again withheld consent. It remains uncertain as to whether Erdoğan was pretending to seek parliamentary approval or was genuinely willing to allow Turkey to become directly involved in the attack upon neighboring Iraq. When the attack against Iraq proceeded without UN authorization, Turkey adopted a low profile approach that included a readiness to cooperate with the American-led occupation of Iraq, which sought to restore stability to the country. In effect, the new AKP foreign policy wanted to achieve freedom of maneuver for Turkey but without shaking the foundations of the foreign policy that had guided the ardently secular leadership of the country since the origins of the republic.

 

 

Revising AKP Foreign Policy

 Five major changes of circumstances undermined this early AKP approach to foreign policy: First of all, the deterioration of relations with Israel that became dramatically manifest at the 2009 Davos meetings of the World Economic Forum when Erdoğan sharply confronted the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, on Israel’s massive attack (Cast Lead) on Gaza, and climaxed in 2010 when Israeli commandos attacked the humanitarian flotilla bringing medical supplies to Gaza, killing 9 Turkish nationals on the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in the flotilla of ships challenging the Israeli blockade. Clearly, Israel was sending a warning message to Turkey that it would push back against any Turkish challenge, including those of civil society, to the Israeli approach to Palestinians living under occupation. This encounter challenged Washington to seek restored normalcy in Israeli-Turkish relations so that it would not have to choose sides or juggle relations with both. Energetic diplomatic efforts by Barack Obama sought to heal this breach between these two principal strategic American allies in the region.

 

The second development involved Turkish reactions to the 2011 uprisings in the Arab World, the so-called ‘Arab Spring.’ It should be remembered that Turkey was among the first countries to affirm unconditionally these uprisings against authoritarian rule, treating the political upheavals as welcome expressions of democratizing passions on the part of the citizenry. Turkish prestige in the region reached an all time high, and there was talk throughout the Middle East of the applicability of ‘the Turkish model.’ It was often overlooked that Erdoğan went to Cairo in the Spring of 2011 to encourage Egyptian political forces to follow the Turkish example of political secularism, and not try to embody religion in the governing process. This view not appreciated at the time in Egypt being interpreted as a neo-Ottoman effort to interfere with Egyptian internal rights of self-determination.

 

The third development was the gradual Turkish realization that their prospects for EU membership were declining despite their internal good faith efforts to comply with accession expectations. The main explanation for this decline involved the rise of Islamophobia in several key countries in Western Europe whose political approval by national referendum would be necessary before Turkish membership could be formally approved. With the virtual disappearance of this European option, the pragmatic case for internal political reform in Turkey was weakened while making the benefits of a geopolitically more equi-distant diplomacy more evident, being implemented through Turkish openings to Iran, Russia, India, and China. In other words, facing a demeaning rejection by the EU even if not directly expressed, Turkey partially turned eastward, or at least contemplated such a turn away from Europe and the West, given dramatic emphasis by Erdoğan’s display of embittered anger in reaction to EU criticism. This dynamic was further aggravated by the controversial 2015 agreement with the EU by which Turkey would slow the flow of Syrian refugees across its borders in exchange for a monetary payment and visa-free travel to Europe for Turks. From a human rights perspective, it should be noted, this kind of treatment of refugees, misleadingly called ‘migrants,’ is highly questionable, instrumentalizing their destiny as an inter-governmental bargaining chip rather than respecting their vulnerability by establishing a humane protective regime.

 

The fourth development relates to the various signs that Erdoğan was assuming a more authoritarian role in the Turkish governing process, especially in the aftermath of the AKP electoral victory in 2011. In these years Erdoğan overtly embraced a majoritarian view of democracy weakening the republican character of the Turkish government. This dynamic was accentuated after he became President of Turkey in 2014, and in response to a renewal of hostility with the large Kurdish minority, especially as represented by the Peoples Workers Party (PKK). Erdoğan’s blunt political style, combined with Turkey’s earlier shows of independence and break with Israel, encouraged a much more critical tone in the international media treatment of the AKP leadership in Turkey. This shift amounted to a sea change if compared to the more balanced approach taken between 2002-2011. The anti-Erdoğan hostility peaked in response to the Gezi Park incident in 2013 when Turkish police used excessive force to break up a series of Istanbul demonstrations by opposition forces. It seems notable that the criticisms of Turkish encroachments on human rights were given far greater international attention than the far worse contemporaneous encroachments by the Sisi regime in Egypt and the Saudi monarchy. This difference in international perceptions reflects the overseas influence of anti-AKP activists as well as the divergence of policy as between Ankara and Washington, Brussels, and Tel Aviv.

 

The fifth development is associated with the failed coup of July 15th.

The Turkish Government and internal Turkish public opinion were strongly convinced that the coup perpetrators were linked to the Fetullah Gülen (or Hizmet) movement, and that the United States Government had some prior knowledge, and if circumstantial evidence is to be trusted, quite possibly signaled a green light to the perpetrators. In the course of the coup, and during its aftermath, neither the US nor Europe expressed their support for the democratically elected government of Turkey, adopting a wait and see attitude that seemed poised to accept, if not welcome, the outcome had the coup been successful. Beyond this the US Government has not been responsive to the Turkish formal extradition request, failing to detain Fetullah Gülen while the legal process proceeded. Again international coverage of post-coup Turkey gives almost all of its attention to the Erdoğan crackdown on those suspected of involvement with the Hizmet movement, which while excessive and troublesome, does not depict the context in which it is reasonable for the AKP leadership to feel threatened from within by the continued Hizmet penetration of the organs of government and as a result of Kurdish militancy and ISIS terrorism. At the same time, it is fully understandable that international forces hostile to the AKP should highlight the massive dismissals from academic institutions and widespread media closures as amounting to a witch hunt.

 

 

A Turkish Foreign Policy Reset?

Against such a background, it is hardly surprising that Turkey should in this period be exploring its foreign policy options. Indeed, the exploration preceded the coup attempt of the past year. The impulse to reset Turkish foreign policy reflected a retreat from the more principled and rigid foreign policy positions associated with Davutoğlu’s influence and the endorsement of a pragmatic attempt to minimize hostile regional and global tensions.

 

Most controversially from an American perspective, the pragmatic turn seemed to regard as its centerpiece improved relations with Russia. The goal was broad based cooperation with Russia in recognition of shared interests, including a possible compromise on how to establish a sustainable ceasefire in Syria. From the perspective of the American national security establishment cooperative Russian/Turkish relations were viewed as an unfavorable development at least until the electoral victory of Donald Trump. When the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming the next America president was a near certainty, there existed a general expectation that the West would soon confront Russia in a more determined way than during the Obama presidency. In Turkey this encouraged the belief that the US national security establishment was sufficiently opposed to any closeness between Russia and Turkey as to have explained its possible support for the coup attempt of last July, or at minimum, its ambivalence toward the outcome. This suspicion, although widely shared in Turkey, remains without evidence, and is purely conjectural.

 

With Trump becoming the next American president it seems more likely, but by no means assured, that relations between the West and Russia will again be guided by a realist logic of mutual interests. This prospect is also encouraged by the recent emergence in Europe of several political leaders that favor accommodation with Russia. There may be an initial collision of policies if Trump follows through on his campaign pledge to renounce the nuclear agreement with Iran or significantly increases pressure on its implementation.

 

Tensions with the EU over the migration deal and in reaction to freezing accession talks also inclines Turkey to evaluate various additional forms of realignment, including a reported consideration of joining informal international groupings that are led by China and Russia.

 

In the end, if Trump follows through with a non-interventionist approach to the Middle East, and Turkish internal stability is restored, it seems most likely that there will be a weakening of relations with Europe and the United States, but no break, and no move that deserves to be labeled as ‘realignment.’ Turkey will probably place greater emphasis on economic and diplomatic relations with Asia, as well as with a renewal of interactions within the Middle East and North Africa, minimizing ideological differences.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

There is more uncertainty with respect to global politics than at any time since the end of the Cold War. This uncertainty reflects the rise of authoritarian leaders in many important countries that enjoy the backing of a mobilized right-wing populism that pushes against economic globalization and gives an impetus to exclusionary forms of nationalism. Turkey is part of this wider international trend, and seems caught between contradictory pressures toward continuity and discontinuity in the conduct of its foreign policy. With Trump’s ascendancy the same can be said of the United States.

 

In general, it seems encouraging that Turkey has again seems to be opting for a foreign policy that is pragmatic rather than programmatic and normative, although it is not at this time exerting the kind of wider influence and leadership in the region and beyond that characterized the Davutoğlu approach. The times are different, calling for less ambition and greater stability.

 

How this pragmatic repositioning of Turkey in relation to East and West, North and South, will finally crystallize remains highly uncertain. Whether it results in major changes in orientation depends largely on whether Turkish ties to the West are maintained, Middle East turmoil is contained, and Turkish internal politics calms down.