Catfight – and it’s US vs EU

Lovers of turbo-neoliberalism, rejoice – and take your bottles of Moet to a prime ringside seat; there won’t be a nastier catfight this summer than the opening rounds opposing two Western giants. Forget about the Pentagon “pivoting” to Asia without ever abandoning the Middle East; nothing compares with this voyage in the entrails of turbo-capitalism, worthy of a neo-Balzac.

We’re talking about a new Holy Grail – a free-market deal between the United States and the European Union; the advent of a giant, internal transatlantic market (25% of global exports, 31% of global imports, 57% of foreign investment), where goods and services
(but not people) will “freely” circulate, something that in theory will lead Europe out of its current funk.

The problem is that to reach this Brave New World presided by the Market Goddess, Europe will have to renounce some of its quite complex juridical, environmental, cultural and health norms.

In that Kafkaesque/Orwellian bureaucratic paradise also known as Brussels, hordes of faceless equivalents of the bowler hat men in a Magritte painting openly complain about this “adventure”; there’s a growing consensus Europe has everything to lose and little to gain out of it, in contrast with the much-derided enemies of the European integration, as in the fanatics of an “pro-American” and “ultra-liberal” Europe.

Pepe Escobar

Asia Times Online, Hong Kong

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Despite Horrific Repression, the U.S. Should Stay Out of Syria

The worsening violence and repression in Syria has left policymakers scrambling to think of ways the United States could help end the bloodshed and support those seeking to dislodge the Assad regime. The desperate desire to “do something” has led to increasing calls for the United States to provide military aid to armed insurgents or even engage in direct military intervention, especially in light of the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.

The question on the mind of almost everyone who has followed the horror as it has unfolded over the past two years is, “What we can do?”

The short answer, unfortunately, is not much.

This is hard for many Americans to accept. We have a cultural propensity to believe that if the United States puts in enough money, creativity, willpower, or firepower into a problem that we can make things right. However, despite the desires of both the right-wing nationalists and liberal hawks, this isn’t always the case.

Stephen Zunes

Foreign Policy In Focus, United States

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Why sanctions on Iran are not working

As EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s lead envoy Saeed Jalili meet in Istanbul on May 15, the six global powers negotiating with Tehran face an increasingly inconvenient truth: while sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy, they have not changed Tehran’s nuclear calculus. Although some policymakers and pundits privately concede this point, there is no consensus as to why. Hardliners tend to argue that sanctions are not tough enough and must be intensified. Elements on the left argue that sanctions must be given time to make an impact.

In reality, both sides miss the real reasons that have rendered sanctions unsuccessful – by failing to offer a credible exit from the sanctions pain, neither the Iranian government nor stakeholders in the Iranian system believe that a change in nuclear policy will lead to the alleviation of their economic suffering.

The current sanctions policy is based on a shaky assumption – the belief that economic pain and dissatisfaction among political elites automatically will result in pressure on the Iranian regime to change its nuclear course. This assumption does not hold. The economic pain imposed on Iran is intense – but directionless.

Trita Parsi & Reza Marashi

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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Pakistan elections and the hope for democracy

This year’s general elections in Pakistan will be remembered for two things: the determination of the people of Pakistan to see them through and the equal determination of the men of violence to prevent them. As Pakistanis prepare to go to the polls on May 11, there is much nervousness and hope for its outcome, potentially the first successful democratic transition between two popularly elected governments in Pakistan’s history.

What my experience as a district officer has taught me, however, is that there is nothing more dangerous than changing horses in mid-stream. National elections have proven in the past to lead to the collapse of law and order and the imposition of martial law. With the promise of the current elections, this is a cycle that appears to be broken, but we should be aware of its dangers.

Akbar Ahmed

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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The Syria-Iran red line show

This eminently Bushist Obama “red line” business, applied to Syria, Iran or both, is becoming a tad ridiculous.

Take Pentagon head Chuck Hagel’s tour of Israel and the “friendly” GCC (the de facto Gulf Counter-revolution Club) last week. US defense contractors had the Moet flowing as Hagel merrily congregated with that prodigy of democracy – United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed – to celebrate the sale of 25 F-16 fighter jets.

There’s more on the way; 48 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD missile interceptors, at a cool US$1 billion. The Pentagon is sending one of its only two of such systems to Guam this month to counter that other threat – missiles from North Korea.
The weaponizing free fest to Israel and the Gulf petro-monarchies – missile defense, fighter jets, mega-bombs – could not but be duly hailed as the proverbial “message” to “counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions”, or “the air and missile threat posed by Iran”, or the general “worry about Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon” or “Washington’s determination to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Pepe Escobar

Asia Times Online, Hong Kong

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The Iranian nuclear issue and the future of international order

The outlines of a nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran have long been obvious: Western recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights in return for more intrusive monitoring and verification of Iranian nuclear facilities. With agreement so readily at hand, the Obama administration’s refusal to take it is baffling to many international observers. But the reason for American obstinacy becomes clearer when one considers that the Iranian nuclear issue has at least as much to do with the future of international order as it does with nonproliferation.

Conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme is driven by two different approaches to interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These approaches, in turn, are rooted in different conceptions of world order.

In one concept, the rules of international relations are created through the consent of independent, sovereign states and are to be interpreted narrowly. This model is understandably favoured by non-Western states – for it is the only way international rules might constrain established powers as well as rising powers and the less powerful. But it is at odds with the model favoured by America and its Western partners, which emphasises the goals motivating states to create particular rules in the first place – not the rules themselves, but the goals underlying them. This model also ascribes a special role in interpreting rules to the most powerful states – those with the resources and willingness to “enforce” their concept of global order.

Hillary Mann Leverett

Flynt Leverett

AL Jazeera, Qatar

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U.S. options limited on Syria despite weapons report

The White House disclosure that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons still leaves the Obama administration stuck with a limited choice of military options to help the rebels oust President Bashar Assad.

Arming the rebels runs smack into the reality that a military group fighting alongside them has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. Establishing a no-fly zone poses a significant challenge as Syria possesses an air defense system far more robust than what the U.S. and its allies overwhelmed in Libya two years ago.

President Barack Obama had declared that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in the two-year civil war would be “game changer” that would cross a “red line” for a major military response, but the White House made clear Thursday that even a quick strike wasn’t imminent.

Al Arabiya, United Arab Emirates

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