The calls for international, by which it is essentially meant US, intervention in Syria raise some important questions about the relationship between sovereign states and the global community.
There are, of course, some recent precedents for outside intervention in the affairs of nation states to bring about a change of regime or even to create a new national entity out of one region of the original country.
So in the 1990s NATO bombing forced Serbia to surrender its province of Kosovo which had an Albanian majority with a still significant Serbian minority population. Kosovo was then recognised as a new national entity by most of the international community. And it was a NATO-sponsored no-fly zone over Libya that largely resulted in the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi's rule and the takeover by a new government.
There was, however, no such outside support for Chechnya's efforts to separate from the Russian Federation in the 1990s or the struggle by the Tamils over many years (now seemingly ended) to split off from the rest of Sri Lanka.
This article first appeared in Le Monde.
REYHANLI - Nearly a week after the two car-bomb attacks rocked this sleepy town, the people of Reyhanli, in southern Turkey, are still burying their dead.
In this Hatay Province town, near the border with Syria, three more bodies have just been found under the rubble, bringing the death toll from the May 11 attack to 51. Little by little, grief and despondency are being replaced by anger.
This exclusively Sunni town is definitely no bastion of resistance to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the ruling conservative Islamic party. But now, the people of Reyhanli are holding Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accountable for their situation -- accusing him of dragging their country into civil war by being assertive towards Bashar El-Assad and allowing Syrian rebels to set up bases in Turkey.
When the Chinese smog arrives, the medical masks come in fashion.
Every few months, this city of 1.5 million people in southern Japan, not far from mainland China, gets a dose of lung clogging courtesy of its neighbor.
Coal factories in the cities of Tianjin and Beijing, combined with the growing numbers of automobiles, pump out toxins that drift westward across the East China Sea. They hit Japan and, to a lesser extent, South Korea.
The most recent air pollution crisis came in February, when a whitish gray blanket of smog fell over Fukuoka. The city government put out an advisory on its early warning system - the first in Japan, started that month - urging everybody, and especially infants and the elderly, to stay indoors and wear face masks outside.
I was in high school when I went to Indianapolis for my first regional AZA Conference. I almost didn't make it back alive because of what happened that Shabbat. I couldn't believe it when the rabbi called a woman to open the ark. A woman! But that wasn't all. I was shocked when she pulled back a corner of the curtain, pushed a button, a motor began to whir, the curtain parted, lights went on, a choir began to sing; I knew right then and there God would strike me dead for being a part of the revival of the golden calf.
I survived my first encounter with Jewish observance different from what I'd been brought up to believe was the one true form.
My home shul, the one where I was bar mitzva, Agudas Achim, in Columbus, Ohio, was what some today call "conservadox." Men sat on one side, women on the other, separate but equal, and in the middle, true integration.
But it was a long way from egalitarian. Years later, when I became a husband and then had a daughter, I wanted an egalitarian congregation and found one where the rabbi believed and taught that all Jews are created equal. Today egalitarianism is widely practiced throughout the United States, where nearly 90 percent of Jews are non-Orthodox.
The use of chemical weapons and Obama's fudged "red line" has given way to gruesome footage of a schismatic Syrian rebel commander biting into the lung of a slain Syrian soldier and vowing revenge against Assadist soldiers. Such is the international press' attention span that the far more significant development in Syria has gone almost entirely unnoticed. The al-Bayda and Baniyas massacres that occurred earlier this month were not just crimes against humanity; they signaled the clearest evidence to date of the regime's transformation from a conventional military force into a consortium of sectarian Alawite-Shiite militias, which have been trained and financed by Iran, or reactivated after years of desuetude. Unlike the Syrian Army, which has claimed to be fighting a nationalist battle against foreign-backed interests, these armed proxies make no pretense about their true objective: to ethnically cleanse Syria's Sunni population in the strategically vital western corridor of the country.
On May 2, around 400 people were slaughtered, and possibly as many as 800 disappeared, in the Syrian coastal hamlet of al-Bayda. Of those killed, 200 were buried in a mass grave in which only 150 bodies were identifiable, the rest having been mutilated beyond all recognition. According to The New York Times, which interviewed eyewitnesses and survivors of the massacre, pro-regime forces clad or semi-clad in military fatigues went house to house, separating men and boys above the age of 10 from women and younger children. Whole families were executed and images have since emerged showing children piled atop each other, some with half their faces blown off. Corpses later recovered in al-Bayda were said to include "the burned body of a baby just a few months old" and "a fetus ripped from a woman's belly." Two days later, on May 4, a similar massacre was repeated in Ras al-Nabeh, a district near the city of Baniyas.
In contrast to previous atrocities, the regime neither denied that these massacres had taken place nor tried to blame it on the opposition. Rather, it boasted of its success. State television claimed that the army had "crushed a number of terrorists," while pro-regime Facebook pages displayed those grisly photographs of butchered children, categorizing them as militants. Moreover, the National Defense Forces were evidently involved in the assault on al-Bayda and assumed the most barbaric role of beating, shooting, or stabbing families to death, then burning down their houses. This new-minted guerrilla army is actually a professionalized reinvention of the pro-regime Popular Committees, which were, prior to 2013, locally armed Alawite militias that coordinated closely with the Syrian security services, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah. Now the Committees are being trained up, along with Jaysh al-Sha'bi, the Syrian "Basiji," as the primary purveyors of state violence.
"The Syrian military doesn't know how to fight an urban insurgency," Elizabeth O'Bagy of the Institute for the Study of War told me. "The regime would have lost significant territory in Homs had it not been for Hezbollah moving in from Lebanon," a relocation that Hassan Nasrallah was reluctant to order. In a valuable briefing she published, O'Bagy observes that the regime's strategy isn't to carve out an Alawite rump state on the Mediterranean but to retain a necessary arms and personnel resupply line from Damascus to Latakia. That's because the regime's greatest security threat is not a Sunni-on-Alawite conflict, but rather an intra-Alawite one.
While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting in his office in Ramallah with Shelly Yacimovich, chairwoman of Israel's opposition Labour Party, his Fatah faction was busy threatening Palestinians who meet with Israelis.
That Abbas continues to meet with Israelis on a regular basis in Ramallah does not seem to bother Fatah.
Nor does Fatah seem to be bothered that Palestinian security officers work closely together with their Israeli counterparts in the West Bank. That is called "security coordination" between the Palestinians and Israel.
But when Palestinian youths are invited to meet with Israelis as part of an interfaith dialogue project, Fatah is quick to issue denunciations and threats.
Pakistan has taken an important leap towards generating a democratic order.
Amid many incidents of violence and bloodshed aimed at thwarting the parliamentary elections, Pakistanis have voted for a democratic transition from one civilian government to another -- the first since the creation of Pakistan in 1947.
But will it deliver a stable and effective government capable of curing Pakistan's deep economic, social and security problems and foreign policy dilemmas while reining in the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence?
The election results are not as decisive as analysts have indicated. The Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif has won the largest number of seats, and will have no difficulty securing a simple majority, with support from a number of independents and smaller parties in the National Assembly.Digital Pass $1 for first 28 Days
Don't defeat Iran. Shi'ism is not America's enemy. It is not in the long-term interest of the United States to side with the Sunni Arab states against Iran or vice versa. Doing so produces an imbalance of power in the region as we learned with the collapse of the Iraqi state in the aftermath of the American invasion of 2003. Iran was then able to establish a contiguous sphere of influence stretching from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean -- something that was only averted by the Arab Spring reaching Syria.
The two-year-old Syrian crisis has now come to a point where Iran is on the defensive, as its positions in Lebanon and Iraq come under threat. But Washington's talks with Moscow in an effort to reach a negotiated settlement on the Syria crisis may indicate that the United States is not interested in allowing the pendulum to swing in the other direction this time around.
Remember that the United States had a bad, decadeslong experience with Sunni domination of the Middle East. It was Sunni dominance, in which the Shias were not sufficiently feared, that helped lead to a phalanx of Arab dictators -- in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere -- who had little incentive to quell anti-Americanism in their midst. Such Leaders as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and King Fahd in Saudi Arabia fostered a rotten and calcified political climate that was relatively empty of reform, while quietly tolerant of extremism, which resulted in the leader of the 9/11 terrorist cell being Egyptian and 15 of his 18 cohorts being Saudis. But at least the likes of Fahd and Mubarak ran strong states that cooperated with Western intelligence agencies: Perhaps not so the Sunni Islamists who might yet gain even more influence and power in Egypt and Syria. The last thing the West should want is a situation in Syria in which radical Sunni Islamist forces are able to project power in the region, especially across the country's eastern border into Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's quasi-democratic regime may be short on stability and long on thuggery, and it may be unduly interfered with by the Iranians, but at least it forms the basis of a state that might over time evolve in a better direction -- and therefore influence Iranian Shi'ism for the better, with Karbala and Najaf affecting debates in Qom. Allowing Iraq to fall will not just create a wider geopolitical space for jihadists to operate, it will also be a total reversal to the American efforts to establish democracy in Iraq. Furthermore, from the American point of view, the Shia-dominated Iraqi regime serves as a major counterbalance to Salafists gaining ground in the Sunni Arab world.
This article originally appeared in Die Welt
At the Sankt Oberholz café, Germany's future lies in the balance. Here, in Berlin's "trendy" Mitte district, an international crowd of entrepreneurial 20 and 30-somethings meet. They make up two camps.
On one side, you have those who prefer to speak English as they discuss their new projects and business plans. On the other side, you have the Italians - the Oberholz has become the meeting place for the Italian start-up scene in Berlin. The Italians have come to the German capital because there's more creative freedom here than in Italy, where bureaucracy hinders new ventures and the recession takes care of the rest.
An aging German society can use all this young, well-educated talent. That's why Germany's Minister for Labor and Social Affairs, Ursula von der Leyen, referred to a "stroke of fortune" when she recently presented the latest figures for migration to Germany.
From both the left and the right, three common misperceptions have emerged about US foreign policy: First, that the Global War on Terror has become a perpetual state of affairs; second, that no strategy is available to end this conflict in the near future; and third, that "the Obama approach to that conflict is just like the Bush approach." I disagree with all three propositions.
First and most important, the overriding goal should be to end this Forever War, not engage in a perpetual "global war on terror," without geographic or temporal limits.
Second, this is not a conflict without end, and there is a strategy to end it, outlined below. In November, also at the Oxford Union, Jeh Johnson, then general counsel of the United States Department of Defense, argued that in the conflict against Al Qaeda and its affiliates:
"there will come a tipping point - ... at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed. At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an "armed conflict" against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda...."
This week sparked renewed interest in the 2013 presidential election in Iran. Candidates, real and imaginary, flocked to register ahead of the May 11 deadline. Now it's up to the Guardian Council -- the powerful 12-member body that presides over Iran's electoral process -- to approve or reject their political aspirations. In the meantime, the most influential candidates are already dishing out talking points and conducting some of the most grandiose political theatre outside of the United States.
Enter Ayatollah Akbar Hashmei Rafsanjani, the outspoken former president thought to have fallen out of favor with the establishment despite an active public life. After the 1999 student protests, he led a Friday sermon at Tehran University praising the use of government force in quelling dissent. In 2005, he lost another bid for the presidency to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During the 2009 election crisis he initially ducked the hardest questions being asked by reformists, but would go on to say that Iranians should be treated appropriately and authorities should allow vibrant discussion. In 2011 Rafsanjani lost his post as chairman of the Assembly of Experts to a hardline ally of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, only to be reappointed to the Expediency Discernment Council by none other than the Khamenei. Suffice it to say, Rafsanjani has cultivated his reputation as the "wily cleric" of Iranian politics: a loyal survivor, faithful to the system of government that affords him influence for as long it secures his interests.
Rafsanjani's entry into the election posits two important questions that merit serious consideration. First, would Rafsanjani not have entered the election if he did not have the blessing of Khamenei? That is unlikely, as far too much of his wealth and power is tied into the system to upset the delicate balance of power between two of the most influential political families in Iran.
Secondly, is it possible Khamenei consented to such a scenario in the interest of maintaining the status quo? Many, would argue just the opposite -- that Rafsanjani and the reformists who will support him, including former President Mohammad Khatami, pose a threat to the system. Contrary to that notion, the fervent supporters of Ahmadinejad's ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei pose the gravest threat to a carefully orchestrated political order. Khamenei may tacitly support Rafsanjani not out of the hope that he will win, but that he will at least keep the secular nationalists at bay. Should he actually win, the interests of those whom first established the Islamic Republic would be well looked after, and especially the powerful clerical establishment who cemented their authority with the constitutional referendum of 1989.
As evidence mounts that Syrian strongman Bashir al-Assad used chemical weapons on his people, President Barack Obama is attempting to erase his once-firm "red line" on the topic.
Last August, the president vowed "[t]here would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movements on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons." Doubtless this was meant to deter Assad from tapping his chemical weapon stockpiles. But Assad called Obama's bluff, embarrassing the U.S.
Iran is following the Syrian conflict closely, and for two hugely important reasons. One, Syria is one of Iran's strategic allies. If the Assad regime falls, Iran loses its direct line of support to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Two, the Iranian regime is watching the U.S. response to Assad's provocations to see just how much it can get away with. Tehran now knows Mr. Obama's red lines aren't to be taken seriously.
U.S. inaction also informs Mr. Assad that he has more breathing space; he can continue to wreak carnage against his own people without fear of American meddling. It also sends a broad message to the world: The U.S. is actually quite tolerant of chemical weapons use.
How's your wife? It depends -- compared to whom?
That's a frequent dialogue among witty Spaniards. I imagine that women could respond the same way. We husbands fare badly when compared with Brad Pitt, much better if contrasted with Eduardo Gómez, the super-ugly doorman's father in the comedy series Nobody Can Live Here on Spanish TV.
The same happens with countries and regions. To understand where we stand, we have to know where the others are and at what pace we move.
All this becomes relevant apropos the recent report on the most successful countries in Latin America. According to the news, the three wealthiest economies in Latin America are Chile, Panama (which has been growing at the rate of 8 percent for almost a decade) and Uruguay.
We flew into Lisbon and immediately rented a car to drive to the edge of the Earth and the beginning of the world. This edge has a name: Cabo de Sao Vicente. A small cape jutting into the Atlantic Ocean, it is the bitter end of Europe. Beyond this point, the world was once unknown to Europeans, becoming a realm inhabited by legends of sea monsters and fantastic civilizations. Cabo de Sao Vicente still makes you feel these fantasies are more than realistic. Even on a bright sunny day, the sea is forbidding and the wind howls at you, while on a gloomy day you peer into the abyss.
Just 3 miles west of Cabo de Sao Vicente at the base of the Ponta de Sagres lies Sagres, a pleasant little town of small villas and apartments. For the most part, these are summer homes, many owned by Germans and British, judging from the flags flying. It was here in 1410 that Prince Henry the Navigator founded a school for navigators. If Cabo de Sao Vicente is where the Earth ended for the Europeans, Ponta de Sagres became the place where the world began.
The Making of the Modern World
Prince Henry was the second son of Portuguese King John I. As a member of the royal class, he had the means to finance his ambitions. Those who attended his school included Vasco da Gama, who made the first voyage from Europe to India, and Magellan, whose expedition first circumnavigated the globe. Columbus was once shipwrecked and rescued off the coast, subsequently learning many of his later nautical skills in Portugal. This school gave rise to the most extraordinary alumni association imaginable.
It's Paris under the spring sunshine. Couples stroll hand-in-hand, steal kisses while window shopping past chic boutiques, or whisper sweet-nothings over marble-topped tables at a sidewalk cafe.
These are familiar cliches of the romantic French capital, except that along the Rue des Archives, the couples in question are likely to be same-sex.
This is the Marais neighborhood, a favorite hangout of gay Parisians and a scene of celebration on April 23 when lawmakers in the Assemblee nationale, just down the Seine river, voted 331 to 225 to write same-sex marriage into law.
That celebration, however, was tinged with concern.