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Entries tagged "Middle East"

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The Right Path for Washington in Syria

June 14, 2012 ·

The Syrian conflict continued to boil - or boil over - when Syrian troops fired across the Turkish border on April 9, apparently killing either fleeing refugees or armed combatants. However, despite continued words of caution from the Pentagon and White House about getting into another messy Middle East war, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton pressed for more intervention.

Hillary Clinton speaks about Syria in Istanbul. Photo by U.S. State Department.The Syrian Accountability Act of 2003 began the formal U.S. attempt to bring down Assad, but Clinton, the imperial princess, now demands Syrian President Assad resign in favor of the Syrian National Council (SNC). This hastily formed group composed of exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood members, and other groupings, many in exile, would magically transform Syria via fair elections into a good democracy - and sheep will fly.

Washington's "humanitarian" assistance fund for Syria escalated into "non-lethal" aid -- sophisticated satellite communications equipment, and night-vision goggles so "rebels" could "evade" Syrian government assaults. U.S. and Western media have underscored Assad's butchery, but offered little of substance on the opposition and its often savage behavior.

Just weeks after the first March 2011 protests - Arab Springtime - the media disregarded eyewitness evidence of armed groups shooting at and killing members of Syria's security forces as well as civilians. Reporter Pepe Escobar witnessed "the shooting deaths of nine Syrian soldiers in Banyas" as early as April 10, 2011 (Asia Times, April 6, 2012). By focusing only on Assad's violence, Western leaders could promote a lopsided view of the conflict. In recent weeks, however, the media could not ignore all "photos and video footage of armed men with heavy weapons proudly declaring their stripes - some of them religious extremists advocating the killing of civilians based on sectarian differences."

Suicide bombings took place in Damascus and Aleppo, and al-Qaeda called its minions "to battle." The U.S. government ignored al-Qaeda's role and refers only to the "good" SNC, the majority who appear to ally themselves with Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. At a March meeting in Istanbul, sponsored by Turkey and Qatar, however, an unlikely source of dissent emerged. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said: "We reject any arming [of Syrian rebels] and the process to overthrow the [Assad] regime, because this will leave a greater crisis in the region."

Al-Maliki questioned the motives of Qatar and Saudi Arabia who "are calling for sending arms instead of working on putting out the fire." Iraq, he continued, opposed "arming" the Free Syrian Army and he feared, "those countries that are interfering in Syria's internal affairs will interfere in the internal affairs of any country." Maliki, who governs Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion and devastation of that country, questioned equating a cause backed by Saudi funding with freedom. "What's wrong with the Free Syrian Army getting funding from Saudi Arabia? Or, when did Saudi Arabia ever support freedom?" he asked (Suadad al-Salhy, Reuters, April 1, 2012).

These remarks were not featured in headlined stories; nor did TV or radio news provide coverage of Maliki's statement. Until recently, we might have depended on Al Jazeera, whose Iraq war coverage won it praise from journalists. However, the network's Syria reports led some reporters to resign over the network's biased reporting. Hassan Shaaban, the Beirut bureau's managing director, resigned in March, "after leaked emails revealed his frustration over the channel's coverage."

Shaaban had filed a story showing armed men fighting with the Syrian army in Wadi Khalid. Al Jazeera dropped the story. Two other Al Jazeera staff quit for the same reasons. Al Akhbar claimed Qatar's foreign policy influenced the reporting on Syria. Al Jazeera maintains headquarters in Qatar and the royal family helped establish the network.

The question in Washington should be: will adding fuel to the violence make matters worse? Assad's forces have defeated -- with huge civilian casualties -- the formal rebel uprisings, but the SNC could sponsor a prolonged terrorist war, which would increase civilian casualties, and not succeed in removing Assad or his Party [the Baath Party] from power.

Logic and reason dictate that Obama should follow the Syrian majority. A February 2012 poll showed "55% of Syrians want Assad to stay," [NOT] motivated by fondness for his government, but "by fear of civil war." The poll also ascertained "that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future." (YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation, connected to the royal family. The family has taken a hawkish position on Syria. See Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, January 17)

These facts have not oozed into State Department consciousness, where the rush for U.S. entanglement appears contagious. Good sense should command Secretary Clinton to help save the process former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan set in motion for a negotiated cease fire. The opposition and the Assad side negated the April 10 deadline. This means Syrians will pay a higher human toll. The suffering is already immense.

On April 14, the UN Security Council backed a deployment of the first wave of U.N. military observers to monitor the tentative cease-fire between the Syrian government and opposition combatants. Before the arrangements become final, Washington should weigh in now with Russia, China and the western powers - not Saudi Arabia and Qatar - to pressure both sides to stop shooting and start serious talking.

On the Eve of Obama's Middle East Speech

May 19, 2011 ·

The Obama administration faces a huge contradiction in trying to craft a new policy for the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring.

Obama gives a speech
Obama faces his own contractions with today's speech (Photo by Matt Ortega)

They are trying to position the U.S. as a friend of the newly democratizing forces, while at the same time refusing to give up the policy of support for those on top, who imposed dictatorships and occupations across the Middle East, to protect U.S. interests in oil, Israel, and strategic stability. Now it is the people of the region who are creating new democracies from below – and it is long past time to change how the U.S. relates to them.

A transformed U.S. role in the region will have to go beyond soaring words and even additional economic assistance. It will require an entirely different policy based on support for popular bottom-up democracy, acceptance of new indigenous definitions of social and economic justice, and respect for local decision-making – even when reality doesn’t match Washington’s illusion of what the “new Middle East” should look like.

What would that policy look like?

  • An end to the U.S. military aid and diplomatic protection that enable Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, and supporting regional and globally-led diplomacy rather than imposing its own failed “peace process.”
  • An end to all U.S. military ties to any regime suppressing the Arab Spring protests in its own or other countries (that means Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain, for example, as well as pulling all troops and mercenaries out of Iraq).
  • An end to all economic aid until it can be redirected away from militaries (even in democratizing countries) and into the hands of accountable governments. Supporting creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone throughout the Middle East.
  • An end to the double-standard of harsh sanctions and massive military force (such as in Syria and Libya) imposed against some dictators’ attacks on protestors, while continuing to arm and finance dictatorships strategically allied with the U.S. (such as Bahrain and Yemen) with hardly a word of protest against their lethal assaults on unarmed demonstrators.
Name This Moment

March 8, 2011 ·

In two short months, we've seen two dictators leave power and the tide of the Tea Party movement begin to turn. Young people are connecting using new forms of communication and stating that the ideals of solidarity and government of the people are very present in today’s world.

In the Institute's Unconventional Wisdom newsletter, we asked readers to send us their suggestions as to what they would call the current period of democratic demonstrations by young people and workers across North Africa, the Middle East, and in far-away but not unrelated Madison, Wisconsin. Thanks to those who sent your comments like Maynard Riley (“Middle Class Insurrection”) and Benedetta Camarota (“Jasmine Revolutions”). On the ground in Egypt, what began as the January 25 Revolution is also being called the 18-Day Revolution or Egypt's Youth Revolution. In Tunisia, they are calling it the Sidi Bouzid Revolt, after the city where protests began.

We discussed a number of suggestions and puns from IPS staff. Among them were Pharaoh-less / Fearless Uprising, The Great Neocon Refudiation, and the The time of Democracy -- Whatever It Means!

Some of my favorites were Democracy 2.0 and The Great Uprising. Truly, the impact of social media tools has made a difference and allowed grassroots organizers to maximize the support of massive protesters. Another one I liked was Democracy Spring. Millions of people are springing into democratic action, refusing to be subjects to the cynical rule of tyrants and choosing to believe that a better world is possible.

Still, we don’t know where this moment is going. The movements for democracy aren't over, and with the situation escalating in Libya, the geopolitical implications for the region and the world are barely beginning to become clear. But we know one thing; we're living through times of change across the world. Regardless of all the monikers we can come up with, the resounding voice of democracy is a refreshing one in our work to continue working for peace, justice, and the environment. 

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