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Building World Order from “Plague”: Utopian, but Necessary

Pieter Bruegel's The Triumph of Death

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“In the end, we are  creatures of our own making.”-Goethe, Faust

From the start of the current worldwide “plague,” US President Donald J. Trump has claimed the corona virus crisis can be easily managed. “Soon,” he has predicted again and again, “it will  go away, miraculously.” This stubborn expectation is silly at best and homicidal at worst.[1] Founded upon nothing of recognizable intellectual consequence, that is, of any actual tangible evidence, it remains a grimly false and self-serving expectation.

               Prima facie, in view of its palpable human costs, it is one of the most heinous presidential derelictions in American history.

               An antecedent question also arises. Why should an American president in the 21st century openly prefer gibberish-nonsense to science or “mind”?[2] The correct answer is discoverable, at least in part, in the unchanging mentality of  “mass man.” This all-too-conspicuous , nefarious and universal historical figure, as we may learn from twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset  (The Revolt of the Masses,1930), “has no use for Reason.”

               “He learns,” warns Ortega famously, “only in his own flesh.”

               When Donald Trump went to Singapore for his initial summit with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un on June 12, 2028, he volunteered that he needed “no preparation,” just “attitude.” Here, incarnate, was the conspiracy-believing “mass man,”  figuring things out only  “in his own flesh.” Here was an American president who blames catastrophic multi-state fires on “forest management,” not climate change, who recommends injecting Covid patients with household disinfectants, and eagerly plays obedient lap-dog to Vladimir Putin.

               Here, in short, was a fearful archetype, the American herald of  continuously approaching misfortune and fatality.

               Though there can be no persuasive reassurances in any such president’s anti-science/anti-reason diatribes,  an unhidden potential for good may still lie latent  in this pandemic. More precisely, purposefully exploiting the vast pathogenic challenge of corona virus could help all affected peoples to reaffirm their integral human interdependence. Beyond any question, this obviously unwanted and unwitting “benefactor” now confronts humankind indiscriminately, in toto.

               There is more.   This plague delivers its toxic and corrosive debilities without any regard for national, racial, ethnic, religious or ideological differences. The basic lesson here is simple, yet powerful: In primal matters of biology, of “being human,” we are all essentially the same. Still, that evident “sameness” is not exclusively biological. Instead, it carries over to humankind’s multiple and intersecting needs as communities, nations and planet.[3]

               Fittingly, pandemic can be approached not only as a pathological scourge, but also as a prospective global unifier. In this regard,  corona virus harms could become a genuine source of a fragmented world’s long-sought human unity.

               How could this happen? It is a sensible query, one that merits serious and systematic attention. It’s not just a silly or offhanded thought. In reality, of course, it is utopian, but nonetheless necessary. What happens, we must now inquire, when  what is improbable is also necessary? It’s not a question for the intellectually faint-hearted.

                Where do we stand today? As a partial but important response, Donald J. Trump’s United States remains oriented toward the diametric opposite of global community, of solidarity, of what Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardon  in The Phenomenon of Man (1955) imaginatively calls “planetization.” This president’s incessantly cynical postures of belligerent nationalism represent a gratuitously rancorous rejection of human commonality. This ill-fated rejection has no recognizable jurisprudential basis in either codified or customary international law.

               Background matters. In 1758, in The Law of Nations, famed legal scholar Emmerich de Vattel affirmed the irrefutable primacy of human interdependence. Said the great Swiss jurist: “Nations….are bound mutually to advance human society….The first general law …is that each nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”  Vattel’s visionary ideals have never held any tangible sway in global politics, but today, in the grievously tarnished Trump-era, these ideals have been pushed farther away than ever before.

               Why should one allegedly “powerful” country, the United States, seek prosperity at the expense of other countries? Left unmodified, the most palpable effect of this unprepared American president’s retrograde policies will be a more starkly accelerating global tribalism .[4] To the extent that the corrosive effects of this false communion could sometime display or ignite even a nuclear conflict, these effects (whether sudden or incremental) could propel this imperiled planet toward irreversible catastrophe and enduring chaos.[5]

               A timely example would be Trump’s continuing references to the “China Virus,” a defiling derivative of this president’s “America First” posture. Among other things, a firm rejection of any such atavistic American tribalism could prove generally clarifying and indispensably gainful.

                There is more. Ultimately, if we humans are going to merely survive as a species, truth must win out over political wizardry. For Americans, one unavoidable conclusion here is that any continuance of national safety and prosperity must be linked inextricably with wider global impact. It is profoundly and unforgivably foolish to suppose that this nation – or, indeed, any other nation on this bleeding earth – should ever expect meaningful security progress at the intentional expense of other nations.

               The bottom line? We humans are all in this together. The current pandemic is universal or near-universal, and could thus provide impetus not only for mitigating a particular and insidious pathology, but also for institutionalizing wider patterns of durable global cooperation.

                By its very nature, the US president’s core mantra of celebrating a perpetually belligerent nationalism is crude and injurious. Now, instead of “America First,” the only sensible posture for Donald J. Trump or his successor must be some plausible variation of “we’re all in the lifeboat together.” Such an improved mantra might not be all that difficult to operationalize if there were first to emerge some antecedent political will.[6]

               The basic idea behind underscoring and exploiting a basic human “oneness” is readily discoverable in the elegant words of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of everyone for himself,” summarizes the French Jesuit scientist and philosopher, “is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

               The key message here is simple, straightforward and illogical to contest or oppose. This message communicates, among other things, that no single country’s individual success can ever be achieved at the planned expense of other countries. Correspondingly, we should learn from the very same primal message that no national success is ever sustainable if the world as a whole must thereby expect a diminishing future.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers: “I believe because it is absurd.” The pandemic can bring many discrepant civilizational matters into striking focus. No conceivably gainful configuration of Planet Earth can ever prove rewarding if the vast but segmented human legions which comprise it remain morally, spiritually, economically and intellectually adrift.

               It is, however, precisely such a willful detachment from more secure national and international moorings that is the legacy America’s Donald J. Trump.[7]

               In every important sense, the philosophers are correct. For the world as a whole, chaos and anarchy[8] are never the genuinely underlying “disease.” Always, that more determinative pathology remains rooted in certain ostentatiously great and powerful states that fail to recognize the overriding imperatives of human interrelatedness. This core incapacity to acknowledge our species’ indestructible biological “oneness” (a fact more utterly obvious with today’s Covid-19 pandemic) has been a long-term problem.

               It is not particular to any one American president or to the United States in its entirety.

                Now, in the literal midst of a worldwide pathological assault from the corona virus, what should we expect from President Trump’s unhidden contempt for cooperative world community?  Increasingly, if  left unimproved, world politics will further encourage an already basic human deficit. This deficit or shortfall  is the incapacity of individual citizens and their respective states to discover authentic self-worth as individual persons; that is, deeply, thoughtfully, within themselves. Such an enduring deficit was prominently foreseen in the eighteenth century by America’s then-leading person of letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

               Today, unsurprisingly, the still-vital insights of Emerson’s “American Transcendentalism” remain recognizable to only a tiny minority of citizens. How could it be any different. In the current United States, almost no one reads books. As for serious books of literature or science, the revealed minority of readers becomes excruciatingly small. This cryptic observation is not offered here in any offhanded or gratuitously mean spirited fashion, but, quite the contrary, as a simple fact of American life, one famously commented upon during the first third of the nineteenth century by distinguished French visitor to the new republic, Alexis de Tocqueville (See Democracy in America). This same fact led the Founding Fathers of the United States to rail against uneducated mass participation in the new nation’s formal governance.  

               The United States was never even imagined as a democracy.[9] Back then, in the 18th century, creating a republic was revolutionary enough.

               Today, our relevant focus must be on world politics, and on getting beyond state centrism. From pandemic control to war avoidance, belligerent nationalism has always been misconceived. Left to fester on its own intrinsic demerits, this atavistic  mantra will do little more than harden the hearts of America’s most recalcitrant state enemies. What we need now, as Americans, citizens of other countries, or as worried inhabitants of an imperiled planet, is a marked broadening of support for global solidarity and human interconnectedness.[10]

                From the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which ended the last of the religious wars sparked by the Reformation, international relations and international law[11] have been shaped by an ever-changing  but perpetually unstable “balance of power.” Hope still exists, more-or-less, but now it must sing softly, sotto voce, in an embarrassed undertone. Although counter-intuitive, the time for any visceral celebrations of nationalism, military technology and even artificial intelligence is at least partially over. 

               What is to be done? Always, the macrocosm follows microcosm. In order to merely survive on a fragmented planet, all of us, together, must seek to rediscover a consciously individual life, one that is wittingly detached from all pre-patterned kinds of  nationalistic conformance and from mass-determined visages of some imagined tribal happiness.

               Only then might we finally learn that the most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by militarizing global economics, by building larger missiles, by abrogating international treaties or by advancing ”realistic” definitions of national security.

               In the end, whatever happens in the crumbling world of politics and nationality, truth must remain exculpatory. Accordingly, and in a uniquely promising paradox, disease pandemic  can help us see a much larger truth than the ones we have wrongly cultivated for centuries. This particular truth, a conclusion broadly pertinent and intellectually cosmopolitan, is that Americans must become more explicitly conscious of human unity and relatedness. Significantly, such a heightened consciousness or lucidity is not a luxury we can simply choose to accept or reject.

               Its selection is indispensable.

               It represents an ineradicable prerequisite of national and species survival. “Civilization,” offers Lewis Mumford In the Name of Sanity (1954), “is the never-ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”[12] The visionary prophets of world integration and human oneness ought no longer be dismissed out of hand as foolishly utopian. Now, more than ever, they define the residual wellsprings of human survival.[13]

               Macrocosm follows microcosm. All things must be seen in their totality. By itself, the corona virus pandemic is uniformly harmful and grievously corrosive. At the same time, and precisely because it represents such a conspicuously lethal threat to the world as a whole, it could be viewed as a prospectively life-affirming human unifier.

               “In the end,” Goethe reminds us, “we are creatures of our own making.” To continue,  every national society, but the United States in particular,[14] will need to embrace leaderships who can finally understand the irrevocable meanings of human interdependence and human “oneness.” In this auspicious embrace, all will need to understand the differences between a “freedom” that is uniformly gainful and one that selectively disregards the needs of certain others. In this regard, as President of the United States, Donald J. Trump has supported the most strikingly nefarious meaning of freedom, a freedom not to care about  other people (Americans and “foreigners” ). He has displayed such injurious orientations primarily with his retrograde anti-mask policies on Corona Virus, and by his corresponding antipathies toward science and scientists.

               In the words of this lethal  president, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other properly-credentialed epidemiologists have now been reduced lexically to the status of “idiots.”[15]

               What we require are not refractory affirmations of homicidal indifference, but a renewed awareness that true knowledge is inevitably much more than a manufactured contrivance. Going forward,  public policy must follow disciplined logic (correct reasoning) and rigorous science. Anything else would be inexcusable “wizardry,” and would lead us even farther astray from residual pandemic-based opportunities.

                In essence, the prescribed task still before us is complex, daunting, many-sided and bewildering, but there are no sane alternative options. None at all. Whatever policy particulars we should ultimately adopt, America’s initial focus must remain steadfast on considerations of human interrelatedness and “mind.” Until now, the grotesque Trump paradigm of bitter rancor and endless conflict has driven us further from both survival and law.[16] It is time to sweep that ill-conceived paradigm into the oft-referenced “ashbin of history.”

               Wittingly, Trump policies have produced devastating misfortune, mass dying and mounting casualties. Surely America can do better. Surely there must be more capable and decent leaders discoverable in the wings. Surely we can all do much better than merely cling to corrosive presidential postures of callous indifference and murderous egocentrism.

               If not, it’s time to inquire, what can even be the point of our being here? We are, after all,  “creatures of our own making.”


[1] Though a jurisprudential stretch, one might also think here of “genocidal” harms. In  effect, the number of Americans who are currently dying and still apt to die in more-or-less direct consequence of this rabidly anti-science American presidency resembles certain actual historical genocides. The key difference lies less in the measurable magnitude of “plague death” than in the absence of intent, or mens rea. Under pertinent international law, primarily the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), before authentic genocide can be taking place, there must first be discernible evidence of an “intent to destroy.” Whatever else may be said about Donald J. Trump’s gross indifference to American mass dying facilitated by his abject policies, it still likely lacks this express law-specified intent.

[2] The Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin coined a new term to denote the vital sphere of intellect or “mind.” This term is “noosphere;” it builds upon Friedrich Nietzsche’s stance well-known (especially in Zarathustra) that human beings must always challenge themselves, must continuously strive to “overcome” their otherwise meager “herd”-determined  yearnings.

[3] We may recall here the pertinent parable from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: “What does not benefit the entire hive is no benefit to the bee.” Unless we take meaningful steps to implement an organic and cooperative planetary civilization – one based on the irremediably central truth of human “oneness” –  there will be no civilization at all.

[4] There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

[5] Though composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers a timeless vision of chaos in world politics. During chaos, says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery,”  a “time of War….  every man is Enemy to every man… and…. the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition among individual human beings because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature – that is, being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the spread of nuclear weapons.

[6] In modern philosophy, the evident highlighting of this useful term lies in Arthur Schopenhauer’s extraordinary writings, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Goethe. also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[7] Though very few in the United States would recognize or understand, iinternational law is integrally a part of United States jurisprudence. In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900))  See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[8] Anarchy, unlike chaos, is the “official” structural creation of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War and created the modern state system.

[9] Nurtured by the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and the religion of John Calvin, the American Founding Fathers began their Constitutional deliberations with the core notion that a citizen must inevitably be an unregenerate being who has to be continually and strictly controlled. Fearing democracy as much as any form of leadership tyranny, Elbridge Gerry spoke openly of democracy as “the worst of all political evils,” while William Livingston opined: “The people have been and ever will be unfit to retain the exercise of power in their own hands.” George Washington, as presiding officer at the Constitutional Convention, sternly urged delegates not to produce a document to “please the people,” while Alexander Hamilton – made newly famous by the currently popular Broadway musical – expressly charged America’s government “to check the imprudence of any democracy.”

[10] One pertinent aspect of this interconnectedness concerns legal rights of refugees. When President Trump’s executive orders direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand his coercive program of “expedited removal,” he has been in flagrant violation of the legal principle known as non-refoulement. This principle is unambiguously codified at Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Automatically, owing to the prior incorporation of international human rights law into US law, these serious violations extend to the authoritative immigration laws of the United States.

[11] For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE, Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031,  T.S. No. 993,  3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

[12] But,  Fyodor Dostoyevsky inquires: “What is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is to develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development, man will yet learn how to enjoy bloodshed. Why, it has already happened….Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.” See: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground 108 (Andrew R. MacAndrew, trans., New American Library, 1961)(1862).

[13] See, on these “prophets,” Louis René Beres, Reordering the Planet: Constructing Alternative World Futures (1974); Louis René Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1975); Louis René Beres, People, States and World Order (1981); Louis René Beres, America Outside the World: The Collapse of US Foreign Policy (1987); W. Warren Wagar, The City of Man (1963); and W. Warren Wagar, Building the City of Man (1971).

[14] Sigmund Freud, however, was always darkly pessimistic about the United States, which he felt was “lacking in soul” and was  therefore a place of great psychological misery or “wretchedness.” In a letter to Ernest Jones, Freud declared unambiguously: “America is gigantic, but it is a gigantic mistake.” (See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (1983), p. 79.

[15]See: https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/trump-declares-americans-tired-hearing-200227368.html

[16] The core legal rights assured by the Declaration and Constitution can never be correctly confined to the people of the United States. This is because both documents were conceived by their authors as codifications of a pre-existing Natural Law. Although generally unrecognized, the United States was founded upon the Natural Rights philosophies of the 18th century Enlightenment, especially Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau. Thomas Jefferson, an American president before Donald J. Trump, was well acquainted with the classic writings of political philosophy, from Plato to Diderot. In those early days of the Republic, it is presently worth recalling, an American president could not only read serious books, but could also write them.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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New US Administration Approach to Syria: How Different Could It Be?

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With the new US administration in the White House, there are rather lofty expectations about a change in the American Middle East policy in general and towards Syria in particular. Some argue that the US Middle East policy will remain somewhat in line with that of Trump’s presidency, while others believe that Biden’s team will try to reverse many of the previous foreign policy steps. The rest say that we should expect an Obama-style Middle East policy, which means more diplomatic engagement with less military involvement and a heavier focus on the human rights issues.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. The new US administration will certainly attempt to undo some of the predecessor’s moves: withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, putting the Houthis on the terror list, suspending aid to the Palestinians, etc. However, this will require considerable effort on the part of the new White House.

First, the new Administration will spend much more time dealing with the domestic issues they have inherited from Trump: polarized domestic politics, economic issues, consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and response to it, etc. Biden’s administration will have to devote much of its time to all of this, so it is safe to say that the Middle East will not stand in the forefront of the US foreign policy focus.

Second, in the realm of foreign policy, US relations with Europe, China and Russia are of far greater importance to Washington than those with the Middle East which will remain on the margins of the US foreign policy, being a concern only through the lens of strategic threats, such as combatting terrorism (anti-ISIS coalition efforts), nuclear non-proliferation (revival of the JCPOA), and interacting with actors involved in those issues.

Third, Biden will face certain domestic opposition to some of the Middle East policy issues, e.g. Iran nuclear deal, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, sanctioned entities and so on.

Finally, having different views, approaches and rationale, US allies in the region (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey and Israel) could possibly frustrate some of the plans devised by the new administration.

Therefore, we should not expect the Middle East to figure high on the US foreign policy agenda, as well as keep our expectations low as concerns possible breakthroughs on the profiles which will get certain US attention: the Iran nuclear deal, Syrian Kurds issue, reconciliation with Turkey, dealing with Libya, cultivating relations with Israel and Palestine.

Syria Is Not a Priority

Syria has never been a priority for the US foreign policy and will likely remain a second-tier issue for Biden and his team. In fact, some analysis of the US Middle East policy over the last decade shows consistency of approach. Although Obama started his presidency with his 2009 Cairo speech, intended as a signal of support to the region and increased attention from the US, his administration responded to the Arab Uprising with certain discretion and was reluctant to increase American involvement in the regional conflicts—Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya—rather opting for a low profile, proceeding with its fight against terrorism and focusing on diplomacy to a greater extent. Trump administration, by and large, continued this approach avoiding military involvement and shifting more of the responsibility for security and regional problems onto its regional allies—Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc. While Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and increased sanction pressure on Tehran, this never translated into a significant change in the American approach to the region. Even in Syria, which suffered several US missile attacks, the moves of the previous administration did not lead to a drastic change of the situation on the ground. Moreover, US “betrayal” of the Kurds and a partial withdrawal of its military from Syria had little serious impact on the course of the conflict. Therefore, over the last decade, the US regional policy has, by and large, been going along the similar lines of limited engagement, fight against terrorism, support of its regional allies.

Today, Biden administration’s plans do not provide for a change in the established approach and deal only with a limited number of policy issues, those coming in for heavy criticism under Trump, e.g. the Iran deal, extending support to the Syrian Kurds, suspending dialogue and aid to the Palestinians, etc.

It is worth noting that the new US administration does not regard the Syrian conflict as a separate problem, important in its own right. It, rather, treats it as a secondary issue linked to other, more important policy issues, such as dealings with Iran and the nuclear deal, relations with Turkey, which happens to brand US-backed Syrian Kurdish militias (YPG) as terrorists, as well as dealings with Russia who, in recent years, has become more active in Syria and in the region at large, or ensuring security of US allies in the region (Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iraq, etc.) who feel threatened by increased Iranian military presence in Syria. Therefore, the Syrian profile is largely viewed in the context of US policies towards Iran, Russia and Turkey, rather than as a separate foreign policy concern.

Interestingly, though, the new Administration refused to send its representative to the 15th round of the Astana Syria talks held in Sochi on Feb. 16–17, despite an invitation being sent, as is argued by Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s special envoy on Syria. The US ceased to participate in the Astana meetings in mid-2018. Mr Lavrentiev went on to suggest that the new administration has yet to formulate its Syria policy, despite being officially in office for over a month now. “There are signals [coming from the US] that they will be ready to work with us, but so far no conclusive proposals have been made,” concluded the Russian envoy. Thus far, Washington has not devised its Syria policy, having other actors involved guess its possible approach and future steps.

Moscow Concerns with US Syria Policy

US military presence in Syria is among major concerns for Russia. American soldiers are deployed in northeastern and eastern provinces of Syria as well as in the south, around al-Tanf settlement, on the border with Jordan and Iraq. Moscow perceives American presence in the country as illegal and among the key obstacles to its reunification. US support to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prevents them from striking a deal with Damascus, something that is needed to restore the country’s territorial integrity and to assume control over those areas, as the majority of oil fields, water resources (Euphrates river), and some 40% of all agricultural lands are located in Kurdish-held regions. When the US is going to leave Syria is thus one of the most important questions for Russia.

A short answer would be that Washington will not pull out its forces from Syria, at least in the mid-term. Regardless of who occupies the White House, there are certain interests and goals that the US has in Syria, and it will hardly abandon them.

First and foremost, American military presence in Syria serves as a deterrent for the Syrian government forces and loyal militias, as well as for Russia, Iran, pro-Iranian units and Turkey. American troops prevent the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Russian forces from asserting control over the oil fields and extending it to the economically-needed, 3-million strong northeast and east provinces of Syria. They also keep an eye on Iranian activities in east Syria, on the border with Iraq (border-crossing in Al-Bukamal), and keep Iran from further entrenchment. Finally, American troops keep the Turkish forces and the Ankara-backed armed Syrian opposition from the offensive against the Syrian Kurds. In addition, American military surveilles Russian activities and moves in the region. Being no heavy burden for Washington, the mere presence of several hundred US soldiers in the country kills many birds with one stone. That is why we can hardly expect the new US leadership to abandon such a position.

Second, the fact that the US is capable of significantly increasing its military presence in Syria at any given moment and within a short span of time puts it in a position of being a potential spoiler of any military or political/diplomatic initiative or deal that Russia, Iran, the Syrian government or Turkey may undertake. Besides, recent reports indicate that the US is constructing a new military base with airfield facilities near al-Omar oil field in Deir ez-Zor. Its runways are 2.5 km-long, which allows it to host heavy military planes (Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, or В-52). Once finished, the base will let the US easily send several thousands of soldiers or PMC fighters to Syria overnight, handing it an opportunity to rapidly build up its military presence and capabilities in the area. This makes Washington an indispensable participant of any settlement in Syria and forces Moscow, Ankara, Tehran and Damascus to take American interests and concerns into account. It is unlikely that Washington is ready to lose such leverage.

Third, being the leader of the anti-ISIS coalition, the US maintains its presence on the ground, which enables it to fight the remnants of terrorists. US officials have recently called attention to the fact that the main focus of US military in Syria is to fight the Islamic State which has become more active over the past six months. This reason serves as an official excuse to justify US presence in the country.

Finally, the US wants to maintain its ability to influence the political process in Syria. As of now, Washington has several instruments at its disposal. Its unilateral sanctions coupled with the Caesar Act, created serious additional problems not only for the Syrian economy but for the socio-economic, humanitarian and medical situation affecting millions of ordinary civilians as well. Such sanctions are politically motivated, pursuing a change in the regime’ behavior, something that was never achieved. Essentially, this results in making the socio-economic and humanitarian conditions in the country only worse and obstructing any attempts to reconstruct critical infrastructure. Many humanitarian organizations report severe impediments in delivering humanitarian aid to Syria and rebuilding the country, with many INGOs being simply afraid to work in Damascus-controlled areas because of their fear to be sanctioned. According to the UN Special Rapporteur Prof. Alena Douhan, “secondary sanctions and over-compliance with unilateral sanctions result in fear for all interlocutors and drastically affect all population groups in targeted societies impeding people, private business, workers, scholars and doctors to do their job and to enjoy human rights.” As a result, US sanctions on Syria allow Washington to exert serious influence on the political settlement of the conflict as well as on Syria’s economic reconstruction, along with letting the United States remain a key actor in the conflict resolution.

Another leverage the US has in terms of shaping the political process in Syria is its support to SDF. Today, while backing the Syrian Kurds, Washington also obstructs any serious talks between them and the Syrian authorities in Damascus aimed at reaching reintegration of the northeast and eastern provinces of Syria back under control of the central government. Even though the most recent round of talks between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Damascus activated by Moscow ended up with reaching an important preliminary agreement on major controversial issues, this does not prevent the Kurds from backtracking once the Americans decide to sustain or increase their support to them and reaffirm their commitments. Such moves can substantially affect the ongoing intra-Syrian political processes and prevent the country from restoring its territorial integrity. As long as the Syrian Kurds enjoy support and commitments from the US, it is extremely hard to expect them to reach any viable deal with Damascus.

By the same token, the US can influence Turkey and its Syria policy—either through increasing pressure on Ankara or trying to co-opt it by addressing its concerns and moderating the Turkish-Kurdish agreement. Such steps can potentially change the course of the conflict, thus profoundly affecting Russian positions in Syria.

Similar logic applies to the US policy towards Iran and to the revival of the JCPOA. Washington would very much like to tie the nuclear deal to other issues of concern, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and/or its “malign activities in the region”, including those in Syria. Such an approach aspires to change Iran’s behavior, for instance, in Syria in exchange for the nuclear deal revival and lifting US sanctions. In the US line of reasoning, the White House has an upper hand in the talks with Iran to be able to force it to follow its preferred path. That can, in turn, affect Iran’s behavior not only apropos the return to the JCPOA but concerning its Syrian policy as well. The risks, if this approach fails, are high, as this will have counter-productive results. If the nuclear deal is not revived and sanctions remain at place, Iran will most likely persist in its “malign activities” in Syria and throughout the region, while reserving the option to escalate them. Even the most recent US attack on pro-Iranian targets in Syria had more to do with Iran and its activities in Iraq and Syria rather than with the Syrian conflict itself.

This is to say that the US policy towards Iran and the revival of the nuclear deal, or towards the Syrian Kurds, or the way how Biden’s administration will deal with Turkey, or Russia on the track of the Syrian conflict will have a serious impact on the situation in Syria. So far, there is no indication that it is going to be among the priorities of the new administration. Syria, though, will most likely remain part of US regional policies and subordinate to US dealings with Iran, Turkey and Russia. Outcomes of US-Iran, US-Turkey and US-Russia dialogue can potentially have a profound effect on the situation in Syria. Although it is hard to expect the new US administration to drastically change its approach to the Syrian conflict, there may be new promising avenues for diplomacy which will, hopefully, yield more positive results than negative ones.

From our partner RIAC

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Americas

Washington Ill-Prepared to Set Human Rights Agenda

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It is evident that US Democratic President Joe Biden and his team will pay more attention to the human rights agenda in foreign policy than their Republican predecessors did. It is also clear that Washington will actively use this agenda in dealing with its main geopolitical adversaries—above all, China and Russia. Finally, it is obvious that the United States will try to put together a consolidated Western front to shoulder American human rights initiatives. Human rights will become one of the tools to keep liberal democracies together confronting what is perceived to be the global rise of illiberal authoritarianism. We are likely to hear strong rhetoric on human rights coming out of the White House and the State Department. We will observe multiple human rights-focused US initiatives in international organizations. And we will also see new American human rights-related sanctions against Moscow and Beijing.

Still, at the end of the day, this strategy might turn out to be less successful than the new US leaders anticipate. No matter how Russian or Chinese governments are planning to handle, respectively, the Alexey Navalny case or political protests in Hong Kong, it is very unlikely that either Moscow or Beijing will yield under US pressure. Moscow and Beijing will continue going hand in hand with each other in blocking US-proposed international resolutions, in containing US foundations and NGOs operating in sensitive areas, and in countering the coming American information offensive on the human rights front. The growing pressure from the White House will only further cement the China-Russia partnership.

Moreover, the reality is that Washington is ill-prepared to make a convincing case on human rights and broader democracy issues.

First, America itself has not fully recovered from a deep and protracted political crisis. Many inside the US still question the standards of November’s presidential elections as well as the legitimacy of information restrictions imposed on Donald Trump and his supporters by major social networks and the US mainstream liberal media. The 2020 large-scale violent racial riots also question the assumption that the United States can serve today as a universal model of human rights observance. Until President Biden fixes related problems at home, his international human rights crusade will not look too credible even for his fellow citizens.

Second, it is easy for Biden to raise human rights issues against Russia and China—or against North Korea and Iran. This is a light and unburdensome task—in any case, these countries are not and will not be US allies or partners anytime soon. However, what about other potential targets—like Turkey and Saudi Arabia? On the one hand, both Ankara and Riyadh are perceived in Washington as gross violators of basic human rights. On the other hand, Washington badly needs partnerships with both of them. If the Biden administration heads down a slippery slope of double standards and selective use of the human rights agenda in foreign policy, this will not make this agenda more convincing for anyone. If Biden chooses to go against traditional US clients and friends, the political price for such integrity might turn out to be prohibitively high.

Third, though the international human rights agenda remains important, it seems that today, in most societies, the public puts fairness before freedom. 20 or 30 years ago, the quest for freedom was the driving force behind the majority of street protests, political upheavals and revolutions. Today people revolt mostly against what they believe to be unfair and unjust. The widely shared sentiment of unfairness and injustice rather than human rights or political democracy is the main source of various populist movements in all parts of the world.

The balance between the quest for freedom and the quest for fairness has always been moving from one side to the other, forming long political and social cycles in human history. In the first half of the 20th century, fairness and egalitarianism were perceived as more important than freedom and human rights, while in the second half of the century, the balance shifted away from the former and toward the latter. Today we observe the global social pendulum once again swinging in the opposite direction.

In this context, the recent statement of Chinese President Xi Jinping about the ultimate victory over absolute poverty in China may well outweigh all the eloquent human rights rhetoric coming from US President Joe Biden.

From our partner RIAC

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Americas

Witnessing Social Racism And Domestic Terrorism In Democratic America

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With just less than two weeks away from President-elect taking the office, the United States of America witnessed the worst of the worst it could ever do, since its discovery. Anti-democracy moves and violence is what American leadership stood against around the world and in particular in recent times since the Arab Spring, but the same ‘Mini Arab Spring’ was faced by America itself. The brave soldiers of America who took arms and enjoyed Saddam’s palace could not protect its own legislative branch, details about which make the very beginning of the American Constitution. The savior of democracy is struggling democracy at home as white supremacists and Trump supporter militias stormed at the US Capitol. Before having a critical outlook through the lens of Johan Galtung’s triangle of violence, it is potent to dig into what exactly is causing this situation in America. This started as protests at the National Mall which soon after Trump’s incitement turned into riots at the Capitol Building by masses without masks, painted with Republican colors and wrapped in MAGA merchandise. This storm over Congress seats came after months long instigation of Donald Trump’s claims about rigging in elections and his refusal to accept the results and especially when on Wednesday the Congressmen gathered to count the electoral votes and officially declared Biden as the next President of America. Amidst this siege over Capitol, arrests and vandalism of state property; Joe Biden was officially validated as the 46th President of the United States of America.

Apart from what became highlight of that week about Capitol Hill being invaded by pro-Trump supporters, critically analyzing the situation, it is evident enough that MAGA riots and Black Life Matters riots were quite evidently, differently handled by the state forces. This discrepancy in response to BLM can be better explained through Galtung’s 3 sides of violence. Galtung’s triangle shapes around three joints of connections: direct, cultural and structural violence, while the former has its roots in the latter two. Structural violence is defined as the unequal access and advantages to one racial, political, ethnic or religious group than the other in social and political orientations of systems that govern the state. Structural violence or social racism is evident in the varying responses that despite warnings about possible attacks during the electoral vote counts, Police did not seek advance help to prevent it, rather National Guard was deployed an hour after the protestors had already breached the first barricade. While in the case of BLM, the aggression of the Police and National Guard was evident in their gestures. While the anti-racism protests in June last year faced militarized response, none was done with anti-democratic riots.

While social racism is evident in America, it is yet to be witnessed what is to come next. Speaker of the House of Senate, Nancy Pelosi has already indicated removing President Trump from his office through the 25th Constitutional Amendment. Along with this, Joe Biden’s remarks about the situation also have long-term repercussions as well as expectations. Repercussions might come in terms of him calling the protestors as “domestic terrorists”. The FBI defines domestic terrorism as: “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” America, since more than 2 decades is already fighting its war against terrorism in various segments of the world, the use of this word at home, although might bring support for Biden’s sympathies for BLM and democracy, yet it might have long-term impacts. Mentioning of expectations, Americans at home and abroad, both desire to see actual reforms followed by on ground implementations to counter structural violence. Along with this, Biden shall have to re-construct the de-constructed notion that political violence and threat to democracy is far away from America and is for third world countries. The states upon which America used to show serious concern and used to send arms for their national interests are showing their worry over the situation in America which is even termed as ‘coup’. Having pin-pointed all this, Biden’s era needs a lot of reconstruction before it opts to enter any third world country or show its presence in any new Spring for democracy outside America.

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