August 28, 2011

Invalidity of the Arguments that defend the Syrian Regime.

The fall of the USSR and the official establishment of the Russian federation in 1991 was a major turning point in the political make up of what was known as the Soviet Union and all its European and Asian satellites. The rise of Boris Yeltsin to power of a free, and independent Russia that has renounced 70 years of Communism effectively marked the end of the Cold War. The occasion was welcomed by most people all over the globe if for nothing else but for the potential peace dividend that it carried and for the apparent freedom and liberty that it had bestowed on the people of Russia as well as all the Soviet satellites from Kazakhstan to Latvia, Georgia, the Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, the unification of Germany… Yet some people on the extreme left blamed the Russian citizens and the residents of each of the satellites for wanting a better life. They blamed them for their uprising and for throwing the yoke of their exploiters and corrupt politicians who deprived the citizenry of its rights but made sure to bestow all kinds of privileges upon themselves. Many leftist party members in the West argued that the citizens of the ex Soviet Union should have never demanded what is rightfully theirs but should have allowed the oligarchs and their security forces to go on abusing them for personal gain. Obviously that line of thinking is laughable as any visitor to any of the liberated countries can document.

Move forward twenty years and in particular to the uprising that started in Syria over 5 months ago and you run against the same tired, self serving, hackneyed and superficial logic. Many of the Syrian regimes supporters know better than to make a straight forward argument in favour of a brutal dictatorship and so they twist themselves into unwieldy shapes trying to argue that the regime is needed because without it then Syria would degenerate into sectarian warfare. Obviously none of those that advance this line of thinking would provide any shred of evidence why such an outcome is inevitable. We are also told that Bashar Assad the scion of the cruel dictatorship that has been ruling under an emergency law and through a single political party rule for over 40 years need more time to introduce the legitimate reforms that the unarmed civilian protestors are calling for. Isn’t almost half a century long enough to come up with a package of reforms? And if it is true that the current regime is intent on reforms then isn’t it a coincidence that this matter became apparent only when its monopoly on power was challenged. Is it rational then to question the sincerity of such reform proposals while the tanks are demolishing neighborhoods and the prisons are full of political detainees? It is very clear that all of these are nothing else but excuses for those that are happy with the status quo of no elections, one party rule and promotion of Soviet style personal celebrity rule.

This unfortunate use of inverted logic is not left only for the domestic supporters of the dictatorship. Similar logic has been used by Egyptian thinkers as well as Lebanese writers. The most glaring such example, however, is that taken by Hezbollah. Sayed Hassan Nasrallah has stated the position of his party clearly one more time in his latest speech on the occasion of the International Day of Jerusalem. He, as expected, lavished nothing but praise on the Syrian regime but was sure to justify that by highlighting the steadfastness of the Syrian government against Israel. His premise is that the single most important issue in the Arab society is the position against Israel and in favour of the Resistance movements and since the Syrian Baath has supported Hezbollah, Hamas and PFLP-GC then any movement by the people against this regime is suspect and must be defeated. The very clear weakness of the above, even for those that share the believe in the preeminence of the Arab-Israeli position is the fact that Mr. Nasrallah assumes that the replacement government will not take the same position against Israel. He makes that assumption and asks the listeners to accept it on faith. That is purely an exercise in tautological thinking. The other weakness in this strange logic is the assumption that Mr. Nasrallah knows best what is good for the Syrian people. They do not have a say in self determination. Could that kind of thinking be influenced by the principles of Welayat Al Faqih?

What is especially pernicious about the above illogic is that its promoters were very highly critical of the doctrine of "preemptive strikes" as articulated by George W Bush. That principle allowed the US to take action/wage war based on suspicion that an act was being planned, no proof was necessary. That is identical to what supporters of the Syrian regime are claiming, deprive civilians of their rights, use ruthless force to put them down only because you suspect that they will propose a policy that you disagree with, no proof needed and their rights be damned even if they chose to enact such a policy. What imperious hubris.

As if all of the above is not enough, many of the same groups that are defending the Syrian killing machine are applying the same logic to downplay the tremendous accomplishments of the Libyan revolutionaries that have spared no cost to free themselves from the dictates of the mad man Qadaffi. Obviously it would be unacceptable to defend such a mad person and his entourage directly and so it has become common for this group to apply its strange logic by claiming, that the courageous and brave Libyan people were manipulated by foreign powers. That is simply just as grotesque of an insult to the intelligence of the Libyan as the above thinking was an insult to the intelligence of the Syrian people.

Why cannot we accept the simple fact that the Soviet masses as well as the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan, Yemeni and Syrian have risen against their exploiters because they have had enough. They prefer to live in dignity rather than be used and mistreated by oligarchs bent on accumulating personal wealth and power?

The days of the Syrian dictatorship, like all other dictatorships, are numbered irrespective of its disingenuous efforts to save itself.

August 21, 2011

Bashar must go: No Legitimacy for the Illegitimate

One of the most popular expressions of the Lockian idea of “natural rights” can be seen in the preamble to the US declaration of independence written by Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The above simply means that it is not up to government to offer its populace personal rights since these are among the bundle of rights that cannot be alienated from the individual. No government can take away that which is embedded into citizens by virtue of birth and to act otherwise is a gross act of hubris and egregious exploitation. When the state adopts policies to take away from people part or all of their natural rights then the state is acting against the will of the governed whose welfare it is supposed to enhance. Such acts of diminution of the rights of citizens are best described as immoral, unethical, exploitative and constitute justifiable uprisings against the ruler whose acts have violated all accepted responsibilities of a governor.

Unfortunately, history is replete with states that have acted as authoritarian rulers, absolute monarchs, brutal dictators and autocrats. Yet the movement towards more democracy and responsible government got its biggest boost with the American and French revolutions of over 235 years ago. Many philosophers and political scientists have argued that the spread of democracy is probably the single best achievement of the 20th century. Alas this glorious trend was not able to find even a toe hold in the Arab world until the onset of the Arab Spring that started in Tunis, spread to Egypt, Libya and Yemen then Bahrain and Syria not to mention the defensive moves in Morocco, Jordan and possibly Iraq and Palestine.

Tunis and Egypt have already started the hard work of establishing working democracies as soon as their previously strong autocratic regimes collapsed, Yemen and Libya seem to be close to uprooting the dictatorial regimes of Qaddafi and Saleh while the Bahraini demand for reform appears to have been squashed by the Saudi monarchy with the acquiescence of the rest of the GCC. But besides Bahrain, the real paradox so far has been the courageous and popular Syrian uprising. It has been over 5 months since the people of Dara’a took to the streets to send a message to the Syrian Ba’ath that forty years of suppression, exploitation and expropriation of natural rights is enough. The spark of Dara’a spread like a wild fire to the suburbs of Damascus, to Homs , Hama and their environs, to Deir Ezorr, Jisr Alshughur, Banias and Latakia among other places. The civilian protestors were met in all cases with the full force of the Syrian army whose tanks have demolished many residential quarters and whose snipers and military have already killed over 2000 civilians; men women and children, not to mention the tens of thousands of injured and the over 10,000 rounded up for interrogation and torture. It is ironic that the same army that has failed to fire one bullet in almost forty years to liberate the Golan Heights was willing to butcher its own citizens in the name of resistance. As all this blatant brutality by the Syrian dictatorship was going on not one of the Arab governments issued as much as a statement of moral support to the insurgents when each of these regimes did not hesitate to support the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni and Libyan uprisings. The deafening Arab silence was finally broken a fortnight ago when Saudi Arabia issued a statement asking the Syrian authorities to stop the bloodshed. This lukewarm support by Saudi Arabia was followed by expressions of support for the Syrian insurgents by other Arab governments and the Arab League but not by Lebanon. The West on the other hand has continued to pressure Syria to stop the killing through the Presidential Statements of the Security Council, through more severe economic sanctions and through an outright call for Mr. Assad to step down.

The official Lebanese position vis a vis the Syrian uprising will come back to haunt it but it was to be expected from a country whose President was unconstitutionally elected and who has often made it clear that his allegiance to Damascus is his priority. In addition to the above the current PM, Najib Mikati and his brother Taha, are known to have strong financial ties to the Syrian regime through Syriatel and Sami Makhlouf president Bashars’ cousin. Obviously no one needs to be reminded that Mr. Mikati is the symbolic head of a cabinet that came to power through the machinations of Hezbollah whose military and financial strength depend on smuggled missiles and other ammunition originating in Iran through Syria.

Despite all of this less than overwhelming support of the Arab regimes for the Syrian people in their greatest hour of need the Syrian Revolution is still gaining strength and the autocratic and brutal dictatorship led by Bashar Assad is struggling to find a way to survive by promising all sorts of reforms including a multiparty political system. How convenient to become a reformer when your survival depends on it, this is political expediency par excellence. Mr. Assad fails to understand that there is no such thing as legitimacy of the illegitimate. Dictatorships are often born in blood, fear, exploitation and usurpation of that which cannot be stolen since it is inalienable. Every single dictatorship will eventually end ignominiously simply because all are rooted in illegitimacy and sooner or later the people will lose the fear of the ruthless security machine that is set up to protect the dictator by pretending that the authoritarian regime knows best what is good for the multitudes when in effect all of the states’ acts are dedicated to the glory of the dictator and his entourage. Mr. Assad is not loosing legitimacy since he never had it to begin with and the governed have the legal right and the moral authority to establish a regime that respects their “natural rights”

It is a foregone conclusion that the Syrian uprising will eventually free itself from the inhumane grip of the Syrian Ba’ath but the price of that liberty is subject to the acts of Bashar Assad. He will either drag Syria into a Libyan style conflagration or he will decide that it is time for the Syrian people to rule themselves. Bashar Assad must go, all dictatorships must end and this is the time to end a forty years old cruel dictatorship.

August 02, 2011

The President's Cave in & Miscalculations. Is Leading From the Rear Obama's Style?

Update, Aug. 2nd: Jon Stewart: "You're not pinning this turd on us..."

The manufactured crisis of the debt ceiling theater is coming to a close, though the damage will last a long time. Even if the US averted default on its obligations, its credibility has taken a hit. Progressives think that Obama was diminished by this process, and his popularity is also decreasing. Even though the majority of Americans like him, and are more in favor of his proposals than those of the GOP, he's considered a weak leader. Remember, the country has shown that it prefers a strong, effective leader even if he's wrong, to a weak leader even if he's right on the issues! 

Maybe Obama is gambling on the possibility the Republicans will nominate someone worse to run against him next year. The economy won't be much better before the next election, because this president failed to take action and the GOP has done everything it could to damage it.

Read Paul Krugman's "The President Surrenders" editorial.

Here's something to remember: One of the biggest differences between progressives and the American conservatives is that progressives want an active government to mitigate social darwinism the Republicans are in favor of. 

Every time there's a failure of government, the conservatives win points! They seem to be winning the narrative on this one too. They come into government with an intent of making the government worse! They create deficits, slush social services, and remove consumer protections. They love gridlock, because this increases the public's cynicism of their government!  Sadly, the person with the bigger, loudest megaphone is not disputing this narrative!

I'm with Senator Bernie Sanders on the need to issue a serious primary challenge to Obama. Not the Nader type, or a foolish preacher, or some leftist fringe, but a good, sensible progressive like Feingold. I'm sure Obama will prevail but he will have to understand that there's an activist base out there and elections (especially close one) depend on getting the base excited and to the polls. Besides, we have to publicly discuss a few important issues and highlight the importance of good government, for the benefit of the people.

I argue that the narrative is extremely important in shaping our political discourse. Most Americans support progressive positions but it's the conservative narrative that often prevails. The more we spend time discussing the ridiculous [or, the artificial crisis of the debt ceiling] the more time, energy, and money we're wasting, instead of tackling serious problems.

There are going to be lots of polls following this manufactured crisis. As of now, the public blames the GOP more, but Obama's ratings are looking more and more Bush-like.

Here's a snapshot:
Q: If negotiations between President Obama and Congressional Republicans on the federal debt ceiling fail, and it leads to an economic crisis, would you place more blame on the President or on Congressional Republicans, or would you blame both equally?  
President Obama: 35
Congressional Republicans: 46
Both equally: 18
Not sure: 1

Here's a slew of numbers from DK/SEIU weekly poll.

This president hasn't learned yet that he can't trust this Republican party. When asked back in December--when he caved in regarding the Bush tax breaks to the super rich--why he didn't make the looming debt ceiling part of the deal, he said the Republicans would do the responsible thing when needed. Great call...t. Probably he forgot how the GOP negotiated on health care reform....