Saturday, June 18, 2011

Morocco King Proposes Steps to Democracy

By Steven Erlanger

Abdeljalil Bounhar/Associated Press
Cafe customers in Casablanca, Morocco, watched King Mohammed VI's speech on Friday night. Under his plan for the government, he would still control the military and religious matters.  

In a major effort to try to respond to calls for more democracy and accountability, King Mohammed VI of Morocco announced proposed constitutional changes on Friday night that would reduce his own nearly absolute powers and name a prime minister from the largest party elected to Parliament as head of the executive branch.
But his plans fall considerably short of the constitutional monarchy that many protesters have demanded and leave the king with absolute control over the military and religious matters. 

The proposals will be put to a national referendum on July 1 instead of in September as originally planned.  

The prime minister, who would be formally called “president of the government,” would be able to appoint government officials and ministers and would have the power to dissolve Parliament. The judiciary would be an independent branch; the king has headed the council that approves all judges. 

It would mean a “government emerging through direct universal suffrage,” the king said in an eagerly awaited speech on national television. The changes, he said, will “make Morocco a state that will distinguish itself by its democratic course.” 

The king would remain head of the Islamic faith in Morocco and be called “commander of the faithful.” But a reference to the king in the current Constitution as “sacred” would be replaced by the expression: “The integrity of the person of the king should not be violated.” Islam would remain the state religion, but there would be a new guarantee of religious freedom. 

The king, who is 47 and has been in power since 1999, has been facing growing pressure to respond to calls for democratic change and a constitutional monarchy from the February 20 Movement for Change, which began on Facebook and has carried out a series of rallies in major cities. While thousands attended the rallies, they did not compare in size to those elsewhere in the Arab world, and there has been relatively little violence or state repression of the demonstrators. 

As the Arab Spring has rolled through the Middle East and North Africa, monarchies have withstood the demand for change better than secular autocrats. And Morocco, on the western edge of the region, has not escaped the demand for change. The king, who is considered a reformer and a more gentle ruler than his feared father, King Hassan II, has been criticized for stalling far-reaching reforms after terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003. 

He has also been accused of allowing the advisers and former schoolmates around him to become wealthy from state contracts and monopolies, and of tolerating corruption.
But the proposals he unveiled on Friday were a considerable effort to try to get ahead of the calls for change. 

In the last few months, he released some 200 Islamist prisoners who had been jailed in the roundups that followed the 2003 bombings.  

The final draft of the reformed Constitution explicitly grants the government executive powers. Government ministers, ambassadors and provincial governors would be appointed by the prime minister, subject to the approval of the king. The prime minister could dissolve the lower house of Parliament after consulting the king, House speaker and head of the Constitutional Court. 

And in another response to demands from protesters, Berber will be made an official language alongside Arabic. 

The king said that the constitutional reform “confirms the features and mechanisms of the parliamentary nature of the Moroccan political system” and lays the foundation for an “efficient, rational constitutional system whose core elements are the balance, independence and separation of powers, and whose foremost goal is the freedom and dignity of citizens.” 

The proposed changes did not satisfy all the protesters, who say they will continue to hold rallies pressing for more change, including one scheduled for Sunday. 

Najib Chawki, an activist from the February 20 Movement, told Reuters that the reform “does not respond to the essence of our demands, which is establishing a parliamentary monarchy. We are basically moving from a de facto absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.” 

But many Moroccans will see the changes as a judicious effort by the king to promote a gradual move toward democratic accountability. Mohammed Nabil Benabdallah, secretary general of the small Party of Progress and Socialism, said they show Morocco is entering a new era. 

“There will be a new balance of powers,” he told Bloomberg News. “It paves the way toward the establishment of a democratic state.”

This article was published in The New York Times on 18/06/2011

Get Over It: Salam Fayyad Was No Savior

The West's lofty expectations for Salam Fayyad went far beyond what he was ever able to deliver.

By Nathan J. Brown

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad

If Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's political career came to an end today, he could still proudly claim to be Palestine's most accomplished prime minister ever. The problem is that all of his predecessors -- Ahmad Hilmi, Mahmud Abbas, Ahmad Qurei, and Ismail Haniyya -- were impotent, transitory, or frustrated occupants of the post, and collectively set a very low bar. But judged by the enormous expectations and hoopla his Western cheerleaders burdened him with, Fayyad will leave only disappointment behind him.
The prime minister's departure from the Palestinian political scene appears likely but not inevitable. With Fatah and Hamas striving to form a unity government, Fayyad may very well be sacrificed on the altar of Palestinian unity.

Neither the sunny nor the cynical view of Fayyad is fair. His optimistic smile obscured an impossible situation: Fayyad's main achievement has not been to build the structures of a Palestinian state, but to stave off the collapse of those structures that did exist. An equally important achievement was his ability to persuade Western observers that he was doing much more. In the process, however, he raised expectations far beyond his ability to deliver.
What Fayyad Did Not Do: In enumerating Fayyad's accomplishments, it is necessary -- if churlish -- to begin by explaining what Fayyad did not accomplish.

First, he did not build any institutions. The state-like political structures now in the West Bank and Gaza were either built during the heyday of the Oslo Process in the 1990s or in the more distant days of Jordanian and British rule.
Second, he did not bring Palestinians to the brink of statehood. The Palestinian Authority, for all its problems, was actually far more ready for statehood on the eve of the Second Intifada in 1999 than it is on the possible eve of the third in 2011. A dozen years ago, Palestine had full security control of its cities, a set of institutions that united the West Bank and Gaza, a flourishing civil society, and a set of legitimate structures for writing authoritative laws and implementing them. Those accomplishments were in retreat long before Fayyad took office, and he was hardly able to restore them.

Third, Fayyad did not strengthen the rule of law. He could not have done so, since the only legitimate law-making body the Palestinians have, the Legislative Council, has not met since he came to power.
Fourth, Fayyad did not prove to Palestinians that they should rely on themselves. Just the opposite. He showed Palestinians that if they relied on him, foreigners would show them the money. At the heady days at the beginning of Oslo, the United States pledged half a billion dollars for the entire five-year process during which the parties were supposed to negotiate a permanent agreement. They have given Fayyad more than that almost every year that he has been in office. The Europeans have opened the purse strings for him too. It is utterly baffling that a figure so completely dependent on Western diplomatic and financial support would be seen by outsiders as an icon of Palestinian self-help.

Finally, he did not bring economic development to the West Bank. What he made possible was a real but unsustainable recovery based on aid and relaxation of travel restrictions. Year-to-year economic indicators in both the West Bank and Gaza are dependent on foreign assistance, and even more on the political and security situation. Fayyad can thus take some credit for the upturn, but Hamas can make a similar claim for the mild improvements in Gaza since Israel relaxed some of the closure last year. Neither has laid the groundwork for real development or attraction of foreign investment. Nor could they in the stultifying and uncertain political environment.
None of these failings was personal. Fayyad could not have accomplished any of these goals even had he wanted to. He led half of a dysfunctional Palestinian Authority, governed scattered bits of territory in the West Bank, and was forced to rattle the cup constantly in order to pay the bills.

What Fayyad Did Do: However, if Fayyad could not walk on water, he did an almost miraculous job of not drowning. This is not to damn Fayyad with faint praise; the prime minister assumed control of a Palestinian Authority that was unable to pay all of its salaries, deeply mistrusted by Israel, and treated as irrelevant by many Palestinians.
His first and most impressive accomplishment was to gain the trust of Western governments. The unrealistic hopes placed in his premiership were partly a testimony to the esteem in which he was held in some international circles. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken of her pride in his efforts and informed Palestinian youth that Fayyad has given them hope. No diplomatic statement from Western governments is complete without a kind word for his accomplishments. Fayyad was even able to earn a grudging Israeli trust through renewed security cooperation and efforts to rebuild the Palestinian security services. These accomplishments allowed him to pay government salaries, redeploy police, and attract enormous amounts of aid.

And Fayyad was able to win some modest victories in Palestinian governance. The security services became less partisan, public finances became more transparent (even without any domestic oversight), corruption likely decreased, pockets of the civil service were rebuilt on a more professional basis, and basic order in Palestinian cities was improved. When it comes to progress in these areas -- sharply limited but still significant -- Fayyad can even claim to have gone beyond maintenance to improving the Palestinian situation beyond where it stood in 1999.
The Poverty of Politics: All along, however, this was a difficult juggling act. Enthusiastic international support would continue only so long as it was possible to pretend that Fayyad was making dramatic gains; domestic acceptance of Fayyad was dependent on his continuing to pay salaries and provide for basic order. Pulling aside the curtain and revealing that Palestinians were not building a state thus risked undermining Western support for him, which would in turn remove the raison d'être of his premiership in Palestinian eyes.

Thus Fayyadism was a political house of cards. There was no domestic foundation for Fayyad's efforts; for Palestinians, he was simply an unsolicited gift from the United States and Europe -- a welcome one for some, but not for others. And to his international backers, Fayyad was completely frank about his limitations: His efforts, he said, would only pay off in the context of a meaningful diplomatic process that reinforced the drive toward statehood. This was an ingredient that has been missing for many years, and Fayyad was powerless to procure it.
Earlier this year, there were signs that Fayyad himself had begun to look for ways to escape Fayyadism. It was Fayyad, rather than Fatah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who reached out to Hamas in February. The reconciliation file was quickly snatched out of his hands, however, and his hold on the premiership is now on the bargaining table.

What is remarkable, however, is how Fayyadism soldiered on in some Western eyes even after Fayyad himself had begun to distance himself from it. American pundits continued to trumpet his successes without missing a beat right up until the April reconciliation agreement. In March, Thomas Friedman was still writing about Fayyad's gaining momentum and even upped the ante by claiming that his program posed the "biggest threat to Iran's strategy." Meanwhile top policymakers continued to be mesmerized by Fayyad's poll numbers, which were less bad than those of most other leaders, and simply ignored the hollowness at the core of their own policies. Nor did the polls translate into any kind of political party or movement that could have run in, much less won, an election -- if one were ever held.
The Perils of Positive Thinking: For years, Fayyad's soft talk and cheery dedication enabled policymakers throughout the world to ignore the brewing crisis. And this may be where Fayyad, despite his impressive management skills, did Palestinians a disservice.

In 2009, the incoming Obama administration was quickly lured into a set of approaches (many inherited from the Bush years) that proved their complete bankruptcy this year -- ignoring Gaza and allowing its population to be squeezed hard, pretending that there was a meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiation process at hand, assuming that Hamas could be dealt with after the peace process and Fayyad had worked their magic, and making the paradoxical and erroneous assumption that the best way to build Palestinian institutions was to rely on a specific, virtuous individual.
Fayyad cannot be held primarily responsible for this collective self-delusion; at most, he facilitated it. And in the process he provided all actors with a breathing space that is now disappearing. Ultimately, the ones who convinced themselves he was capable of completely transforming Palestine are most responsible for squandering the brief respite his premiership offered.

-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 17/06/2011
Nathan J. Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

"We Can't Tell The Victims To Leave Mass Graves In Peace"

By Robert Fisk

Syrian rescue workers recover dead bodies near the town of Jisr al-Shughour
Syrian rescue workers recover dead bodies near the town of Jisr al-Shughour

The Syrians say they discovered a mass grave this week containing the bodies of murdered soldiers outside a town called Jisr al-Shughour. "Armed gangs" are to blame, according to Syrian state television.

Well, maybe. Or perhaps they were killed by their colleagues for refusing to open fire on unarmed anti-Assad demonstrators. But all the world's a mass grave. Why, only a few miles north of Jisr al-Shughour, the Syrian fields are still strewn with thousands of bones and bits of skulls; all that is left in just this one location of the one and a half million men, women and children who were murdered in the 1915 Armenian holocaust. Then there's there's a place called "Barbara's Pit" near a town called Lasko where the mass grave, only 66 years old this time, contains perhaps 1,000 skeletons about whom no one really wishes to talk.

The investigation has been going on for two years now, a darkly political, deeply fearful inquiry because this mass grave is in Slovenia and contains the victims of Tito's victorious partisans, the pro-Nazi Croat Ustashe militia and their families, anti-communist Cossacks as well, perhaps, a few Hungarian collaborators no doubt, certainly some anti-Tito Serb Chetniks and their wives and fathers and brothers and children and nieces. Handed over to Tito's forces by us, the Brits, at the end of the Second World War, at the point of a bayonet; screaming with fear, they were, cutting their throats in the trains that took them back into Yugoslavia from the safety of Austria, women and children hurling themselves to their deaths off the carriages as they passed over river gorges.

We didn't want to have the communists infect Austria, you see. We wanted peace with Tito. Our own PoWs had to be returned to us. So we helped the killers to perpetrate the massacres that left perhaps 100,000 corpses rotting in the 600 mass graves of Slovenia. Most can never be identified, although Lljubljana's brave little government promises to dig up every one.

Some were, no doubt, war criminals, tools of the Nazis who ruled Croatia and gobbled up Bosnia and part of Serbia in 1941. There were extermination camps in the Ustashe's brutal "nation". But there are children's shoes in the mass graves and many of the bodies appear to have been executed naked. Women were among them. Small shoes still cover the lower part of femurs. The first writer to reveal the secrets of Barbarin rov, Roman Leljak, was charged by the police with "desecrating" a tomb. The real culprit – the head of the local mass murderers in 1945 – was a member of the First Slovene Division of Tito's "People's Defence". The slaughter lasted from May until September 1945, four months after Hitler's death, when even the Japanese war was over.

Mass graves are opened, I was told by a Serb colonel's wife during the Balkan wars, to pour more blood into them. But opening a few graves at Katyn – containing the corpses of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals murdered by Stalin's NKVD, uncovered by the Nazis, denied by the Soviets and by the West for decades because it wanted to keep its relations with Stalin's butchers, until the new Russia itself told the truth – led to a strange new trust between Moscow and Warsaw with even ex-KGB man Putin bowing before the slaughter field.

Do these corpses matter now that most of their relatives – and their murderers – are dead? Memorialising individual deaths in war started only in 1914. Save for the glorious leaders, the Wellingtons and the Napoleons and the Nelsons, mass graves awaited all who fell in battle. The French dead of Waterloo were shipped off to England to be used as manure on the fields of Lincolnshire. If war is judicial murder, I suppose they suffered a crueller fate than the Chetniks and Cossacks and Ustashe and their families in 1945 whose graves are at least known even if their identities will always be anonymous.

Where we can, we do now identify the dead. The vast 1914-1918 war cemeteries and the graveyards of the Second World War define our craving for individualism amid barbarism. Yet mass graves lie beneath every crossroads in Europe; from the war of the Spanish succession to the Hundred Years War, to the Franco-Prussian war, from Drogheda to Srebrenica and, of course, to the ash pits of Auschwitz. In 1993, I visited the remains of the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland just after a gale had unearthed trees from the ground. In the roots of one, I found human teeth. Known unto God.

There's a mass grave only two miles from my home in Beirut – of Palestinian victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre whom I watched being buried, only a few of whose names I know – and which will never be reopened. Not in our lifetime. And there are mass graves – of perhaps 30,000 Iraqi dead – buried alive by US forces in the 1991 Gulf War, unmarked, of course.

I'm not sure where the search should end. Who would deny the relatives of the dead of Srebrenica – whose principal killer at last resides in the Hague – the chance of praying at the graves? Who would turn their backs on the mass graves of Buchenwald? Or the frozen hills of bones that mark the burial of the 350,000 Leningraders who starved to death in 1941 and 1942?

I am reminded of that great American poet, Carl Sandburg. "Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo," he wrote. "And pile them high at Gettysburg/And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun./Shovel them under and let me work... I am the grass,/Let me work."

This commentary was published in The Independent on 18/06/2011

In Jordan, Real Change Or Illusion?

By Rami G. Khouri  
As we mark the six-month point of the Arab citizen revolt that has swept half this region, here is the question I pose for all who wonder what, if anything, has changed:
Is it a sign of the success or illusion of the Arab revolt that Jordan’s King Abdullah II announced at the start of this week that he has agreed to protesters’ demands that future prime ministers be appointed and dismissed according to the will of a parliamentary majority, rather than by the king?
Two days later King Abdullah qualified that, saying it would take two or three years to take such a measure; time was needed for Jordan to have the requisite three mature parties representing the left, center and right of the political spectrum. In other words, the king will open up the political system only when he feels that reliable parties are in place that would not create problems for him or for the country.
It was six months ago in that mid-December day that Mohammad Bouazizi set himself on fire in the provincial Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid. This ignited a cascade of spontaneous protests across Tunisia that ultimately overthrew the president, and sparked similar protests in other Arab countries demanding the overthrow of regimes.
Mostly orderly weekly Jordanian protests have not called for regime change, but for three other things that capture the core spirit of this historic regional rebellion: constitutional reforms to give citizens greater rights and protections; political reforms that make all Jordanians equal before the law and the governance system; and other measures that would help fight against corruption more seriously and reduce the interference of the security services in media, civil society and education, smothering any possibility of serious political, cultural and national development.
Jordan in many ways is a good litmus test of whether real political reform can happen peacefully. It is significant that King Abdullah announced his agreement to the demand that Parliament be the reference for prime ministers and Cabinets, rather than the king’s discerning eye or the occasional royal whim. It suggests that he hears his people’s reasonable calls for change, and is willing to move toward meeting them, as quality monarchs should do.
Yet if this outlook a real breakthrough in a gradual transition toward a constitutional monarchy, it is also jeopardized by the subsequent revival of this old Jordanian royal call for crafting a pre-defined political system that will see national politics conducted with decorum and responsibility as envisaged by the king himself.
Here is the big problem. There is an unbridgeable and deadly contradiction between King Abdullah’s promise to promote democratic freedoms (to make governments accountable to Parliament) and his insistence on maintaining control of this entire process (waiting for three broad political parties to run Parliament). This need to control political life from above shatters the central operative principle of the Arab citizen revolt: that governance happens with the consent of the governed, and ultimate authority rests with the will of the people – expressed through the legitimate constitutional institutions of the rule of law.
The royal call for three mainstream political parties to oversee or manage national governance represents a return to the failed old ways of Arab governments that decide what is best for their people, and dole out episodic benefits and changes through state-managed “reform” processes. Such “reforms” will go down in history as colossal failures that never achieved any credibility or traction with their citizens – because citizens were never serious participants in the process, but rather passive recipients of top-down benevolence, docile targets of dependency rather than of democratic reforms.
All Arab leaders still need to understand that credible political change cannot seriously be defined, promulgated and micro-managed from above. Only superficial, fake political change happens that way. Credible and lasting democratic and constitutional change must respond to and be directed by the collective will of the citizenry, to whom the government system reports through constitutional means.
Free and orderly democratic societies do not naturally move toward a neat configuration comprising three political parties in the center, left and right of the ideological spectrum. Democracy, pluralism and constitutionalism generate a more diverse, complex, imbalanced and ever-changing political landscape – but also a secure and decent one, because it is defined by and held accountable to the citizens.
King Abdullah is one of the handful of Arab leaders who has real legitimacy at home. He is one of the few who can initiate serious reform processes, should he show the way and decide to trust his people and give them the political space they deserve. But this must come as a right of their citizenship, not as a royal gift or a state bonus.
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 18/06/2011

Arab Silence On Syria Shameful

By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
The Syrian government’s security forces and its other monsters have been massacring people for the past four months, but no Arab voice has condemned the action or even demanded its end. The advanced countries have been issuing empty verbal statements which have been bringing more suffering to Syrian victims than alleviating it. The victims have been facing killings, arrests or forceful exile to neighboring countries.
The stance of Arabs and the international community on the current incidents in Syria is shocking in comparison to how they dealt with the former Egyptian government, which was more democratic, transparent and fair to people than the Syrian government. In spite of this, the demonstration at Tahrir Square hardly entered the second week before Arabs took a position against ex-president Hosni Mubarak. The US President Barack Obama also demanded immediate ouster of Mubarak with his popular ‘Now.’ Neither Obama nor did any other Western or Arab president say this to President Assad regardless of the unfortunate scenarios being reported from Syrian cities in the media.
It is no longer acceptable to support a government that uses its arsenal against its citizens, who tolerated oppression for 40 years, instead of using it to fight the common enemy. It is also unacceptable to expect reforms from the Syrian president who did not fulfill his promise during the past 10 years of leadership. He always intensifies arrests, killings, and expels people when faced with opposition. He consolidates instruments of aggression in villages and cities by stationing machine guns and gets people shelled with helicopters. Will the United Nations (UN) wait for the government to kill the entire populace before taking any action?
It is really shameful for the world to procrastinate action while blood letting is steadily increasing. It is especially annoying to reopen the door for this government. In fact, certain dictatorial countries and Russia, China and Iran obstructed decisions that were about to be issued and coerced others to back out and reduce the action to mere monitoring.
Is it not disgusting for some capitals, which were accusing the monster of heinous actions, to receive delegations of Syrian government and listen to their point of view which is based on fraud and fabrication? This gives an impression that deals are taking place behind the scene at the expense of the blood of Syrians.
However, even if the entire world succumbs to the game of interests, it doesn’t mean the Arab League should not bother to even issue a statement, condemning the ugly incidents in Syria. The inaction indicates lack of the will to unite in favor of Syrians against the government of massacre. The Arab apex body should realize that it will be brought to account in the future for its failure to suspend Syria, like Libya. This situation has compelled us, as Arabs, to review the league that continues to flutter steadily. It is in bondage of dictatorial governments that legitimize all forbidden actions to suit their interests.
-This commentary was published in The Arab Times on 18/06/2011
-Ahmed Al-Jarallah is the editor-in-chief of The Arab Times and the Kuwaiti daily Assyassah

True Cost Of Interventionism

Abdel Bari Atwan writes: It is time for Arab nations to come of age and take charge of their own affairs and not rely on foreign powers 

As Syrian President Bashar Al Assad relentlessly pursues his campaign of violence against his own people — of whom an estimated 1,200 have been killed and 10, 000 detained — many question why there has been no military intervention by the western powers who were so quick to stand between Libya's Colonel Gaddafi and those who opposed him.

The answer is complicated and sadly, seems to have more to do with the international community's various economic and political ambitions than humanitarian values and a desire for justice.
When the UN Security Council voted to back a no-fly zone over Libya in mid-March, Russia and China were wrong-footed into abstaining, rather than vetoing Resolution 1973. The Nato intervention has undergone a significant mission creep and is now a blatant bid to force regime change — which is, of course, illegal.

The western coalition was similarly motivated when it invaded Saddam Hussain's Iraq in 2003. Like Iraq, Libya is oil-rich. Syria is not.
China and Russia are increasingly seen as a counterbalance to Washington in the Middle East, at a time when US influence is waning. Both countries have considerable economic interests in Libya which are being devastated by the ongoing conflict. A recent report in Pravda referred to the fiscal fallout for Russia in the event of what it termed a ‘victory of the Western coalition' in the article ‘Libyan War damages Russia's Economic Interests' Anatoly Miranovsky, Pravda, March 24, 2011 — these amounted to several billion dollars in oil exploration licences, road-building and arms deals (alone worth $4 billion [Dh14.68 billion]).

China's Ministry of Trade, meanwhile, has disclosed that in March when the Nato intervention began, 75 Chinese corporations were operating in Libya with $18 billion worth of contracts in place — many of them in the oil-rich east of the country where the protests originated. The International Energy Agency suggests that China's oil consumption will reach 13.1 million barrels per day by 2030, up from 3.5 million bpd in 2006.
If the western-backed rebels succeed in overthrowing Gaddafi and establishing their own government, they are likely to favour those who have enabled their victory in future business deals. Realising that Libya's future is de facto being decided by the West, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev performed something of a U-turn and joined fellow G8 leaders in a statement urging Gaddafi to surrender power (during the Deauville 1 June summit).

‘Four seas' plan
On Syria there is no such flexibility. Both China and Russia are adamant that there will be no intervention against Al Assad and both countries boycotted Saturday's UN Security Council meeting to finalise the wording of a resolution condemning the regime's deadly suppression of peaceful protest.

Syria is key to China's plans for expansion through the Middle East — Al Assad's ‘four seas' plan to make Syria into a regional energy hub dovetails neatly with Beijing's ‘Silk Road' drive westwards in search of energy, raw materials and financial opportunities. China has invested heavily in Syria, as well as in neighbouring Turkey and close ally Iran. China buys a massive 25 per cent of Iran's oil exports and is already a key investor in Iraq's burgeoning oil and gas sector. Beijing is clearly intent on consolidating and expanding a mighty bloc of influence in the Middle East, containing some of Washington's least favourite regimes.
Russia too is heavily committed in Syria. The two countries have had a close military relationship since Cold War days; the fall of the Soviet Union has not impacted Russia's lucrative arms trade with Al Assad's regime — since 2002 Russian companies have sold the Syrians more than $6 billion worth of weaponry.

The western argument that its military intervention in Libya was only to prevent a bloodbath and to champion democracy simply does not ring true when the violence being used against unarmed protesters in Syria is just as extreme.
The truth is that the West does not want to confront Syria and has not sought a mandate to do so through the UN Security Council. The Syrian regime possesses one of the region's most powerful armies, comprising up to half a million men and an impressive arsenal. Not only that, Syria — unlike the globally unpopular Gaddafi — has powerful allies, including Nato-member Turkey and Iran. Tehran would almost certainly join the fray which could prove disastrous at a time when US and Nato forces are already committed to a greater or lesser degree in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya.

Furthermore, Syria and Iran's longstanding enmity towards Israel would put America's key ally in the region at great risk in the event of military escalation as well as destabilising Lebanon where Hezbollah has close relations with both Syria and Iran.
While there is little to gain (and much to lose) from interfering in Syria, the coalition countries, in particular the US, have undeniably benefited — economically and politically — from the rebellion and subsequent military intervention in Libya. Certainly the influence and investments of rival superpowers Russia and China have been greatly damaged by the course of events there.

But this is not what the Arab Spring revolutions are about. They are a clear call from the region's oppressed people for new freedoms and the right to choose their leaders. These brave (mostly) young people who are willing to lose their lives on the streets should not be reduced to pawns in a game played out between energy-hungry superpowers.
The international community should condemn the tyrants' bloody deeds at the top of their voices, and offer every possible practical support to emerging political, legislative and constitutional structures, but victory can only be won by the real combatants in any fight.

 Military intervention — like aid - comes with strings attached. It is time for the Arab nations to come of age and take charge of their own affairs. The innocent blood of the Syrian and Libyan martyrs will, in the end, win freedom for their people.
-This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 18/06/2011
-Abdel Bari Atwan is the editor-in-chief of the daily al-Quds al-Arabi

Lebanon: The “Two-Color” Government

By Husam Itani
Behind the “one color” prevailing over the Lebanese government, i.e. the affiliation with the same – albeit non-harmonious – political camp, there is another “color” characterizing the majority of the ministers, and especially the new ones.
It might thus be useful to look into the background of these ministers, in order to explore the climate that will accompany the work of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet and its meetings. There is firstly a solid partisan bloc, whose majority of members are former secondary school teachers (four ministers). This bloc is supported by a number of ministers dedicated to their partisan belonging, as their educational qualifications do not seem to have played a role in their accession to ministerial office. As for the third important group, it includes ministers from the engineering sector and the professions linked to it (eight ministers), businessmen and economists (five ministers) and lawyers and jurists (four). We should stress at this point that many ministers practice professions that are not directly linked to their academic specializations (a sociologist working as a bank advisor, or an attorney occupying an official post at the Beirut Stock Market).
A fast reading into the map of professional-social belonging of a large portion of the ministers, reveals that we are in the presence of a government in which those coming from undefined areas in the Lebanese society are a majority. This talk should in no way be an indication of the marginal character of the factions that produced our new ministers, but rather quite the contrary. Indeed, the absence of any borders and the intertwinement between professions and academic qualifications constitute a characteristic of Lebanese society in which many experts are unable to define the mechanisms by which its people earn their living.
However, the vagueness affecting the ministers’ backgrounds is not this government’s only flaw, considering that its tasks might extend from backing up the rule in Syria during its current crisis, to saving the new majority from collapse by getting it to launch the reform project it has always talked about on the economic and social levels. At this level, the multitude of tasks does not seem to go in line with the number of available means.
These economic and social areas are the ones prompting serious question regarding the ability of this government to secure any progress in improving the citizens’ living conditions and activating the drained and depleted public services to their utmost level. Indeed, at a time when Lebanese political life is continuing to be based on sterile divisions, all eyes are turned toward what should be accomplished by the ministers of the powers that have long been complaining about corruption, the absence of transparency, and the lack of efficiency of the previous governments, in which the majority of the services ministers belonged to the March 14 alliance.
It would be useless to say that the objections voiced by the March 8 ministers against the economic and social policies of the two former prime ministers, i.e. Fouad al-Seniora and Saad al-Hariri, were mere platforms to fire at the two men’s governments. This is due to the fact that the new majority has no political vision and no idea how to respond to the urgent questions of the citizens in regard to medical services, unemployment, immigration, and the deterioration of public administration. It is even likely that the new government will borrow the general policies of the previous governments, and recycle them by resorting to the reform-development jargon.
Hence, the new government – and its ministers who enjoy sectarian and regional loyalties – is emerging with a traditional baggage of professional expertise and scientific qualifications, amid circumstances in which nothing is traditional except for the reduced vision, the retreat of the number of creative thinkers, and a pale “color” to be added to the single political “color”.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 17/06/2011

Why Iran Needs To Drop Assad

By Amir Taheri 

Is Iran beginning to abandon the Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad?

Officially, the Baathist regime in Damascus and the Khomeinist regime in Tehran remain strategic allies. Under a treaty, signed in 2004, they are committed to helping one another against "external threats". They also hold annual meetings of senior military commanders, ostensibly to "coordinate efforts to strengthen regional stability." Iran supplies arms to Syria and has been training Syrian security personnel since the mid-1990s. Iran's annual aid package to Syria amounts to more than $500 million.
Specialists believe that, after the disintegration of the Communist bloc, the Islamic Republic has replaced the Soviet Union as Syria's protector.

Syria has been useful to Iran in several ways.
It has prevented the emergence of a united Arab bloc against the Khomeinist regime and acted as a channel for Iranian influence in Lebanon.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made no secret of his ambition to see Iran secure a presence in the Mediterranean for the first time since the 7th century. That, he hopes, would be achieved by dominating Iraq and using Syria and Lebanon as client states. Tehran media depicted the recent appearance of an Iranian war flotilla in Syrian ports as a dramatic occasion to "show the flag".
Over the past year, a new factor has increased Syria's value as an Iranian asset in the geostrategic competition in the Middle East. That factor is Turkey.

Convinced that joining the European Union is more of a mirage than a possibility, Turkish leaders have switched to a "neo-Ottoman" foreign policy aimed at creating a zone of influence from the Caspian Basin to North Africa.
Turkey's new ambitions clash with Iran's hegemonic plans.

Their rivalry is not limited to geopolitics. There is also a subtext of ideological competition. Turkey's current leadership is a moderate branch of the Muslim Brotherhood using the label of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
"Today, Turkey is offering a model to the Muslim world," Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan told an election victory rally in Istanbul last Sunday. "Turkey wants to become a voice for Muslims throughout the world."

For Khomeinists in Tehran, Erdogan's claim is as provocative as waving a red cloth at a Spanish bull. (The Khomeinist Constitution claims that Ali Khamenei is "Leader of all Muslims throughout the world.")
For some three years, Turkey has been assiduously courting Syria. The two have signed business deals amounting to $1 billion, a large sum for Syria's small economy. Turkey has also served as "facilitator" in talks between Syria and Israel. That, in turn, has reinforced Israel's traditional policy of supporting the Assad clan against an "unknown future."

Since the mullahs seized power in 1979, Tehran has harbored the hope of emerging as "regional superpower". With the United States apparently bent on strategic retreat under President Obama, Tehran's hubris reached its peak under Ahmadinejad. Turkey's unexpected entry in the competition threatened Tehran's ambitions.
Suddenly, Syria looked like a key pawn.

It is no surprise that the media in Iran have chosen to ignore the uprising against the Syrian regime. Until this week, whenever the uprising was mentioned it was branded "an American-Zionist plot". And, yet, there are signs, still faint, that Tehran might be reconsidering the situation in Syria.
For the first time since the uprising started, the official news agency IRNA has ran an item about "the need to respond to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people." The daily Kayhan, controlled by the office of the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, advises Syrian leaders to carry out "necessary reforms" to defeat "American-Zionist conspiracies." Hard-line members of the Islamic Majlis, Iran's fake parliament, claim that Syria is in trouble because it "dabbled in secularism."

More importantly, perhaps, Tehran has decided to stop the flow of pilgrims to a "holy shrine" near Damascus. The excuse given by the Khomeinist Cultural Attaché in Syria is that the pilgrims also travel to Lebanon where they visit "Christian majority areas" and become exposed to "wrong ideas."
It is, of course, too early to tell whether Tehran will jettison the Assad clan. However, such an eventuality could not be ruled out. Khomeinists have never hesitated to drop a protégé when he looked like a loser. (Recently, Tehran dropped the al-Hakim clan in Iraq, having supported it for three decades. Tehran diverted its support to the group led by Muqtada al-Sadr.)

If Tehran's attitude changes, the key, once again, would be Turkey. Having initially backed the Assad clan, Turkey has now switched to supporting the uprising. By doing so it is banking on the future as the Assad clan increasingly looks like the past. Iran, however, is still wedded to the past in Syria, and could thus emerge as a loser.
If there is regime change in Damascus, Iran would be shut out as a power that supported the Assad clan while it was killing the people in the streets. If the Assad clan manages to hang on to a semblance of power through mass carnage, Tehran would end up saddled with an isolated and bankrupt regime In Damascus.

Turkey's prospects are different. A new regime in Damascus would regard Turkey as a true friend that supported the Syrian people against a regime they rejected. If the Assad clan remains in power, Turkey would emerge as the leader of a new wave of reform and change across the Greater Middle East.
Under all conceivable configurations, the only way for Iran to avoid becoming a loser is to jettison Assad and reach out to the Syrian people.

Whatever one might think about them, Tehran's geo-strategists would not be as out of touch with reality not to know all that.
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 17/06/2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

Obama's Subversion Of War Powers

The US is involved in 'hostilities' against Libya, which demands a vote in Congress. The president is in breach of the constitution  

By Tom Rogan

US president Barack Obama
The Obama administration's report into the Libya conflict described it not as a war, but as a mission to remove Gaddafi from power. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters
On Wednesday, the White House provided Congress with a report on US operations in Libya. This report claims that the US military's ongoing involvement in Libya does not amount to "hostilities" and, as such, does not require the approval of Congress. In this assertion, the Obama administration is engaging in legal spin of the worst kind.
While the president is the commander-in-chief of the US military, since the passage of the War Powers Resolution in 1973, Congress has required that the president seek congressional approval for combat operations continuing after a period of 60 days. This resolution expanded the implied authority of Congress that stems from the constitutional power of Congress to declare war. While the US supreme court has not visited the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution, the resolution's precedence has motivated all presidents since Nixon to seek approval (if sometimes indirectly) for relevant US military deployments abroad. This included President George W Bush with regard to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the case of Iraq, while a senator, Obama was inclined to a highly assertive consideration of the reach of congressional war authority. In this context, that the Obama administration is now arguing US military involvement in Libya does not require authorisation from Congress is patently absurd. In terms of both material support and strategy, the US is unquestionably engaged in hostilities against the Libyan regime.
Considering material support, the US contribution is clear. The administration report argues that because US forces are not engaged in sustained fighting, America's military forces are not engaged in "hostilities". This is either stupidity or a blatant misrepresentation of the nature of conflict. The ongoing US commitment to coalition operations in Libya includes the provision of heavy logistics support (predominantly airlift), command and control capabilities, 70% of the coalition's intelligence-gathering assets and predator drone assets. Further, as the Obama administration itself reports, the US provides "a majority of its refuelling assets, enabling coalition aircraft to stay in the air longer and undertake more strikes".
These US military assets enable the coalition to wage war against Gaddafi. Without American support, the coalition's military efficacy would be substantially degraded. In the same way that intelligence from US ground forces in Afghanistan enables air strikes against the Taliban, by providing coalition allies with intelligence on Gaddafi regime targets, the US plays a direct and critical role in the destruction of those targets. To argue that applied intelligence and logistics are not crucial elements of hostilities is to ignore every military thinker from Sun Tzu to Petraeus.
Considering US strategy, the intention of US operations in Libya is also abundantly clear. While the administration argues in its report and following interviews that US military actions are inherently focused on protection of civilians, the practical strategic objective is obviously the removal of Gaddafi from power and the end of his regime. In a textbook Clausewitzian sense, by destroying the Libyan military, the coalition is seeking to remove Gaddafi's means of resistance and force his compliance with the coalition's will. The coalition is not simply protecting defined humanitarian safe zones; it is waging war.
The US political consensus on Libya has been weak and unconventional from the start, involving for example, cross-party alliances between normal polar opposites like Kucinich and Boehner. However, by plying Congress with excuses devoid of truth and logic instead of attempts at consensus and engagement, the Obama administration is not only failing to lead, it is asserting a profound, hypocritical and dangerous expansion of executive power. The American people deserve better.
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 17/06/2011

The King's Speech

By Curtis R. Ryan
King Abdallah II of Jordan

On Tuesday, King Abdullah II of Jordan delivered a rare televised address announcing a wide range of planned political reforms. He outlined plans to have governments selected by parliamentary majority rather than by monarchical appointment, and to strengthen political parties. The next day, however, as Abdullah toured the southern city of Tafila, he was reportedly bombarded with stones and empty bottles.

The King's reform initiative and the stories about his rough welcome in a traditional Hashemite stronghold highlight that Jordan has not been immune from the Arab spring. It has been affected by the Arab uprisings deeply. Jordanians have been demonstrating for months, calling for the ouster of the government. But unlike their Tunisian and Egyptian counterparts, the Jordanian demonstrators aimed their anger mainly at the appointed government of Prime Minister Samir al-Rifa'i, leading an alarmed monarchy to dismiss the entire cabinet.

Today, the calls for change in Jordan remain extensive and persistent, and they have come from almost every direction. Even the most pro-Hashemite constituencies have repeatedly challenged the king in various ways. Retired military officers have called for change while condemning the regime's policy priorities, tribal leaders have railed against the allegedly intrusive role of Queen Rania herself -- even going so far as comparing her to deposed first ladies Leila Tarabulsi and Suzanne Mubarak. The main question is simply to what extent the monarchy realizes this.

The image of the royal motorcade being welcomed with flying objects contrasted with the previous several days of national (but mainly royal) celebrations marking the anniversary of the Great Arab Revolt, Army Day, and Coronation Day. Thousands of cheering rural residents were bused to parade locations to celebrate as the royal motorcade passed by. The carefully orchestrated celebrations suggested that the king and the monarchy were not only secure but wildly popular. A more accurate read would require separating the two terms: the king is not popular with many Jordanians these days, yet most Jordanians continue to support the monarchy.

Public questioning now crosses red lines that would have been unthinkable under King Hussein. But for King Abdullah, as one Jordanian analyst noted "all his choices are contested; his choice of prime minister, his choice of crown prince, his choice of wife. All are contested." The monarchy should be concerned, because it is actually hard to find a Jordanian that is satisfied with the status quo right now. When I made these very observations to members of the soon-to-be-dismissed Rifa'i government in December 2010, I was assured that I was mistaken. The government had a comprehensive reform plan and people just needed to be patient.

Within weeks, patience clearly exhausted, Jordanians were in the streets. But the king then replaced a government largely of Neoliberal technocrats with a more old guard elite that had strong tribal and East Jordanian roots, ties to the security services, and virtually no record of commitment to reform. The monarchy also launched yet another round of national committees of various notables to reassess the laws on elections, parties, the judiciary, and the constitution itself.

Buoyed by their success in toppling the government, protesters continued Friday demonstrations, calling for an end to perceived endemic corruption and for greater inclusion, democratization, and the return to a more constitutional monarchy with more checks and balances.

Organized online as the March 24 movement, Jordanian democracy and reform activists gathered at the Ministry of Interior Circle for perhaps their most important demonstration yet. Despite the presence mainly of red checked East Jordanian keffiyehs, Hashemite and Jordanian nationalist songs, and a clearly peaceful protest, the demonstrators were attacked on March 25 by bultajiyya, or thugs who appear to have been bused into the city. Calling themselves the "Da'wa al-Watan" (Call of the Nation) and believing they were saving the monarchy from "Palestinian" revolutionaries who were "occupying" their capital, they stormed the peaceful demonstration, leading to the death of one participant.

Similarly, on May 15, at demonstrations in the Jordan valley for the Palestinian right of return, still-unknown assailants in civilian clothes opened fire on the gathering of activists. Twenty-one-year-old Jalal al-Ashqar was shot in the back and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Jordan has had no central tragic figure, such as the late Khalid Said of Egypt, to rally their anger around. But many in both government and opposition watched closely the prognosis for al-Ashqar. Prime Minister Bakhit visited the young man, assuring his family that the state would pay all medical expenses.

More recently, in June 2011, the bultajiyya issue returned as thugs attacked the offices of Agence France Presse and threatened well-known veteran journalist Randa Habib, perhaps because of reporting on the Tafila incident. In each of these cases, countless Jordanians remarked to me just how distinctly un-Jordanian these incidents seemed. Indeed, each seemed like the kind of news one associated with some of Jordan's neighbors, rather than with Jordan itself.

Despite such incidents, most Jordanians remained strongly in favor of reform rather than regime change. Meanwhile, outside Jordan, the extreme violence of the latter round of Arab uprisings -- in Libya, Yemen, and especially Syria -- may actually have helped the Hashemite monarchy, since no Jordanian wants to see their country take those routes. It bought the monarchy at least some more time, and most Jordanians seemed willing to give the king a chance to join and even lead reform.

In his June 12 speech to the nation, King Abdullah II once again decried disunity, fitna, and irresponsible media reporting. But the king also called for strengthening the party system and shifting from governments that are royally-appointed to those that are drawn from the majority bloc in a democratically elected parliament. If the latter idea is indeed implemented, it meets a major demand across the opposition spectrum. But the new electoral laws themselves can still be expected to minimize representation for leftist and Islamist activists, so in practice the new governments may actually have a familiar feel. Almost every Jordanian I talked to had a conditional response to the proposal of democratically-elected governments. As one activist put it, summarizing the general view, "it's a good idea ... if it happens;" because the speech omitted any timetable for implementing this key opposition demand.

If the king had made this exact speech three years ago, the response might even have been enthusiastic. It might have been seen as path-breaking. But the muffled response suggests a more pervasive pessimism that has been well-earned. Even before the speech, every Jordanian I met with expected to be disappointed. Jordan's liberalization process began in 1989, not in 2011, and since its beginnings has seen countless retreats from reform, new royal committees, cabinet reshuffles, slogans and marketing campaigns. As one opposition activist put it, "the whole region is moving at high speed like a BMW while we are riding donkeys: ... donkeys, not even horses."

If the king's call for reform is genuine, then it will require some immediate and clear signs of implementation. Otherwise, it will be dismissed as still more cosmetic reform. But regardless of the regime, the spirit of 2011 across the Arab world remains a major point of departure for the Jordanian public. It has seen the rise of extensive levels of youth activism, both in the streets and in cyberspace, from blogs to Twitter to Facebook groups. It has seen a revitalization of old political movements, from leftist parties to the more well-organized Muslim Brotherhood and its party, the Islamic Action Front (but interestingly none of these seem to be of interest to Jordan's energized youth). It has seen a rise in public sphere discussions on virtually all topics, in cyberspace, in print, and in person, such as the impressive Hashtag Debates organized by youth activists.

The constituency for real reform, in short, stretches across Jordan's generation, class, ethnic, and gender divides. But it continues to be thwarted by entrenched anti-reform elites. As former Jordanian government official Marwan Muasher noted in a recent Carnegie Endowment report, "the political elite must recognize that the only way they can retain power is by sharing it, and governments will have to acknowledge that substituting serious implementation with reform rhetoric fools no one." Exactly. Jordanians have one of the most literate and well-educated populations in the entire Arab world, so if old authoritarian tactics seem to work less and less well across the region, they can be expected to be even more useless in Jordan. If the regime takes that point to heart, then Jordan will provide a very different and very positive model for reform in the region. If not, then calls for regime change will soon arrive in Jordan too.

-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 17/06/2011
-Curtis R. Ryan is associate professor of political science at Appalachian State University and author of Jordan in Transition: From Hussein to Abdullah and Inter-Arab Alliances: Regime Security and Jordanian Foreign Policy.

Fighting Corruption After The Arab Spring

From Tunisia to Yemen, rampant corruption helped drive protesters into the streets. Now the best way to spur countries to change is to harness their desire to protect their reputations.
By Stuart Levey
From Tunisia to Yemen, the corruption of Middle Eastern regimes has played a significant role in motivating the Arab Spring. Former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his family now face trial in absentia for, among other crimes, money laundering and drug trafficking. Meanwhile, Egyptian courts have charged former President Hosni Mubarak with corruption and sentenced in absentia his former finance minister, Youssef Boutros-Ghali, to 30 years in prison on charges of corruption and embezzlement of public money. Frustration with cronyism and corruption is a key grievance of those protesting in the streets in Libya, Syria, and Yemen as well.
These corrupt leaders have managed to stash much of their collected wealth abroad, despite international obligations designed to prevent such looting. The Arab Spring has thus highlighted the inadequacy of current international efforts against corruption.
If global leaders are serious about strengthening anticorruption efforts in response to the Arab Spring, they should build on recent improvements in an unlikely place: Switzerland. Switzerland recently changed its law about returning corrupt funds and has led much of the international community in freezing the assets of certain deposed leaders, including Ben Ali, Mubarak, and former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo. Switzerland took these actions at least in part because it feared that its reputation as a haven for illicit assets could harm its ability to attract legitimate business. The United States and its allies should capitalize on such reputational sensitivities by promoting mutually enforced anticorruption standards and exposing those countries that fail to cooperate. This is the most promising path to inducing countries to prevent corruption and to excluding the proceeds of corruption from the global financial system.
 Swiss banks became known as a top choice for corrupt dictators by holding the multi-million dollar accounts of, among others, former Nigerian ruler Sani Abacha, former Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos, and former Haitian strongman Jean-Claude Duvalier. Thus, it may come as a surprise that last October, Switzerland adopted what is arguably the world’s toughest law for repatriating the ill-gotten gains of corrupt politicians to the people of those countries, allowing the country to return potentially corrupt assets more easily.
Returning the fruits of corruption to their country of origin is a difficult undertaking. In the first place, the process of tracing and repatriation does not begin unless and until the corrupt regime is removed from power (obviously, a ruling regime depositing the money is highly unlikely to request such an investigation). Even when assets are located, legal obstacles often complicate repatriation. The new leadership in the country of origin may not be sufficiently independent of the old regime to pursue the matter, or may be unable to provide adequate proof that the assets in question were illicitly derived. As a result, only a relatively small amount of money has actually been returned to countries of origin. The World Bank estimates that corrupt regimes steal $20–$40 billion from developing countries each year; only $5 billion has been returned to those countries over the past 15 years.
The new Swiss law, known as the Restitution of Illicit Assets Act, took effect in February and addresses some of these problems by giving the Swiss government more freedom of action to repatriate questionable funds. For example, the new law shifts the burden of proof -- the countries of origin are not required to prove the illicit nature of the funds. In situations where the wealth of a politician in question has increased dramatically during his reign and corruption is endemic in his country, the new law requires the politician to prove that he earned his wealth legitimately. Beyond improving the likelihood of restitution in specific cases, this law might persuade corrupt politicians to place their illicit assets elsewhere.
Switzerland hopes that its strengthened restitution law will do just that. The Swiss Foreign Ministry Web site states that “it is in Switzerland’s fundamental interest to ensure that the assets of politically exposed persons obtained by unlawful means shall not be invested in the Swiss financial center.” This, the Ministry explains, is because “competition between financial centers is global. In long term, it is a financial center’s reputation and credibility that are the most important criteria with respect to competitors.”
Like other nations, Switzerland undoubtedly realizes that a reputation for shielding corrupt assets can discourage legitimate investors, who may be deterred by the lack of transparency or by the prospect of being stigmatized by placing their money in a known destination for corrupt funds. Investors may also fear that a jurisdiction’s poor reputation may attract greater regulatory and law-enforcement scrutiny. A suspect reputation may also complicate the ability of a country’s financial institutions to conduct business abroad, especially in the United States.
It is easy to be to be cynical about Switzerland’s attempts to portray itself as a world leader in preventing corrupt politicians from hiding their money, given the country’s history. But indulging that cynicism would risk missing the opportunity represented by Switzerland’s desire to improve its reputation. With corrupt rulers stealing billions per year from their people, the international community must develop methods to counter corruption while they remain in power. Repatriation of funds only after a corrupt regime falls is insufficient. To ensure that effective preventive measures are taken, the international community should harness the dynamic that motivated Switzerland to reform -- its desire to demonstrate the integrity of its financial system -- to incentivize other nations to act.
A multilateral commitment to improve anticorruption regulations exists. A hundred and forty nations have signed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), a 2005 agreement that mandates a comprehensive vision for fighting corruption. Its signatories committed to adopting measures to prevent corruption such as creating anticorruption bodies, maintaining an independent judiciary, and establishing transparent procurement systems; criminalizing bribery and the embezzlement of public funds, and providing for the freezing and confiscation of the proceeds of those crimes; cooperating with other countries to enforce anticorruption laws and to return looted assets to their country of origin; and implementing rules to protect the financial system from the proceeds of corruption.
Unfortunately, there is no credible mechanism to ensure that countries implement the UNCAC. The implementation process sounds like a parody of an ineffective UN process: it relies on a “non-intrusive” “desk review” of a “comprehensive self-assessment checklist” completed by each signatory. A visit by an assessor to the country being reviewed can be made only if that country agrees. Reports on a country under investigation remain confidential unless the country under review chooses to have it published. On top of that, at the current pace, the first round of assessments will take 15 years to complete.
Other well-intentioned anticorruption efforts similarly lack sufficient implementation mechanisms. Although a G-20 anticorruption “action plan” announced last November calls for countries to report back to G-20 leaders, it lacks a formal process to ensure concrete improvements. And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s existing assessment of whether its members are allowing companies to bribe foreign public officials does not extend to potential corruption issues within any member country itself.
Although the implementation of a comprehensive set of anticorruption measures undoubtedly poses daunting political challenges, there is an existing model that works: the global effort to combat money laundering and terrorist financing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). By publishing expert-created standards to combat illicit finance which are enforced by rigorous mutual evaluations among members, FATF has created a perpetual race to the top, or at least a race away from the bottom, as countries continuously seek to improve their FATF evaluations. The FATF consisted of only 16 members when first formed by the G-7 in 1989; today, more than 180 countries subject themselves to its or its affiliates’ assessments. Its efforts are viewed as nonpolitical and are thus respected. Most important, FATF publishes its evaluation reports and its conclusions about which countries pose a risk to the system. Financial institutions around the globe pay close attention to FATF’s assessments and use them to decide whether or how to operate in specific countries. Countries’ fears of landing on one of FATF’s warning lists, and their intense desire to remove themselves from those lists once named, are powerful motivators for self-improvement.
 The international community could make real progress in combating corruption if an organization with FATF’s credibility were empowered to set standards and assess countries’ performance on the types of measures established in the UNCAC. Such a process should build on the key lesson of Switzerland’s reforms: the best way to motivate countries to prevent corruption is to harness their own desire to protect their reputations.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Affairs on 16/06/2011
-STUART LEVEY is Senior Fellow for National Security and Financial Integrity at the Council on Foreign Relations. He previously served as the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.