One of the messiest spots in global politics is Syria. No one seems to know what to do, or what not to do, to stop the civil war with all its international and transnational spillover.
There are different fault-lines converging, and addressing just one of them doesn’t do the job. First, relatively peaceful and secular Syria has been turned into a sectarian fighting place. Increasingly, people identify themselves culturally. Second, and related, this is a space where Shia (the Alawites) and Sunni (IS and other militias) groups clash violently.
Third, this trend is exacerbated by the meddling of two competing regional regimes – Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Fourth, all but one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council are militarily involved. Fifth, some neighboring countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey) may soon not be able to absorb the pressure of the fighting next door as well as the millions of refugees that have already arrived, or are on their way to Europe.
One of the core problems is that almost all of the external actors involved (except the Islamic State) are not so sure how decisively they want to be engaged. There is neither decisive intervention, nor clear non-intervention, but, mostly, meddling.
Do you see any option for progress, however small?
Anniversaries come and go, but now and then some are elevated to a specific interest, and play the role of a crucial date. This year, 2015, makes the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In May the Russian authorities organized a huge parade on Red Square in Moscow. Then, for the 3rd of September, the Chinese ruling party have planned something similar on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In both cases, some foreign governments faced the quandary of whether or not they should attend and participate.
The reason for this is not some small historical squabble over this or that detail, but rather the value of these commemorations within the current paradigm. In practice, history is not what has been, but rather what we need it to be today.
So what attitude should governments hold towards the staging of historical memory?
Barack Obama is experiencing renaissance. He has 15 months to go, but apparently he is far from having been a lame duck.
In the course of a few months, the President has managed to turn around U.S. relations with Cuba; has publicly accepted that there still is racism in the U.S. in general and in the police force in particular; issued instructions for limiting factory emissions in order to improve the climate; co-created a political atmosphere where the Supreme Court accepts gay marriage; and managed to produce an agreement with four other countries and Iran on curtailing Teheran’s nuclear ambitions for 10 – 15 more years.
Through these achievements, he has managed to link the afterglow of this second term with the rigor of his first. He also pushed a broader healthcare provision through man obstacles, pulled out troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, declared both a reset with Russia (that failed) and a pivot toward Asia (that remains uncompleted). On the other hand, he failed to get even a partial solution for the conflict in the Middle East.
Even with the successes listed above, vital business remains deplorably uncompleted: Guantanamo won’t be closed until Obama will have to leave office, and gun control is not on reach no matter how many deadly incidents have happened.
How do you asses the – still preliminary – balance of the Obama administration? Do you give an A, B, C, D or F? Why?
Over the last 12 months, oil prices in global markets have been volatile. This has been a problem for some (Russia, Saudi, Venezuela), and a blessing for others (China and India). For some governments, the Russian government in particular, falling oil prices pose a serious threat.
The situation in and around Eastern Ukraine reached a climax last week, when the Malaysian Boeing 777, flight MH 17, was downed en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 passengers and crew members, over the settlement of Torez, close to Donetsk and the Russian border. There is hardly a reasonable doubt that the plane was shot down by militia or Cossack groupings fighting for an independent Donbas, openly bragging their deed, inspired and supported by the Russian military. Increasingly it is becoming clear that Russia is moving away from being part of a solution for a new post-Cold War European order. Rather, it is major problem. Finally implementing level 3 sanctions and redistributing the 2018 World Cup will be debated now, once more.
Over decades, a membership of Turkey in the EU has been debated and negotiated. Once again, the progress of negotiation seems to have stalled. There always were good reasons for finally integrating Turkey: a Muslim country as an EU-member state could demonstrate that the EU is not a “Club of Christians”. Also, Turkey’s influence in regional conflicts is substantial.
But the recent moves by the Erdogan government apparently put all hope for an EU-Turkish rapprochement to rest: the violent measures against the demonstrators around Gezi Park in 2013, voluntary shifting of hundreds of procurators and police officers, rude language from Prime Minister Erdogan himself, indicators of notorious corruption even in higher echelons of the state apparatus, increasing measures against social networks in Turkey, and the negligent reactions to the victims of the mining tragedy in Soma all show that Turkey may be sliding backwards.
Fatah and Hamas have just overcome a seven year rift and agreed to implement a unity pact. Both sides now want to form a unity government within five weeks to prepare for elections within six months. Israel´s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already said that under these new conditions, he will terminate the peace talks.
(Photo: E. Arrott/Voice of America)
(Sasha Maksymenko/Flickr/Creative Commons)