Nobody Kills France – A Call for National Unity and Courage

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129 dead, 99 critical injured and over 35o injured, these are the numbers ensuing the terrorist attacks taking place on November 13 in the streets of Paris. These are the worst attacks on European soil since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005. In a period of 10 months, France has seen two successful terrorist attacks with the January mass killing against French satire paper, Charlie Hebdo, and a Jewish supermarket (read here a previous analysis on the January terrorist attack) and yesterday night. And during the summer, three American tourists stood up and disarmed a man seeking to massacre people in a Thalys train from the Netherlands to France. These attacks on November 13 were highly sophisticated with three teams of terrorists attacking simultaneously (see below the location of the attacks).

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Here are some reflections on these horrific attacks. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo and on November 13th demonstrate that the executioners are for the most part French and European citizens. Yes, Charlie Hebdo had received some international attention after the publication of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet, but aside from that it was a low print paper. Very few people around the world knew about Charlie Hebdo. The November attacks on cafés in the 10th and 11th arrondissements and the music venue, the Bataclan, confirm that these executioners are French. These locations are places where locals and Parisians go, they are not highly touristic locations. The attackers wanted to send a clear message to French people that they won’t be safe any longer. These attacks seek to go after the basic components of French life by targeting the arts, music, social interactions, and freedom. Members of radical Islamic networks simply seek to restrict and oppress humans in the name of bigotry and racism. There are no religious justification of such heinous crime, only ignorance and stupidity.

A Solid Leadership

The French leadership, as of today, has been exemplary. François Hollande, French President, has certainly not been a model on his socio-economic agenda and has had

Photo: AFP PHOTO/ CHRISTELLE ALIX
Photo: AFP / Christelle Alix

difficulties in bringing needed reforms to the country. However, the criticisms emerging from the French rights (from the mainstream right, Les Républicains, and extreme right, Front National) are abject and unfounded. In the last year, François Hollande has been an exemplary leader in combining toughness and calling and maintaining national unity. His leadership during and after the Charlie Hebdo attacks was subtle and strong. Yesterday night’ speech prior the exceptional council of ministers at midnight, François Hollande addressed the Nation with an impeccable short speech. Not only did he call for an immediate state of emergency and territorial lockdown of France – which has only been done three times prior under the Fifth Republic – but closed his address by calling for solidarity and national unity. It was a difficult exercise that he managed to pull off.

Ensuing the Council of Minister on November 14th at 9am, François Hollande declared:

It is an act of war, which has been perpetuated by a terrorist army, ISIS, a jihadist army, against France, against the values that we are defending all around the world, against what we are: a country of freedom speaking to the totality of the world.

It is an act of war, which has been prepared, organized, planned from the outside, and with domestic assistance that will be demonstrated by the current investigation. It is an act of absolute barbarity.

The use of word and repetition of ‘act of war’ could underline the possibility of the use of ground military forces in Syria in the days or weeks to come. French army could be working on bringing another dimension to its war efforts over Iraq and Syria. However, launching a ground offensive in Syria is quite of a headache considering the current Russian involvement and the Assad forces. Can France conduct military operations in Syria against ISIS without the assistance of Syrian and Russian forces? What would be the endgame? How can France identify and quantify success with a ground offensive against ISIS? After a decade of military involvement in Afghanistan, the Talibans are back and Al-Qaeda, which has been severally armed, has been replaced by ISIS (read here an analysis by François Heisbourg).

National Mood and the Respect of French Values

Domestically, French citizens ought to show the same determination than after the attacks on Charlie. It appears that the national mood is darker than in January and French citizens seem heartbroken, rightfully so, but they need to stand up and demonstrate to these radical movements the impenetrable French spirit. François Hollande said

France is strong and even if she can be hurt, she will always stand up and nothing can break her, even the sorrow that touches us. France, she is solid, she is active, France is brave and will win against barbarity. Our history is a reminder.

Now, France, as after Charlie, has to look at itself and reflect on its failed social policies implemented almost five decades ago (read here a solid analysis by Javier Solana, former EU High Representative). The degree of inequalities in France is continuously increasing and the sense of belonging to the French nation seems to be disappearing in a wide segment of the population. Blame can be attributed on both side, but it will be unproductive. French

Plantu
Plantu

values of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité are the foundation of our Republic and should be rediscovered. This means opening our arms to the refugees leaving Syria and fleeing other authoritarian regimes. Welcoming these refugees and offering them chances to success and leave productive lives are the remedy to such hate and violence. France cannot close her borders and reject the others, as it would be a direct repudiation of its values.

Understandingly, the initial reaction is anger and desire to make a distinction between us and them. But once our time of grievance is complete, French citizens ought to remember their history and values. The rhetoric coming for the French rights calling for closing the borders, leaving the European Union, protecting the homeland from any outside forces are the wrong solutions. It may be the easiest road in the short term, but in the long run it would be a direct repudiation of the republican spirit of France. The coming regional elections next month will be a turning point for French politics and could offer some insights prior the presidential elections in 2017. The amalgam of migration and terrorism continuously hammered by the rights is misleading, wrong, unfunded and abject. But amalgams tend to be integrated by a large segment of the population across the world.

Lessons from France’s Atlantic Neighbor and Ally

France can learn three lessons from the United States. First of all invading countries is not a valuable option. The US went to war and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade and the situation in both countries has not improved. One could even argue it has worsened as Afghanistan is seeing the return of Talibans and Iraq is highly fragmented and home of ISIS. Second, violation of the habeas corpus and invasive laws like a French

Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Patriot Act won’t be the answer as well. Some members of the French rights are calling for the creation of jails for incarcerations of suspected terrorists. The US has created Guantanamo Bay and is unable to deal with its prisoners. And it would be an error and a core violation of French democracy to start incarcerating individuals based of suspicion. Guantanamo Bay, and the other American jails in Iraq and Afghanistan such as Abu Ghraib have been instrumentalized by radical islamic networks in order to recruit. Third, since 2001, American citizens have learned to live with terrorist threats and seen an increase of state forces in the streets. These could be the only alternative for France. The November 13th attacks could be the end of innocence for France. But these attacks remind us how precious are our values and way of life and how threatening they are to these radical movements. We have lived for too long taking for granted our freedoms and liberty, it is time to finally reflect on them, cherish them and defend them by living them consciously.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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Film Review – An Artistic Window into the Horror of Islamic Fundamentalism

imagesCitizens and leaders of the Euro-Atlantic community are scared, and to some degree fascinated, by the rise, power and influence of fundamentalist islamic movements such Al-Qaeda, AQIM, and most recently with the notorious Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL). These powerful networks are attracting Westerners, especially their young adults, to either join the fight in Syria, Mali, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan or even taking it to their homelands, like in Paris, Toulouse, Brussels, and in the Thalys. Westerners are trying to understand the logics and thought process of these networks. So far the narratives have been engrained in the traditional framework of us versus them, Christian versus Muslims, and the inevitable clash of civilization. The recent picture Timbuktu offers us an artistic look into one of these islamic networks, their ideologies, their contradictions, and the horrors perpetuated in the name of bigotry and oppression.

Aside from traditional hollywood mainstream pictures, Abderrahmane Sissako dug deep, his powerful Timbuktu (2014), into the darkness of an fundamentalist islamic movement ruling over Timbuktu, the historical Malian city and a scholarly centre in Africa. Sissako, a Mauritanian-born film-maker, decided to make this movie after hearing about a story of a unmarried couple being stoned to death by a fundamentalist islamists for having children outside of the sacred bound of marriage. This movie is, as titled by a Guardian’s article, ‘a cry from the heart,’ which shows the horror, stupidity, ignorance of radical islamists over the inhabitants of Timbuktu. However, the picture is much more than a basic criticism as it  confronts the viewers to a complex conundrum. Sissako is very careful in maintaining the humanity of these men fighting the jihad.

One of the most beautiful scenes of the movie is a group of young Malian playing soccer on a soccer field without a soccer ball. On a previous scene, a young Malian is being physically punished by the newly-established Islamic tribunal enforcing the Sharia law for owningTimbuktu 5 and playing with a soccer ball. The scene of soccer game, so well choreographed playing with a red sunset light and the yellow dust of the sand, offers one of the most stunning moments of the picture. While the youngsters are playing ‘virtual’ soccer, which includes corner kick, penalty kick and counter-attacks, two jihadists are riding in circle around the field on their motorcycle in order to assure that no soccer ball is being used. In some way, the game illustrates the limits of oppression and Sharia law. The soccer match offers a powerful moment demonstrating the power of the mind and the desire for freedom under oppression. One can compare this scene as one of the many examples written in Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Throughout the movie, one cannot stop making connection with any authoritarian regimes, from the Nazis to the Soviets and so forth, about the basic concept of power and authority (reference to Foucault, Freud and other great thinkers can be undeniably made throughout the picture). Even though scenes of oppression and injustice are ever-present and make the movie difficult to watch at times, Sissako wanted to give humanity to the fundamentalist fighters, the jihadists, by showing their doubts, lack of convictions of their actions and beliefs, and their violations of their bans on the inhabitants. For instance, one leader continues smoking even though it’s forbidden; another one, in a moving scene, is dancing ballet-like; others are continuously talking about the best soccer players being Zidane, so on and so forth.

A large part of the success of ISIL and other group has been to attract muslims in joining the jihad either at home or abroad. A lot of emphasis in Western media has been done on the successful PR campaign of these groups recruiting in US, France, Britain either in person (in prisons and/or in mosques) or through social media (facebook, youtube, twitter and so forth). Sissako spends a look moment filming the making a video for recruitment, wherein the speaker, a young fighter, talks with a real lack of conviction about his past ‘sins’ being a smoker and a rap singer. The man, behind the camera whom is much older and clearly not from Mali (as it has been the case in most of these terrorist networks), is desperate by the lack of conviction of the young jihadist.

1214559_Abderrahmane-SissakoTimbuktu whom was nominated for an Academy Awards for Best Foreign Picture and for a New Regards at the Cannes Film Festival, was celebrated by receiving Césars Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Director in February 2015. This movie offers the only artistic look into the horror of oppression, violence, power, and morality. It does respond to the growing interest, fear and fascination of Westerners about ISIS and alike networks.

For instance, a recent study produced by the Pew Research Center looking at the perceptions of global threats by citizens of the world demonstrates that ISIS is considered as the greatest threat in every members of the Euro-Atlantic community. ISIS is perceived as more dangerous than global economic instability and climate change.

Source: Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. "Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger." Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]
Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. “Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger.” Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]

Interestingly enough, if climate change has been considered as a direct threat to humanity as whole for decades, ISIS was a non-factor two years ago. Al-Qaeda was the principal network since 2001. It is quite interesting to see that Westerners consider ISIS as a greater threat than climate change.

In the case of Mali, the French have been the only Western power to use their military2_TIMBUKTU force in order to protect Timbuktu and block the progression of the radical islamists. At the time of the 2012 American Presidential campaign, between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, only Mitt Romney acknowledged the growing threat taking place in Mali. When François Hollande launched Operation Serval 63% of the French citizens were in favor of the use of military force in order to maintain order in Mali, block the progression of radical islamists in Mali and throughout the Sahel region (read a previous analysis on Operation Serval here). A little later, President Obama provided assistance to the French army through transports and through intelligence gathering.

Timbuktu offers Westerners a needed look into the reality of oppression in the case of Mali. It falls in the same category of great movies looking at bigotry, power, oppression, violence, injustice and stupidity like Path of Glory and Dr. Strangelove. It confronts the viewer with contradictory emotions of anger and amazement. Dark as it is, Sissako’s core message of the unbreakable human spirit is an ode to hope.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Dehumanizing Migrants – European Strategy to Buck-Pass a Serious Crisis?

Source: AFP / Getty Images
Source: AFP / Getty Images

The current influx of migrants in direction of Western Europe exemplifies more than a simple migration crisis (listen here to a fascinating discussion with Ryan Heath of Politico and Leonard Doyle of the IOM). In fact it exposes two crises: a political and a civic. The human tragedy behind the dangerous voyage of these migrants fleeing war, terrorism, violence, economic misery, human right violations and social tensions should move Europeans towards a genuine desire to assist them through newly designed immigration policies (asylum policies and quotas), social inclusion and assistance, and eventually more humanitarian assistance through Commission’s programs and using the CSDP in unstable countries. But instead, Europeans are blaming the others, blaming the European Union, blaming the other Member States. The migration crisis has dropped fuel over an already powerful nationalist fire. Europe is undeniably facing a serious ethical and internal crisis (read previous analyses herehere, here and here).

Interestingly enough, if one remove the emotional dimension in order to analyze the current migratory challenge facing the EU and looks at numbers, the picture become clearer in demonstrating one simple fact: Europeans are not committed in trying to solve this crisis. The numbers tell a very different story and in fact should make Europeans think about the forces limiting the design and implementation of sound policies to at least try to be in the driver seat.

Data – The Case of Syrian Refugees

The graph and two tables located below illustrates the numbers of migrants seeking to reach Europe (the three documents come from a report produced by the International Organization for Migration, access it here).

Migration
Source: IOM

So from 2014 to 2015, the number of migrants loosing their lives in the Mediterranean has increased making it the most dangerous migratory route in the world.

Arrivals
Source: IOM
Origins
Source: IOM

As illustrated above the bulk of the migrants come from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia. Each of these countries are facing terrible security, economic and political conditions. Afghanistan has been a country at war since the 1979 Soviet invasion (one can argue that violence in Afghanistan goes even further). Nigeria and Somalia are facing serious political and security issues. Both countries host vicious terrorist networks like Boko-Haram (Nigeria) and some factions of Al-Qaeda (in Somalia) terrorizing the population and underlining the inabilities of their governments to protect their citizens. Eritrea is a police state with vicious policies including “forced labor during conscription, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and enforced disappearances.” Last but not least, Syria has been destroyed by war starting right after the Arab Spring in 2011. Since then, the regime of Al-Assad has waged war against the opposition. The war has shifted and saw the rise of new powerful player, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The European Commission wrote in a recent factsheet, that “the Syria conflict has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.” Migrants from Syria usually pass by Turkey and Greece in order to enter into Europe, as it is much shorter than using the Central Mediterranean route and arriving in Italy. “The total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria” writes the Commission “has reached 12.2 million, approximately 7.6 million of whom are internally displaced.” And a total of roughly 4 million Syrians have fled Syria. Out of the 4 million Syrian refugees, 1.8m are located in Turkey (reports demonstrate that the local population have embraced and included the Syrian refugees), 1.1m in Lebanon (a country of 4.4 million inhabitants, so the Syrian refugees represent 25% of the overall population.), 630,000 in Jordan (a population of 6.5 million), and 250,000 in Iraq.

As calculated by the UNHRC, the number of Syrians seeking for security and refugee in Europe has increased by only represent 6% of the overall number of Syrian refugees, or 240,000. Since January 2015, the numbers of Syrian asylum seekers have certainly increased, but solely represent 90,000. The UNHRC shows that 49% of the asylum applications are being shared between Germany and Sweden, second with 29% for Austria, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary, and 23% for rest of the EU which includes France, the UK, Denmark, Poland and other powerful EU Member States.

Source: UNHRC
Source: UNHRC

These numbers, only looking at Syrian refugees, demonstrate the lack of commitment to either solving the crisis in Syria or assisting Syrians in getting a better life in Europe. It is difficult to believe that the richest economic bloc in the world with a population of 500 million can neither absorb 100,000 refugees on a long period of time, nor provide temporary infrastructures when developing countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are dealing with 4 million refugees.

European Crises – Politics, Nationalism and Inhumanity

European leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other national politicians like Marine Le Pen of the Front National, Nicolas Sarkozy of France (to name a few) share all in common one strategy: dehumanizing the refugees. They all imagesremove the humanity from these refugees in order to appeal to a scared, uneducated and to some degree lazy electorate. The fact that these elected and non-elected officials can receive so much attention and support raises an important problem in European societies. Many experts have been calling for an increase of solidarity among EU Member States, but such solidarity cannot occur if the European citizenry feels no emotional connection with the migrants seeking for a better life in Europe.

If some European institutions, like the European Commission, have advanced some ideas of quotas and asylum policies, and some EU Member States, like Germany and Sweden, have welcome more migrants than other Member States, the rest of Europe seems absent. France and the United Kingdom ought to play a bigger role in advocating for greater solidarity and behaving as role-model (take here a 10 question survey about the migration crisis).

The fraught between London and Paris over the camp in Calais, the so-called Jungle, illustrates the level of the debate. On the one hand, London cannot keep believing that migrants will crash the whole British social welfare programs and the homogeneity of its society. While on the other hand, it is unacceptable for France, one of the richest countries in the world, to have a camp, of broadly 4,000 migrants, with no proper structures and supervision. The French government is saying that the local police forces are being outnumbered. The fact that France cannot put in place immigration centers, dispatch enough policemen and social agents on the ground for a total of 5,000 migrants (on a large estimation) is not because it can’t, but simply because it does not want. France, a highly centralized country, has the military and civilian power and capabilities to assist 5,000 individuals on its territory. The government has already over 10,000 soldiers as part of the large domestic counter-terrorist operation, called Sentinelle, in order to protect public and religious areas from eventual terrorist attacks. It is only a matter of priority for France and the other EU Members. Put in perspective with the current situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon representing 25% of its overall population, one could talk of a true crisis if France were dealing with 15m refugees on its territory.

And in the meantime, Italy and Greece are left alone dealing with massive flows of migrants (237,000 combined so far this year). Greece is dealing with a serious economic crisis affecting the basic functioning of its state, and Italy is not in its best economic shape as well. Europeans have only agreed on increasing the funding of its two naval missions off the Coast of Italy and Greece. Greece has become a point of transit, while Italy is trying to do what it can with its resources.

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Source: Reuters

During an interview of a business leader, as part of a large study on global perceptions of the EU, I asked the interviewee to describe the image representing the visibility of the EU in the US. The response was fascinating as usually interviewees have identified an historical monument or a European leader, but the response was a small boat with migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean. Such response is fascinating in two ways. First, it shows the power of the images published in the US (which could include the many pictures about the situation in Greece). These images of Europe published in mainstream American media in the last six months have only portrayed misery, poverty and devastation. Second, it demonstrates, either the inabilities or unwillingness, of one of the richest group of states in the world to implement policies to solve a humanitarian crisis and assure its own protection. These little boats are starting to seriously affect the credibility and image of Europe.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The War on ISIS – Violating Western Values and Principles in the name of security?

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Credit: NBC News

The use of airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), referred by the Obama administration as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or even the Islamic State (IS), has raised serious legal concerns about the legality of the use of force ordered by the executive branch. ISIS is creating a serious dilemma for the West, which can be identified as such: use of military force against an eventual threat at the cost of violating core national and international legal principals and values.

The sudden rise of ISIS and its fast path in taking territories in Iraq and Syria has been one of the main topics at the forefront of government narratives and the media. ISIS, according to CRS experts, is a “transnational Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group.” ISIS took over large segment of northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. The ultimate objective of ISIS is to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq under the leadership of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. According to the CIA spokesperson, the ISIS forces could fluctuate as of September from 20,000 to 31,500 individuals. At the difference of other groups, ISIS is extremely well financed and structured. “The group is sophisticated, strategic, financially savvy and building structures” argues Patrick B. Johnston, “that could survive for years to come.” ISIS gets its wealth from oil production and wealthy foreign donors. So ultimately, the West will have to find a way to disrupt the flow of money to ISIS and identify the wealthy donors.

Early September President Obama announced before the nation that the US will have to engage military, only through airstrikes, against ISIS. President Obama declared the use of military force to fight ISIS and ultimately ‘degrade and destroy’ it. He told the nation that ISIS poses a direct “threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East” and “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.” For now, as underscored by Obama in his speech, ISIS does not represent an immediate security threat to the United States. The use of preemptive actions, adopted from the Bush doctrine, is a clear shift from the Obama doctrine.

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Two documents are often referred in order to understand the legality of the use of force by the US President. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). As argued in his September 10th speech, President Obama claims that “I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL.” This question of authority has become a real problem for constitutional lawyers and the legislature. Let’s reflect on the type of authority Obama is speaking about (listen here a discussion between two legal experts on the constitutionality of the war against ISIS).

First, the 1973 War Powers Resolution drafted and adopted by the Congress at the end of the Vietnam war changed to so degree the legality of the use of force by giving more autonomy to the President at first before using congressional approach. The 1973 War Powers Resolution adapted the use of force to its global environment allowing quick response if necessary. However, it requires the President to obtain congressional approval after 60 days of the first use of force, and the President must stop the ‘hostilities’ 30 days after if he fails to receive Congress’ approval. The war on ISIS is once again underscoring the complexity of the US Constitution. Does the Constitution shape politics and policy-making? Or is Politics cherry-pick the Constitution for its end? As argued by Ben Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, “The Declaration of War is kind of a dead instrument of national law.” It is even worst when the Congress is not doing its job of balancing the power of the executive branch. The current Congress is obsessed with the looming November 4th elections and won’t do anything until then. The structure of electoral system in the US has made governing a second task well behind campaigning and fundraising. Obama is taking advantage of it, as any other Presidents would have.

Second, the AUMF drafted on September 21st, 2001 and soon after adopted by Congress consists in (read here a previous analysis on the AUMF)

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organization, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2011, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or person.
 

The problem with the AUMF is that it does not apply to the war on ISIS for one simple reason: the precedent established by the Bush and Obama administration has been the use of the AUMF in order to go after members of Al-Qaeda and its ‘associate forces.’ Even though ISIS emerged from Al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS is not an associate force, or even an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, it is in fact a separate entity that split from Al-Qaeda years ago, some argues in 2006. As exposed in a 2014 CRS Report, the experts wrote that “In recent months, Islamic State leaders have stated their view that their group ‘is not and has never been an offshoot of Al Qaeda,’ and that, given that they view themselves as a state and a sovereign political entity, they have given leaders of the Al Qaeda organization deference rather than pledges of obedience.” Professor of Law at Yale, Bruce Ackerman in his latest op-ed in the New York Times, writes that “it’s preposterous to suggest that a congressional vote 13 years ago can be used to legalize new bombings in Syria and additional (noncombat) forces in Iraq.”

Last but not least, the latest US and Western military intervention and airstrikes against ISIS violate to some extent the core basis of international law in the use of force embodied in the Charter of the United Nations. Because the US, France and Britain, three members of the UN Security Council, knew that they would have never been able to adopt a UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) allowing the use of force threatened by an eventual Chinese and/or Russian veto, decided to go alone. Russia and China would not have accepted to vote and adopt a UNSCR after the turn of events in the 2011 war in Libya mandated by a UNSCR. In recent years, the West has criticized Russia for using unilateral force to advance its national interests and influence, but the West has done the same against ISIS. Certainly, the West is not looking at occupying neither Syria nor Iraq, but it has nevertheless used military forces against a perceived threat abroad without an international legal authority. The use of military force is in direct continuity of the war on terror launched by President Bush giving some sort of ‘moral duty’ to destroy any terrorist threats anywhere in the world.

Unmistakably, this piece is not seeking to give legitimacy to the existence of ISIS or its cause. ISIS has demonstrated an horrific degree of violence and horror used in order to assert itsabc_news_western_fighters power and undermined anyone with different belief system and ideology. Experts and journalists have demonstrated that ISIS is creating a real power vacuum in the region and cannot be left unchecked. However, the West ought to abide and believe in its own legal system and international principles and values. Violating them would create a terrible precedent and demonstrate their inutility. ISIS has been a difficult problem for Euro-Atlantic members as it has been attracting a large number of westerners deciding to join the cause in Iraq and Syria. The numbers are estimation but believed to be around 2,000 westerners counting 500 British and 700 French citizens.

The West is facing a difficult threat in ISIS, as it has been able to shape and advance a narrative attracting individuals to join its cause. For such reason, the use of the words ‘destroy’ and neverend‘degrade’ by President Obama was an obvious rhetorical and strategic mistake. From a public opinion standpoint, Obama was able to look strong domestically and finally been perceived as a though foreign policy chief (at least in theory). But the execution of western journalists/humanitarian workers had an impact in the decision making of the Obama administration. They were/are facing a moral dilemma: on the one hand, there is a legal problem, on the other hand there is a drive to defend ‘western lives’ from ISIL – Should such defiance go unpunished? From a foreign policy/strategic standpoint, these two words are an obvious miscalculation. They are fantastic tools of recruitment for ISIS. ISIS can shape its narrative and ideology around the fact that the West does not want to recognize its existence and right to be. The identification of a clear threat to its existence permits ISIS to frame an ideology and make individuals fight for its cause. From ideational standpoint, Obama is now speaking like a neo-conservative. He is adopting words that would have been expected from Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. ISIS may only represent a future threat to the security of Western homelands, but it has already seriously shaken up Western commitments to its own values and principles. Ultimately, one should wonder about a simple question: Is the West undermining the legal national and international system developed, promoted and defended since the end of World War two in order to ‘destroy and degrade’ ISIS?

 

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission). 

The World a Scary Place? Think Again

Credit: TAIEB MAHJOUB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Credit: TAIEB MAHJOUB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The world may seem to spin out of control, at least from a Western point of view, with the incessant appearance of new crises. It certainly seemed like it this summer. In the post-9/11 world, crises appear to ensue one another in the last decade with the financial crisis, the Arab Spring, Russia resurgence, and the rise of of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Think again argues Bernard Guetta, geopolitical chronicler for France Inter (French public radio), in his recent chronicle (listen here to his short analysis in French). Bernard Guetta argues that one should look back and compare with the world pre-9/11, and it was still a scary place. Following the end of World War two, the Cold War was the backbone of world events. The 40 years of tensions between the Soviet Union and the US/West were surrounded by decolonization processes throughout Africa, the Vietnam War, energy crises (1973 and 1979), fear of a nuclear holocaust, high level of terrorism in Western Europe among many other threats. However, the one element making the Cold War appearing more stable was the West ability to understand and identify his adversary. In the 21st century, the threats embodied by different groups, like Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, are face-less aside from the leaders.

Instead the world, Guetta argues, is doing much better if one takes a moment to reflect on the development and evolutions of many countries around the globe such as Latin America, several African nations, and the rise of Asian powers. These developments, in

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terms of economic and societal dimensions, translate into broader levels development for more humans around the globe. So why most Westerners feel that the world is becoming more threatening than before? Bernard Guetta responds that in Europe and in the United States, Western citizens have lived inside ‘golden parentheses/bubble’ thanks to permanent progress for too long (Here are his words in French: En Europe, en Europe occidentale, et aux Etats-Unis, nous avons connu une parenthèse tellement enchantée, non pas du tout riche d’ailleurs mais de progrès permanent, que l’incertitude de l’avenir nous est devenue insupportable et nous aveugle, jusqu’à l’obscénité). With the ending of this golden era with the 2007 financial crisis, Westerners have become fearful of their  future looking as uncertain as ever.

This outstanding and refreshing analysis by Bernard Guetta is facing one core problem. Since the end of history, World politics were understood as Western politics. In some way, what was good for the EU and the US was good for the world. However, in this post-9/11 global order, the West is not in the driver seat anymore, and is trying to remain in it. Throughout the last 13 years, the West, led by the US, France and Britain, have waged wars against potential threats around the world. The list of wars and military uses by the West in a 13 years window is certainly impressive: war in Afghanistan (13 years), war in Iraq (a third one is on its way), war in Libya, war in Mali, war in Central African Republic, war in Iraq against ISIS, and these do not include the use of tactical forces and drones in countries that the West is not at war with like Pakistan, Yemen or even Somalia. So the West has maintained a very aggressive approach in order to enforce their interests and perceived security. These wars and military actions contribute to the maintenance of the illusions of Western ability to shape the world.

Public opinions and experts thought that the use of preemptive war for advancing national interest and security died with the end of the Bush administration in 2008. Think again, the military intervention – at least airstrike for now – called by President Obama against ISIS is in the direct continuity of the Bush’s doctrine. In his September 10th speech President Obama clearly underscored the preemptive dimension of his strategy to fighting ISIS. He said “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.  While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies.”

The problem with Obama’s foreign policy is the lack of overarching strategy. He had argued in favor of a ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ type of foreign policy. But as demonstrated by Clinton and other experts, this is not a strategy. Obama is in fact doing ‘diplomatic public opinion.’ Obama is risking a new American intervention in Iraq because American citizens are majoritarly in favor of airstrikes against ISIS. But is it really in American interest?

More Say They Are ‘Very Concerned’ about Rise of Islamic Extremism

As underscored in previous analyses, Obama is facing a interesting dilemma, American citizens greatly support his foreign policy, but do not support him as the President.

Partisan Differences in Concerns over Islamic Extremism

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In the grand scheme of things, global politics have always been complex and messy. Yes, a greater majority of humans are living in better conditions that two decades ago. Yes, developing nations have increased their influence, power and provided greater good to their populations. But the West seems to be this declining bloc in search for this ‘golden parentheses’ at any cost. This last decade has been the story of Western powers seeking to prove to the world that their norms, values, institutions and relevance shall be adopted by all. Western powers, and their citizens, see a world going out of control – but when was it ever under control? – and are waging successive wars to remain on top. The lack of clarity and cohesion in Western foreign policies – especially in the case of Obama and some European leaders – demonstrate Western reluctance to fully re-engage with the world.

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