Donald Trump’s candidacy has redefined how presidential candidates should act and speak, running a campaign that has shocked many Americans. Trump’s huge base of support can be put into context by comparing him to another charismatic leader: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Listen to how the two polarizing figures share common ideals and strategies, understand how each has gained popular support, and consider the repercussions of each of their respective movements.
Security and Conflict
Since last March, violence has increased in Yemen’s war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition. The latter, in what many consider a proxy war, aims to restore the Yemeni government and resist Iran’s attempt at flexing its political and religious muscle in the region. The war is also witnessing the growing existential threat of Ansar al-Shari’a, a terrorist organization that the US Department of State designated as an alias of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in 2010.
Amidst the major political and religious Saudi Arabia-Iran tensions and additional alliance-foe complexities in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also playing a surprisingly major role in fighting against the Houthi rebels and AQAP, alongside the Saudi-led coalition. Generally known for its secularism and peacefulness, why is this tiny, young Gulf country heavily involved in a war 1,500 kilometers away from home?
The United Arab Emirates, founded by His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1971, has been a member of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) since its establishment in 1981. One of the integral foundations of the GCC is joint military cooperation, to which the Arab members agree to cooperate and defend their sovereignty, stability, and interests from domestic and external threats. The UAE, along with the rest of the predominantly Sunni GCC members, hence have a distinctive reason to resist a Shiite Iran’s attempt to gain influence in the region. The Houthis, aligned with Iran, practice an offshoot of Shi’a Islam known as Zaydism. With a Sunni population of over 80%, the future of Yemen poses great anxiety for the UAE. An alliance with Iran could severely affect its own and the Gulf’s delicate religious stability, should the Iran-backed Houthis prevail in Yemen. It would be particularly detrimental to the Gulf countries if Yemen, a neighboring country with significant territorial size, transforms into a Shi’a dominated government, potentially increasing Iran’s influence in the region at the expense of the UAE’s military and economic interests. Hence, since the beginning of its involvement in the Saudi-led coalition, the UAE has carried out extensive air raids through warplanes against the Houthi rebels.
In addition to Iran-backed Houthi rebels, radical terrorist groups, especially Ansar al-Sharia, pose a potential, yet severe existential threat to the UAE. In recent years, the UAE has arrested several domestic terror cells that were found to be “support networks” for groups with ties to Al Qaeda. The UAE is still a relatively safe country with few terror-related incidents. However, due to the latest rise in terror-related activities throughout the region, the country has nonetheless increased its counter-terrorism security and vigilance throughout the years. The UAE trains and arms local recruits for the fight against AQAP, as well as captures its strongholds in Yemen. In April, with the military support of the Yemeni military and local tribes, the UAE carried out a major Al-Qaeda defeat by securing the Yemeni port city of Mukallah from AQAP. As this city holds Yemen’s second largest port, AQAP has acquired substantial revenue by imposing taxes on the shipment of goods. With this major defeat, the UAE and its local partners managed to choke off one of AQAP’s major sources of financial support.
The UAE’s heavy involvement in Yemen is also attributed to its growing status as a powerful regional trade partner. Less than fifty years old, the country has experienced rapid development and a flourishing economy. Despite its diversifying sources of income, including an ever-expanding tourism industry and robust foreign trade networks, the UAE still remains one of the world’s leading oil producers. Its yearly oil exports contribute to twenty-five percent of the country’s GDP. The UAE heavily depends on Bab-el-Mandab, a narrow but vital strait situated between Yemen and the Horn of Africa that bridges the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. In 2013, approximately 3.8 million bbl/d (barrels per day) of crude oil and refined petroleum products flowed through the strait to Europe, the United States, and Asia. If Iran circumvents the Saudi-led coalition through the assistance of the Houthi rebels and gains control over the strait, the trade traffic at Bab-el-Mandab will be heavily impeded. In 2012, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, another narrow strait located in the Persian Gulf where one-fifth of the world’s oil and forty percent of the world’s energy passes. A similar Iranian dominance over Bab-el-Mandab through sea mines, interdiction of trading ships, air and land-based attack systems will greatly affect the UAE’s ability to export its oil. Closure of the strait will prevent the UAE, along with the rest of the Gulf exporters, from reaching the Suez Canal and other pipelines efficiently. If the UAE loses access to the strait, they would have to reroute through the southern tip of Africa, leading to increased transit time and heavier costs. Hence, the UAE needs to exert significant efforts against the Houthi rebels, and thus Iran, to ensure that neither of the two cooperating groups affects traffic flow of the strategically situated strait.
Regional alliances and trade routes aside, perhaps the most significant reason for the UAE’s involvement in Yemen is the opportunity to project itself as a credible, powerful military ally, especially to the United States. As American ties between Turkey and Saudi-Arabia deteriorate, and while Egypt faces domestic challenges, the UAE has emerged in recent years as a staunch ally of the United States. Commonly known as “Little Sparta” by US officials, the UAE is the only Arab country to host an American military base (Al-Dhafra) with F-22 raptors, as well as the US’s busiest overseas port of call, Jebel Ali. As the country continues to transform into one of the world’s leading commerce and financial hubs, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has sought to strengthen the Emirati military to also become regionally and internationally influential. Combined with its fierce anti-Islamist rhetoric, renowned women empowerment, and secularism, the UAE’s young yet powerful military has greatly appealed to the West. While neighboring countries, such as Qatar, downplayed its role in raids against regional extremists, the UAE proudly projected images of Major Mariam al-Mansouri, the female fighter pilot, known internationally for her involvement in the strikes against the Islamic State. The war in Yemen thus serves as a strategic opportunity for the UAE to show the world its ability to effectively mobilize forces and assure the United States, one of its main military partners, that it is indeed a credible, reliable regional ally.
As the United Arab Emirates continues to fight in the war in Yemen, there are evidently many costs, including troop losses through its heavy involvement in military operations overseas. Despite this, the UAE serves as a paradigm for other other Gulf countries. Shedding its traditional military efforts of only protecting the country from internal threats, the UAE has evolved into a powerful country in the Middle East that has been able to heavily invest in its military in recent years, alongside other aspects of development. The UAE’s willingness to cooperate with similar agendas to its own has helped itself gain strong alliances with various countries around the world, including the US. Ultimately, other wealthy Gulf states should also take a page out of the Emirati playbook to preserve their own stability and security, while additionally protecting their neighboring countries.
The article has been revised for clarity.
Less than two weeks after terrorist attacks in Brussels shook the world, the U.S. hosted the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. Representatives from over 50 nations met to continue a discussion started by President Obama in 2009 on the need to secure global nuclear material to prevent nuclear terrorism. While the summit addressed recent terrorist attacks and the threat of ISIL, it also focused on meetings between President Obama, Shinzo Abe (Japan), Geun-hye Park (South Korea), and Xi Jinping (China) to discuss recent advancements in North Korea’s nuclear program. Ironically, just hours after these meetings, North Korea, who was not present at the summit, tested a short-range, anti-aircraft missile off of it’s east coast.
This year, we’ve seen North Korea ramp-up development of its nuclear and weapons programs: it conducted an alleged hydrogen bomb test in January, a rocket launch to space in February, multiple missile launches in March, and weapons tests since early April. This recent activity reflects Kim Jong-un’s commitment to his father’s “Songun”, or “military first” policy by focusing on the expansion of weapons development to secure North Korea’s presence in the global community. He has also taken the policy to a new level through increased, targeted threats to the U.S. and South Korea.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is notorious for sending mixed signals regarding its position on nuclear and weapons development. For example, in 2009, North Korea withdrew from the Six Party Talks, a multilateral effort to denuclearize the country, but shortly after increased diplomatic engagement with the international community. In August 2015, North and South Korea engaged in marathon negotiations and reached what was perceived to be a landmark agreement, ending a military standoff between the two nations that occurred just weeks earlier. In December 2015, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon received “positive signs” from North Korea regarding a proposed visit to the country, signaling a possible end to its isolationist behavior. However, a month later in January 2016, DPRK undermined this progress by allegedly detonating its first hydrogen bomb, undoing any peaceful diplomatic efforts it had made until then.
In response to North Korea’s increased nuclear and military activity, the 15-member UN Security Council reached a unanimous vote in early March to toughen sanctions against the country. This agreement was negotiated for weeks between the U.S. and China, whose partnership in countering North Korea’s weapons advancements has strengthened in recent months. At the Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama and President Xi Jinping stated that they were committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and united in wanting to prevent North Korea from carrying out any more nuclear tests. China’s cooperation with the UN Security Council and international community to curb DPRK’s nuclear program adds to growing tensions between China and North Korea, and possibly signals a new era in relations between the two countries.
China has has been North Korea’s largest trading partner and greatest ally since the Korean War, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, China accounts for more than 70% of North Korea’s trade volume and serves as its main source of food, arms and energy, showing just how heavily North Korea relies on its northern neighbor. Economic trade between the two countries do not show signs of slowing, as bulk cargo shipping and high speed bullet train routes were established between the two countries in late 2015. Politically, China has been North Korea’s most outspoken ally, historically opposing sanctions and actively speaking out against reports of human rights violations in the country. More recently, China began to use a mix of both soft and hard power with North Korea, urging North Korean leaders to rejoin the Six Party Talks, but also punishing North Korea’s military activity through sanctions. Militarily, China is obliged to defend North Korea against “unprovoked aggression” under a treaty signed in 1961, but experts believe that China’s commitment to the treaty is waning.
Strained relations between the two countries began a few years after North Korea withdrew from the Nonproliferation Treaty and test-fired several missiles in 2006, under then Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. For the first time, China took a punitive approach to North Korea’s actions through its support of UN sanctions. Since then, China has also sent mixed messages to the international community regarding its relationship with North Korea. On the one hand, China has been active in publicly denouncing North Korea’s recent military activity. On the other hand, it showed support of Kim Jong-un’s regime by sending a high-level official to Pyongyang to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of North Korea’s ruling party in late 2015. These conflicting actions hint that there is perhaps a deeper and more stable connection between the two countries that is able to resist the day-to-day inconsistencies in behavior toward each other.
It is in China’s interest to maintain stability in the Korean peninsula. If North Korea were to initiate an act of war on either the U.S. or South Korea, China would have to take decisive action on whether or not to defend North Korea; upholding the 1961 security treaty would jeopardize China’s relations with many of its allies, but abandoning the treaty would likely end ties between the two countries. In addition, the collapse of the North Korea’s regime would not only result in an influx of North Korean refugees to China, but would also dismantle the buffer zone that North Korea provides to China. Since the end of the Korean War, U.S. and South Korean troops have been stationed along the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. The destabilization of North Korea would bring U.S. and South Korean military forces closer to China’s border, which China does not want. Likewise, North Korea depends on China for the majority of its livelihood: food, aid and energy. With rumors that North Korea is facing another famine, China will be North Korea’s main lifeline for assistance.
Cooperation between China and North Korea is essential to maintaining stability within each country and the region, but Kim Jong-un’s increasingly erratic behavior and unilateral decisionmaking will undoubtedly strain the relationship. Without China’s support, North Korea would become a true hermit kingdom in the global community, isolating its leaders and citizens from any connection to the outside world. While its rocky relationship with China may not be ideal, it is North Korea’s last chance at maintaining some sort of leverage within the international community and nonviolent interaction with the rest of the world, making it one of the most crucial partnerships in foreign relations today.
In November 2010 Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo lost the presidential election to rival Alassane Ouattara in an extremely tight and fiercely contested race. Gbagbo refused to step down, denying the results of the election, while Ouattara, as well as the Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council and international leaders, claimed Gbagbo had lost. The stand-off continued for months as violence spread in Abidjan, the nation’s capital. Gbagbo supporters were accused of murdering civilians from the opposition party and burning people alive, while others claimed pro-Ouattara groups also engaged in human rights abuses. By April of 2011 more than 3,000 people had died and claims of crimes against humanity surfaced in the international press. Soon after, Gbagbo was arrested and extradited to The Hague where he awaited trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). This January, Gbagbo’s trial began and is still ongoing. Ouattara on the other hand, has not been charged, leading to pro-Gbagbo groups joining the chorus of critical opposition to ICC indictments, its current justice process and the court itself.
The Gbagbo case marks an integral test for the ICC’s effectiveness and legitimacy, as it exemplifies both the potential importance of the ICC in prosecuting heinous crimes and the problems associated with a supranational criminal court that tries individuals. The high-profile nature of the trial is also important, as it turns international media focus to the ICC and allows for a close inspection of how the court has evolved since opening in 2002.
The ICC–currently supported by 123 nations–was established through the Rome Statute with the mandate of prosecuting cases of genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. However, since 2002 the ICC has only completed twelve proceedings, resulting in two convictions. Gbagbo is the first former head of state to reach trial at the ICC, making this a landmark case for the court. The case’s high-profile status will test the ICC’s ability to act effectively and justly under intense scrutiny.
One of the most common issues surrounding the ICC is the possibility of political manipulation and unbalanced use of judicial power. The explicit purpose of the ICC is to fight impunity in cases of genocide or crimes against humanity; moreover, as a criminal court, it is also meant to prevent retaliatory vengeance by monopolizing legitimate justice. Gbagbo may have incited the violence in Ivory Coast by refusing to step down from the presidency, but the accusations that Ouattara groups also assaulted and murdered civilians shows that, in this instance, the ICC’s theoretical premise of preventing vengeance failed. The threat of punishment from the ICC did not stop Ouattara groups from attacking Gbagbo supporters. That being said, an increased efficiency in the court and the cooperation of international leaders in apprehending those indicted by the ICC may inhibit future groups from retaliating with violence. Prosecuting Gbagbo fairly, while also thoroughly investigating Ouattara and his actions in 2010-2011, would show the world there will not be impunity for similar crimes nor violent and heinous reactions from the victims.
Critics of the court, including pro-Gbagbo groups, also cite imbalanced investigations and prosecutions, as well as negative African bias. So far, the ICC has failed to adequately investigate Ouattara’s influence on the unrest, even as news reports claim both Gbagbo and Ouattara’s forces perpetrated extreme violence in the months following the presidential election in 2010. In this vein, the court is caught between domestic groups hoping the ICC can provide justice and others, such as African leaders, who critique neocolonial tendencies and bias. The Gbagbo case also continues the ICC’s questionable record of only indicting Africans, which must change. Much of Africa is mired in violence, as seen in the cases of Joseph Kony and others, but there are many conflicts outside the continent that deserve equal investigation. For instance, there is much evidence that Bashar al-Assad’s regime perpetrated crimes against humanity in Syria. France is currently investigating Assad’s possible war crimes, though it would show a strong commitment to unbiased justice if the ICC were to indict him as well. Each of these elements fuel claims that the ICC lacks legitimacy as an impartial justice institution.
The Gbagbo case alone will not solve these issues but a focus on thoroughness and unbiased justice for all those involved, as well as others in similar conflicts, will create an opportunity for legitimacy. Each of the previous critiques is important and relevant, yet they must not spell the closing of the ICC. Here, the importance of Gbagbo and the Ivory Coast becomes evident. Gbagbo’s trial is an important first step toward justice for those involved in the violence in Ivory Coast but it is only the beginning of a long process. The ICC’s investigation into possible violent crimes by Ouattara and his supporters groups is ongoing; investigations that involve issues of national sovereignty or that scrutinize governments currently in power are time-intensive and must be treated with patience.
Although the ICC’s negative African bias should be criticized, the court only has a short history of indictments. The method and focus of their investigations can easily be changed to incorporate trends of equality and objectiveness regarding who is charged and tried. Laws that are enforced unevenly are often illegitimate and discriminatory, which makes it imperative that the ICC broaden its gaze beyond Africa. Indicting Bashar al-Assad would be a promising step forward, showing the ICC’s commitment to equality under the law.
The ICC’s implicit narrative of vengeance prevention should also be looked at from a broader, long-term perspective. Many cases of crimes against humanity or genocide stem from intra-state conflicts or civil wars. The court will not be able to stop violent acts of retaliation by immediately indicting and trying national leaders. If the ICC gains legitimacy and more countries sign the Rome Statute, retaliation by victims in these horrific instances may be prevented. As the ICC grows into a meaningful supranational criminal court, its full body of work and unbiased effectiveness in prosecuting violent criminals should provide these incentives against vengeance. Victims of heinous crimes will feel confident that their persecutors will be brought to justice and will not think it necessary to seek out individual revenge. The successful prosecution of Gbagbo and a non-partisan investigation of Ouattara’s actions may be the first step in ending any future attempts at retribution.
The Gbagbo case allows the ICC an opportunity to prove to the world that it has grown and evolved over the past fourteen years. The international community must also pay attention, without focusing on the court’s failures or shortcomings. We must instead comment with a critical eye and support change that will allow the ICC to be more effective and just. The ICC is unlike any other criminal court or international institution created and it is still in its earliest stage. In order to reach the ultimate goal of denying impunity to warlords and leaders who commit crimes against humanity, the court must be allowed to push through growing pains and mold itself to the nuances of the world in which we currently live.
As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in the Milwaukee Democratic Debate last February, “When people go to vote in primaries or caucuses, they are voting not only for the president, they are voting for the commander-in-chief. And it’s important that people really look hard at what the threats and dangers we face are, and who is best prepared for dealing with them.” Although a clear plug for her past experience, Clinton highlights a crucial element to the presidency that can easily be lost in the media circus surrounding the 2016 election. A time meant to showcase credentials and visions for the future has quickly turned into the spectacle and squabble of entertainment television. The media has succumbed to treating this race for the presidency as just another reality TV show MTV would proudly stream alongside The Real World. With the most recent GOP debate spotlighting personal banter rather than prevailing issues, it is time for us as audiences but most importantly as voters, to make ourselves informed and conscious of the power that one of these presidential hopefuls will soon attain. One of these lucky selected few will soon run this country and the US armed forces, inheriting what can arguably be deemed as the most powerful position in the world. In the wise words of Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the power in this case, among an extensive list of others, comes from the role of Commander in Chief.
In the digital age, remarks on the campaign trail spread like wildfire across news platforms having immediate impacts on citizens nationally and on the perception of the United States internationally. Case in point: Trump’s rhetoric inciting violence against immigrants with the recent assault of a homeless hispanic man by two brothers, one of which stated, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” and Trump responded with “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.” Conversely government heads such as former President Fox of Mexico, in an interview with CNN, voiced that Donald Trump reminds him of Hitler. Although this is but one candidate’s views, it foreshadows the extremely real mindset a presidential frontrunner will take as President and as Commander in Chief and the international denunciation of his views.
These comments and plans for US interaction with the world demand a great deal of attention considering the vast foreign policy challenges that currently exist. The new president will be stepping into a world plagued by terrorist attacks —al-Shabab claiming the most recent bomb attack on a Somalian airplane in reaction to the Turkish airline’s state affiliation to Western operations; will have to face the escalating hodgepodge of civil war against President Bashar al-Assad and proxy war against IS in Syria, along with the snowballing refugee crisis they have kindled; the budding international rivalry with Russia; and the augmenting threat of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, to name a few. As the primaries are in full swing, positions on these international aspects may be greatly impacted by the scrimmage for votes, but they do paint a very real picture of how these candidates will espouse this role. A depiction of this can be quickly processed by simply viewing the way each candidate has titled these issues on their respective websites. Hillary Clinton: “National Security.” Bernie Sanders: “War and Peace.” Donald Trump: “The Military.” Ted Cruz: “Defend Our Nation.” Marco Rubio: “Build American Strength.” These headlines show clear distinctions, with Republicans siding for a militaristic approach and the Democrats opting for diplomatic engagement. To elaborate on a few of the frontrunners’ perspectives, Clinton’s platform seeks to establish a strong economic foundation for diplomatic influence and military defense, aims to disrupt terrorist infrastructure on the ground and online, and hopes to strengthen current partnerships and work to build new ones. Sanders views the role of Commander in Chief as defending this nation, but seeking diplomatic solutions before military action, stating, “war must be a last resort, not the first option.” Trump asserts the military as a primordial force, declaring,—and I quote— “I will make our Military so big, powerful and strong that no one will mess with us.” Following a similar path, Cruz views rebuilding America’s military as key in maintaining national safety and exerting our leadership on the global stage, because “what is best for America is best for the world.”
One of the biggest issues affecting the international sphere, as previously mentioned, is the ongoing war against terrorism primordially sparked by the Islamic State and its affiliates. With a new attack emerging at an almost weekly basis and the scope of these organizations reaching the United States with the most recent San Bernardino shooting, the threat of terrorism has once again reached a security level on par with the period immediately following 9/11. A line connecting the candidates, both Democrat and Republican, is the defeat of IS. However, their projected methods of accomplishing this and tackling its interconnected aspects differentiate their stances. Journalists have outlined the candidates’ positions from accepting refugees, to instituting a no-fly zone, to declaring war. The divide seems clear between the two parties on accepting refugees, but when it comes to military action party lines begin to blur. The Republican candidates have been clear in opposing any further acceptance of Syrian refugees in light of the recent domestic terror attacks, while Democrats have protested anti-refugee and anti-muslim rhetoric in supporting increases in refugee acceptance. Now in the logistics of the war: Cruz and Sanders are both against sending in more US ground troops, while Trump, Clinton and Rubio agree that more troops are needed—with Clinton and Rubio specifying their support for the sending a special ops team. Clinton and the Republicans also both advocate for instituting a no-fly zone in Syria, while Sanders stands alone in his opposition of it. Additionally in terms of invoking NATO Article 5 (the principle of collective defence, requiring all parties to assist in collective action, including the use of armed force, when one or more signatories is attacked), Rubio has favored invoking it, while the rest of the candidates remain unclear In their position for it. IS must be eliminated, they all hail, but how they will achieve this is where divisions come into play.
Another key issue headlining foreign policy talks is US-Russian relations. The ongoing rivalry is no secret, regarding the presence of both forces in Syria particularly and the Middle East in general. Despite the rivalry, there is distinction in how the presidential candidates will interact with Putin. On this gradient of views, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio stand strongest in condemning Russia’s President declaring him as “a bully and a dictator” and “a gangster and a criminal” respectively. Cruz calls for asserting US strength in Syria by expanding missile defenses in Eastern Europe while highlighting the country’s human rights violations to deter Russian resurgence. Rubio has accused Putin of “trying to destroy NATO” in challenging US dominance in the Middle East in addition to his support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In the middle of the gradient lies Hillary Clinton, who has gone head to head with Putin in her past role of Secretary of State. She affirms her belief that Russia has aimed to undermine and confront American power and that the US must counter this; however she admits that when it comes to Syria, the solution must comprise Russian participation. Diverting even further into a diplomatic approach, Sanders promotes a collaborative actions with allies against Russian aggression in placing economic sanctions and international pressure on Putin as “an alternative to any direct military confrontation.” Now on the far side of the gradient is the very pro-Putin candidate Donald Trump who, unlike his peers, seems to be carrying on a friendly relationship stating, “I’ve always felt fine about Putin,” and that “Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect,” in response to Putin’s endorsing him.
This breakdown is only a soundbite of the extensive decisions one of these frontrunners will take on. Domestic goals are undeniably a prevailing aspect of this race, but do not let the emphasis on the domestic distract you. We are about to elect a new Commander in Chief. Foreign affairs vastly impact the national, and one Presidential hopeful will inherit the power to overhaul world order as hegemon in the international sphere. It is easy to get caught up in the drama and, more recently, outright brawls, between the presidential hopefuls on the debate floor. However, this election can no longer serve as mere entertainment. Voters must watch debates with critical minds and must investigate what candidates best align with their views. Candidates’ platforms are not a mystery. Answers are literally a click away. There is no excuse for ignorance. Use the Internet. Let it be your informant, let it be your voice. The proliferation of information is our greatest strength in this election. Whether you “feel the Bern”, want to “make America great again,” see “Hillary for America,” believe in “A New American Century” or remain undecided, keep yourself informed and vote for who you believe can best represent this nation as not just President, but further as Commander in Chief.
November 13, a day that will surely be ingrained in the nightmares of thousands, began as any other day in Paris, with the promise of an exciting evening of friends, food, and music. No one predicted the horror that would ensue as the sun set, namely that a group of strategically organized terrorists would infiltrate various locations throughout the city. At 9:20pm explosions erupted in the locality around the Stade de France, triggering the beginning of multiple attacks. Over the next four hours, cafes and restaurants were targeted in a slew of bombings and shootings, culminating at the Bataclan Concert Hall. Those hoping to enjoy an evening of rock music headlined by the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, instead faced a group of armed militants that entered the venue and opened fire at unsuspecting crowds. Within a few hours, the city of Paris was consumed by panic and terror as thousands fled these targeted centers in search of safe havens from the attacks.
The city of Paris lost 130 lives throughout the course of the night and 351 people were left injured. An attack meant to indiscriminately stir fear not only in France, but globally, has successfully shaken spirits worldwide. Empathy for France was instantaneous as social media reacted in support. Facebook instituted a safety check system, a tool previously reserved for natural disasters, allowing users in Paris to notify their loved ones of their status. Feeds flooded with profile pictures donning a blue, white and red filter in solidarity. Across all social media platforms, people showed their support using the hashtag #prayforparis, and governments worldwide showed their solidarity, projecting the French flag over their monuments and gathering to discuss collective action. Just two days after the attacks, world leaders met at the G20 World Summit in Turkey, vowing to increase military response against IS. Since the World Summit, an international coalition including the USA, France, the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and recently Britain, has formed using air strikes to bomb IS targets in Syria aiming to weaken the organization’s strongholds. With the ever-increasing support for France and the reactionary discussions among government heads, the Paris attacks marked a pivotal point in the war against IS and its affiliates. Claiming responsibility for the horrific attacks, IS has demonstrated its ability to not only effectively inflict its militant terror tactics within its territorial strongholds but also to extend this destructive reach internationally.
But what does this social response and acceleration in government action tell us? The terrorist attacks in Paris and the response that followed showed a collective empathy that cut across national boundaries, but also conversely emphasized the stark contrast in the attention garnered by terrorist attacks in other regions. With everyone from celebrities to prominent government officials making statements and sending their condolences and prayers to Parisians, one begins to wonder why other countries do not receive the same treatment. For instance, earlier last year a suicide bomber killed 12 people during a funeral in eastern Afghanistan. In April, al-Shabab militants attacked and killed 147 at Garissa University in Kenya, most of whom were students. Just a day before the attacks in Paris, a suicide bombing orchestrated by ISIS hit the city of Beirut killing 43 people. These are but a few of the acts of terrorism this past year and the majority of these brutal incidents share one common factor: none garnered the outpouring of global attention and empathy that the Paris attacks had.
My intention is not to shame the solidarity shown for Paris, but to highlight the stark contrast between how these events are treated. This contrast makes it impossible to continue ignoring the chronic perception that terrorism occurring in countries situated in regions more prone to violence, such as in the Middle East and Africa, can be waved aside as normal or habitual occurrences. At the G20 Summit in November, President Obama referred to the events in Paris as not just an attack on France but as “an attack on the civilized world.” This raises the question as to how and what we can identify as “the civilized world?” This loaded statement calls forth the idea that world governments, popular media, and ordinary individuals dismiss some regions as backwards and their confrontations with violence as the unfortunate but dismissible status quo—until bombs go off in their own backyards. What is most distressing is that attacks subsequently launched against terrorist organizations often result in the upheaval and loss of many innocent civilian lives; consider the civilian death toll in the War on Terrorism following 9/11 and the warzone that Syria has become. Civilians in countries that seem to be too “uncivilized” to foster global attention or completely lost in micro-aggression, are often neglected and their already chaotic surroundings decimated.
So what does this mean for the future in the aftermath of the Paris attacks? It is clear that IS and its affiliates will not stop anytime soon in their ongoing terror rampage. They have already claimed sequence of more attacks, since the Paris events. In Nigeria two bomb attacks carried out by Boko Haram killed 31 and injured 72. This past week a suicide bomber—and suspected member of IS—killed 10 in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square and the organization also orchestrated a series of attacks in Jakarta leaving 2 dead and 20 injured. A new IS propaganda video, titled “Paris Has Collapsed,” was released on November 20th glorifying the Paris attacks and vowing continuation of threats to not only France, but also the U.S. The hacker-activist group known as Anonymous also released a list of future IS targets it claims to have uncovered suggesting plans for strikes in the U.S., Indonesia, Italy, and Lebanon. Additionally we also see the domino effect IS attacks have on its ongoing rivalry with Al Qaeda for Islamic supremacy. Shortly after the Paris attacks, Al Qaeda launched an attack that killed 19 in a Mali hotel on November 20th. A dangerous future of competition between the two organizations is becoming progressively more apparent.
The West, or the “civilized world” as described by President Obama, is entering a state of emergency as the war against terrorism escalates indefinitely. The next steps will undoubtedly bring massive change to the international sphere. In this, we must remember that government and social response can empower terrorism as much as it can end it; justice is our duty but retaliation is not. We cannot permit ourselves to repeat the mistakes following 9/11 with an emergency response that does not consider further consequences in war-torn countries. For every innocent life lost in distant battlefields and each person at home that allows their fear to turn them away from the idea of human rights, plays into the hands of terrorist organizations moving us towards an increasingly militant global climate fueled by terror.
My prayers go out to all those affected by the recent terrorist attacks and those who continue to experience the aftermath of past episodes. Your stories will not go forgotten.
In light of recent radical Islamic terrorist attacks worldwide, individuals everywhere are feeling uneasy and unsafe. The topic of national security has moved to the forefront of political agendas and has become an integral part of international discussions. In the United States, 49% of citizens are worried that they, or someone in their family, will become a victim of terrorism. This percentage is the highest it has been since the year following 9/11. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, “Over three-quarters of Americans doubt the nation’s ability to stop ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks by individuals acting on their own.” Additionally, 59% of Republicans, 38% of Independents, and 15% of Democrats support a ban on all Muslims wishing to enter the United States. For a nation that prides itself on freedom and equal opportunity for all, these are surprising numbers, which reveal the success of radical extremists in their ability to create widespread fear and anti-Muslim sentiment.
In an effort to learn more about the goals and recruitment strategies of ISIS, a colleague and I recently interviewed Mubin Shaikh—an ex-extremist turned counter-terrorism operative, and author of the book Undercover Jihadi. Born in Canada, Shaikh was raised Muslim and became influenced by the radical ideas of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He began actively recruiting other young Muslims for the cause of jihad. After the events of 9/11, however, he questioned Islamic extremism and travelled to Syria, where he underwent deradicalization—a process he defines in his interview as “a full cognitive shift away from extremist thinking.” Upon his return home, he began working undercover with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in the “Toronto 18” case, in an effort to prevent extremist attacks. Today, he works to stop radicalization using social media to directly engage Islamic State sympathizers, while also speaking out against Islamophobia, which he believes only fuels and encourages radicalization.
What many people do not understand is that the fulfillment of ISIS’ agenda is actually dependent upon worldwide discrimination against Muslims—all Muslims, even moderate, peaceful, law-abiding Muslims. According to Shaikh, “It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious how easily people are falling into that trap. ISIS has actually written a document in which they wrote and said ‘we will commit these attacks so as to create retaliation on Muslims to make them feel so isolated and marginalized that they will be pushed into our waiting arms.’”
Shaikh is referring to both a manifesto called “The Black Flags from Rome,” as well as the February edition of ISIS’ online magazine, Dabiq, in which the Islamic State warned, “Muslims in the West will soon find themselves between one of two choices.” This statement was published in the weeks following the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris—an abhorrent act that only heightened the pre-existing tension between French Muslims and their fellow citizens. The group boasted that the attack had “further [brought] division to the world,” and “eliminated the grayzone,” representing the coexistence between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors. The text further explains that Muslims living in the West will soon feel so isolated and marginalized, they will be forced to “either apostatize … or [migrate] to the Islamic State, and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.” The term “crusader” is the title given by ISIS to every Western soldier, civilian, and politician, regardless of party or nation.
In the weeks following the most recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, ISIS has seen their goal come to fruition—innocent Muslims everywhere have been experiencing acts of violence, hatred, and discrimination at the hands of angry, fearful Western citizens. Many in the West believe that Islam is a religion that promotes violence, without understanding that the majority of Muslims are peaceful. Shaikh explained that ISIS manipulates the Quran, “cherry-picks” verses, and uses phrases out of context in order to piece together an outline for their violent mission.
In a more recent interview with VICE, Shaikh reemphasizes that widespread Islamophobia provides a major advantage to ISIS recruiters: “The sad reality is, you have people on the right who might as well directly take the marching orders from ISIS because they’re doing the work for them.” ISIS targets individuals who feel isolated and rejected. Youths are an easy target given their desire to formulate their own identity and find a community to which they belong. Shaikh comments, “Your brains are still developing until your mid-twenties. That’s a time when you’re susceptible to influences from adults, community members, and religious members.” ISIS preys on the vulnerability of ostracized youths, reaching out to them via social media platforms such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Instagram, etc. “They’ll take screenshots and continue to engage you until they feel like they can successfully recruit you,” says Shaikh. He also solemnly discusses the impossibility of quitting ISIS once an individual has been recruited: “Their lives are destroyed. And it will be very, very difficult for them to leave that place. Some of them have been executed because they were creating ‘too many problems’ because they wanted to go home.”
While widespread fear and anger might seem inevitable in light of current events, Shaikh encourages individuals to educate themselves on the goals and strategies of extremists, and to resist the temptation to perpetuate the anti-Muslim sentiment which only further fuels radicalization and polarization.
In the past few months most international news has focused on conflicts throughout the Middle East, while little has been said about the incredible transformation the Guatemalan justice system is currently undergoing. The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is an independent UN body that has stabilized and rebuilt Guatemala’s previously failing justice system. CICIG has helped Guatemala reduce its impunity rate, democratically elect a new president and prosecute various high-level officials for corruption in “La Línea,” or “The Line,” kick-back scandal.
Guatemala has lacked a legitimate justice system since its civil war ended nearly twenty years ago. Today unpunished crime is the status quo. The Human Rights Watch released a report in 2012 that announced homicides had 95% percent impunity in 2010 (that is, 95% of homicides went unpunished) and previously, a UN-sponsored commission found the Guatemalan federal government responsible for 93% of the human rights abuses that occurred during its 36 year civil war. CICIG has made great strides towards ending the impunity that destabilizes the country, an immense accomplishment considering the violence and lack of legitimate justice that has been constant for nearly half a century. Working closely with the Attorney General’s office, CICIG arrested thirty-eight government officials tied to La Línea scandal earlier this year, including ex-President Otto Molina and former Vice-President Roxana Baldetti. The body has also successfully prosecuted other corruption scandals since 2007, actions that were non-existent before CICIG’s inception.
The most pressing questions regarding the recent success of CICIG reach across national borders: Can the commission be reproduced in other countries, such as El Salvador and Honduras? If so, under what circumstances can the commission be successful and long-lasting? Although CICIG is less than 10 years old and the long-term viability of the Guatemalan justice system remains in doubt, a progressive national leader, committed commissioner and overwhelming domestic support can effectively fight impunity within other Latin American countries.
Three main factors are responsible for the recent arrests of Guatemalan government officials that brought CICIG to the forefront of international news. The first was the willingness of Guatemalan President Óscar Berger and the Guatemalan Congress in 2007 to approve an agreement with the UN to establish CICIG. A previous attempt at creating a commission to support domestic investigations failed due to the Guatemalan Constitution’s specific declarations regarding the delegation of justice. The Guatemalan government made it a priority to work around the constitutional issue and reach an agreement on CICIG, accomplishing the most difficult step towards ending impunity. The importance of the Guatemalan state’s support of CICIG cannot be understated; this initial barrier will be the hardest to overcome in other Latin American countries due to corrupt government officials having no interest in an international body investigating their own wrongdoing.
The second factor was the appointment of Commissioner Iván Velásquez by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2013, a full six years after the body was created. Although the previous commissioner of CICIG was quietly successful— the impunity rate dropped from 95% to 70% under his term— he lacked a celebrity presence and the body’s accomplishments were not widely covered by the media. On the other hand, Velásquez is currently a domestic superstar, symbolizing hope and justice while carrying the informal label of most popular man in Guatemala. His investigation and arrests in La Línea scandal have shown Guatemalans that nobody in their government is above justice. The UN Secretary-General did not appoint Velásquez as the first commissioner of CICIG; it may take time to find the perfect leaders of future commissions against impunity in other countries. Therefore the focus must be on domestic governments’ continual support of independent commissions in order to keep renewing their short mandates (CICIG has a two-year mandate that must be renewed by the Guatemalan government).
The third factor, and perhaps the most complex of the three, is the Guatemalan domestic support for CICIG. The Guatemalan public is currently vocal in their support of CICIG, especially with the recent arrests of top government officials. The two candidates that ran for President last month both promised to keep CICIG intact, which shows the enormous value the public places in the commission. If the successful trend of CICIG investigations and arrests continue, no presidential campaigns will be successful without voicing support, which assures future extensions of the commission. The first two factors listed, agreeing to create the commission and allowing enough time for it to become effective, are reliant upon the domestic and international support of CICIG as public pressure can force other states to agree to similar independent commissions and ensure the extension of its mandate when necessary.
Those in the region and the international public sphere must also be loud in their support for such commissions in other Latin American countries, as is the case in Guatemala. The most recent CICIG arrests have thrust the commission into the public spotlight within Latin America and Commissioner Velásquez’s current popularity adds to the CICIG’s domestic support, marking the perfect time to pressure other governments into installing their own commission. That being said, creating financial incentives for the federal government may be the most effective way to incentivize states’ acceptance of anti-impunity institutions.
So far there have been some calls for implementation in El Salvador and Honduras but each state’s government has opposed a commission that replicates the mandate of CICIG. One way to overcome the reluctance of these governments is to link the creation of a similar commissions to foreign aid programs, which the United States has attempted. El Salvador and Honduras both refused to agree to a commission with similar domestic power, even with these added financial incentives. The US government and others across the globe must be more demanding of these aid recipients and it is the job of the international community, including the American public, to raise awareness and support for the implementation of CICIG-like bodies in other Latin American countries marred by government corruption. If CICIG is to truly mark a turning point in the history of Latin American corruption there must be multilateral efforts by the US, the UN and other democratic nations that pressure states like El Salvador and Honduras into implementing similar independent institutions.
“It is nationalism which endangers nations, and not the other way round.” –Ernest André Gellner (British-Czech philosopher and social anthropologist)
French President Francois Hollande recently issued a statement that his country is prepared to open its borders and welcome 24,000 migrants seeking asylum over the next two years. This statement, issued on September 7, 2015, is part of a new plan designed by the European Union to accept and appropriately distribute the massive exodus of refugees fleeing from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other surrounding nations. When asked to comment on French polls that indicated 55% of the national population was opposed to accepting more refugees, Hollande responded that asylum is a constitutional right and a moral duty, and that “France’s image and standing in the world were at stake.”
In light of the recent terrorists attacks on Paris, and amid reports that one of the attackers held a Syrian passport, Hollande has emphasized the necessity of making proper background checks prior to accepting these refugees. Hollande has declared war on ISIS, but made it clear that France will maintain its “humanitarian duty” and promise to welcome refugees over the next two years.
While many refugees initially identified Germany as the most ideal place to relocate with supposed security and job opportunities abound, other European countries are now offering comparable conditions and welcoming the migrants. In fact, because Germany has been accommodating such a massive influx of individuals in recent months, France has offered to help by offering an expedited asylum application to migrant families arriving in Munich: temporary housing in France along with a two-week approval process as opposed to the usual six-month process.
These recent political and cultural strides made by France are particularly notable given the nation’s sticky history with immigration and ethnic tension. Having just spent a month living and learning in France, I can attest that it is challenging to go more than a day without hearing an allegation that the presence of ethnic minorities, foreigners, and immigrants creates a grave problem for the nation. A commonly held belief among French traditionalists is that these groups directly threaten and compromise the very essence of true “Frenchness.” Many harbor a sense of nationalism that transcends the concept of national pride and actually results in extreme and egregious discrimination—for example, some believe that to be truly “French” is to be white, Catholic, and multi-generationally French. This statement parades as protectionism when in reality it is rooted in racism. This has created an ongoing and very heated dialogue surrounding immigration policy in the last century.
This French perception of nationalism (hopefully) seems foreign to us in the United States. Our nationality law is based on the principles of jus soli (Latin for “right of soil”), meaning that individuals gain immediate citizenship upon being born in the U.S. This has subsequently created the notion that America is a mixing pot of racial identities—our sense of national pride comes from being united as American, not from being one united race. In contrast, most states in Europe, Asia, and Oceania grant citizenship based on principles of jus sanguinis (Latin for “right of blood”) or a restricted version of jus solis—as is the case in France. Under this philosophy, individuals become citizens depending on their parents’ citizenship and not by birthplace. This has fostered and accentuated the cultural division in France between natives and immigrants which has resulted in the emergence of a perceived social hierarchy. Because of this heated history and conflicting cultural dynamic, President Hollande’s decision to welcome refugees in spite of opposition (and in spite of recent events) deserves recognition.
France’s situation forcibly evokes a particularly challenging set of questions: at what point should international leaders place a greater emphasis on obligations to humanity than on obligations to their own national interests? How do leaders of the Western community in particular negotiate or reconcile national interests with moral duty? Is there such a thing as a moral duty to the international community? According to the UNHCR: “Since, by definition, refugees are not protected by their own governments, the international community steps in to ensure they are safe and protected.” In fact, in the past few decades 142 nations have signed on to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol. By signing this international treaty and its 1967 amendment, the UNHCR states nations are essentially agreeing that “refugees deserve, as a minimum, the same standards of treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals in a given country and, in many cases, the same treatment as nationals.”
While we have historically seen that most national actions, even humanitarian ones, are often out of self-interest, it is my sincere hope that international authorities will continue to improve and open their borders to those in need. Afterall, those of us born in Western nations with relatively safe conditions could have just as easily been born into a nation experiencing a crisis. Wouldn’t we then hope and pray for assistance and asylum in the E.U.? In the U.S.?
This debate reminded me of an excerpt from Shakespeare’s play “Sir Thomas More.” Sir Thomas More is a lawyer, sent to address an angry crowd of individuals rioting to get rid of “those immigrants” or “strangers.” Shakespeare delivers a powerful message that transcends time and place when More challenges the natives to consider what they would do if they had to flee their home country:
“Whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbor? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,–
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountanish inhumanity.”
(Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene IV)
This is the stranger’s case—the immigrant’s case. For many, it’s near impossible to fully comprehend the plight and experiences of today’s refugees, but so important to try. While it’s challenging to reconcile national interests with humanitarian needs, our nationality shouldn’t supersede our humanity.
Syria today is, put simply, a catastrophe. Caught in a vicious cycle of violence, a civil war rages. The government commits war crimes against its own people. Rebels retaliate. The resultant instability of the country practically invites in the terrorist group known as Daesh, ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State. But as millions of displaced citizens flee the country en masse, the president presides over the situation with an eye to the future.
Bashar al-Assad, despite his almost reluctant ascension to power in the wake of his father’s death, has been the president of Syria for the past fifteen years, and given the extreme nature of the ongoing civil war he clearly does not intend on relinquishing that power. In fact, he appears to be manipulating his country’s dire situation to his own political advantage. Between his strategic strikes on Syrian opposition forces, his response (or lack thereof) to the threat of Islamic State (IS), and now Russia’s involvement on Assad’s behalf, the Syrian president is positioning himself to remain the only viable leader for Syria.
Since March 2011 government forces have been under investigation by the UN into human rights violations, and since 2013 the regime has been accused of chemical weapons use against its own citizens. But recently the focus has shifted from Assad’s alleged war crimes to his strategic targets. The United States claims that pro-Assad forces have been targeting moderate, Western-backed rebels, rather than more dangerous jihadists like Jaish al-Fatah, an alliance including extremist groups like the Nusra Front. This choice is clearly deliberate, based on politics rather than on military strategy. Assad maintains his appearance of fighting for Syrian stability by defeating the violent rebels. But the decision to battle specifically more moderate opposition permits extremists to thrive, cultivating fear in the Syrian people. Thus, Syrians must turn to Assad for deliverance.
Similarly, Assad and his supporters have strategically responded to the Islamic State invasion of Syria. From the beginning when IS took control of oil production facilities, the regime has continued to buy from these same facilities, literally feeding IS funding. Furthermore, Assad believes that IS does not pose the most direct threat to Damascus. So he focuses his military forces on rebel groups rather than on IS, essentially allowing the organization to conquer some areas in the north of Syria, recruit sympathizers, and terrorize the rest of the population. But Assad does not ignore the imminent threat of IS. On October 4th, just days after Russia began its airstrikes, he warned during an Iranian TV interview that failure in Syria’s campaign against IS would “destroy the Middle East.” This combination of inaction against IS and public statements about the dangers it poses only serves to increase levels of concern, both in Syria and in the international community, demonizing IS and elevating Assad as the more reasonable leader.
Already Assad has a strong base of support, which has mobilized against his opposition often using brutal tactics. By relying only on his most trusted units during the initial insurgency in 2011, Assad managed to hone the Syrian Army down to totally committed regime supporters. Reinforcing the Syrian Army are pro-Assad militias, mostly consisting of Alawites led by distant Assad family members, but also including minority groups desperate to defend their communities against opposition fighters. Finally, both Iran and Hezbollah provide direct support to pro-Assad efforts. But now an even stronger ally, a major global power, has joined forces to fight for Assad – Russia.
On September 30, 2015, Russia began airstrikes in Syria, allegedly contributing to the effort against IS and “terrorists” in Syria. However, from day one of the airstrikes U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, claimed that these air strikes were not on IS-held territory. Instead, many have struck Syrian opposition forces, including U.S.-backed “moderates.” Indeed, as Russia’s involvement in Syria has increased, its focus has proved to be the rebels. This is because the Russian definition of “terrorists” is the same as Assad’s – any group opposing the government. President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that Russia’s priority is to ensure that President Assad remains in power (contrary to the wishes of the majority of the international community), so it follows that the primary targets for Russian attacks are the non-IS Syrian rebels who pose the gravest threat to Damascus.
Russia and Syria have maintained a close relationship since Syria achieved independence and aligned with the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. Over the course of that relationship, the two countries have developed economic and cultural connections, most important of which appear to be Russia’s warm-water port at Tartus and its lucrative arms exports to Syria. For Putin, it is critical that Assad remains in power in order to prevent a potentially catastrophic regime change in Syria and prove the strength of authoritarian leaders. Stakes are high now that Russia has committed tangible support to Assad by commencing air strikes; at this point, Assad’s failure would make Russia look weak as well. So Assad can rely on Putin’s pride and stubbornness to ensure that he will receive all the support Russia can provide, paving the way to eventual victory.
Once the opposition forces are neutralized by the Russia-Syria team, Islamic State will be Assad’s only enemy left in Syria. And with an international coalition, led by the United States, already battling IS, this particular “Daesh” brand of Islamism will eventually be crushed, leaving Bashar al-Assad as the last man standing – just as he planned.