Serbia’s Surprising Turn Westward

10 11 2008

12 November 2008

[Note: an abbreviated version of this commentary was published by World Politics Review]

Over the past eight months, the Serbian government and population have defied conventional wisdom in a number of interesting ways, and together these trends could point to a formula for successful nation building, pioneered by sheer accident and talented improvisation.

In 1999, NATO launched a 10-week bombing campaign in Serbia to end what the West viewed as President Slobodan Milošević’s attempt to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its 90% ethnic Albanian (Muslim) population.  Belgrade soon capitulated to NATO’s demands, withdrew Serb forces from Kosovo and agreed to negotiate a permanent solution with the leaders of its southern province. (Most Serbs want Kosovo to become an autonomous region within Serbia, while most Kosovars have demanded full independence).

In the last nine years, as these sporadic negotiations have fallen apart, Serbs have felt increasingly bitter and humiliated by the pariah-status adorned upon them by the international community for Milosevic’s behavior.  Not only were Serbs compelled to negotiate over land they felt was rightfully theirs, but they watched as their Western mediators became advocates of Kosovo’s self-determination, eventually urging and recognizing Kosovo’s declaration of independence this past February.

The initial reaction among Serbs was fairly predictable: amidst a crowd of 100,000 peaceful protesters (more than 1% of the population), several hundred “extremists” attacked and ignited a number of embassies of Kosovo-friendly governments, doting particular scorn on the Americans, Kosovo’s strongest ally.  Yet for a population that feels chronically misunderstood and humiliated, Serbians seem remarkably passive these days, only eight months later. Read the rest of this entry »

Precedents and Damage Control in Kosovo

15 04 2008

European Affairs
Vol. 9.1, Summer 2008

In matters of foreign policy, Western governments and their officials more often than not take rhetorical refuge in assertions of vague principle. It is nearly impossible for a country, especially a superpower, to declare and implement consistent policies because there are simply too many conventions and traditions that must be honored in the name of comfort and stability. When confronted with any inconsistencies, the natural response for a democratic government is to play dodge-ball, often frantically.

When Costa Rican government officials are asked about their positions on, say, micro-lending in Kosovo, the political fallout of almost any answer would be miniscule, if only because Costa Rica does not have significant political, economic or relational capital in Kosovo. In contrast, as a superpower, the United States has its hand in an infinite number of cookie jars, and inevitably that hand will get stuck. Not only are there more jars around the world in which America inserts itself, but there are more contraptions (money, pride, ideology, tradition) in those jars that can ensnare America’s hand, often over relatively minor concerns whose symbolism seems to take the shape of public policy.

The NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, the UN protectorate that followed, and the symbiotic push for Kosovo’s development and independence have left many scrambling either to bemoan or trivialize the impact that Kosovo’s status could have on the global order. Given that the intervention, protection and development of Kosovo have each defied convention in various ways, there has been no shortage of curiosity as to what message has been delivered (and to whom) by the heavy international involvement in Kosovo. But what precisely is that message? Who is supposed to hear it, and who is not? Which precedents actually pose a threat, and to whom? And finally, how might these concerns and their inherent inconsistencies translate into future foreign policy?

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Bringing in Serbia from the Cold

9 04 2008

Voice of America
9 April 2008

Video of my VOA interview, aired in Serbia.

Negotiating America’s War on Terror

15 02 2008

Asia Times
Negotiating Honesty in America’s War on Terror
15 February 2008

[The following is a cultural exploration of the real reasons we Westerners despise terrorism; how our morality and history of victory shaped our perceptions; and how these perceptions have restricted our foreign policy and commandeered our expectations when it comes to the identity and ideology of the people at the other end of the negotiating table.]

There is a robust dialogue in the west concerning just causes for declaring war (such as preemption, self-defense, etc.), but very little discussion about the methods of warfare that we (and other westernized countries) have come to regard as either justifiable or unconscionable.  Americans, in particular, have developed a keen sense of what constitutes fair and unfair behavior in conflict and war, but much like members of any culture, westerners seldom question (or even ponder) their unequivocal abhorrence for certain behavior, such as terrorism and hostage-taking.  It is important to recognize the difference between why we emotionally hate terrorism, and why we are politically adverse to it.  The justifications are intertwined, just as they are in the rest of our moral-centric policies; but their differences should be addressed.

Ultimately, if we do not understand why we despise terrorism so much, then we cannot define terrorism.  If we cannot define terrorism, we cannot define victory.  If we cannot define victory, we cannot achieve it.  And finally, if we cannot achieve victory in an ideological war, then what good are our cultural values, anyway? Admittedly, this last question is rather circular, but this is precisely the point, as the following should indicate.  Americans have great difficulty framing foreign policy (and most objectives, generally) outside the scope of values and morals.  In the case of terrorism, it is with a rather bizarre twist of rhetoric that we have endorsed a war whose bounds are frighteningly limitless in every possible way. Read the rest of this entry »

Serbia’s International Balancing Act

28 01 2008

Voice of America
28 January 2008

Video of my VOA interview, aired in Serbia.

Next Moves in Kosovo

2 01 2008

Foreign Policy in Focus
2 January 2008

Negotiations between Belgrade and Prishtina over the final status of Kosovo have officially failed, and Russia will veto any Western attempt at the UN Security Council to recognize the independence of this Serbian province populated by mostly ethnic Albanians.

At some point during the next three months, the United States and the European Union (EU) will give Kosovo the green light to unilaterally declare its independence.

But a few things must happen before then.

Next Steps for Kosovo

To avoid a repeat of the March 2004 riots, in which ethnic Albanians burned hundreds of Serbian homes and dozens of churches, NATO’s force in Kosovo will have to be certain that they have the right number of troops and that these troops are in all the right places.

The European Union also has to do some house-cleaning in anticipation of replacing the UN peacekeeping force (UNMIK) of roughly 2500 professionals. While nearly all the EU countries will recognize Kosovo’s independence, a handful of its 27 member-states have expressed understandable reluctance given their own internal secessionist conflicts. And while Kosovo’s independence would have greater legitimacy if endorsed by all the EU countries individually and collectively, a far more important European consensus concerns the continued political and economic development of this nominally Serbian province.

For the last eight years, Russia has consistently voted in the Security Council to renew the UN’s nation-building mandate in Kosovo under the condition that final status negotiations continue between Belgrade and Prishtina. If, however, Kosovo unilaterally declares independence, Moscow will likely veto any resolution that takes that independence for granted, including a renewed UN mandate. As a result, as soon as Kosovo declares, UNMIK will become obsolete, and a very large void must be filled very quickly. Read the rest of this entry »

The EU’s New Role in Kosovo

6 12 2007

Voice of America
6 December 2007

Transcript of my VOA Interview, in Serbian.

Separatist Playbooks in Kosovo

15 11 2007
Voice of America
15 November 2007

Transcript of my VOA interview, in Serbian.

If You Give Separatists an Inch….

5 11 2007

Christian Science Monitor
5 November 2007

The NATO intervention in the Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999, the UN protectorate that followed, and the symbiotic push for Kosovo’s development and independence have left many analysts and politicians scrambling either to bemoan or trivialize the impact that Kosovo’s final status could have on the global order.

With the looming Dec. 10 deadline for the latest round of negotiations, it seems exceedingly unlikely that Washington will be able to persuade Moscow to endorse Kosovo’s independence at the UN Security Council. Yet Kosovo’s frustrated Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of the province’s population, have hinted that they are on the brink of declaring independence unilaterally, even if it means renewed conflict with Belgrade.

Ultimately, in our international system, a nation’s “independence” is little more than the rest of the world’s willingness to recognize it as independent. So, even if Moscow vetoes Kosovo’s bid for independence, Kosovo can still enjoy some of the benefits of being an independent country. These benefits become more substantial with every state that recognizes Kosovo. Similarly, the likelihood of renewed violence would decrease if other countries viewed Kosovo’s self-defense as legitimate.

This means, however, that because negotiations are likely to fail, Washington has been encouraging, and will continue to encourage, foreign governments to support a technically illegal, self-declared, independent Kosovo in the event that negotiations collapse. Yet this kind of persuasion does not come easily.

There are more than 50 separatist conflicts across the globe, and few of the governments that have endured the bane of irredentism will be eager to recognize Kosovo if such a precedent could come back to haunt them.

Echoing countless other US and European officials, Daniel Fried, the US assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, responded to such concerns in February with the following logic: “Kosovo is a unique situation because NATO was forced to intervene to stop and then reverse ethnic cleansing. The Security Council authorized Kosovo to be ruled effectively by the United Nations, not by Serbia. UN Council Resolution 1244 also stated that Kosovo’s final status would be the subject of negotiation. Those conditions do not pertain to any of the conflicts that are usually brought up in this context.”

Unfortunately, Washington’s “unique” talking points are actually engraving a separatist playbook in stone, blazing a glorious trail that separatists will follow with greater determination, recruits, and (in all likelihood) success.

Separatist regions like the Basque Country or Abkhazia might not resemble Kosovo right now – as Washington is quick to note – but by so explicitly stating the merits of Kosovar self-determination and independence, Washington is essentially creating an innovative code, only to make the cipher publicly available. Current and future separatists merely have to manufacture the same conditions and sequencing that have compelled the West to embrace an independent Kosovo: terrorize locals, invite government crackdowns, incite a rebellion, and lure in foreign intervention and commitment to rebuild.

Once militants get this far, Kosovo will no longer be unique – even by Washington’s peculiar standards – and areas that share Kosovo’s characteristics will be equally deserving of independence. The horrid irony, of course, is that declaring Kosovo’s uniqueness has been Washington’s deliberate attempt to prevent future separatism, but it is inadvertently teaching militants how to navigate the complex inconsistencies of geopolitics. In fact, the more thorough and persuasive Western governments are about Kosovo’s “uniqueness,” the more legitimate separatists’ ambitions become, if only they follow the Kosovo model.

Not only, then, has Washington had a hard time selling Kosovo’s independence to all but its closest allies, but the very basis for that appeal is even more threatening to governments that would face invigorated separatism in the wake of an independent Kosovo – even if that independence is informal and technically illegal.

With the “unique” endorsement, Washington and a few European capitals close even more rhetorical doors that they will need to slip through when the time comes to reject separatist analogies in the future, and our failure to anticipate these complicated roadblocks will cost our allies more than anyone else.

[View this Op-Ed at CS Monitor]

Srebrenica’s Mass Graves & Mass Funerals

22 07 2007

Arab News (Saudi Arabia)
22 July 2007

For a witness soaking up the remnants of a war gone by, a funeral for 465 people is a surreal experience. But for the inheritors of a genocide just outside the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, it has become an annual ceremony that brings horror and closure in equal measure.

Unlike the anniversary of most tragedies, every year in Srebrenica, hundreds of Muslim families are told that some of the human remains recently discovered in mass graves belong to their son, father, brother or husband.

Among the nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys who were systematically killed by nationalist Serbian forces in July 1995, less than half have been identified through forensic testing, and many of the graves have yet to be located.

The families lucky enough to be released from the torture of not knowing stood graveside with one another and, on this 12th anniversary of the massacre, buried the remains of 465 men and boys in a matter of a few minutes. Last year’s total was 505.

The task was daunting enough for the memorial site to hire helpful ushers dressed in bright yellow to guide families to their respective minifunerals. The efficiency of the day’s events, which included a collective Muslim prayer for mourners, seemed to be as systematic as the genocide itself. Because the victims’ remains have taken years to identify, or were only discovered in the last 12 months, the green coffins were shorter, narrower and lighter than most — holding little more than bones and perhaps a few torn pieces of clothing. These graves were dug so closely to one another that mourners had no choice but to step on the dirt mounds from previous years’ burials as they navigated the graveyard, clutching the obelisk headstones to keep their balance in the muddy soil.

Yet not only was their efficiency startling, but everything the families and mourners did was virtually synchronized, like a factory assembly line. For twenty minutes, in a sea of nearly 50,000 people, the only sounds were the scraping of dirt on thousands of shovels and the thuds of soil settling in the graves. Many elderly women fainted during the mass funeral, and nearby men carried them to the memorial’s first-aid station, valiantly trying to fill a void left by so many murdered sons and fathers.

The women of Srebrenica have become accustomed to burying loved ones in this collective and annual ritual. Male family members from nearby towns were equally ready, informally dressed in T-shirts, jeans and raincoats, in anticipation of the grueling work of interring the dead. At first glance, the men could have been plowing a field for crops, but the wailing grandmothers were unmistakable. Many of the women were actually too young to be grandmothers, but three years of war in the early 1990s — which ended shortly after Srebrenica’s massacre — has left their faces worn and weary.

The only sight that might have seemed out of place was the occasional elderly woman, kneeling over the grave of her son or husband from a previous year’s burial. With most of the attention focused on the graveyard’s new arrivals, these were the only mourners who grieved alone. One mother sat alone in the dirt, clawing at the muddy earth, tilling the ground that covered her 22 year-old-son’s final resting place, perhaps to reclaim a lost memory.

Only 20 feet away, another mother looked around desperately for support, but she too was alone. She said that all the men in her life lay beneath her feet.

After burying her father, one woman’s family together moved ten steps to the left and proceeded to bury her youngest son, whose remains, she said, were found next to his grandfather’s in a mass grave down the road. Burying her son and her father on the same day, 12 years after they were killed, did not seem particularly strange to any one in the family. It seemed that the digging ritual had pleased the gods enough to warrant a torrential downpour. People finished their tasks and quickly said goodbye to family members. Their job was done. The rain provided the families of Srebrenica with just enough sustenance until next year’s drought. The consensus seemed clear. There are many more seeds to sow in Srebrenica, and many more fields to raise.

[View this Report at Arab News]

Decision Time on Iran

8 03 2007

Middle East Times
8 March 2007

After refusing to endorse the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations in December to negotiate with Iran and Syria about the fate of Iraq, Secretary Rice’s recent policy reversal was as startling as it was predictable. Only weeks ago, it had been staunch US policy not to submit to Iranian “extortion,” but, like it or not, there is simply no other way now to secure Iraq. If only it were that simple.

This is the moment Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been waiting for: US foreign policy will soon reflect the fact that the war in Iraq cannot be won with force, and that we will have to make concessions of some kind to salvage this failed mission. But at whose expense?

In the buildup to the US invasion of Iraq, the Israeli government quietly gave its blessing to the Bush administration, hoping, in return, that the US would extend the same courtesy to Israel when the time came to address the blossoming Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Naturally, any such implicit exchange depended entirely on the successful reconstruction of Iraq – by even the flimsiest definition of success. As many on the right and left predicted, the failure to replace the toppled Saddam Hussein with a leadership able to contain Tehran’s regional ambitions has hurt Israel far more than forgoing the invasion would have done. Read the rest of this entry »

Derailed in Damascus, and by Damascus

26 02 2007

Israel Policy Forum – Special Report
26 February 2007

There is a general tendency in the West to describe countries like Syria, and its regime in Damascus, in blanket political and (often) moral terms. Such analysis is an oversimplification in most countries but particularly so in Syria, which has an immensely complicated geopolitical position in the Middle East. To be of any use, Syria must be scrutinized.

More so than any other Arab country, Syria’s government and its power brokers are inherently secular and opportunistic, driven by good-old-fashioned survival instincts. When mixed with Syria’s distinctive geography, this opportunism has led the Syrian government to play a disproportionately large role in the numerous conflicts plaguing the entire region. Without question, Syria is at the physical and political center of Middle East politics.

To the southwest is Israel, the unwelcome Jewish neighbor who captured and annexed the Golan Heights after resisting Syrian invasions in 1967 and again in 1973.

To the west is Lebanon, serving as a Syrian playground and cash cow for nearly three decades, until Damascus over-played its hand and was dealt a very visible and painful defeat by reformists that still reverberates today.

To the east is Iraq, the hotbed of a failed US occupation—a failure, US officials say, thanks in large measure to Syria’s refusal to monitor jihadist movement across its 605km border with Iraq.

And beyond Iraq to the east is Iran, the Islamic Republic ascending to be perhaps the dominant Muslim player in Middle East politics—explicitly recruiting (and buying) the support of Syria and several extremist groups dedicated to Israel’s destruction.


It is often tempting (especially from an American and post-9/11 perspective) to dismiss the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a blatant sponsor of terror—a role that he even admits openly, though framed in a different context.

Unsurprisingly, 9/11 has led most westerners to view terrorism in black-and-white terms, but given the tremendous complexity of Assad’s precarious regime and very precise interests, it would be a grave mistake to use the understandable western disdain for terrorism to justify a refusal to view Syria in anything but Manichean terms.

In order to engage Syria with any substantive or symbolic diplomacy, it is crucial to understand the nuances of what is important to the ruling Assad family and the tenuous balancing act that Syria must (and usually does) maintain. Only then can the obstacles to Syrian interests provide texture to the behavior of the Syrian government, and its role in the wider Middle East.


Perilous Freedom: The US War in Iraq

15 12 2006

15 December 2006

There are a number of important questions that must be addressed when analyzing and attempting to resolve the current war in Iraq.  First, why now?  Why is it that this same insurgency and civil war did not happen when Saddam Hussein was in power?  Second, to whom does this war belong? And finally, what has prevented the parties from reaching a political settlement?

It is important first to note that while the Bush Administration has certainly made plenty of mistakes, even if the execution of this war and its aftermath had been flawless, it is very likely that a civil war would have erupted nonetheless at some point during the post-war reconstruction.  The power balance disrupted by the invasion was simply too fragile and volatile not to explode into chaos.  But why and how did the US invasion invite resistance to grievances that seemed no worse—and in many instances, better—than under Saddam’s iron fist?

Hussein seemed to reinforce his own reputation as a merciless and savage ruler every chance he had.  He started an 8-year war in Iran in 1980 which cost nearly a million lives.  He routinely slaughtered thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq for seeking greater political autonomy, and any Shiite he arbitrarily deemed as seditious was summarily executed unless s/he was believed to merit torturing first.  He tortured and killed anyone (and their families) who disagreed with or doubted him.  And yet despite all this, it is because the US soldiers now occupying Iraq represent an entirely democratic society that Iraqi Sunnis have opted violently to resist the far-less repressive US forces.


Syria’s Ripeness Factor

29 11 2006

Yediot Ahronoth (Israel)
29 November 2006

Israel’s conflict in the north with Hizbullah, Syria and (by extension) Iran is becoming increasingly ripe for a long-term resolution or containment, for the following reasons.

Why would Israel want to talk to any of its northern neighbors?

Hizbullah’s summer attack and continued ransom of two Israeli soldiers has led many Israelis to realize that the status quo is no longer automatically preferable to a settlement. And Israel’s inability to humiliate Hizbullah – as nothing less could be considered a victory – only reinforces the need to do something different.

How can Israel neutralize the northern threat?

Shiite and Hizbullah ministers in Lebanon are actively trying to force a collapse of the current anti-Syrian government by resigning in bulk, and possibly by killing popular anti-Syrian ministers. It is unclear if Prime Minister Fouad Siniora can weather this storm, but regardless, his government could never survive a political or military confrontation with Hizbullah.

Syria, on the other hand, is in the powerful position of being the only country (other than Israel) that shares a border with Lebanon. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has the wherewithal and lack of ideological constraints necessary to physically isolate Hizbullah in Lebanon. He merely lacks the motivation.

What would motivate Syria to cut off Hizbullah?

At its core, Syria is opportunistic. While Hizbullah is the ideological offspring of Iran, Syria merely serves as a channel between Iran and Hizbullah in the interest of money and power, not ideology and certainly not religion.

To ensure the operational capabilities of Hizbullah, Iran needs unimpeded access and supply lines through Syria and into southern Lebanon, which President Assad offers in order to get a free ride on Iran’s shoulders, as the popularity of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad only increases. And as always, Syria longs for a return of the Golan Heights, and the vast majority of Syrians are prepared to make sacrifices to get it back.

Neither the Israelis or Syrians are willing to put their big chips on the table (land and peace, respectively) until they have reason to believe they will not regret trusting each other. To this end, Assad’s diverse insecurities would give Israel the pretext to negotiate without immediately discussing the Golan Heights.

For instance, Damascus is facing a severe water shortage and needs billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure to transport water to Damascus, either from the Mediterranean Sea or the Euphrates River.

What’s more, Assad needs money (and a surge in international commerce) to strengthen his hold on power. Widespread resentment of his Alawite regime for its perceived corruption and ineptitude comes easily to a population that is nearly 75 percent Sunni and on the border with war-torn Iraq.

For various reasons, Arab nations have withdrawn their financial and political support for Syria, forcing Assad to become increasingly dependent on Iran—militarily, politically, and financially. This trend is not irreversible, but Assad has to embrace these trends or face a coup.

Or, the United States could step in.

Why would the United States engage Syria?

Constrained by a number of factors, President Bush could only engage Syria if it would benefit the US position in Iraq or limit the reach of Iran. Syria’s porous eastern border with Iraq is likely the easiest – and most used – method for Sunni fighters to enter Iraq and join the insurgency. The border is too long for the US forces to monitor, but Assad has the power to guard it, were he so inclined.

Furthermore, leading Syria away from Iran’s periphery would strike a blow to Tehran’s overall strides toward regional dominance. In fact, such a policy would be celebrated (and potentially rewarded) by the nervous Sunnis in Saudi Arabia.

By comparison, luring Syria should seem no more difficult than President Bush’s successful engagement with Libya and its leader, Moammar Qaddafi, who for decades was isolated for sponsoring terrorism.

Why would Israel negotiate with Syria?

Without a substantive mandate to disarm Hizbullah, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon will only delay an inevitable reprise, spurned by whatever new and deadly weapons Hizbullah acquires in the meantime.

No country would be more threatened by a nuclear Iran than Israel, especially if Syria continues to act as a liaison between Iran and Hizbullah. But if handicapped by Syria, Iran could only pose a strategic nuclear threat to Israel with conventional nuclear missiles. Though far from ideal – especially in Israel – limiting Hizbullah’s technological reach is preferable to nothing at all.

Short of a nightmarish US invasion of Iran, the best Israel can hope for is to neutralize and starve Hizbullah’s supply lines and ideology out of existence. The same could be said for Hamas’ operation in Damascus – a chip that Assad would gladly hand over if it meant internal stability.

Besides, even skeptics of engagement recognize that Israel has a substantial strategic interest in preventing the overthrow of Syria’s ruling family, as their replacement or (more likely) his usurper would almost certainly do far worse than arming Hizbullah.

Admittedly, the scenario painted by this analysis is exceedingly rosy. It glosses over the nearly unthinkable Israeli decision to give up the Golan and asks for dramatic changes in policy from both Syria and the United States.

But Syria is vulnerable. Assad is allying with Iran’s fiery leader out of necessity, and he knows that Tehran will discard him as soon as he outlives his usefulness. That moment is approaching, and direct engagement with Syria is necessary to ensure Israel’s long-term security and to protect American interests in the Middle East.

[View this Op-Ed at Ynet]

The Molding of Stokely Carmichael

28 11 2006

The Molding of a Leader: Stokely Carmichael and the Washington, D.C. Race Riots of 1968
28 November 2006

To nurture and encourage truly inspirational and charismatic leaders requires significant investments of time and energy.  Events congeal to form a potential leader’s identity, and the interpretation of those events and an ability to communicate this interpretation together constitute the basis for a leader’s solitary emergence from a pool of equally intelligent and insightful men and women.

Our leaders are far from perfect.  But their experiences, memories and interpretations of their existence—where they fit in the present and how they might hope to shape the future— all provide a vibrant mountain of knowledge to students of rhetoric, charisma and leadership in general.

Specifically, the Civil Rights conflict is saturated with captivating leaders and serves as an excellent backdrop for their comparison, because variables such as geography, race, culture, and education can be neutralized.  Given the same context, it is far easier to isolate and examine the diverse personalities, identities and histories of multiple leaders.

As always, the charisma of Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly deserves our attention and respect; but in the context of leadership, there are a number of reasons why analyzing Stokely Carmichael’s role in resolving the American social conflict for civil rights might elicit more valuable tools for resolving such conflicts.

First, like most great leaders, Carmichael was once a great follower, but he grew disenchanted with his leader—namely, Dr. King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  Second, Carmichael’s rhetoric has always been founded on practical ideas, which can be helpful to any student, not merely those who are struggling against the grave injustices that made Dr. King so iconic.  In contrast, Carmichael’s strategy was more accessible to his followers, and its lessons are more readily applicable to any issue or conflict, not merely those that elicit a comprehensive sense of grandeur and oppression.


Missing the Point in the Middle East

23 10 2006

Yediot Aharonot (Israel)
23 October 2006

When anyone talks about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, every argument seems to revolve around two crucial questions – one dovish and one hawkish – that neither side ever really tries to answer.

Doves essentially ask the hawks, “How do you know that the best protection against Palestinian terrorism is incessant occupation, raids, imprisonment, and assassinations?” Meanwhile, hawks ask the doves, “How do you know that the terror will stop if we give up the West Bank, the Golan, and/or Shebaa Farms?”

If either side could give even a semi-adequate response to these questions, then the other would willingly change viewpoints. The two camps have far more common ground than most will acknowledge; they simply disagree about which methods work and which don’t.

Despite their polarization, the doves are not doves because they are against killing per se; if there was any evidence that Israel’s heavy-handed counterterrorism efforts could actually reduce the long-term threat to the State of Israel, the doves would naturally migrate in droves to the right.

Likewise, if there was any indication that Palestinian militants really would finally end their resistance in exchange for pre-1967 borders, a Palestinian state, compensated refugees, and a shared Jerusalem, there would be an equally dramatic shift to the left across the board.

But there is no logical reason for either the hawks or the doves to be persuaded by one another. Every argument is fundamentally circular – only capable of persuading the already-persuaded. Read the rest of this entry »

Georgia’s Contagious Separatism

11 05 2006

Transitions Online: Unique coverage of all 28 post-communist countries
11 May 2006

It seems only natural for minorities in the former Soviet Union to feel a constant pull towards separatism. Their national borders were drawn almost arbitrarily—often to encourage conflicts—and a nascent sense of self-determination that followed the end of Soviet communism certainly plays a role in the region’s separatism, even today. Georgians, in particular, have witnessed their share of nationalist struggles, together leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. In Georgia’s mostly Armenian region of Javakheti, however, the potential for conflict has always rested just beneath the surface, requiring a greater and untapped impetus to inspire rebellion.

As Georgia’s southernmost region, Javakheti shares not only a border with Armenia, but also a culture, religion, and language, as Javakheti is more than 90% Armenian. Despite being born in Georgia, few of these Armenians feel any allegiance to Georgia at all.  After all, Soviet leaders in the early 20th century relocated thousands of Armenian families to Georgia’s southern regions to provide a protective buffer between the Ottoman Empire and the rest of the Soviet Union.  Culturally, linguistically and politically, the Georgians in Javakheti are Armenian.

And while any unrest in Javakheti pales in comparison to the tension in Georgia’s authentic separatist regions—Abkhazia and South Ossetia—Javakheti has all the makings of a civil ethnic conflict. To start, the most common language in Javakheti is Armenian, and Georgian is not a required part of the local curriculum for the same reason that Russian is not a required part of the Georgian curriculum—both nations feel a burgeoning sense of pride and self-determination. Javakheti has a better relationship with Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, than it does with the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The central government provides very little financial assistance to Javakheti, citing economic difficulties and limited resources, which inevitably leave the undeveloped region’s infrastructure in pieces and the people alienated.

Unlike in Abkhazia and South Ossetia—breakaway regions enjoying de-facto autonomy under Russian patronage—calls for secession or reunion with the “home country” have never been quite as loud in Javakheti, even though most of the unrest tethers to economic and cultural concerns—both typical catalysts for rebellion. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Forget Abkhazia

17 03 2006

Georgian Messenger
17 March 2006

While Georgia and Russia focus their efforts on addressing the potential for renewed conflict in South Ossetia, a series of provocative events and statements coming from Abkhazia should not be overlooked.  In fact, a number of mixed messages from Abkhazia are ripening the region’s political environment for advances toward peace.  Unfortunately, Tbilisi might be too preoccupied or temperamental to take notice.

For more than a decade, Abkhazia has been siphoning resources and support from Russia for no other reason than because Russia continues to offer them.  Ethnic Abkhazians have no more allegiance to Russia than they do to Georgia; after all, Abkhazia was also subject to the iron fist of Soviet rule.  Yet after breaking off from the rest of Georgia, Abkhazia desperately needed a pillar to rest on, and Russia provided that—again, not out of loyalty to Abkhazians, but merely to maintain its influence in the rapidly westernizing south Caucasus and Black Sea region. Read the rest of this entry »

Georgian Peacekeepers in South Ossetia?

3 03 2006

3 March 2006

Georgian officials have made it clear that they neither support nor trust Russia’s military peacekeeping force in South Ossetia. But what are the alternatives to this presence? Georgian ministers and members of parliament have advocated two different alternatives. Both assume that the Russians will abandon their interests in South Ossetia, and both invite more questions than answers.

The first alternative to the current, mostly Russian Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPKF) is an international peacekeeping force (PKF), perhaps led by the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). On such an international force, the number of Georgian and Russian soldiers is unlikely to be greater than that on any other PKF in the world.

Georgian officials know, however, that they are not likely to be offered a truly international peacekeeping force. PKFs from the United Nations and the OSCE are dead ends for achieving Georgian goals in South Ossetia because Russia retains veto power in both organizations. NATO might offer an outlet, but only if the conflict seriously escalates to the level of Kosovo in 1999. Read the rest of this entry »

Russia Calls Our Bluff

20 02 2006

Russia is Raising the Price of Western Ambition
Georgian Times
20 February 2006

Guided by President Putin and his foreign ministry, Russia’s foreign policy is pushing America deeper into a corner it has come to know and hate.  After declaring a “universal principle” on January 31, President Putin said that the fate of Kosovo (a UN protectorate within Serbia) should be the same as secessionist regions across the globe, specifically post-soviet nations like those in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Putin implied that secession has become an expression of self-determination.  In so doing, Russia has added serious legitimacy to a movement well under way: the altar of western values is crumbling under the feet of its most confident sermonizer, America.  And Russia would never miss an opportunity to shift the terrain in their favor.

Since the end of the Cold War, American and European politicians have trotted around the globe stamping out injustice after injustice—proudly mopping up the mess left in the wake of Soviet disintegration.  From the Caucasus and Central Asia to the Balkans and South America, the West has rescued millions of helpless people with a formula that is said to be end of ideological history.  For the last sixty years, the West has charitably spread the values of self-determination and tolerance to all corners of the globe.

Yet now, after years of watching America take credit for cleaning up its own backyard, Moscow has forced Washington into a lose-lose game dead-set on tearing a hole in the sanctity of self-determination.  Does America want to save Kosovo or Georgia? Does it want democratic cooperation or fiery rhetoric about freedom? The answers to these questions go beyond President Bush’s ambitious foreign policy; they challenge our most fundamental questions about liberty and democracy. Read the rest of this entry »

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