Monday, February 28, 2005

Are Those Wings on Your Camel?

I pinched myself twice and waited a few seconds to awaken from what seemed to be a very pleasant dream. Not that I dislike pleasant dreams but rather that I did not want to be so distraught upon waking up to an ugly reality. This time, however, I could not wake up although I tried to pinch myself one more time. First, it was Togo. The recently installed dictator announced that he was stepping down in order to pave the way for the restoration of the country's constitutional order. Then Mubarak, not to be outdone, announced that he was going to allow multi-party presidential elections for the first time in Egypt. Today, it was the pro-Syrian Lebanese government that stepped down amid pro-democracy protests. Can I ask you a question? What year is this? Did I just emerge from a long coma because it all happened so fast.

What we learned from the Togo episode is that Africa is no longer what it used to be. Today, the African Union (AU) has demonstrated that, unlike the Arab League, it is capable of resolving matters affecting the well-being and future development of its people. The AU's first move in that new direction has been Darfur where it sent a peacekeeping force, although it is a mission that remains largely limited in scope. As the Arab league stood silent in the face of mass murder committed, at least, with the help of one of its members, the African Union acted ahead of the United Nations and Western powers by sending military contingents to the area. It is, however, important to note that the AU mission is extremely limited and still needs international help if it is to succeed in saving lives, bringing the murderous Arab militias to justice, and breathing new hope into the refugee camps of western Sudan.

Earlier this year, another challenge came knocking and the AU seemed to take it in stride. When the Togolese military junta installed the son of the country's late tyrant as the new tyrant, the African Union refused to accept such fait acompli. The president of Nigeria who currently holds the presidency of the AU was particularly vocal about the need to restore constitutional order in Togo. Through tough diplomacy the Nigerian president and the AU forced the newly installed ruler to stand down and pave the way for elections in Togo. The African Union reacted well to both Sudan and Togo and clearly demonstrated that it is now capable of both unity and effective influence. Nonetheless, may we be reminded that there are still many undemocratic governments such as Zimbabwe, Libya, Gabon, Uganda, and Congo (Dem. Rep) that are sitting members of the AU and continue to escape international calls for democratic reform, human rights, and good governance. The AU must not be hypocritical as it forges ahead and must condemn the Mugabes in its midst. Another authoritarian regime that is a current member of the AU is Egypt, which brings me to my next point.

Mubarak announced in a dramatic TV appearance that he is ‘now convinced that more democracy and more freedom’ are needed in Egypt. It sounded like a Pharaoh had just had some divine inspiration to bestow upon his subjects, who in turn had to show their ‘infinite gratitude’ by shouting praise and flattering poetry. That’s what dictators are really good at. They lock you in a dark cell for years, then they announce that they decided to allow you to breath through a tiny hole in the wall and somehow we are all supposed to thank them and praise them as ‘visionary reformers’ and ‘strong leaders’. I usually do not allow my intelligence to be so insulted. However, the announcement that Egypt is now going to have multiparty elections is a positive development. It does not mean that they will have free and transparent elections. In fact, many observers think that the announcement was a political maneuver aiming to drown international criticism and act as a cover for the next electoral sham in Egypt. Those concerns are not baseless and may very well prove to be true before the end of this year. But let us hope that the tide is now pulling in the right direction and that undemocratic forces will eventually be swept away by the competent forces of democracy and freedom in Egypt.

Not very far from Egypt, another significant development burst into being this week. Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators defied a government curfew and poured into the streets of Beirut. Armed with only their red-and-white garments and the will to conquer their fear, they forced the pro-Syrian Lebanese government to call it quits. Whether inspired by what happened recently in Georgia and the Ukraine or by a boiling desire to finally say ‘enough is enough’, the Lebanese showed to their fellow Arabs that tyranny can not withstand popular will; it never has and never will.

One of the biggest frustrations often expressed by the educated Arab elite is that, while other people in other nations (Romania, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine, etc) brought their tyrannical regimes down by literally walking to freedom, the Arabs seem to always overestimate the strength of their tyrants. They have been made to fear Godzilla so much that they could not even entertain the thought of a Kiev (Orange revolution) or a Tbilisi (Rose revolution). Now that the Lebanese seem to have finally gotten it, one hopes that their neighbors do as well. My guess is that they will and when they do it will be, as Thomas Friedman said, like watching camels fly.

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

What Would Madison Say

James Madison has long argued that the causes of faction cannot be removed from a system of governance that values liberty. He believed that removing the causes of faction can only be achieved by either destroying liberty or normalizing passions, opinions, and interests among the governed. However, he points out that the former is simply incompatible with the values of the republic, thus, impractical, and the latter would be unwise, if not grotesquely naive. Madison’s chief preoccupation had to do with the dangers that a majority-led faction pose to the preservation of public good and private rights. In Federalist 10, he explains that there are two means of securing public good and private rights: (1) preventing the existence of the same passion and interest in a majority at the same time, or (2) dispersing and fragmenting the passions or interests of the majority so that they are unable to coalesce into an effective force of oppression.

In Federalist 51, Madison argues that the structure of the federal government in the republican union of the United States should be firmly based on two uncompromising principles: (1) Separation of powers; and (2) Checks and balances. He calls for separate government entities with independent powers that are effectively balanced within a system-wide structure and explains that institutional fragmentation is essential to ensuring government accountability. He argues that only by pitting different entities against each other and arming them with constitutional remedies that ensure their independence from each other, that the power surrendered by the people be properly used. In fact, he writes that since men are not angels, “ambition must counteract ambition” in order for the government to control itself while controlling the governed.

In simple terms, James Madison offers institutionalized fragmentation as an antidote to the tyranny of the majority and the dangers of faction. To questions like "what should be the official religion of the republic" or "what should be the dominant political philosophy of the nation", he answers that a sustainable republic calls for as many interest groups, religious affiliations, political currents, and social orientations as possible for he believes that only amidst such diversity, that the interests of all society can be justly protected. As to the inefficiencies and complexity that the republican remedy to popular government holds, Madison counters by stating that the intended outcome is the prevention of an oppressive will that may “execute and mask its violence under the forms of the constitution.”

The proposal to amend the federal constitution in order to ban gay marriage, today, warrants a re-reading of the logic embodied in the U.S. constitution; a brilliant document written by some of the most brilliant politicians in history. A reconsideration of the Farmers’ intent is in order because this has ‘tyranny of the majority’ and ‘dangers of faction’ written all over it. Madison writes that the republic must “guard the society against the oppression of its rulers”, as well as “guard one part of society against the injustice of the other part.” So it is thanks to the intellectual brilliance of the founding fathers that such an amendment at the national level would be extremely difficult to succeed. It is thanks to: the built-in complexity of the legislative system especially when it comes to securing the passage of constitutional amendments; the principle of a nationally-distributed majority; the sovereign rights of states; and the separation of powers; that the wishes of a simple majority can not reverse the clock on minority rights in this great republic.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Amazigh: Returning from the Ashes of Neglect II

Part II - What the Amazigh (Berbers) Want

Note that the native people of North Africa call themselves 'Amazigh' (sing.) or Imazighen (plur.), which means 'Freemen'. They refer to their language as 'Tamazight' and their homeland in North Africa as 'Tamazgha'. The name 'Berber' was imposed upon them by the Romans who followed the Greek custom of designating speakers of unintelligible languages as 'barbarians'.

Five years ago, a group of Amazigh Intellectuals headed by a prominent scholar and former teacher of the current King of Morocco produced a document called The Amazigh Manifesto; a document that has come to symbolize the official rebirth of the Amazigh movement. The Amazigh people were finally intent to forego their silence and openly challenge the status quo in order to regain their rights and obtain redress for the many years of discrimination they have suffered under Arab regimes in their homeland of North Africa. It was finally time for the Amazigh people to denounce the unjust treatment they have suffered and the systematic repression they have endured.

What follows is a summary of demands outlined in the The Amazigh Manifesto. Since the publication of this document, the Moroccan Monarch responded favorably to some of the Amazigh demands. This includes the creation of an Amazigh Cultural Institute and the teaching of the Amazigh language at the primary level of the school system. However, many of the fundamental demands of the Amazigh people are still unsatisfied, including the recognition of the Amazigh language as an official language of the country, lifting the ban on registering Amazigh names, and the economic development of Amazigh-speaking areas. While some of the initiatives taken recently by the King of Morocco are positive, the Amazigh people of North Africa continue to suffer systematic discrimination and premeditated repression.

First Request

The government must make the issue of the Amazighity of Morocco the subject of a large-scale national debate. Some of the political parties have the duty of educating those of their followers who were brought up to be fanatical about Arab nationalism and the denial of the "Amazighity" of Morocco.

The government has at its disposal all the State’s financial and logistical means in the domains of mass media, education and culture and the freedom to act as the official organizer and moderator of the much needed debate.

Second Request

It is high time that the recognition of our original national language–Tamazight (i.e. Berber)–as an official language be enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

Third Request

There is no gainsaying the historical reality, which indeed can not be contested, that the economic and cultural marginalization of the Amazighs since 1912 has brought about their political weakness. Thus, they have been largely exploited by the political Right and Left alike.

Therefore, we demand that a serious planning for the economic development of the Amazighs- speaking areas take place, with the aim to give them momentary priority to get equipped with the necessary infrastructure.

Fourth Request

The Amazighs are strongly attached to their linguistic heritage, more so than to a material one. This is because they are Amazigh thanks to their language not to their race. They are completely aware of the fact that whoever among them exposes his language to loss is doing the same to his Amazigh existence.

Thus, we are asking the government to prepare draft bills aiming to enforce the teaching of Tamazight in schools, institutes and universities. Moreover, we request that it create the scientific institutions capable of codifying the Amazigh language and preparing the pedagogical instruments necessary for its teaching.

Fifth Request

In the last 40 years, the political trends that have adopted a fanatical stand about Arabism have exploited their effective hegemony and used their authority to orient historical studies on the Maghreb and the teaching of History in accordance with their wishes and ideological inclinations.

For these reasons, we demand that a serious reconsideration of the kind of history taught to our children take place. To achieve this objective, a "National Scientific Commission" must be set up, at the highest possible level, and charged with the task of devising the History syllabi, particularly for the primary, junior and high school levels. Our ministers of education shall not be given free disposal as concerns syllabi and curricula in the field of History.

Sixth Request

We call upon the government to make the use of Tamazight mandatory in public service, for the benefit of those of our fellow citizens who are not cognizant in Arabic.

The official mass media should be in the service of the Amazighs in the same way that they are for other citizens. This would be achieved only by the creation of a "Radio and TV station" where the linguistic medium used is mainly Tamazight.

The State has to create a training institution for translators and interpreters in Tamazight to be employed in the court system, the administrations, the hospitals and all the public services.

The government should allow the use of Tamazight in the proceedings of official meetings, at least at the level of local and regional councils.

The government must lift the ban on registering the Amazigh names in the Sate Registry Services as soon as possible, because in this ban lies a clear intention to provoke the Amazighs.

Seventh Request

The original Amazigh art is to be rehabilitated. This includes literature, dancing, singing, architecture and decoration. This art is to be modernized so that it will be improved and promoted. The Amazigh artists must be granted the same financial assistance and endowments as their Arab colleagues.

Eighth Request

The authorities must cease to intentionally distort the Amazigh names of places, villages, cities and regions, through their arbitrary Arabization, as this increases the resentment of the Amazighs.

Ninth Request

The Amazigh cultural associations are to be granted the status of "Public Interest" associations so as to enable them to benefit from State financial assistance.

The newspapers, magazines and all publications concerned with the defense and promotion of the Amazigh heritage of Morocco are to be given the same financial help as that made available for publications in Arabic and the foreign languages.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Iraq: The Next Problem; Same as the Old Problem

As soon as the new Iraqi government, likely to be led by Ibrahim Jafari, is in place, a familiar name will come back to make headlines. Moqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who led a bloody revolt against U.S. troops last year, will demand that the new government ask for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Although Jafari says that U.S. troops are necessary until the security environment in Iraq improves, calls for a U.S. withdrawal will likely rage sooner than some think.

Let us not forget that Jafari’s United Iraqi Alliance, the winning coalition in the recent election, ran on a 22-point platform which includes a demand for "a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq." This is something the U.S. president in his State of the Union speech said would be unacceptable. He said: "We will not set an artificial time table for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out". In response, Sadr declared that he sees the legitimacy of the new government resting on whether or not foreign troops remain in Iraq. He said: "If elections open the door for the occupier to leave Iraq then it is a good thing. But if that is not the case, it will not have a real effect on the country or on Iraqis". Who is Moqtada Sadr and why should the U.S. be concerned?

He is the youngest son of Muhammad Sadiq Sadr, a senior Shiite cleric who was assassinated in 1999 by the Saddam regime. Moqtada Sadr mixes both Iraqi nationalism and Shiite radicalism, making him a figurehead for many of Iraq's poor Shiite Muslims. His impact on the young and angry segment of the Shiite population is similar to that which Malcom X had on Black Moslems in Harlem in his early days as the spokesman of the Nation of Islam. He knows how to communicate anger. He knows what to say to get people ready to fight, convinced that their cause is just and that their means are necessary.

Many in the West have labeled Sadr a ‘thug’ or even a ‘terrorist’. But before they do this time, they should remember that the U.S. occupation remains unpopular in Iraq and someone like Sadr can cause U.S. troops a lot of problems. This is the leader of an army of dedicated fighters, (the Mahdi Army) with loads of both religious and nationalist zeal. This is the only Shiite figure who is celebrated in the heartland of the Sunni insurgency; the only Shiite whose portrait was paraded by insurgents in Fallujah. For those who take the time to read the graffiti that litters Iraqi cities, the writing is literally on the wall.

Furthermore, unlike last time, the influential Ayatollah Sistani can not and will not contradict Sadr. There is no way Sistani will openly disagree with Sadr on the issue of foreign troop presence in Iraq. Therefore, Sadr’s militant and potentially violent stance on demanding the withdrawal of US troops will force the new Iraqi government to ask the U.S. for at least a timetable. If it does not, the Shiite coalition will face a break up within its ranks and the insurgency will widen beyond its present scope.

The problem with American policy is that it often ignores some of the most basic truths about the environment in which it operates. The idea of being 'occupied' makes people, especially in the Middle East, feel shamed and undegnified. Regardless of the progress made in building democratic institutions in Iraq, so long that the 'occupation' continues, the likes of Moqtada Sadr will continue to attract willing volunteers and sympathizers among Iraqis.

Although concerned, we should also be reminded that on 30 January 2005, scores of Iraqis decided to show tremendous courage under fire and participate in their first ever democratic election. One hopes that the grass is greener from here on, but let us also be realistic and try to forego more conflict before it erupts.

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Improbable Comeback of Ahmad Chalabi

As the winning Shiite coalition of Ayatollah Ali Sistani debates who will be its candidate for Prime Minister, two names are being mentioned as strong contenders for the job. The first is Ibrahim Jafari, the head of the Shiite Dawa party and considered by many to be close to Iran, and the second is the notorious Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC). It may very well turn out that Jafari gets the nod for the PM post but Chalabi is now in a position of strength and will most likely play an important role in whatever government emerges following the recent election in Iraq.

This is major league politics all around. The surgical way in which Chalabi has maneuvered to position himself politically in Iraq is deserving of a salute from even the shrewdest politicians in the World. If you are not convinced, then consider the road he took to where he now stands. This is after all the same Chalabi who was practically left for dead in the political swamps of Iraq following some very damaging allegations of fraud and spying. But, first let us rewind the tape to pre-war Iraq. Chalabi during this period managed to become very popular within powerful U.S. policy circles through his friendship with prominent neoconservatives and his willingness to feed largely bogus intelligence information about Iraq’s weapons programs to the U.S. government. In return, he was able to receive millions in U.S. tax-payers money to build his Iraqi National Congress into a credible political force.

Once he had the U.S. committed to a military confrontation, he was already halfway to his ultimate political goal in Iraq. The problem was that he was less popular among Iraqis than Saddam at the time he was airlifted into Iraq by the Pentagon shortly after the fall of Baghdad. He was seen as a U.S. puppet by most Iraqis and could not win an election to save his life in that country. So, good old Chalabi had to find a way to gain legitimacy in Iraq and dispel the belief that he was indeed a U.S. puppet. That was right around the period when Moqtada Sadr (a Shiite cleric) launched his militant campaign against the U.S. It is then that Chalabi made his first move in what became his new political strategy in Iraq. He started to publicly contradict U.S. officials and to advocate that the U.S. should surrender more political control to Iraqis. He started slowly to build the perception that he was now at odds with the U.S. by becoming a pain in the side of Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator Paul Bremer and raising a few eye brows in the halls of Congress.

Then a leak hit Washington faster than a lightening rod. Chalabi may have shared U.S. intelligence with the Iranians. In addition, the CPA secured a warrant from an Iraqi judge to search Chalabi’s offices in Baghdad and leveled accusations of bank fraud against him. To make matters worse, Chalabi’s nephew, who had been put in charge of the tribunal that is to try Baatists including Saddam, was accused of murder. The media and some congressmen from both sides of the aisle went to town on the Chalabi story. Headlines such as “fall from grace” and “falling out of favor” started to describe Chalabi’s relationship with the U.S. government. The Pentagon, where most of his supporters are, announced that it was cutting off all funding to Chalabi’s INC.

When many seemed ready to condemn Chalabi, an old friend stayed adamant about defending him. That old friend was Richard Perle. It is a mystery why a prominent neoconservative insider would stake his position in defense of an Iraqi politician charged with breaching national security to benefit one of the most ferocious enemies of the United States. Maybe it was but a case of personal loyalty, or maybe there was something more sinister to it. A calculated leak to redefine Chalabi’s political identity in Iraq and rid him of the ‘U.S. puppet’ label in hope that he builds real political legitimacy among Iraqis, you may ask. Maybe on the surface some wanted to give the impression that bridges were being burned between Chalabi and his old allies in Washington all while doing just enough in the background to make sure things did not go too far. I am not a fan of conspiracy theories, but if this were to be the case, it would be one of the most daring rounds of high-stakes political poker in recent history.

Following the scandal, Chalabi laid low as the UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, recommended with the blessing of the U.S. that Ayad Allawi be put in charge of the provisional government. Ahmad Chalabi did not like seeing his longtime rival Allawi in charge, but he did not fight the decision either. In the highly volatile situation in which the provisional government was asked to govern, he figured that there would be plenty of opportunities for him to maneuver politically in preparation for the 2005 elections. From outside a government that was facing the rising dissatisfaction and anger of Iraqis; from outside a government that was being seen by an increasing number of Iraqis as the enabling agent of the ‘US occupation’; from outside a government that was facing an increasing insurgency, Ahmad Chalabi maneuvered his way into the higher tier of the Shiite coalition blessed by the influential Ayatollah Ali Sistani. He is now one of two names considered for the post of prime minister following the recent elections in Iraq.

In politics of this caliber, things are never what they seem to be. Ahmad Chalabi is first and foremost a mathematician (he holds a PhD in Mathematics). He came, he adjusted and, at least for now, he defied reason to achieve some illogical outcomes.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Inconsequential Existence of the Arab League


To understand the state and legacy of the Arab League today, one should revisit the cause for its existence in the first place. This is an organization that was formed in 1944-45 to promote “the unity of the Arab world” in order to face threats during a time of grave international dangers including World War II, European Imperialism, and the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was, as the website of the organization explains, created to counter the ‘Zionist threat’ and the European imperialist designs on the region. The organization stipulates that its creation was also motivated by the desire to coordinate the "growing volume of commercial exchange and transfer of individuals between the Arab East countries”. Nonetheless, this remains an organization of which the genesis is primarily based on the premise of war and resistance and NOT that of fostering a new path for the development of the Arab people. It is, then, no surprise that the failure and irrelevance of the Arab League can be attributed to:

1. The failure of the Nasserist (Arab Nationalist) movement, which sided with the Soviets in the Cold War, and

2. The military defeats suffered by Arab armies in their conflict against Israel.

The only decision of consequence that the Arab League has ever made was calling for the oil embargo of 1973. The inspiration and motive for the only unified decision of international consequence by Arab governments was war against Israel. Since then, the Arab league’s cause for existence slowly eroded and its membership became increasingly polarized. On one hand, you had the revolutionary nationalists who courted the Soviet Union and on the other you had traditional monarchies seeking Western protection from local dissidents and Communist influence. Then there was obviously the oil-rich versus the desert poor, the modernists versus the traditionalists, the religious versus the secularists, and later those who formally recognized Israel versus those who continue to vehemently deny its existence. With so much division, it is a surprise to many that such an organization can still exist today. But, It is with a degree of confidence that we can say that what held the League together is the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Now that some of its members have elected to negotiate peace with Israel on an individual basis (Egypt-1979, Jordan-1994, and Palestine-ongoing), the league has become irrelevant on the issue that has come to define its very existence for the past half century. In addition, Libya presses on with threats and tantrums to quit the organization.

Whether it is regional conflict, human development, political reform, humanitarian aid, market integration, or economic development, the Arab League has been embarrassingly ineffective. On Palestine, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan, to cite a few, the Arab League has been shamefully incompetent and decidedly impotent. On the atrocious crimes committed in the backyard of one of its members, the league manages to find the audacity to ignore the plight of the people of Darfur who are being exterminated by Arab militias with the helpful hand of the Sudanese government. On Iraq, the league has long ignored the plight of the Iraqis when they were brutalized by the Saddam regime and are today inconsequential in that country’s political future. Most importantly, on ending tyranny, undertaking political reform and serving the long-term interests of its people, the Arab league would rather focus on blaming the West than take a hard look at itself. On democratic reform, they would rather "denounce" the West for "trying to impose democracy" than develop a common agenda that aims to usher their members into a new era of good governance. It has gotten so bad that anything and everything now is blamed on the U.S. and Israel. If someone were to fall and break an arm, Israel would surely have something to do with it!

This is now in the realm of the ridiculous and the Arab World needs to come to grips with its failures, past and present. The biggest challenge facing Arab countries, today, is undoubtedly human development. After more than 40 years of independence from European colonialism, the legacy of Arab governments is one of tyranny, human rights abuses, poverty, ignorance, and extremism. Unless the Arab world collectively accepts its responsibility in creating the swamp of misery, poverty, and hate that it is has become, any hope for a better tomorrow would be but a distant mirage. The Arab league will convene in Algiers on the 22nd and 23rd of March. Some still hope that the organization will finally make headlines by announcing a roadmap to democratic reform, taking concrete steps to stop the genocide in Darfur, formulating strategies to resolve territorial disputes among its members, define its responsibilities towards Iraq's security and political stability, and react decisively to the Syrian-Lebanese issue. I am not under such illusion.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Letter from a Togolese Refugee

The following is a letter that a Togolese friend sent to the U.S. State Department regarding the latest developements in his homeland. Please also refer to my earlier post "A First Chance to Make Good on the New American Promise".

This past Saturday, the Togolese people hoped that the disappearance of their bloody dictator of 38 years would mark the start of a genuine change in their political fate. Their hope was short-lived. The 69-year old Eyadema passed while on his way to seek medical treatment in Israel. Few hours after his passing, his tribal army conducted a military coup to promote Eyadema's 39 years old son Faure Eyadema to the presidency. Under criticism from the African Union, the European Union and other international organization, the parliament (made up of Eyadema’s family and friends) outperformed the military Sunday by instituting a constitutional coup of their own, elevating Eyadema's son to the parliament's top post and somehow, retroactively to the presidency.

How Togo has come to such aberrations remains difficult to understand. The country became independent from colonial rule in 1960 under the leadership of Sylvanius Olympio. In 1963, Togo became the first post-independence African country to experience a military coup in which the president was assassinated. Nicolas Grunitzky took over for three years before being deposed in 1967 by then Lt. Colonel Eyadema. Since 1967, the regime has excelled in the common feats of all dictatorships mainly the dilapidation of public funds, the brutal repression of all dissent and nepotism in the management of public affairs. Further, the country became deeply fractured along ethnic lines (primarily north and south). Eyadema, who is Kabye from the north, built an army made up of his family members and tribal mates. The regime uses the military to kill at will, suppress popular uprisings and commit human right violations as documented in many reports by the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International.

The recent developments in Togo can only degrade the aspirations of freedom loving people all over the world. As we go about our lives here, millions of people in Togo and all over the world are resigned to hunger, fear and other degrading sentiments. Moreover, the situation in Togo has all the ingredients of horrible bloodsheds in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra-Leone just to name a few. The Togolese people now more than ever need the support of the international community. While military conflicts have helped some countries reach democratic rule, others were equally helped by international awareness and support. Hope is the latter would prove true in this land. These coming days present a great but small window of opportunity to advert another human catastrophe in Africa. Please help by building public awareness around this issue. A reversal of the situation would save the UN and US millions of dollars in future peace keeping missions, rescue efforts and other political pressures. In addition, a public stand by the US or UN in favor of freedom could go a long way in reversing this situation. It would also help the US stated policies of advancing freedom in the world.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A First Chance to Make Good on the New American Promise

Two weeks after President Bush's inaugural speech and four days after his State of the Union speech, in which he articulated a new U.S. policy in support of democracy and freedom around the world, a tiny country in West Africa lost its ruler to a heart attack. He was not just any ruler, he was Africa's longest-serving tyrant and the world's second-longest serving tyrant after Fidel Castro of Cuba. His name was Gnassingbe Eyadema and the country he ruled for the past 38 years is Togo. Hours after his death, Togo's military high command installed his son in power and nullified the country's constitutional order. In Washington, the State Department reacted by extending condolences to Eyadema's family and encouraging the country to embrace a more representative democracy. State Department spokesman Edgar Vazquez said: "The United States has long encouraged Togo to move toward a full and participatory democracy and it continues to believe that this must be the goal for the people of Togo." Say what? Is it me or did that sound like the weakest and most generic statement State can come up with. Maybe they just wanted to make a statement for the sake of making one and dusted something off the shelf. Who cares, right? Most Americans probably think Togo is some kind of carry-out service anyway.

Fortunately, the African Union reacted with stronger words through its current chair, the president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who said: "All African leaders should not accept what has happened in that country until there is a democratic transition." Following some more condemnations from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations, and the European Union, many hoped that the Togolese military junta would reverse itself and agree to a process that would put the country on a path to democracy. Instead, the regime not only reaffirmed its position, it also unabashedly sent a stern warning through its Minister of the Interior to all Togolese citizens and political parties planning to demonstrate against the military coup and in favor of democracy. The regime directly threatened democracy-seeking demonstrators and dissenters with outright violence without fear of any consequence from the international community. Is it arrogance or ignorance, I just can not decide. Or is it that this regime perceives the democratic world as full of it, in other words, lots of talk and no action. Maybe they believe that the words of the president of the United States are a pile of hot air.

The President of the United States said in his inaugural speech: "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." This is one of the greatest promises freedom-seeking democrats around the world have ever received from the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. It is time for Uncle George to put his money where his mouth is. The people of Togo need the United States to get behind the African Union and strongly condemn this military regime. They need to hear the United States demand that the Togolese tyrants stand down and allow democracy to take its course or, in the words of Secretary Rice, "the Security Council looms". But, again, this is West Africa we are talking about.

When a few words say it all. "We are all ready to die. When they've finished us all, let's see who's left for them to govern". - The cousin of a Togolese demonstrator who was shot dead by government troops.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Link Between Immigration Reform and Social Security Reform

This last week Democrats and Republicans went to bat on their respective positions regarding social security. Democrats like Harry Reid refuse to consider private accounts and Republican allies of the president vow to never consider any increases in payroll taxes. Some more moderate voices were, however, willing to discuss all available options including wage indexing and/or increasing retirement age. Some said that what is needed is increasing the tax base of the country. That sounds like a good idea. How? Creating more jobs, they say. Ok, that’s fair but it is also like saying: The best way to get more shade from the sun is plant some more trees. Job creation beyond normal growth will require a long-term strategy and a whole host of economic policy decisions that one can only hope will yield desired results over time.

What I did not hear anyone talk about is the estimated 10 million or so illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. Don’t they provide a near-term solution to increasing the tax base of the country? Many of them already hold jobs but are unable to pay taxes because they are undocumented. It is not that they do not want to pay payroll taxes including social security taxes, but rather that they can not. If president Bush succeeds in persuading Congress to adopt his immigration proposal, that would inject at least a few million people into the formal economy, hence, providing an instant increase in the revenue stream of social security. But because of the fear-mongering revolving around the issue of immigration, politicians in Washington do not want to even come close to being labeled pro-immigration in this post-9/11 era. For his stand, I give the president a lot of credit. It is one issue that shows him to be both compassionate and pragmatic and I suspect that his economic logic has something to do with his position on immigration.

I am not saying that immigration reform will single-handedly solve the long-term social security problem - far from it. What I am saying is that it is part of the solution and it would be foolish not to exercise it, as the president seems to full well realize.

When Greed Defeats Human Decency

Fighting corruption is the duty of all men for it is a battle between the evils of greed and the spirit of human decency. When the UN oil-for-food controversy surfaced, a core group of Republicans in Congress demanded an extensive and transparent investigation into corruption charges against UN personnel. Although those calls may have been somewhat politically motivated, it was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do because public officials have a moral and legal duty to expose fraud and hold those who breach the public trust accountable for their actions. It is after all, accountability and the rule of law that are the strongest tenants of democracy. What is disappointing is that the standard somewhat changes when allegations of corruptions are found in our midst. It is easy for a U.S. Congressman to be vocal about allegations of corruption in the UN, an institution that was made to be unpopular in the US recently, but it is a whole different story to call for the investigation of those you call your own.

Recently, whistleblowers have come forward accusing the U.S. provisional authority in Iraq of "misusing" millions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenues to the benefit of U.S. firms. One thing strikes me immediately is the use of words to cover such stories in the U.S. media. If it is a U.S. soldier sodomizing an Iraqi detainee with a falshlight (a practice documented in Army investigation reports), we call it "Abuse" not "Torture". If it is a U.S. official who diverts millions of dollars in Iraqi funds to U.S. firms in bogus contracts we call it "Misuse of funds" and not "Corruption". May I remind you that this is exactly what the world sees as American hypocrisy, further compromising U.S. credibility in the world.

The U.S. Congress must step forward and thoroughly investigate allegations of corruption against the CPA and the U.S. firms who were the beneficiaries of CPA contracts. Using the same standard they used against the UN, Republicans must have the decency to pursue the whole truth in investigating these charges. They should show the world that they care about the values they advocate even when it means exposing their own failings. They must demonstrate to the Iraqis and the whole world that the same standard that applies to American life and American assets also applies to Iraqi life and Iraqi assets.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Something Does Not Add Up in Lebanon

Today, the ex-premier of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, was murdered along with six of his bodyguards while driving down Beirut's waterfront. Many news outlets were quick to point out that before his death, Hariri was becoming increasingly vocal about Syria's role in Lebanon. The statement coming out of the White House today all but directly accused Syria for Hariri's murder. The conservative media and the hawks in Washington will likely seize on this opportunity to turn up the drum beat on Syria. President Bush had already stepped up his rhetoric against Syria recently and was able to join hands with the French last year and win a UN resolution condemning Syrian presence and interference in Lebanon. But something does not add up.

It is true that Rafiq Hariri resigned his post as PM because he refused to support the Syrian-backed president, Emile Lahoud, and that he also started to question Syria's meddling in Lebanese internal affairs. It is also true that Rafiq Hariri is well-liked in Western diplomatic circles. He is a very close friend of French President Jacques Chirac, and has many influential friends in the U.S. He was also a very successful businessman estimated to be worth around $4 Billion. So, at first glance, it would seem that Syria is the most logical suspect in his murder. But something does not add up.

The Syrian government is not that stupid. No one in their right mind in Damascus would order such a high-stakes assassination knowing that the US had just stepped up its criticism of Syria’s support for terrorism and interference in internal Lebanese politics. No one in their right mind in Damascus would do this only a few months after the UN voted to condemn ‘the presence of foreign troops’ on Lebanese soil and the passage of the Syrian Accountability Act in the US Congress. Rafiq Hariri had after all resigned his post as PM. Why would the Syrians take such an unbelievable risk at the worst possible time? Something simply does not add up.

See Also:

What's Wrong with the U.S. Economy

The U.S. is in need of new policies and new institutional reforms that aim to redefine the role of the U.S. economy in today's increasingly globalized and interdependent world. The rise of China and India as economic hubs will undoubtedly alter the world's economic balance. Today more than ever, comparative advantage is key to defining a nation's global competitiveness and the overall global competitiveness of the U.S. is not exactly on the rise. In fact, it is slowly leveling off and may indeed decline if new forward-thinking policies and reforms are not put into place.

Worsening budget and trade deficits along with the declining interest in U.S. equities by private investors do not give anyone, including Alan Greenspan, warm and fuzzy feelings. Many thought that a depreciated dollar would give a boost to U.S. exports, thus, improving the U.S. trade deficit. Well, that did not happen. The culprit many say is that the U.S. economy is growing at a faster rate than that of Europe for instance. That may very well be, but the problem remains that the U.S. Balance of Payments (BOP) situation today is unlike anything seen in the past. Why, you may ask. It is because today more than ever, the U.S. trade deficit is increasingly being financed by foreign central banks (official capital inflows) rather than private investors (private capital inflows). This situation did not exist in the 1980s when the Reagan republicans claimed that deficits don't matter. The point here is that the current situation is creating some very difficult problems for the long-term sustainability of the U.S. economy. Not that it is on the verge of crumbling - that would be a loony idea. But rather that decisions made today in the realm of economic and public policy are critical to the long-term position of the U.S. economy in the world.

I expect that the Federal Reserve will continue to incrementally hike up interest rates and that the U.S., EU, Japan, and China eventually initiate a coordinated intervention in order to stop the dollar from continuing to bleed. The Chinese, however, will not float their currency because it would be silly to expect them to do that at this point. The best thing the U.S. can hope for is that they agree to initially appreciate (revalue) their currency. Although they eventually will have to float their currency, the Chinese will not take that big of a risk now while in the midst of a huge economic expansion.

On the other hand, I expect the U.S. administration and Congress to spend some time thinking about future U.S. competitiveness and pass forward-looking legislation in the areas of job creation & training, education, and immigration. Fear-mongering and silly protectionist speech is counterproductive and will only lead to a worsening of the problem. Public policy makers should open their eyes to the realities of the global economy and adjust to how the wind now blows. They need to plant the seeds of future economic prosperity through practical means such as bringing millions of illegal immigrants out of the shadows and into the formal economy, reform the education system so that it produces a comparatively competitive workforce in next-generation technology, properly fund R&D, and continue to expand free trade.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Does Party Chairmanship Matter in the U.S.?

Today the Democrats selected Howard Dean to be party chairman. The first question that comes to mind is: Who cares? I mean is this really such a big event that merits our attention? Does party chairmanship, Democrat or Republican, in this country really matter? Everyone who has paid the slightest attention to the evolution of the political system in the United States will tell you that political parties in this country are designed to be weak. The party chairman does not have any institutional power to transform a party or significantly impact its political agenda. That has been and always will be the job of presidents and charismatic leaders vying for the presidency.

Political parties in the United States can not even impose a party line on their own members. Proof is that a Democratic Senator, Zell Miller, supported a Republican president, George W. Bush, and there was nothing the Democratic Party can do about it. It is after all the way the farmers of the U.S. constitution intended it. They intended for politicians to be responsive to their local constituents and not to centralized party politics. As we say, in America all politics are local. So, what is really the job of a party chairman? It is and will always be to coordinate national party strategy and dispatch resources to support the party’s political campaigns.

However, let us at least recognize that the reason we are talking about the DNC chairmanship is because the Democratic Party is currently in trouble and that Governor Dean has made himself a name in the last primaries through innovative fund-raising and grass root campaigning. The Democrats are looking for ways to reverse their recent political fortune and create some excitement around new party leadership. Nonetheless, although the Democrats should be concerned about their political future, they should not panic or oversell. If history teaches us anything it would be that America is traditionally in the Middle. It swings left and right but always manages to come back into balance. The good news is that the overall trend in American politics has been progressive. That is, most constitutional reform that has taken place in this country has been in the direction of expanding human rights and freedoms.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Amazigh: Returning from the Ashes of Neglect I

Part I - An American Introduction of a Native Civilization
Although some know them as ‘Berbers’, the native people of North Africa would rather be called by the name once chosen by their ancestors, a name that has come to symbolize their spirit and define their struggle. Amazigh (sing.) or Imazighen (plur.) in the native language of North Africa means 'freemen' and it is in defense of their freedom that the Amazigh people have fought countless invasions and campaigns of repression by some of history’s most powerful armies (i.e., Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Turkish, European).

Their cause and struggle continues to be ignored by many around the world. In fact many who are familiar with the word ‘Berber’ associate it with some kind of carpet when it refers to an entire civilization. So, let us cover some basics about who the Amazigh people are. They are people of no particular race who are considered to be the native people of North Africa. Their presence in that part of the world dates back to some 5,000 years B.C. Their biggest and strongest asset is their language and their common value system. Although they were largely forgotten by modern history, the Amazigh people are now awakening to the sounds of democracy and freedom in one of the most troubled regions of the world.

The task of introducing the Amazigh people to the world is not an easy one and would certainly require an exhaustive essay that covers a healthy dose of historical and cultural information. Nonetheless, although somewhat simplistic, my approach is to describe the Amazigh people within the societal context of the intended audience. Here I try to introduce the Amazigh people to the American reader. As such, I find it useful to engage in a what-if exercise that implants the Amazigh people in America and defines their likely political affiliation given their present values and practices. This is an easy way for American readers to relate to the information thus presented about a civilization that is foreign to them.

The Amazigh people would likely vote for the GOP if they were in America. They are largely pro-business and pro-free trade. Indeed, throughout their history, the Amazigh people have always been known for their entrepreneurial savvy and their penchant for commerce. In Morocco, they are often envied for their business sense and their successful know-how of wealth creation despite limited opportunities and discrimination. At the center of their value system are trust and honor. Trust is always on deposit and honor is an inviolable virtue. Any breach of trust can condemn a relationship to eternal oblivion and any breach of honor can give rise to fierce resistance.

In business, they are enterpreneurial in that they seek to mitigate risks all while increasing the likelihood of success, but they still rely on trust as a gold standard. It is not at all unusual for an Amazigh shopkeeper, for instance, to trust a fellow citizen with the differed payment of purchases without any binding legal instruments. Simply put, to the Imazighen, deferred payment is preferable to deferred business. However, far from being naïve, Amazigh entrepreneurs engage in such conduct only when they perceive a state of shared values and personal integrity. It is, hence, no surprise that they are more inclined, at least initially, to trust their brethren rather than outsiders.

The Amazigh people would likely vote for the GOP if they were in America. They are conservative in that they are people of deep faith and wield a strong code of ethics. The Amazigh people of Morocco are mainly followers of a mystical form of Islam. The shrines of their local saints are revered and frequently visited. They heed calls for moral revival with great enthusiasm. On God, Gays, and Family, the Amazigh people would give Karl Rove a standing ovation. They do not, however, wear their faith on their sleeves and do not proselytize. This is again due to their belief in personal responsibility. They largely believe religion to be a personal relationship between God and his creation. Once I asked a respected Amazigh religious leader what he thought about jihadists. In a direct reference to UBL, he calmly replied: “Since when has the length of one’s beard reflect the depth of one’s faith”.

The Amazigh people are by in large individualists but they are also extremely loyal to their community. This sounds in itself like a contradiction, but it is not. Their individualism stems mainly from their economic orientation and their belief in personal responsibility. However, they are staunchly attached to their homeland and can rapidly coalesce into a unified block if their heritage and survival as a community is threatened. In the remote villages of North Africa, Imazighen are, by virtue of their environment, more communitarian than their urban brethren. They celebrate and mourn as a community, but often pursue life as individuals.

The Amazigh people would likely vote for the GOP if they were in America. They would argue for smaller government, less taxes and free trade. What is fascinating about the Amazigh is that they developed an elaborate legal system that provided for strong protections of private property and human life, as well as equitable distribution of property following death or divorce, centuries before the West advocated and adopted such principles. They banned the death penalty and adopted an economic/financial approach to judicial punishment. This leads to believe that in contemporary international politics, they would likely advocate for economic sanctions in place of military conflict. This also signals that, if they were in America, the Amazigh would likely break with the GOP on unilateral and preemptive war. They would also break with many Republican politicians on the death penalty.

The Amazigh are extraordinarily hospitable People. They genuinely enjoy receiving visitors and see it as a moral responsibility to provide for them while under their care. Every outsider that came to visit the Amazigh homeland would unequivocally tell you that hospitality is a major currency for these people. In the past, it was a virtue that cost them their freedom when their foreign guests turned against them. But, still, they never gave up such a noble quality, because as an Amazigh once told me: "We surely would lose our way as a people if we were to let our most cherished values decay over time.” The Amazigh people are and will always be some of the most optimistic and humble people around. Even in some of the most impoverished and neglected areas of their historical homeland, they never fail to remind you that they are well and need nothing but God’s blessings. There surely is a lot of pride in that as well.

1979: A Year to Remember in the Struggle against Militant Islam


Thomas Jefferson once professed: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” In reviewing the lessons of history we find both solace and nuisance in the actions of those who came before us. Their actions set realities that we must confront in order to sustain us as the temporary custodians of human destiny. The recent uprising of ‘Islamic’ movements around the world should not come as a surprise to any objective historian. Although many in the public policy community continue to ponder the causes of ‘Islamic’ terrorism, one may find it helpful to use history as a guide in order to better understand what has become our existing reality. Many are quick to assert today that the biggest challenges facing humanity are terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Although I do not disagree that these two issues are of great importance to global security today, I offer that our most endearing challenge as human beings is understanding the depths of our ignorance.

An old saying holds that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In facing threats to human freedom and dignity, we must understand our past failures and ensure that our chosen course serves the long-term interests of humanity despite our selfish impulses. It is in that spirit that I write these lines, not to cast blame but rather to contribute to a much needed debate on the future of human thinking on the matters of peace and international security.

In reviewing the contemporary history of the Middle East, I was particularly struck by the culmination of events that took place in 1979. I believe that year to be a remarkable year in the modern history of the Middle East and I believe it to be of particular relevance to the ongoing global fight against Middle Eastern terrorism. 1979 is both a year of peace and war. It is a year that saw the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, a year when an ‘Islamic’ revolution succeeded in Iran, and a year that ended with the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. These three events alone had profound implications on the rise of ‘Islamic’ militancy in the Middle East. 1979 was also a year of memorable names succeeding to power, one through a revolution, the other through an authoritative power grab, and the third through democratic elections. They are Khomeini in Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Margaret Thatcher in Britain. With all the turmoil that marked 1979, we sometimes find solace in knowing that it was during that year that the selfless and enduring Mother Theresa won a Nobel Peace prize.

The Iranian Revolution: The beginnings of an internal cold war within Islam

1979 started with a bang when the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran was forced to flee to Egypt following a year of turmoil in Iran, a country he ruled with an iron fist for over 25 years. The Shah had seized power following the U.S.-sponsored overthrow of the Mossadeq government in 1953. On 1 February 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to jubilating masses after 15 years in exile, thus, marking the first successful ‘Islamic revolution’ against a Western-installed ruler in the post-colonial history of the Middle East.

The immediate and sustained response to the Iranian revolution by pro-Western Arab regimes was fairly consistent in that it relied on both a systematic crackdown on Islamic elements, political dissenters, and those sympathetic to the Khomeini regime, and a heavy propaganda campaign, the latter being nuanced and refined to reflect local political, cultural, and social dimensions. What were pro-Western Arab regimes frantically concerned about, one may ask: (1) the precedent of a successful ‘Islamic’ revolution toppling a Western-backed monarchy; (2) the expressed intent of the Khomeini regime to export his ‘revolutionary Islamic’ ideology; and (3) the now-perceived inability of the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, to protect them from their own disgruntled populations. The first of these fears became reality for Saudi Arabia when on 20 November 1979 some 200 ‘Islamic militants’ seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, taking hundreds of pilgrims hostage.

In short, 1979 marked the beginning of a regional war between a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab regimes and the Shiite-led revolution of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In the Middle East, this internal struggle was of critical importance to the Cold War because it introduced new variables in the two superpowers’ designs for influence in the region.

Furthermore, the conflict between Khomeini’s Iran and many Sunni Arab regimes exasperated to what became a direct military conflict between Iraq and Iran. Iraq was provided financial and military support by its rich Gulf neighbors, and to some extent by the U.S. despite the fact that the Iraqi regime had aligned itself with the Soviets as a member of Nasser’s Arab nationalist club. One important thing to note about 1979 also is that on 16 July of that year, the infamous Saddam Hussein replaced Hassan Al-Bakr as president of Iraq.

In Saudi Arabia, the urgency of the altered power dynamic in the Middle East caused by the Iranian revolution was of particular importance. The financial capacity of the country’s oil resources, its control over two of the holiest shrines in Islam (The Kaaba in Mecca and the holy mosque in Medina), and the ‘friendly’ status it enjoyed in the West, offered the Saudi regime invaluable assets as a power broker in the internal cold war within Islam. In addition to the generous support the kingdom lent to Iraq in its war against Iran, the Saudis operated another track in countering Khomeini’s ideological exports. They unleashed their own ideological WMD: another brand of Islamic extremism, the Salafist doctrine.

The Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement: The mishandling of Arab public opinion

On 26 March 1979, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed a historic peace accord on the North Lawn of the White House, marking the successful end of a negotiation process that had started some 16 months earlier. Many, including myself, hail such agreement as a courageous step towards peace. The fact that Israel was willing to undermine the expansionist agenda of some of its ardent supporters by evacuating Jewish settlements in the Sinai and returning sovereignty of the latter to Egypt along with Egypt’s recognition of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state by agreeing to formal diplomatic relations is historically significant. However, the positive energy that many intellectuals expected to be generated by such an agreement was not all that positive in that it cost Anwar Sadat his life and provided up-and-coming Islamic factions with added fuel for their propaganda and recruitment efforts.

The historic handshake of 1979, for many in the West, symbolized the success of pragmatism over political fantasy; the beginning of peaceful coexistence between Israel and its Arab neighbors. For many in the Middle East, however, that same handshake symbolized the defeat of Arab nationalism. Recall that Egypt under Nasser was the center of the Arab Nationalist agenda. By signing a peace agreement with Israel, Sadat was seen by many in the Arab streets as having betrayed the ‘Arab cause’. The Palestinians felt particularly betrayed because they saw their coalition of Arab Nationalist defenders crumble, as well as a major territorial dispute taken off the claim list in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This was further dramatized when a group of Palestinians held Egyptian diplomats, including the Egyptian Ambassador to Turkey, hostage in Ankara on 13 July 1979.

Following the peace agreement, the disenchantment in the streets of Egypt and other pro-Western Arab countries was quelled through repressive police actions that further inflamed emotions and degraded human rights and civil liberties. Instead of promoting a constructive domestic dialogue, the pro-Western Arab regimes rejected dissent and chose by their own actions to leave a rising ‘Islamic’ militancy room for credibility and appeal. Those regimes effectively confined a very important debate to the dark rooms of the underground militancy movement, thus, undermining their already-frail legitimacy and setting political Islam on the track of becoming a viable alternative for their disgruntled populations.

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: The making of a global militant force

On the Christmas Eve of 1979, capping what was a remarkable year in the contemporary history of the Muslim World, the Soviet Union decided to bring its sleighs of fire into Afghanistan. This particular event was largely framed within the context of the Cold War; the battle of the world’s two superpowers for strategic domination. One serious casualty of such approach is its gasping lack of understanding of the forces at play. The exasperating shortsightedness of the U.S. policies that went into effect in forming a resistance force to counter the Soviet aggression is particularly worthy of notice.

The U.S. government responded to the Soviet invasion immediately with expressions of outrage and calls for redress. When its calls were not heeded, the U.S. went into action by sponsoring both covert and overt efforts aiming to guarantee Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. One important thing to note at this point is that in this same year (1979), the conservatives had taken control of the British Parliament and Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime minister of Britain. A year later, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter to the White House marking the beginning of a conservative Western front against the Soviets. In short, the heat index of the Cold War had just jumped up a few points as the Soviets decided on their Afghanistan adventure all while significant political changes were taking place in both Britain and the U.S.

One of the covert policies of the U.S. in Afghanistan was the logistical support of the Mujahideen force, which included large numbers of Arab fighters who went to Afghanistan to conduct ‘Jihad’ against the ‘God-less’ Soviets. Young Arab fighters flocked in from every country in the Middle East. They were supported and trained in a large part by Saudi-backed organizations, many of which are now subject to terrorism funding investigations. The ability of these organizations to have (1) Official backing from several Arab governments, the most notable being the Saudi regime, (2) Freedom of operation within the global financial network, and (3) fertile ground for recruitment and fund-raising, was central to their success. It is during those times that such organizations perfected the art of money-laundering and the seamless transfer of funds across financial networks.

In many ways Afghanistan, because of the Soviet invasion, has become the first multinational staging ground for the global Muslim terrorism we witness today. Afghanistan provided the Islamic militancy with the pre-requisites it needed for the creation of a global army. Afghanistan gave them a cause, an ideology, a sense of brotherhood and unity, along with military training and real combat experience. These armies had access to weapons and training from western elites and money was no object. Unfortunately, no one of significance gave serious thought to what would happen if these fighters were actually to defeat the Soviets. What would happen then? Would all those fighters return home, spend the rest of their lives telling war anecdotes and living peacefully ever after? Or would they bring their Jihad back home with them?

As I mentioned earlier, the internal cold war within Islam played out in the Afghan theatre as well. Most Arab fighters who joined the Mujahideen were largely funded by Saudi-backed organizations. Many of these if not most operated under the Salafist ideology. On the other hand, Iran shares a major part of its eastern border with Afghanistan. It also shares some strong cultural ties with the local Afghan population in the Herat region. Therefore, it was an important priority for the Iranians to exert influence on political outcomes in Afghanistan. And so they too came and meddled with tribal relations; backed warlords who were largely associated with anti-Taliban forces known as the Northern Alliance.

Saddam’s Power Grab in Iraq: The enemy of my enemy is my enemy?

Another 1979 event that I find to be of relevance to contemporary Middle Eastern affairs is the accession of Saddam Hussein to the presidency of Iraq on 16 July of that year. Although many argue that he was in fact the country’s defacto leader for a few years prior to 1979, his accession to the presidency put him front and center within a region where power dynamics had seen a dramatic shift only about six months earlier. Saddam Hussein was a student of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s school of Arab nationalism. This would logically put him at odds with his rich Gulf neighbors and the U.S. So, how did a secular Arab nationalist with a socialist drive and Soviet connections find favor with the U.S. and the Gulf states? There is only one brief response to this question: Iran happened.

Recall that the Iranian revolution put in motion an internal cold war between the Saudi-led alliance of pro-western Arab regimes and Khomeini’s Iran. I also discussed how Iran became a ‘national obsession’ for U.S. policy makers in the aftermath of the hostage-taking and the anti-American hostility expressed by the Iranian regime. Saddam Hussein became an enabling vehicle for the anti-Iranian forces to limit the ability of the Ayatollahs to flex their muscle in the region. At any rate, the Iran-Iraq war was initiated by Saddam’s Command Council on 22 September 1980 when it attacked Iranian military targets.

The accession of Saddam Hussein to the presidency of Iraq in 1979 complicated the political landscape in the region and set the stage for future destabilization and turmoil. The U.S. policy towards Saddam’s regime in the 1980s was diametrically opposed to the one it put into action in the 1990s. This huge inconsistency, which many in the U.S. explain on the basis of U.S. strategic interests, has created a credibility gap for the U.S. in the Middle East, one that the Islamic militancy movement continues to exploit.

One question we must seriously ask ourselves in the realm of public policy and international relations should be: is the enemy of my enemy really my friend or an enemy waiting to happen? Or are alliances of convenience, what some would call ‘unholy’ alliances, really a good idea for the long term. To believe Alexis de Tocqueville: “In politics shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships.”


Albert Einstein once said that “all of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest goodwill exert upon events in the political field.” In history we see folly and turmoil that could have been avoided and wisdom that could have been duplicated for the betterment of humanity. Many would say that hindsight is always 20/20. Yet, if it is so, one may ponder, why is that hindsight not our foresight; why is reason so hard to prevail in the pursuit of justice. I do not wish to simplify what is the complex nature of human interaction, but I remain convinced that we have the capacity to turn ignorance into enlightenment so as to condemn violence to the ash heaps of history.

1979 is a year we must all remember, if only for the seeds it planted and for the lessons it holds. As I mentioned earlier, the events of that year did not take place in a vacuum. The seeds of such events were also planted years, if not decades earlier. And if wisdom were to prevail, seeds of poison may no longer find fertile ground as they did in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq in 1979. If reason were to prevail, seeds of hope will instead be planted, the fruits of which the world community can proudly look forward to.

Monday, February 07, 2005



The Healing Power of Forgiveness
The South African leadership continues to astonish the world with its stubborn insistence on reconciliation and forgiveness - and that is a rare example in a world where many are determined to exact vicious revenge onto those who once oppressed them. -- Read more


Togo: Seeking Ligitimacy Overseas
Mr. Gnassingbé is free to visit any country he likes, including Morocco. But, he may not use state resources (both those of Togo and those of his host countries) to tour the continent ahead of the elections in Togo, even though it is almost certain that he will be vote-manipulated into power. -- Read more


A Letter from a Togolese Refugee
This past Saturday, the Togolese people hoped that the disappearance of their bloody dictator of 38 years would mark the start of a genuine change in their political fate. Their hope was short-lived -- Read more


A First Chance to Make Good on the New American Promise
Two weeks after President Bush's inaugural speech and four days after his State of the Union speech, in which he articulated a new U.S. policy in support of democracy and freedom around the world, a tiny country in West Africa lost its ruler to a heart attack. He was not just any ruler, he was Africa's longest-serving tyrant and the world's second-longest serving tyrant after Fidel Castro of Cuba. -- Read more

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Philosophy & Religion


Deadly Perceptions: Mankind's Failure to Coexist
The concept of ‘identity’ has been debated by great philosophers and thinkers throughout human history and it is in that tradition that we must continue to actively pursue a deeper understanding of what leads humanity into a path of conflict and mutual destruction. -- Read more


Kais & Layla: Understanding Sufism Through a Love Story
One upon a time, there was an Arab boy, named Kais, of both great intelligence and stunning beauty. He lived in a village far into the desert dunes of Arabia and was a source of great pride for his family, which hails from the tradition of tribal nobility. In his village, he was like the sun rising upon a dark alley. He possessed impressive wit and articulate speech. He was pride; he was inspiration; he was hope. -- Read more


The Hilly Side of Freedom
When the sun peaked over the horizon of enlightenment, two wise men were vigorously debating the state of humanity, natural law, and the role of authority in addressing man's intentions and natural characteristics. They advanced two opposing views that helped shape the course of enlightenment and provided the impetus for the intellectual revolution that rippled through the West from the 17th century on. One John Locke preached an optimistic view of humanity for he sees man as being governed ‘according to reason’, hence, capable of coexisting with his fellow man peacefully. Thomas Hobbes on the other hand, was rather pessimistic and cynical for he sees man to be solitary and self-interested, hence, living in a perpetual ‘state of war’ with his fellow man. -- Read more


What Would Madison Say
James Madison has long argued that the causes of faction cannot be removed from a system of governance that values liberty. He believed that removing the causes of faction can only be achieved by either destroying liberty or normalizing passions, opinions, and interests among the governed. However, he points out that the former is simply incompatible with the values of the republic, thus, impractical, and the latter would be unwise, if not grotesquely naive. -- Read more


1979: A Year to Remember in the Struggle against Militant Islam
An old saying holds that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In facing threats to human freedom and dignity, we must understand our past failures and ensure that our chosen course serves the long-term interests of humanity despite our selfish impulses. It is in that spirit that I write these lines, not to cast blame but rather to contribute to a much needed debate on the future of human thinking on the matters of peace and international security.-- Read more



From Lincoln to Obama
The fact that a black man with a name like 'Obama' can be considered to be a serious contender for the presidency of the United States is enough to revive my belief in a pending victory of logical humanism over the irrational evil of bigotry.
-- Read more


A Different Tune For An Act of God
As the sun sets on these difficult times, those who claim great leadership in the face of man-made brutality may very well end up exposed by nature as nothing but a falsehood - a lightening rod that promises to deliver light to our dark alleys but ends up setting fire to our neighborhood trees. Men become entrapped in the incompetent and arrogant clutches of false leadership because they desperately fear and selfishly hope. Yet, it is always that invincible cruelty of nature that returns to fully expose the true disposition of the ability, sincerity, and character we claim to possess. -- Read more


From Conflict To Cooperation: Writing A New Chapter in US-Arab Relations
Earlier this year the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a report summarizing the results and recommendations of an advisory committee it brought together to address the current challenges facing America's relationship with the Middle East. -- Read more


What They Need Is a Union
As I silently watched the heightened frenzy about immigration in the US and how some politicians along with media 'personalities' have successfully portrayed the very foundational basis of this republic as today's biggest threat to American national security, I could not help but note the irony. -- Read more


It's The Policy Stupid...and Better Communication Too
What we have consistently heard from high levels of the US government regarding the Middle East is that the biggest problem facing America in the region is overcoming a rampant disinformation and propaganda campaign led by unfriendly governments, non-state actors, and Arab media...it is time to evaluate the American strategy and revisit the overall assumption that America’s problems in the Middle East can be mainly settled with public diplomacy and media outreach. -- Read more


US Global Competitiveness: In Search of a Strategy
Worsening US budget and trade deficits along with the declining interest in U.S. equities by private investors have raised a lot of eyebrows recently. When some thought that a depreciated dollar would improve the competitiveness of U.S. exports, the trade balance continued to move into the negative -- Read more


Why Do So Many Young Americans Kill Themselves?
According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of youth suicides has tripled since the 1950s in the US. Today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. More teenagers and young adults die of suicide in the US than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined -- Read more


The Crystal Ball of US Intelligence
"he following conclusions represent the 2020 global landscape trends reported by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in a recent report titled: 'Mapping the Global Future' -- Read more


Rummy's Noodles
Donald Rumsfeld has a new explanation for the ongoing failure to suppress the insurgency in Iraq. It is Turkey's fault...It has, indeed, been long since President Truman placed a sign that read ‘the buck stops here’ in the oval office. Today, Secretary Rumsfeld would rather place another sign on his desk that reads: ‘the buck stops anywhere but here’ -- Read more


Presidential Appointments
It is not surprising that any appointment that concerns a polarizing operator like Mr. Wolfowitz would produce a controversy. Karen Hughes must know that a propaganda campaign will not do the job. What will cut it here is a concrete change in policy for which she will have to lobby relentlessly in the White House-- Read more


To Kill Or Not To Kill: That Is The Question
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States declared the execution of criminal juveniles unconstitutional...The court plays its intended role by making rulings that generate public debate and spur new legislation when the legislative branch has been inept or slow in addressing social ills. This is not new although we are now urged to believe otherwise -- Read more


What Would Madison Say
The proposal to amend the federal constitution in order to ban gay marriage, today, warrants a re-reading of the logic embodied in the U.S. constitution...A reconsideration of the Farmers’ intent is in order because this has ‘tyranny of the majority’ and ‘dangers of faction’ written all over it -- Read more


The Link Between Immigration Reform and Social Security Reform
What I did not hear anyone talk about is the estimated 10 million or so illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. Don’t they provide a near-term solution to increasing the tax base of the country? -- Read more


When Greed Defeats Human Decency
Fighting corruption is the duty of all men for it is a battle between the evils of greed and the spirit of human decency...Recently, whistleblowers have come forward accusing the U.S. provisional authority in Iraq of "misusing" millions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenues to the benefit of U.S. firms -- Read more


What's Wrong with the U.S. Economy?
Worsening budget and trade deficits along with the declining interest in U.S. equities by private investors do not give anyone, including Alan Greenspan, warm and fuzzy feelings. -- Read more


Does Party Chairmanship Matter in the U.S.?
Political parties in the United States can not even impose a party line on their own members. Proof is that a Democratic Senator, Zell Miller, supported a Republican president, George W. Bush, and there was nothing the Democratic Party can do about it. -- Read more