15/10/2012

Foreign Policy Choices: Picking a Winner



There are two types of gamblers,
those who put all their money on one thing, red or black, for example, or those
who spread their bets across the board, like having a portfolio of many
different stocks.  A famous investor and
well known squash player once invested all his life’s worth on one position and
lost over $100 million. (Not to worry, he won it back and then some.) Politics
can be like the all or nothing gambler; do you back a certain regime or support
the opposition? In many situations there is no easy way to spread the risks.



 The
Arab Spring has confronted governments with very difficult choices. In Egypt,
for example, while the rule of Hosni Mubarak was not the most democratic, it
gave certain stability to the country and to the region. Egypt was a strong
ally of the West, including having signed a treaty with Israel. When the
protests started against the government, most countries hesitated to back the
opposition. The Mubarak regime was familiar, the opposition was unknown. In
Libya, on the other hand, there was condemnation of Gaddafi and strong support
for the opposition. Now that the Gaddafi regime has fallen, the opposition
appears quite divided. Certain of the material support given to the rebels has
found its way to fighting forces in other countries in the region for causes
not necessarily supported by the original donors.



What
to do about Syria? The Assad regime has been brutal in its reaction to the
uprising. Scenes of bombing civilians appear daily. The lessons of helping the rebels
in Libya are several: 1) Giving full political support to the opposition is not
the answer; 2) Giving weapons to the opposition is not the answer; 3) The
United Nations will no longer support intervention through the discredited
Responsibility to Protect since it is conceived by the Chinese and Russians as
supporting regime change instead of protecting civilians.



Is
the world of politics a win-lose scenario like betting on one position? The
President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently
visited Damascus to meet with President Assad. The conversation, we are told,
turned on agreeing to respect humanitarian norms. Instead of favoring the
government or rebels, Peter Maurer called on both sides to uphold basic
standards. The ICRC speaks from a position of neutrality, impartiality and
independence. It does not choose sides.



Those
who choose sides in conflicts often lose. The opposition in Egypt remembers
that the United States hesitated to give support until it was obvious they would
win. Perhaps the idea of supporting one side or another is wrong. Instead of
having to choose sides in a win-lose position, smart politics would be to
favor true democracy and human rights. That’s not spreading the risk, it is
just betting on that which you are supposed to believe in.








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