Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Moral Imperative: What now, more diplomacy?

Diplomacy has so far failed with Iran. Iran has told the world and diplomacy "go take a hike". Many among us believe that diplomacy is some sort of enchanting formula that only if performed by the right wizard with all its proper intonations and incantations it will by its virtual magic produce results turning frogs into princes. Some of us believe that diplomacy has its limits.

Well, diplomacy has shown its limits and all the diplomatic sorcerers have not been able to transform Iran into a prince among nations. Former presidents and presidential candidates swear that they could have done better by bringing together our "allies". Yet all the king's horses and all the king's men of diplomacy and "our allies" have not been able to persuade Iran from pursuing military nuclear power and to stop making statements which are a threat to world peace.

Now we are looking down the same road with Iran that we looked at with Saddam, years of resolutions, years of non-compliance and years of threats. Now the world again holds its breath waiting to see if the same road leads to the same or a different place. A great amount of trust and expectation is placed on the UN. Will the UN function as expected, as a problem solving and war avoidance device?

Expectations are also placed on the U.S. in light of the fact that failure by the UN left the U.S no choice. Now we know the U.N. was incapable of fulfilling its mission for being involved in corruption with the Saddam regime up to its highest levels and the Security Council. In this sense, isn't the present US intervention in Iraq more a failure of the UN that an imperial design of the US?

Now, in light of the fact that most civilian deaths in Iraq by acts of terror are being perpetrated and claimed by al-Qaeda as approved by Bin Laden, and in light of the fact that the elections, for which so many people as never seen before in recent history, let alone in the Middle East, risked life and limb, and in light of the fact that together with the constitutional process the government has received international recognition from the UN, isn't the U.S. fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq? And shouldn't human rights, civil rights and peace loving people support the legitimate and internationally recognized aspirations of the Iraqi people at this moment in time? What is the moral imperative today?

In light of the fact that we were told by "pacifists", "patriotic dissidents", during the Nicaraguan civil war that not to support the Sandinistas was equivalent to supporting the Contras, and that neutrality was not an option, using that same logic, isn't the anti-war movement supporting and lending material and moral support to al-Qaeda by not standing with the Iraqi people and demanding that the international community does the same at this moment in time?

From the stand point of ethics and foreign policy and in light of the fact that international interventionist forces of reaction and totalitarianism are impeding the will of the Iraqi people as expressed through internationally recognized suffrage, what is the moral imperative today?

Should we have supported the sovereignty of the people of Czechoslovakia, or Hitler's claim to the Sudetenland? Whether one considers U.S. motives as imperialist or not, should we support the Iraqi people and demand that the international community, and the U.N. specially, does the same, specially after their role in bankrolling the dictatorship of Saddam, or should we now withdraw and remain "neutral"?

During the Nicaraguan civil war some sectors of American public opinion were of the belief that to criticize the Sandinistas in any form was equivalent to, as someone told me then, "play into the hand of Reagan." In the meantime, the misguided policies of the Sandinistas led to forced relocations of peasants and Mezquito Indians which in turn backfired into filling the ranks of the Contras.

Those same sectors, which were more anti-Reagan than pro-Nicaraguan people, believed that the Sandinistas represented the will of the people, politically or ignorantly overlooking the various factions within the Sandinistas themselves which included Maoists, Trotskyites, etc. After a fact-finding mission to Nicaragua I wrote a letter to the White House saying that the US and the UN should call the bluff of the Sandinistas to internationally supervised elections. When elections took place the Sandinistas were overthrown by a landslide, and eventual investigations demonstrated how the top leadership had appropriated for personal use the the estates of the former oligarchs.

Those same sectors who are anti-war today, were demanding military intervention in Nicaragua for the removal of Somoza, and would demand the use of military force today if a right wing dictatorship in Central America was committing the same atrocities that Saddam committed in Iraq, or that fundamentalist Islam wants to impose from Iran.

Is the anti-war movement more anti-Bush than pro-Iraqi people and its democratically manifested will? Is it just more anti-war than pro-peace? Those same sectors which declared and demanded neutrality and opposed all aid to England during the early days of WWII, became belligerent and pro-war once it received directives from the Comintern after Hitler broke pact with Stalin.

The call at this very moment may not be a call to the use of force necessarily, and diplomacy needs to run its full course. But those who think diplomacy is a magic wand need to start considering that the world is not a Woodstock festival. The other side of diplomacy is "the extension of politics by other means." What is the moral imperative today? Is it based on a choice between numbers, between how many will die now and how many will have to die later? At the moment we risk confusing diplomacy with appeasement and giving those who threaten world peace a chance to arm that otherwise would be minimized by preemptive action.

These are some of the questions and some of the social and political nuances that need to be honestly pondered today and that seem to frame the debate of whether or not the democratic forces of the Middle East deserve support, and about what to do with the loud threats coming from Iran.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Are we in World War III or World War IV?

If you follow the commentaries by the pundits you will hear a discrepancy about how to locate our present moment in history. Are we in World War III or in World War IV? Historians will no doubt do that eventually. But some commentators and politicians say we are in the middle of World War III, others say it is World War IV since World War III was the Cold War.

We are definitely involved in conflicts all over the world. But who is "we"? If "we" is the US then, yes, we are definitely involved in a worldwide struggle since US enemies are in every part of the world. But is it a world war? Are we there yet?

The Cold War was precisely named because it was not an actual physical confrontation between the parties involved but a long, mostly ideological struggle with a worldwide geographic distribution of small proxy wars, or battles. There were mainly two antagonists in that struggle, the United States and the USSR (China posed only a limited and regional military threat at the time). The rest of the world lined up on either side of the spheres of influence of those two superpowers. The Cold War was a metaphor not a real war.

We are not in a world war yet, although it surely feels that way. While exaggerations serve to illustrate at times or to agitate and mobilize, there's always a problem with them, in the end they only help in distorting reality. The best analogy that comes to mind for our present moment is the period of world tension between 1933 and 1939 (although I believe WWII actually began with the Spanish Civil War, I will set that aside). It was during that period that a world threat to international peace grew in the form two strong forces. One was Nazism in Europe, and the other, nationalist imperialism in the Pacific Rim.

During that time the world sought various accommodations and diplomatic solutions to the demands imposed on international stability by these two forces. But diplomatic solutions continued to fail as either of these two forces committed violation after violation of international law and as their governments became more totalitarian against their own peoples. Countries were invaded, atrocities committed, repression and violations of human rights became entrenched as these forces became stronger militarily. A buffer zone imposed by the Treaty of Versailles in the Rhineland, similar in effect to what is proposed today for Lebanon, was reoccupied by Germany to the impotence of the enforcers. Other occupations in the Pacific and Europe took place. Between failed diplomacy and acquiescence war finally came.

So as the debate rages among politicians and pundits if someone asks "Are we there yet?” regarding WWIII I would have to respond, "No, but almost there!" Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where is Raúl?

Let me share my suspicions about what may be going on in Cuba. For that we must keep in mind Nicolae Ceausescu of former Romania.

It may very well be that Fidel is orchestrating everything backstage as a trial to see the level of acceptance that his coronation of Raúl would have among the military and the top command of the Communist Party. Raúl may be a strong man but that precisely doesn't guarantee popularity. Many in the Cuban military do not forget his role in the kangaroo trial and execution of Gen. Ochoa and Tony de la Guardia both of whom were very popular among the armed forces. They were both purged for their popularity and perhaps as equally important for the fact that they had actual combat experience, had tasted some level of independence abroad and where not members of the original “barbudos”. Stalin did the same with returning veterans of the Spanish Civil War.

All is not honky-dory in the Cuban army, and not all of them are enamored with the state of affairs in Cuba. It is no coincidence that the most serious and responsible organizations and voices of exiles in the US, including the Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez, a Cuban, have called for elements in the military to take advantage of the situation and make a move toward a civic-military government. Would these organizations and a member of the cabinet be making that kind of appeal, one if they didn't think this could be accomplished without bloodshed and civil war, and two, without the knowledge of support from the White House?

A few months ago Raul gave a speech before the armed forces which was essentially Fidel's testament of succession. During that speech Raúl showed up with a bulletproof vest and a very close coterie of his praetorian guard. But perhaps the strongest signal to the armed forces that he meant business was the fact that he showed up also wearing Tony de la Guardia's specially made bulletproof hat. Also recently the Castro brothers have called back from retirement and to active duty in positions of government men in their seventies and eighties, cadres from the old days.

Not all is honky-dory with the Cuban people either. Yes, most Cubans have only known Fidel and they do have a paternalistic and symbolic attachment to the man. But that doesn't mean they are not ready for change. Remember the scenes of mass rallies of flag waving Rumanians during the last days of Nicolae Ceausescu? Since the forced rallies and marches in support of Elián Gonzalez one thing has been noticeable in every mass gathering since, the sea of small Cuban flags covering the faces of the people. But if you have the chance to see between those small flags what you will notice is the largest gathering of bored and fatigued looking people you have ever seen. One day all of a sudden and to the surprise of the Western media the people in the mass rallies of Rumania started booing, jeering and finally running off the stage their beloved leader. Some other day they shot him together with his wife.

Today as we monitored Cuban papers and radio stations what is predominant is a long list of statements of support for Fidel and his decision coming from the various "popular" and government organizations, but no calls or praises for Raul. Which raises the question, where is Raúl? If he is in charge why is he not in front of the cameras assuring the country of its normality?

Together with news on emphasis on the unity of the Cuban people behind Fidel's decision there are also calls to stay very vigilant against plots coming from the US and the "Miami mafia". Cuban relatives of exiles are reporting to their counterparts in Florida of quiet military mobilizations seen in Havana and elsewhere in the island.

Whether Fidel is alive or not and whether this is all true or not, the fact of Raúl's lack of show is stunning, not to mention the lack of a press conference by Fidel’s doctors or a recorded message, etc. We wouldn't be surprised whether Fidel is testing the waters or not, that this event will serve as an occasion to see who is really loyal followed by a purge. We wouldn't be surprised either if in a couple of days or weeks an announcement is made of the discovery of a plot and members of the military are arrested and accused of plotting with the exile community and "los imperialistas yanquis". The total clampdown and assured succession of Raúl would have been accomplished.

Raúl on the other hand could liberalize Cuban economy, provided he survives the transition, as he had said regarding relations with the US that a relationship "of mutual respect" could be possible. Mutual respect for Raúl of course means no interference from Washington or at least a wink and a nod. As controller of the armed forces under whose charge the tourism industry operates the economic future of Raúl is guaranteed. But in the socialist paradise of egalitarian utopias it is Raúl who created and runs the economic apartheid between the Cubans and the lives of splendor that tourists experience.

The real surprise coming from a Stalinist regime of lies and totalitarianism would be that Fidel is really recovering from surgery as they have stated.