On the lost Arab Spring and the influence of politics on policy

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It is perhaps fair to say the Arab Spring was such a missed opportunity, and in many ways, it is.

The Arab Spring was supposed to be the vanguard for change in the complex politics of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It was launched on a platform of Arab democracy (as opposed to American democracy) that will instigate a wave of change, from free speech to economic opportunities.

Despite its disassociation from Western grand plans for the region, the Arab Spring was nevertheless glorified in the West. The revolution took everyone by surprise – including President Barack Obama himself. And it was almost hijacked by the Western mainstream media (BBC, CNN, Fox) as something that the West endorsed, especially with the exaggerated role that technology played to make it happen. They may have supported the revolution at a later point, but certainly did not play a role in its creation.

But some four years since the whole saga began in Tunisia, what we find is a more confused Western, and especially American, policy in the MENA region. For starters, the United States is still a big supporter of whatever Israel does (occasional wars against its neighbors, assassination of foreign leaders); it has a very good military relationship with Sunni Saudi Arabia regardless of Riyadh actions in the region; it used to support ‘moderates’ in such countries as Iraq and Syria where the same moderates have transformed them into extremism and ISIS; and now it is negotiating a historic nuclear deal with Iran, it’s supposed arch-nemesis in the region.

The politics of Obama’s final years in office

Opposed by both Israel and Saudi Arabia, the latest Iranian nuclear deal is being praised as a landmark breakthrough in Middle East policy. Notwithstanding the merits of such a deal, the agreement with Iran requires a deeper look especially since Obama’s days in the office is in 2016.

Before his second term started in 2012, Obama pulled out of Afghanistan in late 2011 – some 3 years later than what he had promised during his fight for presidential candidacy in 2008, and just a few months before he was to reassume office at the White House. Indeed, when policy is at the mercy of politics, things ‘suddenly’ get done.

The rush to accomplish things before the time is out

A clearly defined United States’ policy aside, the upcoming US presidential race will certainly shake things up, with more policies being concluded and other surprises being taken into consideration. For instance, we might see a Cuban breakthrough as America pursues normalization with Cuba, an island nation long been under the economic embargo of the United States. Perhaps we can also see a softening of American policy toward Russia and Ukraine to avoid a political backlash for the Democrats in the upcoming presidential elections, or the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison, a promise made by Obama since his 2008 nomination.

On April 12, Hillary Clinton will formally announce her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, a move that will mark the de-fact start of the intense presidential elections. Eight years since Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought it out for the nomination, a woman in the White House is no doubt an interesting thing to see. But we are not there yet: big promises are set to entertain again, just like how Obama promised the impossible before. Conversely, the remaining 19 months will be a thrilling time to see what gets accomplished in the final days of Obama’s presidency.

On a related note: The curious case of Netanyahu’s Congress stunt

To gain political ground for his party once more, America’s main ally in the region, Israel’s hysterical Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed his opposition to the US-Iran nuclear deal in a highly emotional speech before the US Congress. The same tactic of ‘getting things done’ at a critical moment persuaded Netanyahu to grandstand in the receptive US Congress to gain political leverage before a major election.

Unfortunately for him, Netanyahu’s Congress stunt did not grain traction among the wider American establishment. Beyond the shock and awe of his emotional speech calling for a strike against Iran (as always), the spotlight went to the fact that his US Congress speech was not endorsed by the White House (he actually bypassed Obama on this), that the war-hungry Republicans invited Netanyahu to make the speech, and that Obama has since pointed out that all foreign policy decisions should be endorsed by the White House.

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ISIS threat will further confuse America’s Middle East policy

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The latest mutation of Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East, ISIS is essentially an Al Qaeda offshoot and should be labeled made in the USA. As countless lives have been ruined by this extreme group of Islamists, is it time for the US to roll back this threat which they, in no small part, helped create in Syria?

Not when Obama decides an offensive on ISIS in Syria, where it took root as a rebel force against Assad’s government should be conducted without any cooperation with the Syrian government. Now how arrogant is that when you start planning to eliminate a threat in another country without the consent of that host country’s government?

The choice not to cooperate with the otherwise willing Syrian government seems logical when you consider who the United States supports in the Middle East, most important of which is Saudi Arabia and Turkey. So although the US and Syria have the same enemies by now, openly cooperating with the Syrian government, which Obama pledged needs to go, will further complicate its policy in the Middle East.

From Assad’s perspective, an unauthorized American intervention in their territory could potentially transform the anti-ISIS operation into a covert anti Syrian military offensive. Indeed for the past three years, the United States has had a hard time rallying for an open military operation against Syria, and this ISIS dilemma might present a new opportunity to finally destroy Iran’s main ally in the region.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Moallem already expressed his government’s willingness to fight against the common threat, but warning that any unilateral action in Syria without permission is unacceptable. This was quickly snubbed by the United States, where the State Department said “we are not going to be coordinating with the Assad regime, period” and that “they (Syrian government) have allowed them (ISIS) to grow and we are not going to be working with them to root out this threat.” From this arrogant statement, it seems the State Department has forgotten that its support for “moderate opposition in Syria” in the first place caused this latest Islamic mutation.

A main ally of Syria, Russia expressed their concern regarding the planned bombing of ISIS positions in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying that the US and its allies had “to choose what is more important: to change the regime, and satisfy personal antipathies with the risk that the situation will crumble, or find pragmatic ways to join efforts against the common threat.”

Capitalism: Tired as the Environment it Plundered (PART I)

PART I: History of Socio-Economic Classes

I’d like to begin a challenging topic by admitting to what most laypeople consider as such: that hearing the apocalypse of capitalism/imperialism has become a tiresome theme. Indeed, it is a change of tone for my own creation Views from the East. But what if we begin by digging how ever did our society end up living to work instead of working to live?

In the past decade, as the developing world became more prominent in the running of the global economy and politics, it is imperative to focus on viewing the world as they see it. And this means focusing on the period before the French Revolution up to the late 19th century.

At about that time, the powers of Europe (most notably the British Empire) have become tired of influencing and colonialising near abroad; indeed, the discovery of the furthest lands (today known as South and Southeast Asia) where driven by the need to compete. At least before the 16th century, countries (or more precisely for that time, native lands) in the region where dominated by primitive hunters and gatherers. The idea of slavery came about when the most powerful men (rulers) realized the native lands can be bordered and be arable, hence the creation of agriculture. Thus, agriculture not only gave rulers their own ancestral land, but also can be used for what soon became known as barter, or trade, which is the foundation of the framework called economy.

So when did Capitalism enter the scene? As stated earlier, the powers of Europe exhausted their resources competing in the near abroad and went on to compete somewhere else. To etch an economic system based on the privatization of the manufacturing of goods for profit (Capitalism for short), a framework of domination has been devised. This clever domination, in the form of Imperialism, is the root of all misery that has plagued mankind ever since.

It is perhaps better to understand Imperialism by asking the question “why do I need work to live?” If you are more a success as defined by Capitalism, then you might ask “if I earn more, can I establish my business? Will I be happier if I had people work for me for my own profit?”

To answer this, we need to backtrack a bit. From being hunter-gatherers to slaves, landlords became merchants when a new system of trade activity was introduced: profit. The concept of the profit became a norm with the full swing of the period known as the Age of Imperialism. From now on, all economic activities will revolve around the concept of profit. This Western ‘gift’ was to be established at all cost, using the guise of economy, politics, and even culture, or collectively known as ideological state apparatus. In simple terms, ISA is the establishment of a system (in the guise of a state) to further the economic interests of capitalists. In defining so, we might start asking who then are the capitalists? Let us allow German philosopher Karl Marx to identify the socioeconomic classes of man: at the bottom are the farmers (who virtually own nothing), followed by the assembly workers (factory workers). Next in the classes of man are petite-bourgeois (middle-class, the educated, and sometimes shop keepers and members of the government).   And at the top of this dangerous hierarchy are the national and international bourgeois, or the owners, who are themselves the capitalists.

Indeed, to exist is to be enslaved by Capitalists; through Imperialism, the delusional framework of political (conflict and judicial), economic (through an imbalance in trade with the aim of creating debt; Colonialism and Fascism disguised as education ), and cultural {religion and family values (through the establishment of norms, discontent can be pacified)}, has thus been created. In so identifying these dangerous illusions, we have also successfully arrived at the root cause of poverty.

Culture of Dominance in Decline: A Warning

As the sun itself sets, so does empires and imperialism, a fact its champions, Great Britain and the United States, should just recognize sooner.

In the specific case of Great Britain, market, entertainment, defense, and other British icons now belong to foreigners: Burberry, although still at the top of its league, its patrons are often tourists; Cadbury is now owned by America’s Kraft; luxury car brand Jaguar was bought by Ford in the 1990s and now is owned by India’s Tata Group; even top football teams (Manchester League) are now owned by Americans. In the 1990s, bands like the Spice Girls and Oasis ruled the charts. British Petroleum (BP) even re-branded itself to remove “British” and is today known as Beyond Petroleum, although after the Gulf oil spill in 2010, no one wants to be attached to the brand.

As in the law of diminishing rates of returns where profits will always decline and the search for new markets becomes more important as the decline happens, an imperialist government needs to find and nurture sympathetic, if not always legitimate governments to get market share. We need not look any further than the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In addition to securing the supply of fossil energy to the West, the Iraq war was also instigated to guarantee Western market dominance.

As there are no more other new markets to dominate, it is unfortunate that we are witnessing the privatization of war. Schools, health care, prisons have been privatized by international capital, and today, violence and war. As nation states become market states, violence and war also become privatized.

Unless imperialist Britain become more modest in its treatment of the world and abandon the Pax Britannica dream, it will have a difficult position in living with, if not confronting, the growing powers of the East which now are collectively known as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China).