Who Is Tim Kaine? A Brief History


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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


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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.

Who is responsible for Istanbul attack?


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On June 28th, a group of suicide bombers conducted an attack on Turkey’s Istanbul Ataturk Airport, killing 41 people and injuring 239. As the world mourns the tragedy, investigators seek to bring justice to the perpetrators. But who is responsible? And Why?

Is it Daesh (ISIS)?

Is it PKK?

These are both valid suggestions, based on the history of violence among both groups.

Based on the PKK’s terrorism tactic, the attack in Istanbul does not necessarily fit their profile. According to news sources, though unconfirmed, the PKK usually target Turkish nationals. The conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government surrounds the Kurdish question of identity and statehood in the Middle East. The Kurds have been without an autonomous country and do not enjoy equal rights in Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan is the only region where Kurds enjoy a degree of nationalism but it is far from being a nation-state.

Why would Daesh or ISIS commit the attacks?

Turkey has been supporting the armed insurgency against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad since its inception. The majority of Daesh or ISIS fighters are not Syrian but foreign nationals, from Turkey, the Arabian peninsula, North Africa and Central Asia, which raises the question as to whether this a so-called civil war between state and opposition or an international conflict between states. Is Syria a proxy conflict waged between global powers? Is this the continuation of the so-called “Great Game”?

If Turkey has stood against the Syrian government, thereby granting ISIS leverage directly or indirectly, then why would such an attack take place?

Since the emergence of ISIS, and the corresponding terrorist attacks globally which have victimized France, America and Turkey to name just a few, the political dynamic of the Syrian conflict has shifted. The ouster of Assad, like that of Mubarak, Morsi, Ben Ali, Abdullah Saleh, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi, was originally argued as the procurement of stability and justice in the Middle East. The outcomes have proven otherwise. The tyrannical leadership of these autocrats is undoubtable, but is there another force enabling this instability to begin with?

As a result of ISIS’ apparent indiscriminate violence, fundamentalism and fickleness, Turkey has, like the US, altered its position internationally. Just last week, Turkey announced reconciliation efforts with its historical arch-rivals, Israel and Russia. Russia has arguably maintained the Syrian government since its intervention.

Could this rapprochement have provoked backlash from ISIS against Turkey? Were these two gestures of international rapprochements with ISIS’ nemeses, Israel & Russia viewed as a form of betrayal by the terror group?

As investigations continue, emerging facts will likely give this blurry picture some lucidity.

But a shifting world order is evidentially not as far off as one might have expected, particularly after England’s vote to leave the EU.

As the migrant crisis continues, and Middle Eastern instability intensifies, one might ask why foreign powers have prioritized their ambitions over practical politics.

One cannot speak of justice in the Middle East while neglecting the bedrock of human security – sovereignty.

Until this is realized, fanaticism and instability will continue to overshadow justice in the Middle East.

 

 

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


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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.

Tragedy at Home – How Do We Respond?


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I am in utter shock.

This is unbelievable.

My prayers go out to the families.

To the fanatics –

You may use the word Islam,
but the religion is one of peace and love,
and denounces your heresy.
God bring justice to these foul men,
and bring warmness and comfort to those in pain.

To the people –

My request is that you look beyond the media,
and the rhetoric, and discern the politics & fear.
I will not let politicians or lone fanatics taint my religion,
nor will I allow anybody to interpret my religion so as to justify hate or violence.
I won’t allow them to strike fear into our hearts.
We are Muslims.
We are LGBT.
We are together.
Stand up now!

I am devastated. God help the victims’ families. How dare they taint this religion in this fashion. How dare they.

It is so hard to focus on this subject objectively because of the emotions but I refuse to allow fear to dictate our perception. Since my childhood I have been focused on politics of the Middle East, but never did I think it would hit home. Now, more than ever, it is time for Muslims to both speak out against fanaticism within our religion but also against the hypocritical foreign policies of countries which have practically funded these misfits for the past century.

What is the real cause of this?

Gun Control? Islamic fascism? Post-colonialism? Lone wolf? Conspiracy?

All of these are equally possible but what is certain is that certain reforms are necessary, both in domestic and foreign sectors.

The true perpetrators, are those political elites who encourage the bigotry, whether it is white supremacy or Islamic fanaticism.

The ones at the top who encourage and incite this violence, directly and indirectly.

Because even if these are lone wolf attacks, they become vulnerable and confirmed by ideologies propagated by elites.

I speak of political elites in the Middle East as much as those in America; the likes of Donald Trump and the King of Saudi Arabia who together encourage fanatical ideologies that encourage hate and provoke retaliation.

America’s history in the Middle East has provoked fanaticism against it.

That is plain and simple – something it must learn to accept – just like defeat in Vietnam – just like the USSR’s failure in Afghanistan.

There is a reason why this type of violence is becoming a norm both inside the Middle East and inside of Europe and inside of America.

The facts are there.

American and European imperialism has caused instability. The exporting of democracy abroad ignores cultural sensitivities. Furthermore, American and European countries are themselves exhibiting a democratic crisis – the forces of fascism and socialism are fighting one another relentlessly.

America struggles to balance its individualistic obsessions with moral imperatives, which is ironic because it is one of the few countries in the world that actually professes a self-righteous position of morality.

There are many historical wrongs committed by other countries too – America is not the sole blame for the rise in Islamic fundamentalism. But seeing as how it is the world-leader, it practically dictates the policies and trajectories of all its allies. Countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar – organizations like al Qaeda, ISIS, Muslim Brotherhood & Hamas – these are all pseudo-Islamic entities, financed by America and Europe in their mission to destabilize and divide the Middle East as well as Central Asia – a continuation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

I will argue that even Hitler’s fascism, and modern Jewish fascism, together, are incited by imperialism. Even communism, was a form of balancing against the imperial overreach of America and Europe.

While the world struggles between cultural relativism and imperialism, America struggles between capitalism and democracy.

These two conflicts are playing out today, but the arena has become the whole world, thanks to globalization.

The question is, who is on whose side, and who will win?

Finally, as a member of the Muslim community, while I blame pseudo-Islamic political elites for propagating extreme brands of Islam as well as foreign imperialists for enabling it – I would like to address the extreme interpretation itself and forever relinquish its attempt to certify itself as a credible voice for Islam. Extremism has no place in Islam. Neither does hate nor violence. No matter the scripture; no matter the interpretation; there is no justification for fanaticism.

While the tradition of liberal Islam is scarce it does exist. But a history of colonialism and the overall sensitivity of the Middle East culturally has made it even more of a scarcity. But even Muslims can appreciate the liberalism and democracy of the West while still enjoying their religious traditions.

The issue is not Islam. The issue is one of domestic and international policy.

Once this can be fully recognized, all veils can be lifted, and tragedy will be less commonplace.

When we realize that the media’s biased coverage entertains illusions – once we see that political agendas are fulfilled by un-democratic tendencies here in the US – we can begin to see through the lies.

I pray for my city of Orlando. I pray that we all recover. I pray for the LGBT community.

Will we learn to overcome these barriers to human decency?

 

How Should America Respond to Terror?


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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.

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?

The Causes of Political Instability in the Middle East: A Constructivist Approach


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If we are to analyze properly regions of the world which are historically religious anomalies, it would seem precarious to apply normative principles across various societies. The Middle East possesses a unique characteristic which makes it vulnerable to instability. That is the underlying logic of this research article. The common trend of analyzing the Middle East has focused largely on variables that neglect this consideration. As a result, most research connects Middle Eastern instability with variables such as regime type, natural resource abundance, (sectarianism, religiosity) or ideological conflict. The aim of this research is to fill the gap in the literature by focusing on foreign interventionism in the Middle East as the most significant variable influencing stability. In the post-9/11 era, the US has become more entangled in the region than ever before (Said 1997). US foreign interventionism has largely taken the shape of coercive democratization efforts in the Middle East, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. In Syria, protests for democratic reforms resulted in full fledged war and unprecedented terrorism. In other countries, like Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey, where a tradition of democratic pluralism ran deeper, an increasing trend of terrorism is exhibited, particularly after 2003 (START 2015). Drawing from two particular databases, evidence suggests a trend between democratization efforts in the Middle East and increased instability in the form of violent terrorism. I conclude by offering the implications of the findings, in theory and in policy.

Introduction

The tradition of western scholarship has in the realm of international relations been dominated by the schools of rationalism and realism. Where the individual and cost-benefit is the motive of human behavior, the trend of international relations has always been explained through the scope individual self-interest and the pursuits of power and security. But emerging schools of thought have challenged this assumption, such as constructivism, by offering a new outlook on relations betweens states (Wendt).

Theoretical Argument: Hypothesis & Historical Support

This research focuses on a particular region of the world, the Middle East, considered one of the most violent, volatile and unstable. Its goal is to explain the causes of instability through the international relations approach of constructivism, challenging the conventional paradigms of realism and liberalism by emphasizing the importance of “social constructs” to explain variance in cultural values and political institutions across states, by analyzing data on levels of democracy and terrorism in the region.

While some state’s exhibit individualistic cultures, others practice collectivized traditions that preserve age-old customs and traditions embedded within society (Said 1997). The emergence of globalized democracy in the twentieth century limited conventional imperialism, which relied heavily on military capability. In today’s world, where technology and freedom have made information more readily accessible, democratic states are more pressured to conform to order. But instead, the US, leader of the democratic world, has embarked on foreign military adventures under the premise of both preserving and spreading democracy. Because of its successes in the West, it was expected that reluctance to such institutional changes would be absent relative to resistance towards non-democratic interventionism throughout the twentieth century. But despite democracy’s triumph in the 21st century there still remains a specter of arbitrary interventionism which violates the sovereignty of vulnerable nation-states by global hegemonies. I argue that the modern form of this interventionism is the insistence of the US-led West on spreading democracy abroad, in this case, the Middle East.

The purpose is not however to pinpoint democracy as the cause of violence, nor to dismiss authoritarianism as a viable source of instability, but rather to analyze the increase of Western interventionism in the post-Cold War era, despite the demise of the USSR and the so-called communist threat. This tradition of exporting democracy, or neoconservatism, I argue, ignores the constructive distinctions between states (their political culture) and thus leads to conflict. Whether or not democracy is a comparable nemesis to communism in the sense of its imperial capacity isn’t the focus or assertion here then. The Middle East, particularly the Arab World, has been under foreign dominion for ages. Its struggle for sovereignty has resulted in immense grievances, expressed violently, domestically and internationally. I argue that in today’s world, foreign presence in the Middle East has taken the form of democracy.

The main premise of the research rather is to associate destabilization in the Middle East with violations of sovereignty and negligence of the distinctions in political culture between East and West, usually perpetrated by global hegemonies, which in today’s case, would be the United States. Historically, the UK and Russia were much more interventionist, but the twentieth century replaced these two world powers with a unipolar global dynamic led by the US. Since the end of WWII, the Middle East has endured unstable periods of regime change, terrorism and war. The literature on this subject has focused primarily on domestic causes of this instability, pointing often to variables such as the oil-curse, Islamism or authoritarianism, however little to none of the literature focuses on non-domestic actors. This research seeks to fill this gap.

Historically, the Middle East has fallen prey to foreign ideologies like communism. The conflict in Afghanistan in this perspective can thus be seen as a struggle between Arab sovereignty and the imperial nature of communism. Today, there is no USSR and communism has been essentially made irrelevant. Instead, foreign presence in the Middle East is now in the form of democracy, led by the US. The emergence of the neoconservative doctrine, or coercive democracy, has prompted the US to intervene in the internal affairs of nations for the sake of its interests, whether they are to contain ideologies, remove unfriendly leaders or to preserve economic assets. For this reason, many Islamists who regarded the US as an ally in the struggle against communism turned against the US for exhibiting the same behavior as the USSR in Afghanistan, but under a new guise. It was not until the second half the twentieth century, during which the Middle East was divided by european colonialists, Israel was established, and the ensuing wars on terrorism manifested. It was also during this period that the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism emerged and would eventually become a norm (Moghadam 2006). As a result, this research has focused on the linkage between foreign interventionism via democratization in the Middle East and political instability measured by the frequency of terrorist incidents. Through a hybrid method of qualitative anecdotal evidence as well as quantitate data analysis, this research argues that violence in the Middle East, both domestic and exported, is caused mainly by foreign occupation (Pape 2003). The goal is to challenge the idea that democracy is universally applicable, and universally stabilizing, and perhaps more importantly, to establish a link between violations of sovereignty in the Middle East and the heightened level of political instability, in the form of terrorism, in the region altogether. By controlling for the variables of oil, islamism and authoritarians, it aims to dispel the myth that the Middle East is a so-called backwards society with tyrannical leadership across the board – and to suggest the notion that the Middle East is in fact culturally unique, especially due to its history, and that violating its sovereignty on a political and cultural level have destabilized the region.

In this research design, I argue that, though many variables are offered in the literature as potential causes of instability, I focus on the variable of foreign intervention, which has relatively little focus in the literature. In today’s world, international relations can be characterized by the global dominance of liberalism and democracy. In many parts of the world, these institutions are absent, for a variety of reasons. The objective is to demonstrate how modern foreign interventionism as largely taken the form of pressured democratization via regime change, particularly in non-western societies, and how this has coincided with a simultaneous increase in the trend of terrorist incidents in the Middle East.

Research Method

The US has not always been thoroughly involved in Middle Eastern affairs. After WWII this changed (Said 1997). In the post-9/11 world, US foreign policy has focused on the Middle East, particularly challenging authoritarianism. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq can be seen as the beginning of this endeavor. This would be followed by regime change in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen; the ongoing war in Syria. My argument is that the significant rise in terrorism is due to these campaigns. More specifically, pressures for regime change through forced-democratization have resulted in instability and the increase of terrorism. Instead of explaining this through power-struggles as per the prevailing schools of thought in international relations, I focus on democratization as a form of neocolonialism, violating both the political sovereignty of Middle Eastern states as well as challenging their norms and institutions which have been historically reluctant to democratization, and foreign interventionism altogether.

The purpose of this research paper is to demonstrate how terrorism has increased rapidly in tandem with the US-led democratization efforts in the Middle East. It seeks to show how modern foreign interventionism as largely taken the form of pressured democratization via regime change, and how this has coincided with a simultaneous increase in the trend of terrorist incidents in the Middle East.

To demonstrate this, I employ the quantitative method of cross-country analysis, gaging both incidents of terrorism as well as instances of democratic evolution, or democratization, over time in the Middle East, drawing from two databases, the Global Terrorism Database, which measures terrorist trends in each country in the world over time between the periods of 1970 and 2013, and Our World In Data, which covers global democratization trends ranging from 1800 to 2012.

Data Findings

Terrorist incidents in the Middle East were at a steady and constant low from 1970 until 2003, the year of the US invasion of Iraq, the country with the highest terror threat in the Middle East (START 2015). Terrorism increased from about an average of 1000 incidents per year from 1970 until 2002 to 4000 incidents in 2003, and 8000 in 2013 (START 2015). The trend is increasing. Is there a positive relationship between democratization and terrorism in the Middle East, contrary to the conventional arguments in the literature? Democracy in the Middle East is relatively scarce, and where it does exist, it is new. Only Iraq, Turkey, Tunisia, Israel, Lebanon and Yemen are even partially considered democratic. Prior to 1985, this was not the case (Roser 2016). Since its inception, as evidenced by the data, terrorism has reached unprecedented heights in the Middle East (START 2015).

The more democratic countries in the Middle East, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the region (IEP 2013). Tunisia is an outlier in this case, because its global terrorism index is measures lower than the previously mentioned countries, however other sources suggest that despite its low occurrence, the trend of terrorist threats continuous to increase even in Tunisia, particularly after 2010 (START 2015).

On the contrary, the most autocratic countries of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Iran & the UAE have drastically lower levels of terrorist attacks (IEP 2013). As mentioned previously, the main focus of the research is to reveal how foreign interventionism results in instability in the form of terrorism, and that in today’s world, foreign interventionism largely takes the form of forced democratization and regime change. The data indicates that at the height of democracy in the Middle East, terrorism is most rampant.

Literature Review – Filling the Gap

To explain instability and the rise in terrorism in the Middle East, the literature generally focuses on either natural resource abundance or regime type. There are few regions in the world like the Middle East, imbued with some what a gift and a curse: a unique religious history and the presence of oil (Ross 2001). This has been coined the resource curse. The presence of oil in the Middle East has made it the focal point of global hegemonies competing for power and assets. However oil is not present in some of the most terror-inflicted countries in the Middle East and in the world, such as Israel, Lebanon and Turkey in the Middle East, and Uzbekistan and Pakistan in the broader scope. Equally, terrorist incidents in the Gulf region are significantly lower than North Africa and the Levant (START 2015).

The majority of fighters in Syria are currently Iraqi (Roser 2016). This implies that without US intervention in Iraq, there would be no vacuum of power to form the terrorist-network of ISIS. Furthermore this suggests that sudden overthrowing an authoritarian regime in the Middle East produces dire consequences instead of increasing hopes for democratization.

Another aspect of the literature points to civilizational conflict as the driving source of instability in the Middle East. The premise here is that Islam is at war with competing ideologies and institutional norms. To counter this claim, I argue that, in some of the most homogeneously Islamic societies, there are significantly less cases of instability and terrorism, such as in Malaysia and Indonesia, compared to the frequency of terrorism in the Middle East. In a sense, terrorism is viewed as a response to occupation (Pape 2003). In this case, occupation is viewed as coercive democratization.

The final case in the literature review focuses on authoritarianism as the primary cause of anti-americanism (Bush et al.). But even in countries like Lebanon, where authoritarianism is relatively low, anti-americanism persists, and the terrorist threat is at its highest in the region.

The common denominator missing from the literature is the variable of foreign intervention in its influence on stability in the Middle East. Furthermore, empirical approaches have neglected the relationship between democratization and instability in the Middle East, primarily because of the domination of international relations theory by neorealist schools of thought. This theory presumes that self-interest and materialism rule the world universally. I argue that this presumption has justified modern “imperial overreach” by the US, particularly in the twenty-first century, in the form of coercive democratization. This had led to increased instability in the Middle East, and the rise in terrorism both regionally and globally.

Setbacks in My Approach

As with most research designs, there are setbacks suffered in this approach. Firstly, the lack of empirical data on Middle East politics makes it difficult to test claims. Secondly, the volatility of the region makes it even more challenging to innovate new methods and gather original data. Finally, the Middle East’s unique religious history challenges both the methods and approaches of the prevailing schools within political science, as well as the foreign policy traditions of major power players in global politics, in this case, the United States. The social constructs which distinguish the political cultures of the Middle East, a more collectivized society, from the West, the beacon of liberalism, make it difficult to understand and analyze the causes of violence.

Conclusion

The data gathered demonstrates that even where democracy endures in the Middle East, in the slightest form, it often exhibits extreme cases of political instability in the form of terrorism. Since 2003, terrorist attacks spiked in the Middle East (START 2016). The rise of ISIS has further intensified the terrorist threat in the region and abroad. It is mind boggling then that such an important variable as foreign interventionism, be it in the form of democratization or not, is largely unconsidered in international relations theory, considering the data which reveals a significant increase in terrorism immediately following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 (START 2016). But the neoliberal and neorealist traditions which dominate international relations theory leave little room for discussion of culture and religion, what constructivism calls “social constructs” in explaining the international political dynamic, because it emphasizes self-interest and profit-incentives as universally applicable principles. This assumption is the source of tension between the US and the various political forces in the Middle East. A continued negligence of these differences will likely perpetuate the increasing trend of terrorism in the Middle East, while a recognition of them would result in the opposite – a sort of stability that characterized the Middle East prior to the 2003 War in Iraq.

Bibliography

Bush, S. S., & Jamal, A. A. 2015. Anti‐Americanism, Authoritarian Politics, and Attitudes about Women’s Representation: Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Jordan. International Studies Quarterly: 59(1), 34-45.

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

Huntington, S. P. 1993. The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs: 22-49.

Max Roser 2016. Democratisation. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/democratisation/ [Online Resource]

Moghadam, A. 2006. Suicide terrorism, occupation, and the globalization of martyrdom: A critique of Dying to Win. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism: 29(8), 707-729.

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). 2015. Global Terrorism Database: http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd

Pape, Robert 2003. The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. American Political Science Review. 343-361.

Ross, M. L. 2001. Does Oil Hinder Democracy? World Politics: 53(03), 325-361.

Said, E. 1979. Orientalism. 1978. New York: Vintage.

Wendt, A. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge University Press.

World Peace & American Hegemony in the 21st Century: Is This the End of Democracy?


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We have reached a point in Western culture in which the concept of “democracy” is hailed as the best form of government.

The irony is that the bedrock of western philosophy, Plato, rejected democracy on the basis that politicians represent the animalistic impulses and petty passions of the people, not the best interest of the whole.

I argued in my thesis that democracy is not universal, for reasons of cultural relativity. Now, I would like to reassert the possibility that democracy itself as an institution is not the most superior regime-type, compared with a Republic, Monarchy, Communism Dictatorship & Theocracy.

What is best or most effective is a matter of opinion. The reality is, the West has consciously chosen a culture of robust self-interest; while the East has drifted entirely in the opposite direction focusing entirely on imperial statism. Other regions – Central Asia, Latin America & the Middle East; are an amalgam of ideas which reflects their unique and diverse cultures, as well as their subordination to the more innately expansive, militarized East and West. There are many forces which contribute to the current political dynamic – but what is the future?

Every nation that seeks unwarranted expansion without constraints faces retaliation – and without readjustment, can face decline – i.e. Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, Chinese Empire, USSR.

The Middle East, Latin America & Central Asia, represent very unique regions of the world where ethnicity, culture and religion take precedence over rational/materialist interpretations of reality whether it is communist or capitalist.

I believe the neoliberal institutionalist and constructivist paradigms help most to explain how modern nation-states will seek security – not power – among other cultural desires, in a world of absolute gains. Democracy, like communism, fascism, and many populist systems, will prove futile, in the face of the centralized state, which will be mixed in economic nature and Republican in form. In the West today, especially America, Republicanism is associated with conservatism, financial libertarianism, and so forth – but the actual definition, taken in political theory, refers to a non-direct form of representative government.

Peace & cooperation will be possible, and the notion of relative gains will crumble on its own, as powers that seek irrational power will be isolated. In today’s world, that power is the US. It has more of a chance for long-term prosperity and security with a less hawkish leftist in power, similar to Obama. That candidate is most likely Bernie Sanders.

Is democracy a hindrance to world peace? That would be controversial, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entirely true.

 

 

The Fate of Terror – What We Can Learn From Brussels, Ankara, Paris & Beirut


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The only question that should be raised in response to the Brussels attack – why is this happening?

If you think the answer can be reduced to Islamic extremism or a clash of civilizations – you are ignoring the reality that much of the extremism which encourages violent terrorism in the Middle East emanates from countries that are closest to the US – Saudi Arabia. Not to mention, ISIS, which has claimed responsibility, is made up of primarily foreign fighters and funded by the Gulf states.

Also, the existence of ISIS, like al Qaeda is a product of western support for these types of groups. Regime change, as the US has pressured, has caused the sort of imbalance in the ME that allows for increased terrorism at home and abroad.

Islamists have been largely propped up by democracies in order to justify foreign invasions and regime change – only where it is convenient.

The notion that Islam is more prone to violence is incorrect. Furthermore we have to differentiate between terrorist groups who seek to confuse the public and cause political upheaval, and militias, like Hezbollah, which seek to confront nation-states like Israel militarily, instead of arbitrary attacks and an “Islamic” agenda. Islamists focus on theocracy where as Muslim militias aren’t necessarily – they simply seek the sovereignty of their land.

Until Western countries stop double-dealing with terrorists in order to justify foreign escapades; until countries like Saudi Arabia are isolated; we will continue to witness terrorist attacks like those in Brussels, Ankara, Istanbul, Beirut & Paris.

We must learn to separate the nationalist, and rather secular conflicts between the Arab-Palestinian & Israel factions from the ideological war being waged both by extremist networks of violent persuasions (al Qaeda; ISIS) which pollute the discourse with extreme religious rhetoric. National sovereignty, human rights and self-determination supersede regime-type. Until this is realized, conflict will ensue in the Middle East; and violence will be exported. If the US & its cohorts continue foreign campaigns aimed at forcing regime-change under the premise of “democratization”, there is more reason to believe that balancing could occur. But as the Obama Doctrine has demonstrated, this hasn’t been entirely the course or agenda of the US – in fact, since the Bush Administration, it seems the US has been pursuing a less “hawkish” course.

The US must realize that its cozy relationship with Israel & Saudi Arabia are the primary stimulators of global terrorism. It fuels fanaticism; directly through Saudi Arabia; indirectly through occupation & socio-economic paralysis. If the US wishes to maintain the role of global hegemony & leader, it is not a matter of “morality” but of “rationality” that the US separates itself from the co-dependent relationship it has established with these two religiously charged nation-states.