Archive | October, 2019

Declining Protection of Human Rights: Why?

31 Oct

The Future of Human Rights: Regressive Trends and Restorative Prospects


Points of Departure


Reviewing the global situation, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zaed Raad Al Hussein of Jordan, opened a 2018 conference devoted to the 25th anniversary of the 1993 UN Conference on Human Rights and Development held in Vienna, on a decidedly pessimistic note. Instead of doing the usual on such occasions, that is, celebrating the progress made since the earlier event, Prince Zaed emphasized the disturbing evidence of regression with respect to a broad range of issues bearing on the protection of human rights embedded in international treaty instruments as evidenced by the practice of states. He insisted that without fundamental changes in patterns of governance by sovereign states and in the operation of the world economy it would be naïve to expect an improved international atmosphere for human rights.


In the background of these remarks was the realization that we live in a state-centric world, which means that there is a significant degree of correlation between the quality of national governance and the presence of a political will on the part of leaders of sovereign states that is dedicated to the realization of human rights. In this regard the most important factor contributing to the declining protection of human rights is the disturbing global trend since the year 2000 away from liberal democracies and toward illiberal democracies. The essence of illiberalism is a resurgent nationalism that devalues international sources of authority such as international law and the UN, and exhibits an unconditional reliance on sovereign rights to act autonomously unless their internal public order system challenges geopolitical strategic priorities (as is currently the case with Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba). At this time, there are almost no important countries that have not embraced this hyper-nationalism of illiberal democracy, which is generally abetted by an autocratic governing style that is impatient with constraints associated with constitutionalism and the rule of law.


The more human rights form of liberalism is especially concerned with patterns of governing, avoiding the abuse of citizens by oppressive mechanisms and facilitating participation in the governing process by way of political parties and rights of free expression. This liberal perspective tends to overlook the relevance of economic dimensions, including the impact of the market and the establishment of social protection mechanisms to overcome poverty and to meet needs of individuals relating to health, education, and housing. The collapse of the Soviet Union was interpreted in the West as demonstrating the superiority of capitalism and the failure of socialism, which also had the effect of removing socialism as a political alternative in many countries, which contributed to the rise of unrestrained capitalism internationally and nationally, definitely weakening the performance records of governments with respect  to economic and social rights quite independently of the trend toward illiberal democratic leadership. The efforts by the United Nations to put forward Sustainable Development Goals associated with economic and social challenges substitutes a voluntary process of governmental policymaking for the obligatory commitments of international human rights law, and seems to lack the kind of political traction needed for reaching the ambitious goals set for attainment by 2030.


Ever since 1945 the leader of international liberalism was the United States, which gave human rights considerable visibility in the Cold War Era. The liberal West regarded human rights as essentially reduced in scope to civil and political rights while the socialist East proclaimed their support of economic and social rights as providing the material pre-conditons of human dignity for all. Human rights in these two forms were a competitive ideological focus for these geopolitical rivals, strongly reinforced in the West by the emergence of transnationally organized NGOs dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, but overwhelmingly associating human rights with civil and political rights, and not according serious attention to economic, social, and cultural rights. This civil society activism led many observers to conclude that human rights only concerned political and civil rights, a view never accepted in the global South, which tended to privilege economic, social, and cultural rights. In truth, the U.S., much more than its more social democratic European allies, never accepted the view that ‘human rights’ extended to the material needs of people, and always viewed such help ambivalently, as given by governments at their discretionrather than as a matter of obligation. This meant that even the provision of food or health care was voluntary, and not a matter of right. With the style and substance of Trump’s leadership, it has become clear that the international human rights of vulnerable people do not inform public policy unless market manipulations operate to raise wages, reduce unemployment, and improve living standards. Human rights, as rooted in international sources of legal and moral authority, are rendered irrelevant by such an orientation, and are viewed as obstacles to the efficient promotion of investment and trade, which according to such thinking, operate best when governed by market forces rather than by moral sentiments and legal norms.


During the Cold War there was some political motivations for achieving progress with respect to human rights, especially after Jimmy Carter in 1976 made human rights an essential feature of American foreign policy. In the following years, the ideological rivalry with the Soviet Bloc led both sides to claim that their version of human rights was superior to that of their adversary. In essence, the Western claim was that the freedom of the individual was being protected, while in the Soviet bloc the claim was that the collective wellbeing of society was upheld. The practical influence of human rights reached its climax in the anti-apartheid campaign that combined pressure exerted inter-governmentally and by way of the UN with influences of transnational grassroots activism, especially via sanctions and boycotts, given expression in a robust BDS set of initiatives. With illiberal democracies now running the international show, the sun has set temporarily for the human rights movement, and is further threatened by ongoing and unmet challenges throughout the world.







Threats and Challenges to Human Rights


Against this background, a number of threats can be mentioned as intensifying the trend toward the decline of human rights as a framework relevant to the behavior of states internally (state/society relations) and internationally (state to state relations). Basically, the current atmosphere highlighting the legitimacy of ultra-nationalism from a geopolitical standpoint translates at the level of policy into a reciprocal posture of ‘see no evil, hear no evil,’ and thus shields from accountability those that ‘do evil’ to their own people and to others. Rather than provide full expositions of the most salient developments adverse to the implementation of human rights, threat will be enumerated and identified:


  • Exclusionary nationalism: hostility to those seeking asylum due to forced departures from combat zones or economic/ecological disaster areas leading to a global migration crisis expected to worsen in coming years; illiberal responses include walls, detention centers, mistreatments, family separations, arbitrary and cruel deportation procedures and policies. Discriminatory attitudes toward immigrants, especially severe if racist criteria of exclusion relied upon.
  • Autocratic political leadership: autocrats are intolerant of dissent and oppositional activity, which leads to interferences with freedom of expression, control of media and criminalization of oppositional journalism, interferences with academic freedom, endorsement of excessive force and police brutality, suppression of minorities, violence against dissenters.
  • Remnants of Colonialism: international failures to implement the right of self-determination, including dismantling of oppressive structures, in relation to several outstanding unresolved conflicts associated with European colonialism, including Palestine, Kashmir, Western Sahara. These failures produce prolonged suffering for entire peoples who are systematically oppressed.
  • Counterterrorism: reliance on torture, denial of POW status to terrorist suspects, non-compliance with international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions), drone warfare on battlefields without boundaries. Modern states find themselves vulnerable to terrorist tactics, and often suspend their compliance with human rights standards to secure information or to express a vindictive hatred of such adversaries.
  • Capitalism: deference to market forces, capital over people, with gross inequality and poverty resulting, and economic and social rights completely marginalized as normative limits on public policy.
  • Climate Change: the failure to take prudent steps to control greenhouse gas emissions in conformity to the consensus among climate scientists encroaches upon and threatens the right to life and the right to health, among other rights, and completely rejects the efforts to achieve an international order capable of and dedicated to the realization of human rights for all, an encompassing obligation set forth in Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Technological Innovation: the expected accelerated reliance on robots and automation threatens the livelihoods of millions throughout the world, and undermines prospects for decent work; the meta-data surveillance by state and market forces subverts privacy and threatens fundamental freedoms; genetic engineering poses additional threats to human dignity that are not yet fully appreciated or even understood.





Expectations for the Future


The most haunting questions concern whether these pressures adverse to compliance with and implementation of human rights are likely to diminish or even be reversed in the years ahead. A number of key factors to consider will be identified here as questions, but as with the case of adverse trends, the issues will not be fully discussed.


  • Can Liberal Democracy be Restored and Enhanced? It would seem that prospects for restoring and enhancing liberal democracy vary from country to country, and reflect particular conditions involving the procedures for selecting leaders and the strength of legislative or parliamentary institutions and judicial independence, the resilience of the constitutional order, the gravity of perceived security threats, role of money, impact of special interest lobbies, corporatized media. Enhancement of liberalism would involve two broad sets of developments—the inclusion of economic and social rights as internationally protected human rights and the recognition that climate change and declining biodiversity have major impacts on fundamental human rights.


  • Can the Global Migration Crisis be Resolved or Mitigated at its Source? It appears that migration pressures will be resisted by countries that feel threatened by large-scale entry of immigrants, especially if their arrival is massive and without legal documentation. The only solution in a state-centric system of world order is by addressing as many of the conditions giving rise to departure and displacement through economic assistance and a global approach to conflict resolution and economic/ecological crises.


  • Can American or Equivalent Responsible Global Leadership be Restored or Enhanced? The 2020 US elections may overcome the current global leadership vacuum if a more internationally oriented American president is elected, especially if the new leader values international law, the UN, and human rights, and is sensitive to the importance of international cooperative given ecological imperatives. It is also possible that other configurations of responsible global leadership will emerge. China, Russia, the EU each could help restore current leadership responsive to global challenges either by their individual initiative or in a collaborative relationship. Trump self-consciously relinquished the non-militarist sides of America’s prior leadership role, proclaiming that he was elected president of the United States, not the world. The future of international human rights depends on benevolent global leadership.



  • Will the deepening Ecological Crisis give rise to more Effective Global Governance? In effect, will the increasing evidence of deteriorating ecological stability resulting from global warming, diminished biodiversity, and other signs of disharmony between human activity and the natural surrounding act as a wakeup call for the elites and publics of the world, inducing an atmosphere of urgency that includes vesting greater authority in international institutions and an international framework of environmental regulation? So far, the reactions have been dominated by short-termism accompanied by denialism and escapism, with the default option being technological innovation when the situation impinges to an extent that can no longer be denied. As a consequence human rights are weakened, especially in relation to the right to life and health.


  • Will the Prominence of Post-Human Scenarios hasten the Recognition of a Bio-Ethical Crisis? We are increasingly confronted by end-of-the-world scenarios based on the occurrence of a variety of apocalyptic events or assessments that the planet is on its way to becoming uninhabitable. Will this reality of bio-eco-ethical-spiritual crisis lead to the formulation of new radical thought and political movement responsive to the challenges, reflecting the recognition that present modes of problem-solving and policy-making are not capable of providing adequate responses?



  • Can Capitalism be Reformed Sufficiently to be Reconciled with Humane Global Governance? To address the adverse trends it will be necessary, at minimum, to evolve a more regulated world economy that is sensitive to ethical and ecological considerations. This requires limits on profitability, consumerism, and environmental disregard, including on release of greenhouse gasses. It may be that some fusion of capitalism and socialism would be alone capable of preserving the autonomies of the private sectors with the responsibilities to uphold human rights, including rights of the unborn. This could happen as the extreme inequalities of income and wealth create a public mood seeking a more equitable and sustainable brand of economic development more in accord with the norms contained in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.


  • Does a Positive Future for Humanity Depend on a Politics of Impossibility? The present world situation suggests two points of attention: a series of dystopian trends as offset by the realization that only utopian solutions can bring relief and nurture hope. Politics as the art of the possible seems very inadequate as response to the challenges facing a human rights culture except to lengthen the interval available for adjustments, but this will fall short both of what is needed and what is desirable. To meet needs and satisfy desires depends then on the emergence and embrace of ‘a politics of impossibility.’ It is important to recognize that what seems impossible happens—for instance, the collapse of worldwide European colonialism, the transformation of the South African apartheid regime, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the attainment of gay rights in many settings. The impossible happens when enough people insist through thought, action, and faith that it must happen. Change of this fundamental sort comes from below in unpredicted surges, which themselves constitute responses to populist discontent and struggle.





The main objective of this essay is to sketch the profound challenges to human rights that arise from a series of interrelated and overlapping developments, and to give some sense that to restore and enhance human rights is a difficult undertaking that now seems almost impossible given the ultra-nationalist outlook of the governments of most leading states. Yet the future is uncertain, and will be influenced by what peoples variously situated choose to do or refrain from doing. Under these conditions of menace and uncertainty there is every reason to struggle for what is necessary and desirable even if it seems presently impossible of attainment.


Casting Doubt: Trusting Whistleblowers More Than International Institutions–Syrian CW Attack on Douma

27 Oct

Courage Foundation Panel Challenges International Finding of Syrian Reponsibility

For the 2018 Attack on Douma  



An independent British civil society organization, Courage Foundation, convened a panel of persons with diverse professional backgrounds relevant to the assessment of a challenge directed at the reliability of a respected international institution—the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The statement below, carefully drafted by the collective efforts of the panel reflects an acceptance of the lengthy presentation of the case against the reliability of allegations that the Syrian Government was guilty of a lethal chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb town of Douma (East Ghouta) on April 7, 2018 that was relied upon by the U.S. Government to justify a retaliatory strike against Syrian targets. The panel statement and process was greatly strengthened by the participation of Jose Bustani, former and initial Director General of OPCW, who while not physically present at the Brussels meeting was fully briefed by the whistleblower in Brazil, and took part in the preparation and endorsement of the final statement.


The panel, of which I was a member, met in Brussels on October 14, 2019, examined documents, reports, and listened to testimony. It drafted the statement printed below after discussion, which was subsequently modified and edited by email exchanges among the panelists. The Courage Foundation has its offices in Great Britain and is an organization dedicated to support for whistleblowing activities. It did not interfere with or exert influence upon the deliberations of the panel, which occurred in closed executive sessions with no Foundation personnel present. The statement issued by the panel is printed below. It can also be found at the link provided by the Courage Foundation:



In my view this inquiry into the authenticity of the allegations against the Syrian Government is important for its own sake, and beyond this, for the serious implications of the conclusion that despite its reputation, OPCW, is not a trustworthy organization in carrying out its assigned role of impartially investigating and validating or invalidating charges of violations of the International Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Not only did the panel find that OPCW tampered with the evidence to produce an outcome desired by the geopolitical actors involved in this instance, it tried to silence its own senior civil servants to such an extent as to produce what I would call ‘a reluctant but extremely credible whistleblower,’ a senior inspector with 17 years of experience with OPCW, and a member of the team that carried out the on-site investigations of the Douma allegations.  

Once again, as with Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Chelsea Manning, as well as those still anonymous individuals exposing the wrongdoings of the Trump presidency, whistleblowing, and its protection and insulation from punitive actions has become an indispensable dimension of sustainable democracies. Not only is there a lack of transparency and accountability with respect to the undertakings of major national governments, but there is a deliberate manipulation of evidence and obstruction of procedures designed to protect the citizenry against abuses of state, and in the case of major states, especially the United States, to protect the public interest. If you believe in substantive democracy, you will hail whistleblowers as heroes of our time, and exert a maximum effort to oppose the efforts of governments to punish, prohibit, and demonize this crucial means of bearing witness and truth-telling.


Finally, it should be observed that the retaliatory strike following the allegations preceded the OPCW investigation, and involved an extremely legally doubtful use of international force in any event. Of course, such issues are outside the mandate of the OPCW, whose functions are limited to monitoring compliance with the provisions of the international treaty. According to the UN Charter, such an international use of force is only legally justified as an act of self-defense against a prior armed attack or as a result of formal authorization by the Security Council. There is nothing in the CWC itself that allows parties to act as international vigilantes entitled to take unilateral punitive steps against violators. In the course of Syrian civil strife since 2011, it has been treated as an issue of international vigilantism to regard ‘the red line’ related to the use of chemical weapons was crossed, to identify the perpetrator, and to justify a retaliatory use of force. The United States has claimed the authority to act in this manner, including determining on its own the scope, targeting, and scale of any retaliatory undertaking.  




Panel Criticizes ‘Unacceptable Practices’ in the OPCW’s investigation of the Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma, Syria on April 7th 2018

Posted on October 23, 2019

The Courage Foundation convened a panel of concerned individuals from the fields of disarmament, international law, journalism, military operations, medicine and intelligence in Brussels on October 15th. The panel met with a member of the investigation team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international chemical watchdog. On this basis the panel issued the following statement:

Based on the whistleblower’s extensive presentation, including internal emails, text exchanges and suppressed draft reports, we are unanimous in expressing our alarm over unacceptable practices in the investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus on 7 April 2018.  We became convinced by the testimony that key information about chemical analyses, toxicology consultations, ballistics studies, and witness testimonies was suppressed, ostensibly to favor a preordained conclusion.

We have learned of disquieting efforts to exclude some inspectors from the investigation whilst thwarting their attempts to raise legitimate concerns, highlight irregular practices or even to express their differing observations and assessments —a right explicitly conferred on inspectors in the Chemical Weapons Convention, evidently with the intention of ensuring the independence and authoritativeness of inspection reports.

However belatedly, we therefore call on the OPCW to permit all inspectors who took part in the Douma investigation to come forward and report their differing observations in an appropriate forum of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in fulfillment of the spirit of the Convention. They should be allowed to do this without fear of reprisal or even censure.

The panel advances these criticisms with the expectation that the OPCW will revisit its investigation of the Douma incident, with the purpose of clarifying what actually happened. This would help to restore the credibility of the OPCW and work towards demonstrating its legally mandated commitment to transparency, impartiality and independence. It is of utmost importance to restore trust in the verification procedures relied upon to implement the prohibitions of the CWC.

Panel members:

José Bustani, Ambassador of Brazil, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France,

Richard Falk, Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University; Visiting Professor, Istinye University, Istanbul

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief, Wikileaks

John Holmes, Maj Gen (retd), DSO OBE MC

Dr. Helmut Lohrer, MD, Board member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and International Councilor of its German Affiliate

Prof. Dr. Guenter Meyer, Centre for Research on the Arab World (CERAW) at the University of Mainz

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence (retd); member, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (


When Is It ‘Politically Correct’ to Be Politically Correct?

22 Oct

[Prefatory Note: A slightly modified text of an opinion piece that was published as an editorial on Oct. 21st in TMS (Transcend Media Service). If you unfamiliar with TMS, I highly recommend it. I find it the best source of intelligent and progressive commentary on a wide range of peace and justice related concerns. TMS is circulated on a weekly basis free of charge to subscribers. The weekly selections are expertly and sensitively selected by Antonio C. S. Rosa.]



When Is It ‘Politically Correct’ to Be Politically Correct?

Only a day after I published ‘In Praise of Kamila Shamsie,’ the Nobel Committee in Stockholm awarded their 2019 Prize in Literature to Peter Handke, the Austrian novelist and playwright widely known for his public support of ultra-nationalist behavior, including even a veiled endorsement of the crimes of Serbian leaders during the Bosnian War. PEN America wasted no time overcoming its institutional reluctance to criticize the literary prizes given by other organizations, issuing this statement of condemnation:

“We are dumbfounded by the selection of a writer who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide, like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. PEN America has been committed since the passage of our 1948 PEN Charter to fighting against mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood, and distortion of facts. Our Charter further commits us to work to ‘dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality.’ We reject the decision that a writer who has persistently called into question thoroughly documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his ‘linguistic ingenuity.’ At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than this. We deeply regret the Nobel Committee on Literature’s choice.” 

Yet, this half begs the question—should PEN America mix political sentiments (that I share) with their appraisal of literary achievement? It is a question for which there are no obvious answer better than ‘it depends,’ which is never satisfactory except as an admission of failure.

I read the PEN statement as an expression of their bitter disappointment, but it contained no hint of a suggestion that the Nobel Committee should reconsider, even withdraw the prize, and returning to drawing board in search of a more deserving candidate. When rightest pressures were mounted against the Nelly Sachs Prize awarded a few weeks earlier to Kamila Shamsie for her wonderful Home Fire, the Dortmund prize jury not only reconsidered, but reversed its decision. In the Handke case, the Austrian celebrated author had a history of supporting reactionary views, including chauvinistic, anti-immigrant, quasi-fascist nationalism that is currently posing virulent threats to humane forms of political governance in many countries, as well as creating a distinctly illiberal international order.

In effect, this advocacy of such political behavior should have been abhorrent enough to color Nobel’s committee’s overall assessment of Handke’s qualification for a prize that carries a large enough monetary amount as to enable him to devote additional funds potentially in furtherance of these pernicious political projects. It would seem also relevant to take account of Alfred Nobel’s intention when establishing the prize to do more than celebrate literary excellence, but also to promote cultural ideals of an uplifting character (“en idealisk riktning” – in an ideal direction or direction of an ideal; see Eli Vuillamy, The Guardian, Oct.12, 2019).

By contrast, in Shamsie’s case her sin was to honor her conscience by supporting the nonviolent BDS-Boycott Divestment Sanctions Campaign that seeks an end to the violation of the basic rights of the Palestinian people. Thirty years ago, BDS was a widely applauded tactic of those championing human rights, credited with mounting pressures on Apartheid South Africa. It was seen as nonviolent yet effective as an expression of solidarity with those seeking to overcome the oppressive policies of a racist regime. It was sometimes criticized as a tactic, but never were its militant activists subject to punitive responses or personally discredited. Yet recently, the image of BDS has been transformed for many ‘good people’ into a disguised, yet virulent form of anti-Semitism, even held by some, responsible for the recent rise in violent anti-Jewish incidents in Western liberal democracies. Such an accusation is absurd and malicious, yet that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. In response to Zionist activism and Israeli propaganda, BDS is increasingly being condemned, even criminalized, or used to justify a variety of punitive moves of extreme disapproval such as this withdrawal of a literary prize.

The African-American superstar Angela Davis received a taste of similar toxic medicine when the Birmingham City Council reacted to community Zionist pressures by retracting a human rights award in 2018 from her birth city recognizing extraordinary lifetime human rights contributions. At least in Birmingham there was a pushback to the pushback, leading the award to be restored and received by Davis. Yet, lots of hurt and damage done in the process. Anyone who cares to examine the realities would know that the BDS Campaign is directed at Israel and has nothing whatsoever to do with hatred or hostility to Jews or the Jewish people. BDS would disappear the day the government of the State of Israel announced its abandonment of apartheid and committed itself to respecting the Palestinian people as their legal, political, and cultural equal. I believe that day will come, maybe not tomorrow or the day after, but it will come as the tides of history will prevail over this last major stronghold of European colonialism.

My conclusion: when Dortmund withdrew the prize from Shamsie it acted shamelessly; when Nobel Committee in Stockholm gave Handke its coveted prize it acted problematically, but arguably sufficiently within its mandate to validate a decision, at least to the extent of not reversing its decision. In this sense, American PEN struck mostly the right note. It would have been pitch perfect in my view had they condemned Handke’s view, and then contrasted their approach with the disgraceful Dortmund capitulation to analogous regressive forces that had prompted their dismissive response to learning that Handke had been given a Nobel Prize.

In this sense, creating moral distance from Dortmund by their silence illustrates the political inadequacy of liberalism as practiced in many Western countries, equivocally acknowledged by a flippant admission—‘progressive except for Palestine, or PEP.’ Maybe PEN America would retort, what Dortmund does is too trivial to matter, but this sidesteps the prestige of this German award that in the past has been given to such prominent literary figures as Milos Kundera, Margaret Atwood, and Nadine Gordimer among others; as well, the prize honors Nelly Sachs, ironically a Jewish poet who literary work against the crimes and wrongs of Nazism, not so dissimilar to opposing the crimes and wrongs of apartheid in our era..

PEN America might have justified crossing the line of customary restraint by calling for more than criticism in this particular instance. It could have asked the literary overseers in Stockholm to reconsider, and revoke their award, and surely, they should have widened their net to take account of Dortmund’s behavior. As Israel’s crimes against humanity are ongoing and severe, the moral and political incorrectness of the unwarranted slur on Kamila Shamsie’s character and reputation is particularly reprehensible. It may be that condemning BDS has become politically correct in Western democracies but objectively viewed such a posture is morally incorrect and will eventually be so judged as will the double standards evident in relation to Handke and Shamsie. I doubt that there was any backlash against the award to Kundera despite his intense anti-Soviet perspective, certainly inconsistent with peace and accommodation during the dangerous days of the Cold War. Double standards, especially by arbiters of political correctness, are themselves politically correct in the worst possible sense of conforming to the political fashions of the moment. This kind of ‘correctness’ sends morally incorrect messages that look away from certain forms of wrongdoing while proclaiming righteous indignation in response to others.

We are left hanging with the title question: When is it ‘politically correct’ to be politically correct? My answer is that it is normally desirable to be politically correct only when it is morally correct to be so. Even such a moral criterion can produce divergent responses. Someone like Handke can produce moral rationalizations about preserving the coherence of national political communities, alleging their dependence on ethnic and religious coherence as well as on the exclusion of strangers who would dilute national traditions and identity. As Dortmund did by implicitly acknowledging that BDS generates ethnic tensions rather than promotes reconciliation and peace.

In other words, we cannot escape from taking responsibility for our decisions and choices, an unavoidable leap into frying pans of uncertainty. To be human and humane is make that leap with eyes as widely open as possible. When we do this, I am confident that more and more of us would see our human species as surviving only if we can feel, think, and act in a cosmopolitan spirit that affirms human equality and exhibits particular solidarity with all who are desperate or vulnerable. If we do this in a forthright way with access to the salient realities, I believe we will be led toward embracing Shamsie’s worldview and rejecting Handke’s. At least that is my abiding faith, my moral compass.



Interpreting Turkey’s Military Operation in Syria

18 Oct

Interpreting Turkey’s Military Operation in Syria

Ever since things started to go badly wrong in Syria after the uprising prompted by the 2011 Arab Spring, the situation has converted the customary fog of war into an impenetrable black box. None of the intervening political actors including Turkey, United States, Iran, Russia, Israel, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia calculated correctly, nor did the various non-state extremist groups associated with al Qaeda and later ISIS, as well as a variety of anti-Damascus Syrian insurgencies. No international conflict has ever been quite as opaque, multi-faceted, and beset by the play of contradictory, and even self-contradictory national, regional, and global political forces. What is said and what is done diverge so dramatically that all efforts at understanding are contingent and need continual updating. Aside from the sincere efforts to interpret and appraise what is happening and why, are a variety of manipulative agendas in which facts, intentions, and motivations are subordinated to the cookie cutter rigidity of wider political goals that are not acknowledged, and envelop the realities of this Turkish military operation in dark clouds of fabrication. It is with the awareness of these difficulties that I am making this effort to comment on this latest episode in a tragic sequence of Syrian events that began more than eight years ago with spontaneous civilian demonstrations in Deraa against serious human rights abuses by the Damascus government, a dynamic seemingly aggravated by climate change impacts in other parts of the country that gave rise to internal migrations and ordeals of displacement. The government crackdown on this show of opposition was harsh, and a full-fledged armed uprising quickly followed.


Two fundamental miscalculations by non-Syrian actors, which were repetitions of past mistakes by all these contending forces, have certainly contributed to the devastation of Syria, the massive suffering of its people, death and injuries for hundreds of thousand, and the displacement of millions, creating a set of circumstance that still has little prospect of producing satisfactory ending. The first miscalculation, shared especially by Ankara and Washington, was that military intervention could quickly tip the balance, producing the long. desired regime change in Damascus sought for decades by the U.S. and Israel. The second miscalculation was to suppose that Syria was similar to Libya, that is, an autocratic government lacking political support from its own population, and thus susceptible to being easily toppled by insurgent violence, especially if backed by external diplomatic encouragement and military assistance. These miscalculations overlooked the capabilities of Iran and Russia to offset anti-Assad interventions and seriously underestimated the domestic support enjoyed by the government in Damascus as well as the capabilities and battlefield effectiveness of the Syrian armed forces, which far exceeded what was available to the government of Qaddafi’s Libya.


In the years of disorder, the struggle for control of the Syrian state became entangled with other political preoccupations, especially the U.S. led struggle against ISIS and Kurdish efforts to pursue their goals of self-determination, given the fluidity of the political situation in Syria, its enjoyment of American support, and the influence exerted by the success of Iraqi Kurds in virtually achieving de facto statehood in northern Iraq. The Kurdish plan unfolding, in collaboration with U.S. military forces supposedly present in Syria to fight ISIS and Damascus, was to help the Syrian Kurds achieve their goals under the militant leadership of the YPG (Kurdish Peoples Protection Group), which most expert commentators agreed was closely linked materially and ideologically to the PKK (Peoples Workers Party), which has been engaged in armed struggle against Turkey for more than 30 years in a continuing struggle that has already cost over 40,000 civilian lives. The PKK objective was either to create a stand-alone Kurdistan or establish an autonomous Kurdish dominated political entity within existing Turkish borders, which seems akin to the YPG goal. As complicated, contested, and relevant as is this background, the foreground is even murkier.


There are several extraneous factors that need to be considered. First, Trump’s diplomacy, as usual, irresponsibly sent the most mixed possible signal to all interested parties, coupled with inflammatory insults and irresponsible insults directed at Kurdish identity and aspirations. To Ankara, the abrupt pullout of American military forces seemed clearly intended and reasonably interpreted as a green light to create a safe zone on the Syrian side of the Turkish border by ending YPG presence in a 20-mile strip of territory in northeast Syria. Such a signal was soon followed by severe, unlawful, and totally threats unexpectedly issued by Trump warning of dire consequences if it failed to follow orders from the White House. Such a diplomatic reversal was also reinforced by the imposition of sanctions (increasing tariffs on Turkish steel by 50% and freezing the assets of several Turkish officials) that are quite ambiguous. These sanctions can be interpreted either as punitive or as a mere gesture designed to appease Republican critics in the U.S. Congress who uncharacteristically voiced harsh criticism, accusing Trump of abandoning the YPG, recently an important ally in the primary American fight against ISIS terrorism. During his presidency, most of Trump’s foreign policy swerves seem dictated more by calculations related to American domestic politics than to a reconsideration of how to carry out international policies in an effective manner.


To the Syrian Kurds aligned with the YPG, it was the end of the dream of self-determination, substituting instead an awful prospect of yet another military and humanitarian catastrophe. Apparently not all Kurds shared this interpretation as many thousands fled across the border seeking sanctuary in Turkey, and adding still more refugees to 3.5-4 million already present. As throughout their century of frustration and struggle the Kurdish national movement has failed to present a united front as to means and ends, and lacks forceful visible leadership that could exert influence on world opinion.


A second extraneous set of factors involves taking account of the intense international campaign waged against the Turkish government as led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which was seized upon by external enemies of the Turkish president and the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) to brand the Turkish incursion as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and even ‘genocide.’ It was also contended that Turkey had become such a disgrace to NATO that it should be expelled. American diplomacy was also sharply attacked due to the cynical abandonment of the Kurds as soon as Washington believed that their help was no longer needed. It is not that these anti-Turkish views are all wrong, but they were certainly being used for wider purposes unrelated to the cross-border attack, and hence distorted almost beyond recognition.

This anti-Turkish campaign has been waged by a loose coalition of political forces, including overseas Kurds, hard-core Kemalists, and unrepentant followers of the Fetullah Gülen movement that staged in Turkey an attempted coup in 2016. At the time what European and North American reactions of indifference to whether or not the elected democratic government of Turkey survived was seen by many in the Turkish government and public as an ominous development. If you take the trouble to read what is published on the militantly pro-Israel, ardently Zionist websites such as Middle East Forum, a vehicle for the views of Zionist extremist Daniel Pipes, or Gatestone Institute associated with such rightest figures as Alan Dershowitz and John Bolton you will encounter a steady stream of rabid opinion pieces designed to delegitimize Turkey in every possible way. There is much pious writing on these websites about abuses of human rights in Turkey, which is in large measure deserved, but it is coupled with a deafening silence about far worse abuses in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It doesn’t require a PhD to understand that what is at stake is Middle East hegemony for the United States to be carried out in close collaboration with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Given this mainstream agenda, it is not surprising that there has occurred such imbalanced and misleading interpretations of Operation Peace Spring, the code name given the Turkish military operation, dominate the media.


Somewhat surprisingly, the New York Times, published an opinion piece by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on October 11th, which set forth in clear and plausible terms the scope of the military undertaking and Turkish overall intentions. What was central, and totally neglected by the hostile drumbeat of anti-Turkish media coverage, was the affirmation that Turkey was seeking a ‘safe zone’ on its borders by removing the YPG, and not at all launching an attack on the Kurds. Çavuşoğlu claimed that the Turkish aim was limited to clearing the 20-mile strip of the YPG and ISIS presence, and allowing those Syrian refugees in Turkey who wished to return to Syria to settle in this cleared land. A secondary objective was to restore Syrian sovereignty over its own territory, which meant rejecting as unfeasible the project of creating a Rojava statelet in northeast Syria. Çavuşoğlu rightly repudiated the malicious propaganda claim that Turkish forces or sympathizers were setting free from detention hundreds of ISIS fighters. In this regard, Ankara’s record on counterterrorism is far more consistent than is Washington’s–the U.S. classifies the PKK as a terrorist organization and yet arms and allies itself with YPG, its Syrian extension, supplied and even political controlled in its policies and practices by senior PKK leaders. The inflammatory accusation, absurd on its face, that Turkey would deliberately set free ISIS fighters is up against the gruesome reality that ISIS was consistently directing violence at Turkish targets and Turkey was exerting itself to destroy ISIS as a security threat, a reality I experienced as a part-time resident of Turkey.


Inside Turkey, even among those deeply opposed to Erdoğan and the AKP there exsts a consensus supportive of this ongoing military operation so long as it is limited to border security and counterterrorist goals. The Trump diplomacy combined with the AKP alliance with the anti-Kurdish right-wing MHP after the 2014 elections, does explain why Kurds, even if not sympathetic with the tactics or affiliations of YPG, are understandably extremely nervous and upset about what is happening, especially after Trump pulled the rug our from under them, insultingly saying they were not an ally of the U.S. and their protection was a trivial matter not worthy of being treated as a matter national interest. The Kurdish reaction was to reverse its own alignments. Under the circumstances, realigning with Damascus seems, neither stupid nor surprising. It is as yet impossible to tell whether this shift in expectations by the YPG is a tactical expedient or represents a major downward adjustment in political ambitions. Much depends on how the Syrian government will react, which is anybody’s guess at this moment. It is well to heed Graham Fuller’s well- argued assessment of the current Syrian situation, pointing out that for the last decade everyone has betrayed everyone in Syria. Fuller should know, having long served as a senior official in the very important CIA operation in Turkey, a major outpost in the Cold War period.


It is difficult to evaluated the ‘ceasefire’ just announced by Mike Pence in Ankara after somewhat lengthy negotiations with Erdoğan, even whether the terminology of ceasfire is appropriate. In this regard, Çavuşoğlu was careful to call what was agreed upon as ‘a pause’ of five days in an ongoing cross-border operation. The language is important. If fighting resumes, Turkey will be accused of breaking the ceasefire, while Turkey will retort that it only agreed on a pause. Much probably depends on whether the YPG forces leave or decide to stay, and engage the Turkish military presence. As of now, it seems correct to conclude that Turkey seems to be getting the results it was seeking. As well, by the manner of the American withdrawal of its 1,000 troops and its feckless wavering diplomacy, Russia and Iran could take heart, while Israel and Saudi Arabia are losing sleep. It is not surprising that the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was sent from Ankara to Jerusalem on a nursing mission to cheer up Netanyahu. It should also be of some interest that Pompeo was not asked to stop in Riyadh with a similar hand-holding assignment.  


My plea in the midst of such willful and innocent confusion, is to withhold judgment and the pretense of clarity, and above all avoid further intervention or otherwise escalating the scope or intensity of the conflict, seek negotiations limited to regional parties, and stay mindful of humanitarian concerns. It would help also to disregard anti-Turkish extremists whose manifest goal is regime change in Turkey to be achieved by any means, but for now by delegitimizing the Turkish state to the extent possible, encouraging Trump to carry out the dire threat of destroying the Turkish economy, bringing misery to yet another country in the region, this one home to 85 million. We should not forget that Turkey is a sovereign state that is as entitled to uphold its national security as any other, and despite its problems, more capable than any other country in the Middle East of pursuing constructive diplomacy throughout the region.


While it was shameful that Trump brazenly trivialized Kurdish concerns, it is not much less shameful that the liberal press in America has acted as if the Turkish military operation clearly focused on the YPG was treated as synonymous with attacking the Kurdish people. It is worth noticing that during the years of Turkish operations against the PKK its uses of force were never challenged as being directed at the Kurdish population as a whole, but then again, the PKK was not enlisted by American military forces to collaborate in joint operations as was the YPG. Satisfaction of Kurdish basic rights are as important as ever, but this imperative should not be confused with Turkish sovereign rights to uphold border security by reasonable means and of Syria to restore its territorial sovereignty on the related reasoning that unified states, however artificial their origins a century ago, are more likely to lead to Middle East peace and stability than are the emergence of ethnic statelets throughout the region.   



In Praise of Kamila Shamsie Home Fire

13 Oct

In Praise of Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire


It took the withdrawal of the Nelly Sachs Prize to make me familiar with the fine literary achievements and compassionate politics of Kamila Shamsie. Selfishly, I cannot thank the Dortmund City Council enough for its outrageous behavior, evidently canceling the award because a right-wing newspaper outed Shamsie as a supporter of the BDS Campaign. I can imagine Shamsie’s feeling of hurt as well as disappointment as this incident unfolded. In her novels, she has manifested an uncannny awareness, more so than any writer I have encountered, of the precarious existence of ethnic, gender, and civilizational outsiders, especially Muslims, if they happen to reside in the supposedly once more tolerant West. Her words of eloquent response to the Dortmund about face express both her magnetic literary personality and moral intelligence: “It is a matter of great sadness to me that a jury should bow to pressure and withdraw a prize from a writer who is exercising her freedom of conscience and freedom of expression; and it is a matter of outrage that the BDS movement (modelled on the South African boycott) that campaigns against the government of Israel for its acts of discrimination and brutality against Palestinians should be held up as something shameful and unjust.”


Germany seems particularly susceptible these days to Islamophobic tropes, especially those given traction at the expense of Muslims, Palestinians, and immigrants. It seems that even 75 years after the Holocaust the German political establishment is still attempting to convince themselves, as well as the State of Israel, that the Holocaust was a national anomaly. Seeking to prove the unprovable, Germany and Germans have chosen to fall in love with Israel precisely because it is the nation state of the Jewish people, and for this reason alone it can do no wrong as we all know that love is blind. In their vain effort to make such a surreal posture credible, Germany insists on going even further, as if to drive the point home to any doubters, by converting Israel’s critics into Germany’s adversaries, somehow forgetting that the locus of the anti-Semitic gene present in the German body politic is situated on its far right, and is definitely not to be found even among the most uncompromising supporters of the BDS Campaign. To suggest otherwise, as is the inescapable implication of the Dortmund action, is to slander a writer of exquisite moral sensitivity. Her actions as a citizen exhibits a strong bond between her sense of right and wrong that infuses her novels and her nonviolent engagements on the side of justice for the Palestinian people. Bonds of this nature are what keep democracy alive, and should be celebrated now more than ever, not condemned.   


Evaluated from a more humanistic perspective, this incident confirms the impression that Germany as a nation has learned nothing from its past. To side with Israel is to side with an apartheid government that imposes a regime of daily victimization upon the Palestinian people (treating them as enemy aliens in what once Palestine!). To regard those who oppose this Israeli behavior as if they are the miscreants is to learn nothing from the rightly repudiated German past. It is to be complicit in its repetition.


Under these circumstances, my expression of personal gratitude to Dortmund may seem odd, yet it is quite easy to explain. If it had not been for the withdrawal of the prize, I would not have become an avid reader of Shamsie. The prize might have caught my wandering eye, as should earlier some of the dazzling reviews of Home Fire, but with a busy life along with an array of self-indulgent distractions, I would almost certainly not have taken such a drastic step as to acquire the novel, and then find myself so overwhelmed by its literary quality and brilliant commentaries on the human condition that I immediately obtained, and then read with uncharacteristic concentration, Burnt Shadows in two ten hour days of uninterrupted reading. Reflecting on this experience, which I wish is being replicated by others shocked into a similar response to mine, I became appreciative that, depending on circumstances, we sometimes become more intellectually and culturally indebted to acts of negation than to those of affirmation. It may be that those favoring the Dortmund jury reversal supposed that withdrawing the prize would have the valued added of lessening interest in Shamsie’s writing, and instead it seems to be spreading the word that she is a great writer!


Perhaps, if writers in Britain had not organized a joint letter of solidarity with Shamies to the London Review of Books, the abstraction of learning about a cancelled prize would not have overcome my habitual sloth, and I would have moved on. I was also drawn to look for myself at the work in question by Shameis’ unrepentant response,  defending her BDS support as something she did as a citizen, which in any event should have had no bearing on whether her novel was more deserving of recognition than were the other short listed competitors for the prize. Until this happened, I would have thought the Nelly Sachs Prize honored literature, rather than kneeling at the altar of political correctness. From now on whenever Germany does something similar, I will do my best to make them pay, not only by joining the protest, but by embracing the work that they repudiated. Let these prizes remain noteworthy, but only if future cancellations serve more as magnets than as repellents. My fear is that foundations and selection groups that give such prizes will in the future become more wary, do their homework better, and bypass candidates whose sympathies with the Palestinian struggle might stir the waters of controversy. It is worth realizing that much of the evil in the world is what is done off camera, behind closed doors, and we who wish for other realities, never get wind of what is going on. Self-censorship may be more destructive of freedom of expression than censorship. Dortmond’s rationale for retraction can be discussed, rejected, overcome. If Home Fire had been quietly put aside by the jurors in their deliberations, it would have aroused no protest, enlisted no new circle of admirers, and no positive voices reminding us that BDS is dedicated to nonviolent liberation, nothing more, nothing less. 


Yet before touching on the qualities that make me so admiring of Home Fire, I would comment a bit more on what seems like a panic attack. We need to ask what made the folks in Dortmund act so inappropriately as to make themselves appear both craven and foolish? At first glance, it seems that these days right-wing pressure works more often than it should, although ironically, it is the far right that is the incubator of real anti-Semitism.  The true face of Jew hatred revealed itself in the very recent Halle incident in which a right-winger aimed to slaughter Jews at a German synagogue on the Yon Kippur holiday. Further, even granting the Zionist feverish campaign to brand BDS as expressive of the so-called ‘new anti-Semitism,’ to treat Shameis’ support of a cultural boycott as enough to induce the city of Dortmund to withdraw the prize seems to signal societal panic, maybe a reaction to the rise of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim AfD (Alternative for Germany). It is of more than passing interest that the AfD was not content as were the mainstream German parties in the Bundestag with calling BDS ‘anti-Semitic’ but wanted the non-violent movement formally banned altogether. The resolution adopted in May 2019 by a rare cross-alliance of political parties was itself a lamentable response to pressures being exerted by Zionist groups may have set the stage for the Dortmund retreat. It was followed shortly by a similar action in Aachen where an award was withdrawn from Walid Raad, an Lebanese innovative artist with a world reputation because he reportedly refused to denounce BDS, carrying the imperative of political correctness a menacing step further.





Part of the dark charm of Home Fire is a tribute to Shameis’ ‘see it all eyes’ that illuminate the complexities of Islamic jihadism, how it appeals to those ‘out of place’ around the world, wounding and rupturing the flow of life for those burdened and blessed with a hybrid ethnic, religious, and class identity. Shamsie tells us that her narrative inspiration for Home Fire is the Greek play of Antigone where a heartbroken sister defies her uncle, Creon, the king of Thebes, by burying her rebellious brother who died on a field of battle, and thus declared a traitor by Creon; by law he was denied the right of burial and his body left to rot on the battlefield until he was restored to dignity by the defiant Antigone. Sophocles depicted this classic instance of overriding the law of the land by acting in obedience to the transcendent law of the human heart, given concreteness over the centuries by natural law jurisprudence and more recently, by the universal principles of human rights. Shamsei imparts her meaning by choosing a tag line from Sophocles that appears alone on a page preceding the novel: “The ones we love.. are enemies of the state.”


Reading Shamsei made me recall my experience 30 years ago when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The novel made me realize, although growing up in the racially self-righteous, self-segregated liberal confines of Manhattan, that until I read Beloved, I had never grasped the existential horrors of post-slavery racism in the United States, especially throughout the South, and more subtly in the rest of the country. Similarly, until I read Home Fire I never thought empathetically about the intimate lives of terrorists and their loved ones, pitting love within a family against what the state decrees as the limit of acceptable conduct and the moral ambiguities arising from the dreadful harm done to innocent others by terrorist violence, whether by the state or its enemies.  The perpetrators are also victims, and the victims can become perpetrators propelled by a vicious retaliatory logic that finds words to justify even beheadings; a jihadist in Home Fire says this: “..what you do to ours we will do to yours..” In other words, when we free ourselves from liberal forms of political indoctrination to experience the radical and reactive otherness that produces delicate negotiations between love and law the simple verities of moral truisms evaporate before our eyes. If we nurture our spiritual selves, a formidable challenge, those brave enough would almost always choose the path cleared by the heart rather than mechanically adhering to the cold logic of those who insist on observing the law however unjust. A signal achievement of Home Fire is to weave a credible tale of such nurturing through the selfless passions of Aneeka, a luminous being, compelled by sibling love to respond to her hapless terrorist twin brother, Pervais. The fact that Aneeka is studying in London to become a lawyer, while Pervais is enchanted by digital mysteries of recorded sounds, somehow heightens the tension between law and love, with a romanticized forgetfulness when it comes to prudence in a public domain of discriminatory vigilance in the world after the 9/11 attacks.


Shameis’ has produced a moral fable for our times. It is given novelistic and societal complexity by the apparent innocence of the twins, Pervais killed by a colleague in the course seeking to come home to Britain because after becoming disillusioned by his exposure to ISIS, and Aneeka herself defying a vindictive British law denying any right of return even to British citizens if officially declared to be terrorist suspects. With deep symbolic resonance, the corpse of Pervais was sent to his ‘ethnic home,’ Pakistan, where Aneeka traveled to perform her own version of a sacred burial ritual. We are told in a sprightly Note of Acknowledgement at the very end of the book, in case it did not earlier cross our minds, that Shameis’s work was foreshadowed by the exploration of these themes in Sophocles’ most memorable play, Antigone. Even though I studied Greek theater literature as a student some decades ago, I admit that I never on my own drew the connections between Home Fire and Antigone, and when instructed, I found it worth knowing, but quite irrelevant to my intense enjoyment of this extraordinary novel. The idea of loyalty to love by performing a proper burial may retain a certain symbolic relevance in our world, but it is less inscribed in the modern sensibility than it was in ancient times when such ritual matters were regarded as concerns of ultimate significance, although Shameis brings it to life because the characters and plot are so emotionally enveloping.


I found Shameis’s electric feel for language, including the radiance of the conversational dialogue and the creation of vivid and sympathetic characters interacting in the course of an ingenious plot that addressed several distinctive themes of this particular historical moment are some of the elements that make this novel so exciting as a de-Orientalizing work of fictive art. By reading Home Fire we learn what is excluded from reading newspapers or listening to politicians. Shameis has a special talent for conveying the wonderfully non-conformist dimensions of human lives struggling for meaning and love in our chaotic, confused, and violent world. Even the older sensible sister of the twins, Isma, burdened with parenting  them from their childhood, gives principled prudence its due, and yet the book opens ironically with Isma’s own interrogation ordeal at Heathrow as she departs Britain to earn a graduate degree at an American university. Her extremely unpleasant exit experience results from nothing more incriminating than her racial and religious identity, and more plausibly, by her being marked for special attention at immigration portals due to their awareness that her abandoning father died an al Qaeda militant en route to Guantanamo.


This novel was for me an experience of adult education at its best as well as an absorbing artistic reading pleasure. What we learn, above all, is that judging and assessing others from their outside appearances and external criteria produces false impressions that often lead to tragic outcomes. We also learn that grief, forgiveness, and empathy are among the most powerful private emotions that contrast favorably with the cruel opportunism of those who hitch their wagon to the conventional wisdom of state power as intrusively enacted in ways that disrupt the lives of gentle people.


Dortmund was quite right to select Home Fire for a literary award, which also informs us deeply about the vulnerability and fragile live of those at the Muslim edge of Western societies, especially if they are unwilling or unable to compromise beliefs and identity. Kamila Shamsie teaches us by her artistry to understand better the worlds we so unknowingly inhabit. We should also pause long enough to notice her way of living, feeling, and acting as if humanity was her true native country. 

Iran’s Gulf Peace Proposal: HOPE

7 Oct

[Prefatory Note: My interveiw on the Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE); Gulf Peace & Security—Javad Heiran-Nia (Oct 6, 2019), to be published in Farsi.]


1-President Rouhani, President of Iran, in his speech at the UN General Assembly depicts Iran’s plan for Persian Gulf security and sub-regional order. What is your assessment of this plan?

As I understand President Hassan Rouhani’s plan it concentrates upon regionalizing the protection of navigation and safeguarding of energy flows in the Persian Gulf with a particular emphasis on providing security for oil tanker traffic. The proposal comes against a background of months of warmongering threats, harsh sanctions, and dangerous incidents that pose unacceptable risks of provoking violent incidents, and even war. The Hormuz Peace Endeavor as set forth by Rouhani, with the brilliantly appropriate acronym of HOPE, relies upon, and proposes a regionalization of responsibility as the recommended method for upholding future peace and security, vesting exclusive authority for this new undertaking in countries with territories neighboring the Persian Gulf. To make the plan operative, and contribute to a broader stability, the Rouhani plan insists on the prior removal of U.S. military forces from the Gulf countries as a vital precondition. This is an understandable, and constructive, vital element in this innovative approach, yet it is likely to be such a major stumbling block as to make HOPE a non-starter. Such an outcome would be sad and discouraging, and it would be up to enlightened governments and an aroused public opinion to prevent this from happening.

In its most fundamental features, HOPE should be perceived as an initiative that contrasts with the American backed Alliance for Safety and Protection of Maritime Navigation (MESA). The suggested initial membership of MESA consists of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Australia, UK, and of course the US. MESA is an undisguised geopolitical alliance structure that presupposes the perpetuation, and even the aggravation, of present conflict patterns rather than proposing a scheme that looks toward reconciliation. The dominant members of MESA are global actors that have a colonial past in the Middle East, while its regional members are central players in the anti-Iran coalition. The contrasting visions of HOPE and MESA security for the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz could not be more divergent.

I agree with the motivations for the arrangement as outlined by President Rouhani in his speech to the General Assembly. It is structured in a manner that identifies security with peace, regional presence, and territorial proximity, and seeks both the exclusion of global geopolitics and a sidelining of sectarian tensions, which is to be achieved by the inclusion of the Sunni-led Gulf Cooperation Council GCC) in the administration of the plan. HOPE also favors giving the UN a supervisory and backup role, while showing respect for international law. As would be expected, MESA conspicuously ignores the UN and international law. I wish that political conditions allowed HOPE could become the framework for reducing tensions and establishing a Gulf peace system, which if successfully implemented would likely have additional stabilizing effects throughout the Middle East. HOPE could also set a valuable precedent for resolving other intra-regional conflicts non-violently, especially those rooted in legacies of colonial exploitatiion.

 Unfortunately, the initiative seems unrealistic at this time given the way geopolitics is being practiced in the region as epitomized by the ‘maximum pressure’ approach adopted by the Trump presidency, which includes unlawful sanctions inflicting severe hardships on the Iranian people. This shift to coercive diplomacy is also leading to the total breakdown of the 2015 JCPOA, which while operational, had met regional nonproliferation concerns until the provocative Trump unilateral withdrawal from the agreement in 2018.

The United States will doubtless refuse to remove its military presence from the Gulf, and will almost certainly be supported in that posture by several Arab governments, most notably Saudi Arabia, and by the non-Gulf state of Israel whose leverage in Washington should never be overlooked. In justification for this refusal it would be argued that without the military capabilities of the U.S. there could be a breakdown of internal order in several Gulf countries. This prospect point both to the crippling lack of self-confidence on the part of the monarchies on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf. It calls attention to the awkward reality that several of these government would likely collapse if not propped up by the American military presence.

The wider concern surrounds the widely held view that such an American disengagement from the Gulf would alter the regional balance of power throughout the Middle East. Further, it would be assumed that the new balance would swing in favor of Iran if the event U.S. agrees to end its military presence in the Gulf sub-region even if it does so gradually, and in a manner coordinated with the effective implementation of HOPE. Overall, such a process would undoubtedly contribute to peace and stability throughout the entire Middle East.


 2- The important point of this plan is to give the United Nations a supervisory role. This role did not exist in Iran’s earlier plans for the Persian Gulf. Why is such a role justified for the UN?

The UN role is essential and highly desirable, but would only become feasible in the event that it enjoyed the passive backing, that is, at least the absence of active resistance,  on the part of the United States and Saudi Arabia. For reasons set forth in the prior response, it seems wildly improbable to expect any acceptance of a UN role in relation to any proposal of the sort that Rouhani outlined so long as Donald Trump is the U.S. President. Even without Trump, there would likely be strong resistance in Washington, Riyadh, and Tel Aviv to the removal of American military forces. The UN could not undertake such a delicate mission without the genuine political backing of the Arab Gulf countries, and this cannot be obtained under current conditions without encouragement by the United States.


3-While the United States seeks to link Persian Gulf security to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait and the Shamat region, Iran believe that the security 0f Persian Gulf region is belong to this region. Linking Persian Gulf Security to Other Areas Doesn’t it complicate the region’s security issues?


The agreement is only understandable and constructive if limited in its scope to the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Introducing other areas within the scope of the plan makes it even more unlikely to be seriously considered, much less politically capable of realization. An expanded ambition for HOPE introduces several complications into a setting that is already an almost impossible diplomatic impasse. Such broadening would also make opposition to the initiative seem more reasonable. Iran should maintain its advocacy of HOPE as the alternative to the kind of precarious situation that exists presently, which would likely deteriorate further if the counter-plan of MESA becomes operational.


4-The United States is working to make the issue of Persian Gulf security more international in the form of a maritime coalition and more countries entering the Persian Gulf. Iran, however, believes that regional security should be provided by regional countries, including the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, along with Iran and Iraq. Which perspective will find the dominant aspect?

The underlying conceptual issue is whether to entrust the security of the Persian Gulf to an arrangement that relies on an accommodating initiative overseen by regionalgeopolitics rather than to continue the high-tension pressures exerted by globalgeopolitics. In the abstract such reliance makes great sense, but if the proposal is evaluated politically is seems situated more in the realm of utopianism rather than in the domain of pragmatic problem-solving, The political difficulty with a regional approach is the question of whether enough trust exists, or can be brought into being, to embark on a plan that so undermines the intrusive regional role of the United States and requires a highly unlikely show of national self-confidence by the Gulf monarchies. Any removal of the U.S. as military supporter of the conflictual status quo, as already suggested, would be fiercely resisted given the present atmosphere by at least Israel and Saudi Arabia, and maybe by others as well, including the UAE and Egypt.

It should be remembered that ever since World War II, and to some extent earlier, the West regarded control of the Persian Gulf and the region to be a high strategic priority. After World War I the region was effectively subject to the authority and administration the European colonial powers. This European security arrangement persisted until the U.S. displaced Britain and France in 1956 in the aftermath of the Suez Operation, which had the unexpected outcome of shifting global management of regional affairs from Europe to the United States.

The Carter Doctrine, as enunciated in 1980 in the context of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, made it clear that the United States was committing itself to recourse to  a major war, if necessary, to keep the Soviet Union from increasing its regional influence in ways that threatened Western control over access and supply lines associated with energy markets in the Gulf.

After the Cold War ended, the increasingly conservative American foreign policy establishment saw the Middle East as replacing Europe as the core of its global strategic ambitions, and interfered in the internal affairs of several countries believing it could solidify this ambition for regional hegemony in the Middle East by promoting regime change in countries that resisted its geopolitical policies in the region, centering on Gulf oil, Israeli security, and nuclear nonproliferation. The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 became another policy rupture that made the American homeland seems vulnerable to extremism that emanated from the Islamic world, although ironically its ally Saudi Arabia with which the U.S. had a Special Relationship was closely and visibly linked to this mega-terrorist while Iran, the supposed adversary, had no connection whatsoever. Nevertheless, the Middle East became a primary combat zone in the new American emphasis on global counterterrorism, which along the way produced the first battlefield without borders in human history, while hostility toward Iran was actually intensified.

The 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq shattered the viability of a Washington option to impose its political will on crucial Middle East countries beneath the banner of ‘democracy promotion,’ counter proliferation, and counterterrorism, but it didn’t transform alignments or give rise to any intention to disengage militarily, although there were significant shifts in tactics after the Iraq disaster. The failure in Iraq to produce a stable sequel to the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein reminds us that the confrontation between Iran and the West can be traced back to the 1953 coup, notoriously engineered by the CIA. This epic instance of a regime changing intervention restored the Shah to power, displaced the democratically elected nationalist leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, from power 25 years later, handed out economic prizes to the largest American oil companies, reasserting colonialist priorities at the expense of Iran’s inalienable right of self-determination.  It also led to Islamic Republic, a total repudiation of both the internal and international goals of what had been hailed by Washington in 1953 as a great strategic victory.

This historical narrative suggests that for the United States to give HOPE a chance it would have to become willing to repudiate its approach to Gulf security maintained over the course of more than 60 years. Yet HOPE offers the region and Washington a new opportunity to realign its foreign policy with peace, justice, international law, and the authority of the UN. The plan outlined by President Rouhani should be further developed by the government in Tehran. It should be presented to the world as a serious and constructive proposal. As such it would constitute a formidable diplomatic challenge to the ways of war, threat, and risk that currently prevail and cannot end well. HOPE needs to win the struggle to convince world public opinion before it can expect to achieve the intended, highly desirable, diplomatic breakthrough. Such a result would be a great victory for those forces dedicated to peace, justice, and law, and not only in the Gulf.




Will Confronting Iran Lead to War or Peace?

1 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a slightly modified version of an interview published in The Nation on September 25th, following the September 14th attack on Saudi oil facilities. It follows a pattern with respect to Iran of accusations, denials, and public uncertainties. This combination of elements, given the leadership in Washington and Tehran, one blustering, the other inflexible, can easily produce an unintended stumble into war. A second shorter interview is appended, conducted prior to the attacks by an Iranian journalist, M.J. Hassani of Tasnim News Agency. It illustrates the seeming rigidity of Iran’s Supreme Guide, considered as having the final word on government policy, exceeding that of the elected leadership.]


Daniel Falcone Introduction to the Interview: After accusations of Iranian drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Iranian officials and authorities indicated that “full-fledged war” with the United States could be imminent, prompting Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, to suspend oil production by nearly 6 million barrels per day. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the purported aggression as an “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.” The allegations caused other countries to ostracize Iran at the United Nations General Assembly and significantly complicated the prospects of a multilateral nuclear deal.


Falcone: Can you provide some context for this latest series of headlines regarding the “Iranian threat.” Is this just “old wine new bottles?”


Falk: The magnitude of this attack on Saudi oil facilities makes the situation more dangerous even if it is considered as nothing more than a quantitative escalation of Iran’s response to US sanctions and other provocations, an Iranian version of Trump’s proclaimed policy of applying ‘maximum pressure’ to bring Iran to its knees. Yet it could be a qualitative escalation if the attack is treated as the biggest test of the US commitment to dominance in the region since 1956 when the US sided with the UN in calling for France, the UK, and Israel to withdraw from the Sinai after the Suez Operation. As Falcone suggests, the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, made war-mongering remarks, including calling the attacks ‘an act of war.’ It is hard to deny that such an attack is an act of war, but against whom, by whom, has not been firmly established.

And yet, the hawks in the room clamor for blood, and do not seem to mind if the result is an all out regional war. Stephen A. Cook, the respected Council on Foreign Relations Middle East expert, endorsed this qualitative line of interpretation when he ended his analysis of the attack with some inflammatory words: “If Trump does not respond militarily, the United States should just pack up and go home.” [see Cook, “This is the Moment that Decides the Future of the Middle East,” Flash Points, Sept. 18, 2019]


At the same time, Trump seems to be inclined, at least for the present, to regard the attacks on the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field as a big serving of the old wine. Trump in typical fashion has displayed both bluster and restraint. At least verbally Trump has spoken in a muscular vein, insisting that if Iranian responsibility for the attack can be demonstrated, then he will retaliate in some proportionate manner. Even under these circumstances, possibly with his eye on November 2020, Trump seems determined to avoid acts that would start an unwanted war. Although ambiguously, Trump still somewhat surprisingly appears to be keeping the diplomatic door ajar. He has been quoted as saying, probably much to Israel’s chagrin, “I know they [the Iranians] want to make a some point it will work out.” It will not work out if Trump uses this transactional language when approaching the religious leadership of Iran, even if directed at President Rouhani who leads the moderate forces in Tehran. To talk of ‘a deal’ is to demean the process, and helps explain the deep distrust of any American move toward negotiation that was unreservedly expressed recently by Iran’s supreme guide, Ayatollah Khamenei. U.S. leaders and diplomats should by now have learned that the language of the bazaar does not work if the objective is to find an agreement that serves the interests of both sides.



Falcone: With Iran, Trump seems to be caught in a pickle. On the one hand, he needs to undo the Obama legacy in the region with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On the other hand, he runs the risk of looking like a neoconservative. What’s going on in your estimation?


Falk: I think you are correct in sensing the conflicting pressures on Trump. He cannot go back on his repudiation of the JCPOA agreed upon in 2015 and its Obama approach without seeming to be giving in to Iran’s pressure. At the same time, he evidently does not want to follow the Bolton/neocon/Pompeo path that leads to open military action, and most likely followed by a devastating war. In this sense, Trump’s ideal outcome would be some sort of diplomatic accommodation that he could ‘sell’ as a demonstration that ‘maximum pressure’ has yielded results. Whether he could spin such an outcome as a victory outside of his base seems doubtful as there would be many critics who would insist that any such result, even if it disguised the revival of JCPOA with another round of negotiations and a new name, would be viewed as at best a repetition of what had been achieved by the P5 + 1 Obama diplomacy of 2015. In fact, it now seems that to get any agreement with Iran there would have to be a much more solid commitment by the US and its allies that sanctions could not be again re-imposed on Iran in the future without a collective decision by the parties to the agreement. Such a condtion might possibly also be reinforced requiring a confirming decision on sanctions by the UN Security Council. If I were negotiating on Iran’s behalf, I would certainly insist on ironclad assurances that sanctions could not be renewed by a unilateral decree issued in Washington. Perhaps, Iran could be persuaded to accept some joint arrangements on regional peacekeeping and nonintervention that could be sold in Washington, and maybe even in Jerusalem and Riyadh as curtailing Tehran’s projection of regional power.


Falcone: John Bolton was recently fired. Can you talk about his role in the administration to get us to this point. I’m wondering if his dismissal is mere optics and the Bolton-Pompeo foreign policy is firmly in Trump’s hand.

Falk: We should realize by now that Trump’s highly quixotic style is resistant to all attempts at rational analysis. We do not really know whether Trump was reacting to Bolton’s belligerence with respect to foreign policy or to his aggressive, pushy personality that has long offended many prominent persons without achieving promised foreign policy victories. For instance, his advocacy of maximum pressure did not produce the desired regime change in Iran, or even a pullback on its regional involvements as in Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. All it did was to raise regional tensions to dangerous heights.


It does not appear that there is any sign of an ideological shift in the White House, although there does seem to be a more complex approach preferred by Trump, which fuses bluster and threats with this resolve to avoid outright combat, war, and any course of action that might lead to American casualties. This zigzag pattern of diplomatic maneuvering has so far seemed capable of absorbing Trump’s drastic mood swings and off the chart impulsiveness. The fact that it drives crazy the rational think tank gurus who dominate the Beltway can be regarded as a plus for Trump. Perhaps, the best explanation of Bolton’s dismissal was his fiery independence, which must have been fundamentally at odds with Trump’s insistence on low-profile deference from his top advisors and the shaping and reshaping of foreign policy on the basis of a constant search for transactional gains (even at the cost of diplomatic setbacks), which treats global policymaking as if it is just a replica of how to succeed in the urban real estate market without trying too hard.


It is lamentable that Bolton’s successor as National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, seems to be a milder version of the same hawkish pedigree, although seemingly more bureaucratic, less ascerbic, in style. A few years ago, O’Brien published a book of essays [While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis] that was highly critical of the supposed passivity of Obama’s foreign policy. In recent years, as State Department coordinator of hostage releases O’Brien has proven his value by being a Trump enthusiast, which in the present climate is the best credential a person can have who seeks a promotion to a high-status position in the federal government.

Falcone: How does oil, sanctions, and our relations with the Saudis contribute to the rising tensions in the region and the dangerous possibility of escalations?


Falk: There is no doubt that the sanctions imposed on Iran, coupled with the repudiation of the JCPOA, has escalated the conflict, and resulted partly from Washington seeking to please the Saudis and Israelis by adopting a more confrontational approach to Iran. As well, in the background is the dream scenario of toppling the regime, or at least forcing it to plead for mercy. There is no doubt that sanctions have caused great harm as measured by social and economic conditions in Iran, a collective and indiscriminate punishment mainly inflicted on the Iranian civilian population. Such coercion violates the UN Charter and international law. This punitive behavior against Iran resembles what was done to the Iraqi population in the twelve years after the First Gulf War. The frustrations with this reliance on sanctions eventuated in a devastating attack and occupation of Iraq initiated by George W. Bush in 2003. The Iraq War ended in a costly strategic failure given its supposed goals, including a boost to extremism concretely exhibited by the rise of ISIS almost in direct response to the heavy-handed American occupation policies in Iraq.


The prolonged strife in Yemen is part of this mindless militarism. It has included strong American backing for a brutal Saudi intervention from the aiir that has caused widespread suffering on the part of a largely helpless society, posing serious threats of massive famine and disease epidemics

Falcone: I’ve noticed whenever Trump wants to avoid delivering a foreign policy message and tone that sounds like Bush or Clinton he trots Pence out there to do the dirty work. Is this, in your view, to promote war with Iran yet try to create an intentional distance from neoliberals and neoconservatives?


Falk: As always, it is hard to interpret the logic behind Trump’s moves, or even to believe that a discoverable logic exists. He seems to act without calculating gains and losses unless money is involved, but is focused on trying to achieve immediate results that bring him notoriety if not glory. If there is a policy failure, then Trump does his best to shift the blame to others. Perhaps, because confronting Iran is a risky kind of diplomatic venture, it is best to put Pence out in front as often as possible, and thus seek to distance himself from responsibility if and when policy breakdowns occur. Trump consistently personalizes foreign policy and his leadership role demands above all that media attention is focused on himself. Trump stretches the reality of almost any situation to implausible extremes making it necessary to exonerate himself from distasteful and dysfunctional behavior by inverting and inventing facts, lying when it seems helpful, and disseminating fake news without blushing.

Falcone: Of course Israel will always be pertinent in figuring out the US method to the madness concerning Iran. How can following the US-Israeli alliance help us to get a sense of potential war with Iran. Or has this war already been underway?


Falk: The connections with Israel are vital to an understanding of the US role in the Middle East, and especially in the context of Washington’s ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Israeli relationship is more deeply rooted in American politics than is the Saudi connection, which seems interest-based, relating not only to oil but also to its status as the world’s primary arms purchaser. With respect to both countries, it is arguable that these special relationships are contrary to American national interests in the Middle East, and also lead to behavior contrary to America’s professed values. With regard to the Saudis, their huge investment in the dissemination worldwide of a fundamentalist Wahabist doctrine of Islam would seem radically at odds with the US counterterrorist strategy, especially since 9/11. If Iran’s indirect involvement in the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities is established, then it would allow us to make a challenging comparison with the Saudi direct and indirect involvement in the 9/11 attacks, which according to the official version of the events implicated 15 Saudis of the 19 hijackers.


Most damaging is the FBI evidence of Saudi support for the attacks that killed almost 3,000 Americans that has been withheld all these years until families of victims finally obtained their release. The efforts of the presidency of George W. Bush with inappropriate help from the FBI director at the time who happened to be Robert Mueller, to shield Saudi embassy officials and others close to the royal family from any accountability, or even scrutiny. Only the pressure of survivors and survivor families seems finally to be prying some of this information loose in the course of a law suit charging Saudi complicity in 9/11. Shockingly, yet to be expected, hardly a word appears in the mainstream media, and even now Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, is invoking the state secrets act to justify on national security grounds withholding evidence that evidently would further incriminate Saudi Arabia. These developments coming to light 17 years after 9/11 should give pause to those who still question the primacy of geopolitics and the unacceptable behavor of the deep state when it comes to the conduct of American foreign policy or even the protection of national interests and the wellbeing of American citizens. It also raises haunting questions about the effects of these two special relationships, and reminds us of the ugly connivance and coverup of the Israeli assault on the USS Liberty back in 1967 that killed 44 American naval personnel. For those who seek the full exposure of this incident, I urge a reading of Joan Mellen’s Blood in the Water, written with the cooperation of leading officers of the Liberty who survived the attack. In effect, bad as Trump is on these issues, he cannot be blamed for everything. These pernicious special relationships long preceded his presidency, and were bipartisan.


As for Israel, the relationship has definitely turned Arab public opinion and popular sentiments strongly against the US, and made the US continued dominance in the region depend on propping up anti-democratic autocratic leaders. The whole policy of confronting Iran has for many years been driven by the Netanyahu leadership, gravely weakening America’s role as a responsible global leader, and risking a war that would be a humanitarian and geopolitical disaster.


How far Israel, as a state, and Netanyahu, personally, are to blame for the escalated confrontation with Iran is difficult to assess, but it would seem to be substantial. What stands out for me is how supposed American ‘patriots’ can continue to swallow the toxic kool aid of these two special relationships. It may be time to reconsider what constitutes patriotism and what constitutes treason. In a world where Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning,  and Julian Assange are viewed as criminals but John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and Donald Trump are viewed as national patriots there is something terribly wrong with our political language.







Tasnim News Agency Interview Questions, M.J. Hassani, 17 Sept 2019

Hassani: On Tuesday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei deplored the US’ calls for talks with Iran as a trick and said that Tehran will not negotiate bilaterally or multilaterally with Washington at any level. What do you think about Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks?

Falk: With all due respect, I think that Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks are phrased in too unconditional language. I believe that it is not desirable to shut the door to what I call ‘restorative diplomacy,’ and thereby avoid any further devastation caused by the current reliance on ‘coercive diplomacy’ by the adversaries of Iran and by Iran’s ‘active resistance.’ Trump is unpredictable and impulsive, and should not be challenged so directly as he might act irrationally in ways that could be mutually catastrophic. At the same time, the Iranian religious leader is correct to express the view that Iran will not engage in normalization talks so long as the United States and Israel seek to impose unacceptable restraints on Iran as a sovereign nation, while they engage in unrestrained and unaccountable military action throughout the entire Middle East.


Hassani: The reason behind this approach is that Iran sees the US calls for negotiation as a trick aimed at imposing its demands on the Islamic Republic and pretending that the “maximum pressure” policy has worked. This is while Iran has not given in to the US pressures so far. Is the reason justified? How do you assess Iran’s policy of “active resistance” against the US?

I agree with the view that Iran should not be lured into a negotiation that gives the US a public relations victory by claiming the success of its ‘maximum pressure’ approach, but this should be done by Tehran in ways that also expresses Iran’s search for an improved regional and global political atmosphere that is geared toward peace and co-existence rather than war and hostility. I believe Iran has effectively made its point that it will not back down in the face of harsh sanctions and other hostile acts that are contrary to international law. Now it can seize the initiative by proposing a constructive approach that shows that it seeks normalization on the basis of sovereign equality, and is not seeking confrontation for the sake of confrontation.


Hassani: Iran has described the US return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the removal of sanctions against the Islamic Republic as the only way that Washington can hold talks with Iran. How do you see the prospect of open diplomacy between Iran and the US as well as the other parties to the JCPOA?

Falk: Trump has wrongly, and for regressive political reasons, condemned the JCPOA, but would have incredible political difficulty and embarrassment if he now were to affirm it. The motivation for condemning JCPOA had to do with his efforts to repudiate Obama’s diplomacy and to show total solidarity with Israel, and is not really about the 2015 agreement, except incidentally. I think Iran should propose to reconvene the countries that negotiated in 2015, and produce a new agreement based on intervening developments, but making it clear that this would not be an acceptance of any preconditions put forward by Washington, and would not relate to non-nuclear issues.


Hassani: Can we regard the Islamic Republic’s strategy of “active resistance” against the US pressures as successful given Ayatollah Khamenei’s assertions?

Falk: I think ‘active resistance,’ depending somewhat on how it is defined has been successful so far, but in some ways a dangerous and high risk policy if adhered to much longer. Iran, having made its point effectively, should move to higher ground by proposing constructive deescalating steps such as reconvening the P5 +1 group to come up with a new framework agreement covering Iran’s nuclear program and the ending of US sanctions. The way forward should not be a continuation of the present, but an effort to occupy this high ground of law, morality, and peaceful conflict resolution. It may also be appropriate at this time to propose an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which likely would be rejected by Trump, but would put Iran in a favorable light internationally as creatively engaging in restorative diplomacy. Taking a longer view, Iran should consider reviving discussion of a nuclear free zone for the entire Middle East, including Israel, a country that acquired nuclear weapons by stealth and covert assistance from those states now most objecting to Iran’s nuclear program.