As the Russian military intervention in Syrian continues to escalate and threaten Western supported rebels, world leaders are hyper-focused on ways to mitigate the potential harm from the Russian Intervention Crisis, the Islamic State Threat, the Syrian Civil War, and the Syrian Refugee Crisis. With their time and energy devoted to the threats emanating out of Syria, world leaders cannot give global initiatives the proper attention they need to ensure they will result in constructive policies. One of those initiatives is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
TPP is an economic policy issue, yet it is being framed and promoted as a means to balance Chinese influence. With Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and the East China Sea driving China’s neighbors to seek closer ties with the US, as well as China’s tenuous position on Syria, TPP appears to be a means of mitigating Chinese economic power. Framing TPP in terms of national security, however, distorts the benefits of this massive free trade agreement and pushes people to embrace a policy that can only be successful if it is economically beneficial to the US and its trade partners.
The secretly negotiated TPP treaty was finally drafted on October 5, 2015, yet its details will not be known, or written, for years. Quite frankly, the Peoples of the TPP nations must be given an opportunity to properly review the agreement. In terms of developing standards and common frameworks to address intellectual property rights, labor rights, environmental regulations, and investor rights, TPP represents an opportunity to improve economic ties, counteract efforts to use outsourcing to avoid higher standards, and end the degenerative nature of our lower bidder economy. To ensure these aspects of TPP are truly beneficial, however, People need a chance to properly review the details and publicly debate the economic merits of the policy changes.
Meanwhile, the most controversial aspect of TPP is its “free trade” provisions. Because TPP is essentially a supersized version of NAFTA when it comes to eliminating tariffs, criticism of NAFTA must be seriously considered when debating TPP. By making it cheaper to produce goods in Mexico, where regulations are far looser, living standards are less, taxes are low, and government is weak, NAFTA helped deleverage American and Mexican workers as well as the economic sovereignty of the signatory countries. Faced with a growing income gap, burgeoning National Debts, and never ending economic uncertainty, TPP cannot be dealt with as a side-burner issue at a time when the world is far too distracted by escalating crises.
Furthermore, the US and the rest of the TPP nations can still combat rising Chinese influence and growing Chinese, as well as Russian, aggression without embracing “free trade.” China and Russia’s “normal trade relations” status with TPP members, European non-TPP members, Middle East countries, and others can be downgraded to give them less of an advantage. Doing so would accomplish the goal of limiting Chinese economic influence at a time when China is economically weakening without inflicting the pain of free trade onto average citizens. The question for TPP members is whether they actually want to agree to limit Chinese influence and protect their Peoples from the ills of free trade.
Russia has been characterized as acting like a Nineteenth Century power and embracing a “might makes right” mentality since the beginning of the Ukraine Crisis. At the heart of this argument is the Putin government’s blind pursuit of its own interests without regard for the interests of other nations. Where this writer has discussed the topic in terms of resovereignization while those who see the potential for war fear nationalist movements and patriotic fervor within countries like Russia and China, it is also important to recognize the harm caused by another trait of traditional powers.
When countries fought wars in the past, their leaders would rally support by fostering hatred of their enemy. By vilifying, and even demonizing, the enemy, leaders dehumanized the populations of their revival nations and legitimized the wrongs done against their enemies in the name of war. This process may well have helped bolster support for one’s home country, even if the conflict was only in the interests of the government and hurt the general population, but it also made it more difficult to heal divisions once the war was over. In the age of the globalization, current campaigns to vilify revival nations, cultures, and religions make it far more difficult to sustain a stable, peaceful International Community.
Modern powers wage wars based on their national interests and the perceived wrongs of others. Although humans are naturally inclined to hate their enemies, modern national leaders legitimize war based on threat assessments and international law, not the need to destroy the hated enemy. Unfortunately, anti-American propaganda out of Russia and China, for example, seeks to cultivate hatred of the United States. Inversely, hatred of Russia is quickly growing, which is why this writer has made efforts to emphasize the need to take punitive measures against the Putin government for its policies without vilifying or declaring war against the Russian People.
Furthermore, hatred of the enemy may inspire people to fight alongside their fellow compatriots, but it also blinds them to the wrongs of their allies. In doing so, people open themselves up to be manipulated by those who wish to do wrong for their own gain. Hatred is the ultimate means of polarizing people against each other. Under conditions of extreme polarization, the enemy’s enemy becomes a friend. In the propaganda war against the Islamic State, the Assad government is being framed as an ally against violence and that is wining over some Western support for the Assad regime, even though it was the Syrian rebels who came to the defense of victims when Assad started bombing protesters.
Inside the US, as another example, extreme polarization and hatred of President Obama has left political rivals to even compliment Putin for his “shock and awe” style-campaign against America’s Free Syrian Army allies. Looking at the long running Turkish-Kurdish conflict, the hatred of the Kurds drove Turkish President Erdogan to provoke a return to war against the Kurds even though the Kurds are needed to fight the Islamic State. The pure hatred between the Israelis and Palestinians has left them unable to move beyond their traditional conflicts in order to fight the common threat that is the Islamic State. Pakistan, India, and China share similar dynamic with North Korea using hatred to indoctrinate its People to embrace perpetual abuse at the hands of their government.
Consequently, inspiring people to hate their enemies only perpetuates conflicts and rationalizes the wrongs done against revivals. When trying to build and maintain a peaceful, stable International Community, hatred drives people away from necessary cooperation. Instead of teaching others to hate their enemies, the world needs to teach people to see their enemies as people who do wrong and to teach people to defend against the wrongs of others. In other words, people need to learn to “hate the sin; love the sinner.” In declaring war against the harm being done by people, we also avoid being coerced into supporting those who seek to manipulate us for their benefit while making it easier to resolve conflicts in the long run.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
The drama of the Ukraine Crisis and the Syrian Civil War is monotonous and frustrating. It distracts world leaders from working on their policy priorities and issues like nuclear disarmament, poverty, economic instability, climate change, cyber security, and a myriad of other hurdles to human progress. The truth is that most people would like to avoid all of these problems in order to focus on far more interesting, progress-building subjects like space travel, advances in medicine, and nanotechnology, but the crises before the world today must be addressed before the future can be built.
The Western-Russian conflict, which inspired the Cold War and the Ukraine Crisis, the traditional Chinese-Russian conflict, the Korean War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, the Indian-Chinese-Palestinian conflict, widespread destitution in Africa, globalized terrorism, skyrocketing National Debts, and severe economic disparity are all issues no one wants to hear about. These problems may also be other peoples’ problems, but the nasty thing about these kinds of problems is that they tend to eventually become everyone’s problems when they are ignored. Until these deeply rooted, difficult-to-solve problems can be resolved, the world must focus on dealing with these issues.
The most frustrating thing about the Ukraine Crisis is that it is a war of choice. The Putin Administration likes to claim that the Ukraine Crisis started due to a Western-backed coup against the pro-Russian government. Even if this perspective is somewhat valid, the West did not make the Ukrainian People dissatisfied with their government’s policies nor did the West make Ukrainians angry over Russia’s undue influence in the Ukrainian government. Above all, the West did not force Putin to react to his loss of influence in Ukraine with the use of military force and the theft of Crimea.
As this writer has long said, Russia has legitimate grievances against the West that need resolved and the West has done plenty of things wrong, but Putin’s actions in the Ukraine Crisis and, now, the Syrian Civil War are causing problems for the world.
For Europeans, the Ukraine Crisis is a problem, because Putin’s unwillingness to accept Ukraine’s rejection of Russian political influence and Russia’s willingness to use military force in response to Ukrainians pursuing their interests creates a regional security threat. If Russia is willing to seize the territory of one nation, it is willing to seize the territory of another.
Thanks to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and the threat of the Islamic State, the Syrian Civil War is also a problem for Europeans. Given Russia and the Middle East are responsible for supplying much of the world’s energy, the economic and logistical interests for Europeans are obvious.
Influential nations like the United States, Brazil, India, and China share the same interests as European nations; however, distance diminishes the potential the Ukraine Crisis and the Syrian Civil War will become a problem with these nations. Where Brazil has been far more cordial toward Syrian refugees, the American People and the Obama Administration were extremely reluctant to confront Russia over the Ukraine Crisis and Assad over the Syrian Civil War, which is why the United States has been slow to escalate intervention in either crisis. Given the Great Recession, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War, the American People are extremely wary of being entangled in someone else’s conflict.
Because the world was accustom to the US taking action when there was a problem, the US was eventually force to take the lead in Syria and the Ukraine Crisis in order to prevent an even worse situations from developing as well as for the sake of basic human decency. It was not because the US wanted these conflicts.
Following the Second World War, the United States was more than willing to subsidize world security, because it meant neutering European nations in order to prevent them from sparking new conflicts. It is also the reason why the United States has tended to intervene in conflicts around the world. Americans learned long ago that wars are problems that tend to become problems for the rest of the world. The US has since learned the wrong kind of intervention can make problems worse.
With the rise of the Islamic State, Middle Eastern nations have come to recognize they have a responsibility to provide for their own regional security. Unfortunately, the largely authoritarian governments of the Middle East have failed to recognize the underlining cause of violence and instability in the region.
Where the Arab Spring Revolutions are often blamed for fostering regional violence and instability, the Arab Spring Revolutions happened, because the Peoples of the Middle East could no longer tolerate the failure of their unresponsive, egocentric governments to address their needs. It was the unwillingness of people like Assad to even hear the voices of dissent, as well as his instinct to use violence against those who questioned him, that created room for groups like the Islamic State to flourish.
The Syrian Civil War can only be resolved by addressing the grievances of the Syrian People and by suppressing groups like the Islamic State that undermine the possibility of future peace and stability. Because Bashar Al-Assad has made himself a source of violence, the Syrian People have too many grievances with Assad, and Middle Eastern governments have too many grievances with Assad, he cannot bring peace to Syria or the region.
In terms of threat assessment, the Islamic State is currently the greatest threat to peace and stability in Syria, but the Assad regime is the second greatest threat. Only once these primary threats are neutralized can a strategy that targets weaker extremist groups be constructive in efforts to rebuilt Syria. Killing those fighting these threats, even if they are also threats, is counterproductive at this time.
Consequently, Russia’s efforts to bolster Assad’s forces and his enemies, specifically those who are Western supported, only makes sense if the Putin Administration is trying to use the Syrian Civil War as a proxy war for the continuation of the unresolved Western-Russian conflict. After all, Assad’s toxic reputation and inability to govern means a Russian-brokered removal of Assad would do far more to elevate Russia’s influence in the Muslim world than an effort to save Putin’s ally.
Assuming Russia is successful in its mission to crush all alleged terrorist threats, i.e. Assad’s enemies, Russia will destroy the moderates, but give the extremists a perfect recruiting tool. Initiatives like the Iranian Nuclear Deal will also likely need to be shelved, because the West cannot release billions of dollars to Iran when it is helping Russia in its efforts to target Western-backed forces.
At the moment, the United States is struggling to respond to Russia’s targeting of Western-backed rebels without starting a global war. Recognizing Russia’s intervention in Syria is also an escalation of the Ukraine Crisis and Russia has been using the Ukraine Crisis as an excuse to intimidate Western nations with provocative military displays, Putin’s antagonistic nature is eventually going to force the United States to react, especially if the next US President is a Republican War Hawk like George W. Bush. This would be very dangerous for the entire world.
Instead of standing by as Russia and the United States struggle to pull away from their Cold War past, world powers, especially non-Western world powers, must do more to help check Putin’s antagonistic behavior. China, for example, would be wise to exert its influence on Russia, especially as it deals with increasingly strained relations with a nuclear North Korea trying to gain favoritism with Russia. After all, it may not be long before Russia and North Korea feel the need to antagonize China.
Russia’s controversial airstrikes against non-Islamic State targets near Homs in Western Syria send three messages. First, Russia will act without the blessing of the International whenever and wherever in the world it chooses to do so based on its own rules. Second, Russian President Vladimir Putin sees all insurgent groups, i.e. dissenters, in Syria as potential threats and will stomp those threats out. Third, Putin will stand by his supporters and strike against his detractors; the only choice is to support Putin and his allies.
Through his brazen and defiant exercise of sovereign power, Putin has taken control of the next chapter in the Syrian Civil War. Coming less than 48 hours after Putin and US President Barack Obama’s dueling UN addresses, Russia’s airstrikes ended the rhetorical battle between the American vision for engaging global conflict and the Russian plan for Syria. Although the Russian military buildup in Syria over the past few weeks was likely orchestrated to ensure Russia could launch these airstrikes after his UN appearance, the actual intervention leaves the International Community struggling to respond.
US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir, and Chinese President Xi Jinping in their 2015 speeches to the UN Assembly sounded more like candidates on the campaign trail than three of the world’s most powerful leaders. In many respects, they are competing for global influence at time when the International Community needs renewed leadership and more effective solutions to mounting crises. Although there will not be a single winner, the one who garners the most support from the nations and Peoples of the world will determine the course of our global society.
Taking the first turn at the international bully pulpit, President Jinping used the occasion to solicit international support by donating a billion dollars to the UN for a “peace and development fund,” 100 million dollars to the African for the creation of a rapid response unit, and 8,000 peacekeeping troops. President Obama, however, sought to rekindle support for American leadership with an argument based on aspirations while criticizing Putin, as well as others, for aggressive and counterproductive policies. In turn, President Putin aimed a great deal of criticism at the faults of US policy in his effort to capitalize on national security and economics concerns.
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