Saturday, August 31, 2013

Syria Needs a Political Solution, Not John Wayne

Excellent post, with links, at Qifa Nabki on the uselessness of trying to use military force to impose a settlement in Syria.  I might add:

1. Obama needs to walk back his "red line" misspeak . . . and the commentariat needs to let him, even encourage him, to walk it back.  He screwed up, and I'll bet he knows (and has been reminded umpteen times by his staff) that he screwed up.  That a lot of innocent Syrian people are likely to be made collateral damage just because a president chose his words poorly is a war crime in itself.

2. John McCain and any putative nuevos amigos need to get it through their heads: this is no longer a John Wayne America.  The US has no duty or prerogative - or, as Iraq and Afghanistan showed, capacity - to "get into the fight" and make the world right.  Too many of my generation still have their heads shrink-wrapped around the heroic World War II America of "Sands of Iwo Jima" or the crusading (early) Vietnam War America of "The Green Berets."  Asad is neither Tojo nor Ho Chi Minh (nor are Asad's backers - Vladimir Putin and the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - Leonid Brezhnev).  The US can't "fix" Syria with military might.  

But what it could do - if certain parties would allow Obama the domestic political space - is lead an effort to get all parties to come together and make some hard deals.  That means Iran, and Russia, and the Saudis, as well as Asad's people and representatives from the Syrian opposition, both Arabs and Kurds, both Islamists and not.  It means the UN.  It means the Arab League.   Optimally, it ought not mean hard-line jihadists like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS/ISIL (what exactly IS the appropriate acronym?), but with their presence now so firmly entrenched it would be difficult to shut them out completely.

And especially, it means the neighboring countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, including reps from the KRG) that are now straining under the humanitarian burden and responsibility of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugess.  Syria's fragmentation is probably too far along for even the most skilled political negotiations and daring compromises to patch together a unitary country.  Notwithstanding, the focus now needs to be on ending the violence, from all sides, damping down sectarian anger, and healing devastated bodies, spirits,  and communities.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On the Destruction and Revival of the Egyptian Revolution

At Pandaemonium, Kenan Malik publishes a superb piece that locates the 3 July military coup that overthrew the government of Muhammad Morsi, and Al-Sisi's crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood, within the long history of the Muslim Brotherhood's treatment at the hands of Egypt's series of military-backed regimes since Gamal Abdul Nasser.  

He sums up:

So what of the future for Egypt?  What the past few weeks have revealed is the weakness of all sides.  The Muslim Brotherhood is being crushed without too much resistance, exposing its lack of popular support. Liberal secularists, organizationally weak and politically incoherent, having failed to topple on Morsi on their own, have put faith in the military to do the job for them. The USA, and other Western powers, have discovered that they no longer possess much leverage over Cairo.  The power of the Egyptian military has certainly been entrenched, but largely because of the weakness of other social forces.


The revolution might have been strangled, but the yearning for democracy and freedom remains. If that yearning is eventually to be harnessed to help create a new, democratic Egypt, revolutionaries must learn the lessons of the current debacle. The real destruction of the Egyptian revolution did not come when the military seized power. It came when liberals and secularists backed the coup and justified the repression that followed. Democracy and freedom cannot be wielded in a sectarian fashion. And no one but the people themselves – not the military, not a foreign power – can be the harbinger of change.

Indeed.  But it has been well noted that Hosni Mubarak's overthrow by "the people" in 2011 was "allowed" by the military, who were concerned that he was grooming as his successor his son Gamal, whose penchant for neo-liberal economic reforms would have imperilled their well-entrenched domination of parts of the Egyptian economy.  Now "the people" need to regroup if they are to have any hope of reviving their revolution.  Yet the Islamist element of "the people" have been labelled "terrorists" and are being systematically crushed by al-Sisi and his junta - as Malik notes, largely courtesy of liberals/secularists who'd two years ago been their compatriots in Tahrir Square.  It stands to reason, does it not, that if they now - very belatedly - try to organize against the junta, the liberals/secularists will in their turn be smacked down.

So much for that "harbinger of change"?


Saturday, August 3, 2013

John Robertson: Why Kerry's "peace talks" will go nowhere

My latest essay for Your Middle East . . .


John Robertson: Why Kerry's "peace talks" will go nowhere

"There's no way Kerry/Obama can insist on halting the settlement/colonization enterprise"

 Daniel Kurtzer and Gilead Sher have co-authored in LA Times an essay subtitled "It's hard to resolve Israeli-Palestinian disagreements without the U.S. defining a path."

You know what's driving me nuts about this entire enterprise? The fact that they're absolutely right, but also that there's no way the US can (or rather, will) do that at this point. Why?  Because, at the very least, if this "peace process" is to have any chance to succeed, Israel has to stop - COMPLETELY - its ongoing colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (And in a truly just and righteous world - a world that actually abided by…what do you call it? Oh, yeah, international law - it would also uproot every Jewish settlement, including the massive settlements blocs, from the West Bank and bring all those settlers inside the 1967 borders. But let's not go any farther down that path right now.)  

But there's no way Kerry/Obama can insist on halting the settlement/colonization enterprise, because they know that the Republican-dominated House of Representatives - as well as a large portion of the US Senate - would stand by it. Remember, this is the same US Congress that only a few years ago practically led Netanyahu into its august halls on the back of a donkey and strewing palm fronds and hosannas in his path. And the Israel lobby, AIPAC, CUFI, the Washington Post editorial board, the Council on Foreign Relations (well, Elliott Abrams for sure) would scream bloody murderer and label Obama, Kerry, et al. anti-Semites, mullah-lovers, new-Holocaust mongers . . . any and every of the multitude of awful names and characterizations that people have come up with for people perceived not to "stand with Israel."

Kerry's peace talks are a charade

And this, despite the fact that many of Israel's leaders - perhaps even Bibi himself - recognize that without the creation of a viable, prosperous Palestinian state, Israel itself has no chance of remaining a truly democratic, Jewish-majority unless it either simply forces West Bank Palestinian Arabs into apartheid status or else forcibly expels them.

The White House is facing a GOP-controlled House of Representatives whose members (especially those of the Tea Party extreme) nurture almost exuberantly an entrenched hatred of the president and the person that is Barack Hussein Obama, who must deal with their opposition - and must try to find a way forward - on issues ranging from health care, to immigration, to combating climate change.  Obama is not about to wave before their eyes the new matador's cape that a demand for complete stop to Israel's creeping annexation of the West Bank would be.

As part of his legacy, Obama will be able to say years from now that at least, via his secretary of state, he "tried" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps some of the Democratic faithful will even believe him.

But Kerry's peace talks are a charade. If he's lucky, the participants will close their talks with an announcement of some new "principles" or "understandings" for future discussion. 

Smiles, handshakes, expressions of gratitude and hope all around. But the beat(-down) for the Palestinians will go on. And the settlers will continue to grab their land.


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