The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Ahmadinejad

What does it mean to be a “Failed State”?

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People sleeping on a bus in Pakistan (10th most failed state in the world) | GETTY Images

The term “failed state” has been thrown around with wild abandon for quite a while now and has only grown in popularity and public prominence since Foreign Policy magazine, in partnership with the US think tank Fund for Peace, started publishing its annual Failed States Index in 2005.

But what does it mean to be a “failed state” and what is the real impact of this index?

The ranking is based on the total scores of 12 indicators. For each indicator, the ratings are placed on a scale of 0 to 10. The total score is the sum of the 12 indicators and is on a scale of 0-120. More information on the indicators used and further methodology can be found here.

My initial qualms are simple. How comprehensive can the tracking and monitoring of these indicators possibly be for each of the 177 states included in the 2010 index? How much access are researchers going to get to a country like North Korea, for example? How many hours of work would it take to be able to effectively establish a comprehensive rating of 12 indicators for 177 states within a reasonable time frame? Questionable, very questionable.

Putting that aside, even the structure itself is flawed. There are too many problematic examples for a single blog post but here’s one. All 12 indicators are weighted equally. One of those indicators is, say, “Progressive Deterioration of Public Services.” Ok, that’s pretty important. But what about the equally weighted “rise of factionalized elites,” described, in part, as “use of nationalistic political rhetoric by ruling elites”? I can see how that could be dangerous but it’s also pretty arbitrary and I can certainly think of worse things. That means a country with no nationalism but no public services whatsoever, and a country with sparkling public infrastructure and lots of flag-waving will be ranked equal in terms of being “failed.”

Also, how these indicators are squeezed into a rating out of 10 is beyond me. How do you assign an entire country a rating for “legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance or group paranoia”? What gives Pakistan a rating of 9.4 in this category vs. Iraq’s 9.3?

Ultimately, the index is obviously flawed, but ok, it’s impossible to create a perfect index that will sum up how 177 countries ‘failed’ to live up to a contrived ideal of perfect statehood. Which begs the question, should we even be trying? I understand that this is full of political bombast. A magazine that can tell its readers which states are ‘the worst’ and which states are ‘the best’ is surely useful. But also surely harmful.

Much of the danger arises when what the index is actually saying is compared to what people perceive it to be saying. The words ‘failed state’ set off massive psychological alarm bells, they tell potential tourists to avoid the country at all costs, they tell potential investors to put their money elsewhere and they inform the general language and framework of public debate about these countries, something that can be very damaging in the long run. When your average FP-reading punter reads the words “failed state” they don’t immediately question the methodology, they just hear massive alarm bells ringing in their head screaming “DANGER DANGER OMG!!!111.” These crushingly important perceptions can swiftly become prejudices when one considers how little thought your average reader puts into critically analysing the index itself.

These problems are exacerbated further by the articles FP prints to go along with its index. Check out, “Postcards from Hell,” a series of wonderfully cliched images of starving African people, shifty-looking ethnics with AK-47s, ominous burqas and random fire. These images have all the intellectual depth of a Michael Bay movie and do little but promote flawed pigeon-holing of entire nations into neat boxes marked “poverty” & “danger”. Things are made worse by charmingly worded accompanying captions, the writer of which seems to have trawled the thesaurus for every possible synonym of ‘bad’ but provide very little by way of explanation. For example, the caption under 32nd most failed state, Iran reads: “Clashes broke out in Tehran after a disputed June 2009 election saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claiming victory over his main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi,” which doesn’t tell me much about why Iran is any more ‘failed’ than number 33, Liberia.

Then there’s the ‘analysis’. Robert Kaplan’s piece, quaintly titled “Actually, it’s mountains“, a stinker that was seemingly faxed-in after a 45 minute session with the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, stands out for me. Kaplan spends most of the article harping on about the problematic geographies of the countries on the list and then rounds it off with a hopeful-sounding “None of these places is doomed. Human agency can triumph over determinism.” Thanks, Rob, I feel a lot better. I suggest a new title: “Actually, it’s lazy.”

Or what about George Ayittey’s “The Worst of the Worst“, a list of a bunch of terrible dictators and all their evil transgressions. Once again liberally applying the thesaurus, Ayittey goes through his list with wild abandon, brutally deriding the “bad dude dictators” and “coconut-heads,” and mercilessly cutting them down with the sword of Western Reason while riding past on his high horse.

But what is the use of all this sensationalism? We are told that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a bad man but there is no analysis of the complex Iranian political system where most power (including foreign policy and control of the armed forces) actually rests with Ayatollah Khamenei. We are told that Hosni Mubarak is a bad man but nowhere is it mentioned that his regime is propped up entirely by the US government. And that’s just the basics, there’s no in-depth analysis anywhere suggesting that maybe Iran is seeking a nuclear deterrent to Israel, or that Uzbekistan was used by Bush as a staging post for the War on Terror, thus giving Karimov legitimacy, or that Mubarak’s torture was not only approved but taken advantage of by America’s use of extraordinary rendition. Nope. Nada. Just lots of bad men and ‘failed states’.

And therein lies the problem with their entire concept. There is far too much weight behind the two words “failed state,” and too many conflicted definitions, to entrust the definitive explanations of entire nations to a few scantily-analysed annual magazine articles. Readers, do yourselves a favour: next time you read somewhere that a state is ‘failed’ or a head of state is ‘bad’, or a ‘dictator’ or a ‘coconut-head’, ask why. Because until we start asking why and actually analysing the global situation in a broader manner we will never find real solutions, just constant fear and further entrenchment of damagingly simplistic binary assessments of entire peoples that many already perceive as ‘the Other’.

Written by alexlobov

June 24, 2010 at 8:11 pm

The new set of Sanctions against Iran

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Ahmadinejad's "Armpit of Evil", thanks Guardian for the pic

I’ve been facing a combination of writer’s block, laziness and slow news days cropping up precisely on the days that I do have time to blog, a dangerous cocktail that helps explain my general lack of postage on this blog. I realise that the new set of Iran sanctions has already been heavily discussed, for those that haven’t heard

I’m not going to say a great deal on this issue except that I don’t particularly like it. I don’t remember when sanctions have ever been effective in getting a Government to do what people want them to do, they usually only serve to isolate and entrench despotic governments further (Saddam). In addition, while the specific set of sanctions hasn’t been finalised yet, there already has been a reasonable amount of opposition to specific measures that have been mooted.

Talking about the political implications, as The Majlis has mentioned, it seems that the Iranian regime is ready for these sanctions and looking to confront them head on. The amount of baiting that has been going on has been ramped up a great deal, especially with the announcement of building a further ten nuclear plants by the regime. How they intend to finance this with the Iranian economy in the doldrums that it’s in is of no consequence, the rhetoric here is what seems to be important. The Majlis also discusses the effect on the current rift in the Iranian political establishment. It seems to me that the conservative wing of Khamenei/Ahmadinejad is further entrenching itself in a position where the nuclear program is its baby and its baby alone. Reformists like Rafsanjani will not oppose the program either because they realise it would be political suicide after how much pro-nuclear propaganda has been effected on the population.

It seems that Obama’s unclench-your-fist rhetoric has failed and he’s now erring on the side of sanctions to preserve his own political capital. This spells bad news. Even if Russia and China do support the sanctions, no good will come of them. Sanctions will further serve to entrench the regime’s position against the West as “the Great Satan” and further entrench the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad axis in power, helping it out of its current political quandry. I may not have any helpful suggestions on the matter, but I don’t like sanctions.

Written by alexlobov

December 5, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Irani & Israeli representatives discuss Nuclear Weapons

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“]”]Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pictured in the Natanz plant [Photo credit: AP]

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pictured in the Natanz plant [Photo credit: AP

According to several eyewitness accounts and confirmed on the Israeli side, Iran & Israel had a rare face-to-face meeting at diplomatic level, at an Australia-brokered (K-Rudd Win!) conference in Cairo last month. News broke as an Egyptian official who witnessed it said said that Israel had been represented by former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami and Iran by its envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

“During the first session Ben Ami and Soltanieh spoke,” he said, asking not to be named.
“We had round-table discussions … then there were cross-table discussions. It was rather polemical, with accusations.

“Soltanieh said the Iranians do not have a (nuclear) bomb and do not want the bomb but the Israelis said that was not true,” the official said, adding that he did not know if the Israelis and Iranians had also met bilaterally on the sidelines.

“This is not the first time (Israelis and Iranians have had contact) but I believe this is the first time they are present at this level of representation,” he said.

In one exchange, Mr Soltanieh asked Mr Zafary-Odiz: “Do you or do you not have nuclear weapons,” Haaretz said, citing unidentified participants in the meeting. The Israeli smiled but did not respond, the newspaper said.

Mr Soltanieh insisted Tehran did not hate Jews, although it opposed Zionism, the newspaper said. [The Australian]

So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the first time since the Revolution that Iran & Israel have had talks at this level, how very interesting. Seems Iran is under pressure indeed. There has also been a lot of reporting about the recent talks between Iran, the international community and the IAEA. There are rumours flying around that an agreement with the Obama Administration over a resumption of diplomatic ties and an easing of sanctions will be reached, along with a presumable curtailing of the nuclear programme. While details are still fuzzy as they are being ironed out, I will ask you to consider the following things:

1. Pressure on the Iranian Government:

Since the disputed election in June, there has been mounting domestic pressure, along with mounting international pressure, on the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad government. An agreement that saves face for Iran and eases sanctions would presumably be a major coup and help to add legitimacy for the pair. I believe commentators are underestimating just how complicated the ‘saving face’ element is going to be, considering how steadfast the rhetoric from Ahmadinejad has been about not giving an inch to the international community over Iran’s right to nuclear power and uranium enrichment. Moreover, if the Iranian public considers the development of nuclear weapons forthcoming, as much of the international community does, then an agreement not to do so would mean allowing Israel to remain the Middle East’s only nuclear power. Nevertheless, if this is ironed out, it could mean a shoring up of the Government and a severe blow to hopes of internal regime change still presumably carried by Washington. Though, just how realistic these hopes were to start with is, of course, also questionable.

2. How much trust can be put into this government

One would expect that, in the absence of rigorous and regular inspections, Iran could still continue to make progress on uranium enrichment, albeit at a slower pace. Considering that the current climate of relations between Iran and the international community is not exactly one of goodwill, and considering the regime’s burgeoning influence internationally (in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan for example), it wouldn’t take much to surmise a level of deceit in any agreement Iran makes to actually halt uranium enrichment.

3. What about an Israeli first strike?

While Iranian deceit can be expected, Israel would have its hands tied. Again, I suggest that chances of an Israeli strike on Iran have been exaggerated. A strike would require agreement from the Obama Administration, and considering how much pressure Obama is under over Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, such an agreement would be very unlikely. Equally, I have a feeling Obama is looking for an excuse for real leverage over Israel on the Palestinian question and the question of settlements. Frustrated already by stonewalling from Netanyahu, Israel would not want to anger its superpower backer any further by striking unilaterally. Also, considering the current unresolved controversy over the Goldstone Report, Israel is not exactly in unquestionable good graces with the international community. A unilateral strike on Iran, even without an agreement over nuclear capabilities, would always be a very risky venture for Israel given the shakiness of its current reputation.

Having said this, Israel is, at least publicly, not happy about this detail. Ehud Barak slammed the deal, and a high-level representative of the EU has stated in pretty strong words (snarky, even) that Israel has no part in these negotiations:

A senior European Union official told Israeli officials this week that Israel is not privy to the details of the exchanges between Iran and the Western countries regarding its nuclear program. “You do not understand the extent to which you are not in the picture. You do not know how much you do not know and what is happening in Iran,” he said.

Accordingly, a number of senior Israeli officials backed the European official’s statements by saying that the release of the draft of an agreement with Iran caught Israel by surprise. [Haaretz]

Ouch!

So all those things considered, I think an agreement is forthcoming and it will probably involve the shipping of nuclear fuel to France via Russia for enrichment, and then its return to Iran in the form of fuel rods. Let’s wait for the details and see what happens, a final deal is expected some time Friday.

Written by alexlobov

October 23, 2009 at 5:30 pm

UNHRC endorses Goldstone Report & more anti-Goldstone crazy

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Photo Credit: AP

Photo Credit: AP

Breaking news via JPost & Haaretz, Goldstone Report is endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council:

The resolution passed 25-6, with mostly developing countries in favor and the United States and five European countries opposing. Eleven mostly European and African countries abstained, while Britain, France and three other members of the 47-nation body declined to vote. [JPost]

The resolution agreed in Geneva simply calls for the U.N. General Assembly to consider the Goldstone report and for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back to the Human Rights Council on Israel’s adherence to it.

The report calls for the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court if the Israelis or Palestinians fail to investigate the alleged abuses themselves. [Haaretz] (For full breakdown of votes for/against/abstentions click the Haaretz link

UPDATE: You can haz vote breakdown, hat-tips Haaretz & Jpost

Against: The U.S., Italy, Holland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Ukraine.

For: China, Russia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Pakistan, South Africa, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia, Djibouti, Liberia, Qatar, Senegal, Brazil, Mauritius, Nicaragua and Nigeria.

Abstain: Bosnia, Burkina-Faso, Cameron, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Belgium, South Korea, Slovenia and Uruguay.

Refused to Vote: Britain, France

Not Present: Madagascar and Kyrgyzstan were not present during the vote.

We’ll update you on new stuff that comes out of this as soon as we can. In the meantime… here’s your daily dose of crazy.

UPDATED:

The Guardian pretty much sums up the repercussions of this:

Hamas looks unlikely to investigate its actions during the war and Netanyahu has already insisted he will not allow any Israelis to face war crimes trials. The US would almost certainly veto any decision critical of Israel if the issue reached a vote in the security council.

It’s good to see that this vote has been passed, it’s interesting to see that Bibi’s shuttle diplomacy during the meeting only succeeded in bringing around the US & some Europeans. This could be a further indicator that the first to abandon Israel’s side completely will be the developing world. However, despite a good deal of discussion in the UK about this, it’s disappointing that they chose not to vote for it in the end and decided instead to not participate due to lack of time. The old stalling ploy. Nice one, Gordon.

Sometimes I wonder why Haaretz continues to put this kind of crap into print, maybe the anti-Goldstone lobby simply has no real reasonable ammunition left so they just have to make do with intermittently sounding either like a bunch of petulant children or old men shaking their fists at clouds, and maybe Haaretz just prints it in order to sound “fair and balanced”.

This here article by one Yoel Marcus is so chock-full of ridiculousness that I just can’t help myself, let me sum it up for you:

Firstly, Turkey is clearly on its way to becoming a member of the Axis of Evil since the grave error of supporting the Goldstone Report sin of not allowing Israel to use their airspace for military exercises was committed. But don’t worry, this doesn’t matter, the Turks don’t matter, WE DONT NEED THE TURKS (despite them being the biggest economy in the region & Israel’s only friend in it). Also, apparently the Turks no longer have any right to criticise anyone since what they did to the Armenians and the Kurds, nope, no right at all. Never mind that, you know, of course this in no way refutes the fact that Israel killed children in Gaza, as the Turks rightfully pointed out… it’s just that the Turks can’t say anything cos they were bad too! Tattle-tales! While poor Israel has “become the world’s doormat” despite having the unquestioned support of the world’s only superpower.

Furthermore, Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denying means he is in no way allowed to consider nuclear weapons, for shame for even suggesting it, while Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons arsenal or ‘the thing we do not speak of’ is… cool. The article also credits Netanyahu for his grand-peacemaking plan: “Two states for two peoples”, all credit to Bibi, perhaps he should get the next Nobel Peace Prize? Oh and bloody Abbas, he’s been such a terrible man, despite initially helping Israel whitewash the Report, Hosni Mubarak on the other hand “turns out to be the most level-headed leader in the region”. Amazing!

There is also this bizarre little gem explaining why we should not talk to Iran:

Dialogue? Go for it. The Iranians are known for their salesmanship – when someone asks the owner of a carpet store the time, he will end up buying three rugs before getting an answer.

I never wanted those bloody rugs in the first place but I have to say, they are rather pretty…

Anyway there’s more crazy in there but my rant was long enough. See it & behold for yourselves!

UPDATED

- Saba Imtiaz

Al Jazeera’s live stream crashed on me so I couldn’t view the endorsement of the Goldstone Report for myself.  That personal boo-hoo aside, should one be fairly optimistic or fairly cynical of this? If the Goldstone Report has been decried so much already, will an endorsement make any difference?

I’m going to lean towards yes, despite the signals of a third intifada in the making. In terms of its symbolic value, the endorsement – as has the Report – have been discussed worldwide now. While the countries that voted for the endorsement are pretty much the ones expected to, it is an important sign that the Report wasn’t just reduced to piles of paper. Israel and Hamas (though the level of their war crimes are by no means equally proportional) need to be held accountable for what happened during Operation Cast Lead, but more importantly Israel needs to realize what a major blunder they have caused in the aftermath of the invasion.

This is also an important sign to the Obama administration. They need to read (seriously, the amount of ill-informed opinions there are floating out there!) the Goldstone Report and realize that neither does their approval of the Israeli government’s actions help nor do their half-hearted squawks of disapproval hurt whenever the Israel government allows building settlements. If President Obama’s ill-thought out Nobel Peace Prize win was a “call to action” to him, then the time is now to act.

And if you’re looking for more optimism, Marc Lynch has a fairly good idea of why this could help move the peace process along.

First, the vote shows that Israel is paying a price for its short-sighted diplomatic strategy of confrontation with the Obama administration.

Second, the passage of the report may slightly increase the odds of a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement under Egyptian auspices.

Third, the U.S. will almost certainly veto any move in the Security Council to act on the report. But given how much importance the Israeli government has given to the Goldstone Report, this veto might actually be used as a form of leverage.

Written by alexlobov

October 16, 2009 at 11:58 pm

So is all well for Ahmadinejad?

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As news comes in today that, after his formal inauguration as the President of Iran, Ahmadinejad has received congratulations from UN Security General Ban Ki Moon and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, one has to wonder, what of the protest movement that created such waves in global press for weeks and that still dominates Twitter’s trending topics from time to time, two months after the initial protests ignited?

TehranBureau has an interesting piece on the matter, written by Farideh Farhi:

Challenges facing Ahmadinejad include open hostility from a large section of the Iranian elite which Ayatollah Khamenei characterised in Ahmadinejad’s confirmation speech as “angry and wounded”; highly charged criticisms of his appointments and policies from within the conservative ranks; continued civil disobedience; a public mood that has turned from mostly inattentive and apolitical to concerned and angry; general unhappiness among the clergy about the harsh crackdown; and a much more hostile international environment.

All this is on top of serious economic woes that he was unable to address during his first term — as he had promised to do in his 2005 campaign.

As the TehranBureau piece rightly points out, we are seeing an unprecedent challenge to the President and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. While Iranian politics has always been partly volatile and has never been the one-party show certain ignorant observers in some parts of the world like to see, what we’re seeing here is the combination of a squeeze from the top coming from several key and prominent reformist clerics and politicans, combined with burgeoning popular discontent. This twin pressure will prove difficult for Ahmadinejad to deal with during his tenure, and it will be a problem for his unswerving supporter, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has now become personally associated with the crushing of the protest movement. As Farhi points out:

Ahmadinejad’s options are limited. He can acknowledge his weakened presidency, over-see a cabinet whose individual members will contest his policies, and head an administration that is conflicted from within. Or he can try to try to act resolutely by picking fights with almost every political force in the country, in which case his behaviour will be the source of heartache for everyone who for ideological reasons or for fear of reformist resurgence ended up supporting him in the election.

The inauguration and the congratulatory messages have put an end to any immediate change as had been hoped by the protest movement, but Iran has changed dramatically over the last two months and things are no longer what they seem. It will remain an interesting political atmosphere to watch and keep track of in the coming months.

Written by alexlobov

August 12, 2009 at 5:01 pm

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