The Rebalancing of Powers: From ‘Brexit’ to Babel?


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There is a disconnect between national policy and international relations.

The decision to leave the EU by the UK, or “Brexit”, is a symbol of that disconnect.

But in order to understand the origins of this decision, it is important to highlight the UK’s tradition of reluctance and hesitation towards the EU since its inception.

By nature, the UK, like America, prefers to play a conservative role in international affairs, dabbling in just enough to get the benefit, but not enough to bear the burden.

But the armed crises in the Middle East have created a storm in UK & EU politics, with the migration crisis being the crux of the problem.

Evidently, the UK prefers to leave such matters in the hands of its European counterparts, which is ironic because the UK is America’s closest ally in Europe – both countries are directly responsible for destabilizing the Middle East in the first place, under the premise of liberalization. This is where the disconnect begins.

At least half of the UK truly feels undermined by the concentration of power, underrepresented and almost collectivized by being part of the EU.

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But is the decision to leave the EU a right-wing populist scheme exploiting frustrations of the ordinary Brit? In South America, both right and left wing populism have failed to their more centered opponents. The US is still determining its fate.

Has this decision created a more or less secure world? Is this decision likely to produce positive or negative results in the UK’s social, economic and political fabric? How will this impact the rest of Europe? What will happen to the migrants?

It is in fact the people who have decided, through referendum, to leave the EU. Despite a targeted and well-developed “leave” campaign, the decision is also inspired by  general discontent towards the EU in Britain. But the facts and rhetoric surrounding the campaign reveals “Brexit” is more about xenophobia & Islamophobia than it is about sovereignty.

The majority of those who voted to leave the EU were above the age of 40. The vast majority of those who voted against were in their 20s ad 30s.

Given that London just elected its first Muslim mayor, there is reason to believe that unfounded, prejudiced paranoias about migrants and Muslims have stoked fears and insecurities in society, just enough to feed into the allure of right-wing populism and fear.

UK MP Nigel Farage proclaimed victory, ushering the 23rd as the UK’s modern independence day. He went on to claim that such a victory was achieved without any blood spilled. But only last week, British MP Jo Cox was violently murdered by a right-wing extremist who shouted “Britain First” as he committed the murder. Has this been understated by the media? Compared to reporting on terrorism linked to one or more Muslims, it is difficult to say that the media is not biased.

Notable international relations theorist John Mearsheimer predicted the disintegration of the EU as a result of the current international political dynamic which has seen America as the world’s sole superpower since the dissolution of the USSR. That dissolution has almost removed the security incentive for unity, or balancing that brought the EU together in the first place. There appears to be a growing rift among NATO members, particularly between European states and the US on how to manage international affairs. The differences stem from foreign policy on the Middle East primarily. Is the UK’s decision to leave the EU an inching towards or away from subservience to US leadership? That depends on the direction US democracy goes. If the American people also give in to fear, Donald Trump might be the next US president. This suggests that the two of the world’s most influential powers, the UK and America, are juggling between the past and the future – traditions of colonialism, racism & global mischief – and the equally traditional struggle against those forces, political enfranchisement, and socio-economic equality.

Europe is drifting towards a center-left progressive “utopia” – something despised by the British traditional-mentality. The same could be said of the US. This is vindicated by the statistics surrounding the ‘Brexit’ vote which saw the majority of the “leave” supporters being over the age of 40.

Without delving deeply into history books, the average person might not know that much of the US’ post-WWI behavior was determined by the British, by prompting fear and insecurity about illusory global threats. In 1952, it was the British who convinced the US that movements for sovereignty in the Middle East were a threat. Initially the US had actually empathized with the struggles for independence in the Middle East. The UK convinced the US to overthrow a democratically elected leader in Iran, and the US agreed because of the paranoias injected by the UK about the so-called “communist menace”.

To some it may be surprising that racism, Islamophobia and fascism are creeping into US and UK politics. To others, perhaps more victimized by these forces, it is more dangerous than surprising. If the US decides to follow suit and elects Donald Trump, there is reason to believe that global tensions might intensify. Remember that European history is bloody. Wars between France, England, Germany were commonplace. The UK’s exit from the EU might disturb this legacy of peace and harmony in Europe which has endured since WWII. Furthermore, it might reintroduce fascism into the West – long thought gone and dead.

It isn’t hard to imagine what would happen if the US did in fact follow suit. Two blocs would eventually form in the global order – a rebalancing of powers if you will. The UK and the US would be together on one side; Russia, China & Iran on the other. India would likely play an indirect role, but ultimately throwing most of its support behind the latter bloc. The contrary would apply to the Gulf states in the Middle East, Israel and Pakistan, who would likely remain under the auspices of the UK & the US. Altogether this can be described as the modern world order. In this scenario, the EU disintegrates completely. The fault line will likely split between France & Germany – to no surprise, with much of eastern Europe balancing against the UK & the US. The war between fascism and collectivism ensues. The ideologies of capitalism and culture are at war – they are mutually exclusive. In reality, capitalism fully realized is fascist, and collectivism fully realized is communist – both authoritarian to some extent. But the latter is conditional and retaliatory. In a perfect world, neither would exist, and universal democracy could flourish without capitalism and communism. Till then, we must pick sides and lesser evils or resort to anarchism.

There is still hope for the world and America. Clinton is not our salvation – but in politics there are no angels; only lesser devils – or so it seems.

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A Return to the Balance of Power?


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Depending on your worldview, political reality shifts.

But consider for a second – this perspective.

On the global scale, we see America as an isolated nation.

In reality, America possesses two qualities which render this assumption baseless.

America is majority Anglo-Saxon; America has been deeply entangled in the foreign affairs of England and the rest of Europe.

The isolationist narrative is deeply flawed and misleading. But it isn’t surprising. America is nation that sees itself as exceptional to the rest of the world. There is only one other country which possesses a similar characteristic – Israel. Both nations, are born out of ideology, not ethnic identity or language. These are conceptual nations, both of which in actuality stole land from indigenous populations. The Europeans, are actually tied to their land historically through language and culture that is distinct. Religion is secondary.

Even the Europeans engaged foreign domination but America replaced them as the unipolar hegemony. We view America and the concept of democracy as somehow special, original and superior. We think of individualism as only possible here. We see capitalism as the only security of human innovation.

But much of this narrative rests on one presumption – the political domination of the international political arena by England and America.

Just because the era of colonialism ended – does not entail the end of colonialism itself.

Since the first balance of power was realized and established by the European order between all powerful nation-states via the Treaty of Westphalia, a change as overtaken the world, due in part to technological and industrial revolutions but more importantly, to policy-decisions by elites to disrupt the tradition of balance of power for the sake of preserving American and British domination over global affairs. This has perpetuated stereotypes of all social groups and nation-states, only enabled by inequality in the global spectrum. This international political reality cannot be separated from the socio-economic miseries within each country in the world. They are all intertwined.

Prosperity and individual happiness have been, in the West, associated with capitalism and democracy. In Europe, while this is true, there is a sense of cultural heritage that preserves and cultivates unity among the population. In America, the population is more polarized – there is less cultural influence on political affairs and more ideological influence in the States.

But if corruption is equally rampant in America, then it is unfair to presume that any nation deserves the position of unipolar hegemony. Unipolar hegemony depends on domination and violations of sovereignty. The British, who attempted this more overtly in the past, faced a similar fate in India as America is currently facing in the Muslim world – brutal and irrational retaliation to a century of arbitrary occupation.

Why is America policing the world? Nobody should be.

But given the reality of politics and the possibility of an emerging threat to balance, nations act both preemptively and directly. Now that technology has enabled nations to communicate more easily, is bipolarity the natural state of politics? For the last three decades, was the Cold War merely warming up?

Whereas the conflict at once was portrayed as capitalism versus communism, is the war really between neoconservatism (imperialism guised with good intent and fear of threat, usually via democratization) versus nationalism (the ambition for sovereignty)?

Realism assumes the intent of domination; and suggests its potentiality. But what if this human quality is a cultural phenomenon more common to the West? Considering democracies prevalence in the West, and the West’s engagement in neoconservative foreign policy, could it be argued that, culturally, the West is more inclined towards domination, whereas, other states are more inclined towards national sovereignty and cultural values and traditions that may not necessarily be majoritarian democracy?

This is the basis of constructivism, a theory of international relations which explains the behavior of states as relative to their cultural orientations. Various institutions of politics are, along this line of thinking, social constructed.

The menace to global peace is neoconservatism. And while at one point communism was seen as the nemesis, it could be argued from the constructivist stance that communism was a response to American and European expansionism into the domains of other dominant powers. Today, the force attempting to resist this is now a loose coalition of Russian expansionism, Chinese assertiveness, Latin American disenchantment, European disintegration, Middle Eastern and African tumult. I argue these all would not exist in a world without an aggressive neoconservative menace.

Either it will be contained, or violence on both ends will rise.

Just like the world organized to contain communism, perhaps now the world is slowly rallying to contain America’s neoconservative trajectory.

Who Partakes in Political Violence?


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Terrorism is a tactic adopted by particular groups for a political objective. The individuals that partake in this violence often exhibit common characteristics. One of these characteristics is impoverishment (Lee 2011). In parts of the world where state capacity to serve the public is low, terrorist group participation is more likely. In other words, these individuals come from poor backgrounds. But contrarily, individuals from higher economic classes, also tend to be involved. This suggests that the middle class is least likely to join in, while the lower middle and upper class are more vulnerable (Kavanagh 2011).

On the other hand, terrorism has a different motive. In this case, terrorism is analyzed from the individual perspective, versus the structural perspective. Concepts like emotion and humiliation are considered here to be powerful motivators towards violence. The underlying belief is that, particularly in the Islamic world, a sense of humiliation drives individuals to terror. This humiliation stems from cultural factors such as shame-based traditions as much as it does from a history of subordination to outsiders such as Europe and America, through arrangements like Sykes-Picot. Humiliation can be exacerbated by internal inequalities within nation-states (Fattah & Fierke 2009). Perhaps a less romanticized perspective argues that existential factors like desire and glory motivate individuals among other factors that are political to engage in terrorism (Cottee et al 2011).

The most compelling argument seems to focus on the political orientation of terrorism through the individual lens. This is because it considers the cultural dimension of politics which drives individuals to retaliation or aggression. Social factors like poverty and authoritarianism cannot be separated from the external powers at play, and their influence historically and in today’s world on regions where terrorism is most prevalent. Equally, we cannot ignore the complicity of national governments in worsening conditions and enabling terrorism.

 

Cottee, Simon and Keith Hayward. 2011. “Terrorist (E)motives: The Existential Attractions of Terrorism.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 34: 963-986

Fattah, Khaled and Fierke, K.M. 2009. “A Clash of Emotions: The Politics of Humiliation and Political Violence in The Middle East.” European Journal of International Relations 15(1): 67-93

Kavanagh, J. (2011). Selection, Availability, and Opportunity: The Conditional Effect of Poverty on Terrorist Group Participation. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 55(1), 106-132.

Lee, A. (2011). Who Becomes a Terrorist? Poverty, Education, and the Origins of Political Violence . World Politics , 203-245.

The Fate of the Middle East


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The fate of Middle Eastern conflicts is that they are long and bloody.

More recently, they have been immortal.

The Palestine issue has almost turned into a hopeless cause in which activists are smeared as promoters of violence. The losses suffered by Arabs, while Israelis and Americans gain footing, is tough to look beyond. How does one have hope beyond all these drawbacks?

In 2003, Iraq was invaded. Ever since, terrorism has risen sharply becoming a norm.

Then the Arab uprisings occurred, and no real progress came about. In fact, the Middle East is arguably in worse condition than it was before 2003, whether it is temporary or transitional.

None of the world’s major powers have done anything to reduce the suffering and destruction – but they certainly have invested resources into protecting their interests and initiatives. As I watch videos upon videos of suffering Syrians, both inside and outside of their country, I become more disenchanted with the Syrian government’s lack of accountability, morality and disregard. Where is the empathy? The obedience of many Arabs to the tyrannical cults of personality which rule their societies isn’t that mind-boggling to me, only because here in America, we study things like the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. I see too much suffering happening to my people.

But if Palestinians are suffering the same fate, and have been, for the last 50 years, at the hands of a so-called democratic Jewish state, who am I to blame? Americans and Europeans are quick to point their fingers at Arab heads of state – but in Palestine and Iraq, conditions have been worsened not by heads of state but also by foreign occupiers.

The sense of distrust among Syrians, and Arabs altogether towards any attempt to “police” the Middle East should not be so difficult to grasp – though it is for many Americans.

But why must ordinary people suffer at the hands of political officials? The levels of political, economic and social control in Arab states is beyond apprehension. If we cannot trust democracies or authoritarians, we have nobody to go, but ourselves. In doing that, menaces like ISIS and al Qaeda emerge.

The narrative in America is that the Syrian people are suffering because their government is stubborn. Like many governments outside of the Occident, authoritarianism is rampant in the Middle East. Syria is one of the examples. With a notorious secret police service, haunting tales about political prisoners and disappearances, horrifying accounts of state terror, Syria is a prime example in fact. The state’s inability to accept a free society that enables economic mobilization, has led to an economic disaster in which tribal ideologies are sought for survival. In this scenario, ISIS is the shadow of Assad. Neither can exist without the other. Would ISIS wain with Assad’s end? Would the specter and appeal of Islamic radicalism lose ground because of a lack of justification?  In this case, the Syrian government is inciting sectarianism and extremism.

But this theory rests largely on the assumption that authoritarianism is the cause of the problem in the Middle East. If that were the case, it would be authoritarianism, not Israeli apartheid and occupation, which subjugates Palestinians. But maybe an end to authoritarianism, would also imply an end to Israeli authoritarianism. In this case, the menace to the Arab and Islamic world is not colonialism, but rather, authoritarianism – a domestic sentiment of political hubris practiced by political elites, whether they are Zionist, Alawite, Saudi or Shia.

In another scenario, global powers are playing tug-o-war for control of regions like the Middle East, Latin America, Central & Southeast Asia. These powers include the US, Europe, Russia & China. Here, the cause of instability is imperial overstretch, violating state sovereignty, stirring animosity and violence. If nation-states like the US did not seek superiority but rather economic development, the world could experience a state of co-existence. Culturally, the West is more inclined to domination. As a result, the East responded with their own mechanism for resisting imperialism – communism. Here, the instigator is the Anglo-Saxon civilization, which seeks a level of exploitation of others. But if all nation-states sought containment, there would be less imbalance and instability. There is a level of insecurity among the Anglo-Saxons in which they cannot accept a level-playing field.

Both scenarios are compelling. Others would point to less human based factors, like oil abundance or environmental factors. Some analysts argue the main cause of instability in the Middle East is cultural – Islam is unique.

All of the arguments have some truth to them but which is most compelling and which has the most support?

Since the end of WWI, the Arab & Muslim world became more vulnerable than ever. That is because the Ottoman Empire officially collapsed, withering away into a fragmented and divided states, leaving them vulnerable to colonial domination, which is exactly what happening via Sykes-Picot in the Middle East. In the 20th century, the West dominated the East through covert operations. But in the 21st century, this manifested through direct invasions, such as the 2003 War in Iraq. Then came the war in Libya. Now the US is considering its options in Syria and Yemen. It seems hard to believe, that the removal of Saddam Hussein did anything better for the Iraqis than his initial takeover to begin with. It could mean that Iraqis have to wait another hundred years before their country is able to function democratically and resist destabilization – but is this possible with a constant threat of foreign intervention?

All of these factors must be considered.

Personally I feel that because destabilization in the Middle East increased sharply after 2003 indicates the influence of foreign intervention. Furthermore, covert operations by the US to overthrow even democratically elected leaders further enflamed the fire of radicalism. It would seem then that the argument which points to foreign intervention in the Middle East, or occupation, as the main driver of terrorism and instability, to be the most compelling.

America has pushed for democracy in its foreign policy while not practicing it fully domestically. Furthermore, its pressures for regime change have only revealed its ulterior motives in meddling in the affairs of usually more vulnerable states. Only through containment of the US’ imperial ambitions can the world see a reduction of Russian assertiveness, the appeal of Islamic radicalization and global instability.

 

The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Middle East


 

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There are numbers floating around regarding the relatively low amount of terrorist incidents committed by Islamic radicals.

Still, two points can be brought up.

Instability is uniquely inherent to the Middle East; and anti-Americanism is common in the Islamic World.

Perhaps these two characteristics of the Islamic World coupled with the increase in radicalized Islamic terrorist incidents (after 2003) could be explained as the products of humiliation .

Fanaticism is denounced by most Muslims.

But even ordinary Muslims, like for example in Iran, feel a sense of betrayal from the US with regards to sovereignty that is seen as the cause of extremism in the first place.

Since Islamic terrorism didn’t surge until after the War in Iraq, their claims seem to exhibit some validity .

The implication here is that, more respect for sovereignty might reduce the impetus for radicalization, and thus terror.

If I Were President – 2016 and Beyond


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There are many avenues that need to be walked in order to improve the US domestically.

The US is still a global leader, but socio-economically it lags in development, compared to its allies in Europe and its emerging competitors in the East. The progressive wave which swept Europe in the 90s and early 2000s seems to have missed the US. Obama’s legacy remains barely left of center, despite significant strides and accomplishments. Furthermore, China’s emergence as an industrial power and Russia’s assertiveness in the 21st century are signs of a need for the US to improve its position politically.

So what should be on the agenda for the US domestically?

  1. Immigration Reform – This must be done comprehensively without leaving any behind and also planning for the future. Grant amnesty, permanent status to those currently living in the US, with discretion for amnesty based on level of hardship endured. Grant federal aid to all immigrants in US. Normalize their status. Establish better relations economically and politically with neighbors, particularly those from which immigrants flee. Tackle source of problem. Tightening borders not only won’t solve problem – it is a mere rhetorical campaign tactic to entice those with little education on the matter.
  2. Minority Rights – African & Latino-Americans, but also Arab and Asian-Americans have suffered disproportionately in the spheres of economics and political representation. Social, economic and political measures are necessary to elevate not just the plight but the status of minorities in the US to that of equal-standing with other social groups to balance out the playing field and ensure a robust democracy and free market for all – not just some.
  3. Military & Prison Reform – We spend too much money on our military. We execute and incarcerate more people than any country in the world. That includes China, the most populous nation on the planet. How could this be? Surely, the US’ history of racism has nothing to do with it…considering the majority of prisoners in the US are either African or Latino. We need to spend less on our military, jail less of our minorities, and de-institutionalize racism. This requires active government initiative in the realms of education and economic opportunity.
  4. Health & Climate – we need a conscious revolution in our expectations of quality and formation of national identity and culture. The US must advocate for cleaner diets and environments for its people. Furthermore, the US must learn to compromise the tradition of robust-industrialization with regards to its negative impact on the environment. Thoroughly embedded universal healthcare must be made accessible to all Americans.

And what about in the realm of foreign politics?

Disengagement – the US must return to its pre-WWI foreign policy of having almost no foreign policy. The US was isolationist, largely uninvolved in the world prior to the world wars. Interventionism in the post-cold war period has reached new heights, and caused greater setbacks for the US and the world altogether. More military disengagement, including of covert operations, would result in a more secure US. The US cannot expect to have its borders secure while it practically disregards the borders and national sovereignty of other nations.

  1. Disengage Saudi Arabia until religious tolerance reform; distribute wealth
  2. Reconcile with Iran, Syria – South America
  3. Disengage Israel – less partial support
  4. Disengage from other spheres of influence (respect Chinese, Russian spheres)
  5. Recognize the Armenian Genocide (and all other disregarded mass-genocides of the 20th century and beyond; in Africa and Asia)
  6. Pressure Turkey to contain itself

Instead of disrupting the balance of power, the US should seek to play a more even hand. It could thus focus less on entertaining the greed of its elite through foreign escapades, and more on distributing resources more justly, effectively and fruitfully.

Who is the best candidate?

Overall Bernie Sanders is the best candidate because he benefits all those who are struggling, from economic equality, gender & minority rights, prison-reform & foreign disengagement – all of these fall within his scope. And all of these have hurt the US. As for foreign policy, he won’t do much. But that’s better than doing a lot – which is what his competitors and his predecessors have done – full military engagement or support for various forces. Bernie isn’t going to save America or the world. Particularly in the Middle East, his policies could prove naive – how would he manage Israeli aggression? Furthermore, in light of the double-standard against Palestinians, can their self-determination be secured in the face of a relentless, expansionist Israeli state?

What would happen in a Trump or Clinton presidency? How different are they, how similar?

We would clash with all our “enemies” more directly: Iran, North Korea, ISIS, Venezuela, Hamas, Hezbollah & Syria. Obama’s legacy of reconciliation would be undermined, where as a Bernie Sanders presidency would be more in tune.

If we focus on policy instead of rhetoric, we’ll see that both Trump and Clinton are hawkish. They are both angry about the deal with Iran. Both are unrelentingly pro-Israeli.

America is at a cross-roads. Sure, we are always choosing between two sides, but this election, more than ever, is more polarized than ever. Considering the US’ immense influence over global affairs, blue or red tie in the White House often means the difference between inflated gas prices and high terror alerts.

Is Bernie that much different from Trump and Clinton?

Aside from the slogans, ideologies and rhetoric – how different are these guys? In domestic politics, greatly. In foreign politics…not so much. In fact foreign politics has almost taken a backseat to the economic crisis in the US. The sad thing is that the two are so-connected.

Who do you trust most to deal with these realities?

Take your pick. Bet you can’t guess mine! (Even though I can’t vote…which goes back to the need for immigration reform). Catch my drift?

An Interview with Adonis


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This is an excerpt of a recent interview with Syrian-exiled poet Adonis taken from the New York Review of Books.

The renaissance needs time. Our society, during the fifteen centuries since the foundation of the first Islamic state, has not been able to establish a society of citizens. With a citizen’s duties come rights. Until now, Arab societies are formed of individuals who carry out the same duties but have different rights: the Christian does not have the same rights as the Muslim, for instance. Fifteen centuries. How can we solve fifteen centuries in a week or two, a month or two? But I trust that the time will come, but outside this context.

The problems that Europe experienced were overcome by the establishment of new societies, completely separate from religion and the church. In the Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical courts were just like the jihadists today. They killed people and burned them. But the West succeeded in separating church from state, and created modern societies. We are still in this stage. And if the West was successful in this separation then there is no reason to prevent the Arabs from separating [the two] as well. We are struggling for this separation. We will do it despite everything and despite Western politicians as well, because Western politicians unfortunately despise Arabs, and despise Arab regimes. Despise. [The West] uses these regimes as tools to execute its plans.

(Interviewer) What then is the future of Arab culture in—

I told you, as long as death and love are there, art will remain. Don’t worry. The readers are fewer, but that’s okay. Nietzsche, the agitator of modern thought, was not published [in his time]. No one knew him. This is the destiny of art, always. Many get published and sell millions, but their books belong in the trash.

— Adonis [April 16, 2016, 10:00 am]