Tag Archives: Arab people

Short Addendum to the Open Letter to My Blog

6 Sep

 

            As I should have anticipated the responses to my effort to set some rules of the road for my blog produced considerable feedback, which was equally divided between those who welcomed such monitoring to sustain a civility of tone and useful substantive debate and those who believed that debate should go forth without such constraints, and that it was my moral failure, even alleged cowardice, to control the comment section in this way. Some contended that there were benefits from even uncivil exchanges, a position I understand, but do not share. Several of the responses were, as earlier, accusatory toward my character, repeating old charges, some demeaned the character of others who submitted comments, and some derisive in their attitude toward the Palestinian and/or Arab or the Jewish people.

 

            I want to restate ever so briefly that I will not in the future give my approval to comments that dwell on character failings of myself or other contributors to the blog or show no respect for the dignity of the Palestinian or Jewish people. Ethnic hatred and prejudice is the source of much suffering in our world and throughout history, and never heals wounds.

 

            I acknowledge a special interest in the quest for a sustainable peace in relation to the Palestine/Israel conflict, however remote its achievement currently appears to be. Let me also be forthright in admitting that I feel no responsibility to respond to comments that do not accept as a political premise the relevance of the structure of oppression and disparity of circumstance that separates the Israeli reality from that of Palestinians living under occupation, in refugee camps, in exile, or as second-class citizens in Israel. As well, I am not inclined to respond to those comment writers who question the inalienable and elemental Palestinian right of self-determination in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, claiming that sovereignty is either ‘disputed’ or inheres by biblical or historical claim to Israel. Those who hold such position have many outlets for such views within the blogosphere and elsewhere, but for my purposes, such positions are outside the boundaries of responsible debate.

 

            Finally, I realize that many blogs and online media comment sections operate with much more permissive rules of the road, or virtually none. I tried this, but feel it engendered, especially recently, an atmosphere of acrimony.Such a tone and spirit of intemperance is the very opposite of my goal in establishing and continuing the blog. This new more constrictive approach is one more experiment of mine undertaken in the hope of finding a workable arrangement consistent with my values.

 

            With thanks and feelings of gratitude for all those who have participated in these discussions of my posts over the past couple of years in good faith whether in agreement or not with the positions being set forth. I hope to continue to discuss sensitive issues in ways that will undoubtedly infuriate some of those who visit the blog, but I hope if you choose to participate actively you will embrace this ethos of civility, which in my mind is inseparable from an affirmation of the dignity and sacredness of every person, as well as being a show of respect for the diversities of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and gender that currently constitute the human species.

 

 

 

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Libya without Qaddafi: Decoding an Uncertain Future

26 Aug

 

            There is so much spin surrounding the Transitional National Council victory in Libya that it is difficult to interpret the outcome, and perhaps premature to do so at this point considering that the fighting continues and the African Union has withheld diplomatic recognition on principled grounds.  Almost everything about the future of Libya has been left unresolved, beyond the victory of the rebel forces as massively assisted by NATO air strikes as well as a variety of forms of covert assistance given to the anti-regime Libyans on the battlefield. Of course, in the foreground is the overthrow of a hated and abusive dictator who seemed more the outgrowth of the surrealist imagination than a normal political leader who managed to rule his country for more than 42 years, and raised the material standards of the Libyan people beyond that of other societies in the region.  

 

It does seem that the great majority of the Libyan people shared with others in the region a thirst for political freedom. The initial uprising seems definitely inspired by the Arab Spring.  But unlike the other populist challenges to authoritarian Arab states, in Libya the anti-regime forces abandoned nonviolent tactics at early stage and became an armed uprising. This raised some doubts and widespread fears about the onset of a civil war in  the country, but it also brought forth a variety of explanations about the murderous behavior of the regime that left its opponents no alternative.

 

Now with Qaddafi gone as leader, if not yet captured or killed, a new central concern emerges. What will the morning after bring to Libya? At the moment it is a matter of wildly divergent speculation as the unknowns are so predominant. There are a few observations that clarify the main alternatives. More favorably than in Egypt or Tunisia, this populist uprising possesses a revolutionary potential. It has seems poised to dismantle the old order altogether and start the work of building new structures of governance from the ground up. The fact that the TNC resisted many calls for reaching an accommodation or compromise with the Qaddafi regime gives the new leadership what appears to be a clean slate with which to enact a reform agenda that will be shaped to benefit the people of the country rather than foreign patrons. This opportunity contrasts with the messy morning after in Egypt and Tunisia where the remnants of the old order remain in place. In Cairo numerous demonstrators were sent to jail, and reportedly tortured, after new demonstrations were held in Tahrir Square led by those fearful that their political aspirations were being destroyed by the same old bureaucracy that had provided Mubarak with his oppressive structures of authority that made the country safe for neoliberal exploitation and unsafe for constitutional democracy.  Let’s hope that the TNC can sustain Libyan unity and commit itself to the building of a democratic constitutional order and an equitable economy step by step. It will not be easy as Libya has no constitutional experience with citizen participation, an independent judiciary, or the rule of law. Beyond this, political parties, non-state controlled media, and civil society were absent from Libya during the Qaddafi era.

 

And then there is the big possible problem of NATO’s undefined post-Qaddafi role. The air war inflicted widespread damage throughout the country, and already NATO entrepreneurial interests are staking their claims, and TNC spokespersons have indicated that those who lent their cause support will be rewarded in appreciation. Fortunately, NATO does not purport to be an occupying force, but the United States and the principal European countries that took part in the war are pulling strings to release billions of dollars of assets of the Libyan state that were frozen in compliance with Security Council Resolution 1973 and various national directives, and may well be playing a major advising role behind the scenes. Will this dynamic of enabling the new leadership to achieve a finance recovery and reconstruction in Libya come as part of a package containing undisclosed political conditions and economic expectations?  There are signs that oil companies and their government sponsors are scrambling to get an inside track in the current fluid situation. It does not require paranoia about imperialist geopolitics to take note of the fact that the two major military interventions in the Arab world within the last decade were both situated in significant oil producing countries whose leadership rejected integration into a world order in which global energy policy was under the firm control of the market interests of international capital. And, oh yes, the other likely target of major Western military action is Iran, and it too ‘happens’ to be a major oil producer. Let us recall that the UN failed to respond in oil-free Rwanda in 1994 when a small expansion of a peacekeeping presence already in the country might have saved hundred of thousands from an unfolding genocidal onslaught. In the realm of world politics, it may be worth observing, coincidences rarely happen.

 

There are also significant unresolved issues associated with the precedent set by the UN in authorizing a limited protective intervention that when acted upon ignored the guidelines set forth by the drafters of the Security Council resolution. The actual scope and ill-disguised purpose of the intervention shortly after it became an operational reality in Libya was to tip the balance in a civil war and achieve regime change. Such goals were never acknowledged by the pro-intervening governments in the course of the extensive and sharp Security Council debate, and had they been, it is almost certain that two permanent members, China and Russia, given their reluctance to approve of any use of force in the Libyan situation, would have blocked UN action by casting a veto. The UN is confronted by a dilemma. Either it refuses to succumb to geopolitical pressures as was the case when it withheld approval from the United States plan to attack Iraq in 2003, and steps aside while a so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ is hastily formed to carry out an attack, or they grant some kind of limited authority that is cynically overridden by the far more expansive goals of the intervening governments as has been the case in Libya. Either way respect for the authority of the UN is eroded, and the historical agency of geopolitics is confirmed.

 

In the Libyan case, the evaluation of the UN role is likely to depend on what happens in the country during the weeks and months ahead. If a humane and orderly transition takes place in the country, and national resources are used to benefit the people of Libya and not foreign economic interests, the intervention will be effectively marketed as a victory for humane governance and a demonstration that the international community can engage in humanitarian intervention in an effective and principled manner. If the country descends into chaos as the Libyan victors fight among themselves for the political and economic spoils or take revenge on those associated with the Qaddafi regime, the intervention will be retrospectively discredited. This will happen also if the country becomes one more neoliberal fiefdom in which the majority of the population struggles to subsist while tiny elites sitting in Tripoli and Benghazi collaborate with foreign financial and corporate interests while skimming billions off the top for themselves.

 

This assessment of the intervention as a precedent is based on considering only its consequences. As such, it does not take into account the importance of maintaining as a matter of principle, the integrity of UN authorizations of military force both in relation to the UN Charter and with respect to confining the military undertaking to the strict limits of what was authorized. I will consider in a companion essay this issue of sustaining constitutionalism and the rule of law when the Security Council authorizes military action.

 

Is the Arab Spring a Black Swan?

6 May

             Understanding the Western response to the Arab Spring, a colorful designation of the democratizing movements of varying character that have rocked the foundations of the Arab world, is an ongoing process.  These movements are also seen as posing possibly serious threats to the structure of economic and strategic interests associated with long standing American and European influence in the region.  On the surface after some obvious hesitation, even ambivalence, the liberal democratic governments of the West, headed by the United States, declared their support for the Arab Spring, and even mounted a ‘humanitarian intervention’ (disguised as a No Fly Zone to protect the Libyan civilian population so as to discourage Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UN Security Council) to help the rebels prevail in their civil war against the Qaddafi regime. Everywhere in the region the political outcome of these unfinished uprisings remain shrouded in multiple doubts.

 

Having just visited Egypt for a week I came away with this dual sense that the revolutionary dynamics have produced remarkable results that form a glorious chapter of Egyptian history, but also that there are a variety of dark forces that are working under the radar to contain if not reverse this exhilirating democratizing momentum. In the foreground was the widespread acknowledgement by all sectors of public opinion in Cairo that the more reflective governing policy is of popular sentiments the more likely is a definite adjustment of diplomatic stance with regard to the Israel/Palestine conflict. This stance is already evident in the opening of the Rafah Crossing and in the robust Egyptian encouragement of Palestine Authority/Hamas reconciliation.

 

Looking from outside, I encountered one brief insight into real American thinking about the Arab Spring that was for me particularly revealing. It was published in the comment section of the May/June 2011 online website of Foreign Affairs, the most influential voice on foreign policy in the United States. It was written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Mark Blyth, and opened with this rather startling sentence: “The upheavals in the Middle East had much in common with the recent financial crisis: both were plausible worst-case scenarios whose probability was dramatically underestimated.” What an odd comparison! The equivalence was premised on the negative character of both occurrences, which led the authors to identify the emancipatory movements in the Middle East with the perjorative label of “upheavals,” thereby ignoring the manifest revolutionary and reformist challenges being directed at the established repressive political order. At their worst, these movements could be downgraded to ‘uprisings,’ rather than the image of ‘upheavals’ that mainly suggests purposeless disorder.

 

The most remarkable aspect, by far, of the Taleb/Blyth comment was to treat these Middle Eastern events as illustrative of unanticipated “worst-case scenarios.” Worst-case? Such a perception only makes sense if it unintentionally reflects the undisclosed underlying strategic consensus that the Arab Winter was far better for the West than the Arab Spring. In effect, that authoritarian government in the region was a necessary correlate of Western grand strategy long built around petropolitics, and more recently extended to the containment of political Islam and sustaining Israeli

regional security goals. Netanyahu and other political leaders in Israel acknowledged as much by their outspoken admission that they were sorry to see the Mubarak regime collapse.

 

             Nissam Nicholas Taleb is a financial risk analyst who made a wider stir when he published his book Black Swan  a couple of years ago. It has as its central and compelling thesis that there is a pervasive tendency for history to be shaped by unpredicted events, and especially by occurrences that have not taken place in the past. His vivid central metaphor is the assumption that all swans are white because no other color had been seen until the black swan variety was discovered in Australia. This is an interesting alternative approach to what I have been calling ‘the politics of impossibility,’ a phrase meant to suggest that the impossible repeatedly happens, making future studies based on past trends and statistical projections almost certain to be wrong.

 

            I am not contesting the idea that implausible happenings should be taken into far greater account when contemplating the future. What I am remarking critically upon is the bland classification of the Arab Spring as ‘a worst-case scenario,’ and the fact that such a comment could survive scrutiny from the normally very adept gatekeepers at Foreign Affairs. Is it to be explained as an accidental political oversight or more darkly as a revelation of the mindset so ingrained within the American foreign policy establishment as to be unnoticeable? If the latter, then, it is not surprising that such a phrasing would not even be noticed because it was accurately expressive of the private discourse among foreign policy elites on the impact of these developments. Supportive of this latter interpretation is the fact that this Black Swan comment has remained featured on the Foreign Affairs website.

 

            It is possible that I am exaggerating a flourish that is nothing more than a slip of the pen! At the very least, however, it should serve as a reminder, if not a warning, that there is not only pro-democracy cheering going on in the Washington situation rooms that shape the foreign policy of Western countries, especially the United States, with respect to what to hope for in the Middle East. As the Chinese supposedly believe: “two persons sleep in the same bed but they have different dreams.”