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Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. Sabit also works as a writer and producer of historical documentaries. Close.

Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. more »

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Putin Asks Europe to Join Him (*Author Responds*)

Russia is courting Europe rather than threatening it.

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Felix Drost, Amsterdam, NL:

Mr Sabit, thank you for your response, you raise many challenging questions and have elucidated your position. You are correct in that US unilateralism in Iraq has driven a wedge between Europe and the US. But I doubt that Europe has moved closer to Moscow relative to the distance that is felt with Washington because with its behaviour Moscow has not encouraged rapprochement.

Your exploration made me pause and think about fundamentals; what compels me to feel so strongly positive about our alliance with the US? The Netherlands has more than 16 million people living on an area the size of the Egyptian province of Janub Sina (in US terms the state of Maryland). Just as in many urban areas of the planet today in the bottom line event of a catastrophic economic crisis we'd barely be able to feed our own population and we'd still require large amounts of fuel for distribution and to pump water out of the polders. In our more recent history the US has been the only nation who both understood our security needs and could underwrite the international order that we require. Perhaps few realize how vulnerable we are to an oil or natural gas shock. A crisis of large magnitude could be triggered in the event of a disruption of the supply of oil from the Gulf. That supply would be threatened if war were to break out with Iran or more fundamentally if Iran were to aquire and threaten the Persian Gulf area with nuclear weapons. Last january President Chirac of France said he was prepared to use nuclear weapons against Iran in such an eventuality (against those who would envision using weapons of mass destruction against French interests) which in my mind illustrates the concern over continued access to oil from the Gulf.

We can't afford to be held hostage by Russia or Iran. The list of Russia's irresponsible actions (shelling civilians, poisoning heads of state, killing journalists, obstructing effective action by the UN, racist justice, renationalizing energy assets owned by foreign investors, arming Iran and cutting off gas deliveries to its customers in the middle of winter) is exemplary of the kind of wrong signals the Kremlin continues to send. Perhaps Putin thinks that words spoken in Munich may set a future stage but he does not instill any confidence that gravitating towards Russia will buy us anything secure or anything like the 60 years of peace and prosperity we've grown accustomed to. So I suppose that even if the US were to attack Iran there still would be no real alternative to the international institutions (UN, GATT, WTO, etc), to capitalist globalism, to NATO and hence to the US. As the role of the US as guarantor of stability recedes we'd still have to anchor ourselves in capitalism, freedom, democracy and the rule of law, we'd still out of necessity need to partner with those that reinforce our liberal values; because those values (freedom of expression, open markets etc) are essential to the operation of our economies, the well being of our people and our very survival. Abandoning those values and international institutions implicitly means embracing the use of force as a means to resolve conflict and that would mean the end of the EU.

What would the US do? If they do not attack Iran I wonder if it matters very much what they do; whether they retreat from Iraq or not the conflict between Shia and Sunni doesn't seem like it will end any time soon; the US presence keeps it from escalating into full scale civil war but might prolong it as well. The US cannot leave the Saudi peninsula, but whether they do or not, Saudi Arabia is still likely to seek to aquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan, if it hasn't already. When both Iran and Saudi Arabia have nukes and the ability to strike each other the security of oil from the gulf will be permanently undermined. The only way out is that Iran stops seeking nuclear weapons. The only way to have that happen peacefully is for the Russians and Chinese to align with the US; not for Europe to align with Russia.

A solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is important because it radicalizes the region. I don't understand why Russia's large scale murder of its own Muslim citizens in Checnya and Sudan's genocide of Muslim people in Darfur fails to radicalize the region. According to many sources almost half a million people have been killed in Darfur; the scale of that genocide makes the scale of the suffering in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians seem utterly insignificant; besides, the latter has no strategic importance other than its popular appeal. Many government sponsored TV stations broadcast the protocols of the elders of zion; state sponsored schools in the Middle East have institutionalized antisemitism in their curriculum; it seems to me the issue between Israel and the Palestinians is radicalized with assistance of local governments in the Middle East, and the only reason why, that I can think of, is so that it continues to be an artificially inflated strategic problem. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be solved but with such racist tactics to inflame the population against Israel I feel blackmailed into prioritizing it.

Thanks once more, it's good to see a panelist engage in discussions, you do yourself and postglobal great credit.

CL:

Sabit:

Thank you for your detailed response. While you are correct in highlighting that US policies have not won it any friends in wider (western) European public opinion, and that an attack on Iran would be catastrophic for how the US is regarded outside its borders, I think your analysis would be more accurate had the European Union not expanded in 2004 and 2007 (and again in 2009..) to include states that have very different foreign policy outlooks and even perceptions of conflicts in the Middle East. For example, Chirac is unable to promise Abbas a lifting of EU sanctions on the Palestinian territories, because East European governments oppose this and some in rhetoric appear to be more pro-Israeli than the United States itself. What is surprising about this is that the UK position is closer to Paris' then the new member states... For example, Czech politicians have a habit of using the words 'Palestinian' and 'terrorist' interchangably. Without the agreement of Prague, Bucharest and Warsaw, Paris cannot coordinate EU action on any external matter.

But, moving away from that point, current EU policies toward its eastern borders cannot be interpreted as recognizing a new pragmatism toward Russia.

First, EU member states support the further expansion of NATO and the EU into the Balkans. Brussels is clear that despite some US reservations, at the Riga Summit it was informally agreed upon that Croatia will be invited to join NATO in 2008. NATO's further expansion is be urged on by European capitals..

Second, is the question of Kosovo. Although the EU is internally divided on this question, Germany, France, Austria, and the UK all support Ahtisaari's final status proposal and an imposed solution, while member states that have reservations have agreed to keep quiet so as to allow for a common EU policy on the matter. If Russia veto's this resolution (Brussels views Russia's rhetoric on Kosovo as a mere bluff and that in the end no veto will be deployed) perhaps then one could say Putin was putting Europe on notice.

On Chechnya, 'universal jurisdiction' over war crimes is something that many EU member state judiciaries claim, thus Spanish judges can issue indictments against Argentinian generals and Belgian judges can issue indictments against Rwandans implicated in the Rwandan genocide. Rumsfled himself is targeted in Germany. Numerous human rights groups are currently putting together dossiers that will allow prosecutors to take up cases against specific Russian officers that have served in Chechnya, Putin himself even may be implicated through 'command responsibility,' - what does this mean? The relationship between Moscow and many European capitals will become increasingly strained in the coming years.

ASDF:

Putin's vision is warped because of his perception that Europe speaks with a single voice, and if he believes that EU member states will form some sort of balance of power to counter-balance US influence, perhaps he will have better luck turning to Beijing. Power politics is a game that the EU cannot play because of the divergent interests of its individual member states.

Mahmoud Sabit: Top Commenter

Felix Drost/CL
I am not suggesting that Europe will turn its back on its long standing relationship with the USA, however recent US policies in the Middle East have had a traumatic effect on European publics. If anything Europe is being invited to diversify its political and diplomatic investments, an option that it may well consider attractive. Although there are several issues involved, let us as an example take a salient issue and explore its possible implications;

There is the present direction in which US policies in Iraq and Iran are headed, and at the same time an ascendant democratic party becoming more assertive, to the detriment of the executive authority that the US presidency has until now exerted. How will this effect the situation in Iraq? It would seem quite clear that whether the US remains or leaves within the next two years, it would not change the situation in Iraq to the better. Once the US leaves this unhappy country to its own devices with continuing civil strife, and its neighbors either becoming engaged in a war by proxy, with Iran supporting the Shia’a and the Arab countries supporting the Sunni’s. Or equally Iran and the Arab countries will in concert exert the sort of pressure necessary to end the conflict and impose an equitable solution, for the existing situation is not in the interests of either party. Will the US continue to maintain some sort of influence in the region outside of Israel?

Europe is not thrilled at the prospect of a unilateral military assault on Iran, they are well aware of how small the prospects are of success of such an action and of how great are the dangers. In the event that the administration decides upon such a course, how likely is it that Europe would fully support such an action? How would their publics react to such perceived aggression? To what extent will their relationship with the USA suffer from such an eventuality?

Many governments and publics in Europe are agreed that the Palestinian Israeli dispute is central to the radicalization of the region, will the USA make any realistic effort to solve this conflict? Based on past performance Europe probably considers this as unlikely, in that Israel is far too deeply enmeshed with partisan politics in the USA, and is not really a foreign policy issue, but rather a domestic policy issue.

In addition European diplomacy was built on the foundation of a balance of power, ultimately balance. Dominance was also applied, but only on entities that could not effectively defend themselves, including I might add, entities that were burgeoning democracies at that time. In this day and age they are well aware of the need to re-establish strategic balance in the region, in the event of an uninvolved USA how will Europe address the Middle East? Will they continue to leave it to fester, allow other entities to gain influence in the vacuum created by an American withdrawal from the area, with all that that represents in terms of future conflict, future radicalization, future economic/energy implications and a future bereft of stability? The Russians may consider this to be quite unlikely. Europe may believe that a solution to this issue may be more productive through a multi-lateral approach with other partners, including Russia.

These are issues that go well beyond democracy or a lack thereof, well beyond the dividends of a Shell Oil or how closely your cultures are interwoven. It would seem that this latter may not have been considered by the US administration when making its unilateral policies regarding Iraq. These are issues of a necessary partnership through realpolitik. These are the questions that seem to have inhabited the calculations of Russia’s policy making apparat, and Putin’s speech certainly implies this sort of reasoning. The issue is not about taking sides, it is an issue that offers additional, more proactive possibilities. I would add that the Russians seem to be placing this option on the table for future reference rather than for immediate action, because ultimately it depends on what actions and decisions the US is likely to be making in the next year or two.

I followed closely the OSCE and its debates in reference to Chechnya, and could only conclude that its lack of action in reference to this issue was very much connected with an acceptance of pragmatism in its dealings with Russia. No doubt the Russian leadership was also aware of this flexibility of principals.

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