Sunday, 11 March 2012

Western Imperial powers overreach, yet again!

From Egypt to Russia, the Western urge to meddle in other countries continues to be troublesome.

Behind The Headlines By Bunn Nagara

THE so-called Arab Spring continues to spring surprises, most of all on its Western backers. With double standards in international politics, just about anything goes.

US, Israeli and European cheerleaders of Arab “regime change” through street politics have realised by now that the naive notion of ousting dictators does not travel in a straight line. Among other things, the new regimes that emerge have tended to be more independent and less Western-friendly.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist Freedom and Justice Party has taken the pivotal role in post-Mubarak political life, including the upper house of Parliament. In Tunisia much the same has been happening with the Islamist Ennahda party.

Shifting the goalposts: When allegations of voter fraud bore no fruit, Moscow’s street protesters switched to accusing Putin of using rough tactics on them as police made arrests. — AFP
An element of that plays in the opposition Syrian National Council’s multiple splits. The more cautious Western officials are currently hesitant to provide “hard power” to the rebels battling Damascus, since rebel ranks include al-Qaeda.

Right-wing US lawmakers like John McCain are chiding President Obama for not arming Syrian rebels. It is telling that McCain’s best claim to fame is as a veteran of the Vietnam War, that classic icon of a failed and futile US armed intervention.

Even so, the temptation for a hyperpower to intervene can be irresistible, so Washington covertly dispatches regime-change NGO activists as catalysts instead of the Marines. It is what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “smart power.”

However, the double standards when compared to similar situations elsewhere then become glaring. After Western-allied Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to suppress protesters there one year ago, Western-compliant Qatar has called for supplying troops and weapons to Syrian rebels fighting President Assad.

To an incumbent government in Iran that is also being targeted by Western and Israeli policymakers, all of that is enough to invoke Islamism in defiant response. Although President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains the convenient bogeyman for the West, his political rivals at home are even more conservative and Islamist as shown in parliamentary elections early this month.

Nonetheless, neither religion nor showy forms of piety is the issue: it is a country’s unwillingness to comply with Western requests and demands that is. The stakes are raised when such a country is oil-rich and occasionally snubs Western concerns as well.

Currently the most conspicuous example of this is Russia, or rather president-elect Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This is a country that happens to channel the West’s worst “fears” today: being big, rich in oil and gas, independent-minded, “uncooperative” with the West over Libya, Syria and Iran, and even opposed to Nato’s eastwards expansion right up to Moscow’s doorstep.

Thus US and some European leaders are as keen for a “Russian spring” as they have been about a political spring-cleaning in Arab and Muslim countries they do not yet control. How the West would respond to anti-Putin street protests was therefore a foregone conclusion.

Russia’s recent presidential election provided the moment for a convergence of anti-Putin posturing. Russian street protesters, then Western media, and then Western governments formed a chorus to denounce Putin’s victory and the electoral process that led to it.

This happened both from a distance, such as the State Department or the Oval Office, as well as from within Russia by a visiting team of OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) election observers. It also occurred from the editorial offices of supposedly liberal Western media.

But what is the substance of complaints, apart from the usual geopolitical power plays?

If indeed the election had been a sham as the protesters and critics have been claiming, the evidence for it would have been presented, analysed, commented on and displayed. The Putin electoral bandwagon would and should have been stigmatised, although the appropriateness of any foreign political action would still be in question.

Russian protesters at least would have been justified in their street demonstrations, and assured of the justice of their cause. Instead, the protesters were already out in the streets denouncing Putin months before the election, which gives some indication about the content of their complaint.

Now weeks later, opposition claims of vote fraud favouring Putin is still without substance. Opinion polls before the election indicated a two-thirds majority support for Putin, and the results have since shown 64%.

Even Putin’s opponents had agreed that he had no problem securing enough votes to win the election. Until now his opponents and critics have not explained why he needed to cheat to win, and furthermore they failed to show that he had cheated.

No evidence 

Interestingly, the OSCE observers indirectly rebuffed opposition claims of multiple voting by Putin supporters, and instead reported on the negative perceptions that attended the voting. The Europeans had no evidence of vote fraud and declared that there were no significant violations, but they still hankered after attaching a negative spin to the election and its result.

They cited no improper motives by Putin’s United Russia party, yet they were not above tainting the election result through implication or by default. Perhaps that was an attempt at smart power too.

If anyone had any “actionable” evidence of fraud it would have been the OSCE observers, yet they served up nothing. Their position would in effect have been a workable endorsement of the election’s credibility.

United Russia had failed to secure a two-thirds majority, yet the CIA-linked Voice of America reported that Putin had won “by a landslide.” Meanwhile, the opposition claim of voter fraud persisted all-round in the face of the absence of any evidence to substantiate it.

That much might have been expected of Putin’s opponents at home and even Western governments averse to his independent ways. But for Western media to chime along without questioning the basis of their presumptions, and even failing to report dispassionately, shows a decline in professional ethics.

At the heart of such reporting and editing is a tendency to approach opposition claims with less scepticism than government ones, although both sides are equally interested parties in an electoral contest. It is an approach typical of the Western media in the Third World.

As for Moscow’s street protesters, they have lately taken to shifting the goalposts. After their allegations of vote fraud bore no fruit, they switched to accusing Putin of using rough tactics on them as police made arrests.

At the same time, protesters say they want neither violence nor a revolution, just more transparency and the rule of law. They have no alternative candidate they prefer to Putin, just an alternative mode of the government’s handling of the election for a better sense of confidence in the process.

Essentially, the protesters did not endorse any particular candidate but were instead just being anti-Putin. The very fact that they have been doing so openly without being packed off to a gulag in Siberia for life shows the distance Russia has travelled since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

For now, Putin’s main rival candidates – a communist, a crypto-fascist and a controversial oligarch – seem to leave little to be desired between them. If the unspoken objective of Russian voters is getting a president who can act competently and confidently to safeguard Russia’s interests, the election might already have been purposeful enough.

The protesters and their Western backers might then just need a little time to reconcile themselves to it. That could be their best option in smart politics yet.

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