2016 State of the Union – Obama’s Foreign Policy: A Patient and Discipline strategy?

Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

In his final State of Union, President Obama reflected on his past seven years in office, but most importantly tried to shape the debate on the campaign trail and for the next decades. On the question of foreign policy, President Obama raised two aspects: threats facing the country and his conception of leadership and American’s role in the world. One of his initial questions early in the address was  “How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?” Such question has driven Obama’s foreign policy choices these last seven years and will continue to live on.

ISIL – The Non-Existential, but Omnipresent Threat

His contextual framework was very narrow and limited. President Obama skipped over most of the regions of the world in order to pinpoint terrorist networks like the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL). “In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.”  Since the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the US has evolved in a unipolar and more recently multipolar world order. In this new global order, many states have failed and are now the roots of today’s regional chaos causing civil war, mass murders, fueling mass migration, and hosting terrorist networks.

In addressing the threat represented by ISIL, President Obama underlined that the first priority is protecting American people and going after terrorist networks. American foreign policy makers, as well as European partners, have been using tough rhetoric in order to defend their actions against ISIL, such as “rooted out, hunted down and destroyed.” Such argument fits in the continuous war that the United States has been waging against terrorism since President Bush in 2001. But how constructive have these ‘tough’ rhetorics been in addressing the problem?

A Disciplined Leadership

Once again, President Obama has called for restrain in using extensive military force in fighting ISIL. He recalled the lessons learned in Vietnam and Iraq. And this brought Obama to talk about his vision of leadership and the way the US should be using its power. “There’s a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy” argued Obama “that uses every element of our national power.” Such statement does reflect on the way President Obama has responded to emerging and pressing crises like Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and so forth. Many experts and political leaders have compared such reflective type of leadership as a sign of weakness and

Credit: Politico.eu
Credit: Politico.eu

inaction contributing to the decline of American power and grandeur. But this reflective type of leadership ought to be merged with the Obama doctrine, which has been a foundation of his presidency.

Part of Obama’s foreign policy has been to increase cooperation with international partners especially European and some Asian powers. Obama underlined the need for the US of “rallying the world behind causes that are right.” In order to describe – and sale to a skeptical American electorate – the positives of international cooperation, President Obama listed a series of ‘successes’ like international efforts in Syria, the Iran nuclear deal, the fight against Ebola, the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TTP), the re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba and so forth (read several analyses on Iran, the TPP, Cuba, and Syria). Each issue, at the exception of the fight against Ebola, is still ongoing and requires legislative approval/support. Interestingly enough, President Obama did not mention one core international partner like the European countries, deeply involved in the fight against terrorist networks, or international organizations and so forth. Obama’s multilateralism was principally an American definition of the term, which could be summed up by his comments about the TPP. “With TPP, China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do.”

Foreign Policy, or the Impossible Task

Obama’s comments on foreign policy were a long segment of his address. The section illustrated the overall tone of the address: a response to the constant attacks on the campaign trail and an assertion of the results of his strategy and policy choices. For such reason, it was a weak part. Narrowing the foreign threats at ISIL and other terrorist networks, and briefly mentioning climate change, was a disappointment. As mentioned, ISIL does not represent an existential threat to the US. The war on terrorism is seriously affecting and limiting the grand strategy of the US.

On the strategic aspects of the Obama doctrine and the successes of his foreign policy, once again it is difficult to identify any clear successes (as it is for any presidents). The Obama doctrine has permitted the US to use lethal force around the world without waging war on country, while violating core principles of international law. Merging the concept of multilateral successes and the issues from Ukraine, to Syria, to Iraq, to Colombia in the same sentence may be far stretched as well. Historically, this segment of the address has been used in order to comfort the democratic base, infuriate the hawks, and sadden the foreign policy experts.

(Copyright 2016 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
Advertisements

2015 in the Rear-view Mirror …

happy-new-year-20152016-with-happy-new-year-compass-images-pictures-photos-hd

Should 2015 be identified as the year of multilateralism? Despite the multitude of crises facing the West throughout 2015, the signature of three major multilateral agreements was not only meaningful, but will contribute to the shaping of world politics well beyond 2016.

2015, or the Year of Multilateralism

Could 2015 be seen as the year of multilateralism? Even if this question seems quite absurd considering the succession of negative news from terrorism, to economic slowdown, racism, populism, so on and so forth. But looking back, 2015 was to some extent the most promising year in recent years in getting regional and global leaders around the table and having them signed important documents. Three highly impactful agreements ought to be reviewed.

World-Climate-Summit-bannerFirst, the Paris Agreement of December 12, 2015 ought to be number one on the list. Yes, climate change is a reality. Yes environmental destruction is the greatest threat facing humanity. If polls, like the recent one produced by the Pew, show that Euro-Atlantic citizens feel that terrorism is the greatest threat to their security, they are certainly looking at it from a narrow angle. If ISIS has demonstrated to be effective at slaughtering unarmed civilians drinking coffee and listening to music, it does not represent the existential threat that climate change presents.

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: 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]

The Paris Agreement (which will only come into force once signed by the Parties on April 22, 2016 and ratified by 55 Parties) is more a political victory than a great climate deal. The political victory comes as the developed and developing nations have finally been able to agree on a global agreement. For instance, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is unable to get its Doha Round anywhere and most of the global initiatives are going nowhere. But in Paris, world leaders were able to show unity for a cause. However, the document falls short as there are no enforcement mechanisms in place in order to penalize states that do not comply. The European Union wanted a binding treaty with serious teeth and got instead an Agreement pledging to limit GHG emissions in order to maintain global warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius target and a 5-year review of national progress and target readjustments. More work needs to be done domestically in order to transform current models of production and ways of living, especially in the US, India, China and the EU, but it is a good starting point.

The second major success for multilateralism is the Nuclear deal with Iran. After almost a GTY_iran_world_leaders_ml_150402_16x9_992decade of negotiations initiated by the EU (remember the EU3+1?), the US under the leadership of its Secretary of State, John Kerry, was able to come to an agreement on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. If the US and European nations were quick on framing it as a political victory, such deal would not have been possible without China and Russia. Both nations were central in order to have Iran signed the deal.  If the Europeans were on the side of the Americans, it was quite uncertain throughout the process to count the Russians and Chinese in. But Russia has appeared as an important partner. For instance, on December 29, Iran shipped more than 11 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to Russia. But the deal came through and is, as the Paris Agreement, imperfect. At least, it permits to relaunch diplomatic relations with Tehran and re-includes Iran as a member of the international community. Some of the sanctions will be lifted, permitting Iran to sale its crude oil starting next year, in exchange for a discontinuation of the nuclear program.

The third major agreement is the signature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Since the collapse of the financial markets in 2008, which have caused an economic decline of the US and its allies and seen the rise of China, the US has initiated two major trade agreements: one with its Pacific partners (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam), the TPP, and one with its European allies, the Transatlantic Trade and Investmenttpp eng Partnership (TTIP). If the negotiations with European partners on the TTIP are still ongoing (read here a book on the topic), a result for TPP was finally reached in October 2015. In a document released by the Office of US Trade Representative, it is argued that “The result is a high-standard, ambitious, comprehensive, and balanced agreement that will promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.” Regardless of the supports for such trade agreement, the TPP will have undeniably major impacts on regional and global economic and political relations. The US is solidifying its position in Asia and diplomacy is playing a big role in promoting cooperation. However, one question clearly remains: should have China been included in such deal?

Notable European Leaders in 2015

A paragraph could have been written on each of the 28 European leaders. But this piece focuses only on three EU leaders.

François Hollande, President of France, could very well be at the top of European leadership by the way he has maintained his position at the helm of France under such 98cebbe6a5319916285991f0e66baa545b8bf9bddegree of threats and instabilities. Economically, the French economy is not picking up. The French GDP growth is of 0.3% in the last quarter of 2015 with an unemployment rate of 10.6% illustrating a situation of stagnation and difficulties to draft and implement meaningful structural reforms. In addition, his approval rating in 2014 and early 2015 was around 13%, the lowest for all Presidents of the Fifth Republic. In the middle of these domestic turmoils and failed reforms, Paris was struck twice by terrorist attacks, once in January targeting Charlie Hebdo, and nine months later against civilians in a hipster arrondissement of the capital. Despite all these crises, François Hollande has been able to see an increase of his approval rating, avoid the take-over of regions by the Front National at the regional elections, and host one of the most welcomed global summits in Paris. 2015 was quite a year for François Hollande, whom has demonstrated serious skills of leadership against adversity. However, this is coming at a cost as he has taken a securitarian approach and is now passing laws, like the removal of citizenship, that are in complete opposition with the philosophical roots of his party (and arguably his own).

Angela Merkel, or the Emotional Leader of Europe. If François Hollande is shifting towards the right in order to make the homeland more secure undermining French

Generated by IJG JPEG Library
Generated by IJG JPEG Library

republican values, Angela Merkel has managed to maintain Germany in a sound economic direction (even though German economy is showing some signs of weakness), while becoming the emotional leader of Europe. Germany’s friendly policy of welcoming refugees was in some degree one of the most positive policies of 2015 in Europe. If EU Member States were calling for the construction of walls, use of army and other aberrations (Denmark planning to confiscate refugees’ jewelry) in order to stop the flow of refugees, Germany instead welcomed them. Angela Merkel’s decision to go against her political allies and political foundation illustrates one of the most human moves in Europe (read a recent piece here published in the New York Times). Chancellor Merkel may very well paying the cost of her actions if Germany is the target of a terrorist attack later on and struggle in integrating all these refugees.

David Cameron – The British Prime Minister was reelected in late Spring 2016 on an ultra-David-Cameron-Europenationalist and anti-european platform. Since his reelection, he has now identified himself as the British leader fighting for Britain’s national interests and integrity against the European Union. The publication of his demands to Brussels initiating negotiations in light of a future referendum about the membership of the UK solely responded to a national agenda without any clear vision for Britain’s future. Cameron is another European head of government with no long-term vision for his country and the Union. He embodies the shift of the past rights moving to the extreme without a clear political philosophy. Cameron’s polices have proven to be more based on ideology than facts.

Voices from Brussels?

What about HR Mogherini, President Tusk, President Schulz, and President Juncker? The heads of the largest EU institutions – EEAS, Commission, Parliament, and European Council – have not been that vocal at the exception of President Juncker at the ‘beginning’ of the migration crisis. The European leadership was pretty quiet throughout the year (at the exception of Commissionner Vestager going after the largest global corporations one after the other). Eventually 2016 could be the year for Federica Mogherini, whom is scheduled to release the new European Security Strategy in mid-Spring (read here an analysis on the current strategic thinking). 2016 could be as well the year for Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, as Warsaw will be hosting the 2016 NATO Summit. Such meeting in Poland will be important for two reasons: first, promote European principles and values in a country moving away from Europe’s ideals; second, it should address the ongoing regional crises from Ukraine, to Syria, to Iraq, Afghanistan and think seriously on how to engage with President Putin.

(Copyright 2016 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Mogherini’s World – Reflecting on the 2016 EU Global Strategy

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

The world has changed. Europe’s neighborhoods are going up in flames causing real problems for the stability of the European Union (EU). European Member States have considerably downsized their foreign and defense spendings due to the Eurozone crisis and lingering economic slowdown. The United States is retrenching; Russia is ever-more aggressive; China is getting more comfortable with its role as a regional hegemon. The threats, from climate change, to migration, to nuclear proliferation, to territorial invasion, are becoming more than ever complex requiring regional and international cooperation and emphasizing the decline of the liberal world order.

In the meantime, the EU was evolving without a clear strategic role as its strategic foundations were based on the 2003 European Security Strategy and framed a world order that seems long gone. But experts and European diplomats have been mentioning that a new European Security Strategy  was in the making. This was officially confirmed during the address on December 8th of the HR Representative, Federica Mogherini, calling for a reflection on a new common strategy, the so-called EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy (here is the link of the EEAS website on the Global Strategy).

The European Strategic Heritage

The 2003 document, which has been extensively analyzed and written about, had several purposes (for more details refer to the following book). First, in 2003, the EU was highly divided due to the invasion of Iraq by the United Solana-fermeture-014States. HR Javier Solana used the document in order to find a new political unity among the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europes. Second, with the invasion of Iraq, the US violated core international principles and went alone in Iraq on the idea of preemptive actions bypassing the UN Security Council. The EU felt the necessity to emphasize their core principles for foreign actions: ‘effective multilateralism.’ Last but not least, HR Solana saw the importance to frame the security threats facing the European Union as whole, which had never been done at the European level.

Until today, the strategic baseline of the EU remains the 2003 European Security Strategy adopted by the European Council at the 2003 December meeting and its update, the 2008 Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy. The 2003 document was deeply influenced by Robert Cooper and politically promoted by the savvy-diplomat, and at the time High Representative, Javier Solana. The rather short but precise 2003 document followed by its update can be summarized as such (see previous analysis here):

ess

The two problems with the 2003 ESS and 2008 RI-ESS are that both documents do not reflect the new nature of the EU and the agency (note it is not an institution) of the European External Action Service (EEAS) since the Treaty of Lisbon (read two reviews on the EEAS here and here); and that EU and its Member States have not only become risk-averse but as well seeking to do foreign policy on the cheap.

Mogherini’s World

In here opening paragraph, HR Mogherini clearly framed ‘her’ world:

“The world has changed so much since our current strategy of 2003. It is an excellent one, but from a completely different world; a world that allowed the European Union to say that it had never lived in such a secure and prosperous environment. Clearly this is not the case today anymore”

Mogherini’s world is far from Solana’s. The degree of interconnection has accelerated in a

crimea169-408x264matter of a decade. In addition, the Europeans and Americans have been reluctant to play the role of regional power by being more proactive and then active in stabilizing the neighborhoods from the South to the East of Europe. The Arab Spring changed the complexity of politics and affected the balance of power around the Mediterranean sea. General Qaddafi and President Mubarak, once powerful Arab leaders, are gone leaving a power vacuum in North Africa. Then Syria is in the middle of a civil war seeing the rise of a powerful terrorist network, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and causing Syrians to flee their homeland. The Al-Assad regime, Russia and a multitude of factions are fighting a bloody civil all under the bombs of Western powers. To the East, Russia has simply invaded and acquired Crimea from Ukraine and has fought a war in Eastern Ukraine, while violating European airspace and cyberspace on weekly basis. Ultimately, HR Mogherini is correct when framing the world we live in as such:

And today we clearly see that we cannot run and hide from what is happening around us. Everything that is important to our citizens is influenced by our international environment. And there is actually no distinction, no borders, no line between what happens far away, what happens at our borders, in our region, and what happens inside our European Union. Even these categories are now losing sense. When it comes to the terrorist threats, when it comes to migration, what is far, what is close, what is inside, is getting confused.

Mogherini’s question is based on the fact that the world does not have any longer global rules. By ‘global rules’ she implies the ones implemented and enforced by the ‘liberal world order’ established at the end of World War two and enforced by the US through a complex institutional networks and sticky sets of norms, principles and rules.

I believe that in an age of power shifts as we are living, Europe can be a global power and a force for good. I believe that faced with increasing disorder, Europe must be the driving force pushing for a new global order: a global order based on rules, on cooperation, and on multilateral diplomacy.

HR Mogherini is calling for the design of new global architectures, based on post-World War two structures, in order to foster cooperation and enforce stability. And here is the problem. The old architecture is centered around the US. Today the US needs the collaboration of new powers like China, India, Brazil and Turkey. The liberal world order will have to be first readjusted to today’s world order centered around a multitude of powers.

Complaisant Power

Her address is certainly not the final document and is, as she mentioned, in a mode of

Credit: EEAS
Credit: EEAS

consultation and reflection. Mogherini emphasizes the success of multilateralism and the need to avoid unilateralism. She identified recent success stories of international cooperation such as the nuclear agreement between Iran and powerful actors and the COP-21 with world leaders meeting in Paris under a UN umbrella structure. But her address feels like a déjà-vu due to a lack of creativity in the strategic thinking process. Mogherini wants the EU to be a respected global actor, but there is a serious gap between ‘wanting’ and ‘being.’

The address lacks of teeth by directly underlining how the EU and its Member States will be acting? How much will be invested in the CSDP? Are EU Member States all committed to pool resources at the European level? What are the instruments at the disposition of the EU to deal with the war in Syria? the refugee crisis? Is there such thing as a European interest? Last but not least, what about power projection? Mogherini wants to inject the European citizens in the drafting process, but none of the critical and contentious issues are mentioned, and even less addressed. This address sends the message that the EU is more of a ‘complaisant’ power than a real power. The 90s European belief of a post-power world with the EU at the forefront is deeply engrained in this discussion. Let’s hope that the EU Global Strategy will not be a recycled 2008 RE-ISS.

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

Migration, Terrorism and the Quest for Transatlantic Sanity

Photo: Reuters/Michaela Rehle
Photo: Reuters/Michaela Rehle

The debate in Europe and the United States has been hijacked by a simple and false amalgam that Syrian refugees are the same type of people that have bombed a Russian airliner and killed over 120 civilians in the streets of Paris. Such amalgam is resonating among the citizens of the Euro-Atlantic nations and is affecting societal unity as well as serious policy-making.

American and European Discourses

In the United States, the political debate for constructive policy-making and governance is on hold until the November 2016 Presidential elections. So far, the political debate has been framed by the large pool of Republican presidential hopefuls seeking for attention and party nomination. Because of the two-step process of American elections, candidates ought to win their party

Photo:
Photo: AP

primaries in order to face the opposition in the second round. Historically, this part of the race is the most extreme and radical as each candidate (from the Republican or Democrat) wants to win the nomination from their party base. In recent decades, the base for the Democrats and Republicans has become more extreme. For such reason Republican hopefuls are tapping in the most radical rhetorics in order to get the nomination. This leads ultimately to ultra-nationalist and anti-immigration narratives highly embedded in ideologies and leaving facts on the side. The current leader of the Republican field, Donald Trump, has been quite tough on wanting to stop immigrants from coming into the US and even rejecting illegal immigrants currently living in the country. But the debate in the US has become even more radical ensuing the terrorist attacks in Paris. Now Governors of the states of Florida and Georgia have both claimed that they will be refusing to welcome any Syrian refugees. First of all, immigration in the US is a federal matter, so that would go against federal policies. Second, the process to get asylum in the US is extremely difficult, long and thorough.

Interestingly enough, Marco Rubio, Senator for the state of Florida, is even forgetting about his own history by taking a tough stand against refugees. His family flew the Cuban dictatorship as many Cubans did since the 60s. For political and historical reasons, the Cubans are among the very few to receive automatic citizenship. Cubans were fleeing a violent dictatorship persecuting individuals opposed to the regime; so are a majority of Syrians. If the 60s and 70s were one of the most tense moment between Communist regimes and Capitalist regimes, the fear was about protection of intelligence and the US responded through the implementation of virulent anti-communist policies starting with McCarthy. Today, the fear from the Syrians is not so much about intelligence gathering and spying, but rather about terrorism. In both cases, the American public has been extremely fearful of welcoming refugees from highly unstable places. Individuals like Marco Rubio taking a selecting reading of personal and national history and migration are affecting the sanctity of an important debate on proper refugee policies.

Credit: Pew Research Center. September 2015.
Credit: Pew Research Center. September 2015.

As illustrated by the recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans (51%) approves the US decision to take more refugees. Within this 51%, the wide majority of Americans in favor of such policy move belongs to the Democratic Party (69%), when only less than 1/3 of Republican supporters approve it. When asked about the US on doing more, only 44% of citizens agree with such statement. If Democrats were predominantly in favor to welcome refugees (69%), only 50% of them are in favor on doing more and 35% rather stay with the current course of action. Ultimately, the current debate taking place in each party reflects very well the results of such poll. In the case of the Republicans, the main argument is to limit the number of refugees, while in the case of the Democrats it is to maintain the current status-quo. Neither parties offer a true solution on welcoming Syrian refugees.

Credit:
Credit: Steve Benson

On the other side of the Atlantic, the populist and xenophobist parties of the extreme right are getting some serious leverage. Not only they are getting into power like in Poland, Denmark and Sweden, but other extreme right parties like in France are continuing their progressive ascension. The European rights are shifting towards the extreme of their spectrum in order to seek for a confused electorates. In the case of France, despite the ongoing investigations, the rights are splitting from the government  and are fighting over a ‘frighten’ and ‘powerless’ electorate. In his many speeches and addresses, President François Hollande has called for national unity and solidarity. But the rights are rejecting such unity. For instance, during the address of the Prime Minister Manuel Valls before the National Assembly, the rights booed and refused to join the current government in maintaining the national unity. The Republicans (center-right) and Front National (extreme-right) shall be called for what they are in this moment of grief, tension and uncertainty (considering the fact that the police and intelligence services are still looking

Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA
Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

for terrorists and working on dismantling terrorist cells around the country): vultures. In addition, if one were to actually read and listen to the narratives of Prime Minister Valls, one would get confused about his political affiliation. The securitarian rhetorics of the current socialist government is identical to the ones used by the French rights. In a recent interview with international medias, PM Valls expressed through very tough language radical policies in order to curb the threat of terrorism (read here an article in the Financial Times). In addition, the PM and President have not shied away from repeating that ‘France is now at war’ and more attacks should be expected.

Politically, France is highly divided, much more than after the terrorist attacks in January, while socially, French citizens are in fact seeking and searching for some sort of unity and solidarity. Interestingly enough, the world has offered the unity and solidarity to French citizens more than its own political class. The demonstrations of support in the US and the UK (both on the right of the political spectrum and in opposition to economic and social policies of the Hollande’s government) have been quite humbling.

 The Quest for Transatlantic Sanity and Maturity

The threat of terrorism and its recent successes in Paris, Egypt, Beirut, Tunis (to name a few) is causing Westerners and others to reflect on a simple question: what does the future entail? How do we, as a society, avoid for a radicalization of our youth? and how do we secure our nations without violating our own democratic principles and values? The US waged two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade, violated its democratic principles (through the Patriot Act, rendition and the use of torture). Now the French are at war and are passing laws in order to extend the state of emergency as well as a deprivation of nationality for bi-nationals. A French Patriot Act was already in the making ensuing the attacks against Charlie Hebdo 10 months earlier.

With regards to the refugees leaving their homelands in Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and others, Europeans cannot find a common position on welcoming them and relocating them across the Union. Member States rather locked them down by closing their borders and ultimately slowly killing one of the greatest successes of the EU, the Schengen agreement (read here a previous analysis on the issue). Europeans live in the absolutely fantasy that closing and re-instituting national borders will ultimately stop the flow of migrants. In the 19th century and early 20th, an ocean and closed American borders did not stop Italian and Irish migrants to seek for an opportunity in the United States. So it is quite futile to forget about history and geographical realities.

The obvious policy response from, supposedly developed countries, should be to assume their responsibilities by welcoming refugees and letting their legal mechanisms grant asylum to the few of them. The question of the Schengen agreement should be properly addressed instead of being criticized for political reasons. The concept of Schengen, a borderless continent, is fascinating but cannot work without its members boosting up their cooperation between their police and intelligence services. Free movement of people should be guaranteed, but that does not mean that it should be a lawless continent. Criminal and terrorist networks ought to be controlled through deeper European cooperative mechanisms requiring more funding, more human and material capabilities, and naturally political will.

The two complex crises of migration and terrorism have illustrated a core reality. Our ‘leaders’ need to do more ‘leading’ and less following. Governing is a complex matter that requires vision, leadership and courage. Until our elected officials seek for perpetual reelection by only worrying of grabbing an endlessly shifting confused electorate, these complex crises will linger.

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

Nobody Kills France – A Call for National Unity and Courage

12227230_452533284919721_4100478325482977626_n

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).

WO-AY532F_FRATT_9U_20151113181509

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).

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).

Interview with O Globo on Russia in Syria

Earlier this week, Henrique Gomes Batista, the foreign correspondent of the O Globo in Washington D.C., a daily major national newspaper in Brazil, wanted to talk about Syria, Russia and the West. Politipond previously posted an analysis on the Russian incursion in Syria and what it means for the West. Here is the interview below (in Portuguese):

 

O Globo

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