Who Cares About Bernie Sanders’ Historic Candidacy?

In March 2016, the Green Party nominated Dr. Jill Stein as their candidate for President of the United States. They have had female vice-presidential nominees on every single ticket since 1996, and ran all-female tickets in 2008 and 2012. But unfortunately, the highest the Green Party has ever performed in a general election was in 2000, when they garnered nearly 3% of the popular vote. The party was relegated to obscurity thereafter—decried as spoilers who bear responsibility for the election of George W. Bush and everything that followed.

And while both the Democratic and Republican parties have previously nominated a woman to be their vice-presidential nominees (Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, respectively), Hillary Clinton is the first woman to appear at the top of one of the major party tickets—making her the first viable female presidential candidate in U.S. history. The U.S. has lagged far behind many other countries in achieving this milestone. For perspective, there have been 11 women from Muslim-majority nations that have served as PM or President, and about 1 out of every 10 contemporary governments has a female head of government or head of state.

The significance of Clinton’s achievement transcends mere symbolism: As a black man, the presidency of Barack Obama has impacted me in ways that are hard to describe, despite frequent political differences. Similarly, while adamantly opposed to Hillary’s nomination, I appreciate how meaningful it could be for a generation to grow up experiencing a woman as the “leader of the free world”—even more so at this moment, when women seem poised to simultaneously head up Britain, France and Germany as well (the implications of the fact that most of these are center-to-far right leaning politicians is a matter for a different essay). However, throughout this political season I have also found myself both perplexed and outraged by how little discussion there has been about the historic nature of Ms. Clinton’s principal Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders.

Now, with the Democratic primary officially concluded, following Sanders’ concession to Hillary Clinton and his full-throated convention endorsement—it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on just how significant his campaign has been, and what Sanders’ supporters can take from it going forward.

Continue reading “Who Cares About Bernie Sanders’ Historic Candidacy?”

Foreign Policy Fundamentalism

Originally published in The Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XXXIX, No. 3 (Summer 2015)

Print version available here.

 

With pomp and polish and platitudes, the 2016 presidential campaign is underway. It began in December, as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced he was “actively exploring” a run for the White House. Bush is more moderate than much of the Republican base on many issues–perhaps too moderate to ultimately win his party’s nomination.[1] On foreign policy issues, however, Bush tows a hawkish line, pushing for a more aggressive U.S. posture against Syria, Russia, Iran, China, and Cuba in order to better promote and defend American ideals and interests throughout the globe.[2]

On the whole, the Republican hopefuls are “racing to the right” on foreign policy, arguing for a more muscular approach to international affairs. A narrative is taking hold that many of the problems facing the world today are the result of the Obama administration’s “failed leadership.” More specifically, they were not brought about by America’s ill-conceived actions, but instead, because of U.S. inaction: a failure to intervene as often or aggressively as “needed” around the world, which (to many conservatives’ minds) projected American weakness and undermined U.S. credibility.[3] The solution? Clear principled American leadership. This line of reasoning permeates the recently-announced campaigns of noted surgeon Ben Carson, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and increasingly reflects the political strategy of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul as well.[4]

The presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is perhaps more aggressive still: unwavering in her advocacy of Israel, comparing Putin to Hitler over Ukraine, pushing for a more confrontational approach to China, championing intervention in Libya and Syria (just as she previously did for Iraq), supporting the troop surge in Afghanistan as well as the likely ill-fated campaign against ISIL, defending the counterproductive drone program, and arguing for increased sanctions and the threat of force against Iran (although she now tentatively supports the nuclear negotiation effort).[5]

During her pre-announcement book tour, Clinton lambasted the Obama administration’s foreign policy, particularly the administration’s aspirational credo:[6] “Don’t do stupid shit.” Her complaint was not that the Obama administration has failed to live up to such an apparently modest goal, but instead, that “don’t do stupid *stuff*” is not an organizing principle, and “Great nations” need doctrines to guide their foreign policy.[7]

On its face, this line of criticism is absurd. Clearly, “avoid doing harm” is, in fact, a maxim designed to guide action (just ask any medical professional).[8] Granted, it’s a principle guiding what not to do, rather than what to do. However, for this very reason, it is more basic (and more important than) any offensive strategy: it constrains what sorts of affirmative policies are desirable or even permissible. But notwithstanding this apparent lack of understanding about what “organizing principle” means,[9] there is a more profound error that Secretary Clinton holds in common with the Republican frontrunners: the assumption that grand strategies are necessary or useful in guiding foreign policy. They aren’t.

 

Continue reading “Foreign Policy Fundamentalism”

There Is No Iranian Nuclear Threat

On April 21, Iran and six world powers resumed the final phase of nuclear talks after a preliminary framework deal reached earlier this month. Iran and the P5+1 countries — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — are expected to reach a final accord by the end of June.

Yet hawks in Washington and Israel argue that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, or even remain within “sprinting” distance of acquiring one. They argue that a nuclear-armed Iran would be an existential threat to Israel, would be increasingly belligerent on the international stage, likely provoking an arms-race in the Middle East. In worst-case scenarios, a nuclear-armed Iran may even precipitate WWIII and cast the world into nuclear winter. Given these dire projected risks, hawks generally oppose any nuclear agreement with Iran which allows the country to continue enriching uranium—which is tantamount to saying they oppose negotiations altogether.

For the sake of argument (and simply for the sake of argument), let’s assume these fears are well-founded, and not only does Iran want a nuclear weapon, but they actually succeed in obtaining one. Moreover, let’s assume that the Islamic Republic may even be willing to use weapons of mass destruction against their adversaries. The brute fact remains that Iran would not actually be able to carry out a successful nuclear strike against Israel or the U.S.; even the threat of a so-called “dirty bomb” is negligible.

 

Continue reading “There Is No Iranian Nuclear Threat”

Netanyahu’s Politics of Fear Have Proven Highly-Effective

As the Israeli election results continue to be finalized, it appears that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party has again emerged victorious—likely holding onto 30 of their current 31 seats in the government. The Zionist Union, Netanyahu’s primary opposition, garnered only 24 seats, with the Joint List of Arab candidates rounding out third place with a likely 14 seats. It was a decisive win for Likud and Netanyahu—one which could extend their mandate into 2019 and put Netanyahu on the path to being the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history.

In the international media, much has been made of PM Netanyahu’s brazen last-minute maneuvers to energize his right-wing base: His controversial speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Iran’s supposed nuclear threat was intended largely as domestic propaganda—a successful attempt to circumvent Israeli campaign laws. In the days before the polls, he also grew more transparent in his position on the Palestine, insisting that there will be no Palestinian State so long as he remains Prime Minister. In the final hours he resorted to race-baiting pleas that Israeli Jews go to the polls to prevent “Arabs” from having a meaningful sway in the elections.

None of these maneuvers should have been surprising. Benjamin Netanyahu has built his entire political career out of portraying Iran and Palestine as existential threats to the Jewish people:

Continue reading “Netanyahu’s Politics of Fear Have Proven Highly-Effective”

How Hardliners in the U.S. and Israel Empower Hardliners in Iran

For many, Hassan Rouhani’s administration seems like a breath of fresh air, an unprecedented moment of opportunity for reform in Iran. Many have pointed out that Rouhani’s progressive aspirations are in many ways restrained or undermined by Iran’s hardliners–but ironically, U.S. hardliners played a pivotal role in creating this dynamic.

Following the re-election of reformist president Mohammad Khatami, the Islamic Republic reached out to the White House calling for a dialogue–indicating a willingness to increase transparency of its nuclear program, to recognize Israel and even cut ties with Hamas.

But the Bush Administration rebuffed this offer, and even tanked Iran’s negotiations with Europe (also led by Hassan Rouhani and Javad Zarif) to limit Iran’s nuclear capacity to a mere 3,000 centrifuges. The White House at the time adopted Netanyahu’s position that any nuclear capacity for Iran was too much, and that the ideal was not just limiting Iran’s nuclear program but outright regime change. President Bush even went on to parrot Netanyahu’s line verbatim comparing the Islamic Republic to Germany’s Nazi regime in the lead-up to World War II–and analogizing those who want to negotiate as appeasers.

The failure of these bold efforts at diplomacy rendered Khatami unable to fulfill many of his campaign pledges–in turn, leading to massive gains by Iran’s conservative parties in the 2004 Parliamentary Elections, and the landslide victory of the much-more confrontational Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 Presidential Elections. We should expect a similar dynamic to play out in Iran if the current attempts at rapprochement fail.

President Obama was right in noting how hardliners in the U.S. seem to have a common cause with those in Iran–but its hardly the first time. And if these zealots have their way, it won’t be the last.

The “Paper-State” of Palestine is Worse than Useless

On Dec. 30, the United Nations Security Council rejected a proposal put forward by coalition of Arab states and the Palestinian Authority calling for “full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces” from all Palestinian territories seized after 1967, and full Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza by December 31, 2017.

The resolution needed 9 votes to pass, but ultimately garnered 8, with United States and Australia voting against it and 5 abstentions — an outcome achieved by Washington cajoling Nigeria to abstain at the last moment. But even if the measure passed, the U.S. had already signaled plans to exercise their veto and override the vote—as it has already done 41 times on Israel’s behalf since 1972. Continue reading “The “Paper-State” of Palestine is Worse than Useless”

Normalize Relations with Iran Now, Not Later

In an administration which has become known for largely continuing the disastrous policies of the previous White House and doubling-down on its own proven failures—President Obama stunned the world with his surprise announcement that the United States would be normalizing relations with Cuba.

The President pointed out that the extraordinary sanctions regime, which has been in place for more than 50 years, has failed at its stated goal of achieving regime change in Cuba. Instead, it has senselessly immiserated the Cuban people for decades. Deeper engagement, he offered, would be the best path forward in bolstering an exchange of ideas between the two countries and promoting mutual well-being. The logic which motivated the Administration to revise its policy on Cuba would seem to apply equally to Iran. Continue reading “Normalize Relations with Iran Now, Not Later”

A Brief History of Palestinian Statehood

Although they have not yet been given full-membership in the U.N. (and would not have gained membership through Abbas’ proposal), the body has affirmed Palestinian statehood numerous times, most recently with a 2012’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 67/19, which passed with 138 votes in favor, 9 votes opposed and 41 abstentions, recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state. Continue reading “A Brief History of Palestinian Statehood”

Israel & Palestine: The One State Solution

Throughout the current crisis, Israeli apologists and spokespeople have attempted to blame the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, for the wanton carnage and destruction unfolding in Gaza. One of their consistent talking points has been that, following Israel’s 2005 retreat from the Gaza strip in the wake of the Second Intifada and Hamas’ 2006 electoral landslide victories, the organization could have built a “Palestinian paradise” in Gaza—but they instead chose to squander their efforts and resources on terrorism, at the expense of the Palestinian people, “forcing” Israel to kill thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, for the sake of its own continued existence.

Of course, all of this is nonsense. Continue reading “Israel & Palestine: The One State Solution”

It was Israel which sought out this war with Hamas

In the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the dominant discourse is that the Palestinian militants provoked the hostilities — while Israel, as President Barack Obama affirmed last week, is acting in legitimate self-defense. Many have attempted to problematize this narrative, for instance by arguing that Israel, as an occupying power, does not have a legitimate legal or moral claim to self-defense. Others have argued that rockets fired by Hamas do not constitute an existential crisis for Israel or its citizens and certainly did not warrant the killing of more than 500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including women and children.

While these are all valid and important points, the broader narrative remains largely unchallenged: Hamas began firing rockets at Israel first, triggering Israel’s latest military incursion. This is not true. In fact, far from acting in self-defense, the crisis is the result of deliberate actions by Israel over the last few weeks — first to stir up anti-Arab sentiment among the Israeli population and then to provoke Hamas into open conflict.

Continue reading “It was Israel which sought out this war with Hamas”

War is Peace: Al-Sisi, Abu Mazen, Netanyahu and the Cynical Ceasefire

Following Abu Mazen’s too-hasty embrace of the Egyptian ceasefire proposal and corresponding criticism of Hamas, the popular narrative of the ongoing crisis in Gaza is that Hamas has betrayed the truce agreement despite Israel’s hours-long unilateral compliance. The truth of the matter is that Hamas didn’t violate the ceasefire because it never signed onto it. In fact, they have from the outset rejected any such reprieve prior to negotiating the terms of an armistice with Israel. Yet despite their clear position with regards to a truce, Hamas was not consulted in the formation of Egypt’s proposal—in fact, they claim to have found out about it through media reports. The proposal put forward by the Egyptians was not a serious attempt to bring the conflict to a resolution—it will exacerbate the crisis, as it was likely designed to do.

Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, shares Israel’s desire to destroy Hamas—an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom al-Sisi perhaps rightly views as an existential threat to his nascent regime; both groups are banned in Egypt under al-Sisi’s orders. He jailed his predecessor on trumped up charges of colluding with Hamas. He indefinitely closed the Rafah Crossing into Egypt—Gaza’s only connection to the outside world given Israel’s illegal land and sea blockade–in an attempt to choke off Hamas and weaken its position among Gazans. He subsequently destroyed the tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle assets into Gaza circumventing the crossing. He is even courting a joint missile-defense system with Israel in order to help contain the group and its patron Iran—as part of a growing security partnership between the two countries.

All of these measures have and continue to feed into the ill-substantiated race-baiting conspiracies resonating across the Arab world (and beyond) that al-Sisi is Jewish and a Manchurian candidate for Israel and its Zionist hardliners. This impression is further exacerbated by Israel’s quiet but persistent support for al-Sisi’s deposing of President Muhammad Mursi, as well as his personal rise to power and subsequent brutal crackdown on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Accordingly, al-Sisi was and remains a radically inappropriate choice as a mediator between Hamas and Israel, notwithstanding Egypt’s traditional role in easing tensions between the two parties. As the situation in Gaza deteriorated, al-Sisi sat on his hands for nearly a week, likely savoring Israel’s attempts at breaking Hamas. And then, despite it being easily within its power to do so, Egypt refused to give Hamas any kind of an “out” in their proposal, anything they could take back to their constituents as a victory—al-Sisi put forward a proposal destined, likely intended, to fail, and only under pressure from the Arab world and the West to put on a spectacle of “doing something.”

The United States suffers from a similar conflict of interest preventing them from serving as a mediator between Hamas and Israel: America has refused to recognize Hamas’ government as legitimate from the time they rose to power in 2006 until the formation of its unity government last month. Instead, the Bush II Administration passed sanctions punishing Gazans for exercising their democratic agency when Hamas rejected Israel’s terms for forming a government. Thereafter, they plotted (unsuccessfully) to forcibly overthrow Hamas in collaboration with Fatah. When these measures failed, Israel and Egypt began their blockade of the Gaza Strip, turning it into a virtual open-air prison—of course, with the support of the White House.  This situation has persisted, virtually unabated, to the present. Continue reading “War is Peace: Al-Sisi, Abu Mazen, Netanyahu and the Cynical Ceasefire”

Barack Hussein Obama, Moderate Neoconservative

In early 2003, Saddam Hussein’s regional and international allies were all warning him that an American invasion was imminent. Hussein’s reply was basically, “I know Washington’s tone is getting aggressive, but they aren’t going to try to remove me. I’m the only one in the region who is really taking the fight to the terrorists and fundamentalists. I’m the only one in the region putting real pressure on Iran. Despite our differences, they aren’t crazy! There is no way the United States is going to invade Iraq.”

Saddam was gravely overestimating America’s sanity. Forty-five months later, he was hanging from the gallows, his Baath regime dismantled, his country in shambles. The carnage and chaos that followed the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq horrified the world.

With the 2008 election of Barack Obama, there was widespread hope that we would see a new chapter in U.S. foreign policy:  troops would leave Afghanistan and Iraq, detainees would leave Guantanamo. No more gunboat liberalism. No more wars fought on false pretenses, driven by delusional ideologues, and contrary to American interests. The death of the nebulous global “war on terror” was nigh.

This “hope” proved ill-founded – the promised “change,” ephemeral.

Since Obama took office, the war on terror has dramatically expanded. Nomenclature notwithstanding, it remains global, vague, and unending – increasing its dimensions from the Middle East to West Africa, and the real world into cyberspace with digital pre-emptive strikes. It is a war which continues to be waged at the expense of civil liberties. America continues to drive more people towards extremism than it removes from the field through many of its counterterrorism tactics such as the drone program.

As far as Palestine or Iran are concerned, Ehud Barak said it best: “I can hardly remember a better period of American support and backing, and Israeli cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.”

The astonishing continuity between the Bush II and Obama administrations is nowhere clearer than America’s disastrous foreign policies related to the Arab Spring – policies which were driven by ideology and misinformation, no less under Obama than his predecessor (in fact, many of the same people from the Bush Administration inform policies for Obama).

The Arab Uprisings brought regime change to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and likely Syria; the United States played a decisive role in all of these “revolutions.”  And that role was usually to make things worse and more complicated.

 

Continue reading “Barack Hussein Obama, Moderate Neoconservative”