Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Critical Review of Obama’s 5-19 Speech on Israel

President Barack Obama delivered speech to address fundamental approaches for Middle East reform in view of successful attack to Osama bin Laden. Among a wide range of issues in the speech, the Israeli-Palestine mention has drawn a focal attention by the media. The global community applauded to hear Obama’s message on May 19 that Israel withdraw to the 1967 border for Middle East peace process. Is this really a breakthrough as widely expected? Let me comment briefly.

From Israeli viewpoints, Obama demanded Israel to swap the land without requesting anything to the Palestinian side. David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post points out that Obama failed to mention historical ties between the Jews and current Israeli territory in the Cairo speech in 2009. Unless this history-sovereignty ties are accepted, real compromise between Israel and Palestine cannot be achieved, he says (“Obama’s failure to internalize Palestinian intolerance”; Jerusalem Post; May 20, 2011). Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu interprets that Obama’s speech overturns the 2004 agreement between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that is, no complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 line and Palestinian refugees’ incorporation into the future Palestinian state. Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post criticizes Obama’s remark from the following three points. First, as Obama said the 1967 borders be the baseline for the peace process, Israel must hand over all the territory acquired in the Six Day War to the Palestinian side. This is to say that Obama defends Palestinian policy goal while demanding a complete compromise for Israel. Second, Obama did not reconfirm the 2004 agreement that Palestinian refugees return to a Palestinian state. This makes the refugee issue vague and provokes concerns on the Israeli side. Third, Obama suggested to engage Hamas without clearly demanding fundamental principles: curbing terrorism, recognizing Israel, and accepting previous agreements (”Analysis: What rankled Netanyahu in the Obama speech”; Jerusalem Post; May 20, 2011).

Let me mention some critical comments to Obama’s proposal on the American side. Though complete withdrawal of Israel is unlikely, American policymakers expect that the national border will be somewhat similar to the 1967 lines. The 2004 agreement is interpreted like this way on both the American and the Israeli side. However, Danielle Pletka, Vice President at the American Enterprise Institute, mentions that the timing and the balance of this speech are inappropriate. Obama himself decided to insert the 1967 line just before the speech without listening to his senior advisers. There is no wonder Prime Minister Netanyahu was startled to hear this controversial speech as he stood by President Obama at the joint press conference. As to the balance, Obama failed to condemn terrorism by Hamas and poor governance in the Palestine area. She says this imbalance is rooted to Obama’s antipathy to Israel, which is unacceptable to American values and interests (“A Little More on the 1967 Lines, Obama and Israel”; Enterprise Blog; May 20, 2011). In any case, I would argue that Obama has made the same mistake to overturn previous agreements without giving sufficient consideration to the timing and the balance as former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did on Futemma Air Base.

It is premature to praise Obama’s new proposal for the Israeli-Palestinian peace talk. On the other hand, Barack Obama outlined to reconfirm Bush administration’s policy to promote democracy in the Middle East, and the global community must pay more attention to this primary message in the 5-19 speech. Without airy fairy performance to shock Benyamin Netanyahu, this speech would have been more meaningful, and it is a pity.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The World after Osama bin Laden

The most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed in the attack by US Navy SEALSs in Abbottabad Pakistan on May 2. This is a landmark in the War on Terror, and a heavy blow to terrorist organizations notably Al Qaeda. However, it does not mean the end of Islamic terrorism. As Bin Laden’s hideout was not so far from Pakistani capital Islamabad, relations between Pakistan and the West are straining.

Let me talk about its implications to the war in Afghanistan. Liberals such as Gilles Dorronsoro, Associate Member at the French Institute of Anatolian Studies, argues that the United States make use of this chance to talk to the Taliban to get out of this long war, as he thinks it unlikely that things in Afghanistan and Pakistan improve soon (“Bin Laden Death Points to Way out of Trap”; Bloomberg News; May 3, 2011). On the other hand, Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, insists that conflicts among local ethnic groups and tribes will be eased only when the United States are sufficiently involved both politically and militarily. He urges Obama to accept field commanders’ advise to maintain the largest possible number of troops in Afghanistan (“Creating New Facts on the Ground”; Carnegie Policy Brief; May 2011).

The key to Western involvement in Afghanistan is how much critical threat Al Qaeda will continue to pose in the Middle East and South Asia. According to BBC, Al Qaeda and its affiliations are determined to launch attack in Pakistan in tribute to Osama, which poses substantial risks to Afganistan, Pakistan ,and India (Osama's death: What next for al-Qaeda?”; BBC News; 2 May 2011). Daniel Byman, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, comments that the loss of charismatic and unifying personality like bin Laden has given a tremendous damage to Al Qaeda (“What Next for Al Qaeda?”; Brookings Opinion; May 2, 2011). However, hardly any experts see that the War on Terror is over.

Frederick Kagan, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, presents a concise viewpoint to understand global terrorism after bin Laden. The killing of Osama is an important achievement, and Al Qaeda has been weakened. Since the surge in Iraq by the Bush administration, they lost their franchises there. Also, he says that they are losing in Afghanistan. However, he warns that premature retreat from the War on Terror by the United States and its allies will allow remaining Al Qaeda leaders to find another franchise somewhere else (“Bin Laden, No More”; National Review Online Symposium; May 3, 2011). Fouad Ajami, Professor of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, argues furthermore that bin Laden was a loser, rejected in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also says that bin Laden was killed when his jihadist legacy was being eclipsed in the Arab Spring (Osama Bin Laden, Weak Horse”; Wall Street Journal; May 3, 2011).

British experts express almost the same views as those of Americans. Paul Cornish, Head of International Security Programme at Chatham House, comments that symbolic effect of the death of the most notorious murderer cannot be underestimated, and perils of jihadists in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have become less dreadful (Osama bin Laden: Gone but not Forgotten”; Chatham House Comment; 3 May 2011). Of course, jihadist threats have not been wiped out. Xenia Dormandy, Senior Fellow at the Chatham House, warns the US Congress not to cut resources invested in this war simply for the sake of fiscal austerity (“Death of Osama bin Laden: The Threat Remains”; Chatham House Comment; 2 May 2011).

At present, Pakistan is an impending problem. The discovery of bin Laden in Abbottabad is strengthening distrusts to Pakistan among American policymakers. Since the hideout was close to military garrisons, the United States suspects that Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence sheltered him. Both American and Pakistani officials are puzzled with this (“Amid Skepticism, Pakistan Calculates Its Response”; New York Times; May 2, 2011). British leaders are also shocked to hear this news. Since the fall of Pervez Musharraf, UK-Pakistani counterterrorism ties have deepened under President Asif Al Zardari. In order to overturn a drawback in bilateral relations, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, announced that the Pakistani government had no information about bin Laden before the attack by US SEALs (“MP 'shocked' at bin Laden Pakistan discovery”; Independent; 2 May 2011).

The vital issue is bin Laden’s secret network in Pakistan. John Brennan, Counterterrorism Advisor to President Obama, questions whether bin Laden had some support system in Pakistan. Pakistan’s position in counterterrorism is delicate and complicated. While Pakistani intelligence community could make use of bin Laden threat to demand US military aid, a stable democracy in Afghanistan having close ties with India can encircle Pakistan itself (”American secrecy lays bare deep distrust of its Pakistani 'allies'”; Independent; 3 May, 2011). In view of Western criticism and suspicion, Husain Haqqani, Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, appeared in CNN to admit that Osama bin Laden had support system in Pakistan. However, Haqqani denied that the Pakistani government knew Osama hiding in its territory. In addition, he emphasized Pakistan’ contribution to the War on Terror in arresting terrorist leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (Osama had support system in Pak: Haqqani”; Hindu; May 3, 2011).

The successful attack to Osama bin Laden is a symbolic and great achievement. However, there are critical problems to be resolved. Considering connections with Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals, secret support system of terrorism is a foremost threat to global security. In the past, Pakistan was criticized for notorious Khan Network, tied to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. Also, state sponsorship to radicals must be investigated. As I mentioned in the last post, Iran has connections with Al Qaeda. It supports Shiite radicals like Hezzbolah in Lebanon and Bahrain to overturn pro-Western regimes and wipe out Israel. Those issues are more dreadful than revenge attacks in tribute to Osama.