Foreign Policy

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Political Realism Needs to Discover Nonviolent Social Change

When I start to hear in forums around Washington in the last few months that the people of Syria might have been better off without a violent revolution then we are witnessing a slow learning curve of the political realists. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria they are beginning to see the absurdity of embracing guns that give rise to everything they fear the most from the Middle East. The horror of the present makes the courageous crowds in Syria of 2011 something of a wondrous miracle, a proud pluralistic mass movement of social change, without the insanity of ideological extremism.

The lesson is simple. We activists must be much more prepared to massively support every nonviolent turn in social history across the world, but we also must be accompanied by policy makers who at the very least stay out of the …

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Nonviolence and Violence, the Shocking Difference

 For decades, there was hardly any opening in this strong police state to train and plan for creative and steadfast nonviolent social change. Some of us as peace activists did our best to introduce even the mildest ideas of social change at great personal risk to our Syrian friends. For over ten years I had been working steadily in Syria with Syrian partners on interfaith diplomacy and peacebuilding. We built bridges between both average people and between influential people across the spectrum from Alewite, Sunni, Shiite, Catholic, Protestant, and atheist. We engaged in what nonviolence practitioners refer to as exercises in solidarity.

We built a cadre of students in conflict resolution from young to old, inside and outside the government. We did this work with the grudging permission of the regime, through clever strategies of diplomacy. We also enjoyed the friendship of some Western …

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Part I: The Failure of the Military Option

Syria Peace Sign ImageIt may seem odd to speak of nonviolence in the same sentence as Syria, one of the bloodiest and most tragic destructions of a state and a culture in contemporary history. But the fact is that we are inching closer to a mainstream and politically realist understanding of nonviolence as a legitimate course of political change. This is very significant, because if in fact the major powers are beginning to acknowledge the futility of armed conflict, at least in places of a geopolitical standoff, such as Syria, then we can expect more Western support may to nonviolent resisters in the future. This in turn may inch the globe a bit closer to a nonviolent system of social change.

Why has the military option become increasingly futile in the Syrian case? Because Russia and Iran will not back down in their support of …

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Diplomats Discuss Bashar al-Assad’s Future as Syria Fights Rebels – NYTimes.com.

 

This is an important article on the stage we find ourselves in of the Syrian revolution. Russia’s defense to the last of the Assad regime is a significant political reality that points much more deeply to the problem and challenge of global, that is, Security Council consensus on matters of global governance when massive human rights abuses are occurring. We are still at a kind of Cold War impasse when it comes to the spheres of influence of the United States, Europe and Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other. The United States political narrative on such matters, and in such crunch times, runs something like this:

We the United States stand for human rights and democracy, and Russia and China only care about defending illiberal states and their sovereignty because …

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Ineffective tightening of sanctions on Iran

by mgopin on December 12, 2011 · 7 comments

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This article originally appeared on the Al Jazeeera English website on Dec. 12, 2011.  You can view it by clicking here .

Washington, DC – There is a long record of the grim effects of sanctions in international struggles against those states deemed as “rogue”. Sanctions are seen as righteous instruments, a non-violent way to pressure problematic regimes to change. But when you really don’t care about a country or its people, then your true attitudes emerge in the way in which you use the sanctions instrument of policy.

Let’s take Iraq. Based on estimates of the massive increase in child mortality rates through the years of the sanctions in the 1990s, anywhere from 300,000 to a million people lost their lives. But no one in Saddam’s inner circle, none of the wealthy, and none of the killers, died from those sanctions. Such sanctions were touted as an enlightened and …

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Get on the Right Side of History

by mgopin on September 24, 2011 · 0 comments

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(A version of this essay was recently published in The Jerusalem Report.)

Across the world in the last 40 years politically organized religious forces have played an increasingly important role in national politics. From India to Indonesia, from Lebanon to Israel, from the United States to Russia, organized religion has increased its impact on politics.

We are also aware of the frightening rise of very violent religion, expressed through terror groups. For this reason, it is easy to misunderstand the relationship between religion on the one hand and between states and ethnic groups and their very secular interests, on the other hand.

Precisely because so many millions of people care about religion, religion has become an essential tool of secular state and ethnic interests. Indeed, what may seem to be a religious issue often turns out to be very secular state interests. Missing this relationship, it becomes easy

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From the explosion of Osama Bin Laden into our consciousness on that terrible day in 2001, all the way to his death, feels like a frame of existence, a distinct period of our history and fate as an American community. There have been many deadly wars since then that America has participated in or supported. As an American Jew and a veteran peacebuilder in the Middle East, I also feel like this decade has been a whirlwind of violence, from Iraq to Lebanon to Gaza, and now to Arab countries in which I had worked, especially Syria where I put my heart and soul.

Every war, every massive act of violence, always makes me reflect anew on the origins and nature of human violence, and on its opposites, empathy, compassion, and love. We humans have made so many efforts through the millennia to create one political arrangement after another in …

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By Hind Aboud Kabawat (Senior Research Analyst and Expert in Conflict Resolution, CRDC, George Mason University).

Damascus, Syria

May 20, 2011

Can our beloved Syria be saved from the brink of destruction? This is clearly the question on the minds of millions of our fellow countrymen (and countrywomen). And it is truly astonishing how quickly events have transformed the so-called “facts on the ground” in this country. One of the most locked-down societies in the Middle East quite suddenly erupted in rage, anger and frustration after forty years of political repression and economic stagnation. Just think of it: the first demonstration was on March 15, just a mere two months ago. But so much has changed in the minds, hearts and aspirations of the Syrian people that it is impossible to think that we can ever return to the status quo ante—the Syria of March 14th.

What the …

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The Arab Spring Awakens in Palestine

by mgopin on May 19, 2011 · 7 comments

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Here are two interviews that I did with Fox News and Russia TV on Tuesday, regarding thousands of Palestinian refugees who attempted to nonviolently cross Israeli borders from the Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian border last weekend, resulting in several deaths and dozens injured.

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President Obama has signaled in recent days that he will be confronting China much more on its global policies. But China is on the rise as the premier economic global power, even as America is on the decline, and it remains to be seen what kind of confrontation could be effective. Will China’s rise actually be good news for the world? This will depend on how China rises, and it will be wise to challenge China on its humanitarian impact every bit as much as on its economic impact globally. Let’s look at one example.

Burma has one of the worst governments in the world, a place where citizens live in terror. The military junta seized power when Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won 392 of the 492 seats in Parliament. It does not fully control the Hill Country on the west and east sides of the country, inhabited by …

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