Coward Old Universe…

by Jeremy G.

Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

And I’m not even sure Elvis is actually dead…

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on August 18, 2008

Today’s interview of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröeder in Der Spiegel could almost be amusing if the situation was not so tragic.  Schröder seems to have taken on the role of Russian ambassador for good.  After all, the salary he’s receiving through Gazprom should buy the Russians at least some type of service!  But as the reader will see at the end of the interview, it’s not nice to participate in the global disinformation against the former Chancellor, so enough said – although some are saying a whole lot here, here and here for instance…

Again, I’m all for subtlety, especially in international relations which usually generates stories with complex sheds of gray.  But this tendency, especially in the European left, to applaud Russia’s rise without a word of concern about Russia’s autocracy and methods is more than disturbing.  The idea that two wrongs don’t make a right has never been more relevant today.

Posted in European Left, Russia, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Perplexity

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on August 18, 2008

Here’s an initial disclaimer. You want to call Georgian President Saakashvili a hot head, a crook, a villain, America’s spoiled brat? Fine by me. As long as you recognize that he is certainly not Saddam and that Georgia is a democracy – although an ailing one in practice.

Once that this caveat is out of the way, I find that there is something profoundly disturbing in the fatalistic views of this war which conclude that the region in question is not part of America’s sphere of influence and any point of view that would say different is irresponsible. Does this mean that America should not care and give Putin a blank check? I would have a a hard time understanding such a surrender. In addition, this is not only America’s problem, but the West as a whole. Yesterday’s efforts to build democracy East of Europe is not a goal we should abandon only because it upsets Russia. We only need to have the capital to reach our goals.

That’s why I will admit, with no trouble, how furious Bush’s inability to act – due to his own mistakes and miscalculations in the past. Furthermore, talking to Russia should obviously not be off the table. That said, I still believe that letting autocracies prosper is a strategy that has proved disastrous in the past and will be in the future.

Posted in Russia, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Stability vs. Democracy

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on July 15, 2008

Realpolitik is to foreign policymaking what healthy food is to a bachelor who is about to get married, in my opinion: You know it’s important for you, though you don’t necessarily want to accept that reality – no pun intended – right away.  This may explain why I’m not a big fan of realism in practice, but also why I found that Sarkozy’s invitation to Syrian president el-Assad was logical and defendable.  I experience greater difficulty, however, when realpolitik leads a power to defend “stability” – and thus the status quo – over any efforts to make progress in terms of democratization.

Condoleezza Rice makes a very good point on this topic in her most recent Foreign Affairs essay, “Rethinking the National Interest: American Realism for a New World“:

…the quest for justice and a new equilibrium on which the nations of the broader Middle East are now embarked is very turbulent. But is it really worse than the situation before? Worse than when Lebanon suffered under the boot of Syrian military occupation? Worse than when the self-appointed rulers of the Palestinians personally pocketed the world’s generosity and squandered their best chance for a two-state peace? Worse than when the international community imposed sanctions on innocent Iraqis in order to punish the man who tyrannized them, threatened Iraq’s neighbors, and bulldozed 300,000 human beings into unmarked mass graves? Or worse than the decades of oppression and denied opportunity that spawned hopelessness, fed hatreds, and led to the sort of radicalization that brought about the ideology behind the September 11 attacks? Far from being the model of stability that some seem to remember, the Middle East from 1945 on was wracked repeatedly by civil conflicts and cross-border wars. Our current course is certainly difficult, but let us not romanticize the old bargains of the Middle East — for they yielded neither justice nor stability.

 A few words of wisdom, when we decide to deal with the Middle East again, updating our knowledge in the aftermath of the Iraqi events.

Posted in World Politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Iran has lost a battle

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on July 14, 2008

Sarkozy’s decision to invite Syrian President Bachar el-Assad has stirred great controversy in France.  Sarkozy had announced, in the minutes that followed his election, that he would end past French realpolitik practices and would not compromise with dictatorships.  After the sight of Qaddafi in Paris, el-Assad’s visit has come as a major blow to human rights activists.

I understand the disappointment of those who have a hard time seeing the logic in all of this, as I experienced the same difficulties, and was a great fan of Sarkozy’s more idealist proclivities.  It is worth noting, however, that Syria is not Libya.  Today’s handshake between el-Assad and Sarkozy is the proof that if the West will talk to Damascus, the Syrians, in turn will listen.  The latter feel uneasy, to say the least, with the way they’ve been treated since the Hariri assassination and the subsequent Cedar Revolution.  Their ties with Hezbollah and Tehran are very solid given the current situation, but Syria remains the weak link in this Shiite Axis.

As a matter of fact, whereas the el-Assad is alawite, that is a branch of the Shiite sect, the majority of the population in Syria is Sunni.  There is therefore nothing “natural” about the axis allying Tehran to Damascus and Hezbollah, though it remains very solid in practice.  The truth of the matter is that it this is an ad hoc alliance that the West has the ability to break.  If and once this occurs, this will constitute a major blow to Tehran, which will start lacking support in the region.   

Sarkozy is spending part of his political capital, but if his calculations are as wise as they appear, this may turn out to be smart spending… 

Posted in World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Global Conundrum

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on July 10, 2008

 

This week’s Economist cover serves two purposes: 1) It shows that the British have a sense of humor after all (this is coming from a man who holds a French passport and should thus not be underestimated) and 2) describe the global disarray in which we find ourselves today.  Indeed, consider any single international institution.  No challenge it faces is a standalone question or is independent of a wide set of other issues related to another institution’s scope of action.

This debate emerges as the G8 meets in Japan.  This meeting has triggered additional critiques against the G8, considered as irrelevant in the wake of the rise of India, China, … and the rest of the world.  This criticism is founded.  But an often-advocated strategy, which consists in opening up the institution to new powers, may seem like common sense but is inappropriate in my opinion.  In fact, there is another school of thought. 

In fact, Edouard Balladur, Phillip Bobbitt and Jim Hoagland have all pled for a tightening of the G8 into a G2 or G3.  A strategy that would consisting in tightening the group around two or three key actors would yield more cohesiveness among a set of (more or less) homogeneous powers, and would allow greater discussions between different blocks, as other nations will find it advantageous to organize and find grounds for a coalition.

Posted in World Politics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Note to Turkey: Be Smarter Than Us…

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on October 17, 2007

turkey.jpg 

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.

 

kurdistan-10.png

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

Qui a peur de M. Poutine?

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on October 16, 2007

images2.jpg 

On se bouscule pour aller saluer M. Poutine.  La semaine dernière, c’était au tour de notre président français, M.Sarkozy, qui semble avoir oublié ses positions de la campagne électorale – Glucksmann doit s’en mordre les doigts.  A suivi ensuite la visite du patron de la Défense améric aine, Bob Gates, et de la chef de la diplomatie, Condoleezza Rice, qui ont le droit à un véritable sermon du nouveau Tsar russe sans pour autant hausser le ton.

Poutine est populaire dans son pays.  La Russie est un grand pays, et il ne faut pas l’humilier.  Autant d’excuses que l’on entend, ici et là, pour justifier le fait que les démocraties occidentales ont pardonné beaucoup de choses à la Russie.  Qui se rappelle de la véritable déclaration de guerre de Poutine à l’Europe, l’hiver dernier?  Qui, dans les chancelleries occidentales, s’indigne des obstacles russes à des sanctions plus efficaces contre l’Iran, et du véritable soutien que donne Poutine à Ahmadinejad?  

Le courage politique fait défaut aux capitales occidentales, et notamment à Washington.  Le prix à payer sera bien élevé.  Poutine a fait part de son intention de rester dans la vie politique de son pays, et de briguer le poste du Premier Ministre.  Ceux qui avaient parié sur la fin de sa carrière politique doivent être déçus.

Posted in Politique étrangère américaine, Politique étrangère française, Russie, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hiroshima, Decision Making and Dealing with the Future

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on August 7, 2007

hiroshima.jpg

 

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 »

Effrayante Convergence

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on July 6, 2007

Que l’Irak soit le théâtre de violences abominables entre Chiites et Sunnites est désormais un fait connu et accepté de tous. Le pays concentre à lui seul toutes les tensions et les violences que le sectarisme engendre et va engendrer les prochaines années. Deux raisons expliquent cela: Non seulement c’est en Irak où se déroule la bataille entre Chiites et Sunnites pour la suprématie de la région, mais également parce qu’en dehors du pays, on observe paradoxalement une convergence aussi remarquable qu’effrayante entre les forces qui se font face dans le pays même.

L’Iran est décidée de gagner la guerre d’Irak en imposant sa suprématie et en s’assurant que les populations chiites du pays prennent définitivement le pouvoir. L’activisme iranien en Irak n’est d’ailleurs un secret pour personne – lire ceci également.

Cela n’empêche cependant pas les Iraniens de faire preuve d’un pragmatisme surprenant, bien au contraire. D’abord en utilisant le Hezbollah, force chiite libanaise, pour mener des combats par procuration, comme pendant l’été 2006 contre Israël. Il existe une grosse incertitude sur la nature du rapport de subordination. Le rapport est cependant incontestable. Le centre d’analyse Jane’s Briefings va même jusqu’à raconter que les Israéliens, lors des confrontations de l’été 2006, ont retrouvé parmi les corps des combattants, des individus avec des papiers iraniens et des documents prouvant leur appartenance aux Gardiens de la Révolution.

 

images3.jpg

 

Jusque là, cependant, rien de très surprenant au-delà du pragmatisme de Téhéran, puisque l’alliance entre l’Iran et le Hezbollah, deux entités chiites, s’explique aisément. La situation commence sérieusement à s’obscurcir dès lors que l’on apprend la possible implication de l’Iran en Afghanistan, aux côtés des Taliban, groupe sunnite proche d’Al-Qaida. Plus surprenante encore cette histoire, relatée par l’Orient Le Jour, quotidien libanais francophone, lundi dernier:

L’UE, en la personne de son représentant diplomatique, Javier Solana, paraît désormais convaincue de l’existence d’un lien entre la politique iranienne, la prise de contrôle de la bande de Gaza par le Hamas et les attaques récentes contre l’armée libanaise et contre la Finul au Liban.

L’attentat du jour précédent contre les casques-bleus espagnols, composant la force de la FINUL, a été attribué par Madrid à une “cellule terroriste composée de non-Libanais”, poursuit l’article, confirmant la thèse selon laquelle la présence étrangère au Liban continue, comme on avait pu le pressentir avec les événements de Nahr al-Bared le mois dernier.

Mais l’intérêt est encore plus global. Au fur et à mesure du temps se multiplient les preuves d’une alliance entre Téhéran et des groupes sunnites, en Afghanistan comme dans les territoires palestiniens, notamment avec le Hamas – voir par exemple cette info, ainsi que cette analyse de International Security Network et cet interview du Council on Foreign Relations. Un spécialiste britannique du terrorisme, Greg Copley, est même allé jusqu’à affirmer, le week-end dernier sur Fox News, que la responsabilité des récents attentats ratés de Londres et de Glasgow sont à aller chercher du côté de Téhéran, alors que le terrorisme qui a jusqu’à maintenant frappé l’Occident émanait essentiellement d’Al-Qaida, sunnite, et de groupes affiliés.

“Les ennemis de mes ennemis sont mes amis”. Si cette logique se confirmait, on devrait alors se préparer à la pire des réalités, à savoir l’alliance entre deux forces qui se combattent en Irak mais qui s’unissent en dehors, avec un seul objectif commun: continuer à semer le trouble en Europe et aux Etats-Unis et engendrer les plus grosses perturbations possibles.

Posted in Terrorisme, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The end of Palestine?

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on June 27, 2007

images4.jpg

Who’s fault is it? That’s an issue that has come up repeatedly. Bret Stephens probably provides the best answer in the Wall Street Journal today, but says little about the future. He only points out a fact that scares a whole lot of people: The very notion of Palestine might have died with Hamas’s coup two weeks ago.

If little is said about the future, it is most certainly because the West finds itself in a very unpleasant situation. First, the U.S., and George W. Bush, who advocated a profound change in Palestinian politics back in 2003, actively participated in Arafat’s estrangement, and was the first – and rightfully so – to denounce Hamas’s win in January 2006. So, back to square one and support for the PA? Strange situation, as Robert Satloff points out.

Next in line in this unpleasant situation is the European Union, who accepted the U.S.’s condemnation – and rightfully so – of Hamas, but must now face the monstrous dilemma it created: Choose between corruption and terrorism, knowing that the first nourishes the second. Voices are speaking out, including this one in France – although with a taint of distasteful moral relativism, as Israel, Iran and Hamas are treated on the very same level, but then again, this is the Quai d’Orsay talking… Now, Europe must deal with decades of inaction in the region. Lebanon, under Syrian rule, was the first issue to blow up in our faces. Palestine is second.

So… Where do we go from now? Historical irony let this period coincide with Blair’s departure from Downing Street. My intuition is that Blair‘s legacy will be openness to act on the international stage, and not accept historical fatalism – although some time will need to fly by before he is actually granted such legacy. It’s almost a shame that his departure coincides with Sarkozy’s arrival, as one would have liked to see how the two men’s international willingness – on the issues of Darfur and the European Construction for instance – would have been combined in practice.

But, in all likelihood, Blair will not disappear, and be named the Quartet‘s Ambassador in the Middle East. Perhaps this will be a way for the West to intervene directly in Palestine, and not let “fate” decide what occurs. And perhaps this will avoid today’s dilemma, because it is reasonable to believe that we – Palestinians included – do not need to choose between corruption and terrorism.

Posted in International Willingness, Middle East, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »