The BuzzTNI's Daily Media Monitor
Imagine that your great grandfather or great grandmother was an undocumented Irish immigrant who came to America. Maybe he stowed himself in the belly of a cargo ship between sacks of flour dreaming of the Statue of Liberty. Maybe she came to visit a friend in Boston but stayed forever. Your parents grew up in America. So did you. Maybe you even have a young child who speaks fluent English and wears Nikes. Your child has never been to Ireland and speaks no Gaelic.
Now imagine that the United States passed a law today retroactive to the 1920s decreeing that due to the migratory status of a family member two generations ago who you never met, you are not a U.S. citizen and have no nationality. You are stateless, without access to education or any other rights in the only country you have ever known.
So it is in the Dominican Republic, where nearly two hundred thousand people will be rendered without citizenship of any nation due to a baffling ruling by the Constitutional Court last week. The court ruling, which cannot be appealed, states that children of undocumented Haitian migrants, even those born in the Dominican Republic more than eighty years ago, are no longer entitled to the citizenship previously afforded them. Authorities have been instructed to examine all birth records in the DR back to the summer of 1929 to determine who will lose their citizenship.
The New York Times interviewed a woman affected by this massive legal change:
“I am Dominican,” said Ana María Belique, 27, who was born in the Dominican Republic and has never lived anywhere else, but has been unable to register for college or renew her passport because her birth certificate was no longer accepted. “I don’t know Haiti. I don’t have family or friends there. This is my home.”
While admitting so may be difficult for Dominicans, the DR is a country largely built on cheap Haitian labor. Approximately 83% of the braceros or sugar-cane workers in the country are of Haitian descent and often paid less than $2.50 a day, if at all. The Dominican Republic is the Caribbean’s second-largest producer of sugar cane, trailing only Cuba, and the plant continues to be the country’s most important crop, comprising the biggest portion of agricultural GDP, in a country where 30 percent of the land is used for farming.
In short: The Dominicans don’t want the Haitians to leave, but they also don’t want them to be Dominicans.
In order to accommodate this backward desire, Dominican migration director José R. Taveras indicated that this large class of people stripped of nationality would be given permits allowing their temporary residence until they can be given some immigrant status that does not include Dominican citizenship.
Even before this ludicrous sea change in what qualifies a person for citizenship, many Dominicans of Haitian descent faced racism and uncooperative authorities when trying to obtain the proper documents for passports and other legal matters.
According to the New York Times,
People born on Dominican soil, with some exceptions, generally were granted citizenship for generations. But people of Haitian descent often complained of discriminatory practices when getting official documents, and in recent decades the country’s civil registry officials often excluded the children of migrants whose papers were in question by considering their parents “in transit.”
This is of course despite the fact that the parents or grandparents were not in transit at all but had been brought to the DR on labor contracts by Dominicans and that now multiple generations of these Dominican-born citizens of Haitian heritage had made their permanent home there. In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights publicly denounced this practice as a way of purposefully discriminating against life-long Dominicans.
Historian Edward Paulino recently illuminated this struggle, saying of the DR, “It is a country of immigrants, but no other group is like the Haitians, which arrived with the cultural baggage of a history of black pride in a country that chose to identify with the European elite.” Indeed, it is thought that up to 84 percent of the Dominican Republic’s population is truly of African descent, yet in a 2011 federal census 82 percent identified as indio whereas just a bit over 4 percent identified as black. Discrimination and racism against Haitians is still widespread, even garnering it’s own word: antihaitianismo. For further reading, I would refer readers to the Parsley Massacre of October 1937, a Dominican government-sponsored ethnic cleansing in which twenty thousand Haitians were killed in five days. How a person pronounced the Spanish word for parsley, “perejil,” determined if they were killed. Haitian creole speakers had difficulty rolling their r’s and paid with their lives.
With or without the discriminatory evidence behind this new ruling in mind, it seems to be a complete violation of common sense to retroactively apply a new standard for citizenship, changing the status of 12 percent of a country’s population. Further, it appears an incident of legal schizophrenia since the original Constitution outlined citizenship as jus soli, changed only by a Constitutional amendment in 2010 to exclude Haitians going forward.
Perhaps most reprehensible is that the Dominican means of “solving” this issue, temporary permission to stay but no citizenship, will create a cycle of more nationless people being born into seeming indenture in the Dominican underclass, with no financial means to flee to another country and no country to call their own even if they could. It bears noting that the DR signed the 1961 U.N. Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, whereby sovereign states agree to reduce the incidence of statelessness in the world. This Constitution Court ruling and its reverberations seem to entirely contravene the spirit of that agreement. One can only hope that some judge ruling on the matter finds out rather unpleasantly that he is no longer a Dominican citizen, thereby disqualifying him from making such a wrongheaded decision in the first place.
Images: Flickr/Alex E. Proimos. CC BY-NC 2.0.
The New York Times has produced what must be the most comprehensive public account so far of the Obama administration’s internal deliberations on Syria. A few things are noteworthy. The administration comes off rather well--once you discount that it lacks a strategic vision. Most officials, even some with hawkish reputations, are painfully aware of the complexities and complications that bedevil every U.S. policy option. Many figures live up to their popular reputations. Samantha Power says to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, “if you had met the rebels as frequently as I have, you would be as passionate as I am” about aiding them. Susan Rice, by contrast, warns that deeper involvement “could consume the agenda of the president’s second term,” a remark that ironically parallels her much-regretted Rwanda quip: “if we use the word genocide and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?” Tellingly, the Times’ otherwise long and detailed narrative offers little information on Obama’s decision to push a Syria intervention through Congress. There is even less about the decision to accept the Putin plan. This is further testament to the hastiness of both moves.
At moments, McDonough comes off well, resisting Power’s “passion” for armed salvation and hewing closely to the president’s own perspective. One might be tempted to call his instincts “realist.” The Times account shows such hopes are misplaced, revealing McDonough’s ultimate stance as pressure grew within the administration for closer ties to the rebels:
Mr. McDonough, who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria....Mr. McDonough argued that the status quo in Syria could keep Iran pinned down for years. In later discussions, he also suggested that a fight in Syria between Hezbollah and Al Qaeda would work to America’s advantage.
Patiently watching as ones’ challengers turn on each other might seem like the height of realism. Yet here it’s more of a cartoon-villain caricature of realism - one in which statesmanship means coolly tolerating any amount of death, destruction, and chaos, so long as it is visited upon the enemy. Yet that’s not realism - it’s barely distinct from nihilism. While actual realists have often given less weight to moral and emotional concerns, they do it out of regard for broader strategic interests, not out of a beggar-thy-neighbor thirst for blood. And adding any strategic breadth to McDonough’s view shows its weakness.
In absolute terms, the war is putting great pressure on a number of American friends. Refugees swamp Jordan and Turkey, and add to the social challenges facing Europe. Israel faces new instability on its border. Lebanon is on the brink of civil war - or, strictly speaking, closer to the brink than usual. U.S. differences with Saudi Arabia have been thrown into sharp relief. The Kurdish question has become even more complex, with potentially grave implications for stability in Iraq and for Turkey’s attempts to resolve its internal Kurdish troubles. Long-standing Middle Eastern borders are now being questioned. Relations with Russia have become more tense. Sectarian tensions stoked by the conflict have led to violence around the globe - including against Americans. It’s hard to see why we should root for all this to continue.
McDonough might answer that our Middle East policy still centers on two areas of concern: Iranian power and the threat of Sunni terrorism. That these forces are now focused on each other and not on us could be seen as a relative victory, even if there have been serious costs on other fronts. This view is also mistaken, and for multiple reasons. Jihadists, and to a lesser extent Iran, are deeply dissatisfied with the current regional order. It has deliberately marginalized and suppressed them both. The United States, however, finds the present arrangement more agreeable than most plausible alternatives. The Syrian conflict has chipped away at the foundations of that order, presenting opportunities for those it keeps out. The black banner of jihad now flies openly and proudly over parts of Syria - unimaginable just a few years ago.
Rising sectarianism can also play into our rivals’ hands. Arab Shia are now more likely to be targeted - and accordingly more likely to accept Iranian and Hezbollahi friendship. Iran has suffered a huge and expensive loss of influence in Syria, but its power over Syria’s remains has grown as Assad has turned from ally to dependent and as Iranian-tied militias have sprung up. Iran will now have to be included in any Syrian peace deal, and that wasn’t the case when the conflict first began. And Sunnis infuriated by the Alawi-Shia butchery of their coreligionists are more susceptible to the anti-Shia narratives of takfiri extremists.
Worse still is the excellent social-networking opportunity the war has produced for extremists of all stripes. Iran has new friends inside Syria, and it has deepened its ties to Iraqi Shia militias involved the conflict. And the war has been a magnet to Sunni jihadists around the globe, who are now in Syria making connections, being radicalized and learning how to fight. Osama bin Laden emerged from a previous international jihad campaign. This time it may be worse. Hundreds of the jihadist fighters in Syria come from Western countries. What happens when they come home? Keeping them out only partially solves the problem - a jihadist with nowhere to return to may be left with no alternative but continued jihadism.
McDonough’s view that the Syrian civil war serves American interests is unpersuasive. The only beneficiaries of continued violence in Syria are Bashar Assad and Al Qaeda. The United States - like Iran, like Israel, like everyone else - is losing.
Image: Wikicommons/Pete Sousa
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick have joined the debate over how the Obama administration should address the conflict in Syria. Writing in the Daily Beast on Tuesday – the release date of their profoundly misleading The Untold History of the United States, which the Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz has correctly dismissed as “less a work of history than a skewed political document, restating and updating a view of the world that the independent radical Dwight Macdonald once likened to a fog, ‘caused by the warms winds of the liberal Gulf Stream coming in contact with the Soviet glacier’--but now more than twenty years after the dissolution of the Soviet empire”– they suggest a new course for Washington’s Syria policy. But Stone and Kuznick flatter themselves. The impracticability of their policy prescriptions--which are themselves outgrowths of a specious view of America’s place in the world--means their proposals should not be taken any more seriously than their history.
Since the Syrian rebellion erupted in March 2011, a large and growing body of scholarship, studies, and commentary regarding the root causes of unrest there and elsewhere during the Arab Spring has emerged, with explanations ranging from rejection of autocratic rule to greater global interconnectedness enabled by information technology. That Stone and Kurznick merely point to economic issues – high poverty and unemployment levels – and sectarianism as the conditions that made Syria “ripe for an explosion” suggests that neither has delved too deeply into the existing literature.
Their suggestion that America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 “helped unleash the sectarian passions that now roil Syria” is ahistorical in the extreme: since 1966, Syria has been brutally ruled by members of the Alawite sect, who make up around twelve-percent of Syria’s overwhelmingly Sunni-majority population. “Sectarian passions” are old news in Syria; older, even, than the first Iraq War. It gets better: the U.S., according to Stone and Kurznick, is also largely responsible for the droughts that, starting in 2006, devastated Syrian agriculture, exacerbating the economic factors purportedly responsible for the uprising. They reference a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report from 2011 that argued that the cause of the increased frequency of Mediterranean droughts, including Syria’s, was man-made climate change, something which Stone and Kurznick assert “the U.S., most pointedly and most shamefully, still refuses to take seriously.” Yet the United States is hardly the sole cause of climate change, and Stone and Kurznick give minimal attention to the host of other factors behind Syria’s agricultural problems - including Syrian government policies that ThinkProgress said had “criminally combined mismanagement and neglect of Syria’s natural resources.”
In fact, one could be forgiven for concluding that Stone and Kurznick see America as the root of all the world’s ills, or at least all of its wars. Indeed, they even go so far as to suggest that the U.S. is standing in the way of putting “the world back on a path toward peace.” Stone and Kuznick agree with interventionists that “something needs to be done” in Syria, but “not a military strike” or arming the rebels. Since “a solution will not come from solely within Syria – at least not in the near future”, one “will have to be imposed from without”; that is, via “unified U.N. Security Council action”. While the authors note that efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis through the Security Council have been blocked by Russian and Chinese vetoes, they neglect to mention that these vetoes were cast against Western-led efforts to potentially use military force in or impose sanctions on Syria. But the authors suggest that the substance of these proposed efforts was not why Russia and China vetoed.
What then could explain the repeated opposition by Russia and China in the Security Council? Maybe Russia sees standing up for its Syrian client and against the West as a means to recoup some of its Soviet-era global sway. Perhaps Russia also wants to maintain access to its naval facility in Tartus. It’s certainly plausible that China is just following Russia’s lead, and would back down if and when Russia does. Both countries have extensive defense and trade ties with the Assad regime, and thus might want to keep it afloat; this surely counts for something.
Imagine that America’s relations with Russia and China dramatically improved overnight, thereby, following the authors’ logic, enabling cooperation on Syria. What would cooperation on Syria look like, and what could be accomplished cooperatively then that cannot be done today? Would Russia and/or China somehow compel the Assad regime to hand over power? Would all elements of the highly fragmented opposition be asked to lay down their arms, and would all comply? Would Russia, China, and the U.S. cooperate in using force to compel an armistice and maintain peace? Stone and Kuznick offered no answers for they have none. What they offer is shallow chest-thumping masquerading as policy proposals.
This is surely not the last time the team of Stone and Kuznick will instruct the rest of us in how America should conduct its foreign policy. Let’s hope, against the odds, that next time their little suggestions might actually be workable and suited to solving real-world problems. After all, this is not just show business.
Image: George Wiman. CC BY-SA 3.0.
The status of Jews in Europe remains a delicate one. At least that is what a new survey by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights suggests. The survey, to be released in full in November, found that nearly one quarter of European Jews avoid doing things or wearing symbols that could allow others to identify them as Jewish. And the numbers are worse in some places: Forty-nine percent of the Swedish utopia’s Jews avoid recognizably Jewish clothing and symbols in public. Eighty-eight percent of French Jews said antisemitism has become worse in the last five years. Thirty percent of Hungarian Jews have experienced an antisemitic incident in the past twelve months. And around Europe, two-thirds said reporting assaults and other antisemitic incidents to the police wasn’t worth it, or wouldn’t make a difference.
Surveys like this cast doubt on the belief that the history of the West has been one of steady progress. Sure, the Europeans seem to have finally been civilized, with their bloody, multicentury stream of wars and revolutions supplanted by social democracy and multinational union. But in 2012, reports Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center, France led the world in violent antisemitic incidents.
Who is to blame? The media would have you believe it’s the far right—Greece swarming with Golden Dawn blackshirts and cryptofascists flexing their muscles almost everywhere east of the Elbe. And the Kantor Center documents plenty of far-right violence. But participants in the EU survey, many drawn from Western Europe, saw it differently—just 19 percent pinned it on the extreme right. Twenty-two percent faulted the extreme left. But Europe’s Muslims are cited by 27 percent.
This brand of antisemite has imported the hatred of Jews to countries where it was historically less severe, such as Denmark. Tablet, a Jewish online magazine, relates the tale of Martin Krasnik, a journalist and a liberal Jewish Dane who decided to take a long walk through the immigrant neighborhood of Nørrebro with a yarmulke perched atop his head. He’s quickly harassed—flipped off, told to “go to hell, Jew,” told to his remove his cap, and so forth. There were plenty of threats—men tell him that “we have a right to kick your ass,” that his religion may tell him to wear the yarmulke but that it doesn’t tell him to get killed, that “my cousin killed a guy for wearing a ‘Jewish hat.’” Krasnik was extremely uncomfortable, telling Tablet’s Michael Moynihan that he thought, “If I keep doing this for an hour or two, something will happen. And if I did this everyday, I would get my ass kicked around.”
The rise of Muslim antisemitism in Europe is well documented—and widely ignored. Krasnik told Moynihan that the press and other elites give the phenomenon little attention and little energy—“The mayor of Copenhagen says ‘we will not accept antisemitism, but that we shouldn’t overdramatize the situation. We should breathe calmly, he said.” Moynihan noted that some school principals in heavily immigrant areas have begun warning Jewish parents away. Europe’s multiculturalists prefer to apologize for their more troublesome charges—and to bend native society to accommodate foreigners’ prejudices. Moynihan, again:
At a recent government-sponsored “multicultural festival” in Nørrebro, intended to promote cultural “diversity,” a Jewish group was barred from displaying the Israeli flag. TaskForce Inclusion, one of the Orwellian-named organizers of the event, claimed that the measure was taken as a “safety precaution” (a precaution that applied, it seems, only to Jewish groups and a tacit admission that the mere sight of a Star of David would drive certain other attendees into spasms of violence). One government official later said that, initially, the Jewish group was to be completely excluded for fear of offending Muslim participants.
Modern liberality veils Europe’s history—and it’s the same veil behind which some of Europe’s less pleasant impulses lurk. There is a fatal flaw, after all, in European claims of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism really can enrich societies. And there is no better testament to this than the history of the Jews in Europe. They gave Europe Einstein and Kafka, Freud and Arendt. They made Europe the world’s intellectual center of gravity—until the Europeans killed them and drove them out. So why would Europe’s self-proclaimed multiculturalists sweep their shining example under the rug, unless something more unsavory were at play?
Image: Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski. CC BY-SA 2.0.
Moderates within the Syrian opposition are increasingly losing ground—literally and figuratively—to extremists, and the Obama administration is partly to blame. If this trend persists, America is likely to lose its ability to shape events in Syria, which will have disastrous consequences there and beyond. Worse still, it may already be too late to reverse course.
It has become obvious that the administration’s reluctance to more robustly strengthen Syrian moderates and the extremists’ ascendancy are two sides of the same coin. Largely because radical groups generally have access to higher-power weaponry than what the U.S. has been willing to provide to the moderates, recruits are flocking to the extremists’ ranks.
Nobody should have been surprised by reports late last month that thirteen powerful rebel factions formally broke with the exiled Syrian National Coalition—the political arm of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA)—to form an Islamist alliance that includes the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front. On September 29, in a move that has further marginalized the FSA, at least fifty rebel factions operating mostly around Damascus—where the FSA had been the preeminent rebel force—merged to form the Army of Islam, which aims to topple Assad and institute Sharia law. Liwa al Islam, the central group in the Army of Islam, has become far larger than the FSA.
The administration’s professed desire to empower more moderate elements of the Syrian opposition relative to more extremist ones has backfired. Most fundamentally, this is because the administration has demonstrated that it will provide moderates with only lukewarm support at best, thereby decreasing their ability to effectively fight and, consequently, recruit.
It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that the Obama administration has abandoned the moderates. In June, when the White House decided to provide military assistance to Syrian moderates in response to alleged chemical weapons use by the Assad regime, the rebels hoped that these arms would include game-changing weaponry—such as antiaircraft and antiarmor weapons—and that they would be provided quickly. These hopes were soon dispelled, as efforts to provide arms were held up on Capitol Hill; when deliveries finally began to arrive months later, they reportedly only consisted of light weapons, which are already abundant in theatre. And after the massive chemical attack near Damascus on August 21, hopes that President Obama would enforce his “red line” and launch air strikes against the Syrian regime were also shown to be misplaced; instead, the administration, which last December declared Assad to no longer be the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, is now dealing with him to abolish Syria’s chemical arsenal.
A disconnect clearly exists between where the administration wants to go in Syria, and where it is actually heading. There are clear indications that a guiding aim of its Syria policy is to create a situation whereby both the Assad regime and moderate opposition perceive themselves to be strong enough to come to the negotiating table, but not so strong that they feel they do not need to negotiate. The purported means to achieve this is providing the opposition with arms, training, and other forms of material assistance. Extremist elements of the opposition, meanwhile, will hopefully be left out in the cold.
The recently retired Deputy Director of the CIA, Mike Morell, stated on September 15 that “Assad feels he's winning, so he has absolutely no incentive [to negotiate]. So, enough support has to be provided to the opposition—to put enough pressure on Assad—to bring him to the negotiating table, but not enough support provided to the opposition so that they feel that they don't need to go to the negotiating table.” (When asked whether that support is more or less than Washington had been providing, Morell replied that “I think it’s more.”) The Washington Post reported on October 2 that because the administration seeks a political settlement of the Syrian conflict based on an eventual military stalemate, the CIA is only authorized to provide sufficient support to ensure that moderate, U.S.-backed militias don’t lose, but not enough to enable them to win.
This approach has become divorced from reality.
The notion that Washington can bring about a stalemate in Syria is founded upon the assumption that it can control how strong or weak “the opposition” is. If the opposition were more unified—as it was earlier in the conflict—or if America were the sole or principal backer of the most significant opposition elements, then Washington could conceivably keep its hand on the spigot.
But just as there is not a single, unified Syrian opposition, neither is Washington the rebels’ only outside backer. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, for example, have demonstrated far less risk-aversion than the administration by providing more powerful weapons to factions more extreme than those “supported” by the United States. These outside backers and their hardline proxies will increasingly fill the vacuum created by the declining influence of the moderates and Washington.
The administration’s pussyfooting in Syria has frustrated America’s allies and emboldened its foes. Washington’s regional allies—and Iran—now have less reason to take seriously Obama’s declarations that “all options are on the table” when it comes to the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. U.S. allies who are backing harder-line Syrian rebels will likely remain influential in Syria, yet their disappointment in the administration, and the consequent strain in America’s relations with them, will constrain Washington’s ability to work with them to strive for an outcome that advances U.S. interests. Already, the rise of extremists is alienating Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities, further fracturing the opposition and increasing the likelihood that a post-Assad government—if there ever is a post-Assad government—will be noninclusive and dominated by radicals. Moderates may soon become so marginalized that they and the U.S. cease to count for anything on the battlefield.
A loss of U.S. credibility, and by extension deterrent capability, is bad enough. What’s even worse, though, is that the administration’s handling of the Syrian crisis makes America appear irrelevant, which is simply damning.
The administration seems to be reacting to the extremists’ rise, although this reaction may be too little, too late. According to the October 2 Washington Post article, American officials said the CIA is expanding clandestine efforts to train moderate rebels because “the opposition [is] losing, and not only losing tactically but on a more strategic level.” Yet this training program is only expected to produce a couple hundred trained fighters per month, which U.S. officials said will hardly tip the scales in the moderates’ favor.
It’s remarkable that the administration, despite doing so little for so long, managed to keep the moderates’ expectations of meaningful U.S. support alive for as long as it did, although this is likely more a product of the rebels’ desperation than their faith in the administration. However, the primacy of the extremists could spell the end a period when Washington had the luxury of being able to meander along without taking larger risks and making tougher decisions. Today, the administration essentially has just three options in Syria: go hard, go home, or keep plodding along towards irrelevance.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which today announced its decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, seems increasingly over its head. Following last year’s selection of the European Union, the Committee’s recognition of the OPCW appears likely to further dissipate the value of the Peace Prize and the attention it receives. Taking into account the very real importance of peace and its advocates to the day-to-day lives of millions around the world, one can only hope that the Committee will reevaluate its approach to the award next year.
First, to be clear, the OPCW is a valuable organization that is conducting very important work in destroying Syria’s chemical weapons. The weapons are a grave danger to innocent civilians in Syria and elsewhere and the individuals responsible for safely eliminating them deserve gratitude and praise.
At the same time, however, the OPCW was not pivotal in the chain of events that made its work in Syria possible. The key events were Syria’s entry into the Chemical Weapons Convention and the U.S.-Russian agreement on managing the process in the United Nations Security Council. The people most responsible for those two things were Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, and their diplomats and advisors. Only after their choices and actions did the problem of Syria’s chemical weapons fall into the lap of the OPCW and its staff. In other words, the men and women of the OPCW are simply doing their jobs—albeit demanding and significant jobs.
One can imagine why the Nobel Committee would not want to present the Peace Prize to some or all of Assad, Putin and Obama. In Assad’s case, he is widely believed to have used the weapons and is conducting a brutal civil war. Few admire Putin’s peacemaking—though a Russian parliamentarian did nominate him for the prize—and for many Europeans, Russia’s domestic governance, its war in Georgia, and its heavy-handed attempts at energy diplomacy would likely rule him out. For his part, Obama already received the prize once recently, in advance of any particular accomplishments. Moreover, awarding a peace prize to leader for failing to follow through on threats of military action might lower the bar even further.
What is harder to understand is why in facing this dilemma the Nobel Committee did not choose to focus global attention on another issue instead. There are clearly many other real threats to peace beyond Syria—some of which affect many more people than a tragic civil war inside one country—and many courageous leaders and ordinary citizens working to address them. A variety of contenders have appeared in the press.
Ultimately, the Norwegian Nobel Committee may be trying too hard to send messages through its choices. Committee members probably wanted to make a statement about Syria, but couldn’t identify an individual—or even two or three—who captured the sentiment they wanted to deliver. So they presented the award to the OPCW, which offers maximum clarity of message, but none of the inspiration or excitement that has made the Nobel Peace Prize internationally meaningful in the past. One suspects that they likely followed the same logic chain in selecting the EU last year. But only by selecting specific people, not groups, can the Nobel Committee offer a truly compelling message with real impact.
At the Diplomat, Robert Kelly wonders whether the U.S. decision to back down from attacking Syria may represent the beginning of a process of putting limits on presidential uses of military force. He contends that doing so would be a good thing both from a democratic point of view and for the content of American foreign policy (in that it would reduce the number of ill-considered wars that the country fights). In his words:
These moments are the return of democratic checks-and-balances in a competency where they have been dormant too long and have given us catastrophes like Vietnam, Iraq and a drone war that murders overseas Americans without due-process. These votes may be bad for this or that passing occupant of the West’s high offices, but there are healthy for our democracies and public control of government.
Kelly is no doubt right that as a general rule, when there is not a “clear and present national danger” that precludes legislative deliberation, Congress should vote before the country employs military force abroad. The question is whether the Syria episode actually presages a future in which this is more likely to happen consistently.
One thing that is for sure is that the choice to go to Congress on Syria was not motivated by a newfound appreciation within the executive branch for any legal limitations on its war-making powers. Indeed, in 2011 the administration undertook a larger military intervention in Libya than the one it advocated for Syria without any form of congressional approval. And in his Rose Garden speech announcing his decision to seek such approval on Syria, President Obama said, “I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization.” It’s only because the proposed Syria intervention was so overwhelmingly unpopular among the American public, along with the “no” vote in the House of Commons in Britain, that the administration felt the need to try and get congressional buy-in.
Meanwhile, and conversely, the drone war that Kelly also decries rolls on, with substantial public support. In an April New York Times/CBS poll, fully 70 percent of respondents said that they favored “using unmanned aircraft or ‘drones’ to carry out bombing attacks against suspected terrorists in foreign countries.” Though the pace of drone strikes has decreased since its high a couple years ago, in 2013 the United States has still conducted forty-four strikes in Yemen and Pakistan—roughly one per week.
The campaign against Al Qaeda and its affiliates is legally justified by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). This law was passed by Congress, but that was long enough ago and the AUMF has been stretched far enough that it’s fair to question whether the war that’s being conducted now is genuinely the same one that Congress authorized. Moreover, as Bobby Chesney argues at the New Republic, it may be that even if the AUMF were to expire, the targeted-killing campaign against terrorist organizations could continue with relatively few adjustments simply based on the president’s Article II powers as commander in chief. This isn’t likely to happen—the White House would certainly rather have some sort of congressional sanction underpinning its military actions—but if it did, as long as the conflict maintained high levels of public support, it’s hard to imagine that there would be a significant public outcry.
What this suggests is that the dynamic that restrained Obama from using force in Syria has much more to do with public attitudes about particular wars than it does their views about executive power. Looking at the record of the past half century, there’s not an obvious pattern regarding when presidents feel the need to go to Congress to authorize military action and when they don’t. It varies along with factors such as the extent of the proposed intervention, whether there’s sanction from some international body, whether there is a need for immediate action and the level of public support. In Syria, the proposed intervention was not as extensive as some that have occurred without congressional approval, such as Libya and Kosovo. But it was the apparent unpopularity of the cause (according to Gallup, it would have been more unpopular than any other conflict in recent memory) that offset this fact and convinced Obama to seek approval from Congress.
The legal position that Obama has articulated will certainly not restrain any future president—indeed, a future president could even use it to do exactly the opposite of what Obama did. As Jack Balkin wrote at the Atlantic, “The most important limit on presidential adventurism is political, not legal.” The Syria decision was made in a context in which the United States had already been at war for over a decade, in two major conflicts that had become increasingly unpopular. Moreover, many in both the public in Congress found the administration’s case for war in Syria to be weak. Neither of those things is guaranteed to be true the next time a president wants to use military force abroad. If a future president wants to go around Congress, the Syria episode will give his critics an additional data point to cite, but it will do little more than that. The bigger question will be how American public and elite opinion toward the use of force more generally evolves in the meantime.
A Guardian readers’ poll released Monday suggested that new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani should be given this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. (A poll of Guardian readers, I should note, is not the most mainstream endorsement—Edward Snowden, the leaker formerly known as Bradley Manning and Greenpeace were other top contenders, and the most popular article on the Guardian’s website today is an essay about an artist who photographs his mother having sex.) The bookies don’t agree—teenage womens’ rights activist Malala Yousafzai and Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege are their favorites. Giving Rouhani a Nobel this year would be premature. His accomplishments so far are tentative—he’s freed a few political prisoners, he’s made some vaguely liberal gestures, he’s made a phone call. And, as the Guardian Iran correspondent who nominated Rouhani to the readers notes, he’s “put an end to the embarrassment of the Ahmadinejad years.” A Rouhani Nobel on such grounds would put him in the same controversial category as Barack Obama, who won the prize after only a few months in office, ostensibly for his opposition to nuclear weapons but with reference to how “his diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population”—a tacit slap to George W. Bush’s perceived unilateralism. And as was the case with Obama’s Nobel, the selection committee would likely have buyer’s remorse in the following years. Politics tends to cut idealistic figures down to size, and expectations for Rouhani in some Western circles surpass anything he could deliver, let alone what he would deliver.
So it would be silly to give Rouhani the Nobel this year, even if the prize has been cheapened by its recent shift away from the bloody men who actually make peace and toward more cuddly humanitarian figures. Yet a Rouhani Nobel could significantly increase the odds of good outcomes in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. Rouhani’s approach has caused a political earthquake in Iran, and hardline government figures have, remarkably, offered him public support. But it’s not clear how long that will continue if negotiations get serious. Iranian hardliners continue to believe that the West and especially America cannot be satisfied by any Iranian concession, that we will always hunger for more, that we will not stop until the Islamic Republic falls. The last moderate administration seemed to confirm this narrative—Iran made a number of gestures on the nuclear issue and had some cooperation with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in return was branded a member of the “Axis of Evil.” The moderates were humiliated.
A Rouhani Nobel, however undeserved, could create a mirror image of the Axis of Evil effect. Rouhani’s allies in Iran would brand the prize a triumph. “After so many years of rejection by the West,” they might say, “our approach has earned Iran one of the West’s highest honors! Iran has been accepted by the world without changing its fundamental nature and without humiliating itself.” Hardliners could only reply that the prize is a sign that Rouhani is too close to the West, or that the West is trying to seduce Iran into weakness, or that the Norwegian parliament has become a nest of Zionist intrigue. Most Iranians would favor the moderates’ reasoning. Rouhani winning the Nobel Peace Prize would be a moment of tremendous national pride. This would further establish Rouhani as a powerful figure in his own right. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would have to expend more political capital if he ever feels the need to bring Rouhani to heel. That all adds up to more leverage for Rouhani on the nuclear issue. That’s the best plausible outcome for the United States. And if nothing else, a preemptive Nobel would give Obama and Rouhani something in common for their next phone call.
Why aren’t hundreds of asylum seekers drowning trying to get to Japan? It’s a question that needs to be asked as the horrific tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa focuses world attention. Lampedusa is an acute symptom of a chronic problem—that hundreds of thousands are willing to risk their lives in rickety boats to migrate to other lands. The human toll of this is horrific—between ten and twenty thousand people are estimated to have died off Lampedusa since 1999. And it’s not just Europe. On the other end of the globe, in Australia, the problem has become a white-hot issue. Dozens died en route to Australia just last week; more than six hundred have perished in the last four years.
Why not Japan, too? Like Western Europe, like Australia, Japan is a stable and prosperous liberal democracy—an attractive destination. It’s a long journey, yes, but distance can’t be what’s keeping the boats away—after all, many of those going to Europe come from below the Sahara; many going to Australia come from as far away as Lebanon. Japan is also party to the two major United Nations conventions on refugees, which guarantee certain rights to asylum seekers.
The difference is that Japan is much stricter on immigration, strict enough that it’s likely in violation of its international obligations. Japanese officials use a variety of informal and extralegal means to keep asylum seekers out—and to get those who make it through to leave. European human-rights courts would blanch at such a system.
But off the coasts of Japan, people are not dying in the tens of thousands. Boats are not catching on fire, forcing people who don’t know how to swim into the waves. They aren’t capsizing, trapping people inside them as they sink. And smugglers aren’t profiting amid the horror.
Unlike Japan, Europe retains lax policies. People are granted asylum relatively easily, gaining admittance from countries where conflict simmers or is absent, and not just from all-out Syria-style slugfests. For at bottom, Europe has allowed “asylum-seeker” to become a code-word for “illegal immigrant.” That is the real problem. People know that asylum status can be readily abused—and readily seek to abuse it. German deputy interior minister Ole Schröder noted in 2012 that his country has “two times as many asylum applicants from Serbia as from Afghanistan”—in other words, far many more are trying to claim refuge from a peaceful country than one experiencing a war. Anas al-Libi, captured last week by American commandos in Libya, had spent time living as an asylee in Britain, even after he had been an active al-Qaeda operative for years. A Lebanese-Australian man in Syria recently became his adopted country's first suicide bomber, and violence between pro- and anti-Assad factions has occurred in Australia itself. Europe and Australia do not have an asylum problem—they have an illegal immigration problem. But by swaddling large numbers of illegal immigrants in the protective blanket of asylee status, by treating illegal immigrants as victims, by granting access to economic dynamism (and the welfare state), Europe and Australia encourage the smugglers—and the drownings.
The irony is that this is all done with the best of intentions. In the name of protecting people from government abuses, Europe’s governments are making circumstances in which people place themselves in the hands of abusive smugglers. No longer at the mercy of warlords, they are put at the mercy of the waves.
So it should be no surprise that a continent which has placed intentions over outcomes is reacting to Lampedusa as it is—namely, by painting the tragedy as a result of tough border security. “There is a divide between those who prioritise the saving of lives and those who insist on border enforcement,” blares the Guardian. A Human Rights Watch researcher notes “that security crackdowns on land crossings such as the Greece-Turkey border only displaced migrant flows and often forced more boats into the sea.” (That Europe's people rightly demand their governments maintain reasonably secure borders is left undiscussed in such circles.) Yet tough security isn’t the problem—it’s the solution. If people didn’t think they could get into Europe, didn’t think Europe would give asylum status so freely, and didn’t think they could work in Europe illegally, they’d have little reason to take such risks to get there—unless, unlike the present hordes, they really were fleeing severe persecution, and Europe really were the only place they could go. In turn, if Europe’s leaders canned their loose definition of asylum, they wouldn’t be so afraid to let troubled boats reach Europe’s shores. They wouldn’t be tempted to ignore or turn back boats in distress—sometimes with deadly results—because they could bring people to safety ashore without effectively admitting them to Europe.
There is a further irony here. If Europe’s leaders listened to Europe’s people, they’d have done all that already. Around the world, including in Europe, people tend to dislike mass immigration—legal or illegal. Yet in many places, especially in Europe, policy is set by narrow social and political elites, elites with very different attitudes on such matters. These elites find the nationalism of their inferiors—and of places like Japan—provincial, inhumane and ill-intentioned. But how many ships capsize off inhumane Japan? Perhaps these elites should heed the request that Lampedusa’s mayor made to Italy’s prime minister—to “come down to the island and help me count the bodies.” For in politics, outcomes sometimes count for far more than good intentions.
So far, Israel’s strategy for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons has not failed. But Bret Stephens’ piece in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, “Israel’s Failing Strategy,” provided a fine recipe for ensuring that it will. In it, the neocon columnist surpasses himself.
President Obama, asserts Stephens, has clearly demonstrated his unwillingness to strike Iran and, moreover, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also gone wobbly. Now the United States and Iran are making diplomatic overtures, putting Netanyahu in a political predicament for which “he largely has himself to blame for not acting in time.” To “get out of this trap”, Stephens advocates that Israel should downgrade its relations with Washington and unilaterally strike Iran, irrespective of whether progress is made in US-Iran talks. Any conclusion this outlandish can only be founded on faulty premises, and Stephens’ assessment is no exception.
Stephens wishes “Ehud Olmert were Israel’s prime minister” because, while Olmert “had a demonstrated capacity to act”, evinced by his deciding to strike the suspected nuclear site in Syria in 2007, [i]t isn’t clear that Mr. Netanyahu does.” Something else that’s less than clear is why Stephens thinks Olmert—who has opposed Israel acting alone against Iran—would be any more likely to strike unilaterally than Israel’s current prime minister. Last November, Olmert said that, in order to relieve Israel of the “sole responsibility of the decision to take out Iran” if its nuclear progress came to warrant a military response, “Israel has to be part of an international effort that will be backed by the United States.” In August 2012, Olmert also accused Netanyahu’s government of fomenting “hysteria” over Iran, and argued against the necessity of striking then.
Stephens states that “Israel apparently refrained from attacking Iran a year ago, largely out of deference to Mr. Obama’s electoral calendar”, and asserts that “Israeli policy since” Obama’s reelection “has amounted to one big kowtow to Mr. Obama’s needs, political and diplomatic.” Hardly. Most obviously, over seven months passed between Obama’s reelection and Rouhani’s taking office. In what sense was Netanyahu kowtowing by not acting on a threat that, as he told the UN General Assembly yesterday, “wouldn’t be another North Korea”, but would instead “be another 50 North Koreas?” Whose political or diplomatic needs was he deferring to then?
The notion that Israel has provided the Obama administration “the widest possible latitude to pursue diplomatic initiatives until they prove their futility” is unpersuasive. Is Stephens really suggesting the Netanyahu’s full-court press to oppose U.S.-Iranian rapprochement constitutes giving the initiative “the widest possible latitude” to succeed? Netanyahu’s remark on Tuesday at the General Assembly, that “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone”, was clearly intended to publicly pressure the United States.
The real heart of Stephens’ argument, though, is that he, like Netanyahu, opposes a diplomatic deal because it “would leave Iran first-and-five at the nuclear goal line”; that is, both oppose recognizing Iran’s right to domestically enrich uranium, an ability that Israel sees as synonymous with the ability to produce nuclear weapons. A “meaningful” diplomatic solution, Netanyahu told the General Assembly, would require Iran to “cease all uranium enrichment”, “remove from Iran’s territories the stockpiles of enriched uranium”, and “dismantle the infrastructure for [Iran’s] nuclear breakout capability.” This stance seems to run counter, not coincidentally, to the position of much of the international community, including the United States. Netanyahu alluded to this at the UN, when he disparagingly noted that “There are those who would readily agree to leave Iran with a residual capability to enrich uranium.”
Here are the facts: In February, P5+1 negotiators signaled that they were willing to offer Iran a “clear pathway to a civilian nuclear program” which could eventually encompass a possible recognition of Iran’s right to enrich. The administration hasn’t taken a firm position on whether Iran could be permitted to still domestically produce nuclear fuel, but it has acknowledged Iran’s right to have a civilian nuclear program.
Netanyahu’s contention that “the only diplomatic solution that would work is one that fully dismantles Iran's nuclear weapons program and prevents it from having one in the future” essentially demonstrates his wholesale rejection of diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Is he suggesting that Iran, after enduring years of punishing sanctions, should fully abandon its nuclear ambitions, and have only sanctions relief to show for it? What better way is there to elicit fierce opposition from Iranian hardliners and moderates alike than returning to the status quo ante after gaining nothing?
Stephens asserts that “Israelis need to adapt to a global reality in which the Americans are willing to do less, and consequently count for less.” Since when has America’s worth in the world been a function of its willingness to enter into potentially calamitous adventures abroad, even while diplomatic efforts are underway to prevent a resort to force?
This raises the question of when Stephens believes Israel should “act on its own.” If Israel elects to act, he says, it “must proceed without regard to Mr. Obama’s diplomatic timetable.” Does Stephens seriously think that a unilateral Israeli strike while the US are Iran are exploring a potential diplomatic opening would do anything besides cause Israel to become further isolated internationally and estrange it from its most important ally, just to set Iran’s nuclear ambitions back a couple years?
Yet a military strike, whether by the US or Israel, would jeopardize efforts to heed Netanyahu’s advice on Iran to “distrust, dismantle, and verify.” While it would certainly increase distrust, striking militarily might not fully dismantle Iran’s program, and would almost certainly complicate prospective verification efforts. As Colin Kahl has noted, “if Iran did attempt to restart its nuclear program after an attack, it would be much more difficult for the United States to stop it. An assault would lead Iran to distance itself from the IAEA and perhaps to pull out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty altogether. Without inspectors on the ground, the international community would struggle to track or slow Tehran's efforts to rebuild its program.”
What does this portend for the future of the “special relationship” between the US and Israel? Analysts generally agree that an Israeli strike would set Iran’s nuclear program back by at most two years. So pretend that Israel strikes today. Given that Netanyahu has been pushing for military action on Iran—preferably, in his view, by the United States—throughout his time in office, will the next two years likely be much different than the last four-and-a-half? If Iran attempts to restart its program—which military strikes would almost compel it to do—the result would be an endless cycle, with Iran more and more capable of protecting its nuclear assets and U.S.-Israeli tensions rising with each iteration.
Messrs. Stephens and Netanyahu would have the US follow their arguments down a path toward a future that nobody should welcome.