Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Realistic vs. Unrealistic Realism

So, is America teaming up with Al-Qaeda, again? That is indeed the story if one is to believe Andrew Cockburn’s assertion in this essay of his in Harper’s magazine. A more accurate statement, however, might go like this: America might be teaming up with some Jihadi groups (such as Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaish Al-Islam) whose basic ideology may not be so different from Al-Qaeda, in order to defeat a common enemy, in this case the IS/Daesh. America has adopted a similar strategy before when it supported the Afghan Mujahideen, an assortment of Jihadi groups backed by Saudi Arabia as well and which included Al-Qaeda, as well as Iranian-backed Shia Jihadis, in their fight against the Soviets. In geopolitical terms, these nuances make a helluva difference. When it comes to Russia, Iran, China, and even Syria or Venezuela, such nuances, such political consideration are never neglected, and are often used by a variety of pundits, experts and journalists to justify the often inexcusable and cruel actions of the leaderships involved. But when it comes to America, things have to be seen in black and white, for some ideological reason. And America has to be condemned, where others are given a pass.

This comes as a defense of consistency rather than America’s fuckups, past or present. Why can’t we just examine things from a somewhat detached perspective, so we can truly understand our lot and have a decent chance at improving it?

Back to Syria and America’s plans there, consider this: when no one intervened when Assad was bombing the largely peaceful protesters, and when it took close to a year before America began to provide some logistical support to moderate rebels, albeit on a highly haphazard basis, and when talks with Iran proceeded as though they were not supporting Assad’s mass slaughter campaign, and a deal was reached that only serve to postpone the “inevitable” while further empowering one of the most destabilizing forces in the region, when Russians were allowed to do what they wanted in Syria from providing arms to the Assad regime to carving their own niche along the Mediterranean (imperialism anyone?), and when you pledged not to put boots on the grounds even if for the defense of the weak and the shattered remains of our sense of humanity and decency, and when international law is clearly on your side, even if it suited the Russian not to admit it, when you are willing to do or let all this happen, what other options did you really leave yourself? When you let the rascals out, and only watch as they push the decent and the moderate away from the scene, when you, in other words, let the rascals rule, with whom are going to partner when it is time for you to act?

On the other hand, for the same people who were advocating non-intervention (I don’t know if Andrew Cockburn is one of them, but his article is definitely being shared all over by them), and who are supportive of the deal with Iran and are against putting boots on the ground, and who are now busy criticizing Saudi Arabia’s role in Syria and the region, while ignoring Iran’s similar role, and who are set against this particularly desperate amoral measure, which remains more a possibility than a reality, what do they really want? Some want Assad to stay in power, and some are clearly advocating a return to the policy of doing business with autocrats, but not Saudi, Qatari, Turkish, or any potentially powerful Sunni autocrat really, just Shia, Russian, Chinese and weak Sunni and African autocrats. Why? Who knows? It could be anything from ideology and clientelism to having LSD-fried brains, or meth for blood. Whatever the cause may be, this is the consequence: the fascists are reemerging on the historical scene, and with a vengeance. Their failure to win he regional elections in France is heartening, but could prove to be a temporary setback if not followed up with efforts to address the roots causes behind the phenomenon. And that’s a toll order.


Nobody should underestimate how hard it is to take the populists on. Some mainstream politicians dismiss their arguments by labelling them fascist or extremist. Yet such disdain risks suggesting that the elite is uninterested in the real grievances that populists play on. Others try to borrow the populists’ less-offensive clothes by promising, say, to deny benefits to migrants rather than build border fences. Yet such xenophobia-lite often just validates populist prejudices. Illiberalism – Playing with fear “In America and Europe, right-wing populist politicians are on the march. The threat is real.” 

The Economist then goes on to suggest steps to help tackle the problem, including: maintaining commitment to “open markets, open borders, globalisation and the free movement of people,” work with Muslims attempting to take on the extremists in their midst, and show strong leadership on security challenges. The last point does not mean that we should focus on the IS/Daesh phenomenon alone, but on the larger issues that facilitated its rise, which in Syria, would include the Assad regime and its murderous tactics.

But by now, it should be clear that tackling the issue of Assad’s removal has become an overly complicated problem. The U.S. cannot proceed alone in this matter. But then, the U.S. does not have to. Now that Saudi Arabia has announced the formation of a 34-State Islamic Military Alliance Against Terrorism, the U.S. should work with them to prevent this from becoming another nonsensical dysfunctional entity like the Friends of Syria group or the Arab League, and call on them to provide the necessary boots on the ground. Meanwhile, the U.S., France, the U.K., Germany, Australia and perhaps Canada as well, if Justin Trudeau is willing to reconsider its decision about involvement in the Syria Conflict, can provide the necessary air cover and logistical support, and perhaps even create a no-fly zone to ensure the protection of civilian population. Liberated areas can then be government by the local councils who, as Alexander Starritt argues in The Guardian, represent the real alternative to both IS and Assad. 

Yes, the move does entail risking a confrontation with Russia and Iran, but there is no way out of this anymore. Both countries need to be stopped, and they need to be stopped now, in Syria, else they are bound to create more mayhem in the region and elsewhere: Central Asia is already boiling, and Russia’s designs on well-nigh imploding Moldova are no secret. 

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