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October 2012, Pages 40-41 United Nations Report Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
Will Lakhdar Brahimi's Credentials and Credibility Help Him With Syria Assignment?
By Ian Williams
Brahimi, the new United Nations peace envoy to Syria, speaks to the
press following a meeting with French President François Hollande at the
Elysee Palace in Paris, Aug. 20, 2012. (Patrick
Lakhdar Brahimi has a long record of working on behalf of the United
Nations. The good-humored and quietly spoken diplomat has a strong track
record of cutting through rhetorical obfuscations and getting to the
underlying reality. As a former Algerian freedom fighter, he has an
exemplary record—especially compared with most of the sundry hereditary
officials around the Arab world—which is second to none. Indeed, as one
of the "Elders," the independent group of global leaders brought
together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, Brahimi has a global diplomatic
reputation based on strong principles.
Of course, he picks up the Syria baton that his fellow Elder, Kofi
Annan, did not so much drop as cast it aside in disgust. I had always
suspected that Annan's intention was to test to the limit the sincerity
of Moscow and Beijing—and he did. But their shamelessness knows fews
bounds. Brahimi is a logical successor—an astute choice by Ban Ki-moon.
To affirm Brahimi's diplomatic bona fides one need look no further
back than his work in Iraq as U.N. special envoy in the dark days after
the U.S. invasion, when he was roundly attacked by Israel's U.N. envoy,
The occasion was Brahimi's "undiplomatic" lapse into the truth, when
he told a French radio station that Israeli policies toward
Palestinians, and Washington's support for those policies, hindered his
search for a transition government in Baghdad. "The problems are linked,
there is no doubt about it," he said. "The big poison in the region is
the Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the
Brahimi complained of the difficulty of dealing with Iraqis in the
face of "Israel's completely violent and repressive security policy and
determination to occupy more and more Palestinian territory."
The more things stay the same—the worse they get! Now of course,
Israel has occupied even more territory than anyone conceived possible.
In Iraq, and previously in Afghanistan, Brahimi's credibility and
reputation for integrity enabled him to pull together disparate elements
into coalitions of the grudging, at least. As the endgame in Syria
looks far off and bloody, if anyone can pull off a compromise among the
various elements, it has to be him—not least since he is securely
insulated against allegations of being part of any terrorist or Zionist
It is just possible that his veteran Third World credentials—almost
in at the foundation of the Non Aligned Movement—might give him more
credibility to dissuade the Russians and Chinese from their support for
the Syrian regime, which is every bit as unprincipled as Washington's
unconditional support for Israel.
Target Iran or Target Obama?
As Syria disintegrates and Hillary Clinton wrings her hands, the
secretary of state must console herself that the mass killings there
take attention away from Iran—which Israel is threatening to attack.
These are times when it appears that we are observing a parallel
universe in which the laws of logic and reason have been spun around, in
which the Red Queen often believes three impossible things before
The psychopathic wing of the Israeli government wants to attack Iran,
no matter what arguments against that reckless and illegal action are
produced. Frankly, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu one cannot be
sure whether this is a pathological hatred of any rival military power
in the region—in which case, with Syria and Iraq gone, if Iran were
removed from the equation then one could suspect that Turkey would
suddenly move up the pariah ladder.
But it is equally probable that the Israeli prime minister wants to
ensure that President Barack Obama is not re-elected. Netanyahu has what
we can only hope are substantial fears that a second-term Obama would
remember all the insults and campaigns waged against him by the
right-wing Israeli leader, as well as the U.S. president's own tarnished
international reputation because he allowed Netanyahu to thwart his
earlier outreach to the Arab and Muslim world.
We have come a long way since the Zimmerman telegram—it is now the hasbara leak.
The current bright ideas emanating from the Israel lobby—sorry, I mean
senior Middle East advisers in Washington—really tax belief. In an Aug.
17 New York Times op-ed, Dennis Ross, the former Clinton
administration Middle East peace coordinator who currently is a
"counselor" at the AIPAC spin-off Washington Institute for Near East
Policy, advised that the way to stop Israel from attacking Iran was to
give it the bunker busters, tanker planes and other weaponry necessary
for it to attack Iran effectively.
So, the way to stop Jack the Ripper was to leave large bags of
surgical instruments about for him? Along similar lines, the Israeli
leak factory Debkafile declared that Obama was going to pledge that the
U.S. will attack Iran later, in order to abort Netanyahu attacking
So Israel, which does not have the capability to attack Iran on its
own, will refrain from doing so only if the U.S. provides it with the
weaponry to do so, or attacks in its place. And the reward would be that
Netanyahu would have succeeded in his main aim, which is to make Obama a
What is missing here is any sense that the Iraq debacle taught
America's various pro-Likud factions anything at all about international
law, let alone international relations. There is no legal mandate
whatsoever for Israel, or indeed the U.S., to attack Iran. On the
contrary, the constant threats from Israel would possibly constitute a
defense for a pre-emptive attack by Iran on Israeli, and maybe even
U.S., military positions. Certainly under the version of international
law espoused by both of them on various occasions, Iran could justify,
say, mining Israeli harbors!
Of course, in reality Iran is not in a superpower position that could
support such novel legal interpretations. But consider Obama. He has
spent his first term embroiled in two wars, one of which he opposed not
least because Bush began it against international law and without U.N.
authority, allegedly on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. intelligence, and many Israeli intelligence authorities, aver
firmly that Iran does not (yet, at least) have a nuclear military
program or capability. Indeed its leading political and religious figure
issued a fatwa against such immoral weapons.
The U.N. is not going to threaten to issue an ultimatum to Iran to
stop a program it does not have—so if Obama were to go ahead, his
position would be even weaker than that of George W. Bush.
That is, of course, quite apart from the human casualties and
financial consequences for a fragile U.S.—and, indeed, global—economy of
a war that would threaten much of the world's oil supplies.
Washington Echoes Tel Aviv's "Advice"
In that context, it is reassuring that Ban Ki-moon scorned
Netanyahu's "advice" to stay away from September's Non Aligned Summit in
Tehran. Indeed, he boldly also repudiated similar U.S. advice as well.
With a straight face, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told
reporters that Iran "is a country that is in violation of all kinds of
U.N. obligations and has been a destabilizing force."
Most of the Non Aligned, indeed most of the world, might think that a
country building illegal settlements in defiance of U.N. resolutions
and constantly threatening to make war on another country fitted that
description better than Iran, no matter what reservations they had about
Tehran's human rights policy or support for Syria.
Hillel Neuer, who founded "U.N. Watch" to scrutinize the world
organization—albeit only in relation to Israel—condemned Ban's
attendance but urged him to "at the very least, bring with him the
latest U.N. General Assembly resolution detailing Iran's massive human
rights violations, the report by the Human Rights Council's Iran monitor
documenting the country's 'striking pattern of violations of
fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law,' and the
six Security Council resolutions on Iran's illegal nuclear program."
In its way, all that is fair enough. But we wonder when U.N. Watch
ever called upon the secretary-general to take the much longer list of
resolutions addressing Israeli crimes to Mr. Netanyahu.
Tapping the same rich vein of chutzpah, Israel's Soviet-born
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sent a letter to the foreign
ministers of the Middle East Quartet, calling on them to press for new
elections in the Palestinian Authority to replace President Mahmoud
Abbas. In a whole new dimension of chutzpah, Lieberman described Abbas, seen by many Palestinians as a little too pacific, as "an obstacle to peace."
"The Palestinian Authority is a despotic government riddled with
corruption," Lieberman wrote. "This pattern of behavior has led to
criticism even within his own constituency. Due to Abbas' weak standing
and his policy of not renewing the negotiations, which is an obstacle to
peace, the time has come to consider a creative solution, to think
'outside the box,' in order to strengthen the Palestinian leadership."
As his comrade in buffoonery, Humpty Dumpty, said, "When I use a
word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
Lieberman's concern with "strengthening" the Palestinian leadership is
an example of outstandingly Orwellian doublethink, worthy of Goebbels.
His government has locked up any strong Palestinian leadership whenever
it gets the chance—and, to underscore its contempt, defied U.N. and EU
censure to announce the building of yet more settlements in East
Jerusalem for Jews only.
U.N. Watch of course, maintains total silence on that inconvenient issue.
After three weeks of bowdlerization/editing, the United Nations Association of the US, who for two weeks said they were going to run this, decided they couldn't. This is an earlier version. Their timorous attitude suggests why, despite many admirable local chapters and active members, the national leadership of the UNA has made little or no impact in DC.
The concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has gained more quickly quicker than anticipated.
Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.
it is no consolation for beleaguered Syrians, the concept of
Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has moved to general acceptance much
more rapidly than many of those who steered the 2005 World Summit
declaration expected at the time. They saw it as a first, almost
tentative, step on a Long March to global acceptance. In 2009, for
example, only four manifestly expediently motivated states (Venezuela,
Cuba, Sudan, and Nicaragua) expressed any wish to rescind the 2005
decision—despite the latter’s foreign minister pushing that view in his
capacity as President of the General Assembly.
In the recent UN General Assembly debate on R2P, few delegates
questioned the principle itself. Indeed, the Assembly, representing
mostly the smaller states which are supposedly so concerned about their
sovereignty, had already overwhelmingly supported action in Syria and
were clearly as unhappy with the Russian and Chinese abuse of veto power
as they often are with Washington’s. Countries like Brazil and other
“middle powers” have been actively working out methods of ensuring that
R2P can be implemented over expedient superpower objections - while
making sure those powers do not abuse the principle as, for example,
some of them tried in Iraq.
Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, now President of the
University of Winnipeg, comments, “In 10 years [R2P] has moved from a
concept to a principle to a basis for some action. It has had a very
fast track, going from being accepted as a concept, on to being
enshrined in the 2005 resolution to being cited in the Libya Security
Council resolution. If you think about the ways the world runs, the
present nation states have been around for about 250 years, while R2P
has only been around for ten—and it has made huge inroads. It clearly
struck a response: people really understand that sovereignty is not
However, on Syria, Axworthy sees “A perfect storm of self interest.
Putin coming back to the presidency in Russia, [President Obama] coming
up for reelection reluctant for stronger action, the EU financial crisis
where the Europeans got cold feet. My own country now has a very
conservative government that does not recognize R2P. The major players
needed to make R2P work have been absent.”
Axworthy also admits that the current form of R2P suffers from the compromises that were needed to pass the concept initially.
The concept of humanitarian intervention flew in the face of the
founding principle of the United Nations. Despite the reference in the
preamble of the Charter to “We the Peoples,” the UN has always stood for
national sovereignty, as well as the somewhat idealistic notion of
equality that gives China the same vote as Nauru in the General
Assembly, even if the pragmatism of the veto for the larger powers
tempered that metaphysical concept.
In that respect, the UN has been more successful than people give it
credit. There might have been annexations, but with few exceptions those
have yet to be accepted as legitimate by the world community—whether
Kuwait or East Timor. Mired in exegesis about sovereignty, however, the
organization failed in Rwanda and the Balkans, just as it had failed the
Kurds and Shi’a in Iraq.
The two principles intersected with the second Iraq War in 2003,
which, as Kofi Annan admitted, had no UN legitimacy whatsoever, and
which terminally polluted the concept of humanitarian intervention when
British PM Tony Blair expediently added it to the list of dodgy excuses
for the war.
Just as “ethnic cleansing” became a near synonym for genocide, so
“humanitarian intervention” was transformed to signify Western
neocolonialism under camouflage of do-gooding. That made the achievement
of Annan, Axworthy, and the others so much more creditable when they
shepherded R2P through the GA. For those who scorn the weaselly language
of diplomacy, the evolution of R2P is instructive not least for the way
it neatly replaced the degraded phrase of humanitarian intervention.
The failings of the 2005 Declaration are part of the price it took to
get the concept accepted. Axworthy points out that the delicate
negotiations had to stroke susceptibilities about expedient use of the
concept, so “every sentence in the crucial paragraph 139 of the Outcome
Document repeats verbatim the formula that prescribes the only four
events agreed to trigger rise to R2P’s application: genocide, war
crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”
That, he points out, narrows the scope. “Simply measure the elements
of risk. … Disasters, environmental disasters, changes, refugees,
desertification in Sahel or hurricanes in Caribbean,” and of course,
shortly afterwards, we had governments refusing international aid for
populations devastated by storms and floods. What does that mean for
R2P, if your life is threatened? It doesn't matter if it’s a new
epidemic virus or environmental disaster or an AK47 transcending
boundaries, if you can’t feed your kids.” Within three years in 2008,
the world looked on horrified as the government of Burma decided its
sovereignty was more important than rescuing typhoon victims.
Even so, he considers that “It’s very healthy that it is now a basis
for discussion. But there has to be a better balance between those who
lean to the Old Westphalian system, and establishing an international
framework, ensuring that it is used positively for a practical function
and not for fairly narrow purposes. Safeguards issues should be built on
exit issues, early warning issues, some form of constabulary."
He cites Libya, as “a case in which political will (largely inspired
by strong regional calls for action) combined with R2P’s principles to
produce effective action to stop a threatened atrocity. The Security
Council’s steadily escalating responses included sanctions, referral to
the ICC, an arms embargo and then the imposition of a ‘no fly zone.’
These culminated in the Council’s authorization of ‘whatever steps may
be necessary’ to protect the Libyan population.”
It is sad but true that often in the court of world public opinion
actions that are entirely justifiable in themselves can be damned as
expedient because opponents can point to other cases that implied
impunity. Why is it so insufferable to allow the Libyan or Syrian
governments to murder—but not Bahrain? Why should the world unite to
stop the shelling of Homs, but nod understandingly when Gaza comes under
fire? So, although the Russians and Chinese did not directly veto the
action, they used it to mitigate effective action.
They might not have been that attached to Gaddafi’s survival but they
used the exigencies that the compromise resolutions forced on NATO and
the Arab League first to hamper effective action and then to decry it as
going too far. It gave them the traditional prerogatives of the harlot:
power without responsibility. As a result, Axworthy points out, “Part
of the problem is that the way the Libyan thing ended up, since it did
end up looking like the white guys in suits running the world.” That
perception obviously plays to the pro-Assad gallery at the UN --
although his friends are noted more for their obduracy and power than
the number. But one of the reasons the P5 still have a real veto is that
they are among the few powers that could threaten a force projection
that would be effective in R2P."
The veto will stay for the foreseeable future, although, just like
R2P itself, that should not stop the small and medium powers waging a
campaign of attrition against it. Somewhat naively the original Axworthy
Commission looked to the GA and “the Uniting for Peace Resolution” as a
means of bypassing the veto if the P5 refused to accept limits. But the
US, which had originated the bypass mechanism to bypass unreasonable
Soviet vetoes has since denied it when the Palestinians brought into
play to bypass what most of the world sees as equally unreasonable
vetoes on behalf Israel.
“What we are missing is a voice around the issue that can contend
with these things, that can raise issues,” concludes Axworthy—even as he
points out that the Harper government in Ottawa has effectively
abandoned the high moral ground Canada once had.
Although Susan Rice is a strong supporter of the concept, the US and
even President Obama are hamstrung by domestic politics in relation to
Israel and the veto. Looking around the world, there is a distinct
shortage of the presence that could once have shamed Moscow and Beijing,
let alone the financial clout to make them listen.
It is fortunate that SG Ban Ki Moon is a strong supporter of R2P, but
his diplomatic work-style is built on strong talking in private but
less ostentatious, albeit firm, statements in public. He lacks that
concentration of global influence that Annan could call upon -- and he
has surely been trying.
R2P as a concept might have arrived sooner than expected -- but who
would have expected such an almost complete absence of ethics and
charisma in world capitals. Almost, with Syria, the endgame might depend
on the Ba’athist regime doing something silly to provoke Turkey to
invoke the traditional right of self-defense, as did for example
Vietnam, Tanzania and India to halt atrocities in neighboring countries.
It would not be the best outcome for international law, the UN or
R2P—or for that matter, the Syrians.
More realistically, those Middle Powers could put their efforts
together with those of Ban Ki Moon and his new Deputy Jan Eliasson to
press the recalcitrant superpowers to show them that there is a price,
diplomatic or financial, for covering for mass murder. Ian Williams has written for newspapers and magazines around the
world. He is currently writing a book on the Americans who blame the
United Nations for all the ills of the United States. For more by Ian Williams visitDeadline Pundit.
Obama may have disappointed, but a Republican in the White House would be bad news for the world, warns Ian Williams
by Ian Williams
Tribune October 4th, 2012
Barack Obama has under-fulfilled his own modest promises in many
respects, but compared with the Philistine farrago of his opponents’
positions, only the tried and tested school of Masochism-Leninism could
wish for his defeat or do anything like abstention that would assist a
victory for the Grand Old Party.
In the face of an unrelenting and unprecedented war of attrition by
Republicans on Capitol Hill, Obama does have some solid achievements. In
the fuzzy logic of political calculus, the President eschews
grandstanding about what he has done, not least since, when outwitting
your somewhat dim opponents, it is not clever to explain your tricks.
Apart from the healthcare bill that, despite its faults, infuriates
the GOP to the extent that it tries to repeal it on a weekly basis, the
last budget compromise possibly saved the world economy by smuggling in a
stimulus package whose passage was dependent on it not appearing as
That has been good in terms of pragmatic – one might almost say
Fabian – tactics. But it underestimates the attachment of the American
electorate to theo-ideological appeals – and voters’ aversion to
In a country where almost half of the population are creationists,
climate change deniers and so many Republican voters think their
President is a foreign-born Muslim, it is hardly surprising that
American voters in their untold millions are convinced that Obama has
increased their taxes and that the economy
has worsened during his first term.
Obama’s tactical call is to decide when he broaches the big ideas.
This carries dangers. Attracting the independent-minded voters who look
at technical details like reality could conflict with the communitarian
ideals that he needs to rally his own core supporters and motivate them
to turn out to vote.
It is Obama’s acute dilemma: he has to win over the independents, who
often do vote, and yet motivate the traditionally abstaining minorities
and poverty-stricken who, with some good reason, fail to see what a
battle between different bankers’ surrogates has to offer them.
In both cases, his biggest asset is inadvertent: the insouciant
cretinism of his opponents. It might be observed that the Mitt
Romney-Paul Ryan ticket is taking the shape of a Dan Quayle and Sarah
Palin duet to disaster. Romney’s comments on the 47per cent whom he puts
in the position of spongers, dependent on the largesse of a state
funded by people like him, will certainly upset many.
But we are not talking about a group of avid readers, even if the
video leak of his speech to wealthy fundraisers had made as much of
splash in the media as it should have done. Is the world really ready
for a devout former Mormon bishop in the White House who will tell his
backers whatever they want in order to gain power?
There was little or no fuss when it was revealed that Romney’s
“charitable” donations were, in fact, mostly tax-deductible tithes to
the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Faced with the doctrinaire reality detached nature of current
Republican positions, it could almost be reassuring that Romney is so
gymnastically flexible in his positions. However, that tactical
flexibility is a thin veneer on a harsh and selfish neo-liberal, Mormon
As befits an American bred religion founded on the search for golden
treasure and disciplined hierarchy, the Mormon Church has not exactly
been in the forefront of American progress.
Romney does have a communitarian vision of sorts. Along with a
pattern of patriarchal sexist authoritarianism, his record as a Mormon
bishop includes many examples of care –within the church community.
Similarly, his fundraising talk shows that he prepared to extend the
LDS community of blessed, provident and self-sufficient Americans to
include the general congregation of committed “self-made” and
self-reliant billionaires – the “Church of Lucky Damn Sods”, as it were.
Of course, such definitions of self-made persons exclude any help from
rich parents, conspiracies with rich insider colleagues and similar
examples of divine providence.
Here, his expedient running mate comes into his own. Apart from the
general inclination to shovel money from the poor to the rich that he
shares with Romney, Paul Ryan is a true believer – in an atavistic form
of Catholicism which is so reactionary that it outflanks Franco on the
right and ignores half a century of Roman Catholic developments in
social concern. Ayn Rand meets Savanorola, in his peculiar worldview.
Both Mormonism and Ryan’s Catholicism share an unhealthy
pre-occupation with how people screw each other sexually that covers
their with enthusiasm for mass financial rape by the rich. People who
need food stamps to feed their kids will vote for candidates who oppose
abortion – but will take away their food stamps.
When Ryan produced his deficit reduction plan, which every sane
economist saw as an extended plan for euthanising the United States
economy while amputating the last vestiges of the New Deal, the
mainstream punditocracy greeted it with respectful clucks. It was like
watching the emperor’s new clothes being made in front of your eyes.
So that is why the Romney-Ryan ticket is still in with a chance.
While a refreshing number of people do remember that the financial crash
came on non-person Bush’s watch, far too many have been mesmerised into
thinking that taxes are too high, as are (everybody else’s) welfare
They think that the deficit is the biggest problem – except when it comes to military spending (which Ryan wants to increase).
So, this presidential election does make a difference. Obama’s
technocratic competence and attenuated concern for the disadvantaged,
not to mention seeing his feet on the ground of the New Deal and the
real economy, is in total contrast with the unmitigated disaster
promised by the opposition.
The Masochist-Leninists are probably beyond hope, but we can hope
that the Romney-Ryan double act can persuade the poor and minorities who
see Republican attempts to clear them from voting rolls, who see their
healthcare evaporating, and their jobs and even unemployment benefits
threatened, to turn out on the day.
If any of them claims voting does not make a difference, they should
be directed to Britain’s former mining towns, where Margaret Thatcher
showed that it did.