Coward Old Universe…

by Jeremy G.

Archive for the ‘US Foreign Policy’ Category

Iran, the True Target at Annapolis

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on November 26, 2007

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The upcoming International Peace Conference in Annapolis has raised many questions  and has been a source of significant pessimism.  Those who follow Middle Eastern events may remember the 2000 fiasco  in Camp David.

The scenario I find more likely is a bit different: My expectation is that this summit will result in a common declaration, underscoring progress made and a common willingness to continue.  The 2000 violent outbreak will not occur – not for now at least.  Two major reasons motivate this intuition.  Both are related to the fact that all participants, Israel and Arab countries alike, face the same two threats.

The first threat is represented by Hamas.  The terrorist movement has already made threats against Israel, and has expressed deep disappointment towards a wide Arab participation at this summit, which is thus certainly not contributing to its interests.  Most observers agree that should Annapolis fail miserably and in a clear way, Hamas will likely be the true winner, and emerge even stronger.  A takeover of the West Bank, similar to the takeover of Gaza last June, is not excluded in this context.

The second threat relates to Iran.  The Annapolis Summit is a clear opportunity for America and for Arab countries, including Jordan, Egypt, and, most of all, Saudi Arabia, to isolate Tehran.  As a matter of fact, Iran represents as big of a threat for Israel as it does for the countries of the GCC and other Sunni countries of the region.  The “Shia Crescent” – expression that was coined by King Abdullah of Jordan himself – is headed by Iran, who has found valuable allies in Damascus and in Lebanon – Hezbollah being Tehran most significant resource. 

In this context, Syria’s participation at Annapolis is a huge blow to Tehran.  Syria, headed by an Alawite – a sect of Shiite Islam – family, has been a key component of the “Shia Crescent”.  Nevertheless, the majority of its population is Sunni.  In addition, there has been subsequent evidence of a rapprochement with Jordan, demonstrating, among many other things, the fragility of Syria’s adherence to the Shia axis in the Middle East.  Combined with America’s efforts to empower the Gulf countries in the region – best exemplified by last summer’s $20 billion deal in arm sales – against the threat coming from Tehran, the Annapolis summit constitutes additional evidence that Iran has become a new focal point for America, Israel and Arab countries alike.

Claiming that this will lead to an Entente Cordiale between Israelis and Palestinians, under the pressure of America and Arab countries, is a stretch that I will not make here.  However, the lower likelihood of a miserable and violent ending similar to 2000 should temper pessimistic views repeatedly expressed on this summit.

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Posted in Middle East, US Foreign Policy | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Note to Turkey: Be Smarter Than Us…

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on October 17, 2007

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It is quite hard to understand the logic that drove the decision of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee to vote on an event that occurred 85 years ago, does not concern the U.S. nor its policy, and which does not seem to bear any urgency given today’s international context.  The resolution, which was approved with 27 votes against 21, determined that Turkey committed a genocide against the Armenian people during the First World War.

The resolution caused a national outcry in Turkey, leading officials to recall the country’s ambassador to the U.S. for “consultation”.  Even if American foreign policy should not be elaborated in function of potential outcries and others’ oversensitivities – not many resolutions would be voted in that case – it is hard to understand the urgency behind this decision, which is just adding more trouble to the current strains the two countries have experienced since 2003.    Some are already bad-mouthing over the Democrats’ responsability in this fiasco and are hinting that this may be a way to give Republicans yet another hard time with Foreign Policy.  Nevertheless, in practice, it is hard to imagine how Democrats could have reached this decision without realizing that the potential long-term damage could impede their geopolitical flexibility if they win the White House in 2008. 

This is why this resolution is ill-advised, no matter how one spins it.  It has limited Washington’s ability to influence Turkish policies in Northern Iraq, where a pseudo-Kurdish state has emerged as the only success story of the 2003 American intervention.  Tensions are now growing on Turkey’s Iraqi border.  Indeed, Turkey has displayed great suspicion towards the new Kurdish state that it considers as a potential safehaven for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a mouvement considered as terrorist by the U.S. and Turkey.

According to the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Database, the last criminal actions led by the PKK occurred in the summer of 2006, when the terrorist movement attacked business, government and police targets in Turkey.  Thus Turkish authorities have legitimate reasons to be wary of the movement.

However, Turkey is as a significant stakeholder as any other country in the region, when it comes to the Iraqi issue.  By intervening in Northern Iraq, Turkey could destabilize the only region of Iraq that could provide a positive sign in the region.

America broke this relationship.  It’s time for some fixing, and allowing Turkey to destabilize Northern Iraq through a military dimension is not an answer.  In such circumstances, one could hope that Turkey will be pragmatic enough to use the situation to its own advantage, without resisting calls for a dialogue with the Kurds.  Paradoxically enough, one solution may be summed up in just two words, and you’re not going to like it: nuclear energy.

 

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Giuliani’s right, Mr.Olbermann

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on October 16, 2007

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In an unusual display of hyprocrisy and intellectual dishonesty in his show Countdown, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC tried to belittle former New York Mayor Ruldolph Giuliani after the latter claimed that 23 terror attacks had been prevented since 9-11.  “Not even the White House claims that,” laughed Olbermann.  Little did he know that he was quite wrong.

Giuliani‘s performance was assessed by a non-partisan think tank, FactCheck.org, here and hereGiuliani ‘s statements were systematically analyzed and some were criticized, but not those remarks.  The same holds true in this article, published in Slate.

In fact, in my own research, relying upon the testimonies of Intelligence Officials in front of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I find that there have been 21 failed attacks against US soil up to 2006.  And that does not include the June 2007 plot against the JFK airport in New York.

Olbermann committed a big gaffe, and will never have to explain himself.  That’s how the system works, and I accept that, all the more so as Bill O’Reilly probably makes similar errors, but for the other side’s account.  The only take-home lesson, for me at least, is that I’ll have a hard time listening to someone telling me that Fox News is completely illegitimate and biased: although the latter might be true, the former is difficult to admit when one observes Olbermann‘s display of dishonesty.

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Posted in 2008 Elections, US Foreign Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

9-11: Six Years On

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on September 9, 2007

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So much has been written on the subject.  Yet, what is remarkable about the event and the comments it has generated, is that whatever was written a little while ago is still relevant today.

The most significant of those comments is that, ironically enough, the U.S., which was attacked on 9-11, is paying today a heavy political price for those strikes.  I’ve offered here a methodology to assess how beneficial security spending since 9-11 has been at home here.  It seems that a cost-benefit analysis, based solely – by definition – on financial considerations, passes the test.  The same is certainly not true if political factors are included in the computation.  Hence this heavy political price.

One fundamental reason for this is that as a democracy, in a struggle with groups and countries with little consideration with principles related to liberty, the U.S. is not playing by the same rules.  The most recent and very cogent instance of this state of affairs was recently revealed by David Ignatius here: While Iran actively intervened in the January 2005 Elections in Iraq, the U.S. refused to adopt similar methods and did not back more moderate Iraqi politicians.  No American move to challenge Iran‘s $11 million challenge, although, as Ignatius reveals, the did provide some alternatives.

There is obviously nothing wrong with that choice.  There is also nothing wrong with the current criticism currently formulated against the Bush Administration for its poor handling of the post-Iraqi war.  There is something troublesome, though, with the way this criticism has been expressed.  It seems, at time, as if the only type of international violence that one can witness today emanates from the U.S., and that no one else is causing any harm.  Or, to use Mark Steyn’s words in his column today, as if there is no terrorism, only war.  

Moreover, this raises a paradox.  In a more extreme form, criticism against the Bush Administration put the emphasis on the Administration’s incompetence.  While there may be grounds to argue in favor of this thesis, the fact that the U.S. did not suffer any attack since 9-11 contradicts the very notion that this Administration is fully incompetent – luck as an explanation might be a bit of a stretch here.  But the paradox doesn’t stop here.  Steyn, in his column, raises the many contradictions of the most extreme form of criticism, expressed by conspiracy theories.  On the one hand, the Bush is very incompetent, but still smart enough to orchestrate, on its own soil, an operation like 9-11.  That’s an issue conspiracy theorists have not been able to solve yet.  Some even claim Bush rigged elections.  I would personally add, beyond Steyn‘s remarks, that interestingly enough, Bush failed to rig the last election of his mandate, that led to a Democratic landslide in Congress almost a year ago.  How weird.

I never cared for this systematic Bush bashing, caused, in my opinion, by a left lacking reason and a right lacking pragmatism.  Democrats would have dealt with this problem in a way that would have not been any different than Republicans – anybody remember the Clinton Administration‘s obsession with Saddam Hussein? Regime change was on the table as early as 1998.  Republicans have responded to the emergence of a new constellation of more pro-American leaders in Europe with a “So What?” that is as troubling as it is bewildering, given what is left to do today.

Six years on.  Same debates.  Little change.

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Posted in 9-11, Global War on Terror, US Foreign Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hiroshima, Decision Making and Dealing with the Future

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on August 7, 2007

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Sixty two years ago today occurred one of the most terrible events of the twentieth century: the U.S. used an atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to put an end to a six year war.

The event is usually (over)used by U.S. critics to demonstrate how evil America has acted, and how displaced criticism towards such nations as North Korea and Iran is given this past behavior.  Perhaps these same critics would have preferred to see Japan‘s imperial power expand more, and allow the Cold War to take a much warmer, three-way turn.

Paradoxically enough, it’s in the Guardian – of all places – that was published the smartest and most relevant comment on the subject.  British writer Oliver Kamm writes:

Estimates derived from intelligence about Japan’s military deployments projected hundreds of thousands of American casualties.

and concludes:

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often used as a shorthand term for war crimes. That is not how they were judged at the time. Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome. The bomb was a deliverance for American troops, for prisoners and slave labourers, for those dying of hunger and maltreatment throughout the Japanese empire – and for Japan itself. One of Japan’s highest wartime officials, Kido Koichi, later testified that in his view the August surrender prevented 20 million Japanese casualties. The destruction of two cities, and the suffering it caused for decades afterwards, cannot but temper our view of the Pacific war. Yet we can conclude with a high degree of probability that abjuring the bomb would have caused greater suffering still.

Beyond the necessary caveats one must keep in mind when drawing historical parallels, there are two specific lessons to draw from such a tragic event.  The first one is that there are no perfect heroes in international relations, and that grey areas are a constant in history.  What makes the difference, in these grey areas, is the ability democracies have to accept a quasi-continuous debate on key questions and express doubts on the relevance of their past behavior.  No one is mentioning today what 1945 Japan was about.  Moral equivalence, in such circumstances, provides the human mind with easy shortcuts and allows one to avoid dealing with History’s complicated dilemmas.

The second lesson resides in the complexities of international relations and the way a single decision necessarily involves unanticipated or unwarranted consequences, given the limits of human abilities in terms of infinite calculations.  Such a point might appear as obvious, but tends to be forgotten by individuals who are satisfied with unqualified judgments and feel they have a monopoly of reason.  Informed comments are not what they used to be.

Posted in US Foreign Policy, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Return of International Willingness?

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on June 10, 2007

In a quite bizarre column last Tuesday in the Washington Post, Op-Ed writer Anne Applebaum recited a eulogy in the memory of New Europe.  Her point is simple: The mere fact that Aznar, Berlusconi and Blair are gone shows the limits of the alliances Bush maintained in Europe, and is yet another sign of failure of this country’s administration in the international realm. 

The argument is not dubious, it’s fallacious.  Applebaum selects the cases that suits her reasoning best, overlooking until the end of the article the most notable cases of Germany and France.  Whereas in 2002 Schröder was elected in Germany on an essentially anti-American agenda to cover his own domestic failures, he was quickly ousted from office only four years later by Angela MerkelNicolas Sarkozy, who never hid his admiration for the United States and the closeness he feels with Israel, left no chance to his competitors in the French presidential elections last month, showing in the process that expressed sympathy for America was not a strategy doomed to failure.  And that’s not saying anything about Tony Blair’s re-election in Great Britain in 2005, in spite of what Applebaum calls the “Iraqi failure”, nor the extraordinary circumstances under which Aznar lost power – Aznar was a favorite until the very end in the first election ever decided by Al Qaeda.

The lesson of all of this?  Europeans are not as dumb as some would hope, and understand far better the real stakes of current international politics, beyond the situation in Iraq.  The ludicrous controversy Putin tried to launch on the issue of the missile defense shield fooled no one in Europe, as the issue of Iran is a widely shared concern throughout the West.  It is hard to understand how Putin’s bluff, that this shield was against his own country, was not brushed away as ridiculous sooner.

The true question is whether or not the US political and intellectual class will have the courage to recognize that the current Bush-bashing, related to this Administration’s inability to take care of Iraq, should not prevent Americans from redefining the rules of international activism.  Should the mess created in Iraq lead us to remain arms crossed on all of today’s inacceptable issues?  Has the Iraqi turmoil discredited any type of political activism for the future, and condemn the US to systematic inaction as the world goes south?

Applebaum‘s conclusion – America’s arrogance is all the more so irrelevant that it could collaborate with Germany and France – is unfounded because Washington can find in Paris and Berlin two fundamental allies to redefine the possibilities for broad and ambitious international missions.  Kouchner‘s nomination should be interpreted as such.  One that would involve signalling to Russia that threatening Western Europe with its missiles is inacceptable could be a start.

 

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The picture is still fuzzy…  But who knows?

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