[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]hooting from the hip with unerring accuracy was the Wild West according to Hollywood. As anyone who has ever fired a pistol will tell you it is improbable, and historically the West’s few gun duels were rather unremarkable. The latest hip-shooter is of course Donald J. Trump whose foreign policy seems to turn on a dime — from not interested in removing Bashar al-Assad to his having no place in a future Syria, all within a week.
The U.S. has a powerful military and it is very good at breaking things, so it is no surprise that presidents are tempted to use it. It doesn’t matter that the problem requires shrewd diplomacy and difficult negotiations; the president is making a point.
In a ridiculous Kabuki drama 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired off at Shayrat Air Base … after the Russians had been forewarned and had promptly informed their Syrian allies, who were spotted removing equipment and personnel. Damaging a few hardened aircraft shelters and a few of the less serviceable aircraft makes the episode a token rather than a serious military attack. And costing the U.S. taxpayer $1.6 million a piece for a total close to $100 million, this missile show left the U.S. a likely loser financially.
Who knows what happened in Idlib when there hasn’t been time for a proper investigation. Eyewitnesses report a plane dropping a bomb which is not much to go on. But a conventional bomb does its damage through its explosive force and would show much greater physical destruction at the site than a chemical weapon using a small quantity of explosive as a means for dispersing the gas. An examination of the site could prove or disprove the Russian assertion that a conventional weapon hitting a storage/manufacturing facility released organophosphates.
No such analysis from anyone, least of all Mr. Trump as he shed crocodile tears for the poisoned ‘babies’. Instant death from gas is clearly more humane than shrapnel. It is why you won’t see any pictures from Yemen (they are much too gruesome) where Mr. Trump’s allies are making mincemeat out of men, women and children alike, even using cluster bombs in civilian areas. That does not cross Mr. Trump’s ‘many lines’. The Convention on Cluster Munitions bans their use and has been ratified by a majority of the world’s nations.
It was another time but the same place, the UN, when Secretary of State Colin Powell accused the Iraqis of concealing WMDs. The denials of the Iraqi Ambassador were brushed aside, and the subsequent war continues in one form or another. A million plus dead and many millions displaced, an ISIS monster born, war in Syria and a refugee crisis in Europe. The latter tipping the scales in Britain’s narrow Brexit vote. Who could have imagined the consequences or the ultimate cost — initially estimated at $64 billion, but nearly $5 trillion and counting according to a Sept 2016 report by the Watson Institute at Brown University.
Now we have UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s undiplomatic language accusing Syria of using chemical weapons. The question not being asked in this propaganda war is simple: What in heaven’s name does Syria gain from using sarin gas on its own civilians? Assad is not an idiot. Syria does not need the extra firepower, it certainly does not need the opprobrium of the world, and, if one may recall, it surrendered all its chemical weapons (under international supervision) after the last such incident four years ago.
Quite frankly, this accusation makes as much sense as the one about Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait removing premature babies from hospital incubators leaving them to die, to steal the incubators. That one by the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter Nayirah al-Sabah was gospel at the time, even corroborated by Amnesty International, and helped propel the first Iraqi war under George Bush Senior. It was absolutely false.
When President Trump now says he is changing his mind about Assad, the objective seems to have been achieved. Whether it was a shot fired by intransigent rebels to disrupt the Russia-sponsored Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, or an accident, the results are highly satisfactory for those who do not want peace. Again, it points not to Assad but elsewhere.
While military analysts like Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, consider the Russian account “unsustainable” and “very fanciful,” the idea that a storage/manufacturing facility could have partially damaged weapons leaking after the blast heat had dissipated may not be. The Russians are not fools and would not make a claim so easily dismissed . And as yet without forensic evidence, nobody can be certain what nerve agent is responsible.
Dan Kaszeta also a former military man concurs with Bretton-Gordon. Yet in 2013, the hexamine in government storage prompted him to blame the Assad regime for a chemical attack. However, hexamine has many uses. It was also determined that the triggering devices used containers and explosive not in use by the Syrian army. The experienced Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, a member of the then UN Independent Commission of Enquiry on Syria, expressed “strong concrete suspicions” of rebel culpability. A former Swiss attorney general and respected prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, her conclusion was categorical: “This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she had ascertained. Are military analysts unconsciously biased?
Now we are being told this is the second time Syria has used chemical weapons. The fake news never stops and neither do leaders or their representatives. Their currency is never counterfeit … until it’s too late. In the 2013 incident, the fake news would have had us believe that Assad invited UN inspectors and then exploded a chemical weapon 10km from their hotel.
It is important not to demonize Assad not only because it is unconscionable if he is innocent of these war crimes, but also because peace without him is at present unattainable. As a British MP, George Galloway, not taken in by the hysteria at the time said, “he may be bad but is he mad?” Here we are back again and it’s time to repeat his question. Also one more — the elephant-in-the- room question: WHY?
‘Remember the Maine’ before the Spanish-American War; the Lusitania carrying weapons despite Germany’s strong warning before the First World War; the ‘Gulf of Tonkin’ before the Vietnam war; the ‘undeniable evidence’ of WMDs in Iraq; and now Syria — an unrepentant tarnished history of varnished mendacity costing millions of lives and tens of millions of refugees in a trail of horrendous human suffering.
Truth would be refreshing, but it comes at a tremendous cost. Ask some recent purveyors.
Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power
The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.
The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.
The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.
Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.
Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.
That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.
In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.
Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.
More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.
A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.
Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.
Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr. Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.
FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets, and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.
Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.
A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.
In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.
In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.
A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”
Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.
In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.
Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.
Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.
The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.
“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.
It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.
Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.
One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.
Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.
Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.
With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”
He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.
Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week
The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.
Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.
The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday.
Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.
“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.
“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”
The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.
An important contribution
The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.
This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.
For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning.
He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”
Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”
North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?
In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.
In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.
Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.
With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.
Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.
But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.
Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.
It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.
The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.
In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!
Resource Curse and Underdevelopment Give Way to Mass Unrest and Political Instability in Sudan
As reported October 25 by the reputable state media, Al Arabiya, Sudanese army and a cross-section of its population have...
Regulatory Noose Tightens Around the Federal Reserve: Powell Reaffirmed a Second Term
The Federal Reserve has been under a sharp gaze since the twilight years of former president Donald J. Trump. Whether...
Russia’s role in the revival of the Iran Nuclear deal
Iran in recent weeks has stated on more than one occasion, that is willing to return to the negotiation table...
Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power
The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to...
The impact of the joint security coordination between Israel and Turkey in Afghanistan
First: Analysis of the potential scenarios of (Israeli-Arab or Iranian-Arab security coordination on Afghanistan), or the extent of success of...
United World of Job Seekers and Job Creators Will Boost Recovery
Why is there so much disconnect between entrepreneurial thinking and bureaucratic thinking? Has the world of education, certification, occupation divided...
Debunking the Sovereignty: From Foucault to Agamben
“Citing the end of Volume I of The History of Sexuality, Agamben notes that for Foucault, the “threshold of modernity”...
Defense3 days ago
American submarine mangled in the South China Sea
Middle East4 days ago
North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?
Defense3 days ago
Will India be sanctioned over the S-400 Air Defense System?
Intelligence2 days ago
Sino-Russian regional activities after Afghanistan
Economy2 days ago
Sustainable Agriculture in Modern Society
Finance4 days ago
North Macedonia’s Growth Projected Higher, but Economy Still Faces Risks
Americas3 days ago
America’s Two-Tiered Justice System
East Asia2 days ago
Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China