Tag Archives: Obama

Iranian nuclear deal: the clock of ISIS and its root, Wahhabism, have the “minutes counted” (i.e. few hours of life)

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The consequences of bringing back Iran to the international community after 35 years cannot be foreseen right now. Israel and Saudi Arabia are not afraid of an Iranian bomb, but of a new leader in the Middle East apart themselves. If the right wing regime of Netanyahu in Israel and the Saudi regime in Saudi Arabia could become in the last decades more and more extreme in their philosophy and actions, it is because they could use the external ‘enemy’ as a factor of social cohesion. And because their possible rivals on the geopolitical chess were weak. It is the divide et impera, ‘divide and rule’ philosophy of the Roman Empire, that made the complexity of the region of the Middle East anarchic, chaotic and never able to integrate itself, since at least one hundred years, since the end of the Ottoman Empire. But these divisions sooner or later will have to give space to some alliances and unions, and the region one day will be united as Europe today. That day people will remember the 2015 as the start of the end of the chaos in the Middle East. It seems a far stretch now but if we deeply think and analyze the history and the politics of that region it doesn’t seem so impossible.

Diplomacy is back in the international relations, after decades of power politics, and this not only with Iran, but with Russia and Cuba too. Also for us, the political scientists, a new paradigm, more European than North American, might start to see the light in the international relations theory: mediations and negotiations as the only solutions to security dilemmas, anarchic system and mistrusting realist views. In particular two non-Arab countries of the Middle East could play a fundamental role for the stabilization and development of the area. In the future regional order of the Middle East Iran could be what Germany has been for Europe, the engine, and Turkey what France has been, the torch. When Iran and Turkey will finally understand that supporting each other is better than competing, that will create the leadership that the Middle East desperately need since one century. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries sooner or later will have to understand that their role is the bridge between Maghreb and Southwest Asia, the region to which they belong historically, geographically and ontologically, is not the Levant but North Africa. It is with their Arab brothers that they have to find a new Renaissance, starting with a renovated Arab League, a new economic integration and a new approach between religion and politics, instead of looking for spheres of influence in the Levant fighting with their competitors, in the Shia crescent.

At the domestic level they need to overcome the fixation in the Shari’atization of civic life and public policy and understand that democracy and emancipation is a natural development of human empowerment. They have good example in the Maghreb to follow, first of all Tunisia, but also Morocco. When the education and the globalization will increase in Gulf countries, together with the end of the oil blessing, on which bases the monarchies maintained their societies backwards, also the Saudis will have to find other ways for their legitimization respect to the Wahhabi sect. And some good Iranian military blow in the next few years (not nuclear fortunately since today) against the Salafist terrorism and may be also the countries backing it, will accelerate the process. But Saudi Arabia will do its process of democratization gradually, as Turkey and Iran already did one century ago. And even if Iranian people have been imprisoned by a religious and military elite that betrayed the ideals of the 1979 revolution (as everyone who hijack the revolutions, since the Bolshevik one in 1917 to the Arab Spring in 2011) also Iran will soon go towards a more modern democracy, as the cold war is ended and the Ayatollah regime finally starts to be out of touch with the contemporary world and with his people. That will be the moment in which also Israel will feel more safe. Today is the starting of this process. As the welcome back of China in 1979 after 30 years contributed to the stability in Asia, the new Iranian rapprochement will be a fundamental element for the stability in the Middle East in the XXI century.

ISIS and the rest of Jihadists will make more blood unfortunately, like yesterday with the poor students of the college in Kenya, but when the need of money, the request of weapons and the thirst of power will not be satisfied anymore, also the Jihadist threat to the world will be erased, as it has been done with the Soviet one. Iran will have its role in this, militarily and culturally, together with Turkey, when both countries will have walked also on their path to empower their democracies, going back to the ideals that at the beginning of XX century inspired their Constitutional revolutions. But for today we need to celebrate and be enthusiast, as the Iranian people on the streets. The prodigal son is back for this Good Friday. I am happy for Iran, for Israel and for the Middle East. I am happy also for China, Russia, the US and Europe, that learned to cooperate and mediate. I am happy that the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy today is an Italian diplomat, Federica Mogherini. Remembering how Berlusconi stupidly refused 10 years ago the Iranian offer to participate to the negotiation. And I am happy that Obama will not be remembered only because of being black. The American Congress will have to learn to be more humble in these last years of his mandate. The Norwegian Noble Committee had been farsighted as usual.

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Obama and Bergoglio: the project for a new American century (to not be confused with PNAC) starting with Cuba

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The rapprochement between US and Cuba could have much stronger consequences than what we can think today.

After 13 years since Bush’s Axis of Evil North Korea remained the only “evil” in the world (at least until Kim Jong-un will be alive in a way or another): Iraq, Syria and Libya are failed states in the chaos of Middle East, Iran is tamed and Cuba is back in business. The last Obama’s action in foreign policy did what Carter could not do in his time even if he tried hard, as the times were not ripe yet (1). Obama realized finally the long overdue détente with Cuba, after starting the one with Iran last year. The ‘war on terror’ that started with ‘old style’ American wars can be said to be evolved with ‘new style’ American alliances, making the US living up again to its values and trying to integrate states that in a globalized world cannot be left out. The US can still lead the world but only with the example, the soft power, not with the coercion of the hard power, and not alone anymore. Obama will probably be remembered as the first President to start this new strategy.

As George Friedman, together with other geopolitical strategists, argues (2), America is the continent out of the two big land masses of the Planet Earth that have the advantage of having access to the two oceans, and this give to the countries of North America the leverage that no other country in the world, neither China, have: the possibility of trade with the big land mass, “Eurafricasia”, on both sides, the Eastern and the Western one. The world economy will be guided mostly by who has the control of the trade and so of the seas, and the US is the first candidate in this (followed by Mexico, that according to Friedman will also become an important force on the geopolitical stage). Therefore the Western Hemisphere, or if you want the Americas (as Obama said: ‘todos somos Americanos’) will be the crucial continent in the future world if will be able to become united. Otherwise China, if able to united at least economically the Eurasian continent, with its population and its ability to project long visionary policies because of not having the burden of dealing with government changes, will represent the future leader.

After almost two centuries since the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine, it is time for the US to not only avoid a foreign power to extend its influence in the Hemisphere (like they did with the Soviet Union in Cuba) but also to avoid its impositions on the continent (as it did in the past with the support to authoritarian regimes) and instead allow its natural integration through dialogue and cooperation. Cuba could be one of the most important countries for this strategy, as it was for the strategy of isolating the Communist menace: this small country, with 11 million inhabitants, plays a fundamental role in the geopolitical bridge between North and South America and also in the collective imagination of America and the entire world. It is the country of Che Guevara myth and Castro strength, the country that stood against the capitalist giant, resisted with an alternative development to capitalism and could survive for almost six decades without failing or imploding as even the Soviet Union did. To reintegrate a country like Cuba it means much more than just a rapprochement, it means the possibility of reintegrate all the countries of the Western Hemisphere in the US economic might, with a new approach based on dialogue and soft power.

Nevertheless we could not understand deeply the consequences of this act, that after 55 years transforms two enemies if not in friends yet at least in non-enemies anymore, if we don’t analyze the role of the Pope Francis and of the Catholic Church in this new American integration and consequent influence in the construction of a new world order. As Pope John Paul II was crucial in the process of undermining the grip on the stronghold of Soviet world, Eastern Europe, helping the implosion of Soviet Union, Pope Francis could be crucial to include the Latin America ‘third way’ of social state in a new America, that would become a continent of prosperity for the XXI century. Pope Francis is the pope of the poor and the marginalized, the religious version of the Cuban revolutionary ideals and therefore Cuba accepted his intercession in order to avoid to abandon itself completely in the hands of the “Empire”. Pope Francis is the pope that could allow the US to talk again also with the countries of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua) that are proposing an alternative development to the one of Western capitalism. If “Eurafricasia”, at least in its Western side, is experiencing a new relation with Islam, struggling at its interior between the crimes of the religious terrorism and the potentialities of political Islam, the Americas could experience a new dawn, with Christian values as the ethical glue for a new economic and political development, more just and equal for all, and a new converged leadership, more shared and inclusive for the rest of the world.

New and evolved forms of capitalism and democracy is what the West needs today, we are not at the end of history for the world but at the beginning of it. Future will say but if Middle Eastern people are feeling humiliation, Europeans fear and Asians hope, as an interesting book of Moisi argues (3), Americans could feel soon a new trust and optimism in their possibilities, a trust that will be fundamental for their future evolution and the one of the world. This century, instead of an Asian one as many are expecting, could be a new American century, but in the real term of America, the whole Western Hemisphere, and in the real values of America, the ones of justice, pluralism and tolerance.

1) Carter played a role behind the scene in this rapprochement between the US and Cuba, being the only ex President of the US to have visited Cuba twice, last time 3 years ago (See: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2011/0330/In-rare-visit-with-Castro-Jimmy-Carter-attempts-to-restart-US-Cuba-relations)

2) George Friedman, The Next 100 Years. A Forecast for the 21st Century, Doubleday, 2009

3) Dominique Moisi, The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World, Anchor, 2010.

Jacksonian American tradition: how much realism still guide American foreign policy?

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To understand American foreign policy we need to look back to the foundation of American identity and its “Jacksonian tradition”. To do it I will analyze here an interesting article written by Walt Russell Mead, professor at Bard College and editor of The American Interest, written 15 years ago but still useful today.

“An observer who thinks of American foreign policy only in terms of the commercial realism of the Hamiltonians, the crusading moralism of Wilsonian transcendentalists, and the supple pacifism of the principled but slippery Jeffersonians would be at a loss to account for American ruthlessness at war” wrote Mead in that article. So we need to understand Jacksonians values if we want to grasp the nucleus of American foreign policy (and also the identity of people like Robert Kagan) based essentially on realist theory of international relations and war “as continuation of politics by other means”, as Clausewitz said.
Jacksonian values are based on honor, self-reliance and hard work, equality, respect of individualism without judgment, financial esprit (credit and borrowed money is for self-discovery and expression) and courage. Plus Jacksonians people care as passionately about the Second Amendment (right to bear arms) as Jeffersonians do about the First (freedom of speech and religion). They don’t like federal power, they are anti-elitists (we could say ‘populists’) skeptical about do-gooding at home and abroad and they oppose federal taxes but favor benefits helping their middle class such as Social Security and Medicare. They believe that “while problems are complicated, solutions are simple” and in practically they believe in the triad “God, family and country” as many other nations in the world. The problem is that in American history these principles applied only in a ‘Jacksonian society’ from which many minorities were excluded, from African-American to Asians, Latinos or Indians, creating economic and social discrimination that today are even more present.
But from where the Jacksonian identity came from? It was rooted in American identity much before Jackson presidency, even if it takes the name from the 7th President of the US.  Actually while Jeffersonian is the American book-ideology based on Enlightenment (and so based on French-Italian-Mitteleuropean traditions) the US Jacksonian is the American folk-ideology, based on a ‘community identity’ of the first “Scot-Irish” settlers here in Virginia 400 years ago, as Mead says, “hardy and warlike people, with a culture and outlook formed by centuries of bitter warfare” (1). Also David Hackett Fischer, famous historian (Albion’ Seed, 1989), argued that the first settlers brought to America five features still present today: democratic politics, capitalist economy, libertarian laws, individualist society and pluralistic culture. But how come the first settlers could influence so much the American identity? The problem is that, as Mead explains very well, Jacksonian culture spread beyond its original ethnic limits and it “Americanized” immigrants in the centuries, more than the opposite way around. Also because the nation state concept, with its political, economic, judicial and educational institutions, make the new citizens to abide by the same rules and principles of the older ones. At the end of the day the motto of America was and remains “e pluribus unum”, from many one, so pluralistic culture but homologated, not the European “in varietate concordia”, united in diversity. The Manifest Destiny made the rest: American settlers were destined to expand throughout the continent and possibly the world because of the special virtues of American people. Exceptionalism at its best and the risk of imperialism was already there.

But is today still useful to look back to the “God, family and country” concept of the first settlers and to the Jacsonian tradition in the construction of our future global world? For Mead it seems yes. Jacksonian politics are poorly understood and rejected abroad as well as often at home too, as too hawkish, but without them the US would be a much weaker power. Plus in foreign policy Jacksonians support democracy, even if they don’t trust governments, they don’t know much about the world and sometimes (as some Tea party representatives) they are proud of their ignorance as well as of not having a passport. They are instinctive and pessimist, the world out there is “nasty and brutish” and we need to defend us and our national interest, following realist concepts: power and anarchy, not institutions or shared values, is what count in the world. So America is trapped, as Mead asserts: “the US cannot wage a major international war without Jacksonian support; once engaged, politicians cannot safely end the war except on Jacksonian terms”, that are complete victory. But this is the indispensable element to American strength according to Mead, as without winning wars the US could have not applied the Wilsonian, Jeffersonian and Hamiltonians principles of democracy and freedom to the world. Well, that might have been true last century, in particular in the world wars, but today, in a multilateral, globalized, complex and convergent world, with the Eastern rise and Western decline, with new paradigms to explain reality and new global threats for the planet, is really Jacksonian identity instead of diplomacy and cooperation the indispensable approach for the future of world order? I doubt it. Another famous realist American author and political commentator, Charles Krauthammer, trying to understand how to manage unipolarism after 9/11, in a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute in February 2004, also argued that there are three contending schools in American foreign policy (isolationism, liberal internationalism and realism) but the best US foreign policy, would be a forth one: a “democratic realism”, that support democracy everywhere but intervene militarily only in places where there is a strategic necessity for national interest (for example against Arab-Islamic terrorism). Recently, regarding ISIS, Krauthammer declared that this is a global “ideological war” that reaches into many nations because of its roots in the Muslim religion, re-proposing again the concept of “clash of civilizations” (2).
Actually it would seem that today the Obama administration is still following the Jacksonian values and the “democratic realist” approach with his new intervention in the Middle East. But if we listen carefully to the Obama speech at the UN General Assembly, on the 24th of September 2014, maybe we would think differently. Obama said that the strategy to fight sectarianism and terrorism should be based not only on intervention to destroy ISIS but on 3 more points: first Muslim communities around the world should “explicitly, forcefully, and consistently” reject the ideology of ISIS and extremism, second we should address the cycle of conflict in Middle East through mediation and negotiation, to address differences directly, honestly, and peacefully, rather than through gun-wielding proxies, and finally we should focus on the potential of the local people through empowerment of youth and women. So it seems to me that realism today is good just as an emergency tool, for when it comes the moment to remove the rotten apple and the arrogant dictator. For the rest, let’s leave foreign policy to who knows about diplomacy, to who wants to build the future and not look constantly to the past: our globalized world need leadership for multilateralism and cooperation, not balancing or power politics. To say it again with Obama: “the central question of our global age is whether we will solve our problems together, in a spirit of mutual interests and mutual respect, or whether we descend into destructive rivalries of the past. On issue after issue, we cannot rely on a rule-book written for a different century”. Pure realism should have his days numbered if we want to maintain human life on this planet, otherwise what we will have built will be countries armed ones against the other not waging war only because of the threat of nuclear holocaust.

1) Quite ‘warlike people’ if we look at how warfare changed since the “conquer of America” by them. See the Mystic Massacre of 1637 to understand the different approaches to war between Anglo-Saxons and Indian Americans

2) http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/ISIS-War-airstrikes-worldwide/2014/09/23/id/596403/

The “West” and the Growing ISIS Threat

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From a dear friend and ex colleague at Carter Center an interesting article on ISIS and Middle East situation

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has caused the Western world to shiver with news of the Sunni militant group’s execution and persecution of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities. In addition, the recently released video of a British rapper turned violent Jihadi beheading American reporter James Foley has augmented American fears toward the Islamist groups growing control of northern Iraq and eastern Syria. During the past couple of weeks, American media outlets such as Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have been beating the war drum in order to enable President Barack Obama to prevent ISIS from attaining more territory in the troubled region by deploying American troops, stepping up airstrikes in Iraq, and directing airstrikes in ISIS controlled eastern Syria.

Let’s take a step back and ponder how the media has been able to lure criticism of Obama in regards to this growing ISIS threat. Perhaps the answer could be the media’s obsession of constantly showing glimpses of Foley’s execution video in order to instill fear into the American public, so Congress and other executive departments could justify an entanglement in Syria and Iraq in front of a war weary American public. Anybody remember the execution video of Nick Berg back in 2004 when Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi, beheaded the innocent American? Western media, and other countries participating in the Iraqi invasion, incessantly showed the video on television to strike fear into the hearts and minds of Americans in order for the US and its allies to continue the souring Iraqi occupation. In this case, the same tactic is being utilized, and no media outlet seems to bring up the Berg execution video’s success of intimidating many Westerners into continuing their support for the 2003 invasion.

If ISIS has been able to grab vast amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria is because the territory just so happens to be settled by marginalized Sunni Muslims that are looking for a separation from Iranian and Western influence in their countries’ governments. Furthermore, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s brutal attack on Sunni moderates and intellectuals during Syria’s revolution has enabled the country’s Sunni population to adopt radical allegiances; especially among lower socio-economic Sunni populations in eastern Syria. The same can be said for former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s pro-Shiite/Iranian policies and former President Jalal Talabani pro-Western/Kurdish government portrayal that has oppressed Iraq’s Sunni Arab population.

Essentially, a possible answer to the ISIS threat is not American muscle, but rather American logistics to organize and support a moderate Sunni Arab coalition to combat ISIS while assisting and advising Iraq and Syria to install all-inclusive/moderate governments because of the militant group’s growing strength stemming from Iraq and Syria’s dysfunctional government institutions. Most importantly to note, the remainder of Iraq’s military in conjunction with Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and even Morocco have been receiving American military aid and equipment since the 1940s due to constructed treaties for mutual benefits, so the notion of these regional players not being able to do anything about ISIS is absolutely nonsense. Egypt and the UAE recently coordinated aerial attacks on militants in Libya that are threatening stability in North Africa and OPEC’s interests which leads me to question why these countries cannot conduct a broader assault on ISIS. The West, Iran, and Israel cannot combat the ISIS threat alone because well, individuals are joining ISIS due to these three factions’ controversial hegemony in the region for religious and political reasons.

Hence, the answer lies within the US’ organizational abilities to create a coalition of moderate Sunni Arab countries that perceive radical Islam as a threat to global order and their own government’s legitimacy. The example of George H.W. Bush’s coalition against Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Storm back in 1990 is a sufficient example of gathering moderate Sunni Arab countries together while utilizing Western logistic and military support to oust a threatening government from having detrimental control of the world’s oil supplies. The ongoing lethargic and sluggish actions taken by the Obama administration could hinder building this coalition, or this could be a part of a regional game for the US to team up with the Assad regime to hit ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq in terms of pleasing Iran and Russia for an Iranian nuclear deal. Unless Obama carries out a foreign policy victory in regards to the Iranian nuclear deal, or defeating ISIS, the American public will deem Obama’s second term foreign policy agenda as a failure.

(Jowi Asmar is a final year student at the University of Nevada, Reno, double majoring in Political Science and International Affairs with an emphasis in Diplomacy)