Friday, January 30, 2015

Mitt Romney's Honorable Decision

In finally deciding against his third run at White House, Mitt Romney made a wise decision. He has correctly diagnosed that 2016 will be all about pulling up America's vast and increasing under class of economically left behind (essentially most of the America). But for him; the candidate of 1%, the candidate for 'makers' rather than 'takers'; to make a swift turn to populist economic programs would have been very hard in the third run. Besides, there is this 'old car smell' and unusually large field of Republican Wannabes. 

For America, Mitt's arguments are done. There is much 'less new' to come out. We would not miss anything. Rather a room is made for others and new arguments. In that sense Mitt did a service to America.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

America's Saudi Burden

"...we in the United States are prisoners as well: handcuffed to Saudi Arabia, bound to its corruptions and repression, with no immediate possibility of escape."

Possibly a rare occasion when a dyed in the wool conservative columnist like Ross Douthat may find an agreement with editorial predisposition of a liberal outlet like NYT. He laments America's inability to resist complete anti-democratic political structure of Saudi Arabia and consequent full repression of people's rights in that kingdom. Ross Douthat is right when he points helplessness of America in nudging Saudi Arabia towards a more liberal and egalitarian society. But President Obama will not be the first American President to sacrifice a 'love seat' to kiss the newly minted king in Saudi Arabia. There is a long tradition of American Presidents who carry waters for House of Saud - it is bipartisan.

Ever since Richard Nixon invested in Saudi Arabia, part of America's enduring global geopolitical influence since WW II arises because House of Saud decided to denominate Oil Trade in Greenbacks and that cemented the love of Saudi Green among Red and Blue elites of America. It is a mature Statecraft when an American President continues this tradition. Since when affairs of nations have been conducted on 'principles' exclusively? They are not and so why hold Barack Obama and his predecessors to an unrealistic criteria? If 'principles and values' were sole reasons to guide America's foreign policy, neither Nixon would have adopted the 'open China' policy nor Reagan would have gone to Reykjavik to negotiate with Gorbachev.

It may be detrimental to America's Hydrocarbon production when Saudi Arabia crashes Oil prices. But the fact is we need Saudi Arabia as the bulwark against ISIS. It suits West's narrative when Saudi Arabia opposes extremism in the name of Islam while claiming custodianship of entire Islam. It is lot better for the global peace that House of Saud manages Islamic shrines of Mecca and Median rather than some virulent and nihilistic ideology misuses those places of worship and instigates unrest among Muslim population all over the world. When Sunni Wahhabism is followed scrupulously - in quick, no frills burying of the king rather than lengthy drawn out process of saying good by to a deceased leader; in not building any named tombs and in not declaring any official mourning period - House of Saud puts forward the best side of Islam in front of the world. No wonder French President Hollande, British PM Cameron and American President Obama see the political value in aligning with House of Saud during this political transition. As a family run business, what House of Saud could do right; they have done so - quickly establishing the line of succession and continuity in its Oil and Foreign Policy. Reaffirming this steady and non-disruptive policy framework is the duty of Obama Administration and it is good to see that it intends to do so by way of avoiding any recent slip ups

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Populist Turn in American Politics

When a pro-rich, himself rich, guy starts talking about the gulf between rich and poor, you know things are changing in American politics. A second term president in his last two years and wide open Republican primary is a fertile ground in any case for such tectonic shifts. No wonder President Obama fully exploited this moment to play out his party's differences in this regard with his political opponents. 

However, what I find most astonishing is the ease with which Mitt Romeny blamed President Obama for all this rich-poor gap when exactly it has been Romney's party which has defended capital owners at all costs while Mitt Romney deciding to be the candidate of top 1%. May be it is no surprise there and that is how politics always work: keep opposing your opponent on ideological basis and when a problem is detected in your policy prescriptions blame your opponent even if it is your ideology which causes the problem.

The question is will American Public see through the hollowness of sudden populist turn of Republicans. Will Public make it harder to Republicans to  claim populism while trying to protect their true benefactor class - rich folks? There is no problem of a Republican who adopts populism and truly believes that with a credibility to deliver - that rich will have to pay more to address inequality in today's America. But are there any such Republicans who are ready to insist for "shared sacrifices" from rich? 

Politics of next few years in America will be determined by whether Republicans succeed in "selling to America that it is all fault of Obama and Liberals for all this inequality" (and hence we need to give more tax cuts to rich, oops...job creators in the dictionary of Republican Party). Generally Republican politics has had more success in selling all sorts of "snake oil" to Americans (Bush's Iraq War) than Democrats being able to point out contradictions in Republican Policy prescriptions.

2015 State of Union Address by President Obama was an attempt to help Democrats in this contest

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je Suis Charlie II

"It is we who forgive, not Muhammad.”

Trying to get hold of my copy of the issue, let us see if I am lucky. Clearly it is a collector's item; all worth of course.

Arrest Anjem Choudhary

British Cleric Anjem Choudhary calls new issue of Charlie Habdo as an "act of war". Who is he to call something as an "act of war"? I assume only British PM or British Crown can declare something as an act of war on the sovereign land of Britain. Given that, the question should be asked why not UK Government arrest this cleric for inciting population and trying to fuel societal tensions?

The fact is despite the carnage of last week in Paris, folks don't get it. May be it is too easy to assume that blood of few cartoonists would have established the right of free citizens to undertake so called blasphemy. But then the fight has started and there is no looking back.

It is not just the cleric, but lot of mainstream media as well does not get it. Take for example a NYT report where it says:

"Muslim groups and scholars in France and elsewhere voiced concerns on Tuesday that a satirical newspaper’s first cover since the attack on its journalists last week could ignite dangerous new passions in a debate pitting free speech against religious doctrine" [bold type added to emphasize]

Question is where were educated editors of New York Times when they allow the impression of "religious doctrine" as not to depict Mohamed in any form? There is no such doctrine and NYT failed miserably in not being precise here. But it is not just a factual error, it is moral laziness and cowardice on behalf of Gray Lady; and so goes for many media outlets.

As many have noted and I argued earlier, the problem in UK and Europe is the cuddling attitude towards these stupid clerics who continue to inflame people's emotions on the basis of religion. These clerics and many in Islam (including Al Qeda and ISIS, which at some point will get decimated completely) must understand that this Earth equally belongs to Atheists as like it is for religious people and all would have equal rights of humor and satire. If you do not understand and try to enforce Medival traditions, those times are gone and must end. (Why is that there is no good satire magazine making fun of we Atheists? Bring it on bro!)

It is the same lax attitude which took UK so long to convict Abu Hamaza and finally it has to be USA to put him behind bars. UK Government has chance to rectify this mistake and start prosecuting fools like Anjem Choudhary and likes of him before it is too late. Real fear is not from these bigots who consume the very same Freedom of Speech allowed by Western Societies to declare wars on those very same societies and for sure gun down our heroes; but weak UK politicians (you Ed Miliband and you Labor Party) who will be sold out for misguided Muslim votes in coming UK elections. (Oh yah, in India we have seen this movie so many times; just ask Congress Party and Samajwadi Party.)

What happened last week in France is really a wake up call to Western Societies and Politicians that they must a draw line and never tolerate non-sense of curtailing freedom of speech for concerns of few wrong clerics.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Beyond the March of Millions

Every legitimate polity needs to step forward, take responsibility and need to make an emphatic statement of its resolve to meet its challengers head on in times of crisis. That is what Millions of Parisians and French did today accompanied by panorama of 40+ heads of states and national rulers. What the march has achieved is to provide people's mandate and legitimacy as France, Europe and greater world embark upon a sustained fight against terrorism in the name of Islam.

Why is terrorism in the name of Islam flaring up so much in recent years? If one attempts to run down chain of global events and traces possible causes, few things come to mind.

First and foremost, in some basic sense this is a standard law and order issue because terror in France is all perpetrated by French born citizens living in France. Part of causes for rise of Islamic Terror in Europe are due to domestic policies Europe has practiced so far. Here is the money quote from Paul Mason in The Guardian

"The only common culture that will survive the onslaught that IS and its allies are planning for Europe has to be built on two principles: first, religious tolerance and respect for migrants’ rights under international law; second, the aggressive pursuit of secularism, rationalism and individual liberty. The liberal centre and the European left have this weakness in common: they find the tolerance bit easier than the aggressive fight for humanism and modernity. The collapse of the old left’s economic project, and the current collapse of the economic project of the centre, has sapped their will to fight for the culture they believe in."

Today's Europe in most ways would not have any guilt or moral burden of past colonial imperialism over Muslim world. But if at societal level any such burden is felt, then throwing 'welfare' Euros and Pounds to Islamic Migrants and their descendants while ignoring failures to assimilate those Muslims fully in French and European Life is not going to address any of these past burdens. Resultant alienation of Muslims in France and Europe gives rise to all these problems. As like Ummah needs to demand why criticizing and depicting Islam Founder Muhammad is blasphemy and why such laws are passed; Europeans need to actively pursue - as well as demand - assimilation of Muslim population in greater European ethos. 

During immediate years after WWII, Europe enjoyed torrential growth as it was busy rebuilding the war torn continent. But after the Oil Shock of 1973, Europe never seemed to have achieved sustained accelerated growth period. Germany got bogged down in the integration, then Euro came. Brief period of bright years came to Europe, followed by global recessions induced by 9/11 and 2008 American financial recession. While European born Muslims were growing into young adults looking for jobs; Europe adopted misguided economic policy of Austerity. So European economic policy is not generating jobs, but throws welfare Euros and Pounds while not tracking hatred spewing Imams and would be terrorists travelling to Islamic hot spots world over; no wonder danger of home grown terror increases.

Secondly, though France in particular is active in responding to upheavals outside of Europe; in general Europe has been slow to challenges thrown by militancy in Arab and Islamic world. It almost seems like European leaders think passing symbolic resolutions backing Palestine is all that they need to do so far as responding to outside Europe challenges. After Arab Spring, many middle-east Islamic countries are still fertile grounds for militants. The biggest problem is of course Syria and rise of ISIS. ISIS in Syria got a boast by the failed adjacent state of Iraq which gave it vast expanse of Mesopotamia to advance the nihilism of terror. This new out growth of a violent creed is turning out to be the channel for festering dormant resentment against Europe and feeling of left behind among many misguided youths of Muslims in Europe.

Sure more co-ordination, information sharing, new laws to track traffic of European born folks to jihadi hot-spots of the world; all that is good and  necessary. Whatever more needs to be done, West needs to undertake that. But the question remains - how do you politically challenge these forces of terror? Can there be any other case apart from joining the fight against ISIS? Hoping that if we let ISIS live, they would not disturb Western societies; one wonders how credible that reasoning is.

Anti-immigration and xenophobia are distractions from real challenges here. Hope is French people and Europe at large would 'see through' politics of National Front. But that is just one part, what is needed is to built upon overwhelming public will displayed today to take on all those inside and outside of Europe who want to kill Europeans just because West does not want to go back to Medieval times.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

The fundamental 'glass ceiling' few in West are trying to break here is - Prophet Mohamed can be criticized, can be put in the historical context and essentially humanized. That is the take for me. For too long many in Islam have pointed 'gun at the head' of those who dare to criticize, comment, depict and make cartoons of Prophet Mohamed. 

Those guns fired today.

Well, those heroes died for us so that we do not tolerate this non-sense. You see, in West folks can perfectly challenge whether historical Jesus Christ even exited or in India folks would neither hesitate to call the bluff of Hindu Mythology nor of India's rulers who are attempting to hide behind past and religion.

As Sec. Kerry said, if any nation knows better "to see through" blinkers of Religion, it will be France; the country which gifted to the whole world the concept of Secularism. There cannot be any doubt, just look at the way that country is standing to the whole challenge thrown to its way of life; it will be France which will rise to it's 9/11 and lead the fight against what Salman Rushdie rightly called "religious totalitarianism". 

History of early 21st century will be how West and rest of the world deal firmly and definitely with religious bigotry and religion based terrorism. No doubt, what happened in the City of Lights today will galvanize France, Europe and West to take this "fight" to a conclusion. Yes, there are dangers that West might over-react (but isn't France different than George Bush's America?); but the fight must be engaged and in the end freedom of speech must prevail. Today is the day when that resolve is tested and we all owe to these heroes to stick with that resolve.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Palestine - Road To Nowhere?

If thinking of PLO Chieftain Abbas in going to ICC is to buy time till Israeli elections, then one can see some merit in that. This is because after joining ICC, PLO will have to wait in any case for around 3 months to lodge a case and by then Israeli elections will be done (voting on March 17). Having the option of going to ICC strengthens PLO in negotiating with Israel. But that only works if Israel is ready for any kind of engagement.

By going to ICC, first of all PLO has made Israeli Hawk's argument stronger in the thick of an Israeli election. PLO did not show any political dexterity of strengthening hands of moderate and centrist forces in Israeli election, players like Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog. Seems like with Hamas on ascend, PLO is interested in taking head on with most Conservative forces of Israeli politics. What all that means is any ruling coalition after Israeli elections would have much less room to negotiate with PLO. There can be differences based on who becomes Israeli PM. If Tzipi Livni or Herzog were to become PM, it is possible that new Jewish settlements would not take place. But with Bibi at the helm it is impossible to imagine how he would stop settlements. Continued settlements is 'the rent' which a Likud coalition has to pay to Ultra-Conservatives in order to stay in the power. Nevertheless jumping the gun and going to ICC is fitting with the pattern of PLO - the same way it sabotaged last year Sec. Kerry's peace proposals. All this means either PLO does not think stopping of settlements is of any use (which in minds of any rational observer is the single most important condition to restart peace negotiations on credible footing) or PLO simply does not understand how to serve its own interests.

This is because, going to ICC is risky. First of all, it is not given that ICC would take PLO's complaints.[1] Like USA, China and India; Israel is not a ratified member of ICC. American Congress is bound to stop all aid money to PLO when it lodges a complaint with ICC and Israel can stop all transfer of tax collection to PLO. Only European monies will continue to PLO. But the Europe which is barely coping with Russian Dictator Putin (come Spring of 2015 Germany will be embroiled in an intense debate of continuing sanctions on Russia or not), dealing with hiss fits of Greecelooming danger of Brexit and barely battling it's own economic stagnation is hardly in any great position to support PLO in the first half of 2015. There will be some noise in France and UK might pass some symbolic measures to garner Muslim votes in May elections; but thereafter it is harder to see how Europe will be the real back stop for PLO. From media strategy point of view, European political landscape will be consumed by so many internal challenges, it is hard to believe Israel-Palestinian issue would register more than existing noise levels.

Lack of political maturity and better understanding between Hamas and Fatah are stalling Gaza while hellish life continues there. Once money stops coming to PLO upon opening a litigation against Israel at ICC; all those warm stories about how a competent West Bank minister improved lives of Palestinians will be gone and West Bank will join Gaza in misery.

The real shocker to Palestinian people will come when Israel will retaliate PLO at ICC by filling cases against Hamas and all terrorist activities by various PLO folks. If any of those claims stick, there should be buyer's remorse in PLO for going to ICC.[2] Equally, if ICC decides that it better stay away from this political quagmire, Palestinian's will realize uselessness of going to ICC.

When UNSC declined the statehood request, PLO Chieftain is right to ask "where are we to go"? But the answer this question has - uniting all factions of Palestinian people and presenting a peaceful, credible negotiation partner to Israel - PLO does not seem ready to accept. History of Palestine - Israel conflict has been such that Jewish state winning land, then giving back part of the land in the hope of peace while Palestine sticking to a perfect solution and in the process losing everything. That is what Yasser Arafat did and that is what Abu Mazen doing today. He is worried about his own irrelevance among Palestinian people - it is unlikely that it will be addressed by superficial actions like going to ICC.

In 2015, the global politics is unlikely to be any more receptive to predicament of Palestinian people. Obama Administration's priorities in Middle-East are clear - securing Iraq by defeating ISIS, putting conditions in place to eradicate both ISIS and Bashar Assad in Syria and clinching a deal with Iran. There will be zero interest as well as need for Obama Administration to invest in Israel-Palestine conflict. In a sense, it will be on auto-pilot and Congress will do all the hard work. With Europe pre-occupied and American politics firmly rolling towards 2016 election (which will invariably retain / strengthen Conservative pro-Jewish bias of American polity); Palestinian cause would reach a dead end pretty soon.

Another intifada or another battle is par for the course in these affairs. So long as IDF avoids mass killings of Palestinian innocents to remain below radar of global 'outrage industry', Israel's mastery in "periodic grass mowing" will come handy. So the real interest of coming Israeli election will be how that election sets the course for a "unilateral solution" to this problem. Going to ICC now or engaging another mindless intifada, when those are the responses of PLO; Israel has to live with "no credible partner" and chart her own course in Middle-East. With President Obama occupying the Oval Office, Palestine had had an opportunity to work out something. That window is closing very fast. Republican President in 2016 is quite possible and even if Democrats win, it will be Hillary who will be more hawkish than Obama in these matters. All in all, we might be looking at early signs of Palestinian resistance getting folded to History books like many other moral, but inept resistance movements. 

[1] - As a recent ICC case shows, if the court finds that a national court is able to prosecute alleged criminals, it would not take such cases. So long as Israel can show it has prosecuted excesses by IDF, it may be able to claim non-admissibility of Palestinian cases against IDF. On the other hand in absence of Palestine lacking any prosecution of terrorists attack by Hamas, PLO could be on a weaker wicket!

[2] - One can argue that to cut down Hamas to a size, Abbas picked the gauntlet of going to ICC in full idea if that is the kind of sophistication Abu Mazen is trying here.