At the start of 2018, two rivals continue to preoccupy American diplomats. While one should expect things for Iran to get much worse before they get better, a semblance of a solution with Pyongyang may finally be a possibility.
Iran’s Dark Ages
It’s entirely possible that the Iranian regime will not be able to withstand the latest challenge to its authority, but even if it does, the theocracy will no longer be the same, writes Ray Takeyh in Politico EU.
“As Rouhani’s presidency lingers, Khamenei and the hard-liners are likely to use their commanding institutional power to finally impose their vision of pristine Islamist rule. In their eyes, both reformers and centrists stand suspect today as their promises have only provoked popular insurrections. Iran’s conservatives are imbued with an ideology that views the essential purpose of the state as the realization of God’s will on Earth. Such an exalted task mandates the assumption of power not by tentative moderates but devout revolutionaries. Given such ideological inclinations, the hard-liners are utterly contemptuous of democratic accountability and are unconcerned about their loss of popularity and widespread dissatisfaction with theocratic rule. The legitimacy of state does not rest on the collective will but on a mandate from heaven. From this point, Iran’s elections are likely to be even more circumscribed with all but Khamenei’s loyalists prevented from running for office. The Revolutionary Guards, a paramilitary force that answers to the supreme leader, will be more empowered as they are the last guardians of the theocracy. Iran will move into one of its darker ages, with escalating repression, censorship and the imposition of onerous cultural strictures.”
Trump can’t be missing this opportunity for button diplomacy
At last, with Kim Jong Un coupling his latest threats with an offer to open a dialogue with South Korea, there’s some good news on North Korea. And yet, Trump doesn’t seem to be doing anything to seize this opportunity, editorialises The Washington Post.
While the opening was quickly seized by the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, “the most obvious risk is that Mr. Kim will seek to use the talks to drive a wedge between the dovish Mr. Moon and Mr. Trump,” it argues.
“In truth, it is most unlikely that the Kim regime will agree anytime soon to give up its nuclear weapons or even seriously discuss that possibility. Ultimately, the elimination of the North Korean threat will probably require regime change, which the United States should seek to promote by nonmilitary means. But diplomacy could lower tensions and perhaps eventually advance some important interim measures such as a freeze on further nuclear and missile testing by Pyongyang.
That’s why the Trump administration is wrong to treat the new dialogue skeptically, as the State Department did this week, or to reject anything short of maximal results, as did U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who said “we won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea.” The best approach is to keep seeking to raise the pressure on the Kim regime through sanctions and other economic pressures, while encouraging short-term deals to lower tensions — and avoiding pointless provocations.”
Afghanistan’s constitutional problem that no leader from the West will talk about
Afghanistan’s Constitution is a source of “instability, promoting personalisation of power, nepotism, tribalism, cronyism, discrimination, politicisation of identities and a trust deficit in society,” and must be openly opposed by the international community, argues Nazif Shahrani in Al Jazeera.
To begin with, it gives more powers to the Afghan President than a king, and the dismissal of Governor Atta Muhammad Nur of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan by President Ashraf Ghani last month was only a symptom of a much deeper constitutional problem.
“The 2004 constitution, like all other previous constitutions of Afghanistan, denies the peoples of Afghanistan their rights to elect their governors, mayors and district officers. It also denies them the possibility to recruit or hire their professional administrators. The right of community self-governance which could have transformed the peoples of Afghanistan from subjects to empowered citizens was not considered. Thus, abuses by Kabul-appointed strangers who lord over local communities instead of serving them are rampant.”
“Such overbearing undemocratic centralised governance structures are unacceptable in Europe and the United States. Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution was produced under the auspices of the UN, US and EU. Sadly, since the firing of Governor Nur, some Western ambassadors in Kabul appear to support President Ghani’s decision by demanding adherence to the ‘rule of law’. This despite the fact that they know full well the absurdity and undemocratic nature of the law that has produced the current growing conflict in Afghanistan.”
Why does the US not outlaw child marriages?
Talk of American hypocrisy is not new. Pushing for rights abroad while violating them at home is an oft thrown around allegation for the world’s second largest democracy – one that fits rather well with the country’s policy on child marriages, 70-80 percent of which end in divorce, explains The Economist.
“The country’s diplomats are active in international efforts to ban it abroad, but American children are still permitted to marry (albeit, usually, with parental consent and the approval or a judge or a clerk). No American state has passed a law that categorically forbids the practice.”
“Child marriage is most common in conservative religious communities and poor, rural areas. But it can be found in all socio-economic strata and in secular, as well as pious, families. More than 207,000 American minors were married between 2000 and 2015, according to an investigation by Frontline, a television programme. Over two-thirds were 17 years old, but 985 were 14, and ten were just 12. Twenty-seven states have no minimum age for marriage.”
“Opponents of a ban on child marriage can be found across the political spectrum. Social conservatives argue that early marriages can reduce births out-of-wedlock as well as the number of single mothers on welfare. They also want to see religious traditions and customs protected. Libertarians say that marriage should be a choice made apart from the state. On the left, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, a national group that offers reproductive-health services, have defended the practice because banning it would intrude on the right to marry. Supporters of a ban hold that if children are seriously committed to each other, they can wait until they are 18 to marry. And religious customs that hurt children should not be protected.”