Syria: Too many questions

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Next week, the powers that be in Washington DC will decide whether or not to instruct their Congress people on payroll to support Obama’s request to bomb Syria “because they crossed a red line.”  There are already signs which would point towards the fact that POTUS will get enough legislative support to initiate what is grotesquely referred to as “surgical strikes”, as long as he doesn’t put boots on the ground.

There is no honor or moral ground for this American trigger-happy strike. Let me be clear that by saying this I am not establishing a supportive position towards the Bashar Al Assad government nor justifying the alleged use of chemical warfare in the civil conflict in Syria. Having said this, here is a list of reasons for which the U.S. should not unilaterally attack Syria.

  • First and foremost, the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against combatants and/or civilians has not been (yet) verified or “evidenced” by anyone except the U.S. government. John Kerry’s recent declaration on the subject does not present any evidence whatsoever. He references that this needs to be “discussed directly with the American people” but creates a case for buy-in based on questionable data. Of course, he references the already famous Syria YouTube videos because it is easier to shock and awe via video than presenting actual research and showing real proof… but these videos’ authenticity has been more than questioned even by mainstream U.S. media. Allegations of actors being used to stage attacks and crisis scenes, videos showing staged gun shots to enhance dramatic effect, etc. are flooding the internet and putting huge question marks on how the propaganda war is being fought vs. the war on the ground.
  • The 9-page report that has been declassified in order to generate public support on the attack provides as much real PROOF as that Powerpoint presentation Powell showed the world with Iraq’s WMDs. See the document for yourself… hell, they didn’t even bother to use little fun graphics this time!
  • In that same declaration, Kerry states that Syria should respect the U.N.’s mandate and allow its’ inspection team to draw effective conclusions on the alleged chemical warfare program (min. 7:40) . The level of irony in that is just off the charts! If the U.S. respects the U.N. mandate and the inspection team’s research so much, they should not act preemptively. They should wait for the U.N. inspection team’s report to be published before drawing conclusions on whether or not a strike would be justified (in their own eyes, let alone those of the international community). The report is due to come out within the next three weeks.
  • THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “SURGICAL STRIKE.” There is nothing “surgical” about bombing another country with questionable evidence and questionable intelligence. If we’ve learned ANYTHING from recent incursions in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is that this “surgical strike” rhetoric is just that. Rhetoric.
  • Today, there is no international community support for a strike against Syria. This is not just a U.S. vs Russia and China in the Security Council discussion. The only relevant country willing to stand by the U.S. on this one, with very questionable motives, is France. The world is sending the U.S. a clear signal: WAIT for the U.N. report and THEN let’s have a real discussion based on FACTS as to how to deal with the Syrian crisis.
  • The “red line” argument has no real bearing in international law. Obama set this standard in order to later justify the incursion by saying “we told them not to cross the line, now they’ve done it and if we don’t attack, we lose face and credibility.” No, Mr. President, a faster way to lose face and credibility is to act irresponsibly and take unilateral decisions in order to look like a badass. Leave that type of behaviour for fourthgraders. You are the leader of the free world. Start acting like it.
  • Whodunnit and who has the authority to respond? If in the end, the conclusion is that chemical warfare was used by insurgents and not the government, then this continues to be a domestic issue, another chapter in a horrible and tragic civil war and the U.S. has no authority to intervene. If it is proven that it was Bashar Al Assad who used chemical weapons, this action needs to be denounced by the international community in international forums within and outside of the UN system but the only one empowered to authorize the use of force, per Chapter VII of the UN Charter, is the United Nations Security Council. I know that the excuse now is that you will never be able to circumvent Russia and China’s veto power BUT if the UN inspection team (and not the U.S.) provides sufficient proof of state use of chemical weapons, enough pressure COULD be put on the superpowers in order to react responsively and responsibly. The U.N. system was created with complex checks and balances for a reason. It SHOULD be hard for countries to attack other countries. That’s the only way to keep hope for peace alive.
  • What’s the hurry, Mr. President? Use of chemical weapons or no use of them, people have been dying and suffering because of this conflict for more than two years. Now that the U.N. says they will publish a report on their inspection you’re in a hurry to bomb before they do? I’m sure your real constituents, those who voted for you, would want you to wait. Hell, I don’t have to say it, Americans are saying it themselves! Congress, THESE are the people you are supposed to work for, not the handful that pour millions of dollars into your campaigns or the Saudi government. Listen to your constituency.      

THERE IS NO INTERNATIONAL WAR SOLUTION FOR THE SYRIAN CONFLICT. A road to peace in the country and the region NEEDS to be political. Mr. Obama: DO NOT UNILATERALLY BOMB SYRIA. There are too many questions unanswered and you’re in too much of a hurry to push the red button.

Dear reader: unfortunately most of us do not have access to make a direct impact or difference in the matter but if you agree with the points herein stated, please circulate this post. Share it with friends and contacts and maybe, just maybe, it will reach the hands of someone with more influence than a concerned citizen of the world and a member of the majority of us who side with the ideal of peace. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Visit to Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Visit to Mexico“, published on June 5th, 2013. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

In 2002, former Mexican President Vicente Fox was recorded telling Cuban leader Fidel Castro over the phone, “You’ll eat and then you’ll leave” (“comes y te vas”) days before the UN Financing for Development Conference was held in Monterrey. Fox was referring to an evening dinner for heads of state hosted by the Mexican government and the reason for his request for a quick departure was to avoid George W. Bush and the Cuban leader crossing paths.  

These four words became symbolic of the National Action Party’s (Partido Acción Nacional—PAN) abandonment of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (Partido de la Revolución Institucional—PRI) long-standing diplomatic tradition, which positioned Mexico as one of the leaders in the non-aligned movement during the Cold War and promoted self-rule through what became known as the Estrada Doctrine.

A recently-retired member of Mexico’s foreign service, who asked not to be identified, stated in an interview for this article that “during the 12 years the PAN was in power, both Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón led a bilateral diplomatic agenda which brought the country closer to the U.S. but farther away from its own independence and from the rest of the world. Both presidents directly intervened in the SRE [Mexico’s foreign affairs ministry]; they did not allow us to operate in what we considered to be Mexico’s best diplomatic interest.”

Barack Obama’s recent visit to Mexico is the first hint that with the PRI back in power, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government will not shun its important relationship with the United States. But it does intend to diversify Mexico’s international agenda and change the rules by which the country will play in the global arena. Washington can expect more resistance on a number of bilateral issues than during the Fox and Calderón years—including the ability of U.S. police forces and drone planes to operate within Mexican borders.  

Slowly but surely, from a diplomatic standpoint, Mexico is taking steps to reestablish itself as an outspoken, independent and active player, and is engaging emerging and established world powers beyond its neighbor to the North.  In April, Peña Nieto’s participation in the conference of the Boao Forum For Asia—a China-based forum similar to the World Economic Forum—and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Mexico this week are a clear example of Mexico’s global pivot. President Xi’s visit, foreshadows a stronger bilateral commercial and diplomatic relationship.

Fox and Calderón did very little to maintain the strategic alliance that the PRI had built with China, and Calderón angered the Chinese government in 2011 when he received the Dalai Lama at the presidential residence.

But now, officials from the federal government and representatives from the private sector involved in President Xi’s visit are predicting the launch of a strategic, integral and functional alliance between China and Mexico. They are not exaggerating: as agreements reached during the visit show, this is much more than Xi making a courtesy call.

Amapola Grijalva, vice president of the Mexico-China Chamber of Commerce, told journalist Darío Celis in a June 3 radio interview that “agreements reached between the two delegations will help narrow the commercial balance gap between the countries, will open up a huge market for Mexican exporters, and will allow China to provide financing for important heavy infrastructure projects in the near future.” Grijalva estimates that “during Peña’s administration, up to $81 billion coming from China could go into financing new industrial naval port complexes, airports, telecom projects, and railway transportation systems.” 

A joint declaration signed and issued by Peña Nieto and Xi on June 4 summarizes the amount of work already invested in the renewed Mexico-China relationship. The two leaders signed memorandums of understanding to formally establish cooperation in energy, mining, emerging industries, infrastructure, private sector collaboration, university alliances, trade, banking, and even the oil industry. In addition, it was announced that sanitary measures have been met to reopen the Chinese market to pork from Mexico, and an agreement was reached to allow all forms of tequila into China.

Additionally, to promote tourism in both countries, Peña Nieto and Xi expressed their mutual interest in expanding international flights connecting Mexico and China and in establishing a working relationship between their tourism ministries.

In the political arena, Peña Nieto took the opportunity to amend Calderón’s diplomatic gaffe by ratifying the “One China” principle. Peña Nieto stated that it is Mexico’s position that both Taiwan and the Tibet are part of Chinese territory and Tibetan affairs are an internal issue for China.

In the statement, both parties declared that “given the improvement of diverse mechanisms in the bilateral cooperation, the conditions are such that Mexico-China relations can be elevated to a new level of benefit to both nations.” They also established a calendar of working visits from high-level government officials to implement the agreements and scheduled future meetings during upcoming international forums including the UN, APEC and the G20.

As President Xi’s visit shows, the coming years are certain to bring Mexico and China diplomatically closer and to catalyze economic growth, trade and development in a mutually beneficial way—while breaking Mexico’s trade dependency on the U.S. market.

Obama and Peña Nieto Focus on the Economy Over Immigration and Security

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Here is a link to my latest article on Americas Quarterly, titled “Obama and Peña Nieto Focus on the Economy Over Immigration and Security“, published on May 7th, 2013. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other articles, etc. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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Building up to their meeting in Mexico City on May 2, the administrations of both U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hinted that economic ties would be the focal point of their one-on-one meeting. In an interview with Americas Quarterly prior to the trip, Obama reiterated this, saying that he would “be discussing with President Peña Nieto how we can continue to reduce barriers to trade and investment.”

With commerce and economic cooperation pushing immigration and security to the backburner of the agenda, the two leaders made a strategic decision to avoid some of the more difficult issues gripping each country.

It comes as no surprise that the two leaders would want to play it safe. There is just too much at stake in the countries’ economic interdependencies: Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner, while the U.S. is Mexico’s largest trading partner. These ties have grown stronger (and Mexico’s asymmetrical dependence on the U.S. economy has grown larger) since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was put into place, and pave the way toward even greater cooperation under the auspices of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could be completed by the end of this year.

Moreover, there would be no political gain for either Obama or Peña Nieto with a focus on security and/or immigration.

On immigration, President Obama does not have the leeway to promise anything or deliver on that promise as comprehensive immigration reform will depend on the extent to which the U.S. Congress can continue to work in a bipartisan manner in the months ahead.

In Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto has not been as vocal as his predecessors about the urgent need to tackle the immigration problem perhaps because he understands that a vocal push for reform from the Mexican president may be seen as foreign meddling in what is often seen as a domestic issue. Like all Mexican presidents, he has used the scripted language about defending our countrymen’s rights outside of our borders. But he has not committed to steps such as requiring proper documentation for travelers along Mexico’s southern border that would help reduce the number of Central Americans who illegally cross into Mexico on route to the United States.

At the same time, agreement and mutual understanding on how to improve security is not the same as when the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) was in power. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón was more willing to work hand-in-hand with U.S. authorities on security issues, with U.S. drone planes often flying over Mexico’s national borders and information exchange and training common between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials. These practices are now under scrutiny by Peña Nieto. His administration has recently announced plans to reevaluate Calderón’s war on drugs strategy, including an intention to “restrict U.S. involvement in [Mexico’s] security efforts.”

Peña Nieto’s stated reason for reassessing Mexico’s security strategy is to focus on reducing violence rather than continuing a head-on war against the cartels. However, for a president still struggling with establishing legitimacy, and aware that the largest stain in Calderón’s legacy was the close to 70,000 deaths related to the war on drugs, it is also an intelligent political choice to throw a disappearing cloak over the issue of security. His priority is to focus the public’s attention on quick wins and success stories.

Obama, for his part, faces few domestic pressures when it comes to Mexico’s security issues and must justifiably focus his attention on Syria, North Korea and domestic challenges. When Obama was asked about security collaboration after his meeting with the Mexican president, his statement that “the nature of that cooperation will evolve” and that Mexico and the U.S. would “cooperate on a basis of mutual respect” is no coincidence. This is definitely a step back from what Obama referred to as “a shared responsibility” in 2009.

During their photo-op after Thursday’s meeting, Obama tried to focus on the commitments that he and Peña Nieto made for economic development. “Too often, two issues get attention: security or immigration,” he said. Unfortunately for both Mr. Obama and Mr. Peña Nieto, there is a reason for that: these issues are closer to constituents’ hearts than the promise of better macroeconomic levels, which may or may not trickle down and actually improve their daily lives.

The promise of a closer trade relationship, joint investment on competitiveness and a forecast of economic growth for both countries should positively affect the security environment in Mexico and the future flow of undocumented immigrants to the United States. But bilateral agreements on how to frame a common strategy to tackle both of these critical issues will have to wait for another day.

News Flash: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita says…

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Game theorist and Political Scientist from NYU Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, famous for outpredicting the CIA’s future international scenarios 2 to 1, has just predicted that Newt Gingrich will take the GOP nomination in the end but Obama will be re-elected.

Just thought I’d let you know in case you’re putting any money down on Presidential Election bets.

Thank you, Tea Party

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Black monday in the US after S&P downgrades USA rating from AAA to AA+, in an evidently irresponsible party-politics ploy with an electoral undertone.

Thank you Tea Party, your thirst for power has finally sent the US and possibly the world into another shitstorm. Enjoy it.

In all fairness, it’s not ALL the Tea Party’s fault. Bush’s wars put the US in this path long before Sarah Palin and friends started making “I’m with stupid” a profitable campaign slogan. And don’t forget Obama’s lack of resolve in numerous accounts throughout his presidency, including a miniscule stimulus plan which he was only able to push through after brown-nosing the whole Republican party. Mr. President, you’ve been played big time and as long as you don’t step it up and expose these people for what they are, you won’t be the only one in trouble.

Quamdiu stat Colysaeum stat et Roma, quando cadet et Colysaeum cadet et Roma, quando cadet et Roma cadet et mundus.

Come back, Bill Clinton. I’m sure we can all forgive the fact that Monica gave you oral sex under the desk at the Oval Office, especially after we’re seeing these guys perform sadomasochism on the whole nation from OUTSIDE the White House!

Break the hate cycle

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I just spent the last couple of hours watching history unfold. It is well-known by now, that last night (I write these words around 1:30 am of May 2nd) President Barrack Obama told the world that Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the USS Cole and 9/11 attacks, was dead.

The news leaked about an hour before the announcement and by the time Obama took the microphone, there were already hundreds of people outside of the White House chanting and celebrating the fact. Crowds were also gathering around Ground Zero in New York City in what became an important and emotional chapter in US history.  

As the night progressed, discourse both in mainstream media and on the streets got charged up more and more and before long, what began with chanting of patriotic songs (God Bless America and the Star Spangled Banner) became a rowdy football fan-like behavior. “Yes, we can” evolved to “USA! USA! USA!” and “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye.”  On twitter, new users like OsamaInHell and GhostOsama were created and tweets making reference to the foursquare network  mentioning that Osama Bin Laden was the now mayor of Hell were retweeted all night. “Obama got Osama” T-shirts are already on sale. Admittedly, the trend was contagious and I even fell into it for a second. But we have to be better than this.

I can understand that the US needs to take a moment to celebrate achieving a goal they set a long time ago but we cannot let it become the catalyst of hate.

When the twin towers fell, I remember news media showing footage from Palestine of people celebrating in the streets. Watching Americans do exactly the same today, worries me. Death and vengeance should not be an occasion for joy and as Mohandas Gandhi famously said “an eye for eye makes the world go blind.”

I don’t mean to eradicate extremism. That would be naïve. But we cannot allow ourselves the easy privilege of going with the flow and letting the worst part of our human nature take over. I felt sick reading some racist comments from readers of news media saying that Obama’s speech should have started with “I got that cocksucker towelhead. We got him right between the frickin’ eyes.”  It is irrelevant to look for the root cause of the conflict, to point fingers and say who is to blame for all the hate… but far too quickly we’ve forgotten why the Taliban was in power in Afghanistan in the first place. In most conflicts, no one party is completely innocent and no one party is completely to blame.

Please, dear readers, let’s acknowledge this day in history for what it is and ONLY for what it is. Last night a man who considered his ends to justify his means which included targeting innocent civilians, was killed in a military operation in Pakistan. It was not the triumph of good over evil and it was not Obama “getting a cocksucker towelhead.”

Please break the hate cycle. It is time to call for unity, not vengeance (and you don’t want vengeance coming your way either).

All we are saying is give peace a chance.   

SB 1070: A Discussion with Brewer’s Primary Opponent

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Here’s a link to my most recent article on AQBlog, titled “SB 1070: A Discussion with Brewer’s Primary Opponent” http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1954

Date published: October 25th, 2010

I hope you find it interesting.

Here’s a copy of it:

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When Governor Jan Brewer became vocal about and stood by Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (referred to as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” after its approval), she catapulted her way into the Republican candidacy for the 2010 gubernatorial election, and most likely, an incumbent landslide victory over Democratic candidate Terry Goddard.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss SB1070 and related issues with Matthew Jette, who ran against Brewer in the Republican primaries. Jette faced harsh opposition from his party members in multiple occasions when he tried to bring some sense and rationality into the undocumented workers’ rights discussion and eventually lost the primaries because he stood by what he knew was right.

Had it been implemented as it was originally drafted, the bill would have made not carrying immigration documents a criminal misdemeanor and would have given state police officials the power to detain people based only on suspicion of their immigrant status and provided them the right to demand proof of holding federal identification papers. My conversation with him presents an interesting look at what SB1070 is really about.

When I asked Jette about the overall state support for the bill (70 percent voter approval rate), he shared that “SB1070 is bad policy and the wrong mechanism in an effort to marginalize and blame a certain group of people for the depressed economy and housing market. […] The people ofArizona are frustrated with a lot of different issues ranging from health care, education, the economy, and housing. [Politicians] using this frustration as a driving force, have rationalized their actions with SB1070.”

 

In sum, undocumented workers are being used as a scapegoat for Arizona’s larger problems, but as Americas Quarterly’s own Christopher Sabatini recently blogged in a great piece on the evolution of immigration, “despite what the anti-immigrant nativists would have you believe, immigrants—even undocumented immigrants—pay more in taxes than they take out, providing a critical source of new revenue for those soon-to-be retiring baby boomers that threaten to bankrupt our social security system.”

Jette provides further insight on the subject: “Arizonaranks last or near last in many education measurements. Yet, this Governor and others routinely have decreased spending and perpetually under-minded education by investing public dollars into failing charter schools.Arizonaranks last in new job creation nationally and is one of the few states falling further behind in its recovery.” Unfairly, undocumented workers are being blamed for the shortcomings of others.

Now given the focus on racial and ethnic issues that the bill provoked, the majority of Americans failed to understand that besides providing an easy channel for harassment and detainment of Hispanics (documented and undocumented), SB1070 is in reality an attack on the civil liberties of all Americans visiting or residing in Arizona.

When you empower a law enforcement official to detain someone based on nothing more than his perception or suspicion that they might be an unauthorized immigrant, you are de facto throwing presumption of innocence out the window, one of the bastions of theU.S. legal system. Moreover, as Dr. Jette mentioned in our interview “regardless of the language, immigration is a federal issue. A state officer cannot ask for or charge anyone for not carrying federal papers. [Also,] holding individuals for an unspecified amount of time does infringe on one’s civil liberties.” If the citizens ofArizona were keen on these facts, I believe support for SB1070 would dramatically drop.

Fear mongering and ignorance about the effects of SB1070 are not the only things tainting this already controversial piece of legislation. KPHO, a CBS outfit, recently reported on what could be Jan Brewer’s real motivation for supporting the bill. Her Campaign Chairman and Policy Advisor have been linked to lobbying for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which, in turn, has been a campaign supporter for the incumbent governor. CCA is one of the frontrunners in privatizing prison systems.

Jette shares his views on why the CCA has backed Brewer and SB1070: “SB1070 is more about money and corruption than it is about race, security or wasted dollars.Arizonais the only state attempting to privatize their prisons and the CCA is the one entity that would benefit the most with the passing of SB1070. The Correction Corporation ofAmericamade a financial contribution to helping Governor Brewer pass Proposition 100 (the 1 cent sales tax increase) and the significance of that rests with the fact that the CCA is the only entity which would house immigration detainees as a result of SB1070.” As it turns out, Brewer (and her team) is in bed with those who stand to win the most out of an increase in arrests (justified or not) stemming from this piece of legislation.

For now the most controversial portions of SB1070 have been put on a leash by District Court Judge Susan Bolton via an injunction, but Brewer has made it very clear that if need be, she is ready to take her appeal through the court system all the way up to the Supreme Court. And when she does, hopefully theUS Justices will have the right minds to discard her plights.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.