Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ban Right on Iran

WRMEA, March/April 2014, Pages 28-29

United Nations Report

Despite Outcome, Ban Was Right to Invite Iran to Syria Talks

By Ian Williams

U.N. and Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (l) and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Jan. 22 press conference closing the Geneva II peace talks on Syria. (Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)
George Orwell invented “non-persons” in his novel 1984—people so politically incorrect they were treated as if they did not exist. He also invented the “Two Minutes Hate,” in which crowds were worked into paroxysms of rage at the mention of Big Brother’s political opponent.
Today it is not Big Brother but the Dog’s Tail which decides which is a non-country or a non-person, and identifies which countries are so unfit that they can only be ritually vilified. In Washington, the powers that be seem to blithely forget the years in which the old China lobby persuaded them to ignore Beijing, and the sore loser faction bade them to boycott Hanoi—or how, until recently, no one could talk to the Palestinians. Even now, we can only talk to some Palestinians.
In a recent example of this selective and consciously directed amnesia, Norway’s permanent representative to the U.N. told the Security Council that his country was “deeply concerned about the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza. We call for the lifting of the restrictions in compliance with Security Council Resolution 1860 in all its elements, including the need for security for all the civilian populations.”
Compared with what comes out of mealy-mouthed Washington, this sounds like a strong statement. But readers accustomed to the sound of silence will note the absence of names in this otherwise resounding declaration by Norway in the first Security Council meeting of 2014 on the Middle East situation. In what perilously approached Orwell’s Doublethink, Norway could not bring itself to name Israel as the country maintaining the restrictions its diplomat was deploring in defiance of previous resolutions.
In contrast, Iran did not disguise its favorite target the way it used to, since the former “Zionist Entity” has now graduated to become “The Israeli Regime”—which, the Iranian envoy pointed out, “is the only one in the region that possesses all types of Weapons of Mass Destruction but is not a party to any of the treaties banning them.”
He added that it “should also be compelled to join such treaties, in particular to accede to the NPT, without any further delay and precondition, and place all its nuclear activities under the IAEA comprehensive safeguards, in order to remove the only obstacle for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East proposed by Iran in 1974.”
One might not totally appreciate the messenger, but the message is spot on!
Despite, or perhaps even because of, such eminently good common sense, Washington banned Tehran from the peace talks in Geneva, to which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon very sensibly had invited it.
As Ban recognized, you do not make peace by refusing to talk to opponents, and vetoing Iran’s involvement makes it more difficult to achieve peace. The whole debacle suggests that the Obama administration is acting from the Clinton-era script when its dealings with the U.N. are concerned. It is not surprising that Secretary- General Ban has quipped that SG stood for “Scape Goat,” but this debacle, unfairly, had him dubbed as Washington’s poodle—for taking a step with the full knowledge of the State Department and U.S. administration, but which the U.S. then expediently repudiated.
Despite being the victim of poison gas attacks itself, it is true that Iran has not exactly covered itself with ethical or humanitarian glory during the Syrian tragedy. But then, neither has Russia, which has supplied the bulk of the weaponry for the regime. And yet no one has suggested banning Moscow from the talks, or even the Assad regime itself. Additionally, after that regime, among the major obstacles to a rational and democratic solution are the fundamentalist fighters bankrolled by major Arab oil states—with whom the U.S. maintains the closest and most amicable relations.
The problem is that in some quarters—including these armers and bankers of war criminals—Iran is a non-country, which leads to palpably nonsensical acrobatics by Washington and others. The U.S. can have bases in countries bankrolling “terrorist” groups, but because those profoundly undemocratic regimes do not like Iran, the U.S. must be careful about talking to Tehran.
So Israel could sell the ayatollahs weapons in the course of Iran-Contra, during which the U.S. itself was using Tehran to arm right-wing terrorists in Nicaragua. The U.S. and Iran can both support the Iraqi government in defeating Sunni insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, and indeed colluded to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But because President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were, quite correctly, talking to Iran on the nuclear issue, they were on a short leash from AIPAC on Iranian entanglements. This time the dog had more than one tail: There was external pressure from Arabs and Israel, and of course the internal pressure from Congress being whipped up by AIPAC.
Clearly in the real world, it is to everyone’s advantage to have at the table a major player in the conflict—if you want it to end. But diplomacy is often best orchestrated to the sound of silence. Not mentioning issues is often crucial to getting parties to agree to talks, and so Iran’s invitation to the peace talks involved eliding the issue of whether Iran explicitly accepted the Geneva Communiqué on which the talks were based. It had not, but showed signs that it could be nudged that way.
So Ban, with the full knowledge of the U.S., invited Iran to the talks, despite the fudge on whether or not Tehran had signed off on the communiqué. He was taking a bold risk. He rightly believed that Iran should be there, but the talks were the property of the participants, each of which had an implicit veto.
It was a delicate operation, depending on complicity and discretion from all parties. Someone somewhere blew enough to bring the house of cards down. The U.S. side seems to have demanded explicit guarantees of Iranian acceptance of the communiqué, which precipitated an explicit repudiation of them by Tehran. That led to Washington demanding that Ban withdraw the invitation to Iran. American briefers immediately began to castigate Ban’s incompetence, even though it was U.S. diplomatic ineptitude that seems to have precipitated the collapse.
Was it the usual Iran haters who blew the structure down, or did someone in the administration do it so that they could appease AIPAC for defeating it on the sanctions issue? There were so many places such a complex operation could be toppled, it would be difficult to tell. It could be that one part of the administration knew what was happening, and another didn’t.
Clearly, Ban also, justifiably, feels let down by the Iranians for rising to the American bait so quickly. They should have just shut up and turned up.
But the name-calling cannot disguise the inalienable truth that if the talks are to be successful then Iran should be involved in them, that Ban was right to invite them and the U.S. foolish to disinvite them.
As a corollary, if the U.S. had a coherent foreign policy it would build on its common ground with Iran—in Iraq, in Afghanistan and, increasingly, on the nuclear issue, to persuade Tehran that there were advantages in working with Washington to force Assad to the negotiating table. Indeed, the U.S., as its own hydrocarbons bubble up out of the ground, could persuade the Arab Iran-haters to cease their pernicious activities in backing terrorist bands that tend to make Assad look good, even as they open a fifth column in the opposition’s ranks.
Washington could have expressed its regrets at the Iranian invitation, and let it stand. It is not in the longterm interests of the U.S., or any other responsive great power, to diminish the appearance of independence by the United Nations. In the end, the Geneva Talks epitomize the U.N.’s dilemma. The organization is needed to provide a neutral space, an arena for the negotiations. But it also needs the active collaboration of its most powerful and involved members to produce results.
A secretary-general can only play the hand he is dealt, and in this case Ban’s two aces turned to jokers. He should not let it dissuade him from trying to do the right thing in the future.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Onward, Onward Rode the Rogues: a mother lode of patriotic taurine excreta.

Ian Williams

Tribune Written By: Ian Williams
Published: March 7, 2014 Last modified: March 5, 2014

Vladimir Putin’s actions in Crimea are perilously close to tearing up rules that have kept us “the peoples of the world from the scourge of war.”
Both sides in the conflict will be invoking the United Nations Charter, which enshrines the inviolability of sovereign states and their borders – unlike the League of Nations, which was surprisingly active at redrawing borders after Versailles. The root of the problem is the weird West European notion of the nation state – a Procrustean construct in which populations had to be cut or stretched to fit homogeneously into a frame predetermined by nationalist ideologues. The French probably invented it – at a time when more than half their population did not speak French.
Looking at the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs almost leads to nostalgia, albeit with many qualifications. In their different ways, they at least provided for linguistic and ethnic diversity within one polity, which the European Union (despite its failings) also offers.
Boris Yeltsin’s power grab in Moscow led to the chaotic dissolution of the Soviet Union, leaving far too many questions unanswered, not least of which were the rights of minorities. A shared EU style citizenship, dual nationalities, linguistic rights should all have been negotiated – not to mention open borders.
Decolonisation in both Africa and the former Soviet Union led to many absurdities based on respect for existing boundaries whether drawn up by tipsy District Commissioners in Africa or playful commissars in the Soviet Union following Stalin’s. One of Stalin’s little jokes, Nagorno Karabagh, stranding an enclave of Armenians in Azerbaijan, is a classic unresolved issue that cannot be solved without adjusting borders.
So what of Ukraine? During the Balkan Wars, Bogdan Denitch, who represented the Democratic Socialists of America at the Socialist International, often quoted the Balkan formula: “Why should I be a minority in your country, when you could be a minority in mine?” It seems to be doing sterling service in the Ukraine now.
If only Putin were as sedulous about the rights of, say, Chechens, as he is about Russian speakers in the Crimea. Or if Moscow had shown any respect for the rights of the Crimean Tartars. But then the respect for Iraqi sovereignty shown by George W Bush and Tony Blair is hardly a good example. Experience suggests that people believe in their own right to self-determination but are less convinced about the rights of others. Ask a typical Indian about Kashmiri rights, an Argentinean about Falkland Islanders, or a Moroccan about Western Sahara, and the chances are you will hit a mother lode of patriotic taurine excreta.
While many at the time would agree that the Sudeten Germans had been deprived of their right to self-determination, there is a consensus that Hitler’s “liberation” of them broke all the rules. It was the Nazis flouting of the rules against aggression and conquest that led to the UN Charter’s emphasis on sovereignty – which has been reasonably successful so far in averting a third world.
There are more questions than answers in the Ukraine. Its capital, Kiev, was the core of what became the Russian state. There were Polish, Lithuanian and Russian states on what is now Ukrainian territory but until 1917 there had been no independent Ukrainian polity. Ironically, Ukraine owes its present territory to Stalin and his joint invasion with Hitler in of Poland in 1939.
But the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, with their anti-Russian language moves, are not exactly paragons of toleration. If Ukraine has a right to national self-determination, then why don’t the constituent parts also have the same right? There is nothing in the UN Charter to stop boundaries being changed – but not by force. There are other ways. One is negotiation, from first principles with consultation and protection for all the parties on the ground. The other is the EU approach, which has been remarkably successful in making the borders meaningless for all but administrative purposes. If Britain and the new Europe can remain economically part of the EU while grovelling politically to Washington, Ukraine can join the EU without joining Nato and while maintaining the close political relations it needs with Russia. After all, those Ukrainian nationalists still want Russian gas to keep them warm.