Nationalism, and National Identity, have long been a passion of mine. But whatever of its role in defining personal and community identity, as a structure it is in flux. The concept of the nation state in many ways defined the history of the twentieth century: in the lead up to World War I, the subsequent establishment of the League of Nations and various boundary commissions, then World War II and its various alliances, and the establishment of the United Nations, the European Union and the retrenchment from Empire, establishing so many new nation states all over Africa and Asia in particular. The Nation was sovereign, and inviolable; what happened within the State was solely the preserve of the State, and no other State would intervene in matters domestic (until Kosovo, and after Rwanda).
Dan Byman’s defence of drones in Foreign Affairs (July / August 2013) sets out the case for drones, a highly effective, low risk method of taking out terrorists. The changed nature of terrorism, with its globalised, stateless, and highly distributed character certainly presents significant challenges to the defence of the realm. There are advantages over conventional military options – air strikes, ‘boots on the ground’, covert operations – and, in particular, the speed with which weaponised drones can be deployed makes them far more flexible tools for the military. The politics, Byman adds, can be tricky, but most governments within drone strike domains are tacitly acquiescent.
If the objective of the exercise is to defeat terrorism, or, rather, the immediate threat of terrorism, then Byman is right – drones are extremely effective. However, he is wrong in not addressing whether they advance the long term strategic interests of the United States. He limits his discussion on this to the prospect that drones create more terrorists in people whose families are killed or injured, perpetuating the hatred that turns people against America. The problems are deeper than that – and impact the core of who and what America is.
Six months ago, it appeared obvious that Bashar Al-Assad was on his way out of Syria. What was less clear, however, was who was likely to succeed him. And it is this particular point – the absence of a clear opposition – that has kept him in place. The various countries that have an interest are both local and global, and the rationale of each bears thinking about.
Let’s start with the neighbours. Immediately surrounding Syria are Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. Hizbollah – and therefore Lebanon – is supporting Assad, primarily one suspects because they think he will win. Syria has long been a friend of the Palestinians. Assad himself put it thus in 2002: “As far as an occupier is concerned, there is no distinction between soldiers and civilians… There is a distinction between armed and unarmed, but in Israel everyone is armed. In any case, we adopted the following concept: resistance to occupation is a legitimate right.”
What is the role of expectation in determining legitimacy? Is legitimacy a relative concept? Tonight Egypt is again in the throws of more demonstrations, while rumours fly about the health of former President Mubarak. Some suggest this is the end of the revolution, much as Ukraine went through a cycle of demonstration against Viktor Yanukovych‘s allegedly rigged victory in 2004, only to return to him after several years of failed ambition in 2010. So Egypt may also revert to its previous state – most likely sans Mubarak, though age waits for no man, and his demise was inevitable anyway. Why does this happen? Is there an unreasonableness to the ambition of crowds?