The politics of red lines

Reason Wafawarova On Thursday
THE topic above is a borrowed one. It is borrowed from an essay written by renowned intellectual Professor Noam Chomsky, in an essay written on May 1 in 2014; himself inspired by Obama’s misplaced use of the phrase “crossing the red line” in 2012. After Western powers and ISIS Syrian rebels (then funded and armed by the West) alleged that the Syrian army had used chemical weapons in ISIS held strongholds, something strongly denied by the Syrian government, President Barack Obama had this to say:

“We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.”

Of course there were no “enormous consequences” whatsoever, as the Assad government largely ignored Obama’s threat, watching him facing enormous internal opposition from his own government, as well a blatant rebuttal by the UK politicians, with the French swiftly following suit.

It is a volatile phase for US hegemony at the moment.

Libya burns with rage after Gaddafi, with formerly Western allied rebel forces now firmly against their former funders, Egypt is struggling with an unpopular contrived government, Syria’s Assad has been converted to an inconvenient ally after ISIS turned on their Western funders to begin a barbaric beheading campaign, coupled with equally senseless terrorist raids in Western backyards.

Now the West faces in ISIS such an incredible enemy that Western leaders are beginning to openly count Bashar al-Assad as part of the solution, something that was unthinkable two years ago.

The jihadists making up ISIS belong to the Wahhabis tradition, the conservative and radical Islam that has given the world such outfits as Al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Boko Haram in Nigeria, El Shabab in Somalia, and the murderous Benghazi rebels that helped oust Gaddafi in Libya.

Let us look at the annexation of Ukraine in the context of the real or alleged facts behind it.

It is a departure from the world order the US and its allies have come to rely on since the fall of the USSR.

At the end of the Cold War the US effectively assumed a unipolar super power status, and it put in place a system where Western democracies embarked on a hegemony-inspired expansionist campaign, disguised as democratisation.

In this world order major powers are supposed to only intervene militarily when they have an international consensus on their side, and this is one point Chomsky highlights in his essay.

We saw a contrived such consensus just before the imperial triumvirate of France, the UK and the US ravaged Libya to ashes in the name of protecting its civilians from Muammar Gaddafi.

In the absence of international consensus, as was the case before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a unilateral act of aggression was seen as a good option, and all that had to be done was to thinly veil the criminal act with a transparent veneer of a lie.

There is one rule to Western aggression. An attacking power must not cross a rival power’s red lines, like the foolhardiness of trying to carry out a military attack on North Korea with China watching.

The sad thing for Iraq, according to Chomsky the scene of this millennium’s most extreme international crime; is that the invasion was no violation of today’s world order. Two things did not go wrong. No Chinese or Russian red lines were crossed, and the invaders were the only legitimate people permitted to fight down the ‘uncivilised’ peoples of this world — the Western coalition. Like the ISIS in Iraq and Syria today, Saddam Hussein was an avowed Western ally turned into an ultimate foe.

It appears like Vladimir Putin has very little respect for the West’s idea of world order, and his takeover of the Crimea has indisputably crossed one of Obama’s many important red lines, and his perceived ambitions over Ukraine are almost an act of aggression in themselves, at least from the viewpoint of his adversaries.

Politics become tortuous when American red lines are firmly placed within the borders of other nations, and without these red lines all over the place across the world, imperial hegemony wouldn’t in fact be possible.

We have ZDERA here, the US sanctions law against Zimbabwe, put in place simply because the emperor decided to place his red line within our borders, and ours was expected to be unequivocal respect for that red line, apologetically abandoning the land reform program, and also viciously discrediting the revolutionary resolve in our war veterans by labelling them thoughtless hoodlums wantonly destroying our white-given civilisation, especially the farming part of it.

The saintly veneer for this demonisation was provided as human rights violations, with particular emphasis on the violation of property rights.

Obama is determined to isolate Putin’s Russia the way he has been doing with Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, cutting off economic and political ties to the outside world, and hoping to make Russia a pariah state.

This position on Russia was well articulated by The New York Times reporter Peter Bake when he wrote that President Obama was focused on “Limiting (Russia’s) expansionist ambitions in its own neighbourhood and effectively making it a pariah state.”

Zimbabweans have gone through it well. Paralysing the country’s land reform program, isolating the country’s economy, starving the country’s population, and quarantining the country’s leadership — all in the calculated hope that the country would become a pariah state, ungovernable and ready for deadly social unrest.

Well, ZDERA ultimately only managed to produce a hopelessly depleted opposition to Zanu-PF, albeit once upon a time a formidable one.

The massively Western-funded civic society has become highly corrupt and inefficient, and the US has furiously ordered a financial audit of some of the organisations.

Meanwhile, Zanu-PF has emerged the strongest party in the country after 15 years of relentless strangulation and demonisation by Western powers, and the party could easily pull a spectacular comeback on the international scene, were it not for its own apathetic, spiritless and enervated approach to national duty.

Apart from its wild celebrations over the diplomatic victory of landing of both the Sadc and AU chairmanship, both organisations currently chaired by Zimbabwe through President Mugabe, it remains to be seen if the party has any meaningful plan to leverage on the influence of these two organisations for any economic gain the country.

Isolation and ruinous economic sanctions do not always achieve the intended objective, in the case of Zimbabwe regime change. Politically Zanu-PF has emerged even stronger, and the generality of Zimbabweans are now an enterprising lot, shifting from the traditional colonial employee mentality, thanks to the sanctions-induced economic hardships of the last 15 years.

It is hard to believe that similar sanctions to the ones that failed to break Cuba over the last 55 years, or the ones that failed to dislodge Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe in the past 15 years can break such a mighty economy like that of Russia.

The whole idea of having borders was to allow every country the right to its own red lines, but the US has this defining sense of super power status: it can draw red lines wherever and whenever it may see fit, in the name of “protecting our interests.” If the red line is placed on any country door step, that country must dare not cross it, otherwise it becomes “ a serious threat to the security of the US.”

The US has wantonly drawn its red lines in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Zimbabwe, Russia, Venezuela, just to name but a few countries.

It really does not matter that the UN has a Charter and a General Assembly that periodically passes resolutions; the US does not necessarily stand guided or governed by international law, unless it is applying the law itself against a declared adversary.

John Bolton put it aptly when he was Washington’s ambassador to the UN. He said: “There is no such thing as the United Nations.”

The world faces a crisis whenever an adversary crosses the US red line, like when Soviet premier Khrushchev placed ballistic missiles in Cuba in October 1962. The 1961 presence of similar US missiles in Turkey did not constitute a world crisis, up until it was countered by a mimicking act in Cuba. When the Russians asked president J.F Kennedy for simultaneous public withdrawal of the missiles, he flatly rejected the idea, almost causing a nuclear war in the process.

Today it is viewed as some kind of world crisis when China expands its influence not only in Asia, but also in Africa and across the entire Southern hemisphere. Russia is causing another world crisis by asserting its influence in its own neighbourhood, and we are reminded each day that Putin’s actions are inexcusable and unacceptable.

Putin factually argues that when Gorbachev accepted the unification of Germany it was on the understanding that Nato would not move eastwards thereafter. That of course was broken and violated, and Nato is getting closer and closer to Russia every day, right now aiming for Ukraine.

If the annexation of Crimea is an illegal act, which legal experts say it clearly is; then it compares fairly well with the annexation of Guantanamo Bay, seized from Cuba at gunpoint by the US in 1903, and is yet to be relinquished despite Cuba’s demands and protests. One could also compare the annexation of the Crimea to that of the Falkland Island, that Argentinian territory arrogantly and illogically defined as British territory, despite it being 12 735 kilometres away from London.

Indisputably Russia has internal support for the annexation, and historically the Crimea is purely Russian, and strictly from these viewpoints Putin feels vindicated in his politics.

Apart from monopoly of force, there is hardly any other argument for the continued occupation of Guantanamo Bay by the US.

One hopes the ongoing talks between the Obama administration and Cuba will not only result in the end of the unjust and indefensible sanctions from the US, but also in the surrendering of Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owners. Whenever the US accuses Cuba of human rights violations, Guantanamo stands as a stark reminder of Washington’s own intolerably egregious human rights record, also well documented in other international crimes committed across the world, just about on a yearly basis.

Africa we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!!

REASON WAFAWAROVA is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia.