Kerry opening door to piecemeal peace in Syria?

For the past year, the US State Department has stridently rejected the use of localized ceasefire-and-surrender deals brokered by the UN (recap explanation below) as a tool for winding down the overall conflict in Syria. Now, Secretary of State John Kerry appears to have opened the door to the piecemeal peace strategy (or at least accepted it might be a valid component of an overall strategy):

Mr. Kerry’s support for the Russian and United Nations initiatives comes at a time when the American-led push to negotiate a solution to the bloody Syria conflict has lost momentum. [UN envoy] Mr. de Mistura’s step-by-step strategy to de-escalate the civil war has been attracting growing interest among some Obama administration officials.

Mr. Kerry said before the failed peace talks in Geneva last year that the United States’s goal was a transitional government in Syria that did not include President Bashar al-Assad. But Mr. Kerry refrained from making such an explicit demand in his remarks on Wednesday; instead he urged the Syrian leadership to reconsider what it is doing.

 
This marks a significant shift, it would seem, and opens up a lot more realistic outcomes than are found by steadfastly clinging to an opposition government without authority and a rebel coalition without military dominance against a leader who is no longer likely to be toppled.

Two months ago, remember, the administration was not amenable to the idea at all:

…at the moment, the United States hasn’t even applauded the existing diplomatic progress, remaining hung up on unrealistic regime change objectives instead of seeking to stop the killing. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki blasted the truce proposals on Monday, saying “Unfortunately, many local truces achieved thus far have more closely resembled surrender arrangements,” without acknowledging that halting the fighting and withdrawing doomed rebel forces is translating into hundreds (probably thousands) of civilian lives being saved.

 

Arsenal Recap: Local Ceasefire-and-Surrender Agreements

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U.S. may now strike Iraq because it feels like it

Meanwhile the murderous government in Egypt just got new U.S. military helicopters.

 
I noticed an alarming top story just now on my Google News search:
Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 8.26.08 PM

So I read on, to get more details:

President Obama is lining up ISIS targets in Iraq and may launch an attack on the militant Islamic militia that is threatening Baghdad even if he does not get an agreement with the Iraqi regime, Secretary of State John Kerry said today.

Speaking in Baghdad after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other political leaders, Kerry said Obama is “each day” gaining more certainty of the targets he would strike if the United States decided on its own to take military action.

“He has reserved the right to himself, as he should, to make a decision at any point in time if he deems it necessary strategically,” Kerry said.

Obama has said he would not provide Iraq more military support unless it forms a government more accepting of religious minorities, but Kerry stressed that Obama wouldn’t hesitate to have the U.S. conduct its own military operations if necessary.

“The president has moved the assets into place and has been gaining each day the assurances he needs with respect to potential targeting,” Kerry said.

 
While it’s true that the United States since 9/11 has conducted airstrikes without permission in other countries before (e.g. Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc.), the justification has been that the targeted individuals or organizations were at least trying to attack the U.S. homeland, U.S. troops in the area, or U.S. sites like embassies and such. I might not agree with that policy, but at least I can follow the reasoning.

That’s not the case here, because ISIS isn’t attacking those points. Nor has the argument been made that such strikes would be a “humanitarian intervention” to stop massacres (as was argued in the Balkans in the 1990s). Which makes it an odd and troubling development.

The summary phrase of greatest importance to that point, in the above, was: “may launch an attack … even if he does not get an agreement with the Iraqi regime”

Thus, the newest version of the Bipartisan Post-9/11 US Rules for Whole World: The United States President reserves right to attack anyone, anywhere, for any reason even if U.S. is not attacked (and even if there are no attacks on its sites, its people, or its interests).

Because ISIS isn’t doing any of that so far, nor does it look like it will be imminently. ISIS is probably about 3 layers away from being a threat to the U.S. in any way, including sites/interests/regional troops. So why the heck would we attack without Iraq’s request?

True, ISIS is allegedly massacring opponents in Iraq, but we haven’t invaded Syria to stop the regime or “our” rebels or ISIS from doing that next door.

We’re not doing it to protect the Iraqi government. Because they didn’t (and largely still don’t) want our help, and we left, and this didn’t happen immediately after we left. And we’re not getting their permission.

What can possibly be gained from this action? Who benefits from this at all? Probably not the Iraqis. Certainly not the United States.
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Why Brunei? How a tiny, anti-gay monarchy became a U.S. ally.

brunei-map-ciaSecretary of State John Kerry and the Obama Administration are now (justifiably, I’d say, at this point) taking huge heat for trying to cement a major alliance with the podunk Southeast Asian absolute monarchy of Brunei.

President Obama himself had been scheduled to travel to Brunei last fall during the trip to Indonesia, which the government shutdown canceled. Last year, he called the Sultan “a key leader in the Southeast Asia region and also widely respected around the world.”

Outrage has been stirred up with the long-planned launch in April by the government of a phased rollout for an elaborate new penal code with extreme religious conservatism based in hardline Sharia Law interpretations. In particular, U.S. LGBT activists in California are furious over the draconian anti-gay provisions and have been organizing boycotts against local Brunei state investments.

But the anti-gay problem is just the tip of the horrible, no good, very bad legal iceberg for the monarchy with fewer residents than Boston. At least a fifth of the country’s population is non-Muslim, which is now punishable with death by flogging. Interfaith marriages are now adultery, punishable with death by stoning. Breaking the laws of Brunei while outside the country (i.e. in neighboring Malaysia, also located on the island of Borneo) is also to be punishable under Brunei rules.

So why has the U.S. State Department been trying so enthusiastically to secure a partnership with the Sultanate of Brunei and its ironically named Abode of Peace?

Because it’s got a ton of natural gas and oil relative to its size (35th biggest oil exporter and 26th biggest gas exporter in the world), it’s an original member of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, it’s strategically located on the South China Sea coast, it’s been a counterterrorism partner since 2001 … and I guess they weren’t expecting it to go way off the deep end suddenly like this.

But really, I think the warning signs should have been there. Generous oil-funded social welfare policies aside, Brunei has not been cool people for quite some time now. Their human rights abuses, near total lack of civil rights, and obvious authoritarianism were pretty well known before now. The former British protectorate and past regional sea empire has been ruled by one dynasty with a pretty ironclad fist for six centuries.

Some of the pretend constitution’s provisions have been ignored for so long by the monarchy that the country hadn’t even gained independence (1984) at the time they were suspended formally, in the 1960s. The safe money would have been on further regression, not a dramatic improvement, for all the signs the world has been picking up from Brunei in the past decade.

One of those signs? According to the Boston Globe, it should have been the 2013 global human rights report from… drumroll please… the U.S. State Department:

…the State Department’s 2013 global human rights report criticized Brunei for its restrictions on religious freedom; exploitation of foreign workers; and limitations of the freedom of the press, assembly, and association as “the most prevalent human rights problems.”

It went on to mention the adoption of the new legal code based on religious Sharia law but noted that “the effect of the law will not be clear until it is implemented, which was scheduled to begin in phases starting in April 2014.”

 
Nobody could have predicted…

But it seems that finishing a free trade deal with such a pivotal player was too much to pass up. It’s interesting that nearly 600 years after Brunei rose to power by controlling water trade and coastal ports in the dense commercial shipping zone not far from the Spice Islands, it’s leveraging the exact same strategic economic power to do whatever it wants. I guess it’s true what they say!

April 28, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 82

AFD-logo-470
Description | Topics: Israel/Palestine peace talks collapse, Egypt’s military government, the Newton MA history curriculum debate and American Islamophobia, and then a discussion of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. People: Bill, Nate, Greg, and guest Daniel Fidler.

Talking Points:

– Is Israel actually serious about achieving peace? Was Kerry wrong to use the term “apartheid”?
– Is Egypt’s military really better than the Muslim Brotherhood? What does a history curriculum debate in Newton, Massachusetts tell us about America’s wider problem of anti-Muslim attitudes?
– Then: Daniel Fidler talks about how the second Captain America movie comments on current events.

Part 1 – Israel/Palestine Talks:
Part 1 – Israel/Palestine Talks – AFD 82
Part 2 – Egypt, Islam, Curriculum:
Part 2 – Egypt, Islam, Curriculum – AFD 82
Part 3 – Daniel Fidler on Captain America 2 [HUGE Spoiler Alert]:
Part 3 – Daniel Fidler on Captain America 2 – AFD 82

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post. Additionally, there is a bonus segment this week, on Donald Sterling, in a separate post.

Related links

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Non-military solution in Syria?

Finally some good news. John Kerry threw everyone a life preserver ring in an offhand comment yesterday — suggesting an attack could be averted in the unlikely event that Syria agreed to hand over and report all its chemical weapons to international control — and the Russians, the Syrian regime, the UK, and the United Nations Secretary-General immediately backed the idea.