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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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U.S. split deepens over Putin's intentions in Syria civil war

Russian military jets flying from Syria seen shortly before landing at airbase in Voronezh region
By Jonathan Landay and Phil Stewart WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia?s latest military moves in Syria have sharpened divisions within the U.S. administration over whether Russian President Vladimir Putin genuinely backs a U.N.-led initiative to end the civil war or is using the negotiations to mask renewed military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Russia has repositioned artillery near the disputed city of Aleppo, several U.S. officials told Reuters. Despite withdrawing some fixed-wing aircraft in March, Russia has also bolstered its forces in Syria with advanced helicopter gunships, and renewed airstrikes against moderate opposition groups, said U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> February 2010
file under: IranGreen Movement 10 Feb 2010 4:49 PM
Who Will Win In Iran? Posted by Nissim Dahan
I had the opportunity recently to read the Manifesto of the Green Movement in Iran. It's quite an impressive document; very reminiscent, in many ways, of American democracy, as spelled out in such historic documents as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson would have approved. The trouble is, however, as the violence on the streets demonstrates, that the Green Movement's vision for Iran is very much at odds with the vision of the Ayatollahs and political leaders who hold the reigns of power. It may be helpful to compare and contrast these two very different visions.


The Green Movement talks about human rights: the right to be equal before the law, the right to freedom without discrimination, the right to participate fully in government, the right to own property, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of thought, religion, education, opinion and speech, the right to a free press, the right of assembly, the right to work with just and favorable conditions in the work place, the right to unionize, the right to intellectual property, the right for a decent standard of living, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury with due process and with the assistance of counsel, and the right not to be punished in a cruel and unusual manner.


So what would the Ayatollahs say about these various human rights? Well, their actions speak louder than words. They send forth their riot police to quell dissent. They beat some people and imprison others. They torture as they see fit. They make a mockery of judicial proceedings, and sometimes, they choose to execute the innocent. Actions speak louder than words. My guess is that the Ayatollahs tolerate human rights, but only to the extent that such rights don't interfere with their hold on power. They readily choose to sacrifice human rights, and human beings for that matter, to the extent necessary to consolidate their strong grip on the levers of political power.


The Manifesto of the Green Movement talks quite a bit about democracy. It states that in a true democracy the people are sovereign; they are the highest form of political authority. Democracy requires compromise among competing factions. "Everyone has a right to be heard." We can choose our leaders and hold them accountable. "Laws and policies require majority support, but the rights of minorities are protected in various ways." There should be a balance of power between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of power. Free and fair elections should be held at regular intervals. All parties and candidates should be able to campaign freely. As for religion, the Green Movement believes in a separation between church and state: "We believe God has no need for politics...the Mullahs would have more influence if they focused on religion." And as for the economy, they state, "The economy should be based upon free market principles, and its aim should be economic development, increase of productivity, improvement of the standard of living, and achievement of prosperity for all citizens in Iran."


What would the Ayatollahs say about these notions of democracy? Well, here again, actions speak louder than words. As for the idea that the power to rule comes from the people, they would say that the power comes from God, and as it so happens, God has entrusted that power to them. As for everyone's right to be heard, they would say that their voice embodies God's will, and should therefore be heard above all others. As for the rights of minorities, they would point out that minorities are out of step with the will of God, and are therefore not worthy of much consideration. As for free elections, they would allow the semblance of elections, but only among candidates which they approve. As for the separation between church and state heaven forbid, they would recognize no such separation since the power of the state is derived from God, and only they are entitled to define the nature of God and the substance of what He requires of us. And as for the economic resources of the nation, these too, as it happens, have been entrusted to them to do with as they wish, in the pursuit of goals to which they aspire.


So the question remains: Who will win in this existential struggle between these two competing visions for Iran, and beyond? The answer is: He will win who has the greatest faith in the truth of his convictions.

file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 10 Feb 2010 4:30 PM
The Peace Puzzle Posted by Nissim Dahan
Peace in the Middle East has long been an illusive dream, but there are hints in the air that peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israel may soon be underway, and that this time around, some measure of success may be in the offing.


What indications do we have that negotiations are imminent? In late December, for example, Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed a convention of Israeli diplomats and made it clear that his intent is to conclude a peace deal based on two states for two people. He said, "The time for excuses is over. Now's the time for action." Such words could easily be dismissed as self-serving, but perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. At around the same time, Netanyahu invited Zippi Livny, the leader of the opposition, to join his government. Was this simply an empty and cynical gesture, or could Netanyahu be seriously interested in enlarging his coalition, to counter a defection by some of his supporters in the wake of peace negotiations and the concessions which will have to be made? In addition, Yossi Beilin, one of the chief architects of the Oslo Accords, said recently that Netanyahu is very close to finalizing the terms of reference (TOR), or preliminary understandings, for a renewal of talks.


There are other indications that talks may soon be underway. With respect to reducing the number of roadblocks, and curbing settlement construction in the West Bank, Netanyahu has gone further than any previous Israeli government. Is this due simply to pressure from the U.S., or could it be something more? In addition, after Netanyahu met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on December 31, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit offered rare words of praise for Netanyahu, thanking him for raising new ideas and advancing the peace process. Reportedly, Netanyahu was quoted as saying, "Help me with Abbas and I will be ready to go for a far-reaching deal."


These and other indications all point to an imminent resumption of peace talks, but the question still remains: What reason is there, this time around, to expect a successful outcome from the negotiations which may soon be underway? The answer may be that a peace deal may be in the offing not because the two sides love one another, but because for the first time, they need one another, in a substantial way, and this sense of mutual need may be shared by many of the key players in the region, and beyond.


Why would Palestinians, particularly in the West Bank, be inclined to conclude a peace deal at this time? It is clear to many observers that Fatah and Hamas find themselves locked in an existential battle for survival. The more moderate and secular Palestinians in the West Bank, including members of the Fatah leadership, do not want to see a takeover by Hamas fundamentalists, as occurred in Gaza. To stave off this threat, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has launched and is implementing a two-year state-building plan, which is similar to Netanyahu's vision of peace through economic prosperity, and which includes General Dayton's training of Palestinian security forces. Economic prosperity and job creation, along with a consolidation and strengthening of the security apparatus, would be an effective way of containing Hamas. Israel could play a major role on both these fronts, economy and security: helping with job creation, taking down more roadblocks, bringing in foreign investment, and helping to consolidate Palestinian security, perhaps as part of a regional military and economic alliance, in exchange for a peace deal.


But why would Israel be inclined to push the peace process forward at this time? The answer is relatively straight forward: Iran. Just as Hamas poses an existential threat to Fatah, so too does Iran, with its nuclear and foreign policy ambitions, pose an existential threat to Israel. And Israel, in order to stave off this threat, will need international support from the region, and from the international community at large. Such support will be needed even if Israel acts unilaterally to destroy Iran's nuclear installations. The negative repercussions from such an attack will be significant, and Israel will require international consensus and support to mitigate the effects of these repercussions. A peace deal with Palestine will give Israel some measure of credibility, as she undertakes to contain the Iranian threat.


And why would the nations of the region be likely now to support a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, when in the past it served their interests to block such an agreement? The answer, once again, is relatively simple: Iran. The existential struggle between Hamas and Fatah, and between Israel and Iran, is even more pronounced between Iran and many of the Sunni states of the region. Iran undertakes, on many levels, to challenge many of the quiet understandings that have been reached in much of the Arab world, and poses a credible threat to many of the regimes in the region. Iran does not hide her intention to foment unrest using her various proxies, and a nuclear Iran would render that threat even more palpable. A regional nuclear arms race would likely ensue, bringing even more instability to an already volatile region.


And why would the United States, the Europeans, and large segments of the international community, be likely to support a peace deal between Israel and Palestine? The answer, once again is not difficult to fathom: To insure the free flow of oil, and to gain a measure of credibility in the fight against ideological extremism. Peace in the Middle East would go a long way to mitigate the volatility of the region, and would bring some semblance of stability to the price and supply of oil. In addition, an historic peace deal of this sort, along with the regional cooperation and even prosperity which would be engendered as a result, would go a long way to weaken the appeal of extremist thinking, even though much more would have to be done in this regard.


In sum, while it is always difficult to predict what will happen in the Middle East, especially when it comes to peace, there may be some reason for optimism due to the unique alignment of self-interest among the key players in the region, and beyond. Usually, self-interest takes us in different directions from one another. In this case, however, it may be the key to bringing us together in common purpose.