By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
24 August 2015
America Is the Gravest Danger to World Peace
By Noam Chomsky
Who Is Responsible For The Escalating Terrorism?
By Emre Uslu
Lebanon… What a Load Of Rubbish!
By Faisal J. Abbas
Lebanon’s ‘You Stink’ Protests: Uprooting the Political Garbage
By Joyce Karam
The Smiling Faces of the Iranian Government
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
America’s Summer of Discontent
By Hisham Melhem
Turkey: The Land Of Permanent Elections
By Mustafa Akyol
America Is the Gravest Danger To World Peace
By Noam Chomsky
AUG 21, 2015
Throughout the world there is great relief and optimism about the nuclear deal reached in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Most of the world apparently shares the assessment of the U.S. Arms Control Association that “the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons for more than a generation and a verification system to promptly detect and deter possible efforts by Iran to covertly pursue nuclear weapons that will last indefinitely.”
There are, however, striking exceptions to the general enthusiasm: the United States and its closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. One consequence of this is that U.S. corporations, much to their chagrin, are prevented from flocking to Tehran along with their European counterparts. Prominent sectors of U.S. power and opinion share the stand of the two regional allies and so are in a state of virtual hysteria over “the Iranian threat.” Sober commentary in the United States, pretty much across the spectrum, declares that country to be “the gravest threat to world peace.” Even supporters of the agreement here are wary, given the exceptional gravity of that threat. After all, how can we trust the Iranians with their terrible record of aggression, violence, disruption, and deceit?
Opposition within the political class is so strong that public opinion has shifted quickly from significant support for the deal to an even split. Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the agreement. The current Republican primaries illustrate the proclaimed reasons. Senator Ted Cruz, considered one of the intellectuals among the crowded field of presidential candidates, warns that Iran may still be able to produce nuclear weapons and could someday use one to set off an Electro Magnetic Pulse that “would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard” of the United States, killing “tens of millions of Americans.”
The two most likely winners, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are battling over whether to bomb Iran immediately after being elected or after the first Cabinet meeting. The one candidate with some foreign policy experience, Lindsey Graham, describes the deal as “a death sentence for the state of Israel,” which will certainly come as a surprise to Israeli intelligence and strategic analysts — and which Graham knows to be utter nonsense, raising immediate questions about actual motives.
Keep in mind that the Republicans long ago abandoned the pretence of functioning as a normal congressional party. They have, as respected conservative political commentator Norman Ornstein of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute observed, become a “radical insurgency” that scarcely seeks to participate in normal congressional politics.
Since the days of President Ronald Reagan, the party leadership has plunged so far into the pockets of the very rich and the corporate sector that they can attract votes only by mobilizing parts of the population that have not previously been an organized political force. Among them are extremist evangelical Christians, now probably a majority of Republican voters; remnants of the former slave-holding states; nativists who are terrified that “they” are taking our white Christian Anglo-Saxon country away from us; and others who turn the Republican primaries into spectacles remote from the mainstream of modern society — though not from the mainstream of the most powerful country in world history.
The departure from global standards, however, goes far beyond the bounds of the Republican radical insurgency. Across the spectrum, there is, for instance, general agreement with the “pragmatic” conclusion of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Vienna deal does not “prevent the United States from striking Iranian facilities if officials decide that it is cheating on the agreement,” even though a unilateral military strike is “far less likely” if Iran behaves.
Former Clinton and Obama Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross typically recommends that “Iran must have no doubts that if we see it moving towards a weapon, that would trigger the use of force” even after the termination of the deal, when Iran is theoretically free to do what it wants. In fact, the existence of a termination point 15 years hence is, he adds, “the greatest single problem with the agreement.” He also suggests that the U.S. provide Israel with specially outfitted B-52 bombers and bunker-busting bombs to protect itself before that terrifying date arrives.
“The Greatest Threat”
Opponents of the nuclear deal charge that it does not go far enough. Some supporters agree, holding that “if the Vienna deal is to mean anything, the whole of the Middle East must rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.” The author of those words, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif, added that “Iran, in its national capacity and as current chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement [the governments of the large majority of the world’s population], is prepared to work with the international community to achieve these goals, knowing full well that, along the way, it will probably run into many hurdles raised by the sceptics of peace and diplomacy.” Iran has signed “a historic nuclear deal,” he continues, and now it is the turn of Israel, “the holdout.”
Israel, of course, is one of the three nuclear powers, along with India and Pakistan, whose weapons programs have been abetted by the United States and that refuse to sign the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Zarif was referring to the regular five-year NPT review conference, which ended in failure in April when the U.S. (joined by Canada and Great Britain) once again blocked efforts to move toward a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East. Such efforts have been led by Egypt and other Arab states for 20 years. As Jayantha Dhanapala and Sergio Duarte, leading figures in the promotion of such efforts at the NPT and other U.N. agencies, observe in “Is There a Future for the NPT?,” an article in the journal of the Arms Control Association: “The successful adoption in 1995 of the resolution on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East was the main element of a package that permitted the indefinite extension of the NPT.” The NPT, in turn, is the most important arms control treaty of all. If it were adhered to, it could end the scourge of nuclear weapons.
Repeatedly, implementation of the resolution has been blocked by the U.S., most recently by President Obama in 2010 and again in 2015, as Dhanapala and Duarte point out, “on behalf of a state that is not a party to the NPT and is widely believed to be the only one in the region possessing nuclear weapons” — a polite and understated reference to Israel. This failure, they hope, “will not be the coup de grâce to the two longstanding NPT objectives of accelerated progress on nuclear disarmament and establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.”
A nuclear-weapons-free Middle East would be a straightforward way to address whatever threat Iran allegedly poses, but a great deal more is at stake in Washington’s continuing sabotage of the effort in order to protect its Israeli client. After all, this is not the only case in which opportunities to end the alleged Iranian threat have been undermined by Washington, raising further questions about just what is actually at stake.
In considering this matter, it is instructive to examine both the unspoken assumptions in the situation and the questions that are rarely asked. Let us consider a few of these assumptions, beginning with the most serious: that Iran is the gravest threat to world peace.
In the U.S., it is a virtual cliché among high officials and commentators that Iran wins that grim prize. There is also a world outside the U.S. and although its views are not reported in the mainstream here, perhaps they are of some interest. According to the leading western polling agencies (WIN/Gallup International), the prize for “greatest threat” is won by the United States. The rest of the world regards it as the gravest threat to world peace by a large margin. In second place, far below, is Pakistan, its ranking probably inflated by the Indian vote. Iran is ranked below those two, along with China, Israel, North Korea, and Afghanistan.
“The World’s Leading Supporter of Terrorism”
Turning to the next obvious question, what in fact is the Iranian threat? Why, for example, are Israel and Saudi Arabia trembling in fear over that country? Whatever the threat is, it can hardly be military. Years ago, U.S. intelligence informed Congress that Iran has very low military expenditures by the standards of the region and that its strategic doctrines are defensive — designed, that is, to deter aggression. The U.S. intelligence community has also reported that it has no evidence Iran is pursuing an actual nuclear weapons program and that “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.”
The authoritative SIPRI review of global armaments ranks the U.S., as usual, way in the lead in military expenditures. China comes in second with about one-third of U.S. expenditures. Far below are Russia and Saudi Arabia, which are nonetheless well above any western European state. Iran is scarcely mentioned. Full details are provided in an April report from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which finds “a conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have… an overwhelming advantage of Iran in both military spending and access to modern arms.”
Iran’s military spending, for instance, is a fraction of Saudi Arabia’s and far below even the spending of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Altogether, the Gulf Cooperation Council states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — outspend Iran on arms by a factor of eight, an imbalance that goes back decades. The CSIS report adds: “The Arab Gulf states have acquired and are acquiring some of the most advanced and effective weapons in the world [while] Iran has essentially been forced to live in the past, often relying on systems originally delivered at the time of the Shah.” In other words, they are virtually obsolete. When it comes to Israel, of course, the imbalance is even greater. Possessing the most advanced U.S. weaponry and a virtual offshore military base for the global superpower, it also has a huge stock of nuclear weapons.
To be sure, Israel faces the “existential threat” of Iranian pronouncements: Supreme Leader Khamenei and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously threatened it with destruction. Except that they didn’t — and if they had, it would be of little moment. Ahmadinejad, for instance, predicted that “under God’s grace [the Zionist regime] will be wiped off the map.” In other words, he hoped that regime change would someday take place. Even that falls far short of the direct calls in both Washington and Tel Aviv for regime change in Iran, not to speak of the actions taken to implement regime change. These, of course, go back to the actual “regime change” of 1953, when the U.S. and Britain organized a military coup to overthrow Iran’s parliamentary government and install the dictatorship of the Shah, who proceeded to amass one of the worst human rights records on the planet.
These crimes were certainly known to readers of the reports of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, but not to readers of the U.S. press, which has devoted plenty of space to Iranian human rights violations — but only since 1979 when the Shah’s regime was overthrown. (To check the facts on this, read The U.S. Press and Iran, a carefully documented study by Mansour Farhang and William Dorman.)
None of this is a departure from the norm. The United States, as is well known, holds the world championship title in regime change and Israel is no laggard either. The most destructive of its invasions of Lebanon in 1982 was explicitly aimed at regime change, as well as at securing its hold on the occupied territories. The pretexts offered were thin indeed and collapsed at once. That, too, is not unusual and pretty much independent of the nature of the society — from the laments in the Declaration of Independence about the “merciless Indian savages” to Hitler’s defence of Germany from the “wild terror” of the Poles.
The famous scholar and political activist talks Iran, the Middle East and the bellicosity of the Republican Party
Who Is Responsible For The Escalating Terrorism?
By Emre Uslu
August 21, 2015
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is conducting attacks almost every day, killing soldiers. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trying to hold the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) responsible for this to save itself. It has done so over the last 12 years. It is basically arguing that the AKP did all the good deeds and that someone else is responsible for what went wrong.
And now they are looking for someone to blame for the terrorism. After the bomb detonated in Sanliurfa, they wanted to rely on their usual suspects -- the police officers who are allegedly affiliated with the Hizmet movement -- but no one is buying this argument because they had reassigned all those police officers. People do not believe their argument that Hizmet was responsible for this.
They then looked for others to blame. The AKP does not want to blame the PKK for what is happening because the party wants to attract people's support. In addition, it was the AKP that partnered with the PKK in the settlement process. For this reason, it blames the HDP rather than the PKK for being responsible for the escalating terrorism.
By doing so, it wants to ensure that the voters in Turkey who voted for the HDP in the previous election would change their mind. In addition, it also wants to make sure its responsibility goes unnoticed by the people.
By holding the HDP responsible, the AKP is trying to hide its relationship with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. However, during the settlement process talks, Öcalan sent his instructions to the PKK via his brother and told them to increase the number of militants. He also clearly said they should form new units in Syria.
The AKP deliberately tolerated this and continued to hold negotiations with Öcalan because the AKP's aim was not peace -- it was to make sure that there would be no clashes in 2014 and 2015 because there were elections in these two years.
So this means the AKP is far more responsible than the HDP; however, the AKP, by relying on the pro-government media, wants to identify new culprits to cover up its responsibility. The overall mood has changed and the relatives of victims hold Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP responsible. Despite substantial propaganda by the AKP, the people are aware of its culpability. They are now standing up against Erdogan and protesting against ministers. Some have called on politicians to send their own kids to perform military service. After these calls, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz had to make a statement in which he said he wanted to become a martyr. Erdogan also makes statements on the nobility of sacrificing sons for the homeland. The pro-government media, on the other hand, reacts against those who claim the AKP is responsible. They basically say there should not be any political criticism because Turkey is dealing with terrorism. They are doing so because the policies of the AKP are the reason for the escalating terrorism.
Now the following questions need to be asked:
- What triggered the violence? This is a legitimate question given that there was no violence before the election.
- Would we have seen violence if Erdogan was elected president in a presidential system?
- Would there have been violence if the AKP had won majority seats in Parliament?
- Did the AKP deploy troops to Agri to ensure that they would be killed? Of course, it was the PKK that killed the troops. But how about the political calculations? Shouldn't we mention anything about it?
The military almost finished off the PKK in the operations that started in 2012. For the first time, the PKK was extremely desperate because the military was able to destroy its camps inside Turkey. Hundreds of PKK militants were killed in operations in Hakkari alone. But who set up the Uludere conspiracy against the military? Who ensured the murder of 34 innocent villagers? Who provided the intelligence?
Why did the military cease the operations after Uludere? Who initiated fake hunger strikes in its aftermath? Who polished the image of Öcalan by stopping the hunger strikes? Who promoted the PR efforts arguing that the PKK is retreating and that a settlement process was beginning?
It was Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), who was behind all this. So what happened to the settlement process? Who tolerated the growth of the PKK and its expanding sphere of influence in urban areas?
Who had declared that those who said the policies pursued were wrong because they would make the PKK stronger and eventually make the region become more alienated were traitors?
What was the intelligence agency doing as the PKK was heavily arming itself?
Lebanon… What A Load Of Rubbish!
By Faisal J. Abbas
23 August 2015
Lebanon is sinking in a big load of rubbish; and not just in the physical sense. After all, the one thing that has emerged from the uncollected piles of garbage bags – apart from the nasty smell – is that the country’s ongoing institutional failure has now put everyone in a catch-22 situation, whereby there is no clear winner but a definite loser: the average Lebanese citizen.
Just imagine being this average citizen for a moment: a victim of decades of corruption and self-serving politicians, a disgustingly sectarian climate, a devastating civil war, the spread of extremist ideology and the de facto rule of a militia like Hezbollah which has been holding the whole country hostage to its pro-Iranian agenda.
Now if that wasn’t bad enough, the average citizen also has to deal with the consequences of such a decaying reality. For instance, the entire infrastructure – rebuilt mainly by the slain Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri – is now deteriorating and many issues which were somewhat resolved during his era are now worse than ever.
Indeed, one wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of average Lebanese citizens; particularly if they can’t afford to buy their own electricity generator.
And if you ever wondered what a ‘catch-22’ feels like, you only have to imagine trying to escape the heat while living in the coastal, highly-congested, capital city of Beirut in this exceptionally hot summer. Imagine not only being unable to turn on your air-conditioning due to the lack of electricity, but also unable to open your windows due to the nasty smells emerging from the rubbish piling up on the streets opposite your home.
Understandably frustrated, many Lebanese took to the streets and protested against the current government’s inability to resolve the situation, demanding its resignation (what was ironic is that many of these people were motivated by a number of corrupt politicians who caused the problem but then blamed the government for it.)
However, to be fair, PM Tammam Salam (who is among the few good and honest politicians in Lebanon) is in a catch-22 situation himself, as the position he still occupies resembles the last-remaining shred of authority that Lebanon, as a state, pretends to have.
Indeed, the country has been without an elected president for over a year now, its parliament continues to be a failure and as mentioned earlier, most key state functions (such as intelligence, defence and foreign policy) are either fully-controlled or heavily-influenced by Hezbollah and its allies.
The issue here is that even if PM Salam resigns, this will not necessarily solve the garbage problem, for that won’t be resolved unless the political elite decides that this issue is a matter of basic rights for their people, not a mere lucrative contract which is up for grabs.
The only good thing to emerge of out this recent crisis is that - or at least one hopes that - the Lebanese have finally realized that it is time to take out the garbage; and by garbage, I mean the stinking sectarian politics which has destroyed the nation and the self-serving politicians who not only oversaw, but profited from, the collapse.
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society.
Lebanon’s ‘You Stink’ Protests: Uprooting the Political Garbage
By Joyce Karam
23 August 2015
The absurdity of the scene in downtown Beirut yesterday is in portraying the protests to be just about the trash collection crisis, while in reality they are about everything else that led to the largest waste mismanagement scandal in Lebanon’s history.
Thousands are protesting and vowing to “topple the regime” not just because the garbage collection has run amok, but due to Lebanon’s political stagnation crippling the country in the last four years. Beirut is constantly in a crisis-mode, and right now Lebanon has had no President for over a year, its parliament has casually renewed its own term twice, and its government of “rivals” is excelling in short-sightedness, and promoting narrow interests at the expense of the public good. The country also has over a million Syrian refugee, and Hezbollah is fighting with more than 5000 members in Syria.
Conspiracy over Strategy
Self-infatuation and hubris are all over Lebanese politics. Parliamentarians and policymakers are frequently busy analyzing and commenting on larger global events while turning a blind eye to the day to day problems. Everyone is a nuclear expert when it comes to the Iran deal negotiations, or a counterterrorism one if it’s the rise of ISIS or the fate of the Syrian war, while rubbish consumes the capital, and traffic chaos is allover the country. Even Donald Trump is more likely to come up in a conversation than discussing a plan or a vision to explore Lebanon’s potential gas resources, traffic congestion or tackle the question of armed militias. Hezbollah’s weaponry is now forgotten while the presence of ISIS and Nusra in border towns is being accepted as a fait accompli.
The political elite’s motto is every regional event revolves somehow around Lebanon, and nothing can happen in Lebanon without regional events. A perfect narrative to guarantee that nothing gets done, while propagating conspiracy theories on the U.S. starting ISIS, or how will Russian-Saudi talks help the army.
Some Lebanese Christian parties are preoccupied in discussing federalism, but they’re not able to agree on their highest portfolio position and name a President. Strategy and longterm vision have had no place in Lebanese politics since the killing of former Prime Minister Rafic Harriri in 2005, irrespective of opposing views to his plan. Today, most local parties and leaders operate on a short term calculus, and pursue narrow partisan interests that occasionally clash with the country’s wellbeing as in the case of the waste management crisis. The government’s repeated failure to agree on a new landfill has exacerbated the problem to this point, while the absence of long-term planning in waste management will ultimately promise a recurrence.
For Hezbollah, its intervention in Syria was driven by the party’s narrow interest in saving the Assad regime and maintaining supply routes from Iran, regardless of the security repercussions it has had on Lebanon.
While the protests bear lot of the hallmarks of the Arab spring and Lebanon’s own cedar revolution in 2005, the “You Stink” campaign will likely transform into a political movement, transcending the traditional sectarian lines, without starting a revolution.
The political toxicity in Lebanon is deeply entrenched within the elite as well as the main institutions who will unite in resisting a major overhaul. This elite consensus to save the system prevented the Cedar revolution in 2005 from reinstating new leaders, and from going beyond the goals of toppling the government and ending the Syrian military presence. Today’s political and religious elite in Lebanon is fully invested in the sectarian architecture of the current system, and will block any serious attempt at a revamp.
What the protests can achieve, however, is hold the military and police who used excessive force accountable, and if they continue with the same pace possibly overthrow the government. In such scenario, and if Lebanon becomes with no President, no government and an ineffective parliament, pressure could build up for a larger dialogue to reach a more comprehensive framework.
For now, the trans-sectarian, forward leaning and passionate Lebanese youth that took to downtown Beirut to tell the elite “you stink”, gives hope that the spark of change has not died in Lebanon, and the narrative is not completely hijacked by ISIS and the authoritarians.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution.
The Smiling Faces of the Iranian Government
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
23 August 2015
The Iranian regime’s bad reputation is not merely propaganda fabricated against it, amid a political war which has been ongoing since the revolution against the Shah. It is actually the true face of a regime that has - for more than 36 years - exported conflicts, revolutions, violence and extremist and hostile ideologies against any state or movement that locally, regionally or internationally disagrees with it. This bad reputation has been a direct result of several malicious acts - abductions, assassinations and explosions - as well as making threats and funding groups to mobilize against several countries. This is in addition to the violent form of governance inside Iran itself as the regime pursued and excluded millions of Iranians who fled and currently live in exile.
These damaging moves, which have accumulated over time, have made Tehran’s governance resemble the likes of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the Assad family in Syria, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and Kim Jong-un in North Korea. This bad image is therefore not one “fabricated” by the regime’s enemies outside of Iran.
The Iranian government has currently resorted to a new language and is sending clear hints about its desire to establish positive relations with its rivals in the Middle East. These hints made by Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were quickly received by Iran’s rivals. Their reactions came as expected; in principle, welcoming the new sentiments, still however being doubtful on how serious these friendly intentions are. There’s a general belief that Tehran’s government is running a campaign to clear the air with its rivals, in order to end regional opposition of its nuclear deal with Western powers – particularly opposition from Gulf countries, Jordan and Israel as they think the agreement is good in principle, but masks Tehran’s true intentions. Of course those who oppose this nuclear deal do not all oppose it for the same reasons. Arab states think that Iran wants to calm the West and end sanctions imposed on it so it may resume plans to dominate in the region. Meanwhile, Israel thinks that Iran plans to resume its nuclear military program and fears that the agreement does not provide enough guarantees and will therefore not only pose a threat against its security but also against its existence. Some American politicians, including Democrats, are also doubtful of the agreement and oppose it.
In the past, Iran was clear in regards to its extremism as it ignored all what was said about its intentions and stances and carried on with its policies; however, today it fears that the interests of the Arabs, Israelis and Americans who oppose the nuclear agreement have become and interruption. We must note however that despite the fierce opposition against this deal, President Barack Obama’s chances of the deal passing Congress remain very high. All he needs is to gain the approval of just one third of either the Senate or the House of Representatives.
Two Smiling Faces
To activate the nuclear deal, Iran is embellishing its policies and rhetoric towards other countries in order to reassure opponents that it wants to cooperate and turn the page and that it has become a new Iran: a country that’s politically moderate, cooperative on regional and international levels and religiously tolerant. To serve this purpose, the regime has pushed two smiling faces to the forefront, President Hassan Rowhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Both of them do not at all resemble the officials of the former government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his grouchy ministers. However, we are aware that it is actions and not facial expressions which expose a politician’s true intentions. Bashar al-Assad for example is seemingly a jovial, elegant and polite man, yet his hands are stained with the blood of more than 250,000 Syrians.
In Iran, the president and the government do not actually rule as there’s a strict religious institution that makes decisions on important details. Knowing this institution, we have not witnessed any change in its hostile policy towards countries in the region and towards the Iranian citizens who oppose it. The image Iran is trying to present and the soft rhetoric it is addressing us with may just be for the aim of soothing tensions against the regime and against the deal. Its final goal may be to seal the deal, have it approved, then have all sanctions lifted.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
America’s Summer of Discontent
By Hisham Melhem
22 August 2015
The op-ed page of the Washington Post on Friday was fully occupied by columns about Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for the Presidency who has dominated the race since he made his entry two months ago with characteristic bang, labelling members of the political class in Washington as ‘stupid’ and accusing Mexico of sending its refuse of mostly rapists, criminals and drug users to America. This was the most dangerous appeal to nativism by a presidential candidate in recent memory. The day before, Trump a narcissist’s narcissist, graced the cover of Time Magazine, with a screaming headline: Deal with it. To make the event worthy of the supposedly richest man to ever contemplate occupying the White House, Time flew a 27-year-old bald eagle -America’s emblem- named Uncle Sam from Texas to New York to be photographed with the man who wants to ‘make America great again’. It was political kitsch par excellence.
In recent election cycles we briefly encountered the quick rise and the quicker fall of the candidate-de-jour phenomenon, particularly on the Republican side, represented by an assortment of eccentric, colourful, narcissistic, scoundrel, usually charismatic, attractive and articulate men and women who control the early stages of the race by sheer aplomb and character. Think of Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich in 2012.These self-appointed saviours of Western Civilization always cast themselves as the outsiders holding the keys to quick fixes, or having the divine vision to deliver us from the political wilderness and put us on the righteous path. Never mind that most of them are the creation of the same political culture and the very economic system that they supposedly abjure. In America of late, every politician denounces ‘Washington’, while barely hiding his/her yearning to embrace it.
Trump is now one of them. His detractors say that he is this summer’s fling for angry and alienated Republican voters who will repent in the cold days leading to the first Republican Caucus in Iowa on February 1, 2016. It is very unlikely that Trump will be the next Republican nominee, but surely he has more staying power, than the previous shooting-star candidates because of his wealth, celebrity and his so far, masterful exploitation of the visceral fears that are weighing heavily on many Americans; a seemingly insoluble immigration problem resulting in more than eleven million undocumented immigrants, almost 15 years of unending wars abroad, rising racial tension and small scale riots in American cities that could turn into major ones , and what many see as America’s retrenchment in the world in the face of a rising China and the bloodiest terrorist entity in the modern world, the so-called ‘Islamic State’, a new threat driven by apocalyptic visions of End Time. Trump also is benefitting from the disillusionment of many voters over widening income inequality, stagnant salaries, and the disappearance of many jobs in the new economy, not to mention the squabbling professional politicians and a dysfunctional government in Washington and an election cycle that seemed only few weeks ago destined to be dominated by two candidates representing two political dynasties.
The Art of the Scheme
Enter Donald John Trump, once again. Americans have known Trump for decades. You could not ignore him even if you wanted to. He is loud, crass, bombastic, a mendacious swashbuckling tycoon and a misogynistic man who mastered the art of the scheme. This is the man who bragged that he used the laws of the land to amass huge sums of monies in tax breaks to finance his real estate holdings ( a whopping $163.775 million on Trump Tower, in New York according to a recent report in the National Review) The man, who wants to fix a broken wasteful government in Washington, has reneged on paying his debts because of the way he engineered four corporate bankruptcies, and he lived to brag about it. He tweeted recently ‘Stop saying I went bankrupt. I never went bankrupt but like many great business people have used the laws to corporate advantage—smart!’
Of all the ‘outsiders’ and the career politicians who set their eyes on the prize of the White House in recent years, Trump, maybe because of his brusque and brash style, his celebrity status and wealth has the most formidable built-in immune system against blunders, gaffs and doublespeak. Any other candidate committing a fraction of the slips, half-truths and the outrageous answers born out of ignorance and arrogance, committed by Trump in the last few weeks, would have been history by now. Consider this: when the man who would be the Commander-in-Chief of the American Armed Forces was asked by veteran reporter and anchor of the Meet the Press program on NBC television network ,’Who do you talk to for military advice right now?’ Trump had no coherent answer, but he quickly recouped and blurted out,’ well, I watch the shows. I mean, I really see a lot of great—you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows and you have the generals and you have certain people that you like.’ However, when Todd pressed him gently ‘but is there a go-to for you?’, Trump began to fall apart and obfuscate claiming that there are two to three such advisors, including John Bolton, a well-known civilian neoconservative, who talks like a tough General, but he is certainly not one.
Then, maybe to please Todd, Trump mentioned retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, a highly decorated officer and one of NBC’s best military analysts. Trump, with a straight face continued ‘Colonel Jack Jacobs is a good guy, and I see him on occasion.’ The problem with this tale is that it is tall. Colonel Jacobs told David Corn of Mother Jones magazine that the claim is not true. ‘He may have said the first person who came to mind, I know him. But I'm not a consultant. I'm not certain if he has a national security group of people. I don't know if he does or if he doesn't. If he does, I'm not one of them.’
Grunts, One-Liners and Elusive Victories
Candidate Trump, in his own mind and in the collective imagination of his supporters is the American equivalent of the awaited Mahdi, the restorer of American greatness and righteousness. The problem is that Trump is not the politically pure outsider destined to lead the nation out of the desert; he is in fact the quintessential insider, the very privileged product of the political-economic structure that he pretends to be railing against. Trump’s crass and intimidating persona has fortified him against serious and tough questioning not only from most of his rivals, but also from most journalists who are in a stampede to interview the pretender-performer-cum-candidate as if he is the sage of these bad times. Trump has yet to propose anything serious to increase American economic growth and narrow the income gap, or how to fight the Islamic State better than Obama’s limited war, or how to deal with China’s belligerence in the South China sea, or how to break down barriers preventing better trade deals with China and Japan or how to deal with an irredentist Russia.
Trump so far has given us one liners such as: If I am elected, I will beat China and Japan on trade, I will build a huge 2000 mile wall on the border with Mexico to be as huge and imposing as the great wall of China, chiming at once that ‘it will be known as the Trump Wall’, while he is forcibly deporting millions of ‘illegal immigrants’ but without telling us how. Trump, as President, will literally steal oil from Iraq as he told Chuck Todd ‘and I said you take away their wealth, that you go and knock the hell out of the oil, take back the oil. We take over the oil, which we should have done in the first place.’ And as president, he says he will demand protection money from Saudi Arabia vowing that ‘they should pay us.’ Trump thinks, that such foreign policy demands and grunts will achieve the elusive victories of a bygone era that he and his supporters yearn for, ‘we have no victories. I mean, we just don't have victories anymore. As a country, we don't have victories anymore’. I am hoping that during the next debate, one of Trumps competitors could muster enough courage and be able to memorize a simple question to be directed to the American people ‘do you trust a man like Donald Trump to be the next Commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces?’
A Deeper Malaise
The Obama years have been lean years of hyper-partisanship domestically and internationally. The fight over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has bloodied both sides. The Republicans were opposed to it in principle, and their ‘proposals’ were ephemeral and pro-forma and an aloof President Obama did not seriously engage or challenge them to deliver. In Foreign policy, there were no victories as Trump said, but that was true of both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The Bush administration signed the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Maliki government in Iraq, and both American Presidents tolerated the outrageous sectarian machinations of Maliki for 8 long years, that almost destroyed Iraq. One could argue that the United States would not be in the current predicament in Iraq, had the Obama administration been more robust in pushing for a residual force in Iraq after the withdrawal of American forces in 2011.The reality today, is that there is no bipartisan policy on Iraq or Syria or on how to really degrade and ultimately destroy the ‘Islamic State’. But it should be said that the Obama administration’s abandonment of the Syrian people to the chemical weapons and the barrel bombs of the Assad regime, by far the most effective, systematic killing machine in that tortured and pulverized land, has been the single most disastrous failure of the Obama administration. But with the exception of few important Republican voices in congress such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham calling for effectively arming and equipping the Syrian armed opposition from the beginning of the conflict (as opposed to the tentative moves by the Obama administration) there is no massive Republican support for a greater U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict. A year into the air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the Republican controlled congress has yet to authorize the war.
It is expected that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the P-5 plus one nuclear deal with Iran) will survive any veto override by the Republican congress. Regardless of the merits of the agreement, and there are many legitimate criticisms leveled against it by non-partisan analysts, now is the time for the critics of the agreement to demand greater scrutiny and stringent inspections by the IAEA. The Republican senators did not help their case or show their seriousness in seeking a rigorous debate with the Obama administration, on the nuclear deal when they engaged in petty stunts such as writing an open letter to the Iranian leadership lecturing them about the intricacies of the American constitution and system of government. Also the ill-advised invitation to the Prime Minister of Israel Benyamin Netanyahu to address the congress, about the pitfalls of the agreement and how to stand up to Islamist threats without even consulting the President of the United States, showed petulance, and unprecedented lack of good judgment.
Now is the time to remind the Iranian regime that the military sword can still be unsheathed in case of serious breaches, regardless of what the rest of the signatories say or do. Now is the time to correct, the stunning failure of the Obama administration in linking the nuclear negotiations to Iran’s deplorable human rights record and its regional depredations.
During the long cold war with the Soviet Union, both Democratic and Republican administrations while pursuing and signing nuclear deals with the Communists in Moscow, never lessened their support for human rights in Russia and always maintained support for the dissident movement, as well as actively checking and in fact at times rolling back Soviet aggression in Africa and Afghanistan. The abject silence of the Obama administration during the ‘Green Movement’ in Iran in 2009, when the Islamic regime violently crushed the peaceful protests following the rigging of elections, was very telling about the Obama administration’s willingness, even eagerness to work with the Islamic Republic.
Not Your Father’s Republican Party
It is not an exaggeration to say that the current large field of Republican candidates is shockingly weak particularly on foreign policy. Their first debate exposed their limitations and lack of experience. There were those like Senator Ted Cruz and governor Bobby Jindal who criticized President Obama because he talks about violent extremism but not ’radical Islamic terrorism.’ Jeb Bush continued to struggle with the war in Iraq, still unable to extricate himself from his brother’s war. He is still his brother’s keeper. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, supposedly a healer, defended water boarding. There were the usual ritualistic and obligatory lines about U.S. support to Israel, and Trump, was well, Trump. There were no serious proposals about any outstanding foreign policy challenge, from Iran, to Russia, to the Islamic State. No wonder the Republican candidates are in such disarray on national security issues.
This is not your father’s Republican Party. In the wake of the Tea Party and the rise of such luminaries like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, this is no longer the home of George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker or Colin Powell. It is doubtful that Ronald Reagan would be welcomed by the current custodians of conservatism. Dwight Eisenhower need not apply. The old healthy scepticism of Republicans and others of centralized Federal powers, has given way to very corrosive antipathy and even hostility to ‘government’ in general.
Early on after I hit the Eastern shores of the United States as a perplexed student in the early 1970’s who was fascinated, amused and baffled by America’s political and social paradoxes , I was introduced to the concept of the political tent. There was a big Democratic tent that was the home for labor unions, minorities (Jews and Blacks) and yes a liberal like Senator Ted Kennedy and a fiery segregationist like Governor George Wallace. There was a smaller Republican tent, that included hard core conservative groups like the John Birch Society, Southern and Western conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans in the Northeast, and yes a moderate like Nelson Rockefeller and an arch conservative like Barry Goldwater. Talk about the need for a guide to the poor perplexed Lebanese. Both tents have changed in subsequent decades, but the Republican tent has all but disappeared, and the handful moderate Republicans if they are still around are currently politically homeless.
The Democrats, and their front runner, Hillary Clinton, have their own set of problems and angst. Hillary Clinton, who lacks her husband’s finesse, and incredible talent to connect with people, is currently in an obfuscating mode and a deep hole of her own making. Her e-mail server saga gets weirder and more dangerous by the day. She seems unable to answer simple questions about how, when and who did erase the server before it was handed to the FBI. Barring a major violation of the law, Clinton will likely get the nomination of her party. She has yet to traverse a long journey, to get the nomination and already she is wobbly. By the time she gets to the convention, she maybe wounded. But that demands another article.
Hisham Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya.
Turkey: The Land Of Permanent Elections
By Mustafa Akyol
On Aug. 21, President Tayyip Erdogan announced the news: On Nov. 1, Turkey will go to ballots again, for yet another general election that will form yet other set of deputies in the Turkish Parliament.
This was, as word has it, something that Erdogan was looking forward to since the previous election held on June 7. On that day, his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), lost its parliamentary majority after 13 years. This meant, for many citizens, that the electorate had opted for a coalition government. But for Erdogan and his team, the June results meant that the electorate had made a grave mistake, which had to be corrected soon.
This “mistake” was, of course, the significant decline in AKP votes — from 50 percent in 2011 to 41 percent this summer. As various commentators have argued in the pro-government media, this was in fact an “unintended” result. The electorate had wanted to “warn” the AKP for some its excesses, but it went a bit too far in this “warning.” The morning after the election, the same electorate felt sorry for what it had done, which caused the AKP to sadly lose its absolute power. As a result, the only way to correct this anomaly would be to hold “renewed elections.”
This view in the pro-Erdogan camp, along with the rigidness of the second opposition party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is the main reason why Turkey could not form a coalition government over the 70 days that has passed since June 7. Word has it that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and some other moderates in the AKP wanted to form a coalition with the main opposition, because of the bleak political and economic scene. But (again word has it) Erdogan never allowed them to do so, because he was sure that the “mistake” on June 7 would be easily corrected if the nation goes to the ballots again.
Why are Erdogan and the AKP hawks so confident that they will increase their votes in November? Well, one answer is their triumphalist political narrative, which they pump for propaganda but also believe in, at least to some extent. Accordingly, the AKP era marks not just an ordinary governmental shift, but a regime chance that will define the whole 21st century. They have declared goals for 2023, the centennial of the Republic, and even 2071, marking the millennial of the Turks’ conquest of Anatolia. How could such a grand (even “holy”) vision be allowed to stumble because of some “mistaken” voters?
On a more earthly level, Erdogan probably calculates that the political uncertainty since June 7, and its negative effects on the economy, will make some voters seek “stability” again, and thus opt for the AKP. Another game changer could be the re-escalated war with the PKK, which may again make some voters opt for a “strong” (and heavy-handed) government. (Though this does not prove the war with PKK is an Erdogan-hatched conspiracy. Even if it were, the PKK could undo it easily by simply declaring a ceasefire.)
But there is also a risk for Erdogan: In November the voters may say, “Enough with all this lust for power” and decide to further punish the AKP. The upcoming elections on Nov 1, in other words, might not be the “correction” that Erdogan hopes to see. One wonders what would happen then. Would the AKP finally go for a coalition government with the CHP? Or would the president give us a new dictum: “Elections will be permanently renewed until the right results are achieved.” I have no idea. For, as I have learned over the years - and especially in the past two - anything can happen in this mind-boggling country.