Posts Tagged ‘US’
There is only one president being capable to be at the same time offensive, out of line and arrogant, as well as needed and constantly courted. No, it is not Putin, as he has followers and admirers, but the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Nationwide protests against his policies in May 2013, led to police crackdown resulting in 22 deaths and the stalling of EU membership negotiations. Following a split with long-time ally Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan tried to curb judicial power and started purges against Gulen’s sympathisers. His figure is subject of different views: a populist president, an Islamic reactionary trying to end secular power in Turkey, an opportunist and arrogant politician trying to exploit Islamic religion and conservatory policies to cover corruption, a future despot, etc.
In reality Erdogan is all and none of that, surely is a skilled and ruthless politician who exploit the confusion and lack of direction that Turkey, the EU, and the world face in these turbulent years. However, what strikes more is the ability to stay afloat and find renewed interest around his figure despite the continuous diplomatic faux-pas and international outcry. It is undeniable that Turkey under Erdogan acquired a new status and returned to the spotlight as a key player in the international scenario.
Hungarian Empire to annex the Balkans. The French were interested only in keeping the North African colonies and put a foot into Middle East, while the Prussians were becoming the latest power stepping into the colonial scenario, and saw in the Empire an ally to counterbalance Britain. The Italians took away Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (Libya).
WWI, the imperialist war, brought to an end the life of the “sick man”, relegating Turkey to the actual position in the Anatolian Peninsula. With Kemal Ataturk, Turkey became a republic, and started a growth that put the country back into international spotlight after WWII, when the Cold War inevitably saw Turkey being at the centre of the competition between East and West, and not only for its geographical position.
Nevertheless, 20th Century Turkey was different from the Ottoman Empire, it was not a “sick man”, instead becoming a strong military ally of the US, a member of NATO, a powerful republic dominated by an army ready to intervene to stop any sliding towards socialism. The US and the Soviet Union regarded Turkey as their border, and any action in Anatolia was to be counterbalance elsewhere.
Today’s Turkey is something similar to the 20th Century status, but with a striking difference: today can flirt with any power, break with them, harass and humiliating them, and still be considered important and crucial for the geopolitical equilibrium. In few words, Turkey is a country that every power would prefer to avoid dealing with, but have to in order to avoid that someone else will step in. A love-hate relationship where Ankara has only to gain rather to lose, if not partially.
Back to President Erdogan, he has the merit to fully understand this new position acquired by Turkey, and he is milking it with no shame nor politeness. Few years back, what the EU had with Turkey was just a dialogue on access to the Union, on which the EU felt always stronger thanks to two main arguments: the death penalty and Cyprus status. The first was the anti-thesis of the Union Treaty and the second a remnant of the past century to be solved, as it also involved a member. That strong position has now been lost and Erdogan has been the first and most skilled in exploit the new scenario, created by the reckless US policy in Middle East.
The Syrian conflict destabilized the Middle East in the last few years, put Turkey back in the map and among the key players. Erdogan put his tactics at work in wooing and blackmailing every single power. At first, he was a strong US ally, as per tradition, siding for a change of regime in Damascus, threatening military intervention to protect Turkmen, but in reality was looking at the opportunity to wipe out the PKK Kurdish rebellion. In this position, he even followed the Obama’s administration in a strong anti-Russian policy, despite Turkey had strong economic ties with Moscow.
With the EU, he patiently used the open door policy on migration by letting millions of refugees into Europe through Greece and Bulgaria, and then blackmailing Bruxelles in renegotiating future access and obtaining financial support to face the humanitarian disaster. This first phase, however, was short lived, as Turkey committed a serious mistake: shot down a Russian MiG over the Syria-Turkey border. To the joy of the Americans (saw in it a point of no return in the relation between Ankara and Moscow), and to the embarrassment of Erdogan, Moscow adopted sanctions that hit Turkey very hard, as well as making clear remarks on avoiding future military actions by Ankara.
Nevertheless, when everyone was looking at a Turkey now in a straight and narrow, Erdogan restarted silently his contacts with Putin, started to adopt a low profile in the Syrian crisis, and especially mounted a strong campaign against EU. To this shift contributed the fact the Turkey suddenly found itself dragged into a spiral of violence, between the PKK and IS attacks, benefitting by EU open door policy to which Ankara at first agreed. The time for a new shift was coming, and was accelerated by the July 2016 coup. This military attempt resulted in an opportunity for Erdogan to change once again Turkey’s position on the international scenario. While Erdogan accused the US of supporting the coup by financing the Gulen Movement, considered a terrorist organization led by his former ally Fethullah Gulen, who lives now in Pennsylvania, United States, the EU and US accused Erdogan of staging a coup or using the coup to legitimate repression and extending his power. Whatever the reality, Erdogan used the coup to reset his international ties and officially opening his rapprochement with Putin. Turkey entered in Moscow sponsored peace talks, to which even the Iranian were invited and who never had idyllic relations with Ankara.
Erdogan’s erratic policies this time led to a war of words with the US over the extradition of Gulen, by irritating Washington for holding military talks over Syria with Putin, and by starting a series of accusations to his old friend in the EU. He accused Germany to use “Nazi practices” and the Netherlands to be a “Nazi remnants”, leading to a serious diplomatic row.
However, regardless of how irritating or arrogant could be, Erdogan continue to be sought by every single power to change alliance, to join again the western friends, while Russia tries to keep on its side as no Syrian solution can be achieved without Turkey’s participation. Between US sponsored intervention or Russian sponsored neutrality, Erdogan is enjoying a wealth of opportunities to obtain the most from all: silence on Cyprus, access to the EU, economic ties with Russia, military support from the US. To obtain this he uses the migrants issue, the US sponsored coup, the Russian relation with Iran, strong words against some European countries where Turkish expats resides.
In this Erdogan achieved what the Ottoman Sultans never did: be a power not for spoliation but for building a new world order where Turkey is at the centre stage. Only gullible and short-sighted politicians could not see that without Turkey any plan to solve the Syrian conflict, whether American or Russian sponsored, will be ineffective. Unfortunately for them, Turkey’s price is high and the presidents and prime ministers of many countries will have to digest more Erdogan’s Turkish Delights, although very different for the famous ones, to achieve their dreams.
The recent escalation in Syria, with the US attacking for the first time directly the Syrian territory, has taken many by surprise and confusion. To some commentators, is the sign of the unpredictability of Donald Trump, for others the continuous with a policy always directed to the change of regimes, for others more is the sign of end of Assad regime.
What is more striking, however, is the parallelism with the Iraqi War and its build up, as well as the confirmation of the “emotional diplomacy”, which affects mainly the West and its allies. There are no easy responses, or solutions, although an objective analysis requires to try to see the events with all eyes and minds in Washington, Moscow, Damascus, London, Bruxelles, Tehran, Beijing and Pyongyang.
All started with an attack, still not proven or completely investigated, on which a likely chemical substance (or more than one) has been used against the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north-western Syria. On one side, the US and its allies accused the Damascus regime, on the other, Moscow and its allies talked about “involuntary chemical use” or accuses rebel fighting groups.
The bottom line in this terrible story, where more than 80 people have been killed, is that no one has a shred of proof or started a formal investigation to establish the exact causes. On this it is like going back to the initial stages on the Syrian war, when the western countries were taking every single excuse to put foot on Syrian ground. At the same time it is a deja vu of the Iraqi WMD fiasco, when not only proof was nonexistent but even fabricated.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny that Syria is home to a huge chemical arsenal, that under the US-Russia agreement should have been secured and stocked for dismantling. This amount, not known, added to the security on the ground difficult to establish, surely jeopardized any attempt to clear the area: Damascus has still chemical weapons? Yes. Have the rebels access to weapons following occupation of some areas? Yes. Has ISIL access to chemical weapons? Yes.
Under these conditions, it could be true that Damascus used prohibited substances, as well as it is likely that rebels bombarded the wrong area or ISIL used them against civilians. International Law and diplomacy have for decades worked on the same assumption of civil and penal justice: innocence until proven in court. A golden rule, followed most of the time, to avoid bloodshed and major conflicts, a necessity to give peace and mediation a chance. However, history teaches us that “incidents” have been used to justify military actions, incidents that could be see and proven: Tonkin incident, the Afghan “communist” conversion to open soviet invasion, etc.
The problem is that in recent years too many “incidents” have been unproven action by belligerents, and used to justify quick military solutions that proved disastrous in their consequences. One of the main pillars has been the “emotional diplomacy”, where after a deplorable action by warring parts, another country acts moved by sentiments, by “humanitarian” scopes. Like a child with a tantrum, bombs dropped as apples from a tree shaken by a storm, causing more death, destruction, and especially no solution. Or at least not a lasting solution, but a piloted result to benefit the Samaritan intervening.
This is the calculation made in Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Damascus, Ankara when they continuously switch their policies and alliances, not in the interest of Syrian people, nor for global peace, but for geopolitical equilibrium (Moscow) and change of regime policy (US) to destabilize Russia, China, Iran.
Therefore, can we even try to make some sense in all this? The US accuses Assad of war crimes, probably true but still unproven, for a simple reason: change the regime. This was the pillar of American policy with Bush and with Obama found in the so-called Arab Spring the lever to tilt regimes in Middle East that were unfriendly, historically. They instigated revolution in Egypt for then backtracking and supporting General Al Sisi in the repressions and coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Democracy has its strange ways of work. In Libya they accomplished the ousting of Gaddafi (thanks to a Russian/Chinese diplomatic suicide at the UN), while in Iran failed from the start. Syria was to be their final step, but the Russian strong opposition and support denied the change. It is not surprising that any attack made by Syrian forces receives wider coverage on Western medias than the thousands of people killed by terrorist groups and rebels armed with American weapons in Syria and Iraq. Nor is news the silent and censored war in Yemen, where not only chemical weapons have been used and thousands have been killed by Saudi’s aerial bombardment on civilians. Skepticism is the least, then grows when you read that 59 tomahawk missiles have been fired against a military base and that just 2 days later was again ready to use! Either all those missile failed the objectives or they bomb the wrong place.
Russia is defending Assad and his regime, under a status quo paradigm: losing Syria, will wipe out Russian presence from eastern Mediterranean, closing the Black Sea Fleet in a prison with the key held by the erratic Turkish President Erdogan. Russia support Syria to strengthen border control against terrorism, as many foreign fighters are from the Caucasus, and Russia already experienced first hand the change of regime policy with the “coloured revolutions” that engulfed Eastern Europe. However, Russia is not the sparring partner anymore, Yeltsin’s years have been forgotten like a day after being drunk. Russia, regretted the Libyan error, and since then responded tit for tat: Ukraine and Crimea are just a warning. Russia accuses the US of fabricating news and arming rebel and terrorist groups (whether directly or not, it is still not proven), and closing an eye or two when they make their massacres. Russia accused the US of interfering in the peace process that Moscow was silently building with Turkey and Iran.
A key to understand the Syrian puzzle is Turkey, and the actions of the two powers is a reflection of Ankara unpredictable policies. Erdogan at first was a fierce critic of Assad, threatening invasion to support Turkmen (covertly to wipe out Kurds and PKK), and conducting a strong anti-Russian campaign. Unfortunately for the US, Turkey made a big mistake by shooting down a Russian fighter jet, plunging its economy into disaster and becoming soon a central stage for terror attacks: ISIS ones following the western sponsored policy of open frontiers, and PKK ones taking advantage of Turkish foolishness in lowering their security. Timely and precise came the attempted coup against Erdogan, again with multifaceted interpretations: a US sponsored coup (Gulen supporters) to block a Russian rapprochement or a backfired coup that was used by Erdogan to increase his control, cut the ties with the US and change the foreign policy into a Russian backed solution of the Syrian crisis? Now this chemical incident once again saw Turkey siding with the US, but on the other they still seat at the table with Russian and Iranians to try in solving the conflict.
Many say Trump could be too impetuous on decisions, or even dangerous for world peace, but looking closely he has just reconditioned a well used machine that in the last two decades has made of the Read the rest of this entry »
The election of Donald Trump as US president sparked controversy and debate around the world about his suitability to lead the world most powerful country. Trump, with his unconventional and out of protocol actions, has been under intense scrutiny, and judgment, as no other politician has ever been around the world.
Actions and presidential decrees, united to statements outside the official channels, only contributed to highlight even further the division in America and the unwelcome feeling around the world.
Aside from the recent controversy following his immigration decrees, the security challenges, and the accusations of Russian meddling into US elections, one of the Trump’s key horses has been the campaign against on what he calls the fake news.
His crusade, and refusal to talk or release interviews to major US and international networks, accused to distort reality and of depicting him in a bad light all the time, opened a debate on whether he is trying to censor the media or raising an actual warning.
The message from Trump is not new and while is wrong in the form is right in the substance, although the hypocrisy of the media and of the major political courts in Europe deny this. Trump’s crusade against the media is clearly a personal attack to defend himself from the constant denigration and undermining of his position, it is a personal objective that has nothing to do with his politics and programme. The form of the attacks, highlight a situation similar to that lived by Italians when Silvio Berlusconi was PM. Constant attacks on his figure, business empire, the collusion with criminality and control over the media he owned, only strengthened his power even more. His counteraction against newspapers and TV networks outside his control where made just to stop inquests over his interests.
Nevertheless, what makes different the Trump position is that in the substance what he is saying is not wrong. Fake news is not an invention of Trump, for decades we are under the constant bombardment of supposed “breaking news” and to the brainwashing campaigns used to legitimate the processes advanced by the politicians in command. We all remember the Iraqi lessons on WMD, the supposed intelligence reports on chemical weapon ready to be used, and the missiles to destroy the West. Let’s not forget how the Arab spring of 2011 has been hijacked by western media to support US change of regime policy in Libya and Syria, while had backfire in Egypt and Iraq leading to the growing of IS.
More recently, the Ukraine, Burma and Philippines cases, were all portrayed in different manner correspondent to the interest of what the major powers need. Has the Ukraine issue been covered in a fair and objective manner, including the diplomatic and historic issues behind? The answer is no. No one of the major media advanced the same bad overage of Russia intervention, to the constant NATO harassing and military buildup in the East, a clear message of destabilization. What it would happen if Russia was to build up his military presence for example in Cuba or Venezuela?
The fake news are around us, all official media and state’s TV are brainwashing people on the political objectives of the established power. Even Trump’s actions are modified to benefit the moment, like the cancellation of the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Many citizens, even before Trump, were opposed to it, especially the EU as it would have relegated their market to a second position. When Trump actually put to end to any possibility of a US participation into the TPP, the news was just relegated to the dark, concentrating instead on other more questionable political choices of Trump. What about the infamous wall on the border with Mexico? Everyone is shouting at the humanitarian disasters, but where are all the media condemning the Israeli wall against Palestinian people in the West Bank?
Trump is going to be an over the line president, an unconventional politician, an easy target to constant propaganda to undermine his status, but the media that constantly follow him on any move are just reflection on how political standards just sank to a level of indecency. It us, surrounded by technology and access to information at no price, that we should open our eyes and ears and question whether this battle is just another way to distract the conscience from the actual problems.
The recent Paris attacks have opened a series of questions on security and the real strength of IS. However, one clear fact is in front of our eyes: IS strength is proportional to our weakness.
World powers division over Syria has just highlighted how easy is for groups like IS to increase their force and exploit the void created by our indecisions. IS strength has been unequivocally supported by the fragility of political institutions in Middle East, and especially after the raging war in Syria. It cannot be denied that the so-called Islamic State is a collateral effect of the western disastrous policy of “change of regime” and at the same time a sub-product of the illusory Arab spring. The weakening of secular states, pursued by the US during the Al-Qaida years, although has led to the fall of repressive regimes, created a void thus replaced by the only real organised and opposition force: Islamists groups.
While the Arab spring worked in a way in Tunisia, Egypt is the best example of how the dangerous shift to Islamism was blocked in time by the only possible resource available: a military coup. When Mubarak was ousted, and the Muslim Brotherhood won, everyone just simply knew that it would be matter of time before Egypt would be engulfed in serious troubles. The army, conscious of the danger, used its force to avoid a Libyan scenario thus blocking the contagion from the IS fever. It is true nonetheless, that Egypt is still a terrain fertile for IS infiltration and the recent attack on a Russian airliner simply shows that.
Nevertheless, it is the total failure of western policies in Syria and Iraq, that ultimately led to the growth of IS and its apparently unstoppable force. Following the steps of Libya, Western powers have made a huge miscalculation in thinking to replace easily the Assad regime with a pro-western government. Arms sent to strengthen the illusory rebel army, instead favoured the growth of all Islamist groups and ultimately of IS. In Iraq, the total disregard and animosity towards the Shia government in power, united with their own mistakes in seeking revenge against the Sunnis, soon created the fertile terrain for Sunni resistance and ultimately IS growth.
However, how really strong is the Islamic State? Is terrorism a sign of power or weakness? IS in itself is full of contradictions: fights the West but many fighters are mercenaries from Europe where most of them enjoyed life of freedom; is against idolatry and western consumerism but uses all social media platforms; destroys cultural history, belonging even to their own past, but put forward slogans of brotherhood; it fights against other Muslims, mainly Shia, and does not concern itself with the Palestine problem.
It is quite remarkable for a group claiming to be ready to install a Caliphate to notice that in all their claims Israel and the Palestinian problem has been left out. Even when they slightly consider the issue, their targets are Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, for who they fight for then?
Terrorism is never a viable political solution, inevitably leads only to two solutions: total annihilation of the group or negotiation. By the choices of targets and its political agenda, it is unlikely that IS can pursue or even is willing to negotiate. Exactly because has been born from western hypocrisy is in itself a hypocritical and cowardly group: attacks minority groups, enslave women, fight a terror war against civilians, is armed and financed by foreign donors (powers). Therefore, the question is, can be destroyed? Yes and easily.
Taking into account that its main base is in Syria and part of Iraq, and it is surrounded by major regional power, we have: Turkey in the North, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq in the North, Lebanon backed by pro-Syrian groups and Hezbollah to the West, the sea to the West can be blocked (if wanted by any major power like the US), Israel and Egypt in South-West, Jordan in the South, Iraq Shia backed government to the East and obviously Iran that support Assad, Hezbollah and the Iraqi government.
At first looks like an impressive display of power but we need to consider the following issues affecting the real fight against IS:
- Turkey could block the borders better and support the Kurds, instead of fighting them for internal reasons;
- The western powers keep living the dream of the Free Syrian Army that in reality is just non existent as long as all weapons are used against the only other legitimate ground force to counter IS, which is the regular Syrian Army. Any future agreement on Syria should be postponed after the war. They face a common enemy.
- Western powers, namely US, against Russia: the Russian campaign in Syria was denigrated and attacked before the Paris attacks, while now Putin is seen as a messiah in the fight against terror;
- Russia is also not always clear on the real targets of its campaign in Syria: internal security, defence of strategic interests or to pin point US forces?
- Western powers refusal to acknowledge the importance of other actors in the scene: Iran and its allies.
- The hypocrisy and double play of some of the so-called “allies of the West”: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and UAE. Financing for IS comes mainly from “donors” in these countries.
- The refugee problem: open door policy or closed borders? EU has not a clear strategy and swing from an excess to the other in the assessment.
- Media propaganda and misinformation: once again serious anti-Islam slogans and total disregard for an unbiased assessment of the reality. The theory of the double standards still applies and only has as a result an increase in racism and xenophobic attacks in the western capitals.
Nevertheless, the Paris attacks and the Russian plane bombing are changing everything, as France is now ready to cooperate (at least in words) with Russia; Egypt will have to answer about its security standards as surely cannot allow tourism to disappear following the recent incidents. Calls are growing on US and the UK (the most recalcitrant in changing their views and policies towards Syria) for a coalition to destroy IS, but the risk of leaving main actors such the Kurds, the Iraqi government, and Iran out of the decisions can also expose further the West and Russia in a direct intervention that will play IS propaganda. On the other side, all powers must reconsider their circle of friends in Middle East and realise that a shift of policy towards Iran could benefit these powers in the long term better than the current dependence from questionable partners, Pakistan-US relations are a lesson.
The meeting between US President Barak Obama and the Cuban leader Raul Castro, held in Panama during the Summit of the Americas, was the first formal talks between the two countries in more than fifty years.
Cuba was participating at the summit for the first time, a move welcomed by all Latin American countries and judged a signal of the clear intentions to pursue the road of reconciliation.
Both leaders confirmed their intentions to reopen a channel for discussion and at the same time confirming the limits of it. President Obama described the meeting as candid and fruitful confirming that the two countries will obviously have differences and mutual interests, with the right of disagree. Cuban leader Raul Castro also repeated the same line quoting that “we are disposed to talk about everything, with patience. Some things we will agree with, and others we won’t”. He also defended the Cuban revolution and its political system but at the same time he described President Obama as an honest man who is not responsible for the past wrong doings.
The meeting, however, was not an official talk to take decisive steps towards the normalisation, and instead was for many the official declaration of intentions and a formal reintroduction of Cuba into the Summit of the Americas.
The fact that the road is going to be long and full of obstacles in not a heresy and on both parts there are suspicions and dangers ahead.
Still Ahead Between Cuban Justified Diffidence and US Certified Ambiguity
Cuba is open to a dialogue to restore full diplomatic relations and move away from hostility but is not ready to discuss any political change in the structure of power. For Cuba the immediate necessity is the end the embargo that is strangling the island and its people, a remnant of the Cold War which is not only outdated but inhumane and hypocrite.
Cuba’s cautious overture is also based on the fact that it still sees the US as a danger to its stability and independence, a common view shared with other Latin American countries. Cuba’s declaration of openness to discuss everything but with the right of disagree is a clear message that every meeting should be on the same level and that Havana will not accept diktats or attempts to limit its independence. This position has been especially reinforced by the Lider Maximo Fidel Castro who, breaking silence lasting months, expressed diffidence towards the US, declaring that he does not trust them. Nevertheless, he also supported his brother’s policy and the necessity to open a dialogue with the Washington.
Therefore for Cuba the positive conclusion of this process will rely especially on US shoulders and their willingness to lift the embargo, clear Cuba from the states sponsoring terrorism, the acceptance of Cuba’s political system.
On the other side the US are on the verge of an historical move, but it also expect from Cuba some concessions such addressing political structure, how to liberalise opposition to the government, cooperation in human rights investigations. For the first time in decades there is a clear sign in the US that the embargo may see its last days, as it cuts across the political spectrum although with different views and perspectives. Nevertheless, it is also true that US politics towards Latin America have not been all roses and ribbons, and Fidel Castro’s views are not unrealistic and found support across the continent. This is especially true when we take into account the relations with some of the governments in the region. From the reluctant acceptance of moderate leftist governments in Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, to the sometimes hostile approach to Peronist Argentina, to the open opposition to the socialist-radical block that put relations with Washington on a red line.
Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador on several occasions accused the US of political interference and neo-colonial approach even with assassinations attempts, whilst ties between Venezuela and Washington remain fractious since the successful Bolivarian revolution of former president Hugo Chavez. Especially the relations with Socialist Venezuela and President Nicolas Maduro for many analysts resemble the old US tactic of political interference for a change of regime. The US imposed sanctions last month on a group of Venezuelan officials it accuses of human rights abuses. President Obama also issued an executive order declaring Venezuela a threat to US national security that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has described as “disproportionate”.
The summit also highlighted differences between President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and the US. The Ecuadorian president said the US had failed to live up to its ideals by declaring: “Let’s talk about human rights. In Ecuador we don’t have torture, the death penalty or extrajudicial renditions”. In response, President Obama said the US does not claim to be perfect and to be open for change.
However, and it may sound a paradox, it is not only the above international dimension or the US incoherent approach to Latin America that can harm this process, it is also the uncertainty surrounding next year US presidential elections that could postpone or even block the dialogue altogether.
Make it or Brake it: How US Elections Could Affect the Dialogue
Unlike Cuba, where the one party system will not create surprises at the leadership, in the US the next year presidential elections will see the end of Obama’s administration and a new chapter opening. The Democrats will have in Hillary Clinton their main candidate, but even her victory will not automatically pave the way for an acceleration of the process which will depend on how the Congress will shape and whether Democrats will regain the majority. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton is the best chance for Cuba to continue the dialogue as she has been behind the thaw and long ago she advanced the necessity to end the embargo. Whether is a necessarily economic move, a change of regime in disguise or simply an electoral move to obtain the so called “Latino votes”, Obama’s thaw surely scored the first strike by dividing the Republican field and giving to Hillary Clinton an important gift. This is not anymore a monolithic block when discussing the Cuban issue and it may surprise that the two candidates Mr Rubio and Jeb Bush, by supporting hardliners, may find themselves reaching for full votes in Florida but losing the moderate and immigrants votes elsewhere. Inside the Republican Party there will be a struggle on how to balance carefully the choices and where to put its weight, especially after Obama attacked Israeli PM Netanyahu’s policy and the Jewish community vote is now more important than ever. By backing the status quo, that some republicans see as an outdated and counterproductive policy both economically and diplomatically, they may end up losing more than accepting a change which will open a wider support across the continent. The fact that many republicans are not concerned by Cuba is backed by rhetoric with which they attack Obama’s policy on the Iranian nuclear programme, its relations with Israel and especially what they consider a softer approach to Russia.
While a Republican victory is still considered for Cuba the worst case scenario, at the same time we will should probably not hurry in conclusions and not forget that history has many times put the historic changes in the unlikely hands of those “gifted with stubbornness” and Republicans may be on the verge of something similar.
President Obama will have a hard job ahead for the last year of his presidency to try and push further the dialogue and end the embargo which will be the start of an irreversible process. However, for President Obama, more than Cuba’s reluctance to open political dialogue or Fidel Castro’s heavy shadow, the main battle is at home, where the contenders for the presidency, and the factions inside the parties, will use this opportunity for increase or blow up their chances of becoming the first US president to visit Havana since the revolution.
The relations between US and India have not always been easy but without doubt the two countries are increasingly looking at strengthening their partnership. Although they still maintain some differences, it is a common strategic interest that is bringing them together.
Key recent developments include the rapid growth of India’s economy and bilateral trade, the close links between the Indian and American technology industries, a geopolitical coalition to balance the rise of an increasingly aggressive China, the weakening of U.S.-Pakistan relations over various ongoing disputes. Today, India and the US share an extensive cultural, strategic, military, and economic relationship culminated with President Barack Obama being the first US president to be chief guest of the 66th Republic Day celebrations of India held on 26th January 2015.
Nevertheless, for many years the two countries were at the opposite of the geopolitical spectrum. US support of Pakistan and China reflected the necessity to counterbalance the Soviets and their relationship with India, with the latter looking at Moscow for support although its non-aligned status. Reason why Barak Obama while on one side hailed the India military partnership on the other he could not for a moment not feeling uneasy seeing Russian military hardware parading under his eyes.
The US never abandoned India as an option or stop to consider its importance. Since the end of WWII US promoted India’s independence as a tool to improve conditions in colonial countries and avoid creating a fertile terrain for Soviet influence and, until Kennedy presidency, the US tried to cultivate a relation especially to avoid communism spreading in Asia after China’s revolution. But this system collapsed due to the tensions between USSR and China and following the assassination of Kennedy that opened a new era in American policy. Nixon presidency changed US perception of India, and they started to consider China as the best option to counter the Soviets and Pakistan to tap India’s wings as a response for their relationship with Moscow.
This situation, with high and lows, changed at the end of the Cold War when, having the Soviet threat disappeared, US and India found themselves in a new geopolitical scenario.
India position: Pragmatism rather than hypothesis
India reasons for rapprochement with US are based on countering the two traditional threats: Pakistan and China. The first perceived as regional and the other global, with the second far more dangerous for India’s stability and independence.
Countering Pakistan is something that India considers, under a basic strategic direct goal, a necessity having the unresolved dispute in Kashmir. US, in the past a strong Islamabad ally, has recently moved away from Pakistan due to security concerns, Taliban’s role and increase of Islamist insurgence, distrust in the security forces especially following the Osama bin Laden legacy. India saw in this cold relation the opportunity to deprive Pakistan of the most powerful ally, the only one basically to counter effectively India on a diplomatic role. Pakistan, by losing the US support, left to India a strong advantage both under a strategic and diplomatic sphere, allowing New Delhi to have two members of the UN Security Council on its side against China.
Nevertheless, India convergence is also a pragmatic choice and designed to clearly mark a line on where the US should stand as they face a common and most powerful threat: China.
China has always been the greatest danger for India’s security, its borders and, due to Beijing military superiority, a real danger for its integrity. Whilst keeping the Soviet Union-Russia relations on the table India has always considered the necessity to counterbalance its diplomatic gap against Pakistan and China. Now this has changed for two fundamental reasons: the first is that the US share a common ground of strategic necessity in Asia and the other is that Russia, although still seen as strategically important, has also developed stronger Chinese ties on the international scenario and this open questions on whether India could still count on them in case of a new tension between New Delhi and Beijing.
The new US policy in the Pacific has therefore opened a new opportunity for New Delhi by still fostering ties with Russia but on the immediate they see in US actions a real strategy to keep China under control.
US: India not only for China containment
US diplomatic and strategic plan for Asia is shaping: abandoned Pakistan for concerns over reliance, trust and security, and facing the prospect of a powerful rise of China in the Pacific created the perfect conditions to open a direct dialogue with India. A strong relation with India respond to many US questions: how to counter Islamic insurgency in the area, how to avoid Kashmir being hijacked by Islamist, how to counter Pakistan deteriorating security, how to counter China with a powerful regional country and lastly how to isolate further Russia.
The US primarily abandoned Pakistan after debacles in security and India is seen as a better option to keep under control the neighbour and at the same time have a valuable support in the area as west of Pakistan is basically a no-go area for Washington. Pakistan does not offer anymore security in counter terrorism whilst India proved better in supporting the US since 2001. But the main reason, as for India, is the perception of China. The shifting of policy towards the Pacific to contain China has seen the US engaging in a difficult but important diplomatic offensive. Washington strengthened the ties with its traditional allies Taiwan, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan, but also they understood the need to find new strong players also on diplomatic and military level. Under this view the US abandoned their remnants of Cold War ostracism and understood that traditional enemies could now be the aces they were looking for: Vietnam and India relations can become that sort of radical, resolute and incorruptible block to counterbalance Chinese rising in the Pacific. India under this paradigm opens for the US even a broader assumption: India although strategically and geographically not Pacific-centric represents nonetheless a valid card in the view of China stepping into the world scenario as a superpower. India is seen by Washington as an important piece in the plan to isolate China and create a sort of “cordon sanitaire”, more military rather than economic, as it happened to Bolshevik Russia. The problem for the US is that their approach to international relations is always subordinated to other aspects that may be of primary importance for Washington but secondary for their partners, and most of the times they foster unbalanced relationships, thus paving the way for divergences.
The US necessity to counter China by increasing India’s support has also opened a new scenario: break India’s diplomatic and military relations with Russia. When US-Russia relations are at the lowest levels since the end of the Cold War, Washington consider the Indian reproach an opportunity to further weaken Russia on a global scale both economically and militarily. The US, as India, are looking at the growing relations between Russia and China as a real danger for geopolitical equilibrium in Asia, and are therefore considering ways to contain the repercussions. However, is on this point that the US and India may found themselves again apart.
India has always been proud of its independent military policy and strategic role and, although fostered relation with the Soviets in the past, never abandoned its neutralist policy. As France within the US allies, India does not want to be in a subordinate position, consider the rapprochement a necessary cooperation for a common goal but not as an umbrella to shade under and accept military diktats. This explain why India although seek US diplomatic and military support against China and Pakistan, on the other still value Moscow friendship. India’s pragmatic policy is to counter immediate and direct threats and avoid being pushed into the new worldwide tension between Russian and US which resembles of the Cold War times. In a word India still considers itself non-aligned.
India and US are part of a new diplomatic and geopolitical strategy under way in the 21st century. India is a rising regional power and likely to be a serious candidate for superpower, exactly like China. But whilst India design is based on traditional security concerns over Kashmir-Pakistan-islamist insurgency and the Chinese stability threat, the US have a broader strategic plan involving China on a global scale as well as Russia. India has also not changed the policy of non-alignment, seen as a proud independent way forward for an Indian role, while the US although looking for new partnership are generally cold regarding military cooperation on same level. The new partnership is therefore strong on convergent auspices and prospects, but may end breaking up if especially the US do not take into full account India’s immediate necessities and understanding their international strategy.
World leaders have welcomed the historic deal reached between Cuba and US on easing their diplomatic tensions and restrictions as a concerted aim to reverse 50 years of hostility.While the agreement is seen as the major achievement in the diplomatic relations between the two countries it leaves nonetheless a long road ahead to normalise completely the relations and inevitably raise the major question on the embargo’s fate.
US-Cuban relations are frozen since early sixties, becoming the best synonym of Cold War antagonism: US failed attempt at the Bay of Pigs, the near nuclear holocaust in the missile crisis, a long list of failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, Cuban military actions in Africa, support for Latin American guerrillas, the infamous embargo to strangle the regime and its people.
The two presidents, Barak Obama for US and Raul Castro for Cuba, in a contemporary TV speech announced the end of travel restrictions and efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations following more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving Pope Francis. The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, whose country never broke off ties with Cuba, welcomed what he called an “overdue development”. Pope Francis joined leaders from Latin America and Europe in praising the historic deal.
As part of the deal, US contractor Alan Gross, 65, was released from Cuban prison in return for three Cubans held in the US. President Obama also said the US was looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months. In exchange for Alan Gross, who was in poor health, and an unnamed American intelligence officer, Washington released three members of the so-called “Cuban Five” who were serving lengthy sentences for espionage.
In addition, it has also been agreed that the amount of money, which can be sent in remittances, will quadruple from $500 (£320) to $2,000 per quarter. Telecom providers will be allowed to improve Cuba’s infrastructure so that more Cubans can access the internet. Cubans will also be able to import construction materials to build private homes, a move aimed at easing the severe shortage of suitable homes on the island. Travel restrictions to Cuba will be relaxed, making family visits and cross-border humanitarian projects easier.
Reactions: same old, same old
The reactions around the world welcomed in large part the agreement and mark even more, if there any need, the total distance from reality of those opposing the deal.
The European Union, which is in the process of normalising ties with Cuba, described the move as a “historical turning point”. All Latin American countries hailed the announcements as a historic day for the entire subcontinent. Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz hailed it as “the beginning of the end of the Cold War in the Americas”. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose predecessor Hugo Chavez was a close ally of Fidel Castro, said it was a “moral victory” and “victory for Fidel”.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said increased US engagement in Cuba in the future should “encourage real and lasting reforms for the Cuban people and the other nations of the Americas should join us in this effort”.
However, not everyone applauded the move, with dozens of Cubans living in exile in the US state of Florida protesting after the announcement on Wednesday. Mainly they see this as a betrayal, a unilateral concession to Castro’s regime and accuse Obama of being a traitor. Hardliners within the Republican Party, like Senator Marco Rubio, slammed the deal as “inexplicable”, adding that it did nothing to address the issues of Cuba’s political system and human rights record.
The important community of Cuban bloggers welcomed in large measure the deal, seeing in this a great opportunity for a growth of Cuban civil society and a step forward for political progress.
However, the power to lift the embargo stay within the US congress, dominated by Republicans, and although even the media are calling for a lifting, signalled a shift among US opinion makers for a softening of the US stance on Cuba, it is clear that a long and difficult battle awaits Barak Obama. He is likely to face stiff opposition from representatives from Florida, where many Cuban exiles who fled Castro’s Cuba settled. Florida Senator Marco Rubio promised on CNN to block the nomination of any US ambassador to Cuba and other anti-Castro legislators suggested Congress would remove funding for any normalised ties with the country. However, if it is true that this anti-Castrist block is still powerful and may have also ears in Washington, on the other it would be erroneous thinking to it as a monolithic group. To many analysts, Obama’s move cannot have happened without an assessment on the real positions on the matter within and beyond the Democratic Party, suggesting that President Obama has considerable support in Congress. Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America programme at the Wilson Center, says that there are many Republicans who are not resisting this or are neutral. In addition, it was highlighted the fact that the plane that brought Alan Gross back to the US had three members of Congress on board, including Republican Jeff Flake, from Arizona.
But if these were the reactions, mostly expected and understandable, is the the speculation on what it led to this historic rapprochement, what reasons and political calculation is behind the two presidents’ agreement.
US and Cuba Isolation is the Key to the Change
When In December 2013, at Nelson Mandela’s funerals, US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro shake hands in the first such public gesture since 1959, many analysts saw that as something more than a simply diplomatic good etiquette. During the following months, speculation on talks, pressure on embargo lifting in the US and EU media and the question surrounding Alan Gross’ deteriorating health have contributed to further the claims that something was going on between Cuba and US.
The reasons behind the agreement cannot be explained under a simplistic Cold War historic paradigm, instead there are political, economical, strategic and propagandist reasons more suitable to sustain the argument.
For both Cuba and US, the issue of prisoners started to assume a central focus in the dialogue: Alan Gross and his possible death while in detention and the unpopular arrest of the Cuban five where two major embarrassment for both presidents. The deteriorating health of Alan Gross has been behind the rapid overture as his death in a Cuban jail would have been an almost insurmountable obstacle for any possible negotiation. On the other side, this was also the opportunity for Cuba to close the issue surrounding the Cuban five and obtain the release. In few words, both countries had more to lose than to gain in leaving unchanged their positions.
Nevertheless, if this is true that the hostages exchange was the first point of contact and the first reason of starting negotiations, what made these talks evolve into a diplomatic breakthrough is something else.
US: A necessary deal, a potential Trojan horse
President Obama on his TV speech said the “rigid and outdated policy” of isolating Cuba had clearly failed and that it was time for a new approach. He defended the US policy as justified at the time but counterproductive on the long term, failing to achieve the supposed target. The reasoning under a Cold War paradigm, that Cuban communism could infect US or spill to other countries in not believable anymore and died 24 years ago. Recent political development in Latin America have nothing to do with Cuba or its revolution, the “turn to left”, more or less radical, has been obtained through the legal democratic electoral process and not with an armed revolution. Even considering the Zapatista’s Chiapas, the only real recent uprising under a guerrilla strategy, its results created more uneasiness in the Mexican government rather than in the US.
US and Obama’s administration had other reasons for this change: political (Latin America rapprochement, worldview of US role, electoral strategy), economic (review on embargo’s effects, growing competition), strategic (set a foot back in Latin America, counterbalance of powers, change of regime policy).
Obama’s administration had to revert its policy on Latin America that became synonym of disinterest and distrust. The turn to the left of several countries, the open opposition of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, the ambiguities of the Plan Colombia, their silence on the Falklands/Malvinas have further isolated and weakened the US. By reaching an agreement on Cuba, the US can start not only a dialogue with Raul Castro but also with the leftist governments of the subcontinent, change its image from a country opposed to independent political will to a country now ready to sat at a table and negotiate at the same level.
The Cuba’s agreement is also a necessary condition to change on the world scenario what is perceived as a “double standard” or hypocrite figure: promoting democracy where is convenient and blocking it where US interests are at stake. Including Cuba on the states sponsoring terror while keeping an eye shut on the repression in Egypt post Mubarak, appeasing the brutal military intervention, is a major embarrassment for example. The US have no problem in discussing with China and have normal relations, although their poor score on human rights, or recently the re-approaching with Iran in anti ISIS efforts just show how unbalanced and discredited is their policy: hailed in the Western allied government, despised by all the developing countries.
Finally, there is a purely internal political dimension. While Obama will not stand for the next presidential election, and seen the recent humiliating defeat in the Congress dominated by Republicans, the Democrats will have to find a good strategy to recover. CIA scandals, accuses of racism within police forces are used by Republicans to distance the minority groups from their usual electoral recipient. This deal, if on a side may anger Florida’s Cuban community, on the other it is also true that the Latino community as a whole welcome the move and may have effects on electoral polls.
Considering President Obama own strategy, he has been accused from all fronts in this second term: Republicans attack him for being too soft against Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea, many Americans for being unable to sort arms controls, speed up reforms, control of terrorism and lately racism on police forces. This deal inevitably put a new light on his administration, as being the first American president to actually do something real for addressing this remnant of Cold War history. He may not be able to lift the embargo straight away but by opening the debate inevitably put the responsibility of the failure on the opposition and on the Cuban Government. If successful, he will make history and the Democrats will surely benefit.
On the economic sphere, the approach is to review in the long term the relations with Cuba aiming at end of the embargo. Its continuation is not only a heresy for trade market and capitalistic system on which the US is found, but it is also a loss of investments in an island that could offer the US incredible revenues. The risk of isolating itself is to give to competitors an advantage that will be impossible to recover when the embargo will be lifted. In addition, while the US cannot trade, others are already doing it or plan to do, with the risk also to have at the doorstep powers that are certainly not US friendly such China and worst of all Russia. Dialogue and embargo lifting will also undermine the role of regional powers like Venezuela that is the major partner and economic supporter of Cuba.
This inevitably opens the strategic scenario. The US 21st century policy is inevitably looking at the Pacific to contain the rising of China’s military might, but in the immediate Russia is the major obstacle and Cuba could be seen as dangerously needed by Moscow to thwart US interests. The strategy could be this time to pull Cuba on US side by reaching a deal and avoid pushing it towards Russia. By setting a friendlier relation with Cuba and assuring a sort of barrier against possible enemies, will allow Washington to reset its Latin American relations and damage the radical block represented by Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. This is the reason why Cubans and all other traditional US antagonists while welcoming deal, on the other are also conscious that the “change of regime policy” may be hidden somewhere. The Cuban regime therefore will surely continue to keep an eye on the communication agreement to avoid that this will be a Trojan horse to fuelling unrest.
Cuba: an unexpected diplomatic window to keep open with prudence
President Raul Castro gave his speech at the same time as President Obama announcing to Cubans this historic deal. He delivered his speech in a sober manner, with none of the triumphalist notes one could have expected on the day when a US president announced a major shift in relations with the “Communist-monster”. He mentioned his brother Fidel Castro a number of times, implying not only that the talks had been given the approval of the leader but also as confirmation that the Lider Maximo has been part of it indirectly.
However, Cuba like the US is also at a crossroad. Politically Cuba has to break the isolation and any US pretext for further sanctions or worst a change of regime. The recent changes in the Latin American political scenario have strengthened Cuba’s position, with all countries more or less in favour for an end of the embargo. Politically, as said the hostages issue has surely helped Cuba in negotiating with the US, but as per Obama political calculation in Havana is not a coincidence. Castro knows perfectly that a probable next republican government will not only block any Cuban effort to rediscuss the embargo but also its hostility can even mean a direct attempt for a change of regime. The time is also right for Raul Castro to change his image from being simply Fidel’s brother and achieve a status of his own, a real president, that exact like Obama has for many been subject of critics.
Exactly as per the US, in reality many of the reasons that may explain the willingness of Cuba to discuss are also strategic. Venezuela, due to falling oil prices is in economic decline, its support is not as strong as it used to be and without this source the already fragile Cuban economy will surely reach the bottom. In addition, Venezuela itself is subject of US sanctions and desire for a change of regime, which Cuba consider to be only a matter of time before the US will turn to Cuba again. Nevertheless, the paradox is that exactly the US double standard policy combined to the counterproductive stance with Russia has in reality opened a diplomatic space for Cuba to move. Russia is an immediate and present danger for US policy in the world, and Cuba may be seen as an attractive tool in Moscow for the tit-for-tat Cold War policy style: if the US are playing near the Russian border, so can do Russia with Venezuela and Cuba. But Cuba is probably also playing its cards in avoiding to get embroiled into the renewed US-Russia competition, and instead using this as an opportunity to obtain the maximum from both. A sort of neutrality which will be very welcome in Washington. Strategically speaking, on the embargo matter, the US are isolated in keeping a non sense blockade generating suffering on people, while from UN to EU, from Latin America to Pope Francis the calls are increasing for the end of this historical failure.
The US-Cuban deal is a start of a long road to close 50 years of distrust, hatred and isolation. While the short term goal is for both to dialogue and reopen a communication channel, on the long term is the embargo issue that may be the real challenge. No negotiation will be successful without addressing the embargo lifting and promoting a free Cuban trade, but on the other both countries are required to make further steps by abandoning the Cold War mindset and not using this renewed opportunity to unbalance the adversary. Unfortunately, recent political developments give less hope that powers will act sensibly or a far from echoes of world dominance and control. The embargo could be difficult to end and may be thicker than the Berlin Wall, but keeping it alive will make this world less safe and a dangerous weapon to revert to a division that was thought to have been relegated to history books a quarter of a century ago.