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Iran vs Israel

Now that the world is once again riveted to the Mid-East, it is time to examine the drums of a more sinister conflict that has been beating there for some time now. I am talking of course about the escalating talks about a possible nuclear showdown between Iran and Israel. Let us start with some relatively open facts:

First, despite the hysteria whipped up by Israel to the contrary, Iran does not yet possess a nuclear weapon. However, this does not mean that the international community is too naïve to understand that Iran is actively pursuing that goal even though they have strenuously denied any intention of doing so.

Secondly, even though Israel is officially not counted or recognized as a nuclear state, anyone would be foolhardy to believe they do not have nuclear capability.  Decades long military, economic and intelligence co-operation between Israel and the United States guarantees that the Jewish state is properly spoken for when the subject is nukes. Remember, US tax-payers give foreign aid to Israel to the tune of $3 billion every year. That is enough to help significantly boost her military—in fact Israel and Pakistan are the only countries in the region that ostensibly possess nuclear deterrence.

Lastly, in the mad jostle for military superiority in the Mideast, it is useful to remember that the majority of the Sunni Arab countries in the region harbor deep resentment and suspicion for both Israel and Iran. One is seen as an illegal occupier of Muslim lands and a front for Western imperialists; the other is viewed as a rising over-ambitious regional power (bully) and a possible military threat.

It is against this backdrop that one must carefully weigh these escalating calls for war from both sides of the aisle. If we go down memory lane, we realize that in June 1981 Israel unilaterally acted in attacking and destroying the Iraqi Osirak reactor believed at the time to have been put in place to aid Iraq get nuclear weapons. At the time, Israel was roundly rebuked by the UN Security Council, but that surprise attack critically damaged Iraq’s nuclear program and I do not think that they recovered from that blow ever again. When one sees how empty Saddam Hussein’s military boasts turned out to be during the second US-led invasion of Iraq, it would seem that the verdict of history has been that the Israel’s bold preventive strike was not altogether without great merit.

Now, we are entering the season of saber-rattling again. The leaders of both countries have openly entertained the prospect of war, and from their hard stances it is evident that each side believes that not only would their side emerge victorious in any possible military confrontation,  a confrontation so specified may very well be nigh inevitable!

Each side has reasons to be super-confident I suppose:

i)Iran in recent years has increased her economic trade relations with Russia and China to the tune of over $3 billion every year. Since Iran is a strategic business and trade partner of these two countries, we have seen that Russia and China as permanent members of the UN Security Council have repeatedly come to the aid and defense of Iran against US-led acts of containment at the UN. It is even possible to imagine that were the US to carelessly wade into an armed conflict against Iran, the US would have to expect Russia and China to get into it. So, we have seen and heard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cockily dismiss Israeli threats. This however does not mean that Russia and China are not carefully weighing their stance on the whole contentious issue of a nuclear-armed Iran and the possible nuclear race it could spark off in the Middle East.

ii)Israel, rightly or wrongly, believes that her continued existence depends upon Iran never getting a nuclear weapon. Many of the hardline clerics in Iran have openly stated that Israel has no right to exist in the Middle East, and I am sure the Israelis are taking their threats seriously. If we can extrapolate from the sentiments prevalent in Tehran, one might be led to conclude that a nuclear attack against Israel is indubitably in the works whenever Iran finally manages to join the nuclear club.

So, we find ourselves at a nervous impasse. The US does not have formal relations with Iran even though it is determined to see to it that Iran does not enrich uranium to make nuclear weapons. However, the US has been severely weakened militarily from two unfunded and perhaps needless wars in the region; as a matter of fact, she can scarcely afford a third war in the region against Iran in the midst of these current bleak and crippling economic downturns. However, it is easy to imagine that the US can easily wage a proxy war using Israel as her tool. The unfortunate thing for fanatically pro-Israel and neoconservative types who would doubtlessly wish to see that scenario come to pass is that the one man who could easily help to orchestrate this (his name is Obama)  is firmly against it. Inasmuch as the Obama administration wants to be seen as friendly to the Jewish state, sources inside the White House have readily confirmed that the relationship between Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is far from gratuitously warm and cordial. It is perhaps because of Obama’s restraining influence on his Israeli partner, and his administration’s emphasis on sanctions and diplomacy, that the soaring rhetoric of war has not reached a deafening crescendo.

At this time, it would seem that Bibi Netanyahu and his counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are simply bidding their time as they wait to see the result of the oncoming US elections. I’d hate to say this, but my impression is that this is far from over. If Romney wins the election, the prospect of a US direct or proxy war against Iran exponentially increases; if Obama wins, the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran exponentially increases.

How best should this issue be handled? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Romney Will Lose The Elections

Given the events of the last two weeks, anyone can see that Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency of the United States is in serious danger of fatal derailment. If he eventually loses the election, I am going to identify the shocking sequence of mutilating strokes he dealt to himself and to his campaign over the last 2 weeks as the primary cause of his defeat. There are already many republicans who cannot understand and quite frankly openly wonder why Romney had been struggling in the polls to convincingly beat a president they have universally acknowledged as the worst president ever.

There is simply no easy way to slice this: given the suboptimal state of the economy, the degree of vilification that Obama has received from Republican quarters, and the active push by targeted ads financed by Romney’s rich sponsors and donors, it was simply baffling to notice how Romney had consistently found it difficult to spring forward in this hotly-contested race. Why, someone might ask, is Romney not handily beating Obama amongst likely voters if this election truly was a referendum on the performance of the Obama administration? Please hold that thought.

As if Romney wasn’t having a hard enough time convincing many Americans that he should be given the nation’s top job, the events of the past few weeks have all but put a nail on the coffin of Romney’s presidential aspirations. Indeed, as things stand now, this election is all but over. Let me take the remainder of this brief write-up to give reasons why I do not think that Romney will win come November 6:

A –  Reminiscent of John McCain’s hasty and uncoordinated  over-reaction in ‘suspending’ his campaign at a time when America stared at a crisis, [thereby prompting wide-mouthed disbelief and concern over his emotional state or his ability to perform under pressure] Mitt Romney has unwittingly generated serious concern over his ability to perform in times of great national or international uproar.  Only last week when the nation was quietly mourning the loss of an ambassador, several embassy personnel, countless innocent lives, and the breaching or burning of American embassies or consulates in an orgy of violence that has erupted all over the middle East, Romney chose that singular moment of subdued national outrage to try to score a cheap political point. Without waiting to get the full picture or the facts in the case, he mistook a tweet emerging from a US embassy under siege, as the official statement of the Obama White House and launched off into a tasteless self-serving rant about how Obama (and  his administration by extension I suppose) was supposedly apologizing to the Muslim world about American values; how Obama was not projecting strength and how his own administration would undoubtedly have risen to the challenge posed by the events that were yet unfolding.

Apparently, what happened was that some Coptic Christian Egyptian-American posing as an Israeli to secure funds had made a disparaging video about Islam mockingly titled “The Innocence of Muslims” a few months back. A 14-minute trailer could be found on YouTube. The poorly produced and directed documentary (if at all it could be called a documentary) features actors with American accents and since the producer of the film was also resident in the US, the Arab world took that as sufficient casus belli to rail against American interests in the region. The aftermath? Scores died and several American embassies faced mob assaults all over the Middle East. It was at this moment of heightened national anxiety and concern that Romney chose to launch a baseless criticism. The fact was that the tweet he thought represented the Obama administration actually came from the embassy facing down hordes of angry Muslims. The official Obama statement on the matter sought to give avenues for peace even when condemning in strong terms the attacks on American embassies and embassy personnel. It furthermore re-iterated the commitment to freedom of speech. Frankly, a lot of Americans especially the undecided were able to see in glaring detail that Gov. Romney would say just about anything if he thinks it would get him elected even if that means going against the conventions of good taste. He was roundly criticized for his thoughtless remarks, but rather than apologize for his hastiness, he simply doubled down on his earlier statements. Brilliant strategy!

B – As if that was not enough headaches for a campaign quickly spiraling out of control, a video was leaked showing what Romney really thinks about 47% of the electorate. It turns out that in a secret, private fundraiser organized for Mitt Romney, one of the people in attendance had wondered why Romney wasn’t more popular and more visible than he currently was, and wanted to know what the appropriate response should be to people who still could not find Romney appealing enough as to vote for him. In a remarkable moment of candor, Romney coolly stated his indifference to 47% of Americans whom he said would never vote for him anyway because they were tax-nonpaying, handout-seeking, Obama-loving lackeys afflicted with some form of victim mentality and who doubtlessly think that government exists solely to cater to their needs. Shocking as that characterization of nearly half of the electorate is, the simple truth of the matter however is that Romney was right. There are indeed people who will never vote for him no matter what. The problem however is that that sort of frank assessment is not something you would expect out of the mouth of someone campaigning for the presidency. In writing off people who are or were former supporters of Obama, he is effectively shutting himself off from thousands of people who might have voted for Obama in 2008 (people who would fit the description he gave) but who for whatever reason best known to them might have decided that Obama was not the change they hoped for or imagined.

You see, it is now becoming increasingly difficult to construct a scenario where Romney wins campaigning only for the votes of the 53% he imagines are willing to give him a fair shot. Statisticians and public relations personnel fully realize this. The odds are heavily stacked against him if he thinks that he will be elected on the backs of rich, white conservatives alone. This is because the statement that was credited to him strongly reinforces the view that he is an unfeeling and emotionally disconnected shill of the big business or corporate class, and that if his ideas were fully known, would pose a disaster to more than the 47% he imagines are ideologically attached to Obama’s hip. They will in fact affect a great deal of the people (like seniors, veterans, failed small business owners etc) who might ordinarily have looked upon him more favorably.

C – Lest we forget, presidential elections in the United States are not decided by the popular vote but by something called the Electoral College vote. Now, I am convinced that Obama will definitely win the popular vote i.e the number of people that voted for him nationally will be more than the number that voted for Romney. All it will take are a few of the big  and densely populated states like California and New York for instance massively voting for Obama to see the wide gap he will gather  by the time all the votes have been cast. Fortunately for Romney, America uses a ‘weighted’ Electoral College method which I shall not start explaining in detail here. In a nutshell, every state has a specified number of electors which a presidential candidate will win if he wins the popular vote in that state. These are apportioned in such a way as to make the votes of people in the American suburbs and hinterland matter. The winner of the election thus becomes the man who first surpasses 270 electoral votes gotten by adding up all the Electoral College votes apportioned to each of the individual states. The use of the Electoral College method means that it is possible for Obama to get the higher number of votes and still lose an election. This is the reason why you would hardly see Obama campaigning in states that are traditionally democratic; or hardly see Romney campaigning in states that are traditionally republican. In effect, it means that both the Obama and Romney campaigns will be focused on those battleground states with a somewhat equal balance of republican or democratic voters hoping to tilt the voting scale in their favor. These are the states that are inundated with millions of dollars of targeted negative ads.

However, a critical look at the Election map shows that Romney is trailing Obama in some of these key states. In other words, Romney’s path to the Whitehouse is ALREADY tougher than Obama’s. Romney would need to basically sweep through these critical states if he wants the Electoral College votes in his corner to surpass those in Obama’s corner—and there is no suggestion on the ground that such a scenario is shaping up. With Obama suddenly jumping ahead out as much as 5-7% in national polls this week, it becomes even more difficult to see how Romney will flip enough votes to effectively win many of the battleground states which Obama won in 2008. The math is just not looking favorable for Romney at this point—and if Obama is able to distance himself from any and all costly political scandals, it is downright impossible to see how Romney would  win in Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada,  and New Hampshire to get enough Electoral College votes to get him to the magical 270.

D – Despite the RNC’s strenuous efforts to humanize Romney, the undisputable fact is that Romney still has a perception chasm battling his efforts at becoming more appealing to most people. Some view his Mormon faith with something akin to scorn and derision; many are still upset and rightly suspicious of Romney’s decision to hide his tax returns from previous years from the public. What is he hiding? In addition, a lot of people who decry foreign tax shelters also find that they cannot reconcile their views with a president who has hidden most of his wealth in the Cayman Islands and in Swiss accounts. It certainly does not sound like the actions of someone who has much faith in America. There is no denying that he is an extremely wealthy man—and that has perhaps spawned the perception that Romney is altogether emotionally and psychologically far-removed from the plight of the suffering masses. This is a thorny perceptions issue, and he has battled it vainly for a long time. Indeed, there is no shortage of republicans who, regardless of their overwhelming disapproval of Obama, are nevertheless indifferent or even perhaps harshly critical of Mitt Romney. If some members of Romney’s party can be hostile to him based on their own negative perceptions, I leave you to ponder how much less appealing he would be to Independents.

It is on the strength of these assessments that I fail to see how Romney will eventually emerge the winner of the 2012 presidential elections.  But as we all know, the truth (life) is sometimes stranger than fiction. We have a few weeks left before the country votes and something might still happen which could potentially zero out the scales in Romney’s favor. Until such a cataclysmic event happens, the die is cast against Romney.

Obama: Osama Is Dead

Osama Bin Laden

The news reaching me, and which has doubtlessly reached you by now, is that Osama Bin Laden is dead. Who does not know who Osama Bin Laden is, and why the news of his death would generate worldwide headlines? Well, in case you are not very sure, Osama Bin Laden is a Saudi Arabian terrorist and head of the terrorist organization called Al Qaeda. He and his cohorts were responsible for the World Trade Center bombings by 2 air planes nearly 10 years ago. Ever since that fateful September morning, when two hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center killing around 3,000 innocent souls, there has been an intense, no-expenses-spared, multilateral and international campaign to capture or kill Osama, the visible architect of so much destruction. As a matter of fact, they came very close a number of times and would have succeeded if not for some other slight issue like an unneeded delay resulting from the normal bureaucratic shufflings that typically attend these matters.

After a while, people began to suspect that he may already be dead; not that his absence or his possible death did anything to dissuade other would-be terrorists from actively plotting against or indeed attacking the US. But today,without any shred of doubt, Osama is dead—dead as a door nail after Obama gave the secret authorization, upon his examination of some very urgent intel, for him to be caught or killed. And that was precisely what happened. He was spotted somewhere deep in Pakistan (mind you, not Afghanistan where the US is currently wasting vast resources), the authorization was secured from the President and as soon as he was spotted he was killed. I imagine that his body was forensically analyzed in addition, to confirm his identity beyond any reasonable doubt.

In the coming days,  expect to see some symbolic acts in the Muslim world seeking to demonstrate solidarity with Osama and with whatever jumbled idea of “liberation” or “resistance”  he sought to represent. He may be dead, but no one is deceived into thinking that this has put a final nail in the coffin of Al Qaeda. If anything, you should expect that this bearded, vile and  slithery brute would be considered a martyr for the cause. The attendant consequence would be some supercharged emotional outburst against the United States and her allies. One hopes however that some real Muslims would stand up and be counted to defend the cause of freedom and common sense whenever the orgy of violence starts rocking the Middle East.

Wherever Gaddafi is, he should be very worried. He has wittingly attracted the sore displeasure of Obama and other Western powers. At the rate he is carrying on with this exaggerated sense of his own invincibility, it won’t be too long before he suffers the same fate as the multitudes that have had to die as a result of his actions.

This is a good way to start the new month: Carpe Diem! 


Egypt On The Precipice

For the past few days, the mass media has been awash with reports of the current civil unrest going on in Egypt. Despite the undemocratic actions of Hosni Mubarak’s government in shutting down the internet as well as the telecommunications sector, Egyptians have found ways, and are still finding ways to convey the scenes and events going on in Egypt to a captivated global audience. The clip above is just one of the videos filtering out of Cairo showing what appears to be a massive populist uprising against Mubarak and his government.

When Obama gave his speech, in Cairo, to the Arab world, shortly after assuming office, there were many people who underestimated the power and import of that speech. I remember that when I saw the passionate, rousing and warm welcome he received from the youths gathered in that auditorium, that Obama may have unwittingly ignited fires that would soon capture the hearts and minds of the Arab world. It was just the perfect message to the Arab world—tired and discontented as they were with Bush’s unilateralist interventionism. The skeptical wing of American punditocracy mocked Obama’s speech and his efforts. How indeed could he hope to reverse decades of misrule, governmental non-transparency, and a generalized distrust of the US with one overly-optimistic speech? Well, the chicken has come home to roost.

If you can remember, it wasn’t long ago that the world witnessed another populist revolution in Tunisia. The masses revolted and overthrew their government. I’ll also invite you to cast your mind back to 2009 when there was another powerful people-backed uprising in Iran against the rule of Iran’s Shiite clerics. The seasonal clashes between Israel and the Palestinians seem to have toned down in favor of a more peaceful path towards the solution. Here and there, you read about the increasing boldness of pro-democracy opposition groups throughout most parts of the Arab world including Saudi Arabia. I’ll make bold to say, (some may well write it off as an immature or wishful analysis) that there seems to be a crystallizing narrative in the world of Arab politics: we are beginning to witness an increasing and more determined push by Arab people for transparency and accountability in government; a sustained demand for a pro-citizen government that would show by their actions a real commitment and dedication to alleviate the problems and injustices suffered by the average Arab at the hands of a corrupt and sometimes dictatorial elite class.

So, here we are, watching amazing scenes from Egypt as thousands of protesters take to the streets to demand the ouster of Hosni Mubarak’s government. How should all peace-loving citizens of the world situate and analyze these current happenings? More importantly, what should the Obama administration be doing with regards to these events? Needless to say, Egypt is a critical force to reckon with in Arab geopolitics, and so the statements of the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, as well as that of other Western diplomats would be examined carefully. What message could the Obama administration (after full consultation with her Middle East allies) give so as to de-escalate the tensions there?

Hosni Mubarak, and his government, it must be pointed out, enjoy the support of the United States and Israel. This was because Mubarak chose to continue and maintain the peace treaty that his predecessor  President Anwar Sadat signed with the Israelis—a move that much infuriated the rest of the Arab World, and one for which Egypt was temporarily suspended from the Arab League. It should also be recalled that when the US sought allies in the Middle East for the Gulf War of 1991, Hosni’s Egypt was there.

From the foregoing, you might be led to think that since successive US presidents and their administrations have dealt favorably with Hosni Mubarak, there must be something respectable or even mildly democratic about the government of Mr. Mubarak. Think about it: Egypt receives billions of dollars in aid every year from the United States. The bilateral relation between the two countries is in such good shape that the US also routinely sells arms or military technology to Mubarak’s Egypt. Thirty years of diplomatic relations with Israel is enough to convince many Israelis of Hosni’s commitment to that treaty—so, it really cannot be overemphasized how necessary it was for the US and Israel to have Mr. Mubarak cling tenaciously to power.

Nevertheless, it has become imperative to dispassionately assess Mr. Mubarak and his government; it has become of utmost importance to read the handwriting on the wall. Egypt, contrary to what you might have expected, from its coddling by Western powers, is very far from being a democratic state. A dispassionate analysis would indict the Egyptian government of gross negligence with respect to human and civil rights; it would decry the repressive police state and its penchant for marshalling the state’s instruments of force and aggression against pro-democracy activists as well as Islamic opposition forces; it would castigate the government’s shambolic efforts at boosting the Egyptian economy despite the massive influx of US dollars in aid or the nullification of around $20 billion-worth of debt; it would excoriate the government’s unwillingness to usher in democratic reforms; and finally lambaste Mr. Mubarak for his corrupt meddling with the electoral process and his abject refusal to relinquish power. This is exactly the way the average Egyptian sees this government—an incompetent, repressive, anti-democratic lackey for foreign interests. It is therefore hardly surprising to witness the vehemence and doggedness of this nascent revolution.

At any rate, anyone can see that the US and her allies in the region, while recognizing the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people, are not too eager to call for the resignation of Mubarak. Mr. ElBaradei, a Nobel Laureate and many opposition groups have clearly called for a regime change. Their wishes are unmistakable—they want a regime change by all means necessary. They want Mubarak gone and fresh elections to determine the future government of Egypt. However, the US and her friends in the region are wary of a scenario in which honoring the wishes of the masses results in an Islamic hard-line, perhaps extremist faction of Mubarak’s opposition to gain prominence or to snatch the seat of power. A delicate international situation thus begins to unfold.

It is not clear that Mubarak plans on vacating his office any time soon; also it doesn’t appear that this popular uprising is losing steam—at least, as far as I can tell, the army and the police have not yet been instructed to forcefully beat back the protestors. Washington wants a scenario where demonstrations would be non-violent; where Mubarak would conduct free and fair elections or to cosmetically brush up and change aspects of his regime. If that proves impossible, Washington wants a scenario where Mubarak could be persuaded to step aside only if the US could reasonably influence the process so as not to facilitate the ascension into power of anti-Western, anti-Israeli, and anti-American hardliners.

Will the democratic yearnings of the Egyptian people to be free of the repressive boots of Mubarak’s government eventually triumph? Will Mubarak’s 30-year rule come to an end? That remains to be seen.  It is the height of hypocrisy to sing the praises and merits of democracy to the Arab world and then turn away if there are indications that such transparent obedience to the true aspirations of sections of the Arab world would germinate leadership that is intransigently opposed to America’s self-interests. All genuine lovers of freedom and democracy should stand shoulder to shoulder with the Egyptian people at this time at this time. If the Egyptians succeed in divesting themselves of the shackles of a corrupt and repressive government, it will significantly mark the birth pangs of democracy; yes it will usher in a wave of progressive hysteria and a populist government which will be copied in other parts of the Middle East.

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