Across much of the Middle East today, a sad truth prevails: decades of bad governance have caused richly diverse societies to fracture along ethno-sectarian lines. In Iraq, it is now evident that Shiite Islamists will not accept secular-nationalist rule by Sunnis or Shiites and that neither camp will accept rule by Sunni Islamists, especially the radical version espoused by the Islamic State.

The relatively secular Kurds, meanwhile, are unwilling to live under Arab rule of any sort. In short, these powerful groups’ visions of life, religion, and politics are fundamentally incompatible. As for the minority Christian, Shabak, Yazidi, Sabean Mandaean, and Jewish communities that once numbered in the millions and occupied Mesopotamia for millennia, they have faced the Hobbesian fate of violent death or permanent displacement.

Iraq in Pieces
Breaking Up to Stay Together
By Ali Khedery

American leaders contemplating Iraq have made a habit of substituting unpleasant realities with rosy assessments based on questionable assumptions. In 1991, after the Gulf War, the George H. W. Bush administration hoped that Iraqis would rise up against Saddam Hussein and encouraged them to do so, only to abandon them to the Republican Guard. In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, officially embracing regime change and transferring millions of dollars to an Iranian-backed convicted embezzler, Ahmed Chalabi. In 2003, the George W. Bush administration assumed that toppling Saddam would lead to stability rather than chaos when the U.S. military “shocked and awed” its way to Baghdad. In 2005, as the country descended into violence, Vice President Dick Cheney insisted that the insurgency was in its “last throes.”

In 2010, still flushed with the success of Bush’s “surge,” Vice President Joe Biden forecast that President Barack Obama’s Iraq policy was “going to be one of the great achievements of this administration,” lauding Iraqis for using “the political process, rather than guns, to settle their differences.” And in 2012, even as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was running an increasingly authoritarian and dysfunctional regime, the administration continued its happy talk. “Many predicted that the violence would return and Iraq would slide back toward sectarian war,” said Antony Blinken, then Biden’s national security adviser. “Those predictions proved wrong.”

Today, of course, the Iraqi army has all but collapsed, despite some $25 billion in U.S. assistance. Shiite militants who have sworn allegiance to Iran’s supreme leader operate with impunity. And the Islamic State (or ISIS) dominates more than a third of Iraq and half of Syria. Obama’s successor will thus certainly earn the distinction of becoming the fifth consecutive president to bomb Iraq.

Still, the next resident of the White House can choose to avoid the mistakes of his or her predecessors by refusing to unconditionally empower corrupt and divisive Iraqi leaders in the hope that they will somehow create a stable, prosperous country. If Iraq continues on its current downward spiral, as is virtually certain, Washington should accept the fractious reality on the ground, abandon its fixation with artificial borders, and start allowing the various parts of Iraq and Syria to embark on the journey to self-determination. That process would no doubt be rocky and even bloody, but at this point, it represents the best chance of containing the sectarian violence and protecting the remainder of the Middle East from still further chaos.

DECLINE AND FALL

Since the founding of modern Iraq in 1920, the country has rarely witnessed extended peace and stability. Under the Ottoman Empire, the sultans ruled the territory as three separate vilayat, or provinces, with governors independently administering Mosul in the north, Baghdad in the center, and Basra in the south. After the Allied victory in World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, however, the Treaty of Sèvres created new and artificial borders to divide the spoils. France assumed a mandate over the Levant, and the British were determined to carve out a sphere of influence in oil-rich Mesopotamia, installing a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, Faisal bin al-Hussein, as Iraq’s first monarch in 1921.

By 1932, however, King Faisal I had already concluded that Iraq made little sense as a nation:

With my heart filled with sadness, I have to say that it is my belief that there is no Iraqi people inside Iraq. There are only diverse groups with no national sentiments. They are filled with superstitious and false religious traditions with no common grounds between them. They easily accept rumors and are prone to chaos, prepared always to revolt against any government.

Those words would prove prophetic, and in 1958, his grandson, Faisal II, was murdered in a coup d’état along with the royal family. Three revolutions and counterrevolutions followed before the Arab Socialist Baath Party took power in 1968, with Saddam seizing total control in 1979.

Once the center of regional politics, science, culture, and commerce, Iraq regressed on every front under Saddam. In the 1980s, his Anfal campaign exterminated tens of thousands of Kurds, and his disastrous war with Iran left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. His equally catastrophic incursion into Kuwait in 1990 led to a lost war, the ruthless suppression of Kurdish and Shiite rebellions, a dozen years of devastating sanctions, and some $130 billion in debt. Not even Saddam’s core constituency of Sunnis was immune from frequent pogroms; countless relatives of Saddam, party officials, generals, and tribal chieftains were liquidated over the years. These decades of misrule caused a majority of Iraqis—not just Kurds and Shiites but also exiled Islamists and secular Sunnis—to reject Baghdad’s rule.

The post-Saddam Iraq that emerged after the 2003 U.S. invasion was supposed to be different. Having failed to unearth weapons of mass destruction, the United States expended an extraordinary amount of resources to compensate for the error and pursue pluralism, stability, prosperity, democracy, and good governance. Some 4,500 U.S. soldiers were killed and 32,000 wounded, not to mention the trillions of dollars in direct and indirect costs and the millions of dead or displaced Iraqis. Yet the intervention ultimately failed, because it empowered a new set of elites who drew their legitimacy almost purely from divisive ethno-sectarian agendas rather than from visions of truth, reconciliation, the rule of law, and national unity.

Shortly after the invasion, Machiavellian politicians pressed U.S. officials to disband the Iraqi army as they hijacked the U.S.-instituted De-Baathification Commission and used it to extort or purge their secular political opponents, Sunni and Shiite alike. Hundreds of thousands were left permanently unemployed, embittered, and primed to seek violent retribution against the new order.

In the mountainous north, Kurdish leaders sought to consolidate the considerable gains they had achieved through self-governance following the introduction of a no-fly zone in 1991. After a vicious civil war in the mid-1990s, they established the semiautonomous Kurdistan Region, securing peace and attracting foreign investment. Once Saddam was gone, they maintained control of key positions in Baghdad under a new ethno-sectarian quota system as a hedge against further repression.

In the south, the Shiite Islamist parties that had battled Saddam’s secular Baath Party for decades, often with Iran’s covert support, emerged victorious and sought to compensate for past repression. They asserted their will as the majority by defying the Baath’s taboos and establishing numerous official religious holidays, cementing their brand of religious values in the national school curriculum, and placing members of the armed wings of their religious political parties on government payrolls. In the halls of power in Baghdad, the word of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest authority in Shiite Islam, reigned supreme.

Iraq’s minority Sunnis, the nation’s ruling elite for centuries, found themselves in disarray. To correct perceived injustices, they eventually settled on a strategy of boycotting democracy in favor of insurgency and terrorism. Hopelessly divided and lacking leadership and vision, Sunni Arabs often fell into the trap of battling the U.S. military occupation and the surging influence of their historical arch-nemesis, Shiite Persian Iran, by striking a deal with the devil: al Qaeda.

So began an endless cycle of killing among militant radicals of all stripes, from remnants of the Baath Party to al Qaeda in Iraq to the Iranian-backed Shiite militias. With each religiously charged atrocity, the Iraqi national identity grew weaker, and the millennia-old senses of self—tribal, ethnic, and religious—grew stronger.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, and walk towards the Syrian border, August, 2014.
RODI SAID / REUTERS

Of all the main forces, perhaps the single most corrosive was Maliki, a duplicitous and divisive politician who served as prime minister beginning in 2006. After he lost the 2010 elections, he managed to stay in office through a power-sharing deal backed by Washington and Tehran, only to consolidate his authority further by retaining personal control of the interior, defense, and intelligence ministries, among other important bodies. With Obama distracted by the global economic meltdown and advised by top aides that Maliki was a nationalist rather than a sectarian, the prime minister secured nearly unconditional Iranian and U.S. backing and purged professional officers in favor of incompetent loyalists. He intentionally pitted organs of the state and his hard-line Shiite Islamist constituency against all manner of opponents: Shiite secularists, Sunni Islamists, Sunni secularists, Kurds, and even rival Shiite Islamists.

With each religiously charged atrocity, the Iraqi national identity grew weaker, and the millennia-old senses of self—tribal, ethnic, and religious—grew stronger.

Although Maliki achieved many successes during his first term, which coincided with Bush’s surge, his second, from 2010 to 2014, was catastrophic. Violence rose from the post-2003 lows to new heights. Entire divisions of the Iraqi army melted away in the face of vastly smaller forces, leaving billions of dollars’ worth of vehicles, weapons, and ammunition behind for use by terrorists. The entirety of Iraq’s Sunni heartland fell to the Islamic State. Baghdad’s relations with Iraqi Kurdi-stan and the Sunni provinces collapsed, and the central government lost control over more than half its territory. The Iranian-backed Shiite militias that Maliki had once crushed rebounded so ferociously in the face of the Islamic State’s assaults that they now likely outnumber the official Iraqi security forces. Most damning, both the Islamic State and the Shiite militias now wield advanced U.S. military hardware as they commit atrocities throughout Iraq.

Across much of the Middle East today, a sad truth prevails: decades of bad governance have caused richly diverse societies to fracture along ethno-sectarian lines. In Iraq, it is now evident that Shiite Islamists will not accept secular-nationalist rule by Sunnis or Shiites and that neither camp will accept rule by Sunni Islamists, especially the radical version espoused by the Islamic State. The relatively secular Kurds, meanwhile, are unwilling to live under Arab rule of any sort. In short, these powerful groups’ visions of life, religion, and politics are fundamentally incompatible. As for the minority Christian, Shabak, Yazidi, Sabean Mandaean, and Jewish communities that once numbered in the millions and occupied Mesopotamia for millennia, they have faced the Hobbesian fate of violent death or permanent displacement.

FROM BAD TO WORSE

Despite some tactical gains, such as the liberation of Tikrit, the strategic situation has only gotten worse since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi succeeded Maliki in September 2014. Over the past year, the Islamic State has enhanced its position, even in the face of coalition bombing campaigns chronicled on Twitter by top U.S. officials, who, echoing General William Westmoreland during the Vietnam War, cite body counts and the number of air strikes as metrics for success. Mosul was taken by the Islamic State in June 2014; today, few are talking about liberating it anytime soon, and the terrorists have thrust forward to capture Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province. The barbarians that Obama dismissed as the “JV team” are now a few dozen miles from the gates of Baghdad, as they expand their reach in Syria and establish franchises across Africa and Asia. Earlier this year, when I asked one of Iraq’s deputy premiers how Baghdad looked, he shrugged and said, “How should I know? I can’t leave the Green Zone.”

The collapse of the Iraqi security forces and the rise of the Shiite militias have weakened Baghdad’s already feeble grip on the country and empowered Tehran, since the militias have sworn allegiance to Iran’s supreme leader and are directed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. U.S. military commanders have rightly voiced alarm over the growing strength and popularity of these terrorist groups, which are responsible for bombing U.S. and allied embassies and killing and maiming thousands of Iraqi, U.S., and coalition troops. Every time the militias thrust into Sunni enclaves, they carry out new atrocities and displace more people, inevitably enhancing the Islamic State’s appeal. Every time the Islamic State bombs innocent Shiite civilians, the Shiite militias grow stronger, and the Iraqi government grows weaker.

Compounding Baghdad’s nightmare has been the plunge in oil prices, which has left Abadi’s government with a budget deficit in the tens of billions of dollars, a limited ability to borrow on the international capital markets, and the prospect of looming stagflation. Youth unemployment has stayed chronically high. This past summer, with temperatures rising well above 120 degrees Fahrenheit and households having no more than a few hours of water and electricity per day, the seething population was primed to explode.

And that is precisely what happened. In July, tens of thousands of largely peaceful and secular protesters filled public squares across Baghdad and the provincial capitals of southern Iraq, decrying sectarianism, corruption, the lack of jobs, and nonexistent government services. Angrier protesters burned in effigy leading national politicians, namely Maliki, who was now one of Iraq’s three vice presidents yet still wielding power behind the scenes in a bid to undermine Abadi. Government offices in Maliki’s hometown were sacked, and crowds threatened violent action against the Basra-based international oil companies, Iraq’s only economic lifelines.

After Abadi announced limited reforms, Sistani, sensing mass unrest and a budding threat from rival clerics in Iran, instructed Abadi through his representatives’ weekly sermons to “be more daring and courageous.” In response, Abadi announced a series of major reforms, including the abolishment of the offices of the three deputy premiers and the three vice presidents, along with 11 of 33 cabinet posts. To overcome paralysis and hold officials accountable, Abadi promised to eliminate the ethno-sectarian quota system in the government and prosecute dozens of top civilian and uniformed leaders for corruption and dereliction of their duties in the face of the Islamic State’s assault.

In a rare show of unity, parliament unanimously adopted the measures on August 11. Mass rallies erupted in Baghdad, with protesters chanting, “We are all Abadi.” But Maliki and the other two vice presidents refused to step down, insisting that their positions were constitutionally mandated. And so the paralysis in Baghdad continued.

A week after the reforms were approved, Sistani issued a direct and dire warning. Iraq’s politicians had not served the people, and their misdeeds had enabled the rise of the Islamic State, he argued. “If true reform is not realized,” he said, Iraq could be dragged into “partition and the like, God forbid.”

So began the most recent chapter of the centuries-long intra-Shiite rivalry, as Sistani and Abadi battled Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his favored proxies in Iraq, namely, Maliki and the militia commanders, for control of Mesopotamia.

Although little noticed or understood in the West, and in a reminder than no major ethno-sectarian group can ever be monolithic, Shiite Arab and Shiite Persian rivalries have persisted for centuries, pitting Iraq’s Najaf seminary against Iran’s Qom establishment. At the time of this writing, Najaf’s Sistani is discreetly blasting Iran’s leading militia in Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah, for its alleged involvement in kidnapping 18 Turkish civilians and for its threat to target the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Undeterred, Tehran is attempting to consolidate its gains over Arabia, where, as the former Iranian intelligence minister Ali Younesi declared in March, “Iran has become an empire . . . and its current capital is Baghdad.”

Given the hellish combination of regional proxy wars and conflict between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites and between its Arabs and Kurds—and within each group as well—the most dangerous era of modern Iraqi history may have only just begun.

Enemy of my enemy: an Iraqi Shiite fighter near Fallujah, July 2015.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

It is hard to see how members of the feckless national political elite, who built their reputations by sowing ethno-sectarian hatreds, can satisfy impatient protesters in the coming months. Following decades of misrule under Saddam and Maliki, there is little reason to believe that a critical mass of pluralistic Iraqi nationalists remains to salvage the Iraqi national identity. The divisions now run too deep. As Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region, once put it to me, “The Shia fear past repression, the Sunnis fear future repression, and we Kurds fear both.”

Nor is there much reason to believe that Iraq can rid itself of the corruption that is ingrained in the very dna of the post-2003 order. Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds, secularists and Islamists—whatever their disagreements, all have been united not by God but by greed. The insatiable lust for power and money evidenced by virtually every national leader I met during my more than 2,100 days of U.S. government service in Iraq still leaves me dazed: a Kurdish official’s $2 million Bugatti Veyron parked along several other supercars at his beachfront villa abroad, the private airplanes of a secretive Sunni financier with several cabinet members in his pocket, a junior Shiite Islamist official’s $150,000 Breguet wristwatch to complement his $5,000 monthly salary from the office of the prime minister. These are the small fish.

Given the hellish combination of regional proxy wars and conflict between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites and between its Arabs and Kurds—and within each group as well—the most dangerous era of modern Iraqi history may have only just begun.

As one friend, a tireless but beleaguered Iraqi civil servant, put it to me early during the war, “Under Saddam Hussein, our ministers dreamt of stealing millions. If Saddam caught them, they were immediately executed. Only Saddam and his sons dared steal en masse. These people you Americans have brought to rule us—they’re stealing billions.” My friend earns about $500 per month, an average wage. Years after we visited the White House together, his home was accidentally bombed by U.S. aircraft, wiping out his family’s life savings. The Pentagon offered him no apology or reparations. His fiancée was then shot in the head by a passing foreign security convoy; she suffered permanent brain damage and paralysis. The son of a Sunni father and a Shiite mother, like millions of Iraqis of mixed descent, he fears kidnapping and murder by both the Sunnis of the Islamic State and the Shiites of the Iranian-backed death squads.

A SEPARATE PEACE

There is no question now that George W. Bush waged a poorly conceived and poorly executed war. There is also no question now that Obama precipitously and irresponsibly disengaged from Iraq after backing a divisive leader in Maliki. Washington’s Iraq policy failures have transcended administrations and parties. But the next president has a chance to do better.

In an ideal world, Abadi would survive the looming assassination and coup attempts, and the current Iraqi government would not only remain intact through 2017 but also become functional. Baghdad would mend the country’s ethno-sectarian divisions, slash corruption by prosecuting and jailing top officials (starting with senior judicial and cabinet figures), and reverse the advances of the Islamic State and the Shiite militias. If this somehow happens, Washington should reward Iraq’s leaders by continuing the Bush-Obama strategy of diplomatically backing a strong central government while providing military and counterterrorism assistance strictly conditioned on further reforms.

It is far more likely, however, that Iraq will continue its current slide and its government will keep failing to fulfill its basic obligations to deliver security and services. In that case, the next U.S. president should act decisively to prevent Iraq from degenerating into a second Syria, a zombie state terrorizing its citizens, exporting millions of refugees, and incubating jihad. This would mean openly encouraging confederal decentralization across Iraq and Syria—devolving powers from Baghdad and Damascus to the provinces while maintaining the two countries’ territorial integrity. In extreme circumstances, Washington might resort to embracing Balkan-style partition and a new regional political order.

Such a policy would represent a sharp departure for the U.S. national security establishment, which, among other things, has difficulty adapting to the unforeseen and dealing with nontraditional actors. Yet precisely because Washington’s traditional authoritarian counterparts have failed so spectacularly, it is nonstate actors that now dominate the Middle East. As a result, across the region, millions of youth have become disillusioned and radicalized, and extremists have exploited power vacuums to wage transnational jihad.

As it acknowledges the realities festering on the ground today, the United States will have to adopt an overarching strategy for the Middle East, one that goes far beyond Obama’s counterterrorism-focused approach. In Iraq and Syria, artificial borders have been erased, and the governments in Baghdad and Damascus have lost legitimacy in the eyes of millions of citizens. Because Washington can no longer deal with these governments as the exclusive representatives of their people, it will have to work with the world’s other great powers and the Middle East’s regional powers—Iran, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, and the Arab monarchies—to define new spheres of influence.

This process will be neither quick nor easy and will involve hundreds of delicate maneuvers. To begin with, however, the United States should work through the UN Security Council to launch a Middle East détente initiative that brings everyone to the table, much as Clinton convened various stakeholders in the Dayton peace talks to end the Bosnian war. Although it is not without risk, the strategy will rest on embracing the universal right to self-determination guaranteed by the UN Charter.

To that end, global and regional powers should agree on a new political order, try to broker cease-fires, deploy peacekeepers, and, as administrative and security conditions permit, allow every district in Iraq and Syria to conduct cascades of UN-monitored referendums. Although Iran may play a spoiler role and seek to preserve its ability to attack Israel by securing its land bridge across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, it can eventually be neutralized by unanimous global pressure, as the recent nuclear deal demonstrated. Some Sunni powers will surely deploy their own dirty tricks in an attempt to predetermine outcomes; global powers must make it clear that there will be zero tolerance for such behavior and, more important, that they are prepared to inflict tangible pain if bad acts continue. They must also make it explicit that the civilized world is now at war with radical militant Islamists and that state sponsorship of these terrorists, whether Sunni or Shiite, will no longer be tolerated.

Under the present conditions, one can imagine that the Syrians would vote for rump Alawite, Christian, and Druze enclaves along the Mediterranean coast, one or more Sunni Arab governments across the heartland (which would rise up against the Islamic State in an Iraq-style “tribal awakening” should the appropriate campaign plan be adopted), and a semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north. The first would fall under the spheres of influence of Iran and Russia, while the latter two would fall under the Turkish, Arab, and Western spheres. No longer caught in the clutches of a genocidal dictator, Syria’s diverse and industrious population could begin to rebuild, just as the war-ravaged citizens of Germany, Japan, and Korea once did. To cement truth and reconciliation, the Security Council will have to guarantee mass amnesty, or, should the stakeholders agree, the International Criminal Court will need to start indicting perpetrators of war crimes from all factions in a bid to deter further bloodletting.

With constant international rewards for good behavior and sanctions for bad behavior, self-determination always produces better results than authoritarianism

In neighboring Iraq, a nearly identical pattern has already emerged on the ground. The Shiite provinces would likely choose to form anywhere between one and nine regions; oil-rich Basra, for instance, has been threatening self-rule for a decade in the face of Baghdad’s failure to deliver security and services. The Sunni provinces would form between one and three regions and cleanse their territories of the Islamic State through a reinvigor-ated and internationally supported “tribal awakening.” And Iraqi Kurdistan would no doubt continue down the path toward economic self-sufficiency, leveraging the opportunity to export oil and gas to Turkey and the European Union. Special independent status could be granted to the diverse and geopolitically sensitive provinces of Baghdad, Diyala, and Kirkuk (à la the District of Columbia), in a last ditch effort at maintaining their pluralism. Unlike in Syria, in Iraq, many of these processes are already permitted by the constitution.

As Iraqi Kurdistan demonstrated during the 1990s, transitions to self-determination are often attended by regional interference, warlordism, corruption, cronyism, and internecine conflict. Nonetheless, as that case has also shown, with time—and with constant international rewards for good behavior and sanctions for bad behavior—self-determination always produces better results than authoritarianism. Were Saddam still terrorizing the Kurds today, a Kurdish insurgency would be raging stronger than ever. Instead, autonomous rule in Kurdistan, albeit far from perfect, has contributed to relative security and the development of basic infrastructure and economic opportunity. This should serve as a model for the rest of Iraq and Syria.

Indeed, those eager to destroy the Islamic State at any cost should remember that al Qaeda in Iraq was defeated not by the U.S. military and intelligence services, the Kurdish Pesh Merga, or Iranian proxies but by Sunni Arab Iraqis, who led the fight with international support. Likewise, al Qaeda in Iraq’s supercharged successor, the Islamic State, can never be defeated by air strikes or foreign boots on the ground alone. The Islamic State’s root cause—poor governance—is indigenous. Thus its root solution—good governance—must also be indigenous. Only local actors can break the vicious cycle of poverty, disenchantment, radicalization, and extremism and spark a virtuous cycle that offers security, jobs, education, moderation, dignity, and, most critically, hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

Barring a miracle, managed decentralization across Iraq and Syria may soon be the only viable path ahead. The next U.S. president could choose to respond to the inevitable crises there by following an ideological course, as his or her predecessors did, or attempt to manage them actively yet rationally. With or without Washington, a new reality is dawning on Mesopotamia.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iraq/2015-09-22/iraq-pieces?cid=soc-fb-rdr


Quite often these debates turn on just one or two repartees or candid camera moments. The picture of Sen.McCain’s twitching jaws and angry glint in his eyes when debating a cool and calm Barack Obama in 2008 almost entirely fixed him. Last evening I saw the historic Kennedy -Nixon debate of 1960. Nixon’s sweaty looks and five o’clock shadow did more to do him in than the content. Incidentally JFK spoke of a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union when the Russians hardly had a handful of ballistic missiles. Nixon did not deal with it as it was classified CIA information and JFK got away looking tough on defence.

The story is that Kennedy looked great, which is true, and Nixon looked terrible, which is also true—and that this visual difference had an unexpected electoral effect. As Theodore H. White described it in his hugely influential book The Making of the President 1960, which has set the model for campaign coverage ever since, “sample surveys” after the debate found that people who had only heard Kennedy and Nixon talking, over the radio, thought that the debate had been a tie. But those who saw the two men on television were much more likely to think that Kennedy—handsome, tanned, non-sweaty, poised—had won.

2016 US Presidential Elections, when Donald meets Hillary who will win the debates? Trump’s approach was an important part of his strength in the primaries. But will it work when he faces Clinton onstage?

By James Fallows of The Atlantic .com
The most famous story about modern presidential campaigning now has a quaint old-world tone. It’s about the showdown between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in the first debate of their 1960 campaign, which was also the very first nationally televised general-election debate in the United States.

The story is that Kennedy looked great, which is true, and Nixon looked terrible, which is also true—and that this visual difference had an unexpected electoral effect. As Theodore H. White described it in his hugely influential book The Making of the President 1960, which has set the model for campaign coverage ever since, “sample surveys” after the debate found that people who had only heard Kennedy and Nixon talking, over the radio, thought that the debate had been a tie. But those who saw the two men on television were much more likely to think that Kennedy—handsome, tanned, non-sweaty, poised—had won.

Historians who have followed up on this story haven’t found data to back up White’s sight-versus-sound discovery. But from a modern perspective, the only surprising thing about his findings is that they came as a surprise. Today’s electorate has decades of televised politics behind it, from which one assumption is that of course images, and their emotional power, usually matter more than words and whatever logic they might try to convey.

See the rest here


The ascendance of separatists is a crisis not only for the Hong Kong government and Beijing, which already faces independence movements in Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. It also threatens the political power of aging leaders of Hong Kong’s democratic camp, who have been advocating political reform for decades and now find themselves outflanked by young radicals with little patience for Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian ways.

The New York Times says it all…..

HONG KONG — Two years after China’s leadership slammed the door on political reform for Hong Kong, six young candidates running on separatist platforms won seats in the Sept. 4 election for the territory’s legislature. The rapid rise of a youthful political movement intent on gaining more independence for Hong Kong is a direct result of Beijing’s tightening grip on this former British colony.

The ascendance of separatists is a crisis not only for the Hong Kong government and Beijing, which already faces independence movements in Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. It also threatens the political power of aging leaders of Hong Kong’s democratic camp, who have been advocating political reform for decades and now find themselves outflanked by young radicals with little patience for Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian ways.

The six new separatist legislators, all under the age of 40, were inspired by the 2014 Umbrella Movement, the 79-day mass sit-in protesting Beijing’s refusal to allow democratic reforms in Hong Kong.

The Legislative Council has restricted powers, but it can block government initiatives. Thirty of the 70 LegCo seats are heavily stacked in favor of Beijing and picked by interest groups, while 40 are chosen by the general public from designated districts.

A gain of six seats by separatists, who didn’t run in every district, is remarkable in such a controlled election, considering that two years ago few Hong Kongers publicly advocated breaking from the mainland. The separatists have become a potent third force in the city’s political landscape, where the battles have long been fought between pan-democratic parties and the pro-Beijing government.

For all of their consistent calls for political reform, the territory’s older generation of democrats have been patriotic and willing to work with the mainland, an approach that is not popular among younger Hong Kongers. The youth, frustrated with Beijing and the failure of the Umbrella Movement, are pessimistic about the city’s long-term prospects and Beijing’s creeping influence. They look to the future with trepidation, despair and anger.

When the British handed Hong Kong over to the Chinese in 1997, China committed to 50 years of a “high-degree of autonomy” for the territory, where free speech and a vibrant civic culture have flourished until recently. No one knows what Beijing will do in 2047, but the fear is that Hong Kong will be completely absorbed into China.

Although the separatists are divided into distinct groups with different goals — among them, making Hong Kong a completely autonomous city-state or outright independence — they all want the post-2047 political arrangement put up for public debate. Most of them are aiming to build enough popular support to force Beijing to allow Hong Kongers to vote on a binding referendum on the city’s post-2047 future.

By contrast, the older pan-democratic parties have had little new to offer. The Democratic Party’s political centerpiece in the recent election amounted to asking Beijing to reopen the door to electoral reform. The pan-democratic leaders, in sticking to what is widely viewed by the youth as a depleted strategy, have lost the trust and respect of younger people.

China’s leaders appear to think that taking a hard line against the separatist movement can contain it. A stern postelection statement from Beijing said the Hong Kong government should punish independence activists.

This strategy will backfire. It was the heavy-handed behavior of Leung Chun-ying, the pro-Beijing Hong Kong chief executive, that has fueled the separatist movement’s growth in the last two years. Mr. Leung singled out a separatist publication for public reprimand last year, angering Hong Kongers with what they saw as an implicit threat to free speech. He banned a student leader who supported independence from attending his university’s council meetings.

Direct interference from Beijing in local affairs has made matters worse. Last year, five workers at a Hong Kong publisher of provocative political books were kidnapped and brought to the mainland where they were detained.

It may be too late for China to convince the hard-core separatists to back down, but there are steps the leadership could take to stem the growth of the movement.

Beijing should remove its central government staff from Hong Kong. The Central Liaison Office has been blamed for many of Beijing’s illegal interventions in Hong Kong affairs. Pro-Beijing politicians are regularly seen visiting the office, giving the impression they take orders directly from the mainland. Shuttering it is an easy gesture that would remove a source of conflict.

The process of appointing top officials to the city’s anticorruption commission and to university governing bodies should be reformed. The power to appoint these officials now lies with the chief executive, but Mr. Leung has shown that he lets his personal interests influence his choices. A deputy head of the office of the Independent Commission Against Corruption appeared to be forced to resign this year after she allegedly insisted on investigating financial irregularities involving Mr. Leung.

All mainland funding of politicians and unfair efforts to gain votes should be stopped. In recent elections, busloads of elderly people were brought to voting booths by pro-government supporters with the names of their preferred candidates written on their palms. After voting, they were often bused to restaurants.

But even if China’s leaders choose a policy of détente with the people of Hong Kong, Mr. Leung is not the right person to carry it out. His positions have been too overtly pro-Beijing, rankling much of the population. Replacing Mr. Leung when his term ends in March would help mend ties between Beijing and the separatists.

Without a change of the chief executive, we can expect the separatists to make more gains in the next election four years from now.


Dr. Michio Kaku  is a renowned physicist and futurist. This is an interesting video where Dr Michio talks about Americas SECRET WEAPON – H-1B visa.

The US H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as in architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, and medicine – Its a Genius Visa!

Watch this video guys…


Stupidity has no limits….
With every new film Rajinikanth releases, milk becomes so much in demand in some parts of India that it is stolen from markets, resulting in shortages that potentially endanger malnourished children, officials and activists say. Die-hard fans can pour about 11,000 to 16,000 gallons of milk a day over billboards and cardboard cutouts of Rajinikanth in the weeks after a new release. In this case is KABALI, a new release by “Thalaivar”, a box office record breaker, the first Tamil movie to be dubbed in Bahasa Melayu.
A friend from India told me “height of stupidity we have had enough wastage of milk on Shivalinga, now Rajnikant”.

Fans spraying milk on a poster of the Indian film star Rajinikanth to celebrate the screening of his latest film last month in Mumbai. Credit Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press

Stardom in India Has Its Price: Thousands of Gallons of Milk

In a country where movie stars are treated like gods, some actors are worshiped like deities.

The 65-year-old Tamil actor Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, better known as Rajinikanth, is one of India’s most celebrated and well-paid movie stars. For decades, fans have regularly bathed pictures of him in thousands of gallons of milk, a sign of devotion usually reserved for Hindu idols.

With every new film Rajinikanth releases, milk becomes so much in demand in some parts of the country that it is stolen from markets, resulting in shortages that potentially endanger malnourished children, officials and activists say.

Die-hard fans can pour about 11,000 to 16,000 gallons of milk a day over billboards and cardboard cutouts of Rajinikanth in the weeks after a new release, said S. A. Ponnusamy, president of the Tamil Nadu Milk Dealers Employees Welfare Association, who opposes the practice. Mr. Ponnusamy said some fans had resorted to stealing milk before daybreak when dairy workers drop it off outside shops.

Last month, before the release of Rajinikanth’s latest film, “Kabali,” a box office record breaker, the milk dealers’ association asked the actor to “sternly admonish” his loyal fans for wasting milk, and it encouraged him instead to organize blood and organ donation drives outside movie theaters.

Early this year, the social activist I. M. S. Manivannan filed a lawsuit against Rajinikanth and his supporters in Bangalore to prevent the wasting of milk in light of the high infant mortality rate in Karnataka State. The court issued a temporary injunction, ordering Rajinikanth to tell his fans to cease the practice. He is expected to respond to the court in a written statement at a hearing next month. In the past, the actor has admonished his fans for the practice, but to little avail.

SEE THE REST HERE…..

 


The ECONOMIST has a interesting piece on Islam’s two big sects, the Sunni and the Shia. Just wanna share!

CLASHES between Islam’s two big sects, the Sunni and the Shia, take place across the Muslim world. In the Middle East a potent mix of religion and politics has sharpened the divide between Iran’s Shia government and the Gulf states, which have Sunni governments. Last year a report by the Pew Research Centre, a think tank, found 40% of Sunnis do not consider Shia to be proper Muslims. So what exactly divides Sunni and Shia Islam and how deep does the rift go?

The argument dates back to the death in 632 of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad.

continue reading here………


Oliver Cromwell – Dissolution of the Long Parliament speech given to the House of Commons, 20 April 1653.

“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

In the name of God, go!”


The Sabah Government has its own ways, which have proven to work, in claiming its rights from the Federal Government as provided for in the Federal Constitution, said Chief Minister Musa Aman.

He said what was important now was that the way the state government had approached the matter all this while had borne fruit, compared with the “making noise” approach or publicity stunts that might not work.

“When we act on something, we don’t have to tell the whole world how we do it.

“We find that it is better to discuss when proposing something,” said Musa, who was responding to a question by Wilfred M. Bumburing (Independent-Tamparuli) during the Sabah Legislative Assembly here today.

Citing an example, Musa said the state managed to obtain 30% equity in on-shore oil exploration in Sabah through its negotiations with the Federal Government and oil companies.

“From zero (stake), we now own 30% equity regarding on-shore exploration. This has never happened before. This is what I mean by no need to make noise.”

Meanwhile, the state assembly was also told that main and technical committees were set up to review devolution of powers for the Sabah and Sarawak governments.

In responding to a question by Wilfred, Sabah’s Special Functions Minister Teo Chee Kang said both the national-level main committees would be jointly led by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman (for Sabah) and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri (for Sarawak).

He also said Anifah would lead the technical committee for Sabah.

Among the things to be discussed were to allow officers for Federal Government agencies in Sabah to make their own decisions without referring to Putrajaya and to give a bigger role to the state governments to decide its own projects, especially concerning location and priorities, he said.

The committee will also discuss holding interviews for civil service positions to be held in rural areas; reducing the public prosecutor’s powers under the Criminal Procedure Code to the State Attorney to prosecute offences under any ordinance or state enactment; and to allow Sabah and Sarawak to approve and to issue deep sea fishing permits, he said.


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Bombala farmer, Hans Berekoven, and team of Malaysian nationals raised the Malaysian flag on the Luconia Shoals, 84 nautical miles of the coast of Borneo, Sarawak, while observed by the China Coast Guard.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-08/luconia-shoals-malaysia-flag-raising-incident-china-coast-guard/7681752

When he is not on his farm in the high country of south-east New South Wales, Hans Berekoven is an amateur marine archaeologist recovering artefacts from a shipwreck for a Malaysian museum.

He said during one trip, he had been harassed by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel that had been stationed off Luconia Shoals for the past few years.

The shoals are a cluster of reefs and a tiny island called the Luconia Breakers, 84 nautical miles off Malaysia’s Borneo coast.

“They were trying to push us out. When we arrived there and started diving, they would up-anchor and sort of circle around us, sometimes really close. It was a sort of gentle intimidation,” Mr Berekoven said.

China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims over the South China Sea.

The dispute has been a major flashpoint in the region, with accusations of China building artificial islands and damaging reef systems.

An international tribunal recently ruled China had violated the Philippines’ economic and sovereign rights as defined by the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.

Since 1947, China has claimed a vast area of islands in the South China Sea, including the Luconia Shoals.

Professor Clive Schofield, an authority on marine jurisdictional issues, said that at 84 nautical miles from the Borneo coast, the Luconia Shoals were clearly on Malaysia’s continental shelf, and well within Malaysia’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as defined by the Law of the Sea Convention.

“So if there’s any jurisdiction and rights over the feature [the Luconia Shoals], then they are Malaysian and not Chinese,” Professor Schofield said.

Mr Berekoven said he was angered by damage he alleged was being caused by the China Coast Guard vessel anchoring on the reef.

“She’s got a massive anchor chain. Every time the wind changes or the current changes that big anchor chain is just making a hell of a mess of that reef,” he said.

Mr Berekoven chose Malaysia’s independence day, August 31 last year, to protest against the situation by raising the Malaysian flag on the tiny island.

It is the first time the video of the incident has been released.

“I took the curator of the museum that we’re working with, and a couple of other Malaysian friends, and a journalist from the Borneo Post,” he said.

They mounted a stainless steel flagpole into a cement footing and raised the Malaysian flag, as the China Coast Guard vessel watched from about 500m offshore.

“They must have got on the blower to Beijing and Beijing must have got on the blower to Kuala Lumpur, because suddenly there was a big kerfuffle in KL,” Mr Berekoven said.

The next morning, a Malaysian aircraft flew low over Mr Berekoven’s boat and the island.

“A Malaysian coast guard vessel was despatched. Went out there and unbolted the flag,” he said.

“It’s absolutely absurd. It’s 88 miles, well within the 200 mile economic exclusion zone, and they’ve forced the Malaysians to take the flag down — their flag, asserting their authority, their sovereignty.”

Professor Schofield said he was not surprised at Malaysia’s action, because Malaysia had traditionally dealt with issues by taking a quiet diplomatic route with China and avoiding public conflict.

Tensions over oil, gas and fisheries rights

He said tensions in the South China Sea focused on the wealth of oil and gas resources in the region, and freedom of navigation in the busy maritime trade routes.

“However, the importance of the fisheries is often overlooked,” Professor Schofield said.

“The South China Sea has been estimated to provide around 12 per cent of global fisheries catch.

“It provides fisheries which are vital to food security within the region, where potentially hundreds of millions of people have their primary protein requirements met by the fish from these waters.”

Professor Schofield said a rare exception to Malaysia’s quiet diplomacy with China occurred earlier this year when about 100 Chinese fishing boats arrived at the Luconia Shoals.

“For Malaysia there was a relatively strong reaction calling in the Chinese ambassador to protest against that,” he said.

Malaysia’s national security minister Shahidan Kassim was reported by the Bernama news agency as announcing the despatch of assets from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, and that the navy had been sent to the area near the Luconia Shoals to monitor the situation.

Professor Schofield said such an action underlined the importance of the fishery to Malaysia.

He said fisheries in the region were over-fished and under extreme stress with fish stocks declining.

“You have overlapping claims and rival fisheries fleets and no unified or rational management of those stocks. The potential for a collapse in the fisheries is a real and present one,” he said.

Mr Berekoven is preparing to return to Luconia Shoals to resume recovering artefacts from the nearby shipwreck.


After the United States Department of Justice filing of two lawsuits to seize more than US$1 billion of assets which it alleged were purchased using funds siphoned from 1MDB, here is a very interesting piece written by a Malaysian-born Dr Bakri Musa, a surgeon practicing medicine in the Silicon Valley, California.

 

The Malay Shame and Tragedy That Is 1MDB

M. Bakri Musa

http://www.bakrimusa.com

Imagine had Prime Minister Najib Razak responded differently to the US Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture lawsuit and said instead, “I have instructed my Foreign Minister to seek clarification to determine who this “Malaysian Official 1” so we could investigate him. I have also directed the Attorney General to review the evidence in the DOJ complaint.”

As for 1MDB, imagine if its spokesman had responded, “We view with deep concern allegations that assets meant for our company, a public trust, had been corruptly diverted. We seek clarification on who 1MDB Officials 1 and 2 are to make sure that they are no longer in our employ. We will review our policies to ensure that such pilferages as alleged by DOJ if they did occur will not recur. Additionally, we are engaging legal counsel to protect our interests in the American trial.”

Instead, what Malaysians and the world heard last Wednesday were irrelevant and meaningless statements to the effect that neither Najib nor 1MDB are the defendants in the suit. True and obvious, needing no response or clarification. The defendants are the owners of those seized assets which are alleged to have been acquired with funds corruptly siphoned from 1MDB, a GLC of which Najib is the Chairman.

The responses from Najib, his ministers, and 1MDB only brought shame to themselves, to Malays, and to Malaysia.

As for the defendants, their options are either not to contest the suit and thus forfeit those assets, or fight it. Negotiated settlement is unlikely. This is the biggest asset forfeiture in US history; Attorney-General Lynch is out to make a point to corrupt kleptocrats everywhere in these days of complex cross-border money laundering.

Before this, the biggest forfeiture involved the giant telecom company, Amsterdam-based Vimpel.com, and individuals close to the president of Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks ignored the suit while the company pleaded guilty to the criminal charges. Rest assured that those defendant Uzbeks won’t be visiting Disneyland or Las Vegas any time soon!

This 1MDB corruption may be a legal case but politics is never far off the radar in Putrajaya and Washington, DC, as well as in the potentially more volatile international arena.

No-Contest Option

Not contesting would save substantial legal fees and other costs, as well as the not insignificant personal hassle factor. Those aside, the biggest advantage would be not further exposing the defendants and others, legally as well as in many other ways, during the pretrial discovery and trial. Spared a trial the identity of “Malaysian Official 1” will never be known, at least not officially, a crucial consideration in Putrajaya.

The loss of those assets, even though in the hundreds of millions (in US dollars, not worthless ringgit), is at least quantifiable. However, even the Sultan of Brunei could not shrug off a loss of that magnitude.

Choose this option and Reza Aziz, one of the defendants who according to court documents is also related to Malaysian Official 1, would be well advised to pack up and find a country that does not have extradition or tax treaty with the US. He also had better get used to a much less luxurious lifestyle.

Were Reza to pursue this course, at least in his old age he could regale his grandchildren with stories that he once owned a glittering condo in Manhattan and shared drinks with Hollywood stars in Las Vegas.

That would also be a very Malay story. At Kampung Baru today there are many elders who look with nostalgic gaze at the skyscrapers in the Golden Triangle and lament, “Ah, itu cerita dulu!” (Those are old stories!)

The US Government would recoup its considerable costs from those assets. Rest assured there would be itemized bills for every paper clip and DOJ lawyers would be charging senior partners’ rates. Even after factoring that there will still be substantial loot left. By statute, that belongs to the people of Malaysia.

If Najib is still Prime Minister, do you think those Americans would be dumb enough to return those millions to the same scoundrels? America could not disburse them to Malaysian NGOs either as most are not sympathetic to UMNO. That would present a delicate diplomatic problem. On the hand it could prove to be the most sophisticated and effective exercise of “soft power,” more powerful than “boots on the ground” in effecting regime change.

At any rate don’t expect those Monet paintings to hang on the walls of kampung huts any time soon.

Contesting the Forfeiture

Contesting would be no walk in the park. It would be expensive, protracted, and risk uncovering details that could trigger criminal charges. American lawyers are not cheap and potential defense attorneys would want their substantial fees paid upfront and from “clean” sources. With those assets tied, Reza better have other fat bank accounts. Even if he were to receive help from his “Malaysian Official 1” relative, Reza’s defense attorneys would insist, and need unchallenged documentation, that the money is legitimate and not siphoned public funds.

The earliest a trial could begin would be a year or two hence, in time for the UMNO Leadership Convention or worse, the next Malaysian election. A trial would also risk exposing the identity of “Malaysian Official 1, a consideration for Putrajaya.

Being a civil case the burden of proof for the prosecution is lower, merely the preponderance of evidence, not the much higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” of a criminal trial. The burden also shifts to the defendants to prove that those assets were acquired with untainted funds.

In court documents Reza Aziz claimed that the millions he received from some unknown Arab was a gift. An incredulous assertion that even his accountant did not believe him; hence the attestation from his “donor.” If this be a trial by jury, it would be tricky to convince an American juror, as with Reza’s accountant, that receiving millions from a stranger is a “gift.” Besides, the image of an Arab in America these days is far from pristine.

With a trial the testimonies of those professionals who had advised the defendants would be scrutinized. The Watergate Hearings of the 1970s exposed the unsavory activities of the various advisors. Many prominent lawyers ended being disbarred, including the President’s Counsel as well as a former Attorney-General.

A trial would highlight an ugly truth that could prove explosive in race-sensitive Malaysia. That is, Reza Aziz excepted, those corrupt Malays got only the crumbs while the gravy flowed to that Wharton-trained Chinaman. That won’t sit well with UMNO Youth’s “Red Shirts” or PERKASA boys.

A trial would also showcase the professionalism and meticulousness of American prosecutors and investigators. That would not make the former failed UMNO operative and now Malaysia’s Attorney-General look good. The Malay image is already battered by the amateurs at 1MDB.

From the perspective of international politics, it may be shrewd not to identify “Malaysian Official 1.” This forfeiture however, is not the only game. After all, Obama did not tee off with Najib that Christmas in Hawaii because he (Najib) was a Tiger Woods. It was part of Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” show, with Najib the prop.

There are other actors in this new shadow play. China is asserting itself, most visibly through military exercises in the South China Sea but more effectively elsewhere. Note the abrupt change of face at the recent ASEAN conference that had initially condemned China, and ASEAN’s collective silence on the International Court’s decision on the South China Sea dispute.

China too could play the Obama game, not on the green of Hawaii’s golf course but FELDA’s oil palm oil plantation. China could buy palm oil from Africa, and not offer inflated prices for those rusty 1MDB assets.

Najib now has to balance the interests of his stepson and former Beverly Hills real estate tycoon Reza Aziz versus that of FELDA settlers and their wooden huts. Not an easy choice!

The kampung boy in me longs to see a good fight by our modern-day Hang Tuah. Thus I challenge Reza to be jantan (man) enough to fight this US forfeiture.

Back to reality, the winners in this 1MDB shadow play are many and obvious. Reza is one, though not as big as he was before the forfeiture; so too Malaysian Official 1 as well as IMDB Officials 1 and 2. As for that Wharton MBA character, he could still savor his shark’s fin soup in Taiwan. The US DOJ too is a winner, and a very big one.

As for the losers, 1MDB is the obvious. Its current management should sue the previous board and management for incompetence as well as breach of fiduciary duties to recover some of the losses. Current management owes the company and Malaysians that much.

The other victims are less obvious. They include FELDA settlers now deprived of better schools, smart young Malays who excelled on their IB tests but now cannot go abroad, and those dedicated GLC Malay executives whose reputations are now tainted because of the shenanigans of those monkeys at 1MDB.

Those Malaysian officials who responded last Wednesday to the DOJ’s lawsuit and those Malays who still strenuously defend Malaysian Official 1 have yet to recognize these victims. That’s the terrible shame and great Malay tragedy.

http://bakrimusa.blogspot.my/2016/07/the-malay-shame-and-tragedy-that-is-1mdb.html