Tag Archives: Libya

The Syrian Conflict: Time to Start Thinking Outside the Box

As the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n end to the violence and conflict in Syria is not in sight, far from it. The UN estimates that around 100,000 have died in the conflict so far and the number is set to rise as both the Assad regime and the rebel movement refuse to end the bloodshed. Many suggestions have been put forward which aim to bring an end to what has been the bloodiest out of all the Arab Spring uprisings. Some believe that arming the rebels is the answer. The supporters of this claim are the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the French President Francois Hollande and the USA. Russia, on the other hand, has put forward a diplomatic solution which aims to bring both sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table. Britain, France and the USA favour a diplomatic solution as well, however they claim that Assad will never join the negotiations when he is winning on the ground, thus the need to arm the rebels to create a stale-mate.

However in this article I will argue that both of the above proposals are unlikely to reap any substantial results and therefore out of the box thinking is required.

An argument against arming the rebels

There seems to be a consensus among many, that if President Assad was removed from power, Syria would go back to normality and a start of a new and bright era could begin. However, such a view is obscured by a shallow thinking: Assad is bad, rebels are good. Over the last few months, such a view has suffered a great dent, due to the grotesque and vile actions by some of the rebels- atrocities against the Syrian minorities, such as Christians, inhumane treatment of enemy soldiers, harsh treatment of civilians in rebel held areas, among other despicable incidents. Some argue that these actions are only committed by an extremist minority who do not represent a more liberal faction fighting Assad.

Such a claim in itself provides two reasons for why arming the rebels would not work. Firstly the claim correctly points out the fact that the rebel movement is deeply fractured. There is a civil war, in the civil war. There have been many reports of rebel groups fighting each other and murdering fellow generals. Secondly, this leads to the natural conclusion that if Assad were to fall right now, the conflict in Syria would not end. It would simply shift from rebels fighting Assad and fighting each other, to rebels fighting each other to a greater extent. If weapons were provided to the opposition, these would eventually be used to kill fellow opposition groups, thus leading to more bloodshed. Even if the Arab Spring in Syria began with Syrians wanting more democracy and freedom, right now the conflict has become a sectarian and religious war, between Shias, Sunnis and hardened Islamists. Iraq should be the perfect example of how getting rid of a dictator for its own sake does not lead to positive results. Despite over 10 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is still plagued by sectarian violence, almost on a daily basis. Syria is even more diverse than Iraq, therefore there is a grave possibility that the violence would be enhanced.

Further reason to doubt the appeal of arming the rebels are claims that the people living in rebel held areas are deeply dissatisfied with the opposition movement, mainly due to the implementation of strict Sharia laws, which the majority of Syrians are not in favour of. Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that, if these rebels were to win, they would initiate mass atrocities against Assad supporters as part of their revenge. This has happened in Libya after the fall of Qaddafi.

Diplomacy as an end in itself is unlikely to work

Undoubtedly supporting Assad in this conflict would also be unthinkable, given the scale of destruction and deaths that have endured over his watch. For this reason some suggested that negotiations ought to take place where both sides agree to a ceasefire and a transitional government, eventually leading to proper democratic elections where the Syrian people will be able to decide how and who should govern the country. In principle this is a viable idea, certainly more so than the plan to arm the rebels. In practise, diplomacy is unlikely to work, since the rebels and their Western backers have set a pre-condition that Assad should step down. Understandably Assad and his support will never agree to such a condition, firstly because he is winning on the ground, and secondly because the rebels and the West have no political legitimacy to ask him for such a move.  Only the Syrian people have the legitimacy to remove their current leader, yet, as well documented, many Syrians continue to support Assad. To have a legitimate transitional government and legitimate future elections, Assad has to be a part of them, to allow the people the chance to once and for all decide whether they want Assad in or out. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the opposition will agree to this move, therefore breaking down any prospective positive outcomes from negotiations

Partition Syria

Unless either the West or Russia decide to end the conflict with a comprehensive victory for their respective sides (a move which is unlikely to occur), the stalemate between Assad and the rebels looks to continue. There is a dangerous possibility that Syria may turn into a new Afghanistan and Iraq, with violence and bloodshed continuing for decades. To prevent such an outcome, Syria may have to be partitioned into some parts that will be governed by Assad, and other parts governed by certain factions of the opposition. For now, Assad will never agree to such a plan when he is winning on the ground, when Russia continues to show undisputed support and when the West is so indecisive. Even if Assad were to win the civil war (which is unlikely as it is hard to see the Western powers allowing this to happen), the extremist rebels would continue to cause a nuisance as they would continue to receive financial and military support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Partitioning Syria would look similar to the Russia and Chechnya situation, where technically Chechnya is part of Russia, but has a status of a republic and some limited independence, with their own leader.

Heavy negotiations would need to take place among the Syrian players to arrive at a common outcome and nobody is suggesting that this would be a simple procedure. However, as the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.

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Photo Credit: World Shia Forum

Corruption Threatens Libya’s Democratic Gains

Nothing could indicate a stronger commitment to fighting corruption and illegal practices than a comprehensive reform of Libya’s oil sector. Not only promoting an image of ‘responsible governance’, but improving the trust of Libyans in their nascent democratic institutions.

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This week, the Libyan Justice Minister Salah Margani urged the Attorney General to release the newspaper editor Amara Abdalla Al-Khatabi who had been arrested on the 19/12/2012 following the publication of a list containing the names of 84 allegedly corrupt judges.

Corruption is neither new phenomenon to Libya, nor unique to the country. However, comparing Libya to the rest of the world paints a grim picture. NATO estimated that Gaddafi and his associates had around $150 billion stashed abroad. In 2012, Libya ranked 160th amongst the 176 countries covered by Transparency International’s authoritative Corruption Perception Index. An improvement from the previous year (2011: 168/176), but still classifying Libya as a highly corrupt country.

The scourge of corruption has long been identified as a major problem by the new regime. As the leader of the National Transition Council (NTC), Mustapha Abdul Jalil had acknowledged in that it would take years to overcome the “heavy heritage’ of corruption in Libya. Yet, allegations of corruptions surfaced during the turbulent period of NTC rule.

Two scandals emerged in 2012, surrounding funds set up to compensate revolutionary fighters and their medical treatment abroad. Both funds were eventually halted due to widespread misuse and fraud.  Commenting on the  medical-fund scandal, former Interim Health Minister Fatima Hamroush clarified the prevailing attitudes succinctly when she said: “there was a fear from a dictator and that’s why order was kept without law basically. Law wasn’t applied, but there was order. Now there’s no order, everything’s a mess because there’s no fear”.

The scandals draw attention to two issues concerning corruption in Libya. Firstly, they point to the authorities’ ineptness in curtailing corruption. Secondly, they highlight the prevalence of a ‘culture of corruption’. The head of Libya’s Audit Bureau Ibrahim Belkheir acknowledged the widespread nature of the problem amongst Libyans:  As they are so used to it, it does not seem to be corruption to them.”

While it is worth noting that this was a turbulent time for the country, the issue of corruption and governmental will (or lack thereof) to tackle it remains in the headlines. On 18/01/2013 Prime Minister Ali Zeidan announced a number of measures taken by his administration to fight corruption. These included close cooperation with the Audit Bureau, the establishment of a central bidding committee to ensure transparency in contract awards, enlisting the help of the secret service in investigations, and new measures to prevent irregular recruitment of government employees. He also urged the Libyan people to play their part and to report those who violate the law.

Zeidan’s government appears committed to curbing corruption, at least on the surface. The Prime Minister’s 23/02/2013 surprise announcement about the sacking of a number of government officials allegedly involved in corruption. Details and names have yet to emerge, but Zeidan did stress that he “will not allow the misuse of public funds and I will take the strongest procedures against corruption”. Due to the lack of details or subsequent action, the statement should be seen as more than populist rhetoric. It should interpret as a warning addressed to all officials including those under investigations. Zeidan’s words have yet to turn to action as a recent whistle-blower case indicates.

The government seems unable or unwilling to address public accounts of alleged corruption. The deputy minister of Culture and Civil Society, Ms. Awatif al-Tushani, announced her resignation on 07/02/2013 citing alleged financial and administrative irregularities in the ministry. She claims to have raised such issues to the Prime Minister, but no action was taken. Furthermore, reports indicate that she was forced to resign and that her stand against dishonest practices at the ministry made her a target for personal harassment.

A more comprehensive approach needs to be taken by the Libyan Government. The International anti-corruption group Global Witness says that the new government should learn from the previous regime’s practices and implement reforms in Libya’s oil and gas sector. The strategic importance of the sector and the prevalence of shady practices in the industry make this the most important area for reform the new government.

Global Witness’ ‘blueprint for reforms’ (2012) should provide sufficient guidance to prevent large-scale corruption in the new Libya. Their recommendations include the promotion of transparency through the publication of all existing and future oil contracts, to work with international audit organisations to improve accounting and auditing practice within the National Oil Company so that revenues can be accurately measured and reported on. Furthermore, real commitment to transparency should be enshrined into Libya’s new constitution, and all current and future contracts should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

Nothing could indicate a stronger commitment to fighting corruption and illegal practices than a comprehensive reform in the oil sector. Such actions would not only promote an image of ‘responsible governance’, but would improve the trust of Libyans in their nascent democratic institutions. It would also facilitate a change in the entrenched attitudes about corruption at both the institutional and individual levels.

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The European Union’s Short Legs

European defence ministers need to take a dispassionate look at what capabilities are duplicated by maintaining 26 separate national defence industries and consolidate appropriately.

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In a recent article in the Financial Times Philip Stephens argued that Europeans had discovered interventionism just as Americans were setting the idea aside. This came after the French air and ground campaign in Mali and the NATO air war in Libya. A similar line may be emerging on Syria, with the British and French leaders’ statements this week.

Aside from the Tigers and Typhoons, however, the most recent European interventions have had an Atlantic accent. In Mali the British provided a pair of C-17 transports; the Canadians lent another. But the majority of logistic support came from the United States.   The US Air Force used a wing of C-17s to transport most of the 3e Brigade Mécanisée to Bamako.  While US Africa Command spokesmen were publicly diplomatic, the Department of Defence privately intended to send the bill to Paris (the plans to charge the Élysée were quietly dropped). The US Air Force later agreed to a request to provide aerial tankers to support French combat aircraft.

In Libya, the Obama administration settled on the approach of “leading from behind“. At the outset of the war, US air power and precision strike destroyed Libyan air defences in short order. As later in Mali, US forces helped NATO allies carry out their campaign against ground targets mainly without direct combat contributions. But classing Libya as a model for European power projection would be incorrect. In its attempt to avoid civilian casualties, NATO used only precision-guided munitions. This caused severe problems for the contributing European air forces: Denmark ran out, and others ran low. The US had to resupply these allies from its stocks. The USAF and Navy continued to fly around a quarter of all missions, contributing the majority of surveillance, electronic warfare, and – as in Mali – refuelling.

These are not combat capabilities. But they are vital enablers of combat capabilities. In 2011, the US secretary of defence Robert Gates was caustic about the abilities of NATO members to sustain operations without the US.

The IISS Military Balance, updated this week, includes a section on comparative defence statistics. This presents the inventories of the UN Security Council permanent members and India for several categories of military equipment: force projection, manoeuvre, and so on. Aside from the unsubtle observation of the extent to which the US is quantitatively dominant, it is useful to look at how blocks of forces are distributed in each country. Table 1 presents some of these statistics for the UK and France combined and the US.

Table 1: Selected projection and ISTAR forces, UK/France and US
 

Heavy/medium transport

Tanker and multi- role  tanker/ transport

AWACS

Combat aircraft †

UK & France

78

49

13

497

US

790

528

104

3232

Source: IISS Military Balance 2013
† Includes both ground attack and air supremacy aircraft.US figure includes fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft.
 

In these logistics and support categories, the US maintains forces roughly ten times larger than the UK and France combined. The exception is in combat aircraft, where the UK and France have more than would be expected. The UK and France have a gap in the ratio of tankers to fighters compared to the US. The ratio for the US is just over six fighters per tanker, while just over ten British and French planes rely on each tanker.

That France in Mali and NATO in Libya had to rely on the US to support their air operations, both times in countries a handful of hours flight time away, is an indication of how far Europe as a continent is from being able to project force. If Mr Stephens in the FT was right and Libya and Mali are steps toward more joint European interventions, these gaps must be plugged. Given the continent’s sluggard economy, the idea that more money will be available to do so is unlikely. It would be better for European defence ministers to take a dispassionate look at what capabilities are duplicated by maintaining 26 separate national defence industries and consolidate appropriately. The collapse of the BAE and EADS merger in 2012 showed how difficult that will be.

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Mali: Intervention, Invasion, and Invention

Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Ten years since the West’s intervention in Iraq and in the midst of a new French and British presence in Mali, it is right to emphasise that failing to appreciate the complexities of any international conflict is always costly. Deciding whether or not to commit to military intervention requires extensive deliberation and patience. Whatever one decides, there must be no doubt as to the seriousness of the implications, no question as to the responsibilities assumed as a consequence. Interventionists are often urged to keep these warnings in mind before they choose to support a foreign military conflict, but it should be remembered that this counsel must also apply to those opposed to intervention.

Not long after the French intervention in Mali, a number of voices on the left denounced what they saw as a provocative invitation to Islamist violence and a failure to learn from the West’s intervention in Iraq ten years ago. However, it is arguably these voices that appear to be repeating past mistakes. Opposition to the Iraq War, while vociferous, never received the scrutiny and interrogation it truly deserved, and since it so frequently characterised itself solely in terms of what it was against, it is crucial to keep in mind what the anti-war movement was for.

Broadly speaking, we can infer that many of those opposed to the Iraq war would have preferred the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s rule over Western intervention. There was little and remains little to suggest that his regime could have been toppled from within the country, and in any case, this was not a hope articulated by some within the anti-war movement at the time. In particular, we should note that George Galloway, one of the most prominent members of the Stop the War Coalition, openly praised the dictator and the operations of insurgent forces in Iraq. The Stop the War Coalition’s erroneous unease around efforts to thwart fascism in Iraq and elsewhere have been disappointing, but by failing to offer a credible approach to the tangible dangers of the Islamist influence in Mali, some are perpetuating the notion that to be anti-war is to abdicate responsibility for the consequences of non-intervention. The impact of intervention is important and deserves continuous scrutiny, because this impact is severe and often bloody, but the potentially destructive impact of inaction in the face of the dangers present in Mali are not receiving the attention they deserve.

It would be in error to say that alternatives to intervention do not exist. Here at The Risky Shift, Alex Clackson has identified a number of suggestions, including the provision of development aid and increased support for domestic governments. However, a deeper misunderstanding often characterises opposition to intervention. There is a tendency among many, particularly on the left to locate intervention by the West in general and, in the case of Mali, France and Britain in particular, in a neo-imperialistic/colonialist narrative. Journalist John Pilger has gone so far as to say that ‘A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way,’ which he compares to the Scramble for Africa of the nineteenth century. This is a limited and ultimately ahistorical view of the kind of Western intervention we have seen in the region.

The sovereignty of Mali is not under threat from ‘the West’ but from several Islamist groups including Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), both of which demand the imposition of Islamic law throughout the country. It is also worth noting that it was Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore who requested military aid from France in January of this year to counter these groups. Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Photo Credit: Magharebia

Libya, Two Years After Gaddafi

A monopoly over the legitimate use of violence- the hallmark of a sovereign state- must be regained by the Libyan government. Security issues should be the priority, as they prevent every other sector of the society from progressing.

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Libyan protestor Gaddafi

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As the second anniversary of the Libyan revolution approaches, threats of protests from angry citizens have prompted the Libyan government to announce a plan to reinforce security and surveillance capabilities around Tripoli and other cities.

Though the odds of an armed uprising remain relatively small, renewed calls for change have found enough resonance amongst the population to incite a response from the government. Prime Minister Ali Zaidan’s announcement came as a response to calls for a ‘second revolution’ from citizens in Bani Walid, Benghazi and Tripoli. Additionally, various civil society groups aim to organize protests against the government’s slow progress on reforms. The rise of critical voices points to growing dissatisfaction amongst Libya’s citizens and the myriad of challenges the government faces.

Perhaps the biggest issue remains one of basic security. Armed militias continue to escape the control of the government and High profile incidents such as the September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi only highlight the government’s inability to cope and provide the basic provision of security within its borders.

Armed militiamen continue to roam freely the streets of many Libyan towns, often demanding special treatment because of their ‘services’ during the war.

Strategic cities such as Benghazi-Libya’s economic hub and the bastion of the revolution- provide a stark example of broken institutions and lawlessness. Benghazi has witnessed a rising tide of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations, often targeting government and security officials. The lack of basic security hampers the ability of local authorities to provide basic social provisions such as garbage collection. Though symbolically integrated within the national security apparatus, armed militias outman and outgun local police and continue to control key parts of the city. Arrests are seldom made out of fear of reprisal attacks and kidnappings.

The town has historically been wary of centralized control from Tripoli. The inability of the government to meet the expectations of its citizens has renewed calls for a return to a federalist arrangement. This would significantly weaken the government and could set a precedent for other regions to do the same.

Security problems are not exclusive to isolated hamlets or destroyed cities like Benghazi. Tripoli has had its fair share of violence. Assassination attempts on government and security officials are common occurrences. The General National Congress (GNC) has been stormed by protesters and militiamen on a number of occasions, and its president Mohamed Magarief survived an assassination attempt on 4 January 2013.

The violence during the revolution already had a serious impact on the stability of the region. Many experts point to the flow of weapons and fighters from the Libyan conflict towards Mali as a major cause in the security deterioration in the Sahel. Despite having closed all borders, the Libyan territory continues to be a transit hub and the home of Islamist militants active in the region. The attackers of a gas facility in neighboring Algeria are reported to have crossed from Libya and to have benefited from the inadequate security provisions on the border.

As Libyans prepare to mark two years of rule without Gaddafi, the government faces the immense task of rebuilding a nation after a civil war that destroyed vital infrastructure and addressing the aspirations of the Libyan people at the same time. Avoiding a popular backlash or renewed violence requires greater action on the security front and a rapid application of political reforms.

The monopoly over the legitimate use of violence- the hallmark of a sovereign state- must be regained by the government. Security problems should be the priority, as they prevent every other sector of the society from progressing.

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Photo Credit: شبكة برق | B.R.Q

The Algerian Response, Motives & Consequences

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible.

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The Algerian National Press Agency had released a preliminary assessment on January 19th stating that 23 had been killed, 32 terrorists neutralized. Nearly 800 hostages were freed including 107 foreigners. However, The Algerian Minster of Communication Mohamed Said, said on 20/01/2013 that these were provisional figures, and the numbers of those killed is likely to be higher (press conference by Prime Minister Sella: 37 foreigners dead).

The assault came as a surprise to most outsiders, including Washington, London and Paris. All claim not to have been consulted by the Algerian prior to the assault. Yet following the release of information about the scale and overall results of the operation, all have expressed greater support for counter-terrorism efforts in the region.

Many observers have deemed the Algerian response heavy-handed  or brutal. The Minister of Communications summed up Algeria’s policy with respect to negotiations quite clearly when he stated: “No negotiation, no blackmail and no respite against terrorism”. However, an overview of Algeria’s historical legacy, the current regional dynamics and factors specific to the crisis at In Amenas provide a better understanding of Algeria’s hard-line policy and actions.

The Algerian Army launched the assault on the gas installation south  east of the capital Algiers after a group of Jihadists calling themselves the ‘Signers in Blood’; took over the installation and captured over 600 hostages including a large number of foreigners. The operation lasted over three days and details are starting to slowly emerge.

Historically, Algeria’s ‘dark decade‘ continues to shape the country’s counter-terrorism policy. Throughout the 1990s, the country’s armed forces fought Islamist militants in a bloody war with casualties including a large number of civilians. During the crisis, the ruling military establishment – Algeria’s core centre of power – was divided into two camps: those in favour of dialogue and the ‘eradicators’. Despite a return to civil rule, it is the latter that continue to hold key posts in the country’s security apparatus.

After more than a decade of fighting, and a brokered political solution, the country managed to push what it labels ‘residual terrorism’ south of major population centres and into the Sahel region. It is around this time that the rules of the game changed for both the armed Islamist – now franchised Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – and for the government. In 2003 European tourists were taken hostage and released upon an alleged ransom payment. The same group went on to perpetrate the country’s first suicide attack in 2007. Thus, Algerian authorities see any negotiation or interjection from outside countries as not only a breach of sovereignty, but also a direct security risk stemming from better armed groups.

The assault should also be seen in the larger context of instability in the region and the implications of this for the Algerian ruling regime. Firstly, civil war in Libya brought instability and heightened the threat of Islamist armed militants on the country’s eastern flank, where Algeria’s oil and gas operations are most concentrated. Furthermore, instability in Northern Mali became an additional source of insecurity. The vast porous borders – imaginary lines in the sand – and the inherent weakness of bordering states in the region create an ideal operating environment for armed groups. This helps both explain Algeria’s push for a political solution in Mali as well as its harsh response at home.

The attack on the gas installation itself constitutes a first in the country’s history. These were largely untouched during the instability of the 1990s. The country’s economy is largely based on its oil and gas exports, which account for over 90% of all exports. The In Amenas installation itself accounts for 10% of Algeria’s gas production and nearly 20% of its exports, all in an economy dominated by the public sector. Thus the oil and gas exports are not only the backbone of the economy, but the pillar of political and social stability for the country. The militant attacked a core interest or as Dr. Geoff Porter put it: ‘the golden goose that keeps the regime’In this light, the Algerian overwhelming response should be regarded as clear message to both militants and outside powers.

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible. Early reports indicate the use of embedded operatives by the militants to gain strategic intelligence inside the plant and the whereabouts of foreign employees. One Algerian employee reported that the militant knew their way around and had even known about a planned strike.

How this will affect Algeria’s stance on the Mali conflict? Past behaviour and the current policy points towards a more ‘hunker-down bunker-up’ Algerian response. The Algerian government is maintaining its usual silence, but greater involvement cannot be ruled out. Reports show the Algerian Air force has been put on standby, and additional troops have been dispatched towards the Malian border.

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Photo credit: Magharebia

The Algerian Hostage Dead: NATO Is Responsible

While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade.

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What do Libya, Mali and Algeria have in common? The three nations have played a pivotal role in the political domino effect culminating over the last week. At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant. In response to the Algerian hostage situation Mr Cameron said his government will continue to focus on fighting terrorism: “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way”.

These are typical words attributed to a politician speaking in the generic foreign policy language. However David Cameron has failed to mention that NATO also played its part in the Algerian hostage crisis. Algerian crisis is a direct consequence of the current Mali conflict and the Mali conflict is the direct result of the Libyan conflict in 2011 as those who supported Gaddafi were thrown out from the country for being black and had nowhere else to go except to join the Mali terrorist groups.

And since it was Cameron and his “peace-seeking” NATO states who encouraged the violence in Libya and helped to carry out a regime change operation, it seems NATO are at least partially responsible for the Algerian hostage crisis. Politics works in funny ways.

Let us examine each claim individually starting with Libya.

The mission to oust Gaddafi and kick start a new dawn for Libya has been claimed by the West to be a success. Yet an uncomfortable truth rarely mentioned in the Western media remains- hundreds of African migrant workers in Libya accused of being mercenaries for Col Muammar Gaddafi were imprisoned and tortured by fighters allied to the new interim authorities.

Indeed it is heavily documented how the victorious rebels were hunting after African mercenaries and the latter had no choice but to escape from the destruction-stricken country. These mercenaries found a new home- Mali. Additionally there are irrefutable claims that homes have been looted, and women and girls beaten and raped. Perhaps removing Gaddafi was a success for the Western nations, but the country is currently in turmoil and is still mostly run by heavily armed mercenaries.

It is clear that the West had a lot of interest in removing Gaddafi. While the UN gave the authorisation to protect the Libyan civilians, this objective turned into a regime change operation. It is not surprising that Russia and China continue to veto any resolutions in regards to Syria as they understand that another aim to protect the Syrian civilians would simply mean regime change in Syria.

We can only speculate what interests the West has in the region. A number of theories have been put forward: oil, a step towards eventually attacking Iran, protecting Israel, all of the above. While impossible to know the truth, it is clear that the West has a grand strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

And so we arrive at the second stage of the domino effect. The current conflict in Mali seems in many ways to mirror the conflict that took place in Libya. Rebels are trying to take over the country and overthrow the government. There is however one difference. The current Mali government is a friend of France whilst Gaddafi refused to get on his knees for the Western powers.

A popular argument used by the politicians is the claim that Libya was a dictatorship while Mali is a democracy and therefore the West has a responsibility to protect Mali from radical extremists. However if this claim was true then the West would have already intervened in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However these authoritarian states have good relations with the West and are therefore safe from NATO interventions.

Indeed those who claim that the Mali government are not executing their own civilians like Gaddafi did may be shocked to find that there are growing reports by Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the West African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army. Amnesty International says that it has documented evidence of abuse by the Malian army, including extrajudicial killings. It says that in September, a group of 16 Muslim preachers composed of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested then executed by the Malian military in Diabaly. It seems like the French government is trying to protect those that are carrying out human rights abuses.

Undoubtedly the rebels are not saints either. Nevertheless there has to be some consistency from the West. Claiming to be against Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as they killed own citizens, while at the same time supporting the regimes in Mali, Bahrain and Jordan, who also treat their citizens with cruelty is simply hypocritical.

Of course this is not the first time a Western power has supported brutality. It is also imperative to mention the case of Syria here. Mr Hollande has claimed that the reason why his country is supporting the Mali government against the rebels is because the rebels are Islamic extremists whilst the rebels in Syria are secular.

Mr Hollande’s remarks are are simply wrong as it is well known that a large section of the Syrian rebels are also radical Islamists. The radical rebels who have connections to Al Qaeda seem to be having more influence on the Syrian population than the Free Syrian Army who claim to be secular.

And so thanks to the continuous hypocritical interventions by the Western nations we have arrived at a situation where a BP gas site has been assaulted by terrorists. Whilst undoubtedly investigations will be carried out, it seems more than likely that the terrorists who have carried out the hostage mission are in some way linked to the rebels in Mali.

It is well known that in life, a particular action always leads to a particular consequence. This is called the butterfly effect. International politics is not immune from this phenomenon, as something that began as a mission by the West to oust Gaddafi in 2011 has ended with Western citizens being taken hostage in Algeria. I say “ended” yet it is probable that this is just the beginning of more violence and conflict which will spread to other parts of Africa.

This is rather useful for the NATO states as America and other Western nations have been itching to find an excuse to send more military to the continent now that the Middle East has been “conquered” and squeezed completely dry. And while the resource-plenty and flourishing Africa will now be the new victim of Western interventions, our media and politicians will continue to tell us that our governments are fighting to make the world a safer place by annihilating the terrorists – the same terrorists that arise through Western interventions in the first place.

Just yesterday David Cameron has announced that the war on terrorists will go on for decades and NATO interventions will switch from Afghanistan to North Africa.

Interventions are a destructive cycle. The West intervenes in other regions as a police state under a pretext of supporting democracy, but end up opening a can of worms. Extremism spreads to nearby regions and the locals are angered by the continuous meddling of the West in their affairs and therefore join the terrorist groups which encourages the West to intervene more.

It becomes a permanent circle, or better known as a perpetual war. Alternative solutions to intervention do exist. Empowering regional bodies and governments through international development programs, foreign aid and cooperation are viable alternatives to militarism. While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade. Due to the development of unmanned drones and other rocket-type weaponry, NATO is likely to continue to intrude in the Middle East and Africa. It seems the West never learns.

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Photo credit: US Army Africa

Revolution Is A Messy Business

So 2012 is over and we are looking ahead to 2013. A lot has happened during the last year as the Middle East plodded on through the late stages of the Arab Spring. Now there is talk of an Arab Fall (or an Islamist Spring) due to the rise of Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates as well as Salafists in Egypt, Tunisia, etc..

Among many there was a vague expectation of a liberal democratic turn in the Middle East when the first regimes fell. However – especially in Egypt – the Muslim Brotherhood was simply the most organized organization with the most clout. It was obvious that it would gain a strong role in post-Mubarak Egypt.

A swift and easy transformation was equally unlikely. The Arab Spring in its historical dimension can be compared to the end of the evil empire; the Soviet Union and its satellites. Gregory Gause, III makes a good point when he says that after the fall of Communism, Eastern Europeans had no other ideological paradigm than capitalist democracy to turn to. This is very different to the Arab Spring.

In the Middle East Islam is an alternative program, and the result is the aforementioned rise of Islamists. However, recent events in some Eastern European states might suggest a surprising resurgence of nationalism. Furthermore, the conflicts in the Balkans and in Moldova reveal that the fall of the Iron Curtain did not go over as easily and without violence as suggested by Gause. Hence, if we poke around a little it becomes clear that historic shifts often work out similarly.

We need to keep in mind when dealing with such shifts that the results will be diverse and depend a lot on the circumstances in the respective countries. Revolutions are often connected to violence, and continued conflict after the old regime has been removed is a by-product. We know from empirical studies that transformative regimes are more prone to internal conflict. This is obvious for Syria and Libya, but keep an eye on Egypt as the country faces huge obstacles in the immediate future and holds a lot of potential for conflict that might escape the recent events of street violence. What will happen when politics in Egypt become unhinged?

This does not mean that the Arab Spring will be in vain. Simply that transformative periods are almost never short-lived and countries face numerous possible outcomes.

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Photo credit: Denis Bocquet

The African Union & The Mali Crisis

As the AU continues to rally and grow in power in the face of the battle over the Saharah, an independent military able to swiftly act against extreme Islamist factions may become an inevitability.

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When northern Mali fell to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), few international observers took note. It was a relatively small event compared to the nearby coup d’etat in the capital, the Libyan civil war and the religious extremist attacks of northern Nigeria. However, when cracks began to form between the forces which had announced Azawad a free state and the MNLA was routed by extreme Islamist factions, heads began to turn.

The defeat of the MNLA, after they had already defeated the Malian army, has been the most significant success by extremist Islamist forces since the Taliban was defeated in 2001. Afghanistan’s Taliban is turning to political moderation, Iraq is calming, moderates rule in northern Africa and al-Shabaab in Somalia is breathing its last breaths. The victors? Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), affiliates of the North-African Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

With the defeat of al-Shabaab in Somalia almost becoming a forgone conclusion after a corridor was created between African Union (AU) forces in Mogadishu and the other AU-controlled areas, Mali could be the next great front against violent Islamism in Africa.

The victory in West Africa has been a long time coming, and required a series of international events to come about. Increasing militant attacks in northern Nigeria has developed a strong and growing political and military block in the form of Boko Haram. This cannot be waved off as just another conflict in another state. Nigeria is a middle-income and relatively huge state to be facing such attacks and such strong resistance from a rebel group. This isn’t Afghanistan or Yemen, it’s a state listed in a peer group involving Mexico, Egypt and Turkey and is predicted to have the largest GDP growth in the world over the next forty years. It is larger in population and economy than all 14 other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members put together. The ten-year long growth of Boko Haram cannot be underestimated.

After a decade rising, West African militants only needed one opening to begin serious military advances. This opening was the Arab Spring. As Libya collapsed into chaos many Islamists joined the ranks of eastern tribes and liberals in the campaign against Gaddafi. As the conflict dragged on they became better armed and hardened by the long conflict. When Gaddafi was killed however it was liberals who won the parliament and action began to disarm the various militia groups, only increasing in the wake of the recent Benghazi attacks. So the militants moved on, across the border into Algeria and then Mali.

The MNLA benefited greatly from this influx of militants. But the fighters were absorbed into the extremist Ansar Dine and MOJWA, not the Tuareg nationalists, the three together forming a major challenge to the Mali military. The Tuareg rebellion began to make serious strides in January and by March the frustrated military overthrew the government and suspended the constitution. Shortly after the MNLA seized control of the country’s North only to be almost immediately betrayed and routed by its Islamist allies. Now the country is divided between the new transitional government and the AQIM affiliates. Extremist Islam breeds in these situations. Extreme militant groups dedicated to a brutal interpretation of Sharia law capture areas already torn by strife, where young disenfranchised men are common and where the state is unable to maintain a monopoly on violence. However, over the past decade Africa has begun to organise itself to face this ever-growing threat. Unlike in Afghanistan where a complete lack of regional power structures necessitated the involvement of the Western alliance of NATO, the AU is increasingly stepping in to avoid regional disintegration when states lose control of their territory. In Somalia AU forces control the capital and continue to demolish al-Shabaab’s power centres. In Mali the ECOWAS is acting with the support of the AU to deploy 3,300 troops against the AQIM affiliates in the north. The plan is a six-month mission from December to June establishing bases in the south and then fighting towards the north and the border with Algeria, a power which is refusing to take part. The EU, a long time ally of the AU, is organising sending hundreds of military advisers to help the Mali military back to its feet.

The AU is following the post-Cold War NATO model of security through order. Failed states where there is no government capable of controlling the full territory and monopolising violence are too dangerous a threat to ignore and more than capable of distabilising whole regions. Just like NATO and the EU stepped in to the collapsing Yugoslav state, so to is the AU stepping in where Islamic militants manage to wrest control of territory. If the ECOWAS intervention in Mali succeeds, expect to see further peacekeeping forces sent in to Northern Nigeria and southern Libya should the situations there worsen.

Any resistance to AU involvement in military affairs is entirely reputational, to accept military assistance is to admit to being unable to survive alone. Mali and Somalia have both crossed the limits where such admittance is long past, whereas Libya, Nigeria and South Sudan have not. This is what the threat of extremist Islam represents, a threat so great that all regional actors are willing to step in to states which are not their own once the pride of those states is overwhelmed by a desperate need to survive.

Many believe, after the much focused upon War on Terror, that the war against extremist Islam is a predominantly US affair. To believe such is to accept the Islamist framing of the conflict, one far easier to recruit for when regarded as a battle against the evil American imperialists. In fact it is a global affair. Russia frequently clashes with Islamists in the Caucasus. Pakistan does so in the federal regions, China in Xinjiang, Egypt in the Sinai peninsula, Indonesia in Aceh, Turkey in Kurdish areas, India in Kashmir, the Philippines in Bangsaromo. Any region bordering the Islamic world faces extremists as a threat to security, power and human rights. The reason that the US War on Terror is so focused upon is largely due to the unilateral use of force in states far away and strange to them. Where the AU succeeds with the help of EU and UN allies is in a multilateral engagement using local forces. This is a technique only recently turned to in Afghanistan and possibly too late.

As Africa continues to develop and some of its nations rise towards global prominence we will hear much more of its battle with violent Islamism. One of the issues which will develop is the growing strength of AU military forces which are undergoing a transition to a permanent AU force rather than than loose coalitions formed by constituent state militaries. Just as the EU is being forced closer by economic crisis, so to is the AU being forced together by Islamic militancy. Both international powers may well together signify a shift away from the nation states of European empires and towards multilateral international governments with independent militaries and a dedication to stability at all costs. By their very nature these powers will be more liberal than the nation states they emerge from and so develop a human rights consensus completely at odds to extreme Islamic militancy.

As the AU continues to rally and grow in power in the face of the battle over the Saharah, an independent military able to swiftly act against factions such as AQIM may become an inevitability. The EU already operates across central Africa with its independent CSDP. Operations under the flags of the AU and EU seem only set to expand with the legitimacy that such allied enterprises provide. By their violent dedication to the crescent, extreme Islamists may well be manufacturing the international order which will snuff them out.

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Photo credit: zeepkist

Good Luck President Obama, You Need It!

Most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term?

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President Obama looking serious

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“The best is still to come” was the soundbite which has resonated from Obama’s victory speech last night. Time will tell if this is the case, but the facts are that the US public has overwhelmingly supported the status quo in this time of economic trouble. The President remains in office, the Democrats keep the Senate and the  Republicans keep the House of Representatives. In that respect nothing has changed. But with no future election to worry about, will Obama’s foreign policy change from the Bush spillover which dominated his first term?

In 2001 George W. Bush faced one of the most dramatic changes in international affairs since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Faced with two falling towers and thousands of dead Bush was faced by a US public desperate for answers, for justice and for vengeance. The result of this was the first term of the War on Terror, 2001 in Afghanistan, 2003 in Iraq. Wars that were supposed to be short interventions to create a change in the Middle East became festering pools of suffering for almost a decade. Tens of thousands died across the Middle East, and by his second term Bush was desperately trying to hold together a mission that was going from bad to worse.

Obama inherited that mission. Bush’s surge in Iraq had already stabilised the country ready for a withdrawal Obama only had to keep on target. However, the ongoing mission to attempt to stabilise the Middle East, destroy the leadership of Al-Qaeda and mend relations damaged by the 2003 invasion of Iraq remained the same.

What Obama faced in taking office was a battle between his lofty ideals and promises and reality. His compromise was pragmatic, driving towards aims slowly and cautiously and making no significant and unbalancing changes to the foreign affairs of the second term of Bush.

What did change was so gradual the world’s population at large barely noticed it. There was a shift from the Middle East to the Pacific with troop deployments in Australia and a new agreement with Japan over Guam and further military cooperation. Although this shift has been slowed by the Arab Spring and the continued fighting in Syria, it is symbolic enough to prompt China’s own challenges for the South and East China Sea. There were significant defense cuts which have placed an emphasis on less of everything, but a greater emphasis on technological and training superiority. Obama has orchestrated a gradual lean to a more impartial role in the Middle East than under Bush, one aided by his faux-pas with Nicholas Sarkozy and the intervention in Libya against a secular dictator on the side of Islamists as well as liberals. More generally there has been a shift away from democratic transition by pressure or force and towards a focus on stability. Transition is now pushed towards supporting stable governments and pushing them towards liberal reform. Again, the Arab Spring was an unexpected reversal of this trend. And, of course, Osama Bin laden is dead.

However, most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded exponentially, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term? What of 2012-2016?

Well the answer is: Probably much of the same, but don’t expect the US foreign policy world to look the same in 2016 to 2008. The track of Obama’s presidency has been a gently-gently turn from Bush’s policies to Obama’s, and the US should look very much like Obama’s legacy by the end of the next four years. A turn from the Middle East to East Asia, from military intervention to diplomatic and economic pressure, from antagonism of Muslim states to partnerships based on the national interest of influence.These policies have already proved fruitful and will continue to do so. Japanese support for military bases was prevented from collapse just long enough to actually step up cooperation important to limit China’s expanding Pacific potential. Sanctions in Iran have its economy on the verge of collapse and popular support of Ahmadinejad beginning to turn against him. The intervention in Libya and support for the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions has given Obama political capital there not seen for decades. Despite the Benghazi attacks popular support is actually for the US as militant groups were forced out of Eastern towns across the country by anti-extremist protesters.

That said, just like the Arab Spring revolutions, the 9/11 attacks and the fall of the Soviet Union, sudden and unexpected events can throw the best plans into disarray. How Obama deals with potentially disastrous events could change his foreign policy dramatically.

  • Afghanistan: Withdrawal in 2014, if too soon, could devastate the region and NATO’s influence.
  • Syria: The conflict must be restrained to the country to avoid regional collapse.
  • Iran: Although sanctions are working, should Iran turn to desperate measures or should Israel overplay its hand things could turn very dangerous.
  • Yemen: A potential second Afghanistan/Somalia. Though the risk is smaller should the state collapse, the threat of a new front could give extremists a valuable new refuge.
  • South/East China Seas: The competition between the South-Eastern/Eastern Asian powers over the seas is not a battle the US can involve itself in overtly or risk facing backlash. However it is one which needs to be carefully monitored and one where soft power could be at its most important.
  • West Africa: The continued rise of Bokko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQM) and other extremist Islamist groups in this region could be a new front in the most need for intervention but with the least popular support for it. So far the US has only been able to give token support for these states, but as things go from bad to worse in Mali this cannot be expected to be the end of the conflicts.

Congratulations Barack Obama, but I don’t envy you in the four years to come. You will face a hostile House of Representatives and a demanding public. You will face the challenge of keeping North Africa on your side and yet still combat Islamic extremism, of limiting China without antagonising it, of realising your potential without ceasing to be pragmatic. Good luck President Obama, you need it.

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Photo Credit: US Army

US Presidential Election Roundup 7/10 – 13/10

This week’s roundup of the US presidential election…

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Obama campaign reveals fundraising figure [The Guardian] The Obama campaign has tweeted that it raised $181m in September.

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Obama campaign enjoys Latino support [Politico] The Obama campaign has strong support from Latino voters.

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Obama campaign clarifies following debate [Huffington Post] The Obama campaign has clarified the President’s debate remark about Mitt Romney’s social security stance.

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Campaigns spar over tax proposals [CBS News] The Romney campaign has released a new ad in response to criticisms from President Obama over the Republican nominee’s tax proposals.

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Romney expresses foreign policy views [The Guardian] Mitt Romney has spoken about arming the Syrian rebels and has criticised President Obama’s approach to the conflict.

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‘Chest-pounding rhetoric’ [Washington Post] The Obama campaign has criticised Mitt Romney’s recent foreign policy speech.

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Romney shifts staff focus to Ohio [CBS News] Staff members have been moved to Ohio from Pennsylvania to focus on early voting.

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Obama ad addresses Big Bird issue [Politico] A spokesperson for the Obama campaign has spoken about a recent ad criticising Mitt Romney for his comments about Big Bird from Sesame Street.

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Romney criticised by DNC chair [The Hill] DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has attacked Mitt Romney over his healthcare stance.

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Ann Romney comments on debate [Washington Post] Ann Romney has been interviewed about her husband’s debate performance.

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Ohio early voting enters last day [New York Times] President Obama has campaigned in Ohio on the last day of early voting in the state.

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Romney discusses debate performance [CNN] Mitt Romney has spoken about debating and the influence of his father.

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Romney clarifies abortion position [Huffington Post] After suggesting that he does not propose limiting abortion, Mitt Romney has said that he would remove funding to Planned Parenthood.

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Obama comments on debate performance [ABC] President Obama has said that he ‘had a bad night’ at the first presidential debate.

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Romney faces complaint over Navy SEAL [Huffington Post] Mitt Romney has been asked not to mention a meeting he had with a former Navy SEAL killed during violence in Libya in September.

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Romney comments on Libya attacks [Talking Points Memo] Mitt Romney has responded to accusations from the Obama campaign that he has politicised the killing of the US ambassador in Libya.

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Romney comments on health insurance [Huffington Post] Commenting on healthcare, Mitt Romney has said that, ‘We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.’

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Poll suggests partisanship [Politico] A new poll has suggested that Barack Obama is among the most polarising Presidents in recent times.

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Biden and Ryan debate [The Hill] The Vice-Presidential debate took place this week between Vice-President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.

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VP debate viewing figures revealed [Politico] Nielsen has said that around 51.4 million people watched the Vice-Presidential debate.

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Gunshot at Obama campaign office [Reuters] A single shot has been fired at the Obama campaign’s Denver offices.

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Poll favours Biden after debate [Reuters] A new poll has suggested a win for Vice-President Joe Biden following the Vice-Presidential debate.

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Compiled by Patrick McGhee

‘Innocence of Muslims’ Rioting Has Nothing To Do With Religion

The protests and rioting in the Middle East are not, as is argued, a result of the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. Instead, they demonstrate the lack of legitimate authority in the region following the Arab Spring.

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peacful islam innocence of muslims

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Continuing protests and rioting in front of Western embassies in the Middle East are not a testament to the ability of Muslims to be exceptionally touchy to religious insult, but an underscoring of the formula Charles Tilly opens with in his The Politics of Collective Violence:

(x + y) occasionally to the power of z = collective violence
[where x = young men; y = lack of supervision and z = a stimulant]

To say that the deaths of American embassy workers in Libya is because of exceptional Muslim touchiness to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’, is to say that the riots in London two years ago were a series of cogent protests to a police state.

In the case of ongoing violence in the Middle East, while media sources dwell upon the ‘z’ element – here the perceived honour infraction dealt by a film that received most of its publicity from Salafist media sources and must now be the worst most watched film ever after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – as apparently the sole cause of unrest, this element of the formula is optional and of uncertain statistical significance. What is surely more interesting to the scenario is the crucial ‘y’ factor.

What do Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have in common? Exactly. Lebanon, Afghanistan and Sudan are more chronic sufferers of what ails these four Arab Spring nations. Supervision, authority and a perception that violent actions will have consequences for the young man in his subjective opinion (apologies if this appears sexist, but the under 30 and male thing is ubiquitous) are the cures to prevent rioting on a regular basis. To what extent these elements are present in the new executives of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia is becoming apparent. To what extent they have ever been present in the others is also telling.

We should also look at the ‘x’ factor. Why these young men have so much pent up frustration and time on their hands is a psychosocial-economic study for another day. Men in Cairo are becoming an issue as disenfranchisement rises and the dismal prospects for their economic future unravel. That sexual molestation is on the rise (and take it from an ex-Cairo-ex-pat, that it could rise from the situation before is a horrific prospect in itself) is also an indicator of young men thinking that they can get away with going with any urge that reveals itself to them. These young men are ripe for collective violence. The point is that this rioting would happen at the hands of male youths of any religion – or lack thereof – given the opportunity and some kind of stimulant.

This kind of violence – due to its stimulant factor, granted – like we saw at Bagram in February with the stimulant of the Quran desecrations always leads to Western commentators singling out the Islamic: why are Musilms so easily offended? Which is to be willfully blind to the universality of this tendency as a human trait that we can see everywhere. So keen is the West to ‘other’ the Muslim, that it is forgotten that the seminal work explaining this formula for violence was not developed looking at the violent characteristics of brown people of a different religion, but of Americans – of cowboys.

This violence, therefore, says everything about the status of authority where it occurs. Therein lies the means for peace, not in teaching Muslims a lesson about free speech, nor in teaching American film-makers about Islam, but in concentrating authority in a legitimate state apparatus. In this way, no TV Islamist could sow such unrest. Though it should be made clear that not even the instigators were authorities at the scene of the violence – in fact some Islamists present at some of the riots did try to prevent violence, but by then the ‘x’ + ‘y’ factor was cemented and nobody was in control.

The reaction to the recent unrest shows Western commentators for what they are: totally obsessed with Islam; but the unrest itself shows something very sad indeed about legitimate authority and statehood following the Arab Spring.

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Photo credit: agoolapulapu

US Presidential Election Roundup 9/9 – 15/9

This week’s roundup of the US presidential elections…

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Romney discusses Mormonism [Huffington Post] US Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has spoken about how his faith helped get him into politics.

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Romney coin comments criticised [Huffington Post] The White House has criticised Mitt Romney’s remarks about the status of God on United States currency.

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Republican candidates dodge tax specifics [Huffington Post] Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan struggled to say which tax loopholes they would close if they win the election.

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Obama beats Romney in fundraising [CNN] For the first time since April, President Obama’s re-election campaign has raised more than that of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

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Romney comments on health care policy [Talking Points Memo] Mitt Romney has spoken about his health care proposals.

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Ad attacks Ann Romney [The Hill] An online ad from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee has criticised Ann Romney for comments about her and her husband’s finances.

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Planned Parenthood in $3.2 million ad buy [The Hill] Planned Parenthood has attacked Mitt Romney’s stance on abortion with new ads.

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Ryan supports Emanuel over strike [CNN] Republican VP-nominee Paul Ryan has said that he agrees with former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s criticisms of a teachers’ strike in Chicago.

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Poll suggests close race [Washington Post] A new poll of registered voters gives President Obama 49% of the vote while Mitt Romney receives 48% of the vote.

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Romney criticises Obama over embassy attacks [NBC] Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of sympathising with individuals who attacked US embassies in Egypt and Libya.

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Christian groups to focus on policy [Huffington Post] Leaders of the Christian right have said they will focus on Mitt Romney’s political agenda rather than on his Mormonism.

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Romney’s response to riots criticised [Huffington Post] Various members of the media have criticised Mitt Romney for his attacks on President Obama over the violence towards US diplomatic missions.

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Ryan campaigns for congressional seat [ABC] The first ad for Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s campaign for re-election to the House of Representatives has been aired.

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Obama expands ad campaign in Florida [NBC] NBC reports that the Obama campaign is making a large ad buy in Florida.

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Romney has ‘ tendency to shoot first and aim later’ says Obama [The Hill] President Obama has criticised Mitt Romney’s response to violence in Egypt and Libya.

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McCain comments on Obama’s foreign policy [Huffington Post] Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain has described President Obama’s foreign policy as ‘feckless’.

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Poll gives Obama slight edge [New York Times] A new poll gives President Obama a lead of three points over his Republican rival.

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Republicans attack Obama [CNN] Mitt Romney and other Republicans have launched a series of attacks on President Obama.

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Ryan comments on foreign policy [Los Angeles Times] Paul Ryan has criticised President Obama’s foreign policy in a speech in Washington.

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Poll gives Obama economy lead [New York Times] A new poll has given President Obama a lead over Mitt Romney with regards to handling the economy.

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Compiled by Patrick McGhee.

Telling Muslims To ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism

A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.

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carlsberg dont do freedom of speech

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This is a response to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims: ‘Well So Fucking What?

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In 2006 Karl Rove, the Bush-era White House Deputy Chief of Staff, delivered a speech denoting the achievements of American conservatives. He argued that the most important distinction between conservatives and liberals was the former’s desire for revenge:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

For Rove, any attempt to comprehend the reasons for 9/11 was illogical and unnecessary: America had been attacked and the only possible response was war. It was unthinkable for the Republican to consider why terrorism had struck American shores in such a destructive and horrific fashion. By responding with the invasions of the Middle East, especially Iraq, the West acted to further catalyse anti-Western sentiment, grievances, and ultimately terrorism. In short, the response distinctly lacked any semblance of pragmatism.

Peter Kelly’s recent piece considering the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ shares this quality. The inference that protesters should be taking offence over the poor quality of the film rather than its content is as laughable as it is perverse, but the all the more serious issue is the representation that his arguments represent pragmatism: they do not.

Kelly argues that the statements made by Morsi and Karzai are “beyond wrong, they are dangerous”. Seemingly therefore, no national leader should take into account domestic political considerations and constraints when responding to an issue. Is this a pragmatist speaking?

The statements by both Morsi and Karzai are intended to allay further protests. Each leader’s respective country has recently undergone drastic and strenuous political changes, both leaders suffer from challenges to their leadership, and both preside over populations that have proven to be easily fired up. Is it more pragmatic to deliver a message in the hope that it will minimize further protests and casualties (likely targeting foreigners), or to persevere with a message that would only work to antagonize, irrespective of its (neo-liberal) ideological ‘correctness’?

Kelly goes on to denounce claims that the US embassy in Cairo’s statement was pragmatic, yet he fails to locate the statement within the broader timeline of the protests. The statement in question was made before both the murder of Christopher Stevens and members of his staff in Libya, as well as the storming of the US embassy in Cairo. It was not a response to the violence but an attempt to allay violence and protests given the effects of previous similar productions attacking Islam. One would hope that should Kelly inhabit the role of UK ambassador at some point during his career he would take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of his staff, even if by doing so his ideological message is weakened. When there is a threat to diplomatic personnel it is irresponsible and illogical to put politics before life. The US embassy’s statement was entirely pragmatic in that it attempted to ensure the safety of its staff. Would a pragmatist not have taken such a route?

The all the more deplorable position presented however, is that of a Manichean framework through which to view this issue. In much the same way that the Bush administration and al Qaeda promoted an “Us versus Them” vision of the post-9/11 world, Kelly asserts that either we “bend over and give over our rights” or we tell Islamists to fuck off. Such a binary only serves to consolidate the hand of those that hold values antithetical to the modern universalist values of freedom of speech, of equality, of political freedoms. The combating of such ideologues does not occur by presenting the wider population with the choice of ‘you’re either with us or against us’. If we tell the Muslim world to ‘do one’ every time we have a cultural conflict, well, is the result not obvious?

In The Art of War, the military strategist Sun Tzu wrote:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The Rove/Kelly vision argues against knowing your enemy and reacting on the basis of ideological foundation. A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism, working to spread modern universalist values by taking into account, and working against, the factors that aid and abet it. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.

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Photo credit: sjgibss80

‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’

There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech.

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censorship offends me

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This week we have seen the killing of Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, as well as several of his staff. His embassy building was burned, the US embassy in Cairo was raided, its flag destroyed, and one proclaiming the supremacy of God placed in its place. In Tunisia tear gas was fired into crowds to prevent a repeat of those events. In Afghanistan President Karzai condemned not the attackers but the cause, in Egypt President Morsi did not launch an investigation into the failure of Egyptian forces to protect the US embassy but instead prepared to launch legal action against those who provoked the attackers in the US.

The cause of all this? “Innocence of Muslims“. A film. A really bad film. I’ve seen it, it’s horrendous, one of the worst films I have ever seen. The production quality is dreadful, it looks like it was filmed in my closet using a mobile phone by a homeless man and some of his mates from the next alley.

How could the cause and effect possibly be reconciled? Well, because the film was about Mohammed, and it was not complimentary. He was depicted as a brute, a paedophile, a sadistic, egotistical idiot who understood only violence and how to convince people to support him.

Sadly the protesters in the Islamic world are not attacking embassies over the insult to the entire film industry in its butchering of the art which has become film-making. Instead they were attacking and killing people over the offensive they took at this depiction of their prophet. All because the maker was a US-citizen. Just because the maker was a US citizen, an envoy who had done his best to aid the democratic revolution in Libya is dead and so are three of his aides.

How exactly did the western world react to that? Generally, with widespread condemnation. US forces are on-route to Benghazi to heighten security (a little late) and Barack Obama has declared he will bring the guilty to justice.

But the reactions of the Presidents of Afghanistan and Egypt are out of line, they are beyond wrong, they are dangerous. They are validating violence as an acceptable reaction to the crime of “offence”. They are saying that it was right for the Muslims of Europe to riot and kill in reaction to the cartoons and again against the publication of this film. But it gets much worse, because they are not the only ones to react in this way. This is the statement released by the US embassy in Cairo:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions… Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

I don’t think the embassy knows what a universal right is, else the word “abuse” could not possibly have been used in that phrase. Can you “abuse” the right to freedom from torture or death? Can you lead a life that is an “abuse” of life itself and so would it be perfectly valid for Islamists to lop off your head? Of course not, and why should freedom of speech be any different? How could the Cairo embassy possibly have validated and sympathised with those Islamists who believe the appropriate response to being offended is to kill innocents?

This goes further than simply a violation of the idea of “universal rights”, it is also a pragmatic nightmare. Too many people have suggested the statement was “pragmatic” in that it may improve relations with Muslims and protect the embassy.

Apparently the term “we do not negotiate with terrorists” is a dead phrase in US diplomacy. Apparently it is perfectly reasonable to respond to irrational acts of violence by attacking the very values your own state stands upon and promotes worldwide. Apparently the best course of action to protect yourselves from further attacks is to give a sympathetic hand to those most likely to attack you by simply joining their side of the argument. Apparently we should just bend over and give over our rights one by one in response to every murderous rampage by those who wish to bind the whole world in the dogmatic and intolerant chains of their extremist interpretation of religion.

I think all of this is best responded to by one of the champions of the educated culture of rights and tolerance we are trying to build, Stephen Fry:

It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights; it’s actually nothing more….. It’s simply a whine. It’s no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive,’ it has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well so fucking what?

Our reaction to the protests in the Middle East should be exactly that. There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech. So what if you are offended? Grow a tougher skin. If your only possible reaction to being offended is violence it is you who has made the act of aggression and should be responded to in kind.

Our reaction to the demands of the Islamists who claim “we are offended” should be a very clear and resounding “Well so fucking what?”

Read a response to this piece: Telling Muslims to ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism.

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Photo credit: jbcurio

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