Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Syria’s sarin whodunit: Assigning responsibility for war crime

Who crossed the red line in Syria? Figures within US intelligence circles may know who engineered the August 21 chemical attack in Ghouta, but the Obama administration has a stake in making sure the responsible parties are not held accountable.

For a few days last summer, the United States teetered on the precipice of a decision that would have profound ethical, political and security implications. The Obama administration claimed to have an ironclad case against the Syrian government, who it said was the only party that could have been responsible for carrying out an attack using sarin nerve gas in Ghouta, an eastern suburb of Damascus.

US spokespersons regarded any question of the Syrian government not being responsible for the attack as a preposterous notion, while Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at length of the moral imperative to respond militarily.

President Obama’s ‘red line’ had been crossed, prompting him to unveil plans for allied airstrikes across Syria to ‘punish’ the government of Bashar Assad. The administration aggressively asserted its stance – that Assad, and only Assad, could have used sarin – in the days following August 21, only for Obama to call for congressional approval for the intervention less than two days before the planned strikes. The congressional vote was called off once Washington agreed to a UN-backed plan to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal.

If the administration was so confident of its assessment of the events that unfolded on August 21, what influenced Obama to cancel his plans for military action? If the president chose not to consult Congress prior to his approval of intervention in Libya, why did he feel compelled to ask for congressional approval to strike Syria in the face of what the administration considered an egregious violation of his ‘red line’?

Despite the unrelenting resolve of Washington that the Syrian government committed a heinous crime, why has the White House failed to provide any additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack since the airstrikes were canceled?

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Obama in Saudi Arabia: Will Riyadh really go it alone?

Saudi officials are highly displeased over Washington’s overtures to Iran and reluctance to strike Syria and have threatened to break away from the US sphere, but the monarchy may still see an oil-for-security partnership with the US as the safest policy.

Following his visit to Brussels where US President Barack Obama underscored the common values and principles shared between the United States and its European allies, the American president jetted off to meet another strategic ally. Saudi Arabia, a state that is the antithesis of those very western values that Obama passionately espouses, has been in the US sphere of influence for decades, and its opulent royal family has traditionally maintained close personal ties to American leaders.

Obama’s visit comes in the midst of a policy rift that has emerged between the two allies over Washington’s policies in the Middle East, which threaten to undermine this significant economic and security partnership. The two allies appear to be strange bedfellows at first glance, but when the relationship is examined within the context of a long-standing geopolitical and economic oil-for-security partnership, lofty rhetoric about western values becomes subservient to the harmonious marriage of convenience.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Monday, 24 March 2014

On Beijing’s bad side: Malaysia faces political costs of MH370 disaster

The puzzling disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has seriously harmed Malaysia’s image abroad, and the government’s handling of the crisis has garnered criticism from domestic opposition parties and key ally, China.

As the search for the missing flight MH370 enters its third week, hopes are high that the large objects spotted in the inaccessible southern Indian Ocean might be related to the aircraft. Enormous resources have gone toward an extensive multinational search and rescue effort, said to be the largest in history, and a plentiful array of theories and speculation have been considered in the absence of hard facts.

The case of MH370 – the longest civil aircraft disappearance in modern history – is unprecedented, and aviation experts will likely be trying to put the pieces together for the next several months, if not years. It should be noted that any government would be ill prepared to deal with such an unusual disaster scenario.

For Malaysia – a country that has rarely faced disasters, terrorism or emergency situations – the shortcomings of the government’s response have been magnified by a lack of experience. Malaysia’s leaders have been thrust into a very unenviable position in the global spotlight, while the contradictory statements of government officials, a delayed release of information, and critical inaction of Malaysia’s military in responding to the aircraft as it flew wildly off course have all compounded the frustrations of the relatives of those onboard.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Will Israel’s demand for ‘Jewish state’ acceptance legitimize apartheid?

A lasting peace agreement between Israel and Palestine will forever be hypothetical as long as ethnic Arabs are forced to acquiesce to punishing structures of discrimination as part of the Obama administration’s new framework for peace.

In the two decades since the historic, but unrealized, Oslo agreement, the Palestinian leadership under the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has consistently met Israeli demands. The promise that a permanent Palestinian settlement based on UN resolutions 242 and 338 would be founded, and that Israel would withdraw to pre-1967 borders, looks as distant today as it was in 1993.

Palestinians were told to renounce violence and recognize the state of Israel, which effectively amounted to relinquishing Palestinian claims on a full 78 percent of their country, in exchange for Israel merely recognizing the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

The historic and overwhelming compromise of the Palestinian leadership has met all equitable demands that could be imposed on them with regard to recognizing Israel without being reciprocally recognized as an independent Palestine. Aside from being strong-armed into making punishing – even humiliating – diplomatic compromises, the Palestinian people have endured an occupation that displays a callous disregard for human life by killing thousands of Palestinian civilians, including children, in Gaza and the occupied West Bank with near total impunity.

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An edited version of this article appeared in the print edition of the New Straits Times.

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

US hypocrisy over ‘Russian aggression’ in Ukraine

As divisions deepen between the eastern and western regions of Ukraine, the backers of the putsch regime in Kiev portray Russia as a reckless aggressor to absolve their own responsibility for engineering the crisis.

While denunciations of Moscow have streamed out of western capitals in recent days over the standoff in Crimea, it should be understood that the political crisis currently unfolding in Ukraine could have been wholly avoided. In attempts to defuse unrest and maintain legal and societal order, ousted President Yanukovich offered remarkable concessions in his proposal to install opposition leaders in top posts in a reshaped government, which was rejected.

Russia expressed readiness to engage in tripartite negotiations with Ukraine and the European Union with the hope that both Moscow and Brussels could play a positive role in Ukraine’s economic recovery, but the EU was unwilling to accept such a proposal. The February-21 agreement was mediated by Russia, France, Germany and Poland and aimed to end the bloodshed in Kiev by reducing presidential powers and establishing a framework for a national unity government, in addition to electoral reform, constitutional changes, and early elections.

There was clearly no shortage of opportunities to ease the polarization of the Ukrainian state through an inclusive political solution, and yet the opposition failed to uphold its responsibilities, resulting in the ouster of Ukraine’s democratically elected leader to the detriment of the country’s political, economic, and societal stability.

As the new self-appointed authorities in Kiev dictate terms and push legislation through a rump parliament, the reluctance of western capitals to address the clearly dubious legitimacy of the new regime suggests that the US and EU condone what is effectively a coup d’├ętat with no constitutional validity.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

​Is Japan’s Shinzo Abe pivoting to the past?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has placed himself at the helm of countries that seek to counter China’s rise, as Tokyo’s right-wing leadership looks intent to ramp up its aggressive nationalistic stance with US support. Since returning to power in late 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has emerged as one of Japan's most influential prime ministers in decades.

Abe has attempted to put an end to the cycle of weak executive leadership with his long-standing nationalist vision of a more militarily assertive Japan, in addition to his efforts to pull the country out of a two-decade-long economic slump with an array of neoliberal reforms collectively referred to as ‘Abenomics.’ He has played upon nationalistic sentiment to accumulate an unusually strong grip on power in contrast to former Japanese prime ministers, leading his right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to gain unified control of parliament last year.

His visit to the Yasukuni war shrine last December, to a memorial site honoring convicted war criminals that died for the cause of Imperial Japan, strained ties with neighboring countries that once bore the brunt of a ruthless and unyielding Japanese occupation. Under Abe’s watch, high-level diplomatic contact with China has virtually dried up since Tokyo has more assertively defended its claims over the disputed chain of islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Shinzo Abe has also extended his support for a controversial state secrets law that could punish leakers, whistleblowers, and journalists with hefty prison sentences if the state determines wrongdoing. More than half of Japanese voters oppose the law and its negative effects on press freedom, while others have likened it to Imperial Japanese laws that ruthlessly curbed dissent.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Monday, 3 February 2014

Thailand’s political crisis: Time up for Thaksin?

General elections are widely seen as the answer to Thailand’s crippling political impasse, though Yingluck Shinawatra’s embattled government may be removed through either judicial or extra-legal means regardless of her performance at the polls.

Protestors calling for the ouster of Thailand’s caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra disrupted the February 2 polls by obstructing traffic and blocking access to voting sites, forcing authorities to postpone further voting until a later date is decided upon.

Thailand has been marred by political upheaval since November, and the country’s two rival protest movements accuse each other of launching anonymous attacks on one another, usually by targeted shootings or by the use of small explosives, leaving several dead.

The consensus of independent analysts and others who have monitored the attacks suggest that they were mostly launched by government supporters, who have used insurgent tactics in the past to support the Shinawatra political clan.

Thai political movements have been characterized in recent times by color affiliations. Protestors wearing yellow shirts represent the faction aligned to the all-powerful Thai monarchy and the royal establishment that has traditionally wielded tremendous social, political and economic power over the country.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at