Monday, 28 November 2011

Obama’s aggressive turn to Asia

1/2: Who is obama..? in his own words...!

2/2: Obam's aggressive turn to Asia

Obama’s tour through Asia last week marked a turning point in geopolitics. On every front—diplomatic, economic and strategic—the US president set course for a confrontation with China as he sought to reassert untrammelled American dominance in the fastest growing region of the globe.

At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu, Obama launched the Trans Pacific Partnership—a pact designed to ensure regional trade is conducted on Washington’s terms. In Canberra, he announced the basing of US Marines in northern Australia, along with greater use of Australian air and naval bases—the first American military expansion into Asia since the end of the Vietnam War. At the East Asia Summit in Bali, despite China’s opposition, Obama marshalled the support of South East Asian countries to force a discussion on the South China Sea—territorially-disputed waters of vital strategic and economic interest to China.

In his keynote speech to the Australian parliament, Obama made explicit his foreign policy shift to Asia. After a decade of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he explained, “the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region.” Obama announced he had made “a deliberate and strategic decision—as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.”

The turn to Asia is not a recent policy decision by Obama but stems from profound shifts in the global economy that were reflected in deep dissatisfaction in American ruling circles with the strategic orientation of the George W. Bush administration. Under the guise of a “war on terror,” Bush had plunged the US into two disastrous wars that had sapped the American military, undermined US diplomacy and generated immense opposition at home.

Bipartisan backing for the wars reflected broad support in Washington for the underlying strategy—to secure US hegemony in the Middle East and Central Asia over the world’s largest energy reserves so as to be able to hold Washington’s Asian and European rivals to ransom. What had been touted as easy victories, however, turned into quagmires. Criticism mounted, especially of Bush’s failure to stem China’s growing influence in Asia.

China’s economic expansion over the past decade has been bound up with a major restructuring of manufacturing processes following the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. Increasingly the East Asian and South East Asian economies became integrated into supply chains centred on production in China. Between 2000 and 2010, annual Chinese trade with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) jumped from $39.4 billion to $292.8 billion. These economic processes found their reflection in regional free trade deals and in China’s growing clout in regional forums such as ASEAN, ASEAN+3 and the East Asian Summit—gatherings either to which the US did not belong or which it did not attend.

The installation of Obama as president was backed by powerful sections of the American foreign policy establishment as the means of extricating the US from Iraq and Afghanistan and mounting an aggressive drive into the economically-dynamic Asian Pacific region. Amid the 2008-09 global financial crisis, Obama initially had to placate China—with top US officials travelling to Beijing to urge “America’s banker” to buy more US bonds.

That phase quickly passed, however. The Obama administration signed ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation—something Bush refused to countenance—and gained admittance to the ASEAN-based forums. In July 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared at the ASEAN summit that the US was “back in South East Asia.” At an ASEAN gathering a year later, she asserted that the US had a “national interest” in the regional disputes in the South China Sea, prompting China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi to declare her remarks to be “virtually an attack on China.” US diplomatic efforts have been directed not just toward established allies, but to prising countries like Burma from China’s sphere of influence.

As in the Middle East, the Obama administration’s overwhelming focus in Asia has been on strengthening the US military posture. Over the past two years, it has upgraded strategic and military ties throughout the region, particularly with Japan, India and Australia. The US has provided warships to the Philippines, held unprecedented joint exercises with Vietnam, based a new generation of littoral combat ships in Singapore, announced a huge new weapons sale to Taiwan and lifted the ban on US collaboration with Indonesia’s notorious Kopassus special forces. Last year, the Obama administration backed Japan in its tense standoff with China over the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain in disputed waters, provocatively declaring that the US would be obliged under treaty arrangements to support Japan in any conflict.

The Pentagon’s strategy remains centred on controlling energy supplies. However, rather than seeking to bring the Middle East completely under its political sway, the US is counting on its military muscle to dominate China’s vital shipping routes for energy and raw materials from the Middle East and Africa through key choke points—above all the Malacca Strait—to the South China Sea. These plans recall the way in which the US exploited its naval power to impose an oil blockade on Japan in 1941, triggering a chain of events that led to the Pacific War.

The intensity of the US drive into Asia is underscored by two significant political casualties. For all Obama’s talks of “democracy,” his administration has brooked no opposition, even from close US allies. The White House had a hand in the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in June 2010 and one month later in the Labor Party coup that ousted Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Hatoyama’s “crime” was to oppose the retention of a key US base on Okinawa. Rudd’s was to offer to facilitate an easing of tensions between the US and China. Both were replaced by staunchly pro-US figures.

The driving force behind this dangerous confrontation is the relative economic decline of US imperialism and the rise of China. The US is recklessly wielding its military power to compensate for its economic weakness as it seeks to retain global dominance. Despite the staggering indices of its economic growth, China is wracked by economic and social contradictions—above all, the explosive development of the Chinese working class. Beijing can no more afford to make concessions to Washington, than the US can cede an Asian sphere of influence to China. These tensions have been magnified by the worsening global economic crisis, as each power seeks to shore up its position at the other’s expense.

Some astute bourgeois commentators are already drawing the historical parallels. In an article last Friday, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber explained: “Throughout the ages, the failure to accommodate rising powers—or rather the failure of rising powers to accommodate the existing state system—had been the source of conflict.” After pointing to the world wars sparked by the rise of Germany and Japan, he warned of the “risks of mutual miscalculation” by the US and China. Barber appealed for a modern day Klemens von Metternich to adjust relations between the Pacific powers, as the Austrian prince did in Europe following the Napoleonic wars.

The nineteenth century, however, was a different historic period. The epoch of imperialism that erupted in August 1914 has been marked by two world wars and now the threat of an even more devastating catastrophe. The only means for averting war is to abolish its root cause—the profit system and the division of the world into rival capitalist nation states. The International Committee of the Fourth International is the only political force that seeks to unify, educate and mobilise the international working class for that historic task. (WSWS)

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The Egyptian revolution turns against the military

The year 2011 began with powerful struggles of workers and youth in North Africa against long-time US-backed dictators, which culminated in the forced resignation of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak on February 11. As the year draws to a close, a new wave of demonstrations is rocking Egypt, directed at the military government that replaced him.

The renewed revolutionary upsurge is the working class’s verdict on the Egyptian military’s claims to be leading “democratic transition.” Demonstrations throughout the country against the military junta, still backed with billions of dollars in money from American imperialism, have confronted a brutal state crackdown, which has already killed dozens and wounded thousands.

Attempts to promote elections that are to be held under the junta’s thumb today were met with mass chants of “Down, down with military rule!” When the junta chose a new prime minister, Kamal El-Ghanzouri—who served as prime minister under Mubarak from 1996 to 1999—to form a new government on Thursday, protesters immediately opposed it.

By these mass struggles, workers and youth have made clear that they reject the junta’s “democratic transition” as a fraud. They sense that elections run by the military under emergency laws have nothing to with democracy. Such elections would only produce a legislature controlled by the junta and its imperialist backers, trying to lend false parliamentary legitimacy to further repression and right-wing policies by Mubarak’s old cronies.

As the military confronts mass opposition, various political forces are seeking to offer their services to preserve the status quo. Some youth groups and self-proclaimed revolutionary movements claim that a “national salvation” government under liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei would be different. This is a lie. An ElBaradei government installed by the junta would simply be a different puppet to defend the interests of the Egyptian ruling class and US imperialism.

On Sunday ElBaradei and former Arab League leader Amr Moussa met the junta’s leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Tantawi told them to support Prime Minister Ghanzouri, informing them that the army would not submit to pressure or scale back its powers under a new constitution.

The renewed mass protests have laid bare the huge gap between the working class and the entire political establishment, which has sought to cultivate illusions about the junta’s supposed reforms. Protesters did not let any political parties set up stages on Tahrir Square Friday, as they are widely seen as tools of the junta.

The protests dealt a serious blow to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which hoped to profit from popular disillusionment with the middle-class “left” parties’ support for the junta to win today’s elections and take office. The MB even publicly criticized anti-junta protests. Now they stand exposed as a counterrevolutionary force tied to the US. Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed El Beltagi was expelled from Tahrir Square by protesters on Monday.

The central role in propping up the junta was played by various petty-bourgeois pseudo-left groups like the Revolutionary Socialists (RS), the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP) and the Egyptian Socialist Party (ESP). They said Mubarak’s generals could be pressured, and the demands of the Egyptian revolution achieved, by building “independent” trade unions and working with pro-capitalist forces—the Islamists, ElBaradei and the junta itself.

Their perspective was summed up by RS member Mustafa Omar, in an article of May 31, which claimed that “despite its repressive measures, the Supreme Council [of the Armed Forces, i.e. the junta] understands that the January 25 uprising has changed Egypt once and for all in certain ways... The Council aims to reform the political and economic system, allowing it to become more democratic and less oppressive.”

After ten months of military dictatorship, deadly repression and the imprisonment of over 12,000 workers and youth, the bankruptcy of this perspective is exposed by the class struggles in Egypt. Forces like the RS, the SPAP and the ESP do not represent the workers, but a small section of the affluent middle class inseparably tied to bourgeois rule, the military and its imperialist backers.

In a statement Sunday, the so-called Revolution Continues electoral alliance—including the SPAP, the ESP, and liberal and Islamist groups—announced their participation in the elections, praising them as an important step towards democracy. They also issued a statement with the Egyptian Bloc electoral alliance supporting the formation of a “national salvation” government.

The emergence of the working class in direct struggle against such promises of a “democratic transition” has enormous political significance. The logic of these struggles is directed not at reforming the military government, but at overthrowing it. However, the fundamental problems of political program and leadership remain unresolved.

The eruption of new mass demonstrations in Egypt takes place against the backdrop of a deepening capitalist crisis and growing struggles of workers and youth internationally. The world economy is on the brink of a new and even more catastrophic downturn, and the ruling class is united in its determination to force the working class to pay.

As the events in Egypt are making clear to millions of workers, the only way forward is socialist revolution. The downfall of Mubarak, while an event of immense objective significance, has not resolved any of the political and social questions confronting the masses.

The reemergence of working-class struggles against the US-backed junta is a powerful confirmation of the perspective of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). As the WSWS explained on February 14, “The continuation of the revolution and the fight for its interests is bringing the working class and oppressed masses into ever more direct conflict with the military, the official opposition, and US imperialism.”

Guided by Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, which holds that the bourgeoisie of oppressed countries like Egypt cannot lead a struggle for democracy and against imperialist domination, the WSWS declared that only an independent, socialist struggle by the working class in alliance with their class brothers and sisters internationally can achieve the revolution’s aims.

The conditions for such an international struggle for socialism are becoming increasingly favorable. The Egyptian workers and youth have already given the international working class a priceless example of determined struggle. To take their revolution forward, the most decisive task is now to build a section of the ICFI in Egypt to fight for a socialist perspective to overthrow the junta (WSWS)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Breaking Point? Yemen's Southern Question

1/2: Media Release

Sanaa/Brussels, 20 October 2011: Amid uncertainty fuelled by ongoing mass protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's political future, as well as its unity – notably the status of the South – hang in the balance.

Breaking Point? Yemen's Southern Question, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, explores the roots of the Southern issue, its relationship with the 2011 uprising and the prospects of reaching a compromise that would preserve territorial unity while profoundly redefining the relationship between the central government and regional entities. To peacefully resolve the Southern issue, political actors would need to reach agreement on a transition of power in Sanaa followed by an inclusive national dialogue. Yet, there is no indication Yemenis are heading in that direction. Instead, as mass protests continue without result, frustration is growing along with Southerners' distrust that events in the North will have a positive impact in the South.

“We face an explosive situation”, says April Alley, Crisis Group's Senior Arabian Peninsula Analyst. “An enduring political impasse could prompt further collapse of security and economic conditions, triggering greater unrest and instability in the South. Alternatively, if a full-fledged civil war breaks out in the North, Southerners might pursue a serious bid for separation. Secession would almost certainly spark another conflict with the North and could lead to in-fighting and additional fragmentation within the South itself”.

The former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) merged with its northern neighbour, the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), in 1990 to form the Republic of Yemen. Unity was troubled from the start and resulted in a short but bloody civil war in 1994. Afterward, two profoundly different narratives took hold, one declaring that the war had closed the file on separation and solidified unity, the other claiming instead it marked the end of unity and the beginning of the North's occupation of the South. Southerners' feelings of marginalisation and injustice eventually gave way to a popular protest movement in 2007, which later shifted to calls for separation.

At its start, the 2011 Yemeni uprising facilitated cooperation between Northern and Southern protesters and opened up fresh opportunities to peacefully resolve the Southern issue. Yet, the early euphoria is giving way to resurgent calls by some for Southern independence. Political activists in the South point to two possible ways forward: immediate separation or a federation consisting of two regions. A third option, to organise the country along four to seven federal regions, has found wider appeal in the North and potentially could gain traction within the staunchly pro-unity parties, the opposition Islah and the ruling General People's Congress. Still others advocate for a system of strengthened local governance.

To pave the way for successful dialogue, all major stakeholders, including the ruling party, should officially acknowledge the importance of the Southern issue and commit to its fair resolution through negotiations. At a minimum, Southerners should have a special status in the dialogue to reassure them that their issues will not be lost amid Yemen's many challenges. Of course, none of this can happen without quick agreement on and implementation of a viable transition plan for the political system as a whole.

“Yemen's upheaval presents a rare opportunity to redefine its flawed and failed political compact”, says Crisis Group's Middle East & North Africa Program Director, Robert Malley. “At the same time, it has considerably raised the price of inaction. If nothing is done soon to peacefully address both national and Southern deep-seated grievances, a darker and more ominous chapter could yet be written”.

Ten months of popular protest spiked by periodic outbursts of violence have done little to clarify Yemen’s political future. Persistent street protests so far have failed to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh or bring about genuine institutional reform. The country is more deeply divided between pro- and anti-Saleh forces than ever, its economy is in tatters and both security and humanitarian conditions are deteriorating. Amid the uncertainty fuelled by this lingering crisis, the country’s unity – and notably the status of the South – hangs in the balance. Old grievances are coming into sharper relief and, among some, secessionist aspirations gaining steam. There remains an opportunity for Yemen’s rulers, opposition groups and protesters to reach agreement on a political transition that would give priority to the Southern question and redefine relations between centre and periphery, for example by moving toward a federal model. Should this chance be missed, the conflict risks getting bloodier. And Yemen’s unity could be a thing of the past.

The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) merged with its northern neighbour, the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), on 22 May 1990 to form the Republic of Yemen. From the start, this was a troubled unification that resulted in a short, bloody civil war in 1994. The North emerged victorious, but this hardly closed the chapter. In the wake of the conflict, two profoundly different narratives took shape. Under one version, the war laid to rest the notion of separation and solidified national unity. According to the other, the war laid to rest the notion of unity and ushered in a period of Northern occupation of the South.

The most recent tensions did not suddenly erupt in the context of the January 2011 Yemeni uprising. In 2007, a broad-based popular protest movement known as the Southern Movement (Al-Hiraak al-Janoubi) had come to the fore. The Hiraak originated as a rights-based movement requesting equality under the law and a change in relations between North and South – all within a united country. The government responded to the demands with repression; it also largely ignored its own promises of reforms. By 2009, the Hiraak had begun to champion Southern independence. In the months leading up to the uprising that became the Yemeni Spring, its influence and popularity in the South clearly were on the ascent.

Could the popular uprising open up fresh opportunities to peacefully resolve the Southern issue? If the various sides act reasonably, it should. From the start, it facilitated cooperation between Northern and Southern protesters and broke through barriers of fear, allowing a larger spectrum of Southerners to join the national public debate on the status of the South. Most importantly, it has facilitated debate and growing consensus around federal options. If political foes can reach agreement on a transition of power in Sanaa and launch an inclusive national dialogue, they could seize the moment to negotiate a peaceful compromise on the Southern issue as well.

The problem is that there is no indication Yemen is heading there. Instead, as mass protests have continued without result, frustration has grown and so too has Southern distrust that anything that happens in the North will improve their lot. The risks are many. An enduring political impasse could prompt further collapse of security and economic conditions throughout the country, producing greater unrest and instability in the South. Alternatively, a full-fledged civil war could break out between Northern rival elites, a scenario that could prompt Southern stakeholders to pursue a serious bid for separation. Already, the early euphoria generated by coordination between protesters in the North and South is giving way to resurgent calls by some for Southern independence.
This is a dangerous brew. The South’s secession almost certainly would be resisted by the North and could spark a violent conflict. Any effort toward independence also could trigger in-fighting and additional fragmentation within the South itself. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other violent groups already are prospering amid growing instability and chaos; further deterioration would only expand their reach.

A clear path toward a redefinition of relations between centre and periphery is badly needed. This can only be achieved through an inclusive dialogue that recognises Southerners’ legitimate grievances and the importance of profoundly amending that relationship. Four possible outcomes are being discussed in various forums, with varying degrees of popularity: maintenance of a unitary state albeit with more inclusive, transparent and accountable central government; maintenance of a unitary state but with significant powers devolved to local governments; a federal state consisting of two or more regions; and Southern secession.

Of these, the first and last are the more likely recipes for heightened conflict. The former (a kind of status quo plus) would essentially ignore Southerners’ legitimate demands for greater participation, control of local resources and protection of local identity and culture. The latter (Southern independence) would alienate not only Northerners but also many Southerners who strongly prefer reform within the context of unity.

That leaves the two middle options. Both have their problems. Hiraak supporters suspect that a mere strengthening of local government powers – even under a more democratic and representative central government – could be a subterfuge and fail to truly protect Southerners’ rights. For this and other reasons, they favour either immediate separation or, at a minimum, a federation of two states lasting four to five years, to be followed by a referendum on the South’s ultimate status.

On the other hand, federalism, especially under a two-state formula (one Northern, the other Southern), is eyed by many with considerable suspicion as only the first step toward the South’s eventual separation. Some form of multi-state federalism, with perhaps four or five regions, potentially could allay those anxieties. It has found relatively wider appeal in the North and arguably could gain traction even within staunchly pro-unity parties, such as the ruling General People’s Congress and the opposition Islamist party, Islah. But much more precision about the details of this model will be required before it does so. Overall, none of these fears ought be brushed aside or downplayed. Instead, they should be aired openly and discussed seriously through robust debate and peaceful negotiations.

External players, including the Gulf Cooperation Council members, the U.S., the UK, the EU and the UN, have a role to play. All officially support a unified Yemen. But that is an umbrella broad enough to accommodate the need for Yemenis to comprehensively renegotiate the relationship between the central government and regional entities.

Yemen’s upheaval presents a rare opportunity to redefine its flawed and failed political compact. At the same time, however, it has considerably raised the price of inaction. If nothing is done soon to peacefully address both national and Southern deep-seated grievances, a darker and more ominous chapter could yet be written.


To all Yemeni political stakeholders:

01. Agree immediately upon and implement a transition that facilitates a broadly inclusive national dialogue aimed at revising the existing political and social contract;

To the Yemeni Government:

02. Take immediate confidence-building measures to calm tensions in the South, including halting violence against peaceful demonstrators, releasing political prisoners, investigating alleged abuses, allowing human rights and humanitarian agencies full access to southern governorates, and removing controversial Northern military/security personnel, replacing them with Southern members of the security forces.

To the (ruling) General People’s Congress:

03. Acknowledge publicly the Southern issue as legitimate and commit to finding a just solution through national dialogue and negotiations.

04. Accept a special status for the Southern issue in the national dialogue, ensuring that it will be addressed both separately and as part of a larger package of reforms.

05. End inflammatory rhetoric against “separatists” and instead embrace dialogue and debate over a broad range of decentralisation options.

06. Prepare for dialogue by educating and canvassing supporters on a range of options, including federalism.

To the (opposition) Yemeni Socialist Party:

07. Continue to promote compromise positions, such as a form of federalism, that could bridge the gap between the Hiraak and staunchly pro-unity parties like the General People’s Congress and Islah.

To the (opposition) Islah:
08. Accept a special status for the Southern issue in the national dialogue, ensuring that it will be addressed both separately and as part of a larger package of reforms;

09. Allow Southerners within the party to take the lead in formulating policy on the South and present them as Islah’s public face there, replacing in this capacity controversial Northern leaders.

To Northern Protesters:

10. Continue to publicly acknowledge the Southern issue as legitimate and accept its special status in a national dialogue.

11. Continue to reach out to Southern protesters, especially in the Hiraak, to find common ground and gain an understanding of their grievances and their preferred ways to address them.

12. Reaffirm commitment to peaceful protest and, if the opportunity arises, participate in a national dialogue on the Southern issue.

To the Hiraak:

13. End inflammatory “in group, out group” labels that stereotype Northerners as occupiers and end attempts to label Southerners based on their preference for separation or unity.

14. Continue internal dialogue within the movement and with other Southerners to further clarify and articulate a range of policy options.

15. Accept a diversity of opinions within the South and be open to discussing solutions short of separation.

To Members of the International Community:

16. Continue to pressure both the regime and the opposition to move forward immediately with a peaceful political transition.

17. Support a special status for the Southern issue in a national dialogue through public statements and increased engagement with Southern activists, including the Hiraak.

18. Increase humanitarian assistance to Southern governorates affected by ongoing violence, particularly Abyan and Aden, and pressure the Yemeni government to provide full access to these areas. (ICG)

Download Full PDF report from here