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The War on Terrorism We Should Be Fighting

America is under attack.  Despite spending $636 billion dollars on homeland security since 9/11, $1 trillion to battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and another $1.7 trillion to fight in Iraq, we are embroiled in a war that claims a life every 16 minutes in cities, towns and suburbs across the country.  This armed struggle does not involve regular or special operation forces.  There are no CIA officers cultivating human assets to secure intelligence about planned or impending actions.  And yet more lives have been claimed during the last four years of this conflict than the combined number of US casualties in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The victims of this war, like those in the recent Paris attacks, are ordinary people simply going about their daily lives.  The battlefront exists in places like fast food restaurants and shopping malls, elementary schools and college campuses, Planned Parenthood clinics and movie theatres.

Americans are killing one another at an alarming rate. Sadly, those who object to Syrian refugees entering the country in the wake of the Paris violence, even though Syrians were not involved in planning or executing those horrific attacks, and want to wage a perpetual war against ISIS, Al Qaeda and their affiliates around the world, stand idly by as the carnage in our communities continues unabated.

Despite a public relations campaign to discredit the data, a recent Harvard study reconfirmed an old statistic that 40% of firearms are purchased in the US without a thorough background check. And the gun lobby resists any legislation that would impose a mandatory background check for anyone purchasing a gun.  And what is simply astonishing and terrifying, a General Accounting Office report noted that between 2004-14, more than 2,000 people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list, about one in thirty-five, purchased firearms. While convicted felons are prevented from obtaining a gun, those on the FBI’s terrorist watch list can legally purchase them. Furthermore, the NRA has opposed legislation preventing such individuals from buying weapons.

If the gun violence in our country was perpetrated by Muslim extremists, we could imagine the unanimous bipartisan support to use overwhelming force to eradicate the problem.  But as the “enemy” involves American citizens wielding handguns and assault weapons, any attempt to introduce effective gun control legislation gets framed as a civil liberties issue, as a threat to our constitutional right to bear arms rather than as an effective measure in a de facto war on terror.  So a considerable majority in Congress blocks every effort to reduce the senseless slaughter of American lives on American soil.

After losing the lives of thousands of brave soldiers and spending trillions to address national security threats from abroad, we have become hostage to an extremist gun lobby that prevents feckless politicians from reducing the dire threat to Americans here at home. While we sanction a tenacious war against foreign terrorists, we remain stubbornly passive about waging one against acts of terror committed every day in our homeland. To our great national shame, it is a war that will continue to claim innocent Americans. It is a war on terrorism we should be fighting.

 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Response to Terrorism

As we mourn the dead in Paris and governments formulate strategies to respond to terrorist violence, taking measures to mount lethal counterattacks and to protect their civilian populations, let us remember to ask: what motivates young men and women to sacrifice their own lives by taking the life of so many others? What do these young killers think they are doing?  And what do their murderous deeds reveal about the psychological, social and spiritual dimensions of their lives?

Long after savage movements like ISIS are militarily defeated and their political appeal is eroded and blunted, we will still grapple with a much larger problem; namely,  ingrained alienation among so many young people trying to find meaning and purpose in their lives, anxious to establish themselves as important people to be reckoned with, furious about being ignored or shunted aside to the margins and gutters of the societies in which they live and seething with enormous pent-up frustration ready to explode.  In the early 20th century, they became anarchist agitators, later they swelled the ranks of socialist or communist parties, still later, they joined nationalist and anti-imperialist movements.  Now, many are attracted to jihadist messages offered by fanatical Islamic groups and leaders.   

Ultimately, this will not be a military problem, although our political leaders wanting to flex their muscles to reassure frightened populations will be seduced into presenting it that way.  Nor are we wrestling with a fundamental clash of civilizations, although right-wing nationalist groups will be promoting their own fear and hatred.  It is and will remain far more difficult than all that.  We are confronting a profound existential dilemma:  an enormous failure of our contemporary imagination to organize our economic, social and cultural lives to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to create and establish a meaningful life. 

While many experts understand how extremist groups radicalize recruits, our knowledge about the breeding ground for prospective terrorists remains far more vague and general.  Accordingly, the response to terrorist violence should involve a coordinated international effort involving our best social and behavioral scientists to enable us to precisely comprehend why so many young people are susceptible to jihadist appeals and to develop action plans for political and community leaders to integrate marginalized young people into society.  Understanding and addressing the roots of terrorism will remain a vexing problem for a long time, one that challenges the fabric of our democracy and threatens individual freedom and safety.  It is one of the defining issues of our time, one all civilized nations around the world must endeavor to address.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Israel Agonistes

Hear these words by Martin Buber:

“You cannot find redemption until you see the flaws in your own soul, and try to efface them. Nor can a people be redeemed until it sees the flaws in its soul and tries to efface them. But whether it be an individual or a people, whoever shuts out the realization of his flaws is shutting out redemption. We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.”

For those who love and cherish Israel as a Jewish homeland, there is cause for grave concern.  The recent acts of violence against a Palestinian family on the West Bank and participants at a gay pride event in Jerusalem, the chronic violence perpetrated by “price tag” terrorists,  the intolerance  of the ultra Orthodox community and the political right and the reticence of the American Jewish community to criticize Israel, compel us to understand the Israeli political landscape as clearly as possible.

Some commentators have used military metaphors to explain the recent violence, suggesting Israel is at war with or under attack by Jewish extremists. We prefer another one that underscores the presence of a serious illness,  a cancer that endangers Israel more than any extremist living in Gaza, Lebanon or Iran.  An initial warning bell sounded some 20 years ago with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, defining Israel’s Gandhi moment.  As a Hindu nationalist murdered India’s founder for allowing the creation of Pakistan, a Jewish terrorist murdered Rabin because it was feared he would pursue peace and endorse the emergence of a Palestinian state.

And the warning continues to sound with the many acts of terrorism perpetrated by the “price tag” movement during the last several years. While it is important to condemn their violence, we must also account for the political climate that breeds extremism. Israel responds swiftly when Palestinians commit atrocities, yet sputters when the terrorists are Jewish, thereby providing a tacit green light for the violence to continue. The ruling right-wing coalition remains trapped in a fundamental contradiction.   It deplores the violence like everyone else but adheres to the underlying belief that incites Jewish terrorism; namely, all West Bank settlements are legitimate and must be protected. This helps explain why extremists have not been vigorously prosecuted. Yet it begs a larger question: how does governmental approval of West Bank settlements, now housing over 350,000 Israelis, affect the viability of a two state solution?

However, the disease corroding Israel’s political culture does not merely stem from the behavior of a radical fringe or intolerance towards gays, women, Israeli Arabs and those on the political left. It derives from the complacency of Israeli citizens surrounded by a wall and shielded by an Iron Dome.  These defenses offer an illusion of safety that removes all sense of urgency to make peace with Palestinian partners and engenders acceptance of the status quo as a good enough solution; a status quo that guarantees future bloodshed and loss of life on both sides.

Currently, no one has the requisite national support to negotiate with the Palestinians. In fact, any statement in favor of the peace process evokes skepticism, even suspicion. The governing coalition assures everyone they are ready to negotiate, but no viable partner exists on the other side. While many Israelis appear to accept this view, the inconvenient reality is that Netanyahu does not want to pursue peace, he wants the other side to capitulate. It is why he vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal. He believes anything short of wholesale surrender by the other side threatens Israel. Sadly, Bibi’s view that Israel should get everything it wants, while the other side gets little or nothing in return, represents the dire existential threat he attributes to Israel’s adversaries. His intransigence expresses the view of someone wary of serious dialogue and dooms any realistic prospect for peace.

Bibi’s refusal to negotiate and the absence of serious challengers to his position, means that a new generation will come of age in Israel and Palestine knowing only an uneasy truce shattered by periodic conflict. Parents and grandparents will lose sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters because no one has the courage to secure a lasting peace. We will have the same debate a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now, even fifty years from now, having moved no closer to a durable solution. It will be a national and regional calamity for Israel and its Palestinian neighbors and an international nightmare that will be dreadful to witness.  And the inability to name what endangers Israel’s political culture, defining a tragic flaw in the collective soul of the Jewish people who waited two millennia to reestablish their homeland, will prevent us from experiencing redemption, a vibrant, democratic Jewish state that enjoys peaceful and secure borders recognized and accepted by everyone.

 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Greek Debt Crisis, Pt. II

The IMF’s recent statement about the need for Greek debt relief underscores the obvious. But it also highlights a political failure of the Tsipras government, which spent the last several months trying to soften the EU, ECB and IMF’s relentless demand for continued austerity. That was never going to happen. Accordingly, Greece missed a valuable opportunity because it is not the only European nation wrestling with a debt crisis. The governments of Italy, Spain, France and Portugal have all been ordered to get their financial house in order. While the Greeks tried to persuade the troika, it should have also negotiated with other nations to forge a united front against austerity. Instead, they tried to intimidate with intransigence and bravado, culminating in the call for a national referendum. Of course, they wildly miscalculated. Not only did the troika reiterate its implacable demand, it solidified support for its posture from the governments of France, Italy and Spain.

Keynes famously quipped: if I owe you one dollar, it is my problem. If I owe you a million dollars, it is your problem. There was safety for Greece in the political rather than financial numbers, in leveraging the power of a unified response to the troika. If the Greek government spearheaded an effort to establish a joint proposal limiting, say, the amount of austerity undertaken by any nation, demanding some form of debt relief and asserting the need for more stimulus to promote growth, would the troika have simply refused, risking economic instability and perhaps even the collapse of the Eurozone? In the absence of any coalition, Tsipras was widely perceived to be asking for a “special” deal, prompting other European governments, even those sympathetic to Greece, to believe he was trying to get away with something at their expense, e.g., maintaining Greek at the expense of Italian pensions.

What opportunity did the Greeks have to establish a coalition? Well, political developments in other European nations suggested they had a reasonable chance of success. France’s current Prime Minister, François Hollande, was elected opposing austerity and promising to articulate an alternative response to the economic crisis. Members of his Socialist party have strenuously objected to the troika’s policy. Spain’s anti-austerity party, Podemos, garnered 15 seats in a regional parliamentary election earlier this year and there were large protests in major Spanish cities. And Italy’s center-left Prime Minister has also called for a loosening of fiscal austerity. But Tsipras did not capitalize on widespread European disaffection, leaving his government to “hang separately”.

Tsipras and the troika played a fruitless game, the former tried to change the position of the latter and the latter simply wanted to wring more concessions from the former. Nevertheless, we are not suggesting that ongoing reforms, for instance, ensuring more effective tax collection, reducing political favoritism in labor markets and continued pension reform, in Greece and elsewhere, are unnecessary. But as reform efforts are made, we must be mindful that the best outcome for everyone, including creditors, involves renewed economic growth. If the logic of austerity is unchecked, the economies of Greece and other southern Europe nations will remain stagnant with stifling debt levels. And as demands for budget cutbacks and debt repayment continue to strangle prospects for growth and prosperity in these countries, condemning, for instance, a whole generation of young adults to chronic or perhaps even lifetime unemployment, the project of economic union will eventually unravel. In turn, the ranks of more extremist parties and movements on both sides of the spectrum will swell and elevate the risk of political and social instability.

 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Greek Debt Crisis, Pt. I

After five years of austerity, the Greek economy remains in crisis. Its national GDP has contracted by about 30%, as much as the American economy during the Great Depression, unemployment levels hover above 25% and pension cuts have totaled as much as 50%, leaving many retirees to live at near poverty levels. Nevertheless, members of the European Union, along with the ECB and the IMF, the so-called troika, remain critical of what it deems the profligate habits of the Greek government. Are they right to be dismissive?

In the last five years, Greece received $252 billion, more than its total GDP for 2013. It is a truly staggering sum. So why does the Greek government still require bailout assistance? Where did all that money go? Is the Greek government simply irresponsible? Remarkably, only about 11% of the funds received by Greece went to pay for the government’s operational needs, for example, its social services and pension contributions. A whopping 50% of the money went to pay creditors and to recapitalize banks because of a high percentage of bad loans.  Another 20% went to pay for interest on outstanding debt.  In other words, more than two thirds of the bailout money Greece received, about $175 billion by my rough calculation, went to creditors and banks, rather than to the Greek government or its citizens.  Most of the bailout money never remained in Greece because many of its creditors are foreign banks and hedge funds.  So much for profligate governmental spending. What we have here is a classic case of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul designed to make creditors whole.

The demand for continued austerity indicates that European officials have forgotten an invaluable lesson dispensed by John Maynard Keynes, the architect of the policies that rescued America from the Great Depression. Keynes argued that the way out of economic recession or depression involved putting more money in the pockets of more people. He reasoned that when the private sector could not create more jobs and raise income levels on its own, the public sector needed to temporarily perform this function. By insisting on balancing budgets during recessionary periods, preventing the public sector from doing what the private sector could not do, there would be less money in the hands of consumers. They would spend less, resulting in further business contraction, and pay fewer taxes, reducing government coffers, creating an ominous downward spiral.

The recent negotiation with the Greek government did not feature a constructive dialogue about sources of economic growth that would increase the population’s disposable income, allowing businesses to expand and government revenues to increase.  Rather, the debate centered on wringing more concessions in exchange for more bailout money.  We want to be clear: continued austerity will stifle future growth rather than promote it.  And if there is no opportunity to generate expansion in the medium and long term, the national economic pie will continue to stagnate or contract.

It should be noted that Greece’s debt totals $354 billion, a phenomenal 177% of its GDP, the second-highest national debt in the world. Interestingly, the IMF released a report after a deal was cut, indicating it would not participate in further negotiations as a member of the troika because it considered current levels of Greek debt to be unsustainable. We shall see if the IMF’s position inflames Greek sentiment against the current deal, that many consider to be tantamount to blackmail with its forced sale of public assets, and/or prompts the EU and ECB to include debt relief in its aid package to Greece.

 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Iranian Puzzle

The US and Iran have engaged in a truculent political standoff since the overthrow of the Shah and the onset of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979.  Most Western political leaders view Iran as a cross between Darth Vader and Al Qaeda, a nefarious world leader of state-sponsored terrorism threatening Western interests.  We might be tempted to understand the enmity between these countries as evidence of some anti-Western bias in Persian culture or perhaps a fundamental clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.  However, if we are to grasp the source of the conflict, we must acknowledge the inconvenient truth of history.

Many politicians and commentators ignore the fact that prior to 1979, the US and Iran enjoyed close relations for decades. The same holds true for Israel. The US and Israel aided and abetted the Shah’s reviled dictatorship by supplying and training his military and intelligence agencies and providing staunch political support.  And therein lies the problem.  After the revolution, the US and Israel became Iran’s bitter enemies.  Moreover, current Iranian sentiment towards the US reflects anger about the CIA’s overthrow of its nationalist government in 1953 and America’s support for Iraq in its eight-year war with Iran in the 1980’s.  This important history remains essential to understanding the Ayatollah’s profound distrust of the West.

Given Iran’s enormous animosity towards the US, we would expect these countries to oppose one another.  And they often do, most recently in Yemen, where Iran backs rebels while the US supports the Saudi aerial bombardment of rebel positions.  Yet in other situations, like the fight against ISIS, Iran and the US remain allied.  Compounding this curious paradox is the supreme irony that Iran greatly benefited from US military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which toppled one Iranian enemy, Saddam Hussein, and weakened another, the Taliban.

How can we make sense of the shifting sands of Iran/US relations?  A crucial variable involves the global civil war between Islam’s two rival factions, the Shia and Sunni.  This sectarian conflict helps explain ongoing conflict in such disparate countries as Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen.  Iran is a powerful Shia nation.  Accordingly, Iran’s support of rebels in Yemen, militias in Iraq and its current fight against ISIS, express its underlying goal to become a regional powerbroker that bolsters the political and military strength of Shia movements and strives to end oppression of the Shia by Sunni dominated governments, like in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.  In addition, Iran seeks to undermine Israeli and Western influence, hence its support for Hamas, a Sunni group in Gaza.

Acknowledging the history between Iran and the US and recognizing the former’s clear political goals, there is nothing mysterious about Iranian objectives:  they remain at odds with Western interests.  So how does the US blunt Iran’s growing political and military influence?  First, we should recognize that Iran’s foreign policy has created problems for its government.  Since its revolution, Iran fashioned itself as a champion of the poor and disenfranchised.  But Iran’s firm support of the Assad regime in Syria because his Alawite movement is connected to the Shia, raised doubts about its mission on the Arab street.  In pursuit of its policy, Iran persuaded Hezbollah, a Shiite group in Lebanon, to support Assad while ties between Iran and Hamas were weakened when the latter sided with Syrian rebels. Iran’s Syria policy suggests that when its goal of supporting disenfranchised and Shia movements collide, Iran will choose to support the latter even if it jeopardizes relations with the former.  And this poses a clear risk to Iran’s aim to become a dominant regional power.

At the same time, we must recognize that the most effective strategy to blunt Iranian political and military influence in the Gulf involves identifying and supporting political movements, parties or leaders capable of establishing governments that integrate the interests of moderate Shia and Sunni factions, perhaps like the Abadi government in Iraq.  The US should also actively encourage and support moderate Shia and Sunni leaders to curtail sectarian violence.  An international conference of such leaders to discuss ways of reducing violence would be a welcome first step and underscore Western support for moderate voices in the Muslim world.  Finally, as Palestinian statehood remains a lightning rod issue, the US should exert greater pressure on Israel and PLO in the West Bank to end their conflict. A durable peace accord would remove a powerful lure extremist groups utilize to recruit new members in their fight against Israel and the West.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Bibi and the Politics of Fear

Bibi’s shocking eleventh hour campaign pronouncements, whipping up a frenzied panic about Arab Israelis exercising their right to vote, rejecting the creation of a Palestinian state while he remains in office and refusing to relinquish any West Bank settlements, not to mention his paranoid claim regarding an international conspiracy plotting against him, confirmed what everyone already knew. Israel’s only chance to end its interminable conflict with the Palestinians, negotiating a two state solution, was dead in the water.

In his recent speech before Congress, Bibi accused Iran of gobbling up Middle East capitals, implying it spearheaded a monolithic Shia movement in the way Cold War hawks believed Russia masterminded a unified communist effort to secure world domination. But demagogic rhetoric aside, he deflected attention away from Israel’s brazen effort to gobble up land in the West Bank and establish settlements that dot its entire length and breadth, housing more than 350,000 citizens.

In his tendentious speech, Bibi suggested anything short of Iran’s capitulation provided grounds for walking away from negotiations over their nuclear program. But any serious negotiation involves hammering out a good enough solution for both sides, not about demanding total victory. While he accuses Iran of harboring extremist intentions, political and diplomatic intransigence represents a cornerstone of Bibi’s leadership and expresses his own radical agenda, especially when it comes to addressing Israel’s immediate existential threat, its relationship with the Palestinians.

Bibi suggests he is ready to talk peace but has no suitable partner, which means no one is willing to accede to his demands. But Israel’s policy should involve cultivating and empowering political moderates and marginalizing extremists. Asserting there are no reasonable Palestinian leaders to work with undermines the political leverage of those who could engage Israel in meaningful dialogue and empowers extremists.

Moreover, Bibi’s adamant refusal to identify a suitable negotiating partner perpetuates a dreary status quo, consigning both sides to a vulnerable truce fractured by periodic armed conflict. He fashions himself as a defiant and courageous guarantor of peace and a champion of Israel’s national interest. But the opposite is true. Bibi’s intransigence guarantees future conflict and war.

Unfortunately, as significant numbers of voters allow Likud to remain in power, swayed by Bibi’s manipulative rhetoric, Israel will continue to require a protective wall around it and an Iron Dome  above it to maintain an illusion of security. This illusion will be rudely and tragically broken, however, when Israel’s Palestinian neighbors become desperate enough again to resist its occupation and engage in renewed fighting. This is the bitter fruit of Bibi’s cynical politics of fear:  it poses a grave threat to Israeli society by creating the very situation he promises to avoid.

 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Showdown With Russia

Acting like a 20th century nationalist leader determined to restore Russia’s relevance on the world’s geopolitical stage and reestablish a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and threatened Ukraine. His provocative military adventures triggered a swift reaction from the Western world. Over the last several months, the West has waged a war against Russia using crude oil prices and the international credit and currency markets as its theatres of conflict.

Since Ukraine erupted earlier this year, the price of oil dropped 40%. The decline in crude prices coupled with meaningful sanctions by the West precipitated a flight of some $125 billion of capital from Russia while its currency, the ruble, plummeted 40%, forcing the government to maintain its value against international speculators. Russian companies owe Western banks $650 billion and remain unable to refinance their debt because they do not have access to international credit, compelling the treasury to consider using currency reserves to pay $120 billion due next year. Putin severely underestimated the sophisticated arsenal of economic and financial weapons that could be employed against the Russian economy, now forecast to shrink next year because of the crisis.

Putin noted in his recent annual press conference that Russia failed to diversify its economy over the last 20 years. Oil revenues still account for nearly 60% of Russia’s total exports and 40% of its national budget. This remains a source of frustration and humiliation for Russia’s leadership. As the blood of the Russian bear runs the color of crude oil, can there be a more effective response to its aggressive behavior than a precipitous and dramatic decline in oil prices?

Some analysts contend the sudden and remarkable decline in oil prices simply reflects market forces, the result of a steady supply coupled with diminished global demand. But slackening demand and falling prices should entice leading producers to cut production, as OPEC did in the past. A number of countries, notably Venezuela, Iran and Russia, recently lobbied for this. But they were rebuffed by Saudi Arabia, whose oil minister flatly rejected any cuts. The ostensible reason for Saudi resistance has been to undercut the price and erode the market share of American shale producers. Yes, American oil imports have declined since peaking in 2005 because of domestic production, but the US still remains the world’s second largest importer and the biggest consumer of oil on a per capita basis. Moreover, the reduced cost of producing shale, at least one major deposit remains profitable even if oil declines to $50, renders the apparent Saudi rationale a rather speculative gamble. And while the major driver of increased oil prices over the last decade, insatiable Chinese demand, has eased with softer economic growth, the Chinese continue to purchase and stockpile cheaper oil to bolster their national reserves. So we find it difficult to believe the massive 40% reduction in oil price over the last several months can be attributed to reduced demand.

The bottom line is this: because Russia remains so dependent on oil revenues, it must sell as much oil as possible, leaving it stuck between a rock and a hard place. The more Russia sells at greatly reduced prices, the more it stands to lose. If prices remain below $80 a barrel, Russia will lose more than $100 billion this year.

In the short-term, the economic war being waged by the West will have a drastic impact on irksome nations such as Russia, Venezuela and Iran, effectively killing three birds with one stone. Each of these governments confronts an intricate global web of economic relationships that ensnare virtually all nations in the 21st Century. With respect to Russia, Putin appears cornered and recently made encouraging conciliatory remarks on Ukraine. Now is the time to signal Western readiness to offer an olive branch pending a lasting political settlement. The goal should be to entice Russia to act responsibly in the European and world community, not to demand capitulation and inflame further nationalist sentiment.

 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

What Does Russia Want?

In a celebrated passage from Democracy in America written in the 1830’s, Alexis de Tocqueville predicted the United States and Russia would become the world’s preeminent powers. For a few decades in the mid-20th century, Tocqueville appeared clairvoyant. But over time, it became increasingly clear Russia’s military might far outstripped its economic clout. And the demise of the Soviet Union undermined any illusion of Russia’s imperial pretension.

Western leaders underestimate how the Russian nation has been humiliated by recent history. We believe the most serious political and military crisis in Europe in decades must be understood as an attempt to reverse this painful trend. Vladimir Putin is determined to take greater risks to restore his country to what he considers its rightful place as a venerated player on the world stage. So identifying the sources of Russia’s humiliation will help us understand the root cause of the current crisis and construe an effective response.

There are three major sources of Russia’s humiliation. Two of them are obvious. First and foremost is the end of the Cold War. In relatively short order, Russia lost its political and military sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. America emerged victorious from the protracted ideological, economic and political struggle to become the world’s only superpower. Secondly, the defeat of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan represented a significant blow to Russia’s military establishment.

The third source of humiliation is powerful and insidious: Russia’s position in the world economy vis-à-vis China. These erstwhile Communist allies underwent a process of economic and political reform over the last few decades. Scholars debate the most effective sequence and pace of these reforms: which should go first, how fast should they proceed? While the debate continues, the contrast between Russia and China has been undeniable and remarkable. In the last 25 years, China emerged as an economic and financial powerhouse, becoming the largest exporter and the second largest importer of manufactured goods in the world, as Russia remained dependent on exploiting its vast energy and natural resources. Fortunately for Russia, increased prices for their commodities resurrected its economy. But Russia’s overall economic progress was greatly eclipsed by China. We believe the divergent paths of these former Communist nations represents a profound humiliation for Russia’s political leadership. An inability to diversify the economy and inferior rates of overall growth pose an enduring challenge.

In this context, Russia’s use of military force in Ukraine must be understood not as a sign of strength, but as a signal of enduring vulnerability, insecurity and weakness. The West faces a greatly injured nation determined to salvage its national pride and self-respect. In other words, Russia’s actions can be summed up in a terse phrase: the best defense is a good offense.

How should the West respond? In the short-term, the effective response involves a measured and credible show of strength. This means presenting a clear message that continued aggressive behavior has disastrous economic consequences. It should not mean reduced cooperation between Russia and NATO. Nor should it mean a blanket demand for Russia to capitulate. This would only exacerbate Russia’s national humiliation. Putin does not want to go to war. But he believes NATO’s push eastward to include Ukraine represents a threat to Russia’s security interests. So over the longer-term, the West must develop a strategy to deepen Europe’s military partnership with Russia. For instance, NATO could take the lead in nuclear disarmament negotiations to encourage Russian reciprocity; coordination of anti-terrorism policy between Europe and Russia could be strengthened; Russia could be enlisted to play a constructive role in the Iranian nuclear standoff. This would enhance Russia’s international stature and reduce its chronic fear of being encircled by hostile military forces, enabling Russia to save face and alleviate its humiliation. Over a decade ago, Putin wanted to join NATO. How absurd that seems today. Yet integrating Russian and Western military and political interests would greatly defuse the current crisis and mitigate future conflicts.

 
Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

 

 

 

Moving Beyond the Code of Hammurabi: A Peace Proposal To End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth was a defining principle of the Code of Hammurabi in the 18th Century BC.  Unfortunately, this horrific law of retribution still governs the interminable conflict between Israel and Palestine nearly four thousand years later.  The world community assumes that the roadmap to peace involves renewed bilateral negotiations.  But the time has come to recognize the obvious.  The tit for tat violence between Israel and Palestine will not stop.  Jewish and Palestinian parents and grandparents will continue to bury their children because neither side possesses the political will or the necessary visionary leadership to end the cycle of violence. And so the impasse will continue because each side feels victimized and aggrieved by the other and justifies its violent behavior in the name of self-defense. We believe the time has come to adopt a new approach to resolving this enduring conflict.

At first glance, what we propose may appear untenable and impractical.  But it merely involves embracing the fact that Israelis and Palestinians are and will remain unable to achieve a lasting peace through bilateral negotiation.  Since these parties cannot effect a durable settlement, then responsibility to secure it must be given to someone else.  What we have in mind is this:  The United Nations Security Council should appoint a committee of extraordinary individuals whose integrity and fair-mindedness is beyond reproach.  For example, individuals like Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, Jose Ramos Horta the ex-President of East Timor and Martti Ahtissari, the ex-President of Finland.

This committee of Nobel Peace Prize winners would meet for one year to determine a final and completely binding resolution to each and every issue separating Israel and Palestine, including Israel’s right to have secure and peaceful borders, the geographical shape of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, and the presence of West Bank settlements.  This binding set of resolutions would be enforced by the entire world including a very sizable number of UN peacekeepers and law enforcement from around the world.

During the year of deliberations, there would be an immediate end to all hostilities enforced by international peacekeepers.  Moreover, each side would receive significant incentives from the world community, including commitments of sizable investment and other foreign aid, to adhere to this completely binding framework.

Of course, neither side would be happy with the outcome.  Neither side would achieve all its objectives.   But for the sake of a durable peace, we believe this is an acceptable price.  To the immediate objection that neither side would ever consider this proposal, what if elusive goals like Israel’s right to enjoy peaceful and secure borders with its neighbors and the Palestinian right to a homeland were guaranteed?  If these goals were established as sacrosanct at the outset, we could develop a constituency on both sides for this proposal.  And by taking responsibility to negotiate a lasting peace away from the warring parties, we remove the political pressure applied by hard liners on both sides to maintain the status quo.  We need acts of political imagination and courage to move through the intractable stalemate and end the violence.  By creating a new international framework that guarantees the essential objective of each side, we can begin to replace despair, cynicism and mutual distrust with the possibility of hope.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
The Editor of Delano