Iran: Nuclear Talks and the Russo-American Dilemma

The tense relations between Russia and the US, between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, brings rise to concerns over ongoing Iran nuclear talks, set to resume in Baghdad on May 23.

Iranian Nuclear Talks will Require Closer Russo-American Ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin has unveiled a government dominated by loyalists, leaving hopes for reform slim and entrenching Kremlin’s over the economy’s commanding heights.  Along with Putin’s opting out of the G8 Summit, the tense relations between Russia and the US are worrisome for many due to the importance of a strong front being presented by Putin and Obama against nuclear proliferation in Iran.  With President Obama facing his reelection year, talks between the two nation’s will be scarce and wide-spaced, leaving little room for political gobbledygook, stressing substantial progress on relations that have already been strained by the Syrian civil war.  With Russia and America as the two former superpowers responsible for decades of nuclear standoff, they have also assumed the roles concerning nuclear development and proliferation.  America’s pursuit of hegemony has resulted in a staunch policy condemning countries seeking nuclear programs, demanding countries to disarm despite America’s own unwillingness to denuclearize.  So saying, President Obama’s position on an Iranian nuclear program is clear.  Obama has repudiated any intention of adopting deterrence of a nuclear Iran as an acceptable policy option.  Thus, such rigidity could result in an Iranian agreement to live up any resolve to acquire nuclear weapons; President Obama could retreat from his previously assumed rigidity; or there could be war.

“Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.” – Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader

War seems to be a drastic conclusion to draw, as all state leaders are assumed to be rational independent thinkers, yet Iran’s history does not suggest appeasement to be high on the agenda.  Nevertheless, Iran has shown signs of a renewed unwillingness to take seriously these talks between itself and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, America and Germany).  Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei has stated that the pursuit of nuclear weapons is considered a grace sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.  The supreme leader has also stated his ultimate goal is to make the state of Israel disappear, as well as to the combat the ‘Great Devil’ represented by the American nation.  The transitions from repressive isolation to willing nuclear talks stems largely from international sanctions imposed on the country in recent years, slowly constricting the economy over the past year.  With both the EU and the USA embargoing Iranian oil shipments, Iran’s oil sits in storage tanks.  Iran’s oil sector accounted for 60% of total government revenue, thus the vulnerability of the regime’s strength to said sanctions is apparent.  A dollar decline in the price of crude oil could reduce the government revenue by as much as $1 billion.  So saying, Iran’s intentions may be to purely seem wiling and cooperative so as to relieve itself from such crippling fiscal constraints.  So saying, most of the countries within the P5+1 remain highly skeptical of Iran’s true intentions and purposes.  Many believe that Iran is using the talks as a stalling tactics so as to buy time to produce the kind of highly enriched uranium necessary for bombs.  The tension of such a situation is very evident considering the danger this would present to America’s prime Middle Eastern ally, Israel, who has already stated its intention to use military force to ensure its security.

“I don’t think there is any question that the impact of this pressure played a role in Iran’s decision to come to the table.  The value of their currency, the rial, has dropped like a rock.” – David Cohen, Undersecretary of Treasury

Iran will seek bargaining leverage in the talks, seeking to drive a wedge between an already strenuous connected group of state leaders.  Iran will see to generate further tensions among its negotiating adversaries while maintaining a tight diplomatic unity of its own.  For this reason, the Russo-American relations must grow into a more coherent P5+1 force with which to deal with the Iranian situation.  With Sarkozy out, Francois Hollande is likely to be more accommodating then the hard-line Sarkozy.  Germany and Britain will rally around US but will do little in ways to provide leadership because of the hegemony represented by Russia and US in this area.  China has become more isolated in recent years, more fixated on its economic interests and need for oil, hence the growing tensions over the Spratly islands. So saying, Russia is the last significant player in the equation. Russia has grown skeptical of American diplomacy but many theorists suggest that it has grown concerned about a possible nuclear-armed Iran, thus more wiling to act accordingly.  With US and Russian relations frayed in the past because of American dominance and unstated aims in Libya, later exasperated by the Syrian civil war, the diplomatic ties between Russia and America will be easily torn asunder by Iranian leaders if not properly dealt with.


Religion: Islam and Violence

After the events of September 11th, the issue of Islam and violence once again came into intense discussion and debate because of its historic correlation to jihad, intolerance and terrorism.

With the Qur'an as Justification, Islam has Massacred Millions

Not aimed at presenting an ‘Islamphobia’ post, this post aims at presenting the religious dimension of violence that goes back to the heart and origin of Islam.  Despite various political, socio-economic and cultural factors contributing to the rise of violence and terrorism in fundamental Islam (as with all religions), Muslims who commit acts of violence and terror in the name of Allah can find ample justification for their actions based on the open-ended verses and teachings of the Qur’an and the saying of Muhammad (Hadith).  Islam’s doctrines and texts are associated with violence, with laws requiring the eradication of what is considered evil by Islamic standard and law, sometimes using violent means.  Throughout history, Islam’s religious texts or precepts have been used to promote violence.  Classically, and in the modern era, Muslims and their leaders, including a large number of jurists, have upheld Islamic ideas, concepts, texts and themes to justify warfare against non-Muslims.  Some suggest that the Qur’an contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with non believers for the sake of Islamic rule, verses that are mostly open-ended and therefore are not restrained by historical context of the surrounding text.  To offer a general illustration of the inherent relationship, it would do to point out that the root word for Islam is al-Slim which means submission or  surrender.  The Qur’an not only calls Muslim to submit to Allah, it also commands them to subdue people of other religions until they are in a full state of submission to Islamic rule.  Evidently, this has inspired the aggressive history of Islam and its success in conquering other cultures.

“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the place whence they drove you out, for persecution of Muslims is worse than slaughter of non-believers, but they desist, then lo!  Allah is forgiving and merciful!  And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” – Qur’an 2:191-193

Many claim that the verses in support of fighting in the Qur’an were for a special historical situation concerning the beginning of Islam.  They argue that since prophet Muhammad was persecuted in Mecca for the first 13 years of his ministry, he was justified in his military actions in the last 10 years of his life in Medina and for the support of the budding Islamic movement.  The problem arises however in that nowhere in the Qur’an are the commands to fight restricted to a special time period of against a special group of people.  Far from being mere history or theological construct, the violent verses of the Qur’an have played a key role in very real massacres and genocide.  This includes the brutal slaughter of tens of millions of Hindus for 5 Centuries beginning around 1000 AD with the Mahmud of Ghazni’s blood conquest.  Both he and the later Tamerlane (Islam’s Genghis Khan) slaughtered an untold number of men, women and children.  Muhammad was a military leader, laying siege to towns, massacring the men, raping their women and enslaving their children.  On several occasions he rejected offers of surrender from the besieged inhabitants and even butchered captives.  One prominent example is of the Qurayza Jews, who were completely obliterated only 5 years Muhammad arrived in Medina.  Their leader opted to stay neutral when their town was besieged by a Meccan army.  The tribe had killed no one from either side and even surrendered peacefully to Muhammad after the Meccans had been turned back.  Yet the prophet of Islam had every member of the Qurazya tribe beheaded, and every woman and child enslaved.  He actually inspired his followers to battle when they did not feel it was right to fight, promising them slaves and loot if they did and threatening them with Hell if they did not.  Evidently, Muslim armies waged aggressive campaigns and the religion’s most dramatic military conquests were made by the actual companions of Muhammad in the decades that followed his death.

“In the Jihad which you are seeking, you look for an enemy and invade him.  This type of Jihad takes place only when the Islamic state is invading other countries in order to spread the word of Islam and remove the obstacles in its way.” – Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Egyptian Islamic theologian

Aiming to avoid a concentrated view on the historic study of Islam’s birth through blood and genocide, Islam as an ideology brings contempt and violence as well.  That Islam sees itself as a theocracy has enormous ramifications for how it regards itself and for the behavior of Muslims.  First it means that Islam is not only a religion but also a political ideology, as Muhammad was a political, military and religious leader.  If the government of the Muslim community is simply God’s community, then no other governments can be legitimate.  Thus, they are all at war with God and as a result, Muslims have divided the world into two spheres known as Dar al-Islam – “the house of Islam” – and Dar al-Harb – those who are at war with God.  Second, it means that Muslims have believed themselves to have manifest destiny.  Since God must win in the end, the Dar al-Harb must be brought under the control of the Muslim government and made part of the Dar al-Islam.  Third, since the Dar al-Harb by its nature is at war with God, it is unlikely that it will submit to God without a fight.  Individual groups might be convinced to lay down their arms and join the Muslim community by various forms of pressure – economic or military.  Because of the need to expand God’s domain by wars of conquest, Islam’s ideology imposes on Muslim the duty to fight for God’s community.  This duty is known as Jihad.  The concept of holy fight or struggle has been particularly incumbent on those on the edges of the Muslim world, where there was room for expansion.  Though highly radical, 9/11 still serves as an example of the intrinsic violence involved in fundamentalism, as the terrorists believed their sacrifices as a just part of Jihad.

“He (the Messenger of Allah) did that and said ‘There is another act which elevated the position of a man in Paradise to a grade on hundred higher, and the elevation between one grade and another is equal to the height of heaven from the earth’.  He (Abu Sa’id) said: ‘What is that act?’  He replied: ‘Jihad in the way of Allah!  Jihad in the way of Allah'” – Muslim 20:4645

The examples of international directed violence committed in the name of Islam is endless.  The affiliation of violence and this religion is made most evident by the religious organizations associated with Islam; Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah.  The acquisition of the enormous land that belonged to the caliphates was through military force and the brutal suppression of opposition.  However, the golden age of the Muslim Empire began to dwindle after the death of Muhammad.  Following his death, there lacked a clear line of succession which resulted in perpetual internal war.  Sunni and Shia Islam are two major denominations of Islam and therefore, for the sake of simplicity, this post will focus on their internal violence as an illustration of the evident nature of bloodshed that is inherent to Islam.  Sunnis believe that abu Bakr, the father of Muhammad’s wide Aisha, was Muhammad’s rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leading endorsed by the Qur’an was in the consensus of the Ummah, the Muslim community.  Shias believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Hussein ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next Caliph making Ali and his direct descendants Muhammad’s successors.  This difference has resulted in a jagged schism that has left Shias and Sunnis at odds to this day.

“They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing: But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay they wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.” – Qur’an 4:89

The Battle of Siffin was the first open hostility between the two sects.  It was fought between Ali and Muawiyah I, on the banks of the Euphrates river.  Following the controversial murder of Uthman ibn Affan, Ali became Caliph but struggled to be accepted as such throughout the Muslim Empire.  Muawiyah, the governor of Syria, was a kinsman of the murdered Caliph, and wanted the murderers brought to justice.  For this reason, Muawiyah rebelled against Ali, who attempted to put down the rebellion.  The battle ended in stalemate and in thousands of casualties.  To the Shia, Ali was the first Imman.  To the Sunnis, Ali was the fourth Caliph Rashidun Caliph, and Muawiyah was the First Caliph of the Ummayyad dynasty.  The event surrounding the battle are highly controversial between Sunni and Shia, and serve as part of the split between the two groups.  More modern examples of the violence conflict are seen in Libya, Syria and Iraq.  In Libya, the tribal organization of the region has left the transitional government unable to stabilize the country because the different Islamist sects are raiding each other’s territories.  In Syria, the opposition forces are mainly Sunni Muslim whereas the leading government figures are Alawite, affiliated with Shia Islam.  As a result the opposition is winning support from the Sunni Muslim states and the regime is publicly supported by the Shia dominated Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah.  The division of Sunni and Shia Islam is also demonstrated in post-US Iraq, in which over 1,000 people have died because of a new wave of sectarian violence.  After the election of the Iraqi Transitional Government, a wave of suicide bombers, believed to be mainly disheartened Iraqi Sunni Arabs, Syrians and Saudis tore through Iraq.  Their targets were often Shia gatherings or civilian concentrations of Shias.

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.” – Qur’an 5:33

The intolerance and hypocritical nature of Islam is evident by it Qur’an verses and history. Islam is intolerant towards the notion of gender equality.  Islam is militaristic, considering Muhammad organized 65 military campaigns in the last 10 years of his life and personally led 27 of them.  Islam is intolerant to other religions, as they discouraged such practices by slaughtering them by masses.  Islam also permitted ownership of slaved the freedom to sexually exploit slaves.  Moreover, despite the fact that Islam prohibits the killing of innocent people, the definition of innocent is rather flexible and has been graded down to the fundamental rule that if someone rejects Muhammad, they are no longer innocent.  Lastly, the incompatibility of Islam and Democracy is also noteworthy, as it bespeaks of its intolerance and tendency to favor dictatorships, repressive regimes and widespread inequality.  Under Islamic law, only Muslim males are entitled to full rights.  Islam is a theocratic system with Allah alone at is head.  Allah’s law is interpreted by a ruling body of cleric.  There is not room for a secular political system in which all people are treated as equals.  The price of challenging Islam is seen by various modern examples of its violent practices.  Hashem Aghajari, an Iranian professor, was given a death sentence because of a speech that criticized some of the present Islamic practices.  Theo van Gogh was assassinated by Mohammed Bouyeri for producing the 10-minute film Submission, critical of the abusive treatment of women by Muslims.  Ehsan Jami was nearly beaten to death in The Netherlands by 3 Muslims for his activities in the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims.  Of course, the more resonating example of Islamic terror and suppression is the Ayatollah of Iran.  Along with announcing Jihad against the US, he has also carried out such practices against Kurds in Iran and categorized the Iran-Iraq war as holy war.  The Ayatollah, along with many Wahhabi fundamentalists, have vocalized their belief in world domination through the Islamic faith; thus, the violent nature of Islam becomes rather apparent.

Kony 2012: American Response Options (Part 3 of 3)

The YouTube sensation ‘Kony 2012’ has resonated throughout the global population, sensationalizing the actions of a relatively insignificant warlord in Sub-Saharan Africa and calling for American-UN military response, but there are no viable options open for American paramilitary operations in the region.

American Response Options in Africa are Slim to None

Despite widespread calls to action against Joseph Kony and allegories relating military options to landing a man on the moon, the organization known as Invisible Children fails to recognize the nigh impossible option for strategic counterinsurgency in Sub-Saharan Africa against the leader of the Lord’s Resistant Army.  Though his actions are horrific and demand attention, the short film has exaggerated the extent of his crimes and his strength.  If Joseph Kony were to be as strong as the video entails, commanding the attention of thousands of soldiers and enslaving thousands more as child soldiers and sex slaves, the US intelligence would then actually consider him a threat deserving of their attention.  As it stands currently, Joseph Kony stands with only a group of a few hundred guerrilla soldiers and only a few hundred child soldiers (though any number of child soldiers is evidently wrong); thus, his status as a threat to even the regions he currently raids is rather minimal.  Moreover, the video suggests that Joseph Kony still resides in Uganda and is their number one threat.  The LRA fled Uganda in 1985 after the military coup that saw the installation of Museveni, who then began to suppress opposition forces such as the LRA.  This being said, the LRA does continuously launch raids in lands ranging from southern Darfur to the northern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo but even the Uganda president does not consider Joseph Kony to be his number one threat or even a priority for the military.  Evidently, with no outside motivation or support, counterinsurgency against Kony is likely to be dead on arrival considering his lack of posing a real threat to the already divided and corrupt region.

“The organization behind Kony 2012 – Invisible Children Inc – is an extremely shady nonprofit that has been called ‘misleading, ‘naive’ and ‘dangerous’ by Yale professor Chris Blattman, and has been accused by Foreign Affairs of ‘manipulating facts for strategic purposes’.  They have also been criticized for refusing to provide information necessary to determine if Invisible Children meets the Bureau’s standard.” –

The escalation of US engagement in Uganda, as well as media coverage, came about in Obama’s sudden announcement in October to deploy special forces unites to help Uganda military operations.  Obama’s statement did not publicize the fact that the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has had an unspecified number of soldiers deployed in the area to assist the Ugandan army for years.  In late 2008, AFRICOM was even involved in a military push to take out the LRA once and for all.  Known as Operation Lighting Thunder, the military push ended in embarrassing failure as the LRA had vacated the region 72 hours prior to the arrival of the Ugandan troops, meanwhile the Congolese troops never even showed up at the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Kony had been hiding.  Far from neutralizing the LRA, the operation prompted a strategically effective and ferocious response. In January and February 2009, the LRA abducted around 700 people, including an estimated 500 children and killed almost 1,000. All of this, and the plight of local populations, who are caught between a rebel group with nothing to lose and armies that have not prioritized civilian protection, has been mostly overlooked.  The reactions to Obama’s statement and the Kony 2012 video underscores how little Americans really know about US involvement in Uganda.

“Obama claimed that he decided to act because it ‘furthers US national security interests and foreign policy’.  Yet it is not entirely clear how that could be true, since Kony and the LRA have not targeted Americans or American interests and are not capable of overthrowing an allied government.” – Mareike Schomerus, Foreign Affairs Magazine.

During the past decade, US-based activists concerned about the LRA have successfully pressured the Bush and Obama administrations to take a side in the fight between the LRA and the Ugandan government.  In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony, a vile man undoubtedly, as uniquely evil.  Nevertheless, they rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.  Many of the regions’ religious leaders openly oppose US engagement in the region and reports about growing fatigue within the Uganda army are not welcoming.  Of the more than 4,000 Ugandan troops that were originally sent to LRA-affected areas, less than 2,000 remain.  To just break even with those losses, Obama would have to send far more than the planned 100.  Any high expectations in Uganda for new US soldiers, meanwhile, can also be dashed as information from Washington has stated that the troops are to remain in Kambala and to give advice, rather than go into combat.

“Even if all these concerns could be set aside – assume, for a moment, that the military intelligence is good; the lessons of the past have been learned; mechanisms to protect the population will be put in place; the armies of Uganda, Congo and South Sudan are controlled; and the US special forces are able to find and kill Kony – would the effort bring peace? The answer is probably not.” – Tim Allen, Foreign Affairs magazine

Though Kony’s death would be welcomed at home and abroad, the mission would not be entirely satisfactory if troops killed him instead of bringing him to trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Such problems have been seen in Libya where domestic forces killed Moammar Qaddafi before trial and are now calling for the death of his sons, despite ICC mandates for their arrest and trial.  This division is in Uganda too, as the international community wants to see justice be brought forth and not an executioner’s blade, as desired by the Ugandan government.  Beyond the details of dealing with Kony, the political challenges of the region are also simply too massive for Obama’s new operation to yield to fruition.  The violence in Uganda, Congo and South Sudan has been the most devastating in the world since the mid 1990s.  Some estimates have placed the death toll in the millions and the LRA is more so a symptom of this than a cause of the endemic violence.  If Kony is removed the LRA fighter will merely join another group or act independently.  Clearly, the options open to counteract Kony are few, if not entirely nonexistent, because of the wide range of obstacles that are inherent to the corrupt and impoverished region of Africa.

“According to local sources, the LRA has already announced that it is ready for a fight, and it said to have called on its members to gather and ‘celebrate’ Christmas and New Year’s – a reference to the string of retaliatory attacks it carried out on December 25, 2008 and in the days that followed.” – Koen Vlassenroot, Foreign Affairs magazine

In retrospect, until the underlying problem of the regions’ poor governance is adequately dealt with, there will be no sustainable peace.  Seriously addressing the suffering of central Africans would require the engagement of a much larger order and a huge deployment of peacekeeping troops with a clear legal mandate.  Such extensive and risky actions would not b supported by domestic forces at home and thus, with not political agenda serving as motivation, there is not reason for such US involvement.  The only source of reason for international involvement is the discovery of oil in Lake Albert, but even so, the risks far outweigh the gains.  It would require a long-term commitment and would be targeted not only at chasing the LRA.  Moreover, the deployment of such a force would need to emerge from concerted efforts of various international groups – including the African Union, the United Nations, the ICC, and governments in the region – not as knee-jerk reactions to media splashes.  If achieving stability and relative prosperity to the blighted region of Africa is the real objective, devoting efforts solely on the LRA will obviously not be anywhere near enough.

Libya: Tribal Warfare

Despite the death of Moammar Qaddafi half a year ago, the humanitarian violence perpetuates under Libyan militias with hundreds of tribal militias extorting money and killing their enemies.

Libya's Militias Are Out Of Control

Amnesty International has reported that Libya’s tribal militias are out of control, with the torture and murder of former Qaddafi loyalist (or suspected loyalists) remaining widespread.  During and immediately after the civil war, the militias after the civil war, the militias murdered countless numbers of Qaddafi supporters in captivity, tortured many others, and razed the homes of other to punish them for their political beliefs.  Without a central authority demanding control over the countryside, the militias are quickly turning Libya into a regional warzone, divided by tribes.  According to the Amnesty International report, 16% of Libyans sad they were ready to resort to violence for political end, clearly threatening hopes for a new Libya.  During Libya’s civil war, many of the revel leaders and supporters spoke confidently and often about a new era of respect for human rights that would be ushered in.  Nevertheless, the scenes coming out of Libya illustrate quite a different scenario, regional warfare that has already claimed over 30 lives in the last 4 days.

“Militias in Libya are largely out of control and the blanket impunity they enjoy only encouraged further abuses and perpetuates instability and insecurity.  Militias with a record of abuse of detainees should simply not be allowed to hold anyone and all detainees should be immediately transferred to authorized detention facilities under the control of the National Transitional Council.” – Donatella Rovera, spokesperson for Amnesty International

With Libya elections planned in June, the violence and anarchic scenes do not bode well for a fair and accountable process, unless the militias are brought under some kind of control.  There has been no investigation into the murder of 65 people In Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte last October, nor has there been any response to the 30,000 people from Tawargha whom were expelled from their homes and have not been allowed to return for supposedly having supported Qaddafi.  The news vindicates a study published by the Institute of Human Sciences at the University of Oxford, which suggests that more than a third of Libya’s citizens would rather return to being ruled by a strongman authoritarian than embrace any democracy.  The threat of tribal warfare encompassing the entire country becomes all too real when taken into account the large stockpiles of weapons that lay strewn about after the collapse of the Qaddafi regimes.  For decades, the Libyan dictator stockpiled thousands of Man-Portable-Air-Defense Systems, or MANPADS.  By the time his regime collapses in October 2011, Libya had accumulated the largest stockpile of MANPADS of any non-MANPADS producing country in the world.  The US is assisting with MANPAD control and destruction program through the deployment of a State Department expert from the MANPADS Task Force.  Thus far, they have been able to identify, recover and secure approximately 5,000 MANPADS and components.  Nevertheless, the chaos in the regions does stunt proliferation efforts, and the possibility that tribal militias have already secure their own stockpiles is a very real threat.

“Looking for the future, the leadership in Libya will need to ensure a comprehensive overhaul of laws and practices that facilitated the systemic perpetration over decades of human rights abuses in a climate of total impunity, and that triggered the anti-government movement in the first place.  Only then will the hopes of Libyans for a better future – one of equality before the law, social justice, and the respect for human rights – be realized.” – Amnesty International, The Battle for Libya: Killings, Disappearances and Torture

The most hostile of tribal wars, is taking place in the southeast, near the border of Egypt, Chad and Sudan.  There, the dark-skinned Toubo tribe, which was persecuted under Qaddafi, is under attack by the larger and lighter-skinned Zwai.  The Toubo tribe accuses the NTC of backing the Zwai, already demonstrating dissent and the nigh impossibility of appeasing cultural rifts among these tribes.  There has been a long racial and ethnic conflict along the southern border of the Sahara Desert, where light-skinned Arabs, Tuaregs and Berbers come into conflict with the darker-skinned Africans.  Many of the Tuaregs and Berbers were used a mercenaries and troops by Qaddafi’s regime. Many of them were killed during the uprising, but the survivors have returned to Mali with their own ideas of a rebellion, as well as hopes for retribution for their lost brothers at the hand of the NTC.  Moreover, tribal and local militias contain over 100,000 armed men organized into several hundred separate groups.  Many are only a few dozen local men with some weapons and a leader.  Some militias have over a thousand armed men, heavy weapons and an agenda.  While some 5,000 militiamen have joined the new Libyan Army, nearly a hundred militias in Western Libya have formed their own separate organization.

Syria: Russia/China Relationship with Syria is “Incomprehensible and Inexcusable”

With yet another United Nations Security Council resolution blocked by the greed of Russia and China, government forces in Syria have begun to shell the central Syrian city of Homs, killing at least 50 people on Monday morning.

Russia and China Have Vetoed Another UNSC Resolution, Prolonging the Suffering of Syrian People

The uprising began with mostly peaceful protests against President Assad, but government forces responded with a fierce crackdown.  Now, army defectors and others are taking up arms to combat such tyranny, raising fears of civil war.  With Russia and China on the receiving end of Assad’s blood money trade, fears have grown that with such international protection from the UN, Assad will be emboldened to intensify repressive actions.  So saying, escalation in the battle has already been seen, as Assad has intensified shelling with a rate of one shell every two minutes.  On Saturday, Syrian forces were reported to have killed up to 200 people in Homs, the highest death toll since the uprising began.  The news of the perpetuating massacre comes after Syrians had observed for the first time in 30 years the anniversary of the massacre carried out in Hama in February 1982.  It is still regarded as one of the most gruesome events in Syria’s modern history.  Parallel to the current uprising, the 1982 massacre involved former President Hafiz al-Assad, who decimated most of the city of Hama with aerial bombings and tanks.  About 30,000 inhabitants were killed and a similar number of people were detained, tortured and many disappeared in while in prison.  Just like today’s Syria allies in the East, the 1982 event occurred under the cover of the Soviet Union.

“Clearly there is a tragedy in that country.  Russia and China are protecting a regime that is killing thousands of people.  We find their position both incomprehensible and inexcusable.  By supporting that regime, they are strengthening it and allowing it to continue with that violence.” – David Cameron, British Prime Minister

As in the past, the tension and disparity between the West and East is evident in the widening gap of relations illustrated in the past UNSC resolution vote.  The UN endorsed norm of ‘responsibility to protect’ mandates a collective response when states wage war on their own populations.  With China and Russia wielding veto powers though, the intransigence of diplomacy in the face of humanitarian genocide is evident.  Moreover, the Syrian regime seems to mock and taunt the UN’s notion of collective action with its brutal assault on the city of Homs just as the UN vote was taking place.  Regional and international hesitancy in dealing with Syria has prolonged the violence, as well as allowing Assad to practice military force without restraint.  In some perverse positive outlook though, the lack of international assistance has aided the Free Syrian Army in recruitment and its ascendancy is now a nearly foregone conclusion.  Nevertheless, the threat of both sides turning to greater force has increased because of Russia and China’s determination to delay any and all international responses to the travesty in Syria.

“We will work to expose those who are still funding the regime and sending it weapons that are used against defenseless Syrians, including women and children. we will work with friends of a democratic Syria around the world to support the oppositions peaceful political plans for change.” – Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State

China and Russia have drawn the wrath of the US, Europe and much of the Arab world for the weekend veto Protesters could be seen burning Russian and Chinese flags outside of the Russian embassy in Beirut, adding to the increasing numbers of voices demanding that they stop supporting the ongoing massacre. In an attempt to distill and reject such targeted demonstrations and criticisms, both Russia and China have tried to use ethical argument and moralistic diction to bolster their arguments behind vetoing the already watered-down UNSC resolution.  In reality, Syria is Moscow’s only major ally in the Middle East, as well as being home to Russian naval base and client for its lucrative arm sales.  China, on the other hand, has targeted western intervention in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, suggesting that the violence still eminent in those territories is evidence enough of the error of forced regime change.  China remains hiding behind its statement that it was not supporting one side and was taking a fair and neutral stance on the civil war in Syria; yet with a 2009 trade quota that was estimated at over $2 billion, the facade is incontestable.

“On the issue of Syria, China is not sheltering anyone nor do we intentionally oppose anyone.  We uphold justice and take a responsible attitude.” – Liu Weimin, Chinese Foreign Ministry

Among those most vocal was Hilary Clinton, a staunch supporter for diplomatic means to end the violence in the tumult that has become Syria.  With US sponsorship, supporters of a democratic Syria intent to create a formal group of like-minded countries to coordinate assistance for Syria’s opposition, similar to the Contact Group on Libya that oversaw international aid for opponents of Qaddafi. Though similar in that sense, the NATO military operations that were seen in Libya is something that is not envision in Syria.  Sadly, with Western pursuits lying rooted in diplomacy and long-winded negotiations, a ragtag army of perhaps 10,000 Syrian rebels must combat and deter an army that while, far from invincible, enjoys an overwhelming advantage in numbers, equipment and firepower.


State of the Union: Rise Against Interpretation

Following the context and tone of the previous blog on Capitalism, this blog pursues a more cynical outlook on the State of the Union address delivered by President Obama on 24th January, 2012.

Many readers have undoubtedly heard of the band known as Rise Against, becoming rather popular for songs such as “Ready to Fall” and “Re-Education Through Labor“.  So saying, much of the bands lyrics are targeted at the US government, environmental crisis, materialistic corruption and capitalism.  One such song, is known as “State of the Union“.  The endeavor of this blog is to interpret and fact-check the 2012 State of the Union address, pursuing a similar tone and cynicism expressed by Rise Against and, as said before, the blog on Capitalism.  In truth, the 2012 address was well written and delivered in a heartwarming, reassuring and charismatic speech.

“If we’re the flagship of peace and prosperity, we’re taking on water and about to fuckin’ sink.  No one seems to notice, no one even blinks.  The crew all left the passengers to die under the sea.” – State of the Union by Rise Against

As most State of the Union addresses, the text has been carefully detailed and though through by multiple secretaries behind multiple desks, ensuring that the current President will not embarrass himself, though this attempt seemed to have been forgotten in Bush’s “sixteen little words” on Iraq pursuing uranium in Niger.  That being said, this year’s address launched Obama’s his re-election year; putting further pressure on the tone, policies and charisma, as it needed to connected with Obama’s winning coalition.  This pursuit for Selectorate appeasement, manipulating public opinion through optimistic dialogue, is the purpose of political ambition theory.  Many, if not all, of the President’s decisions are based on public opinion, which has been rather volatile as of late due to political dysfunction and fiscal ineptitude.  For these reasons, President Obama pursued a speech to which the Selectorate could not easily find fault in; as he targeted his opposition, spoke of his administrative success, spoke of future job creation, new regulative punishment for corporations already hated by the populace and a revivification of the education system which has been neglected for too long.  Nevertheless, the general optimism and appeasing tone of his speech is evidence enough of his attempt to gild the problems and corrosion of America and its political infrastructure.

“Countdown to the very end.  Equality, an invitation that we won’t extend.  Ready aim, pull the trigger now.  In Time you firmly secure your place in hell.” State of the Union by Rise Against

The beginning of Obama’s address praises the US military, something the institution has had long in the coming.  Nonetheless, the Obama’s statement is comically reminiscent of the premature stating of ‘Mission Accomplished’ by Bush, as the supposed successful implementation of democracy in Iraq has been far from that.  Since the US departure, Iraq has descended into violence as the religious rift of its society threatens to engulf the sacrifices and efforts of the American military.  The government of Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki has targeted Sunni opposition figure, even arresting the Sunni political figure that was to be his political partner in the coalition government.  So saying, the sectarian violence seem to undermine the exhilaration of Obama’s pronounced achievement.  Moreover, the Taliban has not been broken, as Obama claimed; rather, the war in Afghanistan is mired in stalemate because of Taliban fighter operating from neighboring Pakistan.

“State of the Union address, reads war-torn country still a mess.  The words: power, death, and distorted truth are read between the lines of the red, white and blue” – State of the Union by Rise Against

Furthermore, Obama does attempt to endear himself by speaking of job creation during the last 22 months.  Most of the job-creation claims are rather debatable, given how every President is at the mercy of the business cycle.  As Obama noted, 4 million jobs were lost at the start of his administration but stating that another 4 million were lost before his policies were in full effect is a stretch.  This is because it took a full 9 months to run up 4 million in job losses, some 8 months after the stimulus was passed into law, and 4 months after many claimed that the recession had ended.  Any who claim that the recession has ended need only take a look at the growing state of disparity and depravity in the nation to understand that the recession has always been here, only some are able to ignore it with their Ferrari and private jet planes.

“Guilty is what our graves will read, no years, no family.  We did nothing to stop the murder of a people just like us” – State of the Union by Rise Against

Among Obama’s statements is the claim that American influence and foreign ties are stronger than ever, suggesting that the world is eager to work with the American people.  Obama’s statement does not include any cities in the Islamist world.  The Pew Research said in May that both the US favorability rating and confidence in Obama had fallen sharply since 2009.  In Turkey, a NATO ally, the confidence in Obama fell from 33% in 2009 to 11% in 2011.  In Jordan, another key ally, the favorability rating for the US fell from 25% in 2009 to 13% in 2011. So saying, US foreign policy has been rather successful in the aspect that Libya was able to usurp Qadhafi, Bin Laden is dead, and both Iran and Syria are facing more sanctions on a daily basis.  Nevertheless, the American people have become selfish and conniving, criticizing any humanitarian efforts that the democratic President aspires to take.  With millions starving around the world, with the Islamic people facing tanks and snipers for their attempts at democratization, the American people only concern themselves with materialism, a pursuit for immediate gratification, which can be blamed for the majority of the country’s problems.

Syria: Arab League Sanctions

The Arab League has approved economic sanctions against Syria after months of violent suppression of anti-government protests, marking an unprecedented and escalated step against the former Arab Member State.

Bashar al-Assad Stands as the Grim Reaper of the Anarchic Syria

With Syria on the brink of civil war, the tension and conflict within the region has exponentially intensified, as the Free Army heads its insurgents from its headquarters in Homs, using the border of Lebanon as a trade route for support and medical assistance.  Fueled by demand in Syria, the price for a black market Kalashnikov has gone up to $1,200 in Lebanon, evidently illustrating the significance and external influences the conflict is now causing in the Arab world. With the bloodshed of 8 months of conflict resulting in an estimated 3,500 casualties, the resistance movement against Bashar al-Assad has only deepened.  Syria’s government has maintained, almost since the start of the mass protests, that it was facing armed groups.  Coincidentally, after months of peaceful demonstrators being killed in the streets, the myth has become reality.

The Free Army, responsible for the armed resistance against security forces and army unites still loyal to al-Assad, has said that its objective is to protect civilians – especially the street protesters they believe will bring down the regime.  Despite widespread defections from loyalist forces, a whole unit has yet to change sides, depicting the element of brinkmanship that exists in the country.  The Free Amy leadership says that they need outside help from the West to bring that about.  Many are hoping for a no fly-zone, similar to those imposed by NATO on Libya, stating that such actions would be enough to decay the remaining pillars of support for the authoritarian regime.

“70% of the army are ready to defect.  Whole brigades with their officers; even the Special Forces.  But no battalion dares to move even 10 meters because they fear the Syria air force will attack.” – Walled al Abdullah, Lieutenant of the Free Army in Homs

Nevertheless, the cried for direct intervention by NATO or any Western power will go unanswered, as foreign powers are unwilling to risk casualties, the certain escalation of international tension and domestic resentment.  Rather, the European Union and the United States have involved themselves through economic sanctions.  Coupled with the newly approved sanctions by the Arab League, the sanctions have led to a travel ban against Syrian officials and politicians, a halt to all dealing with the Syria central bank and cessation of Arab-financed projects, all of which will be another tough blow to the already struggling Syrian economy.

In conjunction, the recent intensification of Arab League intervention has come after decades of irrelevance, reflecting the ossified politics of most of its members.  In early November 2011, the Syrian government accepted a plan brokered by the League to halt its violent suppression of demonstrators and convene talks with the opposition.  Nonetheless, the al-Assad regime launched a bloody assault to retake Homs.  Since this supposed period of detente, that only serve to exacerbate the conflict, Human Rights Watch has approximated an additional 104 casualties in the Homs area alone.  In response, on November 12th, the League voted to supposed Syria’s membership, targeting al-Assad’s clear breach of the agreement to stop the violent repression of demonstrators, the League further promised political and economic sanctions if al-Assad did not comply.  The moved served more so a symbolic purpose, as the Syria regime has long prided itself on bring an axis of Arab politics and a proponent of Arab unity.  Lastly, the approved sanction, effective immediately, have come after Syria’s refusal to admit international monitors in Syria to determine whether it was abiding by the league-brokered peace plan.

“The position of the people, and the Arab position, is that we must end this situation urgently.  It has almost been a year that the Syria people have been killed.” – Hamad bin Jassem, Qatari Foreign Minister

The Arab League resolution, also calls to the United Nations Security Council to adopt similar measures.  Consequently, the UNSC will remain ineffective due to the power of China and Russia.  As seen in the past blog (Syria: Failure of the UNSC), the trade routes between these countries mark a profit margin that neither would relinquish willingly.  Moreover, the move by Russia to have 3 of its warships enter Syria territorial waters to prevent US military interference mark the Russian intentions to ensure its interests are protected in Syria.  There are over 100,000 Russia citizens in Syria and Russia has used this presence to explain the supposedly obligatory measures to protect its citizens in Syria from any sort of military aggression by the US.

Furthermore, the power keg that is Syria will be an area of large international tension and conflict as the Obama presidency has taken a concentrated focus on the issues of the Middle East, escalating sanctions against Syria and Iran, both trade partner of Russia, as well as having intervened directly in Libya.  In the region there already exists the US nuclear aircraft carrier HW Bush, as well as a compliment of supporting ships, part of a carrier battle group, that includes support ships and frigates that provide unmatched fire power and force projection capabilities.  It is unclear what will happen if the US decides to start bombing targets in Syria but with intensified relations between the US and Russia, it could be seen as an attack against Russian citizens living in that country.

In retrospect, the movement within and without of Syria does not mark the trend seen in Libya, in which progressive actions were taken to institute a final objective of reform.  Instead, the violence and weak infrastructure that continues to be undermined by sanctions will result in anarchistic destruction, rather than reform.  Moreover, the international tension that is beginning to surmount because of the geopolitical situation, the destruction could also result a shift in the balance of power in which Russia and Iran will see Syria’s demise as a result of Western interference, vindicating some sort of counter offensive of political, fiscal and military means.