The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

A little over an hour ago, the news was released to the world that former South African President Nelson Madela had died at the age of 95.  In recent years, his health had been declining but that still does not diminish the impact of his passing.

Mandela was born in July 1918.  While living in Johannesburg later, he became involved in anti-colonial politics.  In 1948, the government began implementing the policy of apartheid, which he would be a voice against.  Although he was a man on non-violence, he co-founded the militant organization Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961.  He would be arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison.  An international coalition managed to get him released in 1990 while civil strife was escalating throughout the country over apartheid policies.  He led negotiations with then-South African President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994 to which he won the presidency.  He would serve as President of South Africa from 1994-1999, when we would step aside.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Toward the end of apartheid, he managed to be a unifying figure to a nation that was in desperate need.  Civil strife and violence were escalating.  South Africa was on the verge of becoming like any other African nation… ripped apart by constant civil war and revenge against enemies.  Mandela called for peace and worked with the current government to bring about the free elections.  Even once he had won the presidency, he sought about not violence or revenge, but working together to build South Africa up and to make it a world player.  To have it be a shining light of democracy on a continent that knows darkness.

It was through the leadership of Mandela that South Africa stabilized.  At a time when the nation could have gone one of two ways, he helped steer it the right way… a way to help end the divisions and hatred.  He unified South Africans and made them see each other as countrymen and as neighbors.

Even after stepping down as president, he continued to speak out for peace at home, throughout the continent of Africa, and in the rest of the world.  He showed us all what could be accomplished if we started working together.  He worked to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

In the United States, we revere the father of our country, George Washington.  Though he led a war against a monarchical government, he still stepped aside when the task was complete.  At a time when the new nation was about to split apart at the seems, it was Washington who stepped in to bring us back together as a people.  And yet, when the time came, he voluntarily stepped aside and gave up power again.  He worked to keep us out of war and to unite us a people and a nation.  We see this type of person in the character of Nelson Mandela… characteristics in a national leader that come around once in a lifetime.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve this world.”

Though Mandela belonged to the people of South Africa, he was shared with the rest of the world.  The  life and legacy of Nelson Mandela will reach far beyond the borders of that nation as it will encompass all nations.  He has shown that we should not seek violence, revenge, or war.  We must step up and do better.  Through peace, we can achieve so much more and raise up humanity.

Mandela showed the rest of the world that Africa was not a lost cause.  It could be a global player under the right leadership.  Given a chance, the people there could step up and be a loud voice for change.  With his passing, the people of Africa (as well as all national leaders) should take note of the example that he set, and to set about doing what is right.

Today, the people of South Africa mourn the loss of the father of their modern nation.  Those of us around the world join with them in their time of mourning for we have all lost a great and just man.  But though we are saddened by his loss, we keep his legacy alive.  We must endure, as a people, to continue the message that he spoke… that he believed.  He set us up and pointed the way.  Now we must take the torch and carry it forward.

To the people of South Africa, I say thank you for sharing him with the rest of us.  He was an inspirational man… and one that we may never see again.



The Irony Of Our Foreign Policy

Chemical Weapons In Syria

As President Obama currently mulls over the situation in Syria and for whether the US will get involved, we at home sit and hear the stories of the use of chemical weapons by that nation’s government against its own people.  Yes, any government using chemical weapons against its people is wrong, but when it comes to US foreign policy, it hasn’t always been that way.  The way the US has usually determined whether to get involved or turn a blind-eye to those types of attacks usually depends if the government is pro- or anti- American.

So let’s back up the story a bit and move it outside of Syria.  According to newly released CIA documents, in 1953 the United States overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran after the Prime Minister there nationalized the oil fields.  The US installed the Shah government which was pro-Western.  However, the Shah became more autocratic as time passed and the Iranian people rebelled against the government 1978 and forced the Shah to abdicate in 1979.  At that point the Ayatollah Khomeini took charge of the country and remains to this day… regardless of who is “elected” the “President” of Iran.  Obviously, the Ayatollah is very much anti-Western and anti-American.  This sets up our current problem with Iran… something we basically initiated back in 1953.

mideast1aIn neighboring Iraq, the Ba’ath Party overthrew the government in 1968 which gradually came under the control of General Saddam Hussein by July 1979.  Roughly a year and a half after the Iranian 1979 Revolution, Iraq invaded Iran initiating the Iraq-Iran War that ended in 1988.  The two nations were enemies simply because they were ruled by different sects of the Islamic faith.  So why is any of this important, and what does it have to do with our current situation in Syria?  According to a recently article in Foreign Policy, the Reagan administration stated that Iraq must win that war against Iran.  Why?  At the time, Iraq was our ally in the region and our buffer against Iran.  During most the war, the United States took a more sideline approach to the whole thing though.  They wouldn’t give Saddam any tactical surveillance.  However, that changed in 1988 when it looked like Iranian forces might take advantage of a hole in the Iraqi line.  By the time, according to that same article in Foreign Policy, the Reagan administration was aware that Saddam had authorized the use of mustard gas against his enemies.  But seeing how this new tactical advantage of Iran, and how it could spell disaster for Iraq, the Reagan administration decided to change tactics and give Saddam the tactical surveillance that showed the Iranian military positions and locations for certain strategic military facilities knowing already that Saddam would use chemical weapons against them… and he did.  This time he used sarin.  There is also evidence that the Reagan administration was aware that he used the exact same chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq.  Again, the administration turned a blind eye to these atrocities since it would help Iraq win the war against Iran and Saddam would stay in power.

Needless to say our track record in this particular region isn’t the greatest even if we are attempting to do right this time around.  The Assad-government in Syria is very anti-Western.  It’s only allies are generally considered Russia and Iran.  This is why the actions of the Syrian government are getting any kind of attention from the US and the Obama government.  If the government was pro-Western, then it is likely that the Western governments (the US included) would turn a blind eye and might even offer some support so long as there would be no direct evidence linking us to it.  But, we have the opposite scenario which makes our involvement a little easier when it comes to the rebels that are trying to overthrow the authoritarian Assad regime.  However, the US may be stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one.  Just because the Assad-government is anti-American, doesn’t mean the rebels will be pro-American.  We could very well be arming and aiding people that will still be anti-American and will not hesitate to turn that technology on us.  Again, our track record with this scenario isn’t that great either.

syria_tank_AP120130113000_620x350I’ve already discussed how we armed Saddam in Iraq only to go to war against him in the 1990s after he invaded Kuwait and then again in 2003 where we finally overthrew his government.  In both instances, he still had use of the military weapons that we had once given to him.  When the Soviet Union was at war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it was the US that armed the Taliban to thwart the Soviets, and yet it was us fighting the Taliban starting in 2001… who were using the exact weapons we had given them to defeat the Soviets against us.  Iran is a bigger conundrum in this regard.  After we overthrew the government in 1953, we began giving them nuclear technology for nuclear power.  It was under the plan “Atoms for Peace.”  It was increased during the Ford administration under the auspices of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and would continue until the 1979 Revolution.  (Persian Rug)  And now here we are, all these years later, trying to keep Iran from developing that nuclear technology into a nuclear weapon.  Now this still ties into us toppling the Saddam-government in Iraq in 2003.  There is the likelihood that Saddam would have taken care of the current situation in Iran if he was still in power since there’s no way he’d let them have a nuclear weapon.  But Saddam was “bad” and needed to go still.  Again, the rock and the hard place.  In Egypt during the Arab Spring, canisters of tear gas that had labels “Made in USA” were used against the people.  Though we had given the government these canisters long before the uprisings, they were still used against the people and didn’t help our public relations any… especially since we had helped keep Mubarak in power in that country for so long since he was our ally despite what he was doing to his own people.

The Syrian government’s biggest problem is that they are not allies of the United States and the Western countries.  That is what this will all boil down to in the end.  It has nothing really to do with the fact that the government used chemical weapons on its people.  We are just using that as an excuse though we have allowed other authoritarian regimes use the exact same tactics to stay in power.  Using any type of chemical weapon on people is simply wrong.  That is not in question, and it does need to be stopped.  But let us also be honest about our past history and be constant with any government that chooses this course of action… whether they are an ally or not.  And we must tread carefully on how we treat the rebels, as well.  There may not be an easy solution to this mess, but let’s try to make it to where we aren’t fighting against them again… only with them using the weapons we gave them in the first place.

If we do end up engaging in military action, as is looking more like the case, I believe President Obama should go before Congress and the American people (as he is supposed to do) and tell us why we are getting involved, what our objectives are, how we will know once they have been accomplished, and how we will get out in the end.

United Under Rings

They came.  They saw.  They conquered.  The world met in London.  Athletes competed while under a flag of five rings… one for each continent (Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia/Oceania, and the Americas).  In these days of competition, there has been a bigger understanding of our cultural differences and a bigger exchange of human understanding.  For these past couple of weeks, the nations of the world have been united in friendship, harmony, and peace.

Watching these games, I have seen the athletes from countries all over the world act better than our leaders have.  Gold-medalist Usain Bolt of Jamaica was giving an interview when the national anthem from another country started to play during an another medal ceremony.  He stopped the interview to honor that athlete.  During another race, a Chinese runner fell injured.  So two others went back and helped him across the finish line.  Gymnasts have hugged and swimmers have high-fived.  This is cross-culturalism (I coined that term some time ago in another blog entry) at its greatest.  Our national leaders can say and do as they wish, but when this many nations… this many people of the world come together, the biggest winner is a better understanding of each other.  We are reminded for these days what it means to be part of the human race… something our leaders need to remember, as well.

Not all of the athletes will win medals.  There are even participating countries that have never had an athlete win a medal.  But they are all winners in the eyes of the world.  They came together for peaceful competition and they leave with a greater understanding of other nations and other cultures.  Today’s Olympians could be tomorrow’s leaders.  The lessons they have learned in London will go on long after the Olympic flame is put out and after the five rings that make up the Olympic flag are moved to Sochi, Russia (winter) and Rio de Janiero, Brazil (summer).  And though we have only been bystanders in these events, watching from our homes and from the stands, we have also learned these same lessons.  We have witnessed our athletes at their very best and showing us how it should be done.

Every two years for 17-days, the world comes together to watch our athletes compete.  We always want our own to do well, but we still somehow find ourselves cheering on the athletes of other countries, too.  In the end, we are shown that it doesn’t matter what country a person is from or how different one’s culture is from our own.  We are all part of the human race, all inhabiting our own small part of this planet.  Uniting together under a flag of five-colored rings can teach us a great many things.  There are no limits to what we can accomplish when we come together under peace and friendship.  May the Olympic spirit not diminish when the flame is extinguished in London, but rather, may it live on in each of us wherever we are until the next beacon is lit to bring us together.

The Russian Veto

It has been written about on her before, and yet each night on the news, the situation in Syria grows worse.  There just doesn’t seem to be an end to the horrors that come out of the country as of late as the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad continues to keep its grip on power and is using the military to slaughter thousands of his own people to do so.  The UN Security Council continuously votes on different resolutions to get the UN nations to intervene, but it is vetoed by Russia and China.  Even after the recent massacre in the city of Hama, Russia still will not budge.  Even in a recent interview, Russia’s foreign minister said that Russia will never support foreign intervention in Syria.  So now the question becomes why is Russia so adamant about propping up the Assad-regime in Syria, especially after it voted for UN intervention in Libya to stop the bloodshed there before it ever started?

Let’s start with what could be the biggest possible reason.  It’s the port city of Tartus.  Why is this city so important to Russia?  It’s the home base for Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base for its Black Sea fleet.  Since 1979, Tartus has been host to a Soviet-era naval supply and maintenance base.  Since 2009, Russia has been renovating the base at Tartus and dredging the harbor to allow access to its bigger naval vessels.  This has been amid Russia’s deteriorating relations with western nations as a result of the South Ossetia War (2008) and the US plans to build a missile defense shield.  Russia has also forgiven Syria of $9.8 billion in Soviet-era debt (3/4ths of it’s $13.4 billion) and has become it’s major arms supplier.  The US equivalent to this type of reasoning is what the US is currently doing in the nation of Bahrain which is home to the US 7th Fleet in the Persian Gulf.  The US has been selling arms to the leaders of Bahrain who are desperately trying to hold onto power against its own people.  The US government says that none of the arms we are giving to Bahrain are being used against its people, and that our Blue Lantern Laws allow us to check on this.  (click here)

Whether or not that is completely true, Russian authorities have said that none of their arms shipments are being used against the people of Syria, but do they have laws in Russia like our Blue Lantern Laws here?  And do they honestly know whether they are being used or not against the people?  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (along with the UN) has reported that Russia has recently sold several attack helicopters to the Assad government in Syria (or is in the process of doing so).  In 2011, Syria’s arms contracts with Russia totaled approximately $4-billion.  To put this into some perspective, Russia’s total arms deals in 2011 was $12-billion, and it supposed to be even higher in 2012.  In 2008, Syria agreed to purchase YAK-130 aircraft, MiG-29SMT fighters, an air-defense system, tactical missile system, and two Amur-class submarines from Russia.

In Libya, Russia lost nearly $4-billion in contracts with the downfall of the Gaddafi regime.  So why did Russia support military action there and doesn’t in Syria?  Russian Railways was building a railroad in Libya at a cost of $3.1-billion and had spent millions in oil and gas exploration.  However, the Transitional National Council in Libya has said that all existing contracts will be honored, so maybe Russia is breathing a sigh of relief from that.  But that still doesn’t really explain it’s completely opposite stance on Syria.  Maybe it does come down to the naval base.  If Syria falls now, a new government might not be so lenient in upholding current Russian contracts.  Russia also has major dealings in the country of Algeria next to Libya.  If that country suddenly erupted into a pro-democracy movement, would Russia go with the Libya-way or Syria-way?

Even if we can’t figure out what Russia’s motives are in their entirety, though we should have them narrowed down, there still must be something we can do.  UN-resolutions are out since Russia and China will continue to block anything.  Negotiating with the Assad-government or doing nothing in general aren’t options anymore either.  A no-fly zone over Syria wouldn’t probably help either since the government crackdown does not rely on air support and is mostly fought on the ground in highly urbanized areas.  So where does that leave us with options?  First thing is first that we must continue to do is apply pressure to both Russia and China for UN intervention.  Even the other Arab nations are pleading for an international proposal and have sponsored several, which have been favored by the US.  The biggest thing the Syrian National Council could do to help their own cause is tell Russia that it would be able to keep it’s naval base at Tartus under their democratic government… kind of like how the US still has Guantanamo down in Cuba.  That might help alleviate some of Russia’s fears and help split them off the Assad regime.  The worst possible case would be arming the Syrian rebels much like the French armed a bunch of colonial rebels in the 1770s in their quest to seek independent from Great Britain.  The loss of life could increase exponentially, but the conflict would no longer be one sided.  However, the effects of such an act could also have serious consequences for the US that we must also take into consideration.  One of Syria’s biggest allies is the country of Iran.  If the US were to start shipping arms to the rebels in Syria, could Iran start sending arms to the rebels in Bahrain since we are already sending arms to the government of Bahrain as was stated earlier.

Syria has slipped into a civil war.  The Assad government is going to extreme lengths to hold onto its power, and it’s being propped up by Russia and China, and it’s ally Iran.  As the horrors unfold, we must ask ourselves how much more we are going to allow this to continue.  This is no longer bordering on genocide… it has become just that.  There are even new reports that the Syrian military is using children of rebels as shields.  Thousands are dying in their quest for democracy, and we in the West are just sitting by and watching.  As the days mount, so do the casualties.  We’ve often said “never again” when we have seen these things happen, but we have rarely intervened before it’s been too late already.  For some reason, we are always cautious.  There was no shortage of enthusiasm and speed to go to war in Iraq in 2003 and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein by ourselves, but we can’t bring ourselves to that kind of enthusiasm when dealing with Syria.  Maybe it’s because we don’t get any oil from Syria.  Maybe it’s because we learned our lesson from such a reckless course of action without any international support.  Though this time, we do have the support from the international community.  It’s just Russia and China that keep the UN from getting involved.   And one other question must be asked since Iran is Syria’s biggest ally.  Is the situation in Syria helping to distract the world from Iran’s nuclear ambitions?  That could be quite beneficial to Iran, though I think we have our eyes on both situations.

In any case, the situation is Syria must stop.  It is an internal conflict, but one with atrocities that pull at the human soul.  All people have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  It’s not just an American ideal, it’s a human one.  It is the foundation of democracy, and that’s what the people of Syria want.  Sure, we don’t know what type of government they’d form… whether it would be pro-Western or not, and we don’t know the long-term ramifications of helping the rebels against the Assad regime.  Afterall, in the 1980s, the US aided the Taliban against the invading Soviets.  The US did assist in propping up the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq against the Islamic government in Iran during the same time period, and it also supported the Mubarak regime in Egypt until the Arab Spring uprising.  Our record hasn’t been the best in the region, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be involved somehow.  It’s not about propping up a new regime.  It’s about human life and stopping the atrocities that are continuing to take place.  “Never again” should not continue to be the motto when it comes to these types of things.  It should be “Not this time”.  At some point, we will learn this.  We must learn this.

Russia, along with China and four Central Asian nations, have signed a joint declaration rejecting armed intervention in Syria and reiterating support for [former-UN Secretary General Kofi] Annan’s peace plan.” CNN

Double-Edged Sword
A Syrian Affair

The Moscow Times
Economy Watch
CNN – UN Report 

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