Who Is Tim Kaine? A Brief History


AP_161967536536421-e1469054240471-article-header.jpg

Tim Kaine has been officially declared as Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate.

As news tabloids emblazon images of the newly chosen “veep” on television and computer screens, many ordinary Americans are left wondering – who is this guy? It is a fair question, since for most Americans, Tim Kaine is a stranger and a new face in politics.

Similarly, in 2008 many Americans found themselves asking the same question about presidential nominee Barrack Obama.

But this is a much different scenario. Still we are left asking, who really is Tim Kaine and what will he bring to the table, if anything?

As Donald Trump’s campaign continues to dominate the headlines, ordinary Americans are left wondering what is left for Hillary to do. Does she have a chance?

Tim Kaine first rose to national prominence when he was purported to be then presidential candidate Barrack Obama’s VP running mate in 2008. Since then, he has been largely out of the national political discussion, that is until now.

But some characteristics of Tim Kaine give reason to believe that he is someone to pay close attention to.

Kaine born in Minnesota but raised in Kansas City, Missouri. He is of humble beginnings as his father was a welder and was raised Catholic. He received his BA from the University of Missouri Kaine and attended Harvard Law School afterwards. During his tenure at Harvard, Kaine embarked on as a missionary with the Jesuits in Honduras. There he learned to speak Spanish fluently. He has on occasion delivered his speeches to Congress in Spanish. In fact, in 2013, Kaine delivered a speech introducing the bipartisan immigration bill drafted by the “Gang of Eight” entirely in Spanish – an unprecedented feat.

Kaine’s political career only began in 1994, therefor Americans are right to be more than inquisitive about their potential vice president, especially given heightened level of polarization between the two candidates and their parties. He political career took off in Richmond, Virginia where he started working for the City Council. In 1998 Kaine was elected Richmond’s Mayor and in 2005 he became the state’s Governor. From 2006-2011 Kaine served as the Democratic National Committee’s Chair and in 2012 he was elected Senator of Virginia defeating sitting governor George Allen.  It appears Kaine’s ambitions were carefully coordinated and executed. This might be underscored by the fact that Kaine has never lost a single election. Scared yet, GOP?

Still, Kaine does not maintain an impressive feat of policy. He is on neither extreme end of the political spectrum, though it might be appropriate to classify him as center-left, but certainly gravitating towards the center. As Governor, Kaine passed massive budget cuts amounting to nearly five billion dollars, which was quite unpopular in his state. With regard to his political positions, he has generally taken center-left positions, recognizing LGBT rights, climate change and the need for universal healthcare, to name a few. But his budget-cuts, promotion of international free trade and his support of American military operations in Afghanistan are indicative of his centrist affinities too, which makes all the more sense why he would be Clinton’s ideal running mate.

His foreign policy experience is limited, and thus enables little analysis. One particular controversy which occurred with his staffer, Esam Omeish, a Libyan-American doctor, who was appointed to the Virginia Commission on Immigration in 2009. Mr. Omeish expressed criticism for George W. Bush & the Israeli Lobby’s influence on US politics, leading to his resignation.

Albeit Tim Kaine is certainly apt for the job. His experiences and mobilization through the ranks of Virginian politics is evidence of that. But will Kaine be the necessary ingredient to Clinton’s recipe for defeating Donald Trump?

Time will tell – on November 8th, 2016 to be exact.

 

The Gravest Modern Security Threat to America & the World: Neoconservatism


GettyImages-568874623.jpg

The international political dynamic is shifting. Since 9/11 Islamic radicalism has filled the vacuum of power left by the dissolution of the USSR, prompting unprecedented US military and security engagement abroad. This article seeks to address what is likely to become the US greatest national security threat in the next ten years. The US has not witnessed aggressive state retaliation since Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. The most recent example of this was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Georgia. Furthermore, increased US entanglement in the Middle East has made it the target of terrorism. This instability in the Middle East has led to the migrant crisis, which challenges U.S. policy in many aspects. Furthermore technological advancements have propped up authoritarian regimes that also threaten international security, like North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. But these so-called threats appear to be short-term, since the 9/11 attacks, the most direct attack in US history, was a Saudi doing. Saudi Arabia is one of the US’ closest allies in the region of the Middle East, yet it exhibits brutal dictatorship, theocracy & immense human rights violations. The US’ double standards have made national security initiatives more elusive. So what really is the greatest threat to American security in the long run? The election of Obama I argue recommenced a US path towards dovish foreign policy, military disengagement, and reconciliation. Though there are exceptions like Libya, this created a window of opportunity for the US to distance itself from hawkish foreign policies that worsened the stability in regions like the Middle East, already suffering from authoritarianism, foreign occupation, poverty and religiosity.

The greatest threat comes in two forms: authoritarian government repression fueling extremism and sponsoring terrorism; foreign interventionism fueling anti-Americanism, terrorism and state-retaliation or balancing. My overall argument is that both American democracy and global democracy are compromised by neoconservative politics and that the balance of power has been disrupted mainly by the US in the post-Soviet era. In other words, American foreign policy and the domestic policies that exist within other states in volatile regions like the Middle East as well as the security threats in those respective states are inextricably linked. America has supported insurgents, authoritarians and rebels, all at the same time, reducing sovereignty while boosting presence and political gain. The problem is oversimplified by pointing to one or the other variable, when the reality is that stability is not possible without sovereignty, which is a precondition for political development, democratic or not. If we regard US policy in terms of long-term security threats, authoritarianism and terrorism are together products of neoconservative politics and interventionist US foreign policy. This interventionism is fairly new relative to a US tradition of isolationism, which preceded WWI and WWII. Notice that prior to the twentieth and twenty first century, American security threats were scarce, and mostly domestic. While economic and technological development are both responsible for globalization, it is still important to note that US interventionism is largely a twentieth and twenty first century phenomenon. For this reason, there was less conflict between the US and the Muslim world. Radicalization, underdevelopment and instability can be seen as a result of US interventionism. In turn this has created a serious national security threat for the US.

The emergence of ISIS, al Nusra and other radical Islamist splinter groups, in the post-Arab Spring Middle East highlights the importance of US foreign policy in achieving national security. ISIS is made up largely of foreign fighters, the majority of whom come from Iraq. It can thus be argued that ISIS is the product of a spillover from the War in Iraq launched by the US in 2003, at the dismay of most of the Arab world. The impetus of al Qaeda, the pre-ISIS “menace of the Middle East” was the end of US presence in the “holy land”, despite taking a lending hand from the US against the USSR in the 80s. Hezbollah, a notorious Lebanon paramilitary political party has used violence as a means of “resisting foreign occupation” and protecting Lebanese sovereignty. All these examples demonstrate how US interventionism in the region has manufactured its national security threat—private interests are compromising public interests in both the domestic and foreign spheres of American politics. This has little to do with democracy itself, and more to do with the US’ recent trend towards right-wing authoritarianism, particularly in its foreign policy, but evidently also in domestic politics.

But American interventionism in the Middle East, the crux of the Muslim World, began only after the Suez Crisis in 1952. Western involvement existed before, in European form. When the US became the major arbiter its sympathized with movements for Arab nationalism and sovereignty, only to give in to British paranoia of a “communist take over of the Middle East”. Since then, the US has played the fickle role of police and criminal in the Middle East; the cop and the robber.

It would be easy to point at Daesh or ISIS as the main threat to national security. Al Qaeda was the earlier menace. There always is a scapegoat, but these usually perpetuate a politically beneficial narrative. But the reality is rather different, with ISIS being a much greater threat to the Middle East’s population than any other really. It would be equally simplistic to point at Iran, or North Korea. But history shows that the greater threat lies in interventionism, instead of allowing the natural course of development to take place.

In the case of North Korea, it would be foolish to utilize nukes because this destabilizes the entire region and puts countries like Russia at risk. Russia has warned North Korea therein. The same logic could be applied to the Iranian Nuclear Threat, which has been mitigated by the deal reached with the Obama Administration. The so-called threat is almost an illusion, similarly to the WMDs in Iraq. This does not dismiss the lunacy and brutality of Saddam or Kim Jong Un—rather it underscores it while revealing Western complicity in perpetuating the cycle in its favor. This comes at the expense of the American public, while the minority elite benefits in the short term.

The greatest threat to American national security in the course of the next ten years is simplistically understood as radical Islamist terror. Perhaps next in line would be growing expansionism in the Far East, exhibited mainly by Russia and China. But as explained in the previous sections, these actions are largely natural, and responsive to US assertiveness in other spheres of influence. If this connection can be better understood by US leaders, the distinction between cause and effects will be more lucid, and national security can be reduced through cooperative international efforts at preventing violations of sovereignty.

Should We Police the World? America & Security in the 21st Century


policestate3.jpg

Throughout history, various states have requested the assistance of the US to help suppress insurgency. Often these insurgencies are supported and funded by external powers. A prime modern example of this is the current conflict in Syria. Initially perceived as a part of the Arab Spring, the US stood with so-called “rebel forces” in their struggle to liberate Syria from the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. This quickly changed, with a shift in the US administration’s Syrian policy focusing more on mitigating the influence of radicalism, which seems to have overshadowed the rebel forces and the original political objective with a new, radicalized ideological objective.

Originally it was expected that radicalism was a response to the authoritarian tendencies of dictators like Assad, but once it became clear that the movement to topple the leader was actually dangerous to international security itself, the US administration became more skeptical.

However many of the US’ closest allies, like Saudi Arabia, have been arguably complicit in enabling and funding the rise of these radical groups. The American people and the international community made it clear that it was not anxious to see another US military invasion, particularly after the disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The same is true is Bahrain and Yemen.

Should the US intervene to help the state? Should the US help the insurgency? Should the US be involved?

Historically the Middle East was viewed as the backyard of Europe. For this reason, it fell under Europe’s sphere of influence. Perhaps this is precisely why Russia felt more than obligated to intervene in Syria’s conflict on the side of the regime to counter the Islamist initiative. Now it seems, the US has warmed up to this position and is even considering coordinated initiatives against Daesh, or ISIS.

The US has been heavily involved in the ME since WWII. The nature of this involvement has taken a new form, particularly during the Obama Administration.

The recent military escapades of the US in the Middle East have been consequential. Since 2003, there has been an unprecedented rise in terror in the Middle East (START). Some scholar argue that the US’ involvement in the region has only exacerbated the conflicts between state and citizen. Since the US and most major powers have often flip-flopped between supporting radical revolutionaries and their authoritarian nemeses, and considering the dire political consequences of these inconsistent policies, standing on either side of the conflict in Syria will be detrimental to both US and international security.

This is likely because the US is perceived to support authoritarian governments in the Middle East. But in other cases, like for example Iraq, the US was prepared to overthrow an authoritarian figure – whereas in Syria, the US sees greater benefit from supporting president Bashar al-Assad. In this scenario, it might actually be beneficial for the US to go after those funding groups like Daesh/ISIS, but this means going after some of the US’ closest allies, like Saudi Arabia. It is often presumed that cultures in all parts of the world are fighting for democratic rights, when in reality most of these societies are resisting violations of their sovereignty, be it democratic or not.

Perhaps then it is in some cases in the US’ interest to support states in their fight against violent insurgencies, such as in Syria, where a legacy of religious tolerance and national secularism are prevalent, while in other cases, such as Libya, it may seem more prudent to get involved because the socio-political fabric is completely underdeveloped and almost primitive.

It is unclear ultimately whether democratic principles are applicable in the Middle East. But the premise of this article is to point at US interventionism as the destabilizing and paralyzing force in the Middle East. This policy has also prompted a re-balancing of powers in Europe and China. If the US stops interfering in the sovereign affairs of other nation-states, the world will be more secure, and the conditions for even the most basic democratic principles will be more ripe than ever. It is the orientalist and post-colonial perceptions of regions like the Middle East which perpetuate US and Western imperialism in the region; resulting in political instability, a decrease in human security and stagnation in political developmental process.

Reading the Trump Card


trump-card.jpg

Donald Trump has amassed quite the voter base.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to those of us who understand the historical roots of racism in America.

For those who are in denial about it, it appears more difficult to grasp.

Let us remember that today, minorities suffer the worst economic hardships in America.

Public services are more than limited; and representation in politics is scarce.

Even then, the American people have resisted drastic political changes that might address our domestic inequalities. Furthermore, Americans are blindly obedient to media-disbursed narratives about our national security, which also ignore the complicity of America’s past century of foreign policy decisions that have made us the target of terrorists and provoked the rise of radicalism to begin with.

Donald Trump is exploiting the cultural paranoias afflicting the ordinary white man in America today who is too disillusioned with America’s apparent stagnation.

But the struggles of the white man are incomparable to those endured by the disenfranchised communities of minorities.

Progressivism itself has taken a halt due to the resilience of right-wing nationalism, which has crept into the left-wing too, via the likes of Hillary Clinton and that camp of centrist democrats.

But as previously mentioned this comes as no surprise.

The cultural revolution and awakening in America must address the grievances of immigrants and minorities as it does those of the average white American in order for change to be possible.

Bernie Sanders was unable to rally much of the minority communities, though his run remains impressive. His unconventional policies are ideal, but far from complete.

He hasn’t fully conceded yet, but the likely battle will be fought between Trump and Clinton.

Regardless, Clinton is better for the world than Trump, but she is worse than Bernie.

Our choices are not diverse; and our powers are limited.

Change must happen; but depending on political outcomes; it might get ugly before it gets pretty.

WMDs, The War on Terror & Unicorns: What Deludes Us?


heres-the-full-version-of-the-cias-2002-intelligence-assessment-on-wmd-in-iraq.jpg

The risk posed by nuclear weapons is valid. But does this threat increase with the use of terrorism?

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, but new technological innovations have changed the way it is conducted [Chaliand & Blin 2007]. Furthermore, terrorism is currently used to describe attacks on civilians, usually by non-state actors whereas historically it was used more to describe state-terror . This could imply that terror was more commonly practiced by states in the past. Perhaps the reason for this is the emergence of government by the people, in the form of democracy, therefore changing the relationship between civilian and state. Has democracy made civilians more vulnerable targets of warfare?

This leads to the main question being addressed – should politicians be concerned about nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. The answer would be yes in a logical sense. American politicians are however in an odd position given that the majority of nuclear weapons in today’s world are in the hands of its allies, some of whom, like Pakistan and Israel for example, reside in the most volatile regions in the world. What would happen if this instability led to nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists?

But US policy in the regions where such a scenario is possible is arguably counterproductive in this regard. The US strategy consists of military initiatives and interventionism. For this reason, weaponry and ideology have trickled down from the US’ closest allies to fanatical groups.

Perhaps a more policy oriented approach is necessary. While President Obama has not necessarily avoided military deployment – comparatively, he has shown reluctance [Indyk et al 2012].

This approach is arguably more effective. The fear of the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorism wouldn’t really exist had it not been for bad US foreign policy, but more importantly, the threat itself doesn’t exist anymore than any other threat. Tackling it should be about preventing its likelihood in the long-run. This means reconsidering policies and allies in regions like the Middle East, and South Asia [Obama 2007].

 

Chaliand, Gérard, and Arnaud Blin. The history of terrorism: from antiquity to al Qaeda. Univ of California Press, 2007.

Indyk, Martin S., Kenneth G. Lieberthal, and Michael E. O’Hanlon. “Scoring Obama’s Foreign Policy.” Foreign Affairs 91.3 (2012): 29-43.

Obama, Barack. “Renewing american leadership.” Foreign Affairs 86.4 (2007): 2-16.

How Should America Respond to Terror?


global-war-on-terror-main.jpg

The invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition in 2003 produced a new dilemma for Iraq – a vacuum of power. For almost 4 decades, the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein centralized power, and despite its brutality, stabilized the country politically. But many critics of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East blamed the vacuum of power on the brutality of the dictator himself. The rise of ISIS, and other terrorist organizations, are the products of the stubborn grasp on power held by dictators like Saddam. In Syria, the situation proved to be more difficult. What was initially a similar plan as Iraq broke down into an international competition for spheres of influence, particularly between Russia and America. The crises in the Arab world, spread like a domino effect. It seems that, since the 2003 invasion, toppling leaders was the agenda, but instead of resulting in progressive governance, it has produced a security disaster with an unprecedented rise in terrorism. Libya looks a lot like Iraq, but perhaps worse. It is in shambles – which is a hotbed for terrorists. Since Islamic radicalism appears to be the global menace to security, figuring out how to address these crises are crucial to America’s interests. How should the US respond? Well, the US has already chosen a trajectory of intervention. Based on the literature, I will argue that a reversal of US tradition of interventionism will reduce terror and the threat of insecurity caused by it (Kleveman 2006).

Terrorism rose sharply after 2003. This is supported by the global terrorism database. I argue this directly correlates with the highest period of foreign interventionism in the Middle East, from which terrorism is exported. Central Asia too is equally important as it exports much of the Islamic radicalism we see today (Rashid 2006). In Central Asia, terrorism rose sharply after 2004 – around the same time that the US administration began coordinating cooperative efforts with Central Asia’s most authoritarian dictator, Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, in efforts to suppress Islamic movements, radical and non (Olcott 2007).

Complete disengagement from the internal political affairs of sovereign states both in the Middle East and Central Asia will allow the natural course of events to unfold – whether that means conflict or not is uncertain. Citizens may choose to overthrow or support their leaders. But involvement by the US has complicated and enflamed tensions. It has blindsided progression in many of these underdeveloped parts of the world, resulting in higher terror recruitment, which ultimately affects the US.

Contrarily, it could be argued that the US ought to engage with rebel groups fighting against both extremists and authoritarians who together, are thwarting any progress and thus further inciting terrorism. In the case of Syria, it appears to be more complex, with the government cooperating against terrorism, unlike for example, the Mubarak, Gaddafi or Hussein regimes. Perhaps, a transitional process in phases could emerge here in which disenfranchised Sunnis can be reintegrated into the political process. But the intransigence of the leadership could prove to be detrimental to this cause. Perhaps this is precisely why the US has been unresolved in its Syrian-policy.

When Minorities Rule


BRLASFall2013-PERI-AmericanFlagImmigrantPhotos_LudovicBertron-750p.jpg

Anger has no ideology.

It constantly flip flops between extreme strands of leftist or rightist political orientations.

That’s why often times you will find individuals who are on the fringes of society attacking all those who participate in mainstream politics, no matter their ideology.

Take Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. They promise hand-outs, whether its in government aid, or fascist nepotism. These two individuals represent their opposites – socialism and fascism. Yet both seem allied in their effort to squash mainstream candidates, of whom now only remains Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is seen as a traitor to the common man for her centrist positions. She supports progressivism but does not drift from the American tradition of individualism so far as to abandon the capitalist ideology. Hillary supports progressivism but she does not support the vanguard approach.

Hillary’s weakness lies in foreign policy. But even here, political pundits speak as though Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump would actually act upon their rhetoric. What would Sanders really do to challenge Israel? Would Donald Trump invade North Korea and go to war with Iran?

Hillary is a lapdog to Israel. But so is Donald. Bernie, perhaps not so much. But Bernie’s ideas are old for the avid reader. Socialism failed a long time ago. The problem is deeper than that.

The problem facing America is cultural, not ideological, with certain individuals disenfranchised from the political and economic processes thus leading to a disconnect between America’s domestic and foreign policy. Populism and majoritarian democracy are proving detrimental to America’s constitutional foundations, which initially, were flawed themselves.

The American people don’t need hand outs or false promises from religious or ideological demagogues. The American people do not need wars and invasions to fund their debts. The American people do not need welfare to be sustainable, nor must we envy the hard working rich people. Furthermore, we cannot create social barriers that convince individuals who are poor to look anywhere but to themselves to bring themselves out of poverty. The reality is that, the phenomenon of inequality in America is less economic than people want to admit. It is America’s cultural disenfranchisement of the minorities which has led to social and economic inequality – and this has been secured through populist politics. It won’t work in 2050 when the minority becomes the majority – but even then, populists always have tactics to disrupt political systems.

I don’t think any of these candidates is a true individualist, with each pandering to another popular group of blind followers.

Obama was truly a president of integrity and wisdom – despite the difficulties of engaging foreign politics. I do believe Obama made mistakes, but he also achieved great feats. I only hope that future candidates will realize these truths and step away from depending on false promises and shady foreign alliances in order to secure power and instead, seek the prosperity intended for this country.

In order for that to happen, the system of majoritarian democracy must be dismantled in favor or a proportionate representation system that does not allow mass-minded ideologies to compromise individual rights and freedoms as well as collective necessities.

Furthermore, it will ensure that minorities are dignified and respected. As a result, American foreign policy will shift because it is being influenced by immigrants – not just a group of rich white protestant males.

But what it will prove is that minorities are better preservers of individualism than the so-called Anglo-Saxon, which history has taught us to be the initiator of liberalism, despite centuries of conservative history. Perhaps that is why such a social movement is resisted – better yet suppressed.

In terms of instituting democracy abroad – such a task is hypocritical and ignores the dynamics of each country. What if a dictator is in fact supported by a majority? What if a domestic solution or transition is more viable than foreign intervention? Do these scenarios even matter – should a nation-state ever be involved in another’s domestic affairs? Is not such behavior an act of aggression or war?

With all due respect, it seems that democracy is innately fascist because it depends on mass-populism instead of conviction.

To put the world in perspective then, who is the real hero; and who the villain?

Different theories will be offered; culprits blamed.

But in the end; who is the real menace to global peace?

Kleptocracy on Capitol Hill?


jump-you-fuckers.jpg

How could America be expected to promote democracy abroad while not practicing it for its own people?

Sure, there are principles of democracy here and there, perhaps most importantly in executive limits and free elections – but modern oligarchies have corrupted these institutions through socio-economic paralysis of the middle and lower class.

Particularly in the case of minority rights, the U.S. has exhibited non-democratic tendencies. This is more than problematic, considering the majority of the U.S. will be of minority background by 2050.

America is struggling to make a balance between capitalism on one hand and democracy on the other. Democratic movements are bending towards re-enfranchisement of minorities and the middle and lower classes. Can the US’ policies in other parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East but also in Central Asia, Africa and Latin America, be expected to align with democratic movements?

Remember that Karl Marx said he was not a marxist. He saw it as a perversion of his intent. What if so-called capitalist oligarchs in the West are cooperating with authoritarians in other parts of the world to suppress all genuinely democratic movements?

The lack of economic opportunity is related to the absence of equal representation in government in the US and in the Middle East. Immigrants and minorities, religious groups, women and the LBGT community, face discrimination and are underrepresented. Furthermore, they do not receive the same economic welfare from the US government provided to others, particularly minorities and immigrants. To blame this on anything but political underrepresentation is illusory.

The U.S. enables political mobilization – but decades of stagnation has halted progress. Whether or not America is a true democracy is being tested right now. And whether or not other parts of the world can understand the distinction between true democracy and populism, will determine their ability to overcome tyranny.

The Capitalist Lie


american-flag-companies1.jpg

Capitalism is portrayed as a mechanism for increased accessibility, opportunity and dignity.

It is offered essentially as the corner-stone of English culture – the Protestant work ethic, the idea of private property, and so forth.

But is capitalism really a mechanism for competition or is it like communism, another tool of the elite to secure their exclusive control of the economy?

Such exercise of power is tremendous.

Anglo-Saxon capitalism can be thus pinned as the equivalent of Russian bolshevism, or stalinism. The promise is always equality; the reality is often not.

Is there an alternative?

I believe the world is struggling today against the imperial nature of capitalism in the same fashion that it has historically struggled against other ideological waves of global imbalance.

It is only when sovereignty and culture are respected, that balance ensues.

So what interrupts this order? When did this happen?

Whenever a social group takes it upon itself to be the harbinger of justice, and expresses that actively by violating the self-determination of another social-group – this is when order is interrupted.

Capitalism is used inter-changeably with freedom and free markets, but in reality, religion, culture and government have all played a huge hand in institutionalized disenfranchisement of certain social groups via discrimination.

The problem isn’t that America needs to be more capitalistic but rather that it needs to acknowledge the cultural dilemma it is facing – America is no longer an Anglo-Saxon nation and will be, by definition, a majority-minority country by 2050.

America should be more focused on fully embodying democracy at home, where it is advertised but not fully practiced despite demands from the people, and less focused on exporting it to places in the world where it is not welcome, at least not by force.

Much of what has happened historically, and in today’s world even, has been a reaction towards American imperial overreach. We will face the same consequence as the USSR or the Holy Roman Empire or will America learn to contain its own ambition, for the sake of national and global security?

 

 

 

The Seeds Were Sewn: Democracy & Terror in the Middle East


article-1352848-0D042693000005DC-738_634x404.jpg

Democracy & Terror in The Middle East

Danny Krikorian

Abstract

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influence political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. The overall findings suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Tunisia, Israel and Iraq exhibit high levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, comes into question here. The presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, ignores the data provided, which is contradictory to the general belief that democracy induces stability and discourages violence. Furthermore, it implies that US foreign policy initiatives aimed at “democratizing” the West are more elusive than perhaps believed.

Introduction

Since the end of World War I, the break-up of the Ottoman empire, and the subsequent partitioning of the Middle Eastern territories among world powers, the Arab World has yet to see peace. In fact, an unprecedented century of instability has almost become a de facto part of the Middle Eastern social fabric. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 21st century thus cannot be understood without looking into these types of historical contexts as well as the political realities of today which have led up the current dynamic in the Middle East. It appears, with further research, that the relationship between the forces of colonialism, poverty, autocracy and political violence is rather intimate (Dalacoura 2005).

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influences political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. Since there is no universally accepted definition of democracy, I will use one particular indicator, political freedom. Generally, indexes use variables such as press freedom, political competitiveness and economic liberalization as indicators of political freedom. In this case, the independent variable is political freedom, measured by the Economic Intelligence Unit, based in the UK. The dependent variable is terrorism, as measured by the Global Terrorism Index, gathered by Visions of Humanity which is part of the Institute for Economics and Peace, based in Sydney, Australia.

Conventional wisdom within western scholarly circles would offer the general hypothesis that nations with lower levels of political freedom are likely to experience higher rates of terrorism (Dalacoura 2005). The logic behind this hypothesis is that citizens are likely to resort to violent means of insurrection as a reaction to the government’s repressiveness. The research shows however that because terrorism is actually higher in countries with greater political freedoms, such as Lebanon and Tunisia, other variables might play a role, such as culture, religion, economics and geopolitics. When put to the test, this hypothesis appears weak, as indicated in the following section.

The research is divided into five segments starting with the introduction, which includes background information about the region and its relationship with terrorism and democracy; second is the literature review in which I will analyze the current conversation; followed by a data and methods section which will explain the quantitative measurements used to test the hypothesis; fourth, I will discuss the shortcomings and potential weaknesses of this research design; finally, I will leave readers with a conclusion regarding the future of the region and the overall theoretical and policy implications of this research.

Literature Review – Democracy & Terrorism in the Middle East

The scholarly literature surrounding this particular topic of Middle Eastern stability and the region’s political relationship with the outside world (namely global hegemonies like the United States, European Union, Russia and China) offers two overall explanations for rising tensions in the region as well as conflicts between political actors from the region with the rest of the world.

The first emanates from Samuel Huntington’s (1996) book “Clash of Civilizations” in which the pervading theory explaining the cause of conflict between the West and the Middle East is rooted in a “clash of civilizations”; a certain cultural rift, driven mainly by religious conviction.

The second is more empirically oriented, and attributes underdevelopment in the Middle East to environmental or biological predispositions, rendering the region less viable for growth, stability and peace, therein warranting the need for foreign intervention and “occupational development” (Diamond).

Since the democratic experiments of Iraq and Libya have produced contradictory results, it has encouraged me to contribute a third opinion. This opinion considers factors overlooked by the aforementioned theories, such as colonialism (exploitation by foreign powers), the presence of immense natural resources in the region, and possibly most important, cultural relativism. These factors have perhaps largely contributed to the region’s volatility and vulnerability to greed, corruption and instability.

This research aims to fill a particular void in the scholarly debate surrounding the US-Middle East relationship. Its aim is to answer the question of whether or not the undemocratic structure of political institutions in the Middle East are a primary source of instability, poverty and political violence in the region. It forces analysts to consider external political actors that exploit resources, conflicts and cultural sensitivities in the region to their advantage. This “colonial” tactic often manifests in the autocratic tradition itself, silencing critics, banning opposition, bribing officials and major income disparities between rich and poor (Dalacoura). But global powers are complicit too, in this regard, often double-dealing with the non-democratic tyrants they so adamantly oppose (Kleveman 2003).

Much of the political violence conducted by Islamic fundamentalist groups against Western countries is actually aimed at exposing the complicity of Western governments in propping up dictators to the constituencies of Western countries, where democratic process makes injustice more difficult to cover-up. This practice is known as “propaganda by the deed” (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Further scholarly research suggests that the major grievances of national populations are not religious, they are socio-economic (Rashid 2002). The rise of social media in the 21st century has made it difficult for Western governments to hide their double-dealings (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Fundamentalism is fomenting at a more rapid race than ever in the Middle East, and poverty is worsening (Wilson 1995). Leaders are growing more weary that the effects of the “Arab Spring” might spill-over into their countries. Desperate attempts to alleviate their populations have been pursued. But these seem to only buy time. In this paper, I argue that in order for Western countries to genuinely reduce the threat of political violence, they must end their inconsistency in foreign policy, which has them picking and choosing between autocrats. This could threaten some the West’s most valuable allies, who have a lot of leverage on US politics: Israel & Saudi Arabia (Kleveman 2003).

While the Middle East remains largely impoverished, elites in these two countries, to name a few, enjoy the spoils of a cult-of-personality-owned economy (Yom). The issue of colonialism and autocracy plague the region, but before the West ends its double-standard, instability, poverty and violence will continue to rise, narrowing the window of opportunity for democratic reform and peaceful transition (Dalacoura 2005). This means that autocrats will have to suspend their franchise over the political and economic process; allowing for national competitiveness. I argue that this will increase government authenticity, popular trust and will therein reduce both the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, as well as its appeal to those once impoverished and disenfranchised populations of the Middle East. Only then will the so-called threat of “Islamic-Jihad” be distinguished from the genuine popular struggle against injustice and autocracy in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Only then will political violence cease to be more commonplace than the peace enjoyed in the West.

The literature varies on the intimate relationship between the forces of autocracy, poverty, colonialism, and political violence in the Middle East. That colonialism is responsible for income disparity in the region, is a point made by British journalist Patrick Seale in his infamous book on the Assad family’s leadership in Syria. The fomenting of Islamism, largely through the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, is largely blamed on the constant influx of foreign financing to extremism forces in the region. Seale highlights that the Saudi Arabian autocratic monarchy is largely responsible for growth of extremism and political violence in the region (Seale 1990). In his research, Seal also suggests the possibility that a tight-grip on the political and economic fabrics of Syrian society by the Syrian government did nothing to help reduce national mistrust therein encouraging movements of insurgency. Such movements would prove to have dire consequences, with the regime’s bombing of a Muslim Brotherhood anti-government uprising in the city of Hama resulting in the deaths of nearly 20,000 men, women and children (Seale 1990). The majority of extremism in Central Asia, also a predominantly Muslim region, has been tied to the socio-political fabric of Saudi society, which is largely propped up by an extreme brand of Islam: Wahhabism (Kleveman 2003) Considering the closeness with which Saudi Arabia maintains its relationship with the West, it deems Western demands for democratic reform in the region almost hypocritical (Dalacoura 2005).

Samuel Huntington isn’t the only scholar offering the “Clash of Civilizations” perspective. Military-history scholar Caleb Carr also suggests this perspective, that Islam, as a political ideology, is incompatible with components necessary for Western-style democracy. He goes further to justify military campaigns against the Muslim world in order to prevent threats against the democratic order of the world (Carr 2002). In All the Shah’s Men, Steven Kinzer contradicts this view by explaining how constant efforts by western democracies, namely the US and the UK, to infiltrate the national sovereignties of predominantly Islamic nations, usually for the sake of securing economic interests, results in reactionary movements against the West, fueled more often that not by Islamic sensationalism, and eventually “sowing the seeds of Middle Eastern terror”, so to speak. (Kinzer 2008).

Research provided by The Heritage Foundation in their 2015 Index on Economic Freedom indicates high levels of corruption, and low levels of mobility in the economies of Middle Eastern countries. Since research indicates that a vast majority of Islamic fundamentalism is exported from the Gulf region, it leads to ask whether or not the these income disparities between fuel the culture of radicalization, relative to the variable of democracy. “Scores in the Middle East for business freedom — the lack of which, the editors note, helped ignite the “Arab Spring” protests — declined for 11 of the 18 countries in the region (three of which are not graded in the 2015 Index due to ongoing violence and unrest)” (Miller, Terry & Kim 2015). This could suggest that economic inequality plays an equal if not more important role than political institutions in influencing the threat of terrorism.

Data & Methods

To indicate the relationship between terrorism and political freedom, two tables were retrieved from two western Non-governmental Organizations dedicated to analyzing levels of democracy and terrorism. Each table measures the respective variable according to its own scale. Conveniently in this case, both indexes used a scale of 1-10. The Global Terrorism Index provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, ranks countries in their vulnerability to terrorism from 1-10. The Political Freedom Index also measures the independent variable, political freedom, on a  scale from 1-10. Based on the assumption and hypothesis that more political freedom results in less terrorism, the trend should follow a negative linear regression, with a downward slope.  The research indicates that the hypothesis is in fact weak; that democracy is a stabilizing force in the Middle East may be presumptuous. Libya’s GTI score rose from zero to six since the overthrow of Gaddafi. The hypothesis originally suggested that the relationship between democracy and terrorism is negative, that the more democratic a nation, the less terrorism it will exhibit. The data retrieved from the indexes suggests what could be the exact opposite; that democracy enables terrorism in the Middle East, or that it simply does not ensure stability. This blurs the prospects for democracy in the region. It furthermore forces us to consider other variables that might challenge the universalist tendency of democratic theory which is so prevalent in the political conversation today. Variables such as geography, cultural relativism, and religion must be taken into account when determine the forces of conflict and instability within a region. In the appendix I have included an aggregation of the data gathered from the two aforementioned indexes regarding political freedom & terrorism in Middle Eastern countries.

The idea that natural resource endowment is responsible for low levels of democracy is not uncommon (Mehlin, Morne & Torvik 2002). This is known as the resource curse. While Saudi Arabia possesses the world’s largest oil reserves as well as high levels of authoritarianism, relative to its neighbors, the kingdom exhibits low levels of terrorism (Institute for Economics and Peace). Furthermore, countries like Syria, Jordan & Egypt possess an insignificant amount of oil relative to Saudi Arabia and the global market at large, yet these three countries exhibit some of the lowest levels of democracy and the highest levels of terrorism in the entire region (Institute for Economics and Peace).

A particular finding that stood out in the research is that, while Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Qatar and Morocco all exhibit a relatively equal level of political freedom, there is a huge discrepancy in the level of terrorist attacks in each country.

To control for cultural relativity, Indonesia and Turkey, both predominantly Islamic countries with democratic political structures were included in the table. Indonesia perhaps poses the greatest support for the hypothesis, because it exhibits the one of the lowest levels of terrorism among the countries as well as one of the highest levels of political freedom. On the other hand, Turkey, which is enjoys a relatively heathy level of political freedom and democracy, exhibits terrorist attacks at the same rate as Egypt. This challenges the hypothesis.

Weaknesses

The complexity of this research’s subject matter, the Middle East, is perhaps the most noticeable detriment to the strengths of this research. In other words, the influence of a variety of other potential variables, such as cultural relativism and colonialism are difficult to account for, whereas variables such as natural resource endowment may easier to control for. Another weakness of this article is that it focuses only on Middle Eastern countries, despite the fact that a lot of religious terrorism comes from other regions of the world, regions that exhibit similar conditions of authoritarianism and natural resource endowment, like Central & Southeast Asia.

All of the Middle Eastern nations are young, having only gained independence within the last century. This makes it difficult to pass long-lasting judgments regarding the prospects of democracy in the region.

Despite the empirical limitations intrinsic in this type of analysis, as well as the absence of empirical research on the subject especially in the Middle East, it furthermore implies the ambiguities of the findings.

Another major weakness of the research is that only 12 of the 22 countries in the Middle East were assessed due to difficulties that arise in retrieving reliable information from a region as contentious as it is.

Conclusion

The original hypothesis, that political freedom reduces violence and stability, is perhaps not absolute. The literature as well as the data provided have together displayed how in some cases, terrorism has in fact increased where democracy has been most prevalent in the Middle East. Furthermore, the inconsistency in the foreign policy of western democracies has made democracy less appealing, and credible to the Middle Eastern community (Dalacoura 2005). There are many questions that can be raised about democracy itself. Why is the United States, the beacon of western democracy, increasingly entangled in the affairs of authoritarian regimes? And how complicit is western negligencee towards the realities of the region in the rise of terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and Da’esh. Since the tragedy of 9/11, the US has embarked on a dual mission of spreading democracy and containing the threat of Islamic radicalism, but these two initiatives often run counter to one another (Dalacoura 2005). The U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as the NATO-led overthrow of Gaddafi, have had dire consequences on the region’s stability. That Libya has transitioned from a GTI score of zero to six since 2006 is telling of the future of the Middle East as it grapples with democracy. The overall research suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Israel & Iraq exhibit the highest levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, is being challenged by these findings. There are many other factors that can be attributed to the volatility of the region and the rise in terrorist activity, such as oil politics, geopolitics, and cultural relativism. Nonetheless, the presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, is premature.

Whether or not democracy is universal is a matter of theory. But what is fact, is that western democracies have preferred cooperation with authoritarianism over democracy where it is deemed convenient (Yom 2011). The opposite is true, that western democracies, namely the United States, will promote extreme pressures for democratic reform where it is convenient. The irony is that in the cases where democracy is encouraged, the United States has managed to maintain a permanent military presence. Furthermore, these regions, like Iraq for example, exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the region — in the world for that matter (Institute for Economics and Peace). Perhaps this explains why Middle Eastern attitudes towards democracy have remained negative (Tessler 2002).

Terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism are on the rise in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Democracy perhaps isn’t the best force against radicalization. This is evidenced by the current instability in Iraq, Syria & Libya. Even Russia has responded to the threat of radicalism by propping up its anti-democratic authoritarian allies in the region, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Perhaps this suggests that democracy is culturally relative — that is, not all societies are compatible with democratic institutions. What this means for the future is increased instability and heightened tensions between various forces in the Middle East, in what appears to be the formation of a dichotomy between pro-western and anti-western political factions. It could also increase the overall threats to international security emanating from radical Islamic movements. This could threaten America’s economic interests, and affect the global economy.

If the West wishes to avert this, perhaps it would be best to reserve democracy for itself, instead of trying to desperately spread it abroad. It is as if the West cannot decide for itself what is of greater value; oil or principle. The longer it waits to decide, the greater the threat terrorism may become, to democracy, stability and global peace.

References

Blin, Arnuad & Chaliand, Gerrard. 2007. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda.    University of California Press.

Carr, Caleb. 2002. The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians : Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again. New York: Random House.

Dalacoura, Katerina. 2005. U.S. democracy promotion in the Arab Middle East since 11 September 2001: a critique. International Affairs. Vol. 81. 963-979.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kinzer, Stephen. 2008. All the Shah’s Men: An American-Coup & the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror. John, Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey.

Kleveman, Lutz. The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.

Martin, Gus. 2003. Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Mehlum, Moene & Torvik. 2002. Institutions & the Resource Curse. The Economic Journal. 1-20.

Miller, Terry & Kim, Anthony. 2015 Index: Economic Freedom Rises Slightly in Middle East/North Africa. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/01/middle-east-north-africa. (2015).

Rashid, Ahmed. Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Seale, Patrick. 1990. Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press.

Tessler, Mark. 2002. Islam and Democracy in the Middle East. Comparative Politics, Vol. 34. No. 3. 377-354.

Wilson, Rodney. 1995. Economic Development in the Middle East. Routledge.

Yom, Sean. 2011. Authoritarian State Building in the Middle East. Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Stanford University. 121.

Index References

Global Terrorism Index. 2015. Visions of Humanity. Institute for Economics and Peace. Australia.

Political Freedom Index. 2015. Economic Intelligence Unit. The Economist. London.

 

 

Salih, K.O. “Underlying Causes Of Violence In The Middle East.” Digest Of Middle East Studies 1 (2007): 58. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Vick, Karl, and Rami Nazzal. “Violence Beats Politics As A Third Intifadeh Looms In Israel.” Time 186.17 (2015): 9-10. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Hirst, David. The gun and the olive branch: the roots of violence in the Middle East. Nation Books, 2003.