Sunday, November 1, 2015

Brave new Dystopia

President Barack Obama might be remembered by some for doing some good on the home front and for having signaled an important milestone in the ongoing Afro-American struggle for civil rights in this country, but, on the international stage, the desperate and cynical attempts by a variety of “realist” spin doctors to rebrand failure notwithstanding, he will remembered as the man who broke the global order.

True, blame in this regard should actually be borne by each administration since the end of the Cold War, but it was Obama who delivered the knockout blow. He began doing so when he misdiagnosed America’s problem on the international scene as too much intervention, then, proceeded to prescribe a variety of remedies that backfired, including cynical retrenchment, cynical engagement, reset buttons and pivots away from where the big problems lie and where he drew ghost red lines to where he has absolutely no idea what is happening or what to do.

As the world’s only superpower par excellence, and even if in certain regions its power is bound to be challenged, one way or another, for better or worse, America does have a responsibility to maintain a certain of balance between the requirements of advancing human rights and democracy, goals that are clearly stated in the UN Charter, and maintaining global peace, another one of UN’s goal. In the aftermath of the Rawanda Genocide, and the Balkan Wars, a new international legal agreement was reached, the Responsibility to Protect, that clearly criminalized the kind of mass slaughter we are witnessing in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Central Africa Republic, among other places, and clearly called on the international community to undertake the necessary action to stop it, including military action.

Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution back in March 2011, the Obama Administration remained committed to a course of action that virtually relegated R2P to the dustbin of history, and set the clock back on human rights and democracy promotion. With this, a UN that was beginning to feel its way towards relevance relapsed into an uninspiring caricature of the uninspired caricature it once was. Welcome to Brave New Dystopia we have always dreaded, and wanted only to experience through science fiction novels, movies and TV programs.

The challenges facing an American President on the international scene are never easy, and they won’t be anytime soon. But ever since the end of WWII, retrenchment has ceased to be a viable option. The challenge might have even become one of intervention management rather than avoidance. This is a perpetual battle indeed which requires a strong military component and a willingness to undertake actions that may prove unpopular, both at home and abroad. But the cost of all this remains far more manageable than those resulting from the creation of geopolitical vacuums only to have them filled by all the wrong elements. True, your enemies might get sucked in and defeated at first, but, sooner or later, so will you: Afghanistan as a case in point. It defeated the Russians, and now it is defeating the Americans. Interventions and conflict management are costly but possible. Chaos management, on the other hand, is an exercise in futility. But this is exactly what happens when we shirk our responsibilities, and insist on firmly shutting our eyes to avoid accepting the ugliness of the reality we created, or allowed to be created.

Avoiding war at any cost in a world where there are still so many powers unwilling to do the same and so many autocrats still willing to engage in mass slaughter is hardly a realistic or noble choice. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledges the right of people to engage in an armed insurrection against an oppressive government.

“…Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…” UDHR: Preamble

Wars might become obsolete one day, and that will be a happy day indeed. But in order to get us there, we need to ensure that UN Charter goals are largely achieved and UDHR ideals are largely fulfilled. This calls for engagement, for democracy promotion, for pushing a human rights agenda, and for standing up to dictators, especially when they are willing to do the kinds of things Bashar Al-Assad has been willing to for the last 5 years. In fact, it would be much better to try to preempt such a possibility by calling him early in the game, by drawing real red lines and be willing to enforce them. Obama has done none of that, and Bernie Sanders and Paul Rand are promising none of that.

Enough with electing foolish renegades who promise us the sun and the moon only to deliver Hades! America and the world beyond need an American leader who won’t run away just because the battle is tough, and who won’t conflate democratic leadership with submission to the popular will at every step. The people are not always right, and there are times when a good democratic leader has to challenge their “wisdom,” and ask for their trust as he leads them in a direction that is different from what most of them might have wanted or expected at one point.

As for that inherent fear of fuckups that some may possess, it should be noted that the risk of fucking up are no less serious even in the case of retrenchment and inaction. This is an inherent risk that comes with leadership. Good leaders know well that this is among the many risks that they have to accept and find ways to manage if they are to be successful, credible, and capable of inspiring awe. This world is still full of thugs, and thugs are bad at "calculus," and their deductive skills leave much to be desired. Without a real show of force, they will never change their ways.  

So long as there are people like Bashar Al-Assad and his clique, people willing to turn against their own and perpetrate mass slaughter in order to stay in power; and so long that there exists countries and rulers elsewhere willing to support them and to justify their actions, we may not have much of a choice about engaging in warfare, perennial or not.

See: Syria decision the latest blow to Obama's Middle East legacy “The administration’s announcement troops would be deployed to fight Isis in Syria leaves officials at a loss to explain how it computes with earlier promises.” Obama fumbles for credibility in Syria as Russia and Iran seize initiative “New US plans to beef up its military response in the Middle East smack of fear as the desire to avoid entanglements once again founders on geopolitical realities.”

A casual perusal of Palestinian and pro-Palestinians Facebook accounts and websites reveals a rather disturbing phenomenon, more so to me because I am an Arab and I do support Palestinian rights. Still, it is distressing to see how the same Palestinians who are busy deploring Israeli violence against them and posting videos showcasing Israeli soldiers doing their worst, also celebrate the random "stabbing operations" carried by Palestinian youths against Israelis. Occasionally, they even accuse “the Jews" of staging scenes of their “innocent” victims by putting knives beside them to justify their murder, something that might have happened in some cases, but since they themselves celebrate certain “stabbing operations,” it is clear that they know that it doesn’t happen in every case. So, they deplore Israeli violence and racism while celebrating their own, and accusing Israelis of staging it, while knowing that, in most cases, this accusation is nothing more than a blatant lie! How Kaforwedian (Kafkaesque, Orwellian and Dickensian)!

The Palestinians have to be better than this, they have to be morally superior to the people occupying their land and denying their basic rights; otherwise they will keep on giving birth to leaders who will turn against them as well, adding another layer of oppression to their lives against which they have to fight. They need to be morally superior and to reflect this in their actions of resistance; otherwise they will end up justifying their own oppression, in effect making their enemies’ case for them. In fact, this is already happening, and has been for a couple of decades now. The fact of the occupation in itself does not provide much of a moral high ground, and will not get the critical global support and the domestic sympathy among Israelis without which the Palestinian struggle is lost.

So even if Palestinians cannot bring themselves to love the ethics of nonviolence for their sake, they should embrace them because these ethics are the best tool in their possession as they continue to struggle for their right, be it in the form of one- or two-state solution.

I can understand why there is so much frustration and anger, the Israeli forces of occupation, Israeli settlers and rightwing fanatics of all stripes are creating conditions that can only foster such a development, but that does not justify embracing it, nor does excuse the Palestinian leader’s boundless moral cowardice and opportunism when face with it. No one has hurt the Palestinian cause more than the Palestinians themselves. The same probably goes for the Syrian revolutionaries as well.  

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