Age Islam Edit Bureau
31 December 2016
Death Gave Birth to Saddams In Other Guises
By Ibrahim Al-Marashi
Will Have To Honour The UN Resolution
By Abraham Joseph
into the Middle East’s Next Security Equation
By Dr. Theodore Karasik
Daesh Is To Be Defeated, The Carnage In Syria Must End
By Fahad Nazer
Is The EU Defending Iran?
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
American Public against Trump
By Alan S. Blinder
Kerry Tells It Like It Is
By Fawaz Turki
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Death Gave Birth to Saddams in Other Guises
On Saturday, December 30, 2006, the world
awoke to the news of Saddam Hussein's execution.
I learned of the news at 6:30am that
morning, when I received a call from CNN's Turkish affiliate in Istanbul to
come on the air to discuss his death. 90 minutes later, the TV host concluded
the interview by asking, "As an Iraqi, how do you feel after Saddam's
I paused. Sweat trickled down my face,
caked in make-up for the studio interview. I knew that some Iraqis would dance
with joy, while others would weep. How did I feel?
"Empty", I responded.
All I wanted was stability and a bright
future for my ancestral Iraq. I knew Saddam's execution would not bring that to
Iraq, and a decade later, my desires still prove to be elusive.
Of Saddam's Execution
A decade ago Saddam's execution elicited
mixed reactions among those living in Iraq and the region. Saddam managed to
capture the imagination of the Arab public as the only leader who stood up to
the West in two separate wars.
For those Iraqis who lost family to
Saddam's government, his execution served as closure with a bloody past. Yet,
even those who despised Saddam admitted that he brought stability to the
country, something that Iraq lacks today.
For those Iraqis who loved Saddam, they
joined insurgent groups after 2003, hoping to return him to power. His
execution did little to end their violence. Some of them, including former
Saddam-era officers, eventually found their way to the Islamic State of Iraq
and the Levant (ISIL), an organisation who had no love for the former Iraqi
president, but emerged as the most effective insurgent group a decade after his
Death And 'The Republic Of Fear'
In 1989, Iraqi-British academic Kanan
Makiya published, The Republic of Fear, analysing how Saddam sat at the top of
a system that inculcated an all-encompassing sense of fear in Iraq.
That fear knew no temporal or geographic
borders. Even after Saddam went into hiding after the 2003 Iraq war, Iraqis
were reluctant to cooperate with the United States occupation authorities,
certain that he would somehow manage to return.
That fear permeated beyond Iraq. Growing up
in California, my parents hesitated to discuss their lives in Iraq, giving me
the impression that it was some place they did not want me know about. They
only discussed Iraq in whispered conversations that I overheard.
So, Iraq became something I only thought
about, imagining how traumatic their past must have been that they could not
even tell me. The mystery they created surrounding Iraq and Saddam Hussein only
did more to enhance my curiosity. Saddam had been part of my life since
childhood, then I studied his rule from my first days in college until I
finished my PhD.
The more I studied his rule, I realised
that Saddam sat at the apex of a system, in which thousands were complicit.
The lesson of a paper I wrote on this
system - one that was plagiarised by the British government on the eve of the
2003 Iraq War - was that there were thousands of Iraqis serving in the organs
of the "republic of fear" who made it work. Killing Saddam would do
nothing about these officials who would still live in Iraq.
With his execution Saddam's republic of
fear did come to an end. While Iraqis may have feared Saddam, a decade after
his death they know new fears: a fear of getting killed by a car bomb on the
way to the market; a fear of getting kidnapped and executed for being a Shia or
Sunni; a fear that they will not find a job to feed themselves; a fear that
they are stuck in a country with no future.
Death And The 'New Iraq'
After 2003, Iraq was often touted by the US
news channels as the "new Iraq", communicating that it had a bright
and optimistic future. When 2006 came to a close, the new Iraq was free of
Saddam. Yet, a decade after his death it is difficult to see what is optimistic
about the "new Iraq".
The new Iraq was touted as a democracy.
Today it has the facade of democratic institutions with authoritarian practices
in the shadows. The new Iraq was free of the Baathists. Yet, some Baathists
also found a new home in ISIL.
What is new to Iraq is insecurity, civil
wars, car bombs, kidnappings, criminal gangs, ISIL and government mired by
infighting among ethno-sectarian political factions.
The expulsion of Iraq's Christians from
their ancestral homes, and genocide against the Yazidis; power cuts, lack of
basic infrastructure; and a Mosul dam that could collapse at any minute;
Saddam's execution did nothing to prevent these developments.
For some Iraqis, Saddam's execution was a
matter of justice for the mass crimes he presided over, such as the Anfal
campaign, the chemical attack against Halabja, and the mass slaughter that
followed the 1991 uprisings, which indiscriminately killed Iraqis of all ethnic
and sectarian backgrounds.
A decade after Saddam's execution, however,
another Iraqi, Ibrahim al-Samarrai, otherwise known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,
the caliph of ISIL, is also presiding over an apparatus that targets Iraqis of
all ethnic and sectarian backgrounds.
The justice some Iraqis sought proved ephemeral.
In the vacuum that resulted from the overthrow of Saddam, another one emerged
to replace him.
al-Marashi is an assistant professor at the Department of History, California
State University, San Marcos. He is the co-author of Iraq's Armed Forces: An
December 30, 2016
Despite the contradictory emotions associated
with the resolution, there is general consensus that since it was adopted under
Chapter VI of the UN Charter, the resolution is non-binding and only
On December 23, 2016, the United Nations
Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2334 terming Israel's establishment
of settlements in the Palestinian territory, occupied since 1967, including
East Jerusalem, a flagrant violation of international law. Despite the
contradictory emotions associated with the resolution, there is general
consensus that since it was adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, the
resolution is non-binding and only recommendatory. However, this logic is
incorrect and Resolution 2334, though adopted under Chapter VI, binds the
international community in light of Article 25 of the UN Charter and the
International Court of Justice's (ICJ) judgments interpreting the article.
The UNSC is a principle organ of the UN
whose primary function is to maintain international peace and security. This is
a power conferred on the UNSC by the member states, and member nations are obligated to comply with
its decisions. Since the term 'resolution' does not find a mention in the
charter, UN practice has been to employ 'decisions' or 'recommendations', the
former being binding in nature and the latter non-binding. All UNSC resolutions
have a preamble and an operative part. The preamble of Resolution 2334
reaffirms Israel's obligation to abide by international laws, specifically, the
Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949. The resolution also condemns Israeli measures
that have been aimed at altering the demographic composition of the Palestinian
The operative part of the resolution is
divided into 13 paragraphs and is addressed primarily to Israel. Palestine is
addressed too, but to a lesser extent and implicitly. Additionally, paragraph 5
of the Operative Resolution instructs all states to distinguish between Israeli
territory acquired prior to and post 1967 in all their relevant dealings with
Article 25 of the UN Charter, which obliges
member states to comply with decisions of the UNSC, is fundamental for
understanding the binding nature of UNSC resolutions. The Article states:
"The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the
decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter".
While Article 25 comes under Chapter V -
which addresses the Security Council's composition, functions and powers - the
international law community has generally believed that UN member states are
only obligated to obey resolutions that invoke Article 25, if the resolution in
question operates under Chapter VII of the charter. Notably, Chapter VII
resolutions are coercive enforcement measures, which are employed if there is a
breach of peace or acts of aggression by a state. Since Resolution 2334 is a
Chapter VI resolution, by this logic member states are not obligated to put it
into effect. From this perspective, Chapter VI resolutions are viewed only as
the UNSC's efforts to direct concerned parties towards a peaceful settlement
without wider intervention.
However, this idea of demarcating Chapters
VI and VII was unequivocally rejected in 1971 by the ICJ in the Namibia case,
which clarified that the charter does not have a provision stating that Article
25 only applies to enforcement measures taken under Chapter VII. It also makes
clear that the obligation to concur with the UNSC's resolutions ought to apply
to all the decisions made by the body in accordance with the charter.
Furthermore, since Article 25, along with Articles 24 and 26, deals with the
functions and powers of the UNSC under Chapter V not VII, there is no logic in
tying Article 25-related obligations to Chapter VII actions. Thus, the only
limit on the applicability of Article 25 obligations is the adoption of the
UNSC Resolution in accordance with the UN Charter - which is not contested by
either of the parties in the case of Resolution 2334.
The Namibia case and its logic was
reiterated by the ICJ in the Palestinian wall case of 2004 wherein Israel was
found to be in contravention of numerous UNSC resolutions none of which
emanated through the channel of Chapter VII. Thus one can come to a conclusion
that there exists no principle in international law that excludes the operation
of Article 25 obligations on the part of UN member states on the sole ground
that a UNSC resolution arose from Chapter VI and not Chapter VII.
Unlike the interpretation of treaties which
are governed by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, the
interpretation of UNSC resolutions has always been subjected to policy oriented
interpretations. This is chiefly due to the political nature of resolutions in
contrast to the more legalistic treaties. In the Namibia case, the ICJ
clarified that interpreting a UNSC resolution requires understanding the intent
of the body, which can be gathered from three factors: language used in the resolution;
discussions leading to the adoption of the resolution; and charter provisions
invoked. Additionally, a fourth factor involves a call for all state parties to
distinguish between the pre- and post-1967 territories in relevant dealings
It is, therefore, clear that Resolution
2334 does not cease to be a binding resolution merely on the grounds that it
falls under Chapter VI. Furthermore, the three pronged test laid down in the
case, as tested on Resolution 2334, indicates that the resolution was intended
to be binding for all member states. The fact that there is an international
call to action under paragraph 9 is proof of the fact that it has the flavour
of a Chapter VII resolution and is not limited to Israel and Palestine. Thus, the
import of the resolution is truly revolutionary and promises broader
Joseph is Assistant Professor at Ansal School of Law, Gurgaon. (www.thewire.in)
Into The Middle East’s Next Security Equation
Dr. Theodore Karasik
30 December 2016
Reflecting on 2016, it is important to
understand the transition underway. This year’s legacy is one of swift change
undermined by countries’ inability to understand recent developments throughout
the Middle East and North Africa.
It is unclear whether Sykes-Picot or ISIS
will outlive the other; Turkey has turned East for a rapprochement with Russia;
and multi-contextual civil wars and vicious acts of terrorism plague numerous
Arab states. Most importantly, Russia took charge in 2016 with not only the
Kremlin’s fight in Syria but also by showing Moscow’s prowess and ability to
counter Washington as a global power. The region is entering a new phase.
First, governance, and how economies
evolve, are in flux. Although the Middle East underwent a series of serious
shifts in the ability to control contested territory, the Gulf states stepped
forward, led by Saudi Arabia’s entry of Vision 2030, with ambitious plans for
What looked like a potential system-wide
malfunction in Saudi Arabia’s ailing economy is being reversed by Deputy Crown
Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. During 2016, he
made an impressive tour of the US, France, Japan and China, presenting Saudi
Arabia’s Vision 2030. With the release of the Saudi budget at the end of 2016
and optimistic talk of Aramco’s IPO debuting in 2017, there is optimism.
In 2016, depressed oil prices forced all
Middle East states to make serious adjustments to their economic policies by
introducing robust plans, reforms, and vision. The imbalance in the Middle East
between prosperity and poverty still exists, between urban and rural and areas,
and still in urban neighborhoods themselves.
Given the high probability for additional
political and economic effects from 2016, several Middle East states from the
Maghreb to the Levant – Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan – will face further domestic
Second, sectarian tension heightened this
past year. Sectarian violence led to unfathomable amounts of human suffering
across Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, along with sharpened rhetoric from the
leadership in Riyadh and Tehran. Iran’s presidential election in June is
obviously only going to embolden Tehran’s positions. Only in the final months
of 2016 did “the Egypt card” come up on this sectarian front. Egypt’s weakness
means Tehran may seek an inroad to Cairo in the coming year.
Third, in 2016, urban warfare in the Middle
East is in a continuing process of destruction. Internationally-backed local
armies and militias are fighting on a multi-tiered chessboard, vying for land,
power, and prestige. Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), as well as Russian,
Syrian airstrikes, and later in the year, Turkish jet fighters attacked urban
areas in order to flush out extremists of all stripes.
Yemen’s plight remains with Saudi Arabia’s
Operation Restore Hope (ORH) and the UAE’s fighting al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula.
OIR Combined Joint Task Force Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend stated that
the fight against ISIS will be two more years. Reconstruction projects are
still distant and that breeds discontent and disease.
Fourth, terrorism will continue to spread
its ugly impact with both al-Qaeda and ISIS and their minions battling over
their own visions of achieving an apocalypse that is turning out to be more of
a mutation of extremism to meet current religious and ideological requirements.
Importantly, extremists are becoming more proficient at off the shelf military
technology to boost their UAV capabilities for both tactical and media
This trend is likely to lead to more
aggressive behavior by extremists and their sympathizers. Low-tech high impact
attacks may accompany more shootings, bombings, and the use of heavy vehicles
to mow over innocent crowds.
This past year witnessed the playing field
between the Middle East and Europe levelling out, meaning the ills and violence
that bedevil the Middle East for years now are embedded in European society as
already evidence by migrant issues and extremist violence.
By far, 2016 will be remember for Donald
Trump. Trump, who I wrote about winning in February 2016, is about to embark on
a major reset of relations with the Middle East through transactional foreign
The urban battles across the Middle East
will continue with a resetting of the Middle East geo-political order by a
Trump administration willing to insert more resources into fighting extremism
both with kinetics and with a much-needed reboot of Countering Violent
Extremism (CVE) programs.
A Trump presidency that engages Russia,
Syria, Turkey, and Iran is going to cause an eruption of support as well as
despair from various quarters. To boot, Trump’s policy toward Iran in
particular is going to enrage some and bring joy to others. These two variants
signal a tectonic shift is about to occur in the regional security environment.
The geopolitical costs and benefits of a
new security architecture based on a Trump administration is going to bring a
new order to the Middle East that will play out until 2020. Clearly, leaving
2016 behind changes the regional security picture; the New Year brings a more
challenging, unprecedented moment.
Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He
received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four
fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural
Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets @tkarasik
As 2016 comes to a close and Jan. 20 —
inauguration day — draws nearer, analysts in the US and observers in the Middle
East are eager to sketch out the contours of the incoming Donald Trump
administration’s foreign policy. Generally speaking, foreign policy was not a
focal point of the presidential election. Since winning, Trump has not spoken
in great detail about his vision for how the US will conduct its foreign
However, recent reports in American media
and a speech by Trump last week suggest that “defeating” the terrorist group
Daesh appears to be top of his priorities. While he will find that many
countries in the region share his determination to destroy this reprehensible
militant group — with Saudi Arabia top of a long list — it is important to have
a full appreciation of the context in which Daesh emerged.
Its cells and affiliates have taken
advantage of political vacuums in war-torn countries. To destroy Daesh, the
conflicts in which it has flourished must also end. Ending violence in Iraq and
Libya is vital, but more than any other conflict, it is the war in Syria that
has allowed Daesh to grow into the monstrosity it is now.
One could make a compelling argument that
the conflict with the most far-reaching ramifications for the future political
trajectory of the Middle East is the civil war in Syria. The violence there has
led to the deaths of an estimated 400,000 people and displaced some 11 million
people — almost half of Syria’s entire population — who have either been
internally displaced or forced to become refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey
With the entry of Russia into the war last
year, and of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Iranian forces and
officers, and militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the conflict has
become global. Adding to this combustible mix is an estimated 20,000 foreign
fighters, many of whom have chosen to fight with Daesh.
As long as the deaths continue to mount and
the beleaguered people of Syria continue to suffer at the hands of Bashar
Assad’s regime and its allies on one hand, and Daesh and other militant groups
on the other, the region will not enjoy anything resembling peace and
prosperity. Daesh might have its roots in the instability and violence that
followed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, but it was founded, flourished and
metastasized in Syria. Its formation and growth correlate closely with the
intensification of fighting in that conflict. It is also not a coincidence that
the group named Raqqa its so-called capital. Just as importantly, the
overwhelming majority of foreign fighters have gone to Syria.
Some of us warned as early as January 2012
— five years ago — that Syria could become the destination of choice for
thousands of militants from across the Arab world and beyond. Some of those
militants have gone back to their countries of origin, or have traveled to
other countries to wreak havoc. For this, we can thank Assad and his henchmen.
His documented brutality against the
Sunni-majority population of Syria furnished Daesh with a treasure trove of
recruitment material. To the detriment of the international community, Assad’s
brutal suppression of what was initially a peaceful protest movement has
enabled Daesh to construct a jihadi narrative that proved more compelling than
that devised during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, or the
US occupation of Iraq. Defeating Daesh has proven difficult. To succeed, the
Trump administration will need the assistance of close US allies in the region,
especially Saudi Arabia. Due to its stature in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia
is uniquely positioned to discredit Daesh on religious grounds.
At the same time, the conflict that has
breathed life into this Al-Qaeda offshoot after it suffered serious setbacks in
2011 must be resolved if Daesh is to lose its ability to recruit and deceive
men and women not just from the Arab world but from across the world.
Syria has even become the battle cry for
militants carrying out terrorist attacks in countries that in some cases are
not involved in the conflict in any fashion.
At the same time, Iraq — where Daesh’s
predecessor came to be — must make a determined effort to build a unified
country that embraces its various religious, sectarian and ethnic communities.
The wide perception that the policies of
former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Malki deliberately marginalized the country’s
Sunni minority was exploited by Daesh, and enabled it to control major swathes
of land across the Iraqi-Syrian border, including the city of Mosul. Much as in
Syria, Daesh exploits perceptions of injustice, marginalization and sectarianism.
Daesh has likewise taken advantage of the political vacuum and instability.
At a speech in the state of North Carolina
recently, Trump vowed to defeat terrorism and “destroy” Daesh, and do so
quickly. Intensifying the military campaign against its strongholds in Syria
and Iraq is a must.
However, to ensure that Daesh or some other
incarnation does not rise from the dead as Al-Qaeda did in 2011, the bloodshed
in Syria must come to an end. Daesh is a parasite that feeds on the bloodshed
in Syria. The sooner that conflict ends, the quicker it will be defeated.
is an international affairs fellow with the National Council on US-Arab
Relations. He is also a consultant to the Saudi embassy in Washington, but does
not represent it or speak on its behalf. His writing has appeared in the New
York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, CNN, The Hill and Newsweek, among
The EU Defending Iran?
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
This week, some of Iran’s Persian-language
newspapers carried headlines boasting about European countries defending Iran
and robustly aligning with Tehran.
European officials have even warned the US,
President-elect Donald Trump and the Republicans, that EU will not welcome or
tolerate tearing up the nuclear deal or re-imposing international pressure on
Iran. Iranian officials had made similar statements as well.
EU’s warnings highlight the notion that it
does not desire to endanger its improving ties with Tehran. The EU desires to
preserve its economic interests with Iran and the US simultaneously.
Despite the EU and Iran’s warnings, which
are aimed at changing US political calculations toward Iran through political
posturing, Washington needs to strongly pursue its own objectives and
well-informed long-term orientated policies toward Iran. Then, the EU will find
no option than to follow the US footsteps because of the high stakes involved.
What are the other reasons behind the
notion that the EU is protecting the Islamic Republic? What are the EU’s
objectives? And what are the geopolitical, strategic, and humanitarian
repercussions of the EU’s appeasement policy towards Iran?
The most prominent reason behind the EU’s
positions and appeasement policies toward Iran involve preserving its economic
interests and increasing trade with Iran.
The EU is dependent on Russia in the energy
sector. Iran’s energy sector has seduced European countries. Iran possesses the
world’s second and fourth largest gas and oil reserves, respectively. European
leaders are planning to decrease Russia’s political leverage over the EU by
investing and upgrading Iran’s gas sector.
But what the EU does not recognize is that,
in the long term, by strengthening the Islamic Republic’s establishment through
trade, the EU is actually bolstering the Iran-Russia axis in the Middle East
and beyond, tipping the balance of power against the EU.
Beside energy imports, the EU is benefiting
from exports to Tehran as well as taking advantage of accessing Iranian
markets, which is the largest untapped market in the world. Iran also has the
17th largest population in the world, the 2nd largest population in the Middle
East after Egypt; the second largest economy in the Middle East and North
Africa; and enjoys a highly young and westernized population which prefer
However, unfortunately, the major
beneficiaries of EU trade with Iran are not the ordinary Iranian people. Major
industries in Iran such as the oil or gas sectors are not privatized, but owned
by the government. The EU’s major purchases from Iran are done on the state
level. Moreover, even those large Iranian companies that might seem private,
are owned indirectly by the IRGC or the Supreme Leader.
The key beneficiaries are the Office of the
Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps
(IRGC) which have significant control over Iran’s political and economic
As a result, we can make the logical
conclusion that a large amount of these additional trade and revenues are
channeled to be used to strengthen Iran’s military complex and the hold on
power by Khamenei and his Shiite cleric system. Iran is also desperate for
these dollars to continue expanding its influence in the region, to support
Bashar al-Assad, Shia militias, and shift the regional balance of power in its
And Strategic Factors
While trade is a critical factor for the
EU, geopolitical and strategic factors come next. The EU has not had an
articulated agenda addressing the nearly six-year war in Syria, or conflicts in
other parts of the region. The EU’s policy, similar to that of Obama’s
administration, is mainly anchored in the “wait and see” rather than a
“proactive” foreign policy.
When a country, or political entity does
not have a clear policy, it generally tends to take the backseat and quietly
allow another country, or entity, which does have powerful, clear, and
articulate strategy, to lead. Iran has very clear, consistent and articulate
policy towards Syria, that of preserving the power of Assad and the
Furthermore, since ISIS has become the EU’s
number one threat, causing the Syrian war to become secondary, the EU is
relying more and more on Iran to take the lead. This is due to the notion that
Tehran has boasted about, and has successfully sold the idea, that Tehran is
the only country that has put forces on the ground in Syria or Iraq to fight
Finally, and unfortunately, the EU’s
decision to view Iran solely from the prism of economic interests and its
primary goal of pursuing its trade interests, inflicts harm on ordinary Iranian
people and millions of Syrians who suffer from Iran’s military expansion and
human rights abuses. The US and regional powers have the power to alter EU’s
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American
scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president
of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard
International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations
Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School
of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the
National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. He can be contacted
at: Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu, or on Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
American Public Against Trump
Alan S. Blinder
The US, supposedly the world’s beacon of
democracy, is practicing a strange form of it nowadays. One presidential
candidate won nearly 3 million more votes than her opponent who, with a big
assist from a hostile foreign power, was nonetheless declared the winner.
Anywhere else, such an event would be called a coup d’état. Here in the US, we
call it the Electoral College.
It gets stranger. A Pew Research opinion
poll conducted between Nov. 30 and Dec. 5, after the election had cast the usual
victor’s glow on Donald Trump, indicated that only 37 percent of Americans
thought he was well-qualified for the presidency, just 31 percent deemed him
moral, a mere 26 percent viewed him as a good role model, 62 percent thought he
had poor judgment, and 65 percent considered him reckless. And this man won?
Perhaps, despite his appalling personal
attributes, Trump’s positions on key issues resonated with the electorate. As
an economist, I will leave aside his positively frightening foreign-policy
views and concentrate on the economic issues that many pundits claim put him in
the White House. In fact, judging by Trump’s own statements and his cabinet
picks, he is on the wrong side of almost every one. It is a sobering inventory.
Climate change: Only one economic issue
poses an existential threat to life on Earth. Yet Trump branded it a “hoax”
during the campaign, and has picked climate-change denier Scott Pruitt to head
the US Environmental Protection Agency, which Pruitt — the attorney general of
oil- and gas-producing Oklahoma — has frequently sued.
This is not the policy the American public
wants. On the contrary, polling data show that Americans’ concern with global
warming is now at or near all-time highs. Americans really do not want Miami
Beach or lower Manhattan to be underwater.
Labor standards: Trump’s choice for labor
secretary, Andrew Puzder, is a CEO in the fast-food industry. Never mind that
he uses crass sexual imagery to sell hamburgers. What is more germane is that
he prefers robots to human workers, does not want to raise the minimum wage,
and opposes the Labor Department’s attempt to raise the salary level below
which companies must pay extra for overtime.
The public could not disagree with him
more. Raising the minimum wage has been winning in polls consistently for decades,
and by wide margins — generally even among Republicans. When the Labor
Department proposed its overtime rule in May, respondents told pollsters that
the overtime threshold should be set even higher.
Healthcare: “Repeal Obamacare” became the
Republican Party’s mantra as soon as Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act
(ACA) in 2010. So naturally that was the position Trump adopted while vying for
the Republican nomination.
Now, as president-elect, he has picked
Representative Tom Price of Georgia, an avowed enemy of Obamacare — and you
might say of Medicaid and Medicare (which provide coverage to the poor and
elderly, respectively) — to run the Department of Health and Human Services.
Unfortunately for Republicans, they have not figured out how to replace
Obamacare, so their current policy is “repeal and delay.” In other words: “Call
us back in two or three years.”
Public opinion on the ACA is difficult to
discern. Polling the name often gets slightly negative reviews, but that is
misleading. For example, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted after the
election found that 26 percent Americans favor outright repeal, while only 19
percent favor keeping the law as is. So does the public reject Obamacare?
Well, no. Among the remaining 47 percent
who expressed an opinion, far more wanted to see the scope of the law expanded
than scaled back. Even the Republicans know that many of the ACA’s key
provisions, such as ensuring that people with pre-existing conditions can buy
health insurance, are extremely popular. I suspect that many critics of
Obamacare are really RINOs: Repealers in name only.
Tax cuts: One of the most consistent
findings in American public opinion polling for decades is that people want
higher taxes, not lower, on the rich and corporations. The Republican
catechism, however, has long enshrined lower taxes on both, and this became one
of the few concrete policies that candidate Trump ran on.
In fact, his position is more popular than
its polar opposite on only one economic issue: Globalization. On that one
issue, Trump’s embrace of trade protection, hostility toward immigration, and
prevention of outsourcing to foreign countries is bad news for the entire
Nowadays, a narrow majority of Americans
seems to side with Trump, rather than with traditional Republican
internationalism, on these issues. Forty-nine percent of respondents in an
April 2016 Pew poll said US involvement in the global economy is bad, because
it lowers wages and costs jobs, while 44 percent said globalization is good, because
it opens new markets and creates opportunities for growth. Close, but here
Trump is on the “right” side of the electorate.
That is the public opinion scoreboard on
the big economic issues. Unless you put almost all the weight on hostility to
globalization, Trump seems to be on the wrong side of every one. So how did the
candidate who is personally disrespected by most Americans, and who takes the
unpopular side on most issues, win the election?
One plausible answer, offered by Hillary
Clinton and many others, focuses on the role of Russian cyber operations and
FBI Director James Comey’s unconscionable “announcement” (of what amounted to
nothing) just days before the vote. Russian President Vladimir Putin got what
he wanted. Comey? I do not know.
Alan S. Blinder,
a former vice chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board, is professor of
economics at Princeton University and a visiting fellow at the Brookings
Aaron David Miller, now a vice president at
the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, was once a career diplomat. Last June,
he wrote a lengthy piece in the Outlook section of the Washington Post where he
shared with his readers, recollections he had about his many years of service
at the State Department. Let me in turn share a lengthy quote from that piece
“For much of my 24-year career as a State
Department Middle East analyst, negotiator and adviser, I held out hope that a
conflict-ending peace agreement was possible,” he wrote.
“I had faith in negotiations as a talking
cure and thought the United States could arrange a comprehensive solution. I
believed in the power of US diplomacy. But by the time I left government in 2003,
I was a disillusioned diplomat and peace processor with serious doubts about
what the United States could accomplish in the Middle East. I realize now that,
like [John] Kerry, I was tilting at windmills. US-brokered peace in the Middle
East is a quixotic quest, and the more we try and fail, the less credibility
and leverage we have in the region.”
Call it negotiator-fatigue. Or call it
old-fashioned frustration. Earnest enough though it may have been in its
efforts to mediate a solution – but stymied by Israel’s incorrigible
colonization project in Palestine – the United States finally had to admit that
it didn’t have the horses to pull that wagon. And make no mistake about it,
President Obama’s administration over the last eight years knew who stood in
its way and sabotaged its efforts at every turn.
So that administration, in a parting shot
at the culprit, finally lashed out, not only by allowing, late last week, a
Security Council resolution to pass, that branded Israel’s colonization project
in Palestine a “flagrant violation of international law,” but by giving
Secretary of State John Kerry a lot of leeway to deliver a blistering attack on
that project in a speech delivered at the State Department’s Dean Acheson
Auditorium on Wednesday.
It was as if, to express his exasperation
at having labored in vain all these years, Kerry was now ready to say, fine,
we’ve had it up to here with you Netanyahu and Co. and now it's time to, well,
tell it like it is. And did he tell like it is!
“The Israeli prime minister publicly
supports a two-state solution,” he told the audience, “but his current
coalition is the most right-wing in history, with an agenda driven by its most
extreme elements. The result is that policies of this government – which the
prime minister himself described as 'more committed to settlements than any
other in Israel’s history’ – are leading in the opposite direction, towards one
state: Greater Israel.”
Wait, let’s rewind. Did we hear that right?
Yes, we did. And the reference clearly was to an apartheid, settler-colonial
state. As to why the US, five days earlier, had not vetoed that Security
Council resolution critical of Israel’s colonization practices, Kerry offered,
instead of a penitent apology, a blunt rebuke.
“My job, above all, is to defend the United
States of America, to stand up for and defend our values and our interests in
the world,” he thundered. “If we were to stand idly by and know that in doing
so we are allowing a dangerous dynamic to take hold which promises greater
conflict, where we have vital interests, we would derelict in our
As for the outpost colonies, he had the
issue pinned down pat. These colonies, he said: “are often located on private
Palestinian land and strategically placed to make two states impossible – and
there are one hundred of these outposts.”
Then he added: “Just recently the [Israeli]
government approved a significant new settlement well east of the barrier,
closer to Jordan than Israel. What does that say to Palestinians in particular
– but also the US and the world – about Israel’s intentions?”
Of course the Secretary of State, as any
diplomat shooting for “balance” in his speech, blasted Palestinian “incitement”
and “violence,” but as for the pain these folks endure as an occupied people,
he showed great compassion in his remarks.
“I have also visited the [Palestinian] West
Bank communities, where I met Palestinians struggling for basic freedoms and
dignity amidst occupation, pushed by the military checkpoints that can make the
most routine daily trips to work or school an ordeal, and heard from business
leaders who could not get the permits needed to get their products to market,
and families who have struggled to secure permission to travel for needed
Benjamin Netanyahu, predictably,
fulminated, railed and ranted. After all, is not the US supposed to be – has it
not in fact been all these years – at Israel’s beck and call? But no matter.
Donald Trump, not quite three weeks from now, will be in the White House. He
will set it back on track.
And for his part, the president-elect tweeted:
“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and
disrespect. They used to have a real friend in the US, but not anymore. Stay
strong Israel. January 20th is fast approaching.” It seems that whereas the
outgoing secretary of state wanted to talk Israel off the ledge, the incoming
president wants to urge it to jump. Someone bring a gurney, will you?
is a Palestinian-American journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington,