When the current conflict between Israel and Hamas began, it looked much like a resumption of the conflict that has led to similarly tragic consequences in recent years. Israel was poised to set back Hamas's war-making ability by a few years, leading the Israeli government to gain support domestically. As in recent similar conflicts, it was expected that too many civilians would be killed in Gaza, thus strengthening the anti-Israel narrative within Gaza, and globally, bolstering Hamas's wavering popularity. After roughly a month of this war, it is clear that these things have occurred, but other the war has also led to changes in the broader conflict that may not be immediately apparent but that are significant for both sides, as well as for those who would like to see this conflict end.
The war in Gaza is characterized by two sides that, for reasons of domestic and external politics, define victory very differently. Israel employs a reasonably conventional military notion of victory, measuring their success in by their ability to keep their own people safe and destroy Hamas's ability to make war on them. Hamas, for its, part defines victory largely by driving up hatred for Israel both inside and outside of Gaza. These two visions are not only different, but exist on largely different planes, making it possible for both sides to simultaneously view themselves as winning this conflict based on their own criteria.
Both sides in this conflict find it difficult to separate the best media strategy from the narrative to which they have long been wed. For Israel that means trying to convince the rest of the world that they are different from other countries and care about civilian deaths, while for Palestinians it means holding on to the notion that they are ignored by the world and marginalized by a the global media that is unduly influenced by Israel. These two narratives may no longer be the most useful for each group, but they are still strong and often make it harder for both sides to see how the conflict, the world and indeed themselves are changing.
The question of whether the US should, or can, sustain a foreign policy that is increasingly out of synch with the views of the people is one that should be taken seriously in a democratic country. If the American people have no appetite for further intervention, then that should be a major consideration for any president or policy maker. If those leaders believe the policy is essential for US interests or security it is their responsibility to build public support for that policy. A failure to build that support is a failure of leadership and ultimately of democracy as well.
At first glance, this seems like a minor event. The resignation of a non-president of a non-state in a small and poor region of the Caucasus is not the kind of thing that generally grabs headlines. The broader context, however, suggests that we should pay a bit more attention to these events, particularly as the West is increasingly concerned about Russian aggression.
A Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine would put Putin’s assertions about Ukraine to the test; conversely, the Ukrainian state and society would be put to the test as well. If the Ukrainian people rise up in an insurgency, the occupation would fail, leaving Russia either stuck in a long and unwinnable conflict or forced to retreat. The outcome of such a conflict could also threaten Putin’s own hold on power within Russia. On the other hand, if there is no insurgency following the invasion, then Putin could claim vindication that, despite more than twenty years of de jure independence, Ukraine was never really a state.
The debate in the U.S. about how to respond to the Russian invasion has shows the complete self absorption of much of the American political establishment. Russia invaded Crimea primarily because of Russia's interest in Ukraine, domestic political issues in Russia, and as a reaction to recent political events in Ukraine. However, the response in Washington, particularly from the right, has suggested that Russia acted because of America's, and specifically President Obama's, weakness. This assertion was, of course, more about politics in the U.S., than anything happening in Ukraine, but it nonetheless demonstrated that for many what happened in Crimea had to be attributable to something that the U.S., and the Obama administration, did or did not do.
Statements from various American politicians and organizations with whom Gharibashvili met contained the usual platitudes about Georgia’s strides towards democracy and the strength of the bilateral relationship. The most significant thing about those statements, however, may well have been what was not said. Only a few days before the trip, former Georgian Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, a very close ally of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and for most of the previous decade the second most powerful man in Georgia, was sentencedhttp://www.eurasianet.org/node/68094 to five years in prison for various abuses of power.
Russia's invasion Ukraine has set off paroxysms of frustration, anger and incredulity in the west, not least in Washington. Some policy makers and pundits are struggling with ways to constructively address the problems raised by Russian action, others struggle to ensure that somehow President Obama is blamed for these events, and many are trying to figure out the complexity, context and background of these events. Understanding the conflict in Crimea, and the best way forward for the US, requires holding several, conflicting, and often unappealing, ideas in one's head at the same time. These are four of the most important of these ideas.
These are serious challenges blocking Ukraine's hopeful path to stability - never mind democracy. They are not insurmountable, but it remains as likely as not that Ukraine's next chapter will resemble the lost years of 2004-2010 - minus a few eastern territories. If the country is to remain united, powerful passions in Kiev, however righteous, must be tempered in favour of pragmatism.
The challenge for the new Ukrainian leadership is not to strike a decisive victory for the West and democracy and somehow defeatRussia, but rather to build a new consensus in the country that doesn’t treat half the population as absolute winners and the other half as absolute losers. Ukraine has to move beyond the cycles of alternating victories for forces from western and eastern Ukraine, ephemeral wins that have stymied the political development of the nation in the past decade.
Yet, the West rarely recognizes that Russia, like countries in the West, has its own interests. To Westerners, Russia’s actions are part of a storied narrative: It consistently acts in outrageous ways to thwart not Western interests, but also moral and political good in Ukraine. There’s a big problem with that view: By recasting a struggle between two political forces and interests as one simply between right and wrong, the West makes it more difficult to understand and combat Russian influence. If the U.S. and Europe want to change Russia’s behavior, they must toss those antiquated, Cold War notions, and accept that modern tensions are substantially based on economic and political interests, not just on latent Russian anger, or its alleged inferiority complex. That means accepting, for example, that scolding Russian leaders for breaking Western rules and expectations won’t provoke changes in Moscow. More dramatically, it may require the U.S. to recognize the limits of its ability to influence outcomes in Ukraine or other countries where Russia also has interests at stake.
Many of these right wing attacks are offensive and extremely disrespectful to the memory of a truly great man, but they should not be so quickly dismissed as just the rantings of angry right wingers. These comments about Mandela are also echoes of what many said about him when he was alive, particularly before he became president of a free South Africa.
The surface similarities between the arrests of former Georgian and Ukrainian prime ministers Vano Merabishvili and Yulia Tymoshenko should not be used to undermine attempts to support the rule of law in Georgia, argues Columbia University's Lincoln Mitchell.
If an app existed that could maximize the number and breadth of strong arguments against a policy decision as well as the potential damage that policy could cause while minimizing the possibility that the policy in question could accomplish anything, it would produce the administration's proposed strike against Syria.
This entire episode has been bad for the U.S. for several reasons, but one that has been largely overlooked it the extent to which it makes the U.S. look weak. Spying on citizens, tracking their phone calls and other communications is what one expects from vulnerable authoritarian regimes, not from governments claiming to be the leaders of the free world. Strong countries have a functioning modern state that can assure secrecy and do not seek to cut fiscal corners by contracting out key functions to private companies who often enjoy useful ties to current and former government officials. Again, this kind of incompetence and weak state is not what the most powerful country in the world should be projecting.
In the 1990s, Western supported and funded democracy assistance programs, including support for civil society and rule of law, technical assistance to political parties and legislatures, and election monitoring to ensure free, fair and democratic elections, played an important role in the expansion of democracy throughout much the former Communist block, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Over recent decades these tools have been integrated into the foreign policy apparatus of the West, but a funny thing happened on the way to the agora: The environment changed and the programs did not. - See more at: http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=1421#sthash.3dkmdOrk.dpuf
It is possible that the Georgian election will go smoothly and will not be news in the U.S., but that is becoming less likely every day as fines, harassment and efforts to prevent the opposition from campaigning become even more frequent in Georgia. It is, therefore, likely that the Obama administration will be faced with this all-too-foreseeable October Surprise from Georgia. A year ago, there was much the U.S. could have done to make elections better in Georgia. The window for doing that is rapidly closing, but in the next few weeks the U.S. should do whatever it can to effect at least some change for the better.
Currently, with major parliamentary elections less than two weeks away, the Georgian government is playing game of chicken. This one, unlike chicken tabaka, does not involve cooking, will not end well, and is being played for high stakes. It consists of a challenge from the Georgian government to the West to see who will blink first. In the months leading up to the October 1st election numerous international observers, election monitors and foreign diplomats and leaders have commented that the current electoral environment is not conducive to fair elections, and have expressed concerns accordingly. The prison abuse scandal, which is widespread and particularly devastating in a country like Georgia, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, although not a partisan issue, has made the political environment even more tense, weakening support for the ruling United National Movement (UNM) party and making widespread election fraud even more necessary for the UNM to ensure victory for themselves.
Mitt Romney recently traveled abroad to try to demonstrate his foreign policy credentials, because we all know a few staged meetings with leaders of key U.S. allies is enough preparation to serve as president. Romney, however, was unable to pass even this extraordinarily easy test. Instead, his foreign trip served to reinforce what many people already believe about him -- that despite some strengths, he is an extremely bad candidate. This trip will be remembered more for Romney's insulting comments about the London Olympics and the quick and profane temper of his aid, Rick Gorka than for anything Romney did to demonstrate statesmanship or even an understanding of the world outside the U.S.