Sunday, 28 July 2013

Will Moscow say ‘Da’ to Snowden?

Ties between Washington and Moscow are at their lowest point in recent times, but if the United States truly wishes for better relations with Russia, it isn’t going to get it through imposing sanctions as a consequence of granting amnesty to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The US Senate has passed a bill authored by hawkish Senator Lindsey Graham that will enable Washington to move towards sanctioning countries that are seen as “aiding” Snowden. The message being sent is clear – American authorities are dead set on getting their “fugitive” and they are even willing to take the unprecedented move to impose sanctions on other countries for their failure to extradite a US citizen. Such a move completely undermines an individual’s right of asylum as specified by international law, and is a deeply hypocritical stance for a country that loves to posture itself as an arbiter of righteousness and a haven for asylum seekers and dissidents. During his speech to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Graham went on an anti-Russian tirade and made clear Putin’s administration will be in the thick of the proposed sanctioning effort. Such is the folly of US policy, which aims to get others to comply with little in return, or face punishment of sanctions. To add insult to injury, Moscow knows that the US would never concede to the demands it is currently placing on Russia if the tables were turned.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Tahrir turbulence: Washington & SCAF as obstacles to change in Egypt

As figures in Egypt’s powerful military collude with the political opposition to form a civilian interim government, what kind of political and economic solutions will the new regime offer, and is Washington’s hidden hand at play?

Political polarization has reached new heights in Egypt following the dramatic overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader. Recent polls taken before the June 30 protests showed that SCAF’s approval rating had reached 94 percent while the Muslim Brotherhood’s rating was at 28 percent and the opposition’s at 38 percent. It’s strange that Egypt’s anti-Morsi activists would place their trust in SCAF given its extensive crackdown on civilian protesters since the revolution began, and certainly no one can deny that the Muslim Brotherhood was isolated during its final days. It is highly unlikely that Morsi would ever be reinstated at this point, and the interim government can be expected to pursue austerity measures, economic restructuring, and a foreign policy in step with Western-Gulf states. Morsi had something that the current rulers of Egypt do not – democratic legitimacy – and despite that only 34 percent of Egyptians took part in the vote, the result should have been respected by the military. Morsi was by no means a democrat, but the Muslim Brotherhood captured the majority in parliament, and their persecution and total exclusion from the interim government is unacceptable.

After sweeping away two presidents since 2011, the original goals of the revolution, embodied in the popular slogan “Bread, Freedom, Social Justice and Human Dignity,” haven’t come close to materializing. For all intents and purposes, life for the average Egyptian is more difficult now than under Hosni Mubarak, and although Morsi’s shortcomings may not have justified a military coup, his tenure was a spectacular failure. Although many perceive Morsi and Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) as being hijackers of the 2011 revolution, the bottom line is that the revolutionary fervor emanating from Tahrir Square is not directed against one party or political figure, but against economic conditions and neo-liberal tendencies that have largely remained unchanged throughout the ebb and flow of Egyptian politics in recent times.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Syrian rebels have hand in atrocities


SECURITY PROBLEM: Assad is depicted as the sole purveyor of violence but nothing is mentioned of the rebels' crimes

FOR over two years, the armed conflict in Syria has dominated news headlines, but international opinion has remained divided over varying interpretations of the conflict and its protagonists. The American stance is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been ruthlessly killing his own people, and that Assad has lost his legitimacy and must step down. The United States and its allies have lent enormous financial and material support to the rebels fighting Assad's regime, with heavy CIA presence on the ground coordinating the distribution of weapons, aid and materials, as confirmed by The New York Times. The Russian interpretation is that the Syrian government is the legitimate government of the country, and that Assad is fighting militant movements infused with jihadist elements. In other words, the Russians believe Syria is not facing a political problem as much as it is facing a terrorism and security problem.

I recently spoke with Mother Superior Agnès-Mariam de la Croix, a Syrian nun who visited Malaysia as part of a religious delegation, and her testimony from the ground confirmed that the Russian account of events is far more accurate that what those in the West claim is happening. Reports indicate that several Malaysian media outlets received negative feedback from their audiences after giving Mother Agnès the platform to share her views, mainly because many in Malaysia's Muslim community hold sympathetic views of the rebels. At this stage, it would be irresponsible to deny the documented human rights abuses committed by anti-Assad militants fighting in Syria, and testimony like that given by Mother Agnès shouldn't be so easily shrugged off. She has her fair criticisms of the Assad regime and is a member of a reconciliation initiative aimed at ending the fighting through dialogue.

She told me how the Syrian conflict is the first "virtual war", in a sense that every form of persuasion is being used by the enemies of Assad to depict him as the sole purveyor of violence, when those same figures suppress reports of crimes committed by the al-Qaeda affiliated rebels. She shared her compelling and harrowing eyewitness account, and she claims that civilians, religious minorities and pro-Assad loyalists have been targeted by rebels, and executed or beheaded. Her claims have been corroborated by others, and by mounting photo and video evidence showing atrocities committed by the US-backed rebels. It should be noted that those states that have supported the rebels -- the primary backers being the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Israel -- have maintained their positions for political and strategic reasons.

The geopolitics of the region are very complicated, but the West, including Israel, have mutual interests with the Sunni-majority Gulf states that champion the Wahhabi and Salafi brands of Islam. Both the West and their allies in the Gulf view Iran, the Assad regime in Syria, and Hizbollah in Lebanon as a threat to their interests; these forces also happen to be Shia Muslims. There is an undeniable sectarian element to the fighting in Syria that senselessly pits Sunnis against Shias, which has led to disaster for civilians and Syria's religious minorities. At a conference in Putrajaya in late May, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad made a joint statement with former Iranian president Muhammad Khatami, addressing the issue of sectarianism within the Islamic world. Dr Mahathir did not refer to Syria during his address, but he mentioned how the enemies of Islam were clapping among themselves over the growing prevalence of sectarian violence in the world.

The conflict has also taken an enormous toll on Syria's Christian communities, which comprise some 10 per cent of the population. Today, many of them fear the fall of Assad over concerns that they would be persecuted and marginalised under a hardline Taliban-style regime in Damascus. Media reports tell us tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting, and yet, France and Britain argue for the arms embargo on Syria to be dismantled so they can arm anti-Assad fighters. It is some wicked irony that those powerful countries who talk of human rights are flooding Syria with weapons that will be used to end lives. The West and Israel often accuse other countries of being state sponsors of terrorism, while they arm non-state actors and militants who are fighting to topple the Syrian government.

During a session of the United Nations General Assembly in May, Malaysia voted in favour of a resolution on Syria drafted by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The resolution, being drafted by the two main backers of Syria's militants, was transparently slanted in favour of the political opposition, and dozens of countries abstained from the vote. Malaysia and Syria share common ground because both countries have complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious landscapes, and they have both benefited from stability and their population's ability to coexist and prosper. Putrajaya and Damascus endorse a moderate brand of Islam that is opposed to radicalism and violence. Malaysians were shaken by the Lahad Datu incursion, but the violence seen there has become the status quo in Syria.

Malaysia, which has proven to be a peace broker in the past, should not endorse any resolutions that could undermine the legitimate government of Syria. Russia, China, and Iran have said that Syria's people must decide the fate of their president in free and fair elections. The US argues that Assad used chemical weapons against his people, despite its failure to provide evidence. UN investigations led by Carla Del Ponte into the use of chemical weapons have laid the blame on the Syrian rebels. Washington acted outside of international law by invading Iraq over concerns of weapons of mass destruction that it clearly could not prove. The same is true today, as the Obama government becomes more engaged in the Syrian conflict. Whether we like it or not, the Assad government is the legitimate representative of Syrian people, and his fate should be in their hands. It can only be described as disturbing that some of the most powerful countries can support militants who would be described as "terrorists" if they turned and pointed their guns towards the West.

This article appeared in the July 16th print edition of the New Straits Times newspaper. 

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Obama wags the dog over Syria chemical weapons

A team of Russian experts recently submitted reports to the UN detailing how chemical weapons used in Syria were not consistent with what the armed forces use, suggesting that rebels groups were responsible for the attack. The Obama administration unwaveringly holds Bashar Assad’s forces responsible for using sarin nerve gas against civilians, and is now using these allegations to justify a military escalation of the conflict. When a crude chemical weapon containing sarin nerve gas killed 30 people after it was set off near Aleppo on March 19, the Syrian government immediately called for an investigation into the incident, prompting accusations and speculation from all sides.

President Obama immediately cast doubt over concerns that the rebels could have been behind the attack and, despite the lack of any compelling evidence, the US concluded in June that Syrian government forces were the perpetrators. The use of chemical weapons signified the crossing of Obama’s much-touted ‘red line’ by government forces, prompting Washington to announce that it would now openly supply the rebels with arms. Meanwhile, Russia made it clear that they were not convinced by Washington’s claims as prominent Russian political figures made comparisons between Obama’s unverified claims of chemical weapons in Syria and Bush’s fabricated claims of WMDs in Iraq.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Reassess Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

HAVE you heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement? It is a multilateral trade agreement being negotiated between Malaysia, the United States and several other Pacific Rim nations, and if it becomes law, it will have an immense impact on the country's financial, economic, and even legal affairs. In other words, a strong case can be made that the TPPA would undermine Malaysia's sovereignty. Malaysia is set to host the next round of negotiations for the TPPA this month, but there are still significant challenges ahead before the trade deal can become law.

Putrajaya has taken a strong stance against any extension of intellectual property rights involving medicine in the deal, which could otherwise significantly inflate the price of generic medications. International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed told the media that he would defend existing policies and choose not to sign the TPPA if the terms didn't benefit Malaysia.

It would be strange for Malaysia to agree to the TPPA, given its past criticism of neo-liberal capitalism and deregulated trade. Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad once likened free trade to a house with all its doors and windows left open, and as a consequence, bears, wolves and other predatory beasts would invite themselves inside.

He also called for a new model of globalisation that could be more equitable, and more in service to social uplift and poverty reduction, rather than to a handful of Western banks and mega-corporations.
Dr Mahathir attempted to ingrain that philosophy in Umno, and it has served Malaysia well. Signing the TPPA would mean restructuring the entire economy and legal system to conform to the stipulations of the deal, resulting in Malaysia being a lot more vulnerable to casino capitalism and currency speculation.

The TPPA would prohibit Malaysia from banning risky financial instruments, speculation and derivatives. Tt would also be banned from enacting capital controls, while banks would enjoy significantly less regulatory oversight. Additionally, it imposes strict intellectual property legislation that would undermine access to the Internet and digital file sharing, as well as stymie the production of generic medications that could violate foreign patents.

Not only does it create incentives for multinational corporations to offshore jobs by encouraging bottom-of-the-barrel low wage conditions in participating countries, but it also makes signatory countries accountable to international trade tribunals, giving foreign corporations the ability to demand compensation for any expected future profits that may have been lost or hindered by existing national laws.

Think of the TPPA as the Asia-Pacific version of Nafta, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which dismantled the US manufacturing base and led to job losses, wages being driven down and heightened inequality. The TPPA would also allow pharmaceutical giants to increase drug prices and limit consumers' access to cheaper generic drugs. The fact that Putrajaya has taken a strong stance to defend existing policy is a welcoming sign.

It shows that Malaysia is still not willing to abandon its principles despite defying Western trade remedies. The other notable instance of Malaysia doing that was when it rejected the IMF's austerity measures following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and it proved to be a pretty good idea. The United States is going through some trouble lately -- it has had to enact deep cuts in social spending, and yet it continues to channel enormous sums to its military budget, which far surpasses that of any other country.

Washington narrowly pursues its interests in every way possible and the TPPA is its bid to bring the Asean region closer into its orbit in the face of a rising China that is notably assertive over territorial issues in the South China Sea. The Obama administration is at the helm of a country overstretched by its foreign adventurism and military interventions, and it wants to harness the economic growth of Southeast Asia's tiger cub economies to pay its massive debts, and for its own economic recovery.

The emerging reality is that several signatory countries feel the TPPA could threaten their national interests, and the voices are getting louder. It's a relief to see that Putrajaya has made itself heard, and has conveyed its willingness to take an independent position, even if it means being the odd man out. Dissent is also brewing in Japan, from the country's agricultural lobby and rice farmers, who oppose the TPPA's zero-tariff policies and are in support of domestic protectionist policies that have guarded local industries.

There is growing scepticism of the deal in Malaysia's mainstream press and among government and business officials. Hanafee Yusoff of the Malay Chamber of Commerce publicly opposed it and asked how Malaysia could ever sign such a grossly unequal agreement. Dr Mahathir has called for Malaysia to reject the TPPA, while leading figures in Pakatan have also expressed their concern over the deal for similar reasons.

The Obama administration's pivot to the Asia-Pacific region has resulted in some 60 per cent of the US naval arsenal moving to the Asean region, effectively becoming dozens of floating military bases, adding to the already complicated geopolitical landscape. Washington's emphasis on security issues dominates US foreign policy, and its shift to Asia has not garnered much serious criticism from regional media, which is quite bewildering given the complicated and aggressive history of the US military in the region.

Malaysia, as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), should pursue its existing social welfare and economic policies and avoid slipping into any other countries' sphere of influence. It can start by taking a good hard look at the substance of this trade deal and making the right decision in the people's best interests.

This article appeared in the July 1st print edition of the New Straits Times newspaper. 

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.