Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama Must Bring Middle East to the Table

Obama's biggest mistake would be failing to bring the warring parties in the Middle East to the table. While the Arabs must also show their willingness to trust Obama, and be willing to allow him the time to settle down, they will also have to moderate their position if they want peace. On the Iraq front the conditions for a substantial U.S. withdrawal, even if incomplete, is more likely then ever before. Afghanistan will be a bigger challenge as confrontation has never worked in the long and checkered history of the country, and I am not sure that the Obama camp completely understands the complexities of that tribal land.

The Israeli government has given him the first real test of his foreign policy acumen. This adds to the Bush Blunder of Iraq and Afghanistan, where Obama has already made clear his position of disengagement, albeit with a slightly different approach. While in Iraq he would favor a quick withdrawal, in Afghanistan he would want to build up troop strength to overcome the resistance and 'bring peace' to the country. While policy action on both Iraq and Afghanistan are more within Obama's direct purview as the commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, the situation in Gaza is more a test of his diplomatic determination.

Political observers in the Arab world may be banking too much on the Obama administration, hoping it will immediately seek a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and an end to the hostilities. This might be more a result of military realities. But dealing with the political carnage and the lack of trust in the U.S. as an honest broker in the Middle East are the more pressing issues for the Obama team. The expectation of the Obama administration is not to take sides, but more to be fair and even-handed in its dealing with all parties. Whether the issue is Gaza, Iraq or Afghanistan, the world expects the U.S. to restore confidence and be willing to make hard policy choices to bring peace.

On a broader canvas of foreign policy initiatives, Barack Obama will have to re-engage in serious dialogue all of the world actors whom Bush has spent eight long years alienating. Bush created a world where it was assumed, for example, that all Muslims were hell bent on destroying the United States, one in which the onus was on every Muslim to prove he or she was a 'good Muslim.' This clearly is a distorted view of the Muslim world, and it is one of Obama's most serious challenges. It will not be an easy task and there will have to be serious effort on both sides to find trust to engage in a new social set of principles. The 'War on Terror' will have to be replaced with a 'War on Intolerance', anger will have to be replaced with understanding, force will have to be replaced with empathy and most importantly, all must understand that a disjointed world is not in the interest of humanity.

Barack Obama has won the presidency. In the next six months, he has to win the right to be called a world statesman.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Senselessly Barbaric

The ferocity of the attacks by Israel, its use of white phosphorus on civilian populations, its total disregard for women and children dying in Gaza all indicate a rabid barbarism that has not been seen in modern times, all the more as Israel tries so desperately to take the moral high ground on this issue. In the first place it was Israel who on Nov 4, 2008 first raided into Gaza killing Hamas fighters in the raid, and thus broke the ceasefire, there had been no rocket attacks at that point since the last ceasefire. It is convenient to claim that eight years of rocket attacks have caused this invasion is nothing but a spin. While it was acknowledged through the six month ceasefire Hamas has made efforts to stop rocket attacks into Israel there were the odd rouge attack which, even the Human Rights Watch said were hard to stop.

When Israel reinforced the blockade of Gaza on December 19, bringing down the supply trucks to a mere 70 trucks that were allowed in, instead of the 500 hundred a day needed to sustain the population of Gaza, the ceasefire had effectively ended. Irrespective of this technicality, and even assuming the Hamas are entirely to blame for the attacks and the collapse of the ceasefire, how can collective responsibility be set onto the entire population of Gaza? Of the 900 killed the actual number of Hamas fighters are a small percentage, so much so that after the incident of Beit Zaitoun where 30 women and children were killed in a missile attack on a building where the previous day Israeli troops had herded the families in on grounds of it being 'safe', one can only assume that war crimes would be an appropriate word for the way the Israeli army has conducted itself.

The question of the conduct of the war cannot be justified merely on grounds that the Hamas started the war, this is a misplaced logic as it assumes therefore Israel is absolved of any responsibility of the way it conducts the military operation. Israel cannot simply say because of the rockets it attacks it is now morally acceptable to kill women and children in Gaza. Once Israeli spin doctors realized there is just so much that can be blamed on the rocket attacks they changed their tune to say Hamas fighters are using women and children as human shields. This is such a weak and feeble argument that international observers have scoffed at the mere gall of Israeli commentators to even suggest this.

When in an article for Postglobal I used the word 'genocide' I was told it was was using terms that were no appropriate. Perhaps I can concede that, but I would need to know then what is the current horror described as? I am not asking for explanations of what Hamas did, I know they have not been exemplary citizens of the world community. I am asking has Israel lived up to its claim that it takes care 'not to target women and children.'?

World reaction has been appalling as far as the governments of the world are concerned. The people with conscious have spoken up, in the streets of Europe, the US, and Asia, but where is the voice of governments. The Arab League is as good as a society of eunuchs who cannot even condemn the Israeli action without worrying about what the Americans will tell them. As for the US government the measure of ethics has been long since discarded and its shocking that President elect Obama has not even spoken up about the Israeli action. Clearly there is more hope, perhaps misplaced, on him changing the tone of what is happening than anyone else.

For the Arab governments, the Egyptians are playing honest broker half hoping that Hamas is weakened to the point where it is ineffective, in the process ignoring the carnage on the streets of Gaza. The rest of the Arab world is caught up in their own issues or at best ignoring them and none of them have seriously told the US to exert pressure on the Israeli's to stop military actions in Gaza, or atleast end them against civilians.

To consider an enduring peace as a possibility is now all the more difficult as the people of Gaza have suffered to an extent where their hearts are hard and the neglect of the world has become all the more obvious. I merely wish to ask if, whatever the reasons, in a war 40% of the people killed were women and children and this was in Europe, or American or Israeli families had suffered this way would everyone have been quiet. Where is the conscious of the American media which questioned the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam, where soldiers were convicted for shooting down women and children.

This is the image that we need to remember.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Gaza Genocide

The Israeli President, when recently asked about Israeli's response to rocket attacks by Hamas, said that when would it become disproportionate, after ten rockets, hundred rockets or a thousand rockets. Well its therefore normal to ask the question when will the Israeli Defense Force understand that they have killed one, two, ten, or a hundred children too many and then they can say the objective of silencing rockets will be achieved. I know many readers will find this offensive for me to say, but quite frankly for Israeli's to allow their government and army to kill so many civilians in Gaza is pure and simple genocide. I am not for one moment saying that Hamas firing rockets was fine, in my eyes both acts of violence are wrong and misplaced. However, it has always seemed to me that Hamas have been always shooting these rockets more to bolster their own image amongst their own people rather than really inflict any serious damage on Israeli citizens, considering not one person was killed in these attacks. The issue of who started this war first will never be resolved and it can be traced back to decades if not centuries. The issue is that both sides need to understand that innocent people are dying and there is not other way about seeing this.

As for the outcome of the Gaza invasion there will obviously be a weakening of Hamas, perhaps even their removal from the power structure, and they may return to more underground tactics. However, it is still not clear whethere Hamas has been marginalized enough by the current invasion for Palestinians in Gaza to actually reject them. Perhaps if the effect of the invasion was actually dead Hamas fighters rather the children and civilians then perhaps the ensuing discomfort of a military occupation would make Gazans realize that indeed the problem is the Hamas. However, at the moment the Israeli overhanded brutality has meant that Gazans relate their suffering directly to the Israeli invasion and not the actions of the Hamas. Eventually a stalemate will be achieved when Israel will realize the Hamas fighters they went after actually got away, or were not as badly effected as hoped for and then perhaps an honorable withdrawal will be done.

A wider war is not possible mainly because the Arab countries have either feebly condemned the invasion or in the case of Hosni Mubarak's Egypt and the Palestinian Authorities Mahmmod Abbass actually blamed the Hamas for their own political motives. If the string is drawn to when the rocket attacks started then yes Hamas is to be blamed, if the string is to be drawn further back then Israel, and to some extent Egypt's, controlled blockade of the Gaza strip are perhaps the starting point for this round of conflict. Either way, the issue remains that a wider war cannot be possible given Israel's military might, and the Arab leaderships inability to even agree to switch off the oil tap for one hour. (not that oil embargoes bring any solutions).

A Hamas defeat? Well on one side one could argue that how do you militarily defeat an army that tends to dissolve into society when it chooses too. This is not some large standing army with armored tanks and planes. So in the sense of a military defeat of Hamas its more likely that they will be weakened and perhaps politically out flanked but defeated seems a bit hard to see given the nature of this movement.

Overall the Palestinians and the Israelis have a sorry story to tell for themselves. Decades of conflict, and not a single step worth mentioning towards peace for their people. While the Palestinian leadership lacks the courage to carve a new deal with Israel based on realities, Israel continues to be an occupier in most of the territory to seized in 1967 and its recent actions in Gaza are shameful and a war crime. So in a sense both sides will continue to behave like criminals and the world leadership doesn't have the conscious or the will to tell them otherwise.