Saturday, October 3, 2015

When did Regime Change Replace Democratic Elections?

I’m confused. Has it suddenly become okay to take up arms against a legitimate government? The US Declaration of Independence asserts that: 
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.-That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
This text written to justify armed rebellion against the British government that ruled America as a colony was swept under the carpet after the mid-nineteenth century civil war that opposed the Northern and Southern States, replaced by the mantra that in a democracy, change can only be effected through ‘the ballot box’.
And yet, suddenly with the war against Iraq in 2003, “regime change” became an acceptable notion, tripping off the lips of military men, politicians and the press whenever they did not fell like waiting for ‘the ballot box’. Not even Russian air strikes against ISIS  This week’s condemnations of Russia for bombing Syria’s ‘moderate’ opposition, provides an ideal opportunity to show up the disconnect between America’s historical commitment to “free and fair’ elections, and its military pursuit of regime change in foreign lands.  The accusations imply that it is ok for ‘moderates’ (whatever that may mean in any given political context) to oppose a government by force, whereas ‘radicals’ - such as communists or islamists - are for some mysterious reason barred from doing so.  
Russian President Vladimir Putin is not trying to recreate the Soviet Union, however, he defends the same principle as the Communist state: non-interference in a country’s internal affairs by another country.  That principle does not appear in any of the US’s founding documents, however, it is fundamental to the concept of a United Nations, which the US was instrumental in bringing into existence.
President Barack Obama misses no opportunity to accuse Russia of behaving as if ‘might made right’, of being a ‘big country’ imposing its will on ‘smaller countries’ (such as the Crimea, which is not a country, but a region that was attached to the country of Ukraine by Russian presidential fiat in 1954).  In the Alice in Wonderland world of the American president, there is no contradiction between recovering a crucial military facility from a foreign government turned enemy, and threats of forced ‘regime change’ against democratically elected rulers.
Have America’s intellectuals as well as the American public so abandoned the use of logic that they fail to see the contradictory nature of our President’s pronouncements? When did ‘regime change’ become part of United States - or United Nations’ - principles?
Equally important, though not as fundamental, is the contradiction between defending ‘moderate’ opposition forces seeing the violent overthrow of an elected government and the statement that of rule of law alone legitimizes a government. “Killing his own people”, the label stuck onto Assad, precludes any recognition that a legitimate government cannot allow itself to be overthrown by force; that its first duty is to defend its people - who have spoken via an election - from having the government they have chosen taken from them in an armed conflict. A civil war is never started by a government: it is started by a group that seeks to overthrow the government, and every government in the world will respond militarily.  When the United States government went to war against the southern states it was not because those states sought to overthrow it: they simply wanted to leave it.  Yet we seek to overthrow Bashar al-Assad because he kills those of his people who seek to overthrow him.
Such is the power of language that the phrase ‘regime change’ a staccato three-syllable motto, has wiped away two centuries of commitment to ‘one man, one vote’ and ‘change through the ballot box’. Although many commentators and activists disagree with the president’s policy, none have expressed is as a fundamental contradiction to America’s founding documents, which presidents are bound to protect. Instead we now have so-called ‘R2P’ (‘responsibility to protect’ civilians whose governments are resisting their attempts to overthrow it ) and ‘regime change’ to suit our own purposes.

As I have written before, and will continue to affirm until someone contradicts me, the above-stated policy is implemented exclusively vis a vis  left-leaning governments.  So determined is the US to cleanse the world of left-leaning regimes, that it accuses Russia of bombing so-called ‘moderates’ while recognizing the fact that materiel given to these self-same moderates often ends up in ISIL hands. The US would rather risk betrayal by pro-capitalist Muslims, then save an anti-capitalist Muslim regime.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Dotting a Few I’s and Crossing a few T’s

As US channels concentrate on the latest mass shooting in Oregon, France 24 and Russia’s RT cover in detail the meeting in Paris of French, German, Ukrainian and Russian leaders, which was called to discuss Ukraine, but now will be partly devoted to Syria, where Russia has carried out bombing attacks against ISIS to the embarrassment of the Western-led ‘coalition’.

I’ve been wondering about French President Francois Hollande’s blasts against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, given France’s long-standing ties to Syria, which are reflected for example in the fact that the Syria’s school system is still modeled on the French, not to mention that both leaders are socialists. It finally occured to me that Hollande is doing what any French socialist President knows he has to do with respect to the US: being more royalist than the king.  While center-right leader Charles de Gaulle was free to behave as obstreperously as he liked, Francois Mitterrand, the Socialist who presided France from 1981 to 1995, set the pattern for a socialist leader to demonstrate his bona fides to Washington by being an impeccable foreign policy ally. Francois Hollande is following suit, even though the fact that Russia now has an independent-minded president recreates a situation similar to the one that held sway during the Cold War, in which France carefully calibrated its alignment with each of the superpowers.

The other issue that deserves mention here is the Western  effort to retake a key Afghan city, Kunduz, from the Taliban.  These Islamic fighters have been in the news since we trained them against Russia in the nineties, and fourteen years after we invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for harboring Al Qaeda, they are still successfully fighting the US-installed government.  Though I have not heard it mentioned, isn’t it likely that the rise of ISIS has given this group a new lease on life?  Will they not at some point declare their allegiance to the Caliphate, signaling a (momentary) eastern boundary to the entity currently holding areas of Syria and Iraq in the west of the Eurasian continent?

Both of these issues point to the reshaping of foreign interventions in the Middle East and Southwest Asia to reflect Russian interests: while the United States’ presence on the Eurasian continent is about access to oil, Russia’s attitude toward the resulting chaos is primarily about ensuring that the Muslim majority ‘Stans’ - the countries on its southern rim - remain peaceful.  I’ve written about President Putin’s attitude toward Islam before:, , which is to encourage development.  That is why, after careful consideration, he has acted in Syria: when Prime Minister Lavrov declared yesterday in his UN press conference that Russia considers ISIS to be an existential threat he was not referring to a ‘recreation of the Soviet Union’, but to the need for Russia to maintain close relations with its southern neighbors, a policy that any intelligent leader would pursue.  

It is being suggested today on US TV channels that President Putin is successfully pursuing a quid pro quo with his Western counterparts at today’s Paris meeting: quit accusing us of dark designs on Ukraine (removing the sanctions) while staunch the number of Syrian refugees crowding your beautiful cities by bombing ISIL targets that the US has spared in its determination to remove Assad.
Whatever the Russian president does, or fails to do, commentators try to make him look bad.  But while the docile French socialist president feigns support for US policy, the more powerful conservative German Chancellor takes the lead in tilting toward Moscow.  All are players on the Eurasian continent, while the US is two oceans away.

P.S. France 24 reported that Francois Hollande came down from the Elysee Palace steps where he usually greets visitors to meet Vladimir Putin in the courtyard, saying "Welcome President Vladimir", adding that he had mishandled the Russian President's name: what foreign viewers don't know is that this was Hollande's way of signaling fraternity.

P.P.S. Below is an experiment with uploading photos.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lavrov’s Press Conference Boon for Journos

RT relayed Foreign Minister Lavrov’s Press Conference as outgoing monthly president of the Security Council must have made the participating journalists deliriously happy: not only does the Russian speak fluent, idiomatic English, he comes across as the real thing, not as someone repeating a party line.  Lavrov reviewed the main issues dealt with by the S.C. in September, then took a raft of questions about the Russian air strikes in Syria.
Try to catch it on RT.  You will be surprised.  

After the press conference ended France 24 reported on a Russian poll showing that most Russians oppose direct involvement in Syria….

Monday, September 28, 2015

Good-bye Pope Francis: Don’t Forget to Write!

Fox News followed the Pope all the way to the Philadelphia airport, where Joe Biden and a couple of hundred other people had come to say good-bye, so the Pope had another chance to tell us the things that we don’t hear from our secular leaders.  It was dark by the time he left for Rome, his white robe spotlighted in the door of the plane.
It will take us some time to recover from these tumultuous days, in which it seemed the Pope’s gentle figure was everywhere.  But what we will miss most of all is his tone of voice, whether in his native Spanish or his halting, sometimes bizarrely pronounced English, so different from hammered political messages.

As Bernie Sanders publishes a foreign policy platform that dares not confront any of its sacred bulls, and President Obama prepares to meet with President Putin for the first time in several years, with Europe knowing it has only passed the first hurdle in finding homes for 120,000 refugees, we can only hope he doesn’t forget us - and that our leaders always remember his message.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Francismania: It’s Not About Religion

Of course, everything is bigger, bolder and louder in New York than in other American cities, but even discounting that caveat, it’s clear that the public’s reaction to the presence of Pope Francis has little to do with religion and much to do with the sense of danger that emanates from every radio, television and news-paper, danger which is only heightened by the current presidential debates that reveal a shocking lack of knowledge about the world the United States feels entitled to lead.
Fear pervades the modern world: fear of war, climate change, terrorism - and even death by natural causes. Neither the glitz and glimmer of entertainment and advertising nor the wonders of medical science can assuage those fears, which are constantly reinforced by the media. It is said of Pope Francis that his stunning appeal lies in the genuine quality of his warmth, his spontaneity and disdain of formality, as evidenced by the embrace with Cardinal Dolan in St. Patrick’s Cathedral - that of two old friends.
The Pope’s charisma is experienced as a life-saver, a desperate haven from the terrors of the modern world, the suggestion that perhaps we are not doomed, that we can step back from the brink. From the abyss we face on all sides: whether it is the threat of a nuclear war with Russia over Ukraine; the ravage of Syria, or the flood of refugees - hundreds of thousands - into Europe.  Suddenly, that little peninsula whose inhabitants never cease to haggle amongst themselves about perceived slights and injustices, is no longer a place to which tourists flock, but is struggling to welcome the wretched of the earth, heretofore seen only on the nightly news.
The word that most easily comes to mind with respect to the American public’s attitude toward Francis is ‘irrational’: as if the Pope’s deliberately modest car -  a Fiat 500 - were a white horse, arriving just in the nick of time come save us from a dire fate.
Francismania is not about religion, but it is about the same desperate, irrational hope that religion raises.  It is no doubt too much to hope that a sentiment felt round the world would inspire leaders to come together for the common good.  The only other possibility is that individuals may be inspired to come together, acting in their place.  

Frances or Donald? (September 23, 2015)

I’ve been an agnostic since the age of ten, eventually persuaded by modern physics to declare myself an atheist; but the election of Pope Francis commanded my attention - as did that of John XXIII in the seventies. (In fact, I see Francis as taking John’s papacy much further, after interim Popes failed to do so.)
Today I found myself watching the Pope’s first American mass in Washington, noting how tired he seemed after a long day of set pieces interspersed with rides in the Popemobile through adoring crowds. I’m really not one for religious ceremonies of any stripe, but for some reason, this spectacle had me riveted. After about an hour I began to realize why: the dignity and solemnity of the ritual implicitly showed up the vulgarity and ugliness that emanates from the Republican front runner, Donald Trump who has been so much on our screens of late.

The United States is at a crossroads: to the right is the Donald, who disparages and threatens, showing off his ignorance, to the left is Francis, who exudes warmth and optimism, and asks is to save each other and the planet.

The Little Continent that Couldn’t - Part II

For Americans used to referring to other countries as simply ‘over there’, the genesis of the European Union is hazy at best. Most probably think it came into being with the flash of a magic wand, like the UN or the Atlantic Alliance.  
But that’s far from the truth: impressed by the repeated carnage of World War I and II (the former led to the slogan “Never again!”), in 1951, France and Germany put an end to nearly a century of strife by uniting around coal and steel, whose production was centered in the oft-disputed Ruhr Valley. They were joined by Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in the European Coal and Steel Community. After a successful six year run, this first integrated organization led to the formation of the European Economic Community, in 1957. Denmark, Ireland, Norway and, after some back and forth the United Kingdom were added in the 1960s.
Between the late sixties and the nineties, the leaders of Western Europe dithered over how far the take their union, mainly whether an economic treaty should be accompanied by some form of political union. Many prominent political figures campaigned for a federal Europe, but they remained a minority.  At last, the Treaty of Maastricht was signed in 1992, giving the European Parliament more power, and paving the way for the adoption of a single currency, the Euro, in 2000. 
The most impactful event in the Union’s history was undoubtedly the admission of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. East Germany was absorbed into the German Republic in October, 1990, just one year later, but it was not until 2004 that the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia were allowed to join. Of these, to date, only Slovakia is also a member of the Euro zone.
The primary aim of the European project being to avoid war among its members, it has, from the beginning, been secular, its Charter of Fundamental Rights including every conceivable human right, as exemplified in the following articles:
<blockquote> Article 18
Right to asylum
The right to asylum shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and the Protocol of 31 January 1967 relating to the status of refugees and in accordance with the Treaty establishing the European Community.
Article 19
Protection in the event of removal, expulsion or extradition
1. Collective expulsions are prohibited.
2. No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 41
Right to good administration
1. Every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions and bodies of the Union.
2. ��This right includes:
The right of every person to be heard, before any individual measure which would affect him or her adversely is taken; to have access to his or her file, while respecting the legitimate interests of confidentiality and of professional and business secrecy; the obligation of the administration to give reasons for its decisions.
3.  Every person has the right to have the community make good any damage caused by its institutions or by its servants in the performance of their duties, in accordance with the general principles common to the laws of the Member States.
4. Every person may write to the institutions of the Union in one of the languages of the Treaties and must have an answer in the same language.</blockquote>
Some of these articles may seem a bit quaint to Americans, but they were inspired by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights promoted by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. Both the French President, Francois Hollande, and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel have leaned heavily on this foundational document to justify their decision to welcome thousands of refugees flooding into Europe from war-torn Africa and the Middle East.  With an unemployment rate of less than 5% (signaling full employment), Germany is known to need workers, while France faces over 10% without jobs. Yet both countries feel compelled to welcome similarly large numbers of migrants in the name of the European Union’s basic commitment to solidarity.
It is this commitment that has been revealed as wanting in the countries of Eastern Europe: following upon four decades of socialist rule as part of the Soviet bloc, its ‘democratic’ governments have tended to be more often right-wing than those of Western Europe.  The NYTimes published an excellent analysis of the situation
Most worrying, some of the countries of the ex-Yugoslavia are squabbling among themselves and with Hungary, with whom they share borders, over who is being most inconvenienced by the throng of immigrants pressing onward toward Germany from Greece, reviving ancient enmities.
As someone who lived mainly in Europe starting in the nineteen fifties, I witnessed the arduous work that has gone into the construction of the European Union, year after year, decade after decade, by a political class, whether from the right or the left, that was basically committed to the idea of a peaceful continent. 
The inability of Europe’s leaders of both east and west to agree on policies vis a vis Muslim immigrants is partly due to the fact that Europe’s humanitarian values are opposed an increasingly violent right wing. France’s National Front was founded in 1972 by a former intelligence officer in the war against Algerian independence, whose allies, according to Wikipedia, were “former nostalgics of Vichy France, neo-Nazi pagans, Traditionalist Catholics, and others,”  Although his daughter, Marine Le Pen has been largely successful in steering the populist party away from open fascism, thereby recruiting many disaffected Communists, it has right wing allies in every other European country and in the European parliament. 
The growing presence of Muslim immigrants in Europe since the fifties has helped relatively small neo-fascist parties grow. Now, as thousands of Muslims surge into Europe, these parties can only be emboldened by the presence in  Ukraine, on Europe’s eastern border, of well-trained fascist militias that helped overthrow that country’s democratically elected government last year and if anything have grown more powerful since then. This  reality implies that the danger facing Europe is not limited to the presence of Muslim immigrants.