Wednesday, 25 December 2013

​Who is to blame for the crisis in South Sudan?

The nascent civil war in South Sudan is a product of kleptocratic governance, systemic corruption, and political posturing that has reignited deep ethnic divisions between the nation’s two largest tribal groups.

The world’s youngest nation has been in disarray since December 14th, when sporadic gunfire and skirmishes broke out in the capital, Juba. Shortly after, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir announced that a coup had been attempted by members of his own presidential guard allied with Riek Machar, the ambitious former vice president who was purged in July. Since then, the country has been destabilized by fighting between government forces and members of the army loyal to Machar, forcing tens of thousands to abandon their homes and seek shelter in squalid UN bases throughout the country. Reports indicate that rebels have captured swathes of territory, including areas such as Bentiu, a northern provincial capital in the country’s most oil-rich region, and other economically strategic areas. Kiir belongs to the Dinka – the country’s most powerful and populous ethnic group – while Machar is ethnically Nuer, and sources claim that brutal ethnic violence has broken out between the two groups with heavy involvement by government forces.

Juba has insisted that its forces have only protected civilians and have not taken part in massacres, despite numerous reports of security forces arbitrarily targeting civilians belonging to the Nuer ethnic group. The resulting violence has prompted the UN to add nearly 6,000 international troops and police officers to the more than 7,600 peacekeeping forces already in the country.

The United States – which has been South Sudan’s main political backer prior to and since its independence in 2011 – has firmly declared their support for Kiir’s government and warned the rebels against attempts to seize power through military force. Though the current crisis has undeniable ethnic dimensions that have reemerged as a consequence of historically unsettled animosity between the Dinka and Nuer people, the crux of the problem is political. The rampant corruption and misuse of governmental authority in political and economic affairs has divided the ruling party (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement or SPLM), while the state’s inability to provide basic services and alleviate poverty has created widespread disenchantment in a society that was largely optimistic that independence would bring lasting peace.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Can Uruguay hash out a progressive model for cannabis reform?

If Uruguay’s cannabis policies succeed in curbing illegal drug trafficking and promoting responsible public use of the substance, other nations have no excuse not to experiment with alternative models of narcotics regulation.

The small Latin American nation of Uruguay has taken the brave step of becoming the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana, one of the several progressive policies being undertaken by the left-of-center government of President José Mujica. The former Marxist and guerilla revolutionary spent more than a decade in jail prior to his release in 1985, and he later climbed his way up the political ladder from an elected deputy to president in 2009. Known for maintaining a frugal lifestyle and a preference for giving most of his monthly salary to charities that benefit the poor, Mujica has overseen the legalization of gay marriage, abortion, and now marijuana. Uruguay has become perhaps the region’s most socially liberal country, and the state’s decision to regulate the sale of marijuana – a de facto nationalization – will allow it to tinker with policies that can be emulated elsewhere if proven successful.

The new legislation would make marijuana commercially available to adult citizens after registering in a government database; users will be able to purchase 40 grams of marijuana from pharmacies every month and cultivate up to six plants on their property. The government aims to make marijuana available for one dollar per gram, with the aim of undercutting the black market rate of $1.40 per gram. Uruguay is estimated to have some 120,000 to 200,000 daily-to-occasional cannabis users, and the rationale behind the policy is that instead of these users getting their marijuana from traffickers and local mafia groups, the sensible alternative is to rein in the $40 million domestic industry by legitimizing it and offering a good quality product which can be regulated and offered in a safe environment.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Perestroika in reverse? High-profile purge hints at N. Korea reform rift

The public sacking of Kim Jong-un’s uncle and mentor is not a sign of regime instability; it demonstrates that the young leader is firmly in control and is able to consolidate his power by purging any possible rival figures without question. 

The man widely believed to be the second-in-command in North Korea’s political hierarchy was been publicly chastened, stripped of all posts, and even forcibly removed by police officials during a political assembly.

Jang Song-thaek, the husband of former leader Kim Jong-il’s sister, has been politically intertwined with North Korea’s ruling family for over four decades. He climbed his way through the party, fell from grace in 2004, bounced back in 2006, and received a top military post in 2011 following the ascent of Kim Jong-un. Jang was frequently seen in public as the young leader’s mentor and adviser; he is known to have been a key figure in maintaining regime stability following the death of Kim Jong-il and was widely believed to be steering the state’s economic affairs, particularly in joint projects with China.

Jang’s purging and overt public denouncement in state-media is largely without precedent, turning an elite power broker into a reactionary agitator overnight. Sources indicate that Jang is already being given the Trotsky treatment as his name and image have reportedly begun being edited out of state-produced documentaries and articles.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Friday, 6 December 2013

Pope Francis & the globalization of indifference

In the midst of massive global inequality and economic austerity, Pope Francis’ embrace of frugality has fundamentally changed the Vatican’s narrative and breathed new life into the religious institution.

Against the backdrop of his damning critique of economic disparity, many can agree that the images of Pope Francis embracing the disfigured and washing the feet of convicts radiate the kind of humility that has been undermined by the singular dominance of capitalism and its self-centered value system.

Regardless of what faith or philosophy one subscribes to, the relevance of the Pope’s message – that capitalism has grown unmanageably reckless and tyrannical – cannot be shied away from.

The pontiff’s concept of the ‘idolatry of money’ has touched every facet of modern society. It is present in neoliberal leaders who slash social services and practice an unrestrained brand of capitalism. It’s in lobby groups and the corporate CEOs, bankers, and hedge fund managers that pull the strings of‘democracy’ from behind the scenes. It’s in environmental degradation stemming from the mass production of consumer goods under the wasteful planned obsolescence model.

It’s also in the immoral hegemony of the military-industrial-complex; in the drive to patent organisms, plants, and animals; and in the pop-culture circus that incentivizes the unchecked dominance of consumerism, self-absorption and narcissism.

Former leaders of the Catholic Church have made similar criticisms, but it is Francis’ ability to communicate to laymen and his willingness to embrace those on the margins of society that set him apart from the gold, scandal and pomp that the Vatican has become known for.

The Pope’s reformist activism, his frugality, and his economic and political views can shape the thinking of world’s billion-strong community of Catholics, but can also create social rifts generated by those opposed to his populist philosophy.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Thursday, 28 November 2013

US flyover in China-Japan island row: Will the real provocateur please stand up?

Washington’s move to fly nuclear-capable bombers over China’s eastern air defense zone as a forceful endorsement of Japan’s claims over disputed islands is both needlessly confrontational and totally counterproductive.

The territorial dispute over an uninhabited chain of islands in the East China Sea – referred to as the Senkaku Islands by Japan and the Diaoyu Islands by China – has been a highly contentious issue in Sino-Japanese relations for decades, and the issue has resurfaced in recent times as both sides assert their sovereignty over the area.

Mass protests were seen in China targeting Japan’s embassy and Japanese products, shops and restaurants when Tokyo’s far-right former Governor Shintaro Ishihara called on Japan to use public money to buy the islands from private Japanese owners in 2012.

The issue stirs passions in Chinese society because Tokyo’s claims are seen as an extension of the brutal legacy of the Japanese occupation and a direct challenge to strong historical evidence that has legitimized Chinese sovereignty over the area since ancient times.

Moreover, the official stance of the government in Beijing is that Japan’s invalid claims over the islands were facilitated and legitimized by a backdoor-deal between Tokyo and Washington that directly challenges international law and post-World War II international treaties.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Iran & P5+1: Will hardline spin doctors look to derail deal?

The deal on Iran's nuclear program is promising, but differences among the parties threaten the fragile pact. Israel and members of Congress call for more pressure, and Saudi Arabia signals nuclear ambitions in response to changing geopolitical climes.

The agreement clinched in Geneva between Iran and major world powers is the Obama administration’s most significant diplomatic achievement, and though ‘all options’ remain on the table officially, cooler heads in Washington and Tehran have both understood that even a modest deal is preferable to maintaining the status quo.

The US and Iran have different interpretations of the agreement and its impact on the right to enrich uranium in the long term. Though the current six-month interim agreement technically allows uranium enrichment to continue at 5 percent, Iranian FM Javad Zarif believes that a comprehensive deal eventually brokered after the current pact will fully accept Iran’s uranium enrichment process within the bounds of international law, while at the same time lifting all the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

On the other hand, Secretary of State John Kerry maintains – with maximum condescension – that “there will be a negotiation over whether or not they could have a very limited, completely verifiable, extraordinarily constrained program, where they might have some medical research or other things they can do, but there is no inherent right to enrich.”

The carefully-worded presentation of the pact – delivered by Obama and Kerry with trademark arrogance – was intended to ease the concerns of US hawks, Saudi spinsters, and Israeli belligerents as diplomats unveiled the most significant agreement between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bloodletting in Beirut: Iranian embassy bombing brings Islamic cold war to Lebanese soil

The double suicide bombing targeting the Iranian embassy in a Shiite district of southern Beirut is directly linked to the Syrian conflict and the external sponsors of fundamentalist militias losing ground to Assad’s forces.

The brutal attack on the morning of November 19 was carried out by a motorcyclist who detonated himself near the Iranian diplomatic compound, attempting to breach the walls to make way for another man in a car who attempted to drive as close to the embassy building as possible before detonating his device. The attackers failed to substantially damage the embassy, but the double-tap bombing took the lives of two dozen bystanders and first responders, while injuring over a hundred more.

These tactics directly reflect the methods used by Al-Qaeda against Shiite communities throughout Iraq in the worsening terror campaign raging between Sunnis and Shiites. For the first time, Iranian diplomats were targeted on Lebanese soil, and the attack undoubtedly represents deteriorating relations between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, the latter serving as the principle financier and arms supplier of the hardline Salafist militias fighting to topple the Syrian government, but losing.

The use of Iraqi-style terror tactics on Lebanese soil could be interpreted by some as a spillover from worsening fighting and lawlessness in Syria, but it is more accurately a measure taken by Salafist fighters in response to strategic victories by Assad’s forces, who have the upper hand and are quickly reconsolidating power.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Friday, 15 November 2013

TPP: From corporation personhood to corporate nationhood

The secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is the Obama administration’s bid to perpetuate US hegemony in Asia and lay the groundwork for a Pacific century led by American corporate and military muscle.

Although proponents of the TPP may claim that its focus is to help the economies of signatory countries create comprehensive market access, eliminate barriers to trade, improve labor rights and encourage environmental protection, every indication suggests that the wide-ranging agreement intends to maximize dramatically corporate revenues at the expense of public health and safety, civil liberties and national sovereignty.

While the significant majority of the draft text remains inaccessible and shielded from public scrutiny due to draconian non-disclosure agreements, leaks made available by courageous individuals via WikiLeaks indicate that this trade deal intends to champion corporate rights and blur the divisions between governments and multinationals. In essence, the stipulations of the trade deal would make governments – including their national laws to regulate public and environmental health – subservient to corporations and their maximization of profits.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Yemen’s got 99 problems, but a drone ain’t one

As Yemen faces a widely popular secessionist movement in the south, an entrenched Shiite rebel movement in the north, and a scattered Al-Qaeda insurgency campaign roused by US drone strikes, the state is effectively being pulled apart at the seams.

The central government in Sana’a is desperately weak and commands little authority outside the capital. Militant groups, rebels, and tribes seized the opportunity to embolden themselves, following the drawn-out resignation of strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in 2011. The ancient capital, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, is rife with bullet holes, damaged infrastructure, and rubble from past explosions and fires. As the poorest country in the Arab world, some 54.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and economic stagnation is worsening. The severe instability of the state today is a consequence of three decades of rampant mismanagement under Saleh’s rule, as he consolidated his power through a system of patronage that wildly enriched members of the country's tribal, economic, and military elite at the expense of the wider public. Following an assassination attempt that significantly injured him, Saleh handed over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who became president in February 2012, after he stood unopposed in elections.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Is Libya ripe for 2nd civil war?

The Libyan central government is so far failing to assert its authority over the country, buried in rampant infighting and lawlessness that could lead to civil war.

The failed coup that culminated in last month’s kidnapping of Libyan PM Ali Zeidan demonstrated the central government’s glaring lack of authority. Lawlessness has become an everyday feature of life; foreign embassies are targeted and attacked, rival militias and branches of Al-Qaeda vie for power, and the country’s borders are porous and outside the government’s control.

In another symbolic blow, a federalist movement in the eastern Cyrenaica region has declared an autonomous regional government. This region, known as Barqah, was the cradle of the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi and has been historically marginalized, despite being a generator of economic activity, with 80 percent of Libya's proven oil reserves and several strategic ports and oil refineries within its territory.
The people of Barqah seek autonomy and federalism to combat the political and administrative marginalization meted out by the central government in Tripoli, which refuses to recognize the region’s aspirations of self-rule, and has previously warned that it would forcefully respond over attempts to break away.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Friday, 1 November 2013

Isolated & discredited: Intransigent US policy impedes Cuba’s reforms

Despite the mutual economic benefits of normalizing ties with Cuba, the unceasing and immoral embargo further emboldens the Obama administration’s diplomatic incompetence.

It is no exaggeration to say that the world is opposed to the crippling economic embargo unilaterally imposed on Cuba by the United States. 188 nations approved a resolution calling for an end to the blockade at this year’s annual vote on the issue at the UN General Assembly, with only 2 countries opposing – the United States and Israel. The outcome was unsurprising, as Washington has refused to waver from its policy for over five decades, despite immense opposition from the international community that it so often claims to represent. As a result of the embargo, Cuba cannot sell its products on the US market and cannot use dollars in its transactions, hindering foreign trade, the establishment of joint ventures, and international investment. Third countries have been aggressively fined and pursued by the US to stop them from trading with Cuba, while fines against embargo violators have risen totaling $2.5 billion to date. Cuba is also prevented from accessing medical and surgical equipment, and drugs needed for the effective treatment of tumors, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and cancer.

According to Havana, the cost of the embargo to the Cuban economy is estimated at $1.1 trillion dollars. China and Venezuela railed against the US for its reactionary stance following the recent vote, while Russia criticized Washington’s policy as being “reminiscent of the Cold War.” The stance of every US president since Kennedy has effectively been, “give it time.”

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Renminbi rising: China’s ‘de-Americanized world’ taking shape?

China’s leadership will soon usher in bold reforms to support a domestic consumption-driven economic model, and globalizing the renminbi as an alternative store of wealth to the US dollar is at the center of the strategy.

The scathing commentary published by China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency calling for a ‘de-Americanized world’ was undoubtedly music to the ears of many in the developing world. The article – published during the recent fiscal deadlock – accused Washington of abusing its superpower status by engaging in unwarranted military conflicts, engineering regime changes with impunity, and mishandling its status as the issuer of the world reserve currency by exporting risk abroad. Xinhua’s commentary also called for drastic reforms of the IMF and World Bank to reflect the growing muscle of the developing world, and most significantly, “the introduction of a new international reserve currency that is to be created to replace the dominant US dollar.”

The planned reforms led by the Xi Jinping administration in Beijing should be viewed through the lenses of the position taken by this article, with the end goal being the full convertibility and internationalization of the renminbi.

Read the full story on RT.com

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

Sunday, 20 October 2013

BitTorrent ethics: Punishing piracy or criminalizing sharing?

If you live in a densely populated modern city, there is a strong chance that wireless network transmissions that are in breach of copyright law could be around you at this very moment.

The decentralized network architecture known as peer-to-peer (P2P) communications allows files of all kinds to be shared over the internet with other users without monetary exchange, and millions utilize this technology on daily basis. To some, this kind of exchange represents a new paradigm shift in sharing arts and culture that has the potential to empower new content producers who would have otherwise been consumers, while giving rise to a new decentralized economic model. To those who have a stake in maintaining the pre-eminence of copyright laws over the means of distribution, the millions who utilize these new habits of consumption are likened to renegade sea-bandits in arms – pirates – and they need to be stopped.

Most file-sharing is utilized through BitTorrent, and involves a host website that supports an index of .torrent files that can be downloaded in separate client applications. The content itself is not stored on a single centralized hard drive, but rests on the individual hard drives of millions of users who share their files through a P2P network, making file-sharing very difficult to regulate. The kinds of files that are shared range from films and music to software and e-books. All of it is done without monetary exchange, just as one would share the same kind of content with a friend. Much like the printing press, cassette recorders, VCRs, cable television, mp3 players and the like, the film studios of Hollywood and the recording industry view such innovations as an existential threat to their industries - and file-sharing has become the present day object of a witch-hunt led by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its counterpart, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Ready to detonate: Saudi-backed rebels strap bombs to Geneva-2 talks

As Syria’s rebels refuse to take part in Geneva-2, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the primary state-backer of rebel groups now trying to escalate the Syrian conflict and topple Assad by force.

When Vladimir Putin met with Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia in August, the newly appointed Intelligence Chief reportedly tried to cut a deal with Moscow by promising to buy billions in Russian arms and pledging not to challenge Russian gas sales to Europe in exchange for withdrawing support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Though later refuted by the Kremlin, the media reports suggested that Bandar told Putin to forget about any political solution to the Syrian conflict.

In addition to being the main propagator of a militant anti-Shiite form of Islam that many rebel fighters subscribe to, the Saudi monarchy has become the chief financier of anti-Assad movements aimed at toppling the Syrian government and weakening its allies in Iran and Hezbollah. Russian diplomatic sources claim that the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus was carried out by a Saudi-black op team with support from the Liwa Al-Islam group, a hardline militia headed by the son of a Saudi-based Salafi cleric.

Following the attack in August, Saudi Arabian diplomats pressured Obama to take military action – the collective message was, "You can't as president draw a line and then not respect it."

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 11 October 2013

PM kidnapping fiasco: ‘Liberated’ Libya is chaos-state

Although the detention of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan only lasted a few hours, it was a bold indication of the country’s deepening instability since the civil war that toppled strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In the early hours of October 10, militants whisked Zeidan out of a luxury suite in the Corinthia Hotel, regarded as one of the most secure places in Tripoli, without a shot being fired. The gunmen who abducted the prime minister belonged to one of the many former rebel militias now interwoven into Libya's fragmented power structure as an improvised police force. Militants were angered by the capture of suspected militant Abu Anas al-Liby, who was abducted days earlier off the streets of Tripoli by US Special Forces in connection to the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Prime Minister Zeidan was held over suspicion that he allowed al-Libi’s abduction to take place, despite publicly raising concerns over the illegality of the snatch to US authorities. Reports indicate that Zeidan's abductors were not willing to let him go, and that another militia – calling itself the 'Reinforcement Force' – intervened and freed the prime minister by force. The Libyan leader escaped unharmed, certainly the best scenario that could have resulted from this crisis. Information trickled out slowly in the tense few-hour period during which Zeidan’s whereabouts were unknown, and had allied militias not come to his aid, the situation could have spiraled into a hostage crisis or worse.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

No sunshine: Preemptive strike rationale deepens N. Korean status quo

Seoul and Washington have signed a new military pact that provides for carrying out preemptive strikes on North Korea, a move that will only deepen mutual distrust and damage inter-Korean cooperation. In stark contrast to the hardline saber-rattling that ensued following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in February, ties between the two Koreas have simmered significantly in recent months with the reopening of the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex in September after five months of closure.

Still, diplomatic exchanges always seem go nowhere, and often end in finger-pointing. Since coming to power earlier this year, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has further entrenched the policies of her deeply unpopular predecessor, Lee Myun-bak, with a harder military stance on Pyongyang. Seoul’s posturing recently culminated in a massive military parade showcasing homemade cruise missiles capable of hitting targets anywhere within North Korea, as well as Israeli-made Spike missiles that have been deployed right on the tense Northern limit line separating the two countries. Seoul plans to spend nearly $1 billion dollars on enhancing its missile defense capabilities over the next year.

Following a recent meeting between Chuck Hagel and the South Korea’s Defense Ministry, the so-called "Tailored Deterrence Strategy" has been rolled out, detailing the protocol for a preemptive strike on North Korea in the event of Pyongyang’s impending usage of WMDs. According to the doctrine, Seoul can employ not only conventional strikes and missile defense capabilities, but also the American nuclear umbrella. Starting from 2014, the US Air Force will begin flying surveillance drones near North Korean borders to gather intelligence data.

Pyongyang hasn’t exactly applauded this news, and has fired back, promising to preempt any strike by attacking first. The scenario is a familiar one – Seoul and Pyongyang armed to the teeth, promising mutually assured destruction and war in one of the world’s most densely populated and economically productive regions.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

‘Shutdown’: China’s Xi upstages Obama’s Asia pivot

When the clock struck midnight on October 1st, there was plenty more optimism in Beijing than in Washington. In China, people gathered in Tiananmen Square to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s founding. In the US, the situation was much grimmer.

A kabuki theatre of incompetence that brought about a federal government shutdown, has failed hundreds of thousands of government employees while cutting billions on social programs spending. Now Washington faces the very real scenario of a default. The problems posed by the US domestic situation are so dire that Obama was forced to cancel high-profile trips to Asia-Pacific countries, in fear of the debt ceiling crashing down on his presidency. Obama was supposed to visit the APEC Summit in Bali, the ASEAN meeting in Brunei, as well as pay visits to Malaysia and the Philippines – two countries that feature prominently in the “Pivot to Asia” policy unveiled in 2011. Instead, he sent the court jester, John Kerry, in his place.

With Obama’s wings clipped and Air Force One grounded, China’s President Xi Jinping swooped in and stole the show, cutting billion-dollar deals on landmark visits to Indonesia and Malaysia, and securing the spotlight for the APEC and ASEAN conferences. While Xi came arm-in-arm with his classy wife for a massive charm offensive that topped headlines in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, Obama twiddled his thumbs in the Oval Office and played the blame game with Republicans, like truculent teenagers. Given the extreme value placed on the concept of saving or losing face in Chinese culture, this can only be a “paper tiger” moment for Obama when viewed through the lens of Beijing. Obama’s no-show is yet another symbolic indication of the winds of global power blowing eastward, as the two largest economies vie for influence in military affairs and markets throughout the Asia-Pacific region: this century’s global locomotive for economic development.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Netanyahu fear mongering over Iran to mask Israel's lack of legitimacy

The Israeli Prime Minister may have left his cartoon bomb at home, but his latest appearance at the UN contained no shortage of dubious claims aimed at strangling the nascent US-Iran rapprochement in its cradle.

Just three days after the historic phone call between US President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani, hopes for a thaw in relations between the two countries were dashed when Obama confirmed that military options were still on the table during a press conference with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office. In his eloquent address to the General assembly, Rouhani explicitly cited the "military options on the table" position as being an illegal and ineffective contention, prior to explicitly declaring, "peace is within reach." Obama's unwillingness to deviate from his dominant line comes as no surprise looking back to his excessively uni-polar and exceptionalist address to the general assembly. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif immediately decried Obama's flip-flop, and urged Washington to show consistency in dealing with Iran to promote trust - a unexceptional plea that will most likely prove to be too much for Washington to adhere to.

Whatever glimmers of pragmatism employed by the Obama administration in its dealings with the incumbent administration in Tehran at the start of the general assembly were overshadowed by Washington's unshakeable bond with Israel as Netanyahu visited the White House and took to the podium as the final speaker. Obama is not quite transparently about to turn his back on the "warmongering pressure groups" Rouhani warned that would enact measures to maintain the status quo in his address. For those radicals who dominate the political establishment in Tel Aviv, the coherent and temperate Rouhani is incomparably more troublesome than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose bellicosity allowed Israel to more plausibly sell its anti-Iran narrative. As many journalists and always analysts point out, following Israel's tirades, Tel Aviv has Iran accused of being "months away from the bomb" for over two decades.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Obama & Rouhani: The historic handshake that never happened

As political leaders in Washington and Tehran signal they are in favor of diplomacy, is a genuine rapprochement between the two powers actually possible? The speeches at this week’s UN General Assembly by the leaders of Iran and the US, although each striking conciliatory tones, both envisage a vastly different international order. Recently-elected President Hassan Rouhani, in his first speech to the assembly, reiterated that the Iranian nuclear issue is essentially a red herring, while eloquently addressing the moral deficiencies of the international order as it exists today. He spoke of the human cost of sanctions that devastate communities and the most vulnerable members of society, the illogicality of militaristic pursuits of hegemony, and the need for an international order that rests upon nations existing on an equal footing and the primacy of international law. Rouhani called upon nations to form a peacemaking coalition that rejects extremism and warmonger coalitions. Rouhani’s words were not bellicose, but grounded in moderation and compassionate sensibilities that reflect a growing consensus of global opinion in favor of a truly multipolar world.

The Iranian president’s speech reflects a world view that Iranians themselves overwhelmingly favor, and those who voted him into office are the victors, as Rouhani has taken to the world stage and emerged as a true statesmen and a representative of his people. Unfortunately, this is the point where optimism turns into pessimism. President Barack Obama’s speech, although conciliatory in some respects, was spoken through the lens of unilateralism and the mythology of exceptionalism that has dominated decision-making in the US for decades. Substantial elements of his speech were attempts to justify existing US policy, which is viewed as increasingly unsustainable and narrow throughout many corners of the world. In his 40-minute speech, Obama’s words reverberated in an Orwellian echo chamber, as the orator attempted to dress reactionary positions in the clothing of morality.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Cold War redux: Washington turbo-militarizes China’s backyard

While the Middle East teeters on the brink of another prolonged conflict that would engender some form of US involvement, the Obama’s administration’s shift away from the region and toward East Asia is easier said than done. Though the “Pivot to Asia” policy of the Obama administration may not be stealing all the headlines, US military presence around the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca is quietly building up, giving rise to increased American muscle in Southeast Asia. Obama announced the pivot policy during a visit to Australia in 2011, declaring a fully equipped 2,500-strong Marine task force operating from Darwin by 2016. The pivot to Asia is anything but an empty catchphrase, as the US Air Force is beginning to bolster its presence in bases in Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, with plans to move 60 percent of US warships to the region by 2020. It’s no secret that these developments are the Pentagon’s response to China’s ever-increasing military and economic clout, and Uncle Sam is boldly sending the message that he’s coming to town.

Washington’s objective is to build a Cold War-style security ring around China by deepening military partnerships with American allies in Southeast Asia, while broadening its capacity to police vital trade and energy chokepoints. Around 80 percent of China’s oil imports pass through the Straits of Malacca in addition to much of its freight trade, and the deepening US presence being established by the Pentagon is designed to limit China’s access to energy and raw material in the event of a major conflict or political crisis. Washington also aims to rope Southeast Asia into its economic sphere through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a plurilateral free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the US and a handful of Pacific-rim states, with China distinctively excluded. Ongoing TPP trade negotiations have been hampered time and time again due to growing public disapproval and the reluctance of some participatory nations to accept broadened intellectual property rights legislation that would benefit US firms, as well as drastic deregulation of financial sectors and measures that would undermine existing laws in participating countries.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 6 September 2013

No law will stop Obama's democracy-bombs over Syria

Regardless of how Congress votes, Obama is going to attack Syria. The president is doing his best to avoid constructive dialogue when the focus should be international law, not ‘international norms’ as defined by Washington.

As world leaders descend on the Russian city of St. Petersburg to discuss global tax regimes and international trade, this year’s G20 Summit is really a G20+1, with an extra seat allocated for the massive elephant in the room.

Many of the leaders attending have brought along their foreign ministers, as the summit will also informally serve as a global platform to discuss the sorry state of affairs in Syria. One can only speculate as to the substance of any exchanges between President Putin and his American counterpart and forced smiles will be in no short supply.

“He is lying and knows he is lying. It’s sad,” said Putin, of John Kerry’s address to the US Congress. That about sums it up – the lies and deceit of the Obama administration are so breathtaking, so innumerable, and they’re being trumpeted knowingly and shamelessly. Want a taste of highly moral and ethical narrative being championed in favor of “the Syrian people?” Look no further than the New York Times, with its recent headline “Bomb Syria, Even If It Is Illegal,” which argues that Obama and his poodles should “declare that international law has evolved and that they don’t need Security Council approval to intervene in Syria."

The establishment press is calling for blood, and they're claiming the moral high ground while doing it – slightly pathological? You bet. The insane are really running the asylum on this one.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Western logic on Syria: ‘We need to bomb it to save it’

The military buildup in the Mediterranean indicates that Assad’s opponents intend to militarily intervene in Syria under cover of ‘humanitarian intervention’, a disingenuous narrative that could not be further from the truth. Pictures and videos that have surfaced following the alleged use of chemical agents in the eastern suburbs of Damascus are profoundly disturbing and a thorough and substantial investigation into what took place there is absolutely essential. However, it is conversely disturbing that those Western governments who have staunchly supported anti-government militants are using this opportunity to legitimize the use of force against the government in Damascus.

The United States, Britain, and France are unwavering in their assertions that the Assad government and the Syrian Arab army were the perpetrators of the chemical weapon attack, despite no evidence to substantiate these claims. These governments seem to be sure that Damascus is guilty on the basis of it preventing a UN investigation team from visiting the site, and when investigators eventually did reach the area, it didn’t matter to them because they argued that the Syrian government had destroyed all evidence of wrongdoing. Assad’s opponents have constructed a deeply cynical and hysterical political narrative that Western leaders are now parroting in unison.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Financial Fukushima: Is ‘Abenomics’ making Japan ‘Abenauseous’?

While Japan faces mounting risks and a dangerous cleanup at the failed Fukushima nuclear plant, the situation may be similarly bleak for the Japanese economy in the short term. Ladies and Gentlemen, Japan is basically screwed. There are no two ways about it – with its rapidly-aging population, the unmanageable environmental disaster in Fukushima, and government debt to GDP levels at a staggering +240 percent, Japan will soon be teetering on the brink of a very turbulent situation.

Mainstream financial pundits and prominent Western economists have had a lot of nice things to say about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's highly-touted ‘Abenomics’ economic reform program, and Abe’s strong mandate in recent parliamentary elections was treated as a green light to continue pressing ahead. But there is reason to believe that Japan may not be able to finance its gargantuan pile of debt for much longer.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Ulver's MESSE I.X-VI.X

For two decades, the music of Ulver has both challenged and transfixed. The Norwegian group delves into thick layers of avant-garde that most casual listeners would not so easily commit to, but for those that do, the experience is rewarding. Their eclectic catalogue is not bound to genre – from folk and uncompromising raw black metal in their early days, to trip-hop, glitch, film score, and psychedelic rock in their more recent offerings. In my view, Ulver are not recording artists in the traditional sense, but artists who use sound as their medium, as a sculptor would use clay. Their latest album, MESSE I.X–VI.X, is an intimate and compelling recording that is indicative of the group’s continual maturity in its quality and scope of work. The record is haunting, contemplative, empathetic and consistent with Ulver’s previous albums in that solemnity is its constant. The Tromsø Chamber Orchestra commissioned the music on the album, and Ulver’s ability to seamlessly weave together orchestrational score with electronic soundscapes is what defines this record. 

The opening track, “As Syrians pour in, Lebanon grapples with ghosts of a bloody past,” is Ulver’s response to the war that has shaken the Levant region for some time now. When vocalist Kristoffer Rygg was asked about the significance of the song title in an interview, he conceded that “We live in troubled times,” and that Ulver has “no [political] ideology for sale. Only our sadness.” Sounds of vultures and gunfire echo under the droning low-end reverberations throughout the track while somber melodies build, giving rise to choiring hymns. The first movements of orchestration around the four-minute mark strike the listener with a haunting sharpness that is as evocative as it is beautiful. The music’s atmosphere conjured in my mind’s eye images of suffering suggested by the title – the shattered lives, the innocents, the lines of bodies in white shrouds, al-Houla – and yet the movements and elegant passages also bring compassion and resolve. 



The record flows impeccably into rhythmic electronic textures that bare some resemblance to Coil’s later work, albeit Ulver places greater emphasis on melody, and the marriage of organic and synthetic sound. The warm electronic passages, often accompanied by orchestra, dancing feedback and digital textures, soothe and rivet the ears. The use of percussion is sparse, but it boldly accentuates the ambiance when it is present. Vocals are heard for the first time halfway through the album on “Son of man” and they come in the form of a plea, seeking deliverance and solace. Ulver’s lyrical themes are almost always philosophical in nature, and in reflection of the sins of mankind, the destruction and sacrifice, Rygg wailingly delivers the line “What kind of choir of angels will receive us?” I wonder that question a lot to myself too. The crescendo of percussion, electronics and orchestra that follows is perhaps the most determined and hopeful moment throughout. The climax of the track is one of the highpoints of Ulver’s entire catalogue.

The subtlety of the quiet moments and their withdrawn undertones bridge together more complex arrangements, where noise and samples are sculpted in to a new tangible form, as masterfully heard in “Noche oscura del alma”. The album’s conclusion, “Mother of Mercy,” opens with a ballad, a similar plea, offering words that evoke images of old Jerusalem and the plight of Christ, giving way to a gradual finale, both melancholic and anxious over sounds of prayer and worship. Alas, we live in troubled times. Ulver has overcome and has ascended to a higher stage with MESSE I.X–VI.X. Masterful is the only word for it. The sounds are as elegant as they are morose, while the compositional soundscapes are erudite and innovative. The group has defied industry norms by cutting themselves free of intermediaries while producing and manufacturing the album themselves, and the sacrifices they’ve made for their art are highly appreciated by Ulver’s small but dedicated fan base. Ulver are both pioneers and wanderers of their genre, and one would hope that their catalogue would expand for a long time to come.

Click here to purchase a digital copy of MESSE I.X–VI.X from Ulver's webshop.

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Bahrain protests: Will the House of Khalifa fall like a house of cards?

Mass protests in Bahrain are by no means a sectarian conflict, though they threaten to further entrench political polarization and serve as an ugly thorn in the Bahraini monarchy’s side unless they hear the popular calls for constitutional reform. Despite Bahraini PM Sheikh al-Khalifa’s warning to pro-democracy activists that they face longer prison sentences and the stripping of their citizenship if they take part in August 14’s scheduled opposition rally, protesters are expected to take to the streets en masse.

The tiny island nation has seen near-daily protests and skirmishes between demonstrators and security forces since the regional Arab Spring protests in 2011, and the US-allied monarchy has responded with draconian measures that ban public demonstrations in the capital, Manama. The ongoing protest movement, which has been secular and largely peaceful, brought more than half the country’s 535,000 citizens onto the streets at its peak, but attracted minimal levels of attention from international media outlets. The scant coverage of the subsequent crackdown by Bahraini authorities, which included the military occupation of a public hospital and the arrest of doctors who treated injured protesters, has led many to suggest that Western and Gulf media outlets have been complicit in the monarchy’s efforts to suppress news of protests coming out of the country.

The brute heavy-handedness of the monarchy, which led to the deaths of some 80 people since 2011, may have driven people into their homes and discouraged them from speaking out, but public animosity toward the reactionary regime shows no sign of letting up.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Mugabe victory in Zimbabwe: Dictatorship or Decolonization?

With another 5 years in power, Mugabe promises to expand his “indigenization” policy, whose failure would beget a drying up of foreign investment and increased economic isolation. After Robert Mugabe has secured another five-year term as president of Zimbabwe, his self-empowerment policy, which gives black Zimbabweans a 51 percent stake in all existing foreign owned businesses, will hopefully inspire a regional shift towards pro-indigenization policies. 

Few modern African leaders have been both so passionately supported and endlessly condemned as President Robert Mugabe, an ardent nationalist and black liberation figure who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980. Despite the hardships and crippling hyperinflation brought on by Western sanctions as a result of ethnically polarizing land reform policies, Mugabe’s legacy as the country’s national liberator – as the man who laid down the core demands for national independence, and won – provokes an intense national fervor that has secured his victory in every election. 

It wasn’t so long ago that every inch of Zimbabwe, once known as “Rhodesia” after the British mining magnet Cecil Rhodes, was owned by a clique of white colonialists who made up 4.3 percent of the population. The masses of black Africans were brutally enslaved and forced to live under punishing exploitation, while Zimbabwe’s land and natural resources were taken violently and divided amongst European settlers. The landslide victory of Mugabe in late July 2013 elections suggests that much of the population views him as the answer to the post-independence “black man's burden” – reaping meager profits from resources exploited by multinationals while continuing to be subservient to non-Africans who monopolize the continent’s most arable land.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Elections in Mali: Francophile A vs. Francophile B

While many citizens long for stability as Mali holds its first presidential elections since the 2012 coup, France and others are positioning themselves to reap the rewards of military intervention from the impoverished resource-rich nation.

As one of the world’s poorest countries, day-to-day life in Mali has never been easy for the vast majority of the people, but the situation has significantly deteriorated since the March 2012 military-coup that deposed democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré just weeks before scheduled elections. The borders of Mali, once known as "French Sudan," are based on boundaries drawn by French colonists who took little notice of the ethnic homogeneity of the groups living within the lines they drew across the map, the ramifications of which still create deep-seated tribal and ethnic conflicts across Africa today. Mali is defined socially as well as economically between the fertile south where the capital Bamako is located, and an arid neglected north where ethnic Tuaregs have long sought autonomy. The coup’s main protagonist, Captain Amadou Sanogo, had been handpicked by the Pentagon to participate in an international military education and training program sponsored by the US State Department.

After several stints in the United States undertaking military education, Sanogo returned to Mali and staged the coup, which he justified by accusing President Touré’s regime of being complacent and unable to quell the latest Tuareg rebellion in the north. The EU and US, along with international institutions like the World Bank, immediately cut aid and slapped sanctions on the desperately poor import-reliant nation, which only exacerbated disorder and war-like conditions, making any advance against the Islamists impossible. Despite its impoverishment, Mali is an Eldorado of sorts, boasting massive gold reserves, uranium deposits, as well as diamonds and oil. The outrage over the coup displayed in European capitals had more to do with Touré being a Francophile, and a guarantor of stability for foreign multinationals, despite his democratic credentials. Many in Bamako empathized with Sanogo’s position and supported the coup; people were even seen in the streets of Bamako with placards bearing slogans like “Down with the International Community” in the wake of the economic embargo being imposed.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Will Rouhani bring a tectonic shift to Iran's political landscape?

Nile Bowie discusses the challenges and controversies of recent Iranian political developments with award-winning journalist Kourosh Ziabari:

NB: Hassan Rouhani, a reform-minded moderate cleric and former nuclear negotiator under President Khatami, will be Iran's new president. There is talk in Washington of direct US-Iran talks in light of Rouhani coming to power. Rouhani campaigned on a platform of trying to “normalize” relations with the West, and he even made statements like, “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people's lives and livelihoods are also running." Given Rouhani’s stance, did the Iranian public treat these elections as a public referendum on the nuclear issue? And how did Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei interpret the results?
KZTo be honest with you, I should confess that the June 14 presidential elections in Iran was firstly an examination for the current of extremist rightists who believed that the country's affairs could be managed through maintaining hostility and animosity with the Western world, prolonging the nuclear controversy and relying on skimpy business and trade with Russia and China. The candidate of this stream, Mr. Saeed Jalili, simply attracted an insignificant minority of the votes, 11.37%. I'm not saying that succumbing to the irrational demands of the world powers is a solution to Iran's problems, but the political parties and streams supporting Mr. Jalili, who was supposedly Dr. Rouhani's main contender, but came third in the final vote, irresistibly believed that the nuclear standoff with the West was not something significant and crucial for the future of the country. This is while Dr. Rouhani and his massive supporters had astutely come to the conclusion that the nuclear issue was the country's main concern and the Achilles heel that was paralyzing the country's economy, political structure and international stature. 
 As a result, Dr. Rouhani based his campaign slogans on his foreign policy priorities which included the normalization of relations with the West in general, and the United States in particular, interaction with the outside world, improving Iran's ties with its neighboring countries and finally bringing the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program to an end. As you precisely mentioned, the recent elections in Iran have been a public referendum on the nuclear issue. Even the most ordinary Iranian citizen had recognized that the staggering inflation, unusual supply of money in the society, the skyrocketing increase in the price of consumer goods, housing and automobiles, the unprecedented devaluation of Iran's currency, Rial, and the annoying unemployment of the educated youth all stemmed from mismanagement in Iran's nuclear program. According to some critics of President Ahmadinejad's foreign policy, if nuclear energy is our inalienable right, which unquestionably is, then cheap and inexpensive foodstuff, medicine and medical services, safe and secure transportation, a renewed aviation fleet, high-speed internet connection, employment, housing, free education and proper income are our inalienable rights, as well. As for the Supreme Leader, he doesn't seem to be dissatisfied with the results, but of course his favorite president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is leaving the office, and after all, Dr. Hassan Rouhani is a reformist, and Ayatollah Khamenei has been traditionally unfriendly with the reform-minded politicians, unlike the late founder of Islamic Revolution Imam Khomeini.
NB: When Rouhani was Iran’s nuclear negotiator, he played a key role in reaching an agreement with France, Britain and Germany that resulted in Iran suspending its uranium enrichment program. Would Rouhani concede to freezing the country’s civilian nuclear program to ease Western pressure, despite Iran being an abiding signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty? What could the response be from the Supreme Leader if Rouhani accepts US measures that are deemed to be wholly unfavorable to Iran?
KZWell, as you may have noted, President Rouhani implied during his first press conference on June 17 that the age of suspending uranium enrichment has passed. He says this because Rouhani is not alone in making decisions about Iran's nuclear program. We have the parliament's (Majlis) influential Foreign Policy and National Security Committee which is consisted of a number of conservative lawmakers mostly opposed to the reformist movements in Iran who boldly and resolutely resist the decisions of the president if they wish, the state TV which is supervised by the representative of the Supreme Leader and has a great impact on the course of political developments in the country, and above all, the Supreme Leader himself, who has the final say on the most of foreign policy issues, particularly the nuclear issue and the possible direct negotiations with the United States. 
 So, suspending the enrichment of uranium which is seen as an unforgivable crime in Iran, cannot be put on agenda. However, everything depends on the craftsmanship of President Rouhani who has demonstrated that as a diplomat, he is able to handle the affairs in such a way that all the disputes can be settled in a short period of time. He may give certain concession to the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, UK and the U.S.) which neither the Supreme Leader nor the parliament hardliners can criticize or deny. For example, he may accept a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment in return for the freezing of the banking and gold sanctions. As the next step, he may put forward the offer that Iran can ship a certain amount of its low-enriched uranium (LED) to France or Russia and receive fuel rods for using in Tehran Research Reactor. 
This step can be reciprocated by the lifting of EU's oil embargo against Iran. Finally, Iran can promise to suspend its 20% enrichment of uranium, and continue enriching uranium to the extent of 3.5%, as it was doing before 2003. This can be a promising and serious sign that Iran is determined to resolve the nuclear standoff. And as a reward, the United States and European Union can lift all the sanctions and move toward the full normalization of relations with Iran and settle the remaining disputes on such cases as human rights, Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S. support for the anti-Iran terrorist cult MKO. In this path, both parties should learn to forget about the past grievances and only contemplate on the future. Such an approach would guarantee Iran's rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to have a peaceful nuclear program, and will alleviate the concerns of the international community regarding the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities.
NB: In the run up to the recent elections, Washington cast doubt over the legitimacy of the electoral process in Iran, while many mainstream analysts implied that these elections would somehow be controlled by the Supreme Leader, and that his candidate would surely be the winner. The opposite turned out to be true, with the only reformist being elected with a strong majority. Do you think these elections were portrayed fairly by Western media?
KZThe electoral process in Iran had not been frequently challenged and questioned by the Western powers prior to the 2009 presidential election which was marred with the allegations of vote-rigging. It was surely an irretrievable damage to Iran's public image in the world; however, we should scientifically investigate and figure out whether the reelection of President Ahmadinejad was fraudulent or not. At any rate, this was the only election in the Islamic Republic's history which was labeled with vote-rigging, and I cannot say for sure if the allegations leveled by the West are true. Of course we had several parliamentary and presidential elections in which the reformists came to power; so it's not the case that those who are elected are necessarily the hand-picked choices of the Supreme Leader. 
At least in the 2013 election, it was demonstrated that those who undermine Iran's electoral process have been thinking wrongfully. A reformist president was elected who certainly was not the favorite choice of the Supreme Leader. The portrayal of Iran's presidential elections by the Western mainstream media resembles their general depiction of the Iranian society, their attitude toward the cultural, social and political developments in Iran and their viewpoint toward the Iranian lifestyle. They cannot detach themselves from the cliches which they have been parroting about Iran. This lopsided, impartial and biased portrayal of Iran has caused millions of American and European citizens to think of Iran as a retarded, uncivilized, deserted and miserable country with people who are not familiar with the representations of the modern civilization. Of course they don't allow their audience to know that Iran is a country which had once stood atop the peaks of human civilization, science, literature and "decent" way of living...
NB: What does Rouhani’s victory say about the changing political sentiments in Iran after two terms of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Where is Iran today after Ahmadinejad more generally – in terms of economic and social conditions? How do you think Iranians will remember Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
KZ: Well, it's wrong to evaluate the performance of politicians in black and white. Like every other president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had remarkable contributions to his society, and of course pitfalls and shortcomings which deteriorated the lives of the Iranians across the country. However, I think for the majority of Iranians, especially those who live in the urban areas, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tenure will be remembered as a period of economic hardships, political tensions and social restrictions as manifested in the closure of newspapers, cultural associations like the House of Cinema and the Association of Iranian Journalists. 
Ahmadinejad, as the second non-cleric president of Iran's history, could have left a memorable legacy for the Iranian people, but by selecting incompetent managers, disallowing the journalists and experts to critique and evaluate his performance, taking up an aggressive and confrontational foreign policy and attending to the issues which were not relevant to him, tarnished his own reputation. But please don't forget that once he was in power, I always supported him and his administration against the spates of attacks being unleashed on him by the Western media, but now that he is leaving office, it's time to talk about the tough 8 years we had with him more transparently. Let's bear this in mind, that criticizing Ahmadinejad is not equivalent to being opposed to the Iranian government or the Islamic system. We all stand by our country and defend it against the ill-wished, ill-mannered enemies, but now, we want a peaceful and constructive interaction with the world instead of enmity and hostility.
NB: Iran’s model of religious democracy is basically unprecedented – it aims to blend modern participatory electoral politics together with a system of governance based upon Islamic ethics, administered by religious officials. Despite hardships and difficulties imposed by Western sanctions since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, it is a political system that continues to claim massive public support. What are Iran’s biggest achievements? Have attitudes both internationally and domestically changed towards Iran after the recent elections in contrast to what happened in 2009?
KZUnquestionably, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was a turning point in the course of Iran's contemporary history. It brought to an end frequent years of Iranian government's subservience and obedient to the United States. The revolution emerged out of several years of civil protests against the tyrannical government of Mohammad Reza Shah. The Pahlavi dynasty had blatantly denied the Iranian citizens their basic political, social and economic rights. The whole country was kept in a constant state of underdevelopment and backwardness, the equal distribution of wealth was not on the government's agenda and the economic situation of the country was really deplorable. Although the foreign diplomacy of Iran was vivacious thanks to the strong relationships the court had with the White House, people were usually dissatisfied with their living conditions. The government was unable to meet the people's demands and provide them with the facilities they needed for a moderate life. 
Following the revolution, the number of universities, schools, hospitals, roads, sports stadiums, housing units, department stores, cinemas, theaters, public libraries, factories, power plants and other infrastructures needed for the development of the country increased significantly and a new movement began for the renovation of the country's infrastructures. You may not believe, but prior to the 1979 revolution, people in tens of major cities and thousands of villages in Iran didn't have access to electricity, drinking water, fossil fuels and safe roads. It was the revolution that swayed the government officials to think of new solutions for improving the people's livelihoods and enhancing the infrastructures. 
Imam Khomeini, the late founder of Islamic Revolution, was a reform-minded spiritual leader, and this is why certain extremist insiders at the top of the Iran's political echelon are afraid of his thoughts and his approach toward the way of managing the country's affairs. You see that two of the close allies of Imam Khomeini, namely Mirhossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi were unexpectedly put under house arrest after they protested the results of the 2009 presidential elections. Their only crime was that they run against the incumbent President Ahmadinejd, otherwise, I don't see any reason for their unwarranted imprisonment. Albeit it should be added that the United States and its European allies also irreparably betrayed the reform movement by explicitly supporting Mousavi and Karroubi in the 2009 election and calling them opposition leaders, and this gave the hardliners in Iran an excuse to stigmatize them and deprive them of their political rights and somehow exclude them from the political scene. 
So, back to business, I think Imam Khomeini founded a new political system which was supposed to respond to the people's material and worldly needs while helping them realize religious and moral sublimity and remaining committed to the principles of morality and ethics. This system of government revived the lost and forgotten human values which the secular world had consigned to oblivion and even sometimes opposed. This is the main reason for the Western powers' opposition to the Islamic Republic. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran began championing the cause of the oppressed Muslim nations, especially the people of Palestine who had been subject to Israeli occupation for decades. The Islamic Republic was predicated on resisting hypocrisy and double standards; something pervasive and ubiquitous in the Western powers' behavior. These standards cannot be tolerated and even condoned by the Western powers whose major policies are always blended with portions of hypocrisy and duplicity. This is why the Islamic Republic has so many adversaries in the world, even among the Islamic states of the Middle East. Of course the recent election has changed the international and domestic attitudes toward Iran. The new government will surely receive a more popular support from the Iranian people, and it will help the government in the nuclear negotiations to have the upper hand. The election has also signaled Iranian people's craving for moderation and rationality, instead of extremism and radicalism.
NB: Iran has previously extended its hand in efforts to cooperate with the US in specific areas, and Washington failed to honor these efforts. Is there good reason to doubt the sincerity of the US in talks with Iran? Would it give up the ‘regime change’ policy it has maintained from the start of the revolution? 
KZUndisputably, the Iranian government is right if it's dubious toward the United States and its presumed efforts to reach out to Iran. Iran has always expressed willingness to hold talks with the United States on equal footings and based on mutual respect. But the point is that whenever some rational elements in the power structure of the two countries decided to facilitate the talks, the United States killed the chances of a fruitful and beneficial negotiation by imposing sanctions. Look at the recent sanctions bill which the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed, by a vote of 400 to 20. The new Iranian president, as I'm answering to your questions, has not sworn in yet. But the U.S. lawmakers have imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran. What's the logic and rationale behind this new round of sanctions? How do the U.S. Congressmen justify the new oil embargo while the new Iranian president hasn't ever had the chance to sit on his chair in the presidential palace and issue the first presidential decree, which is the appointment of his ministers? So you see that radicalism and fanaticism have always harmed Iran and the United States. Of course the new round of sanctions, if approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president, will deliver a lethal blow to President Rouhani's call for moderation and interaction with the West. 
It is for sure that certain U.S. administrations, especially the Reagan and Carter administrations, and the George W. Bush's administration, had intentions for implementing the policy of regime change in Iran. Supporting, financing and aiding the terrorist cult Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO) which has killed some 40,000 Iranians since the 1979 revolution is one of the signs indicating that the U.S. government, at certain junctures of time, pursued a policy of regime change in Iran. But there are indications that President Obama has changed this policy and that Washington has come to its senses and realized that the age of revolutions in Iran is over.
NB: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu recently threatened Iran with military action over accusations that Tehran is building nuclear weapons, and called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has heavily pushed a bill seeking to impose a de facto ban on Iran's oil exports, a cut off of any trade involving the euro, and moves to target Tehran's shipping and automobile sectors. It would also curtail Washington’s ability to waive sanctions on third countries and their companies that continue to do business with Iran. Would the US take a chance to thaw relations with Iran under Rouhani in spite of Zionist pressure and significant lobbying?
KZWell, if AIPAC successfully convinces the U.S. Congress and government to ratify this bill, I can say for sure that there will never ever be a single speck of chance for a peaceful solution to the controversy over Iran's nuclear program. The Zionists will extinguish all the possible ways of reconciliation between Iran and the United States to the detriment of Washington. It's the United States which will lose a probable ally, and it is  Europe which will be deprived of a lucrative market for free trade and business. By the way; let me clarify something. At this juncture, the Iranian people feel sympathetically toward the American people and their culture and civilization. But by pursuing the Zionist agenda, the Americans will even lose the minimal support they enjoy here in Iran.
NB: Aside from the nuclear and political issues, what are the biggest issues facing the Iranian nation today? What can Rouhani do to create meaningful solutions in line with popular reforms? If his moves are not well received by the Supreme Leader, is it possible that he might stymie any significant shifts toward reform?
KZThere are several challenges ahead of President Rouhani and his team. First of all, he should sweep away the legacy of extremism that has been left in Iran's public sphere. He should bring back morality to the Iranian society. In these 8 years, the conservative media have been relentlessly attacking the reformists and their supporters, calling them seditious, mobsters and criminal. This approach should change and the conservative media should learn that there's a limit to the toleration of their destructive approach. I have always criticized these media for repeatedly insulting the reformist leaders and millions of people supporting them, saying that such media talk of their political opponents as if they are criminal Zionists massacring the defenseless people of Palestine in the Occupied Territories and the Gaza Strip! 
Accordingly, we need to address the concerns of the cultural activists, authors, journalists, musicians, movie-makers and other artists who need greater freedoms, a better environment for creating rich and exalted artworks and participating in political activities without any restrictions. Secondly, the concern Rouhani and his cabinet should address is the nation's economic woes. The country is currently facing an astounding hyperinflation, unprecedented cut in the export of oil and petrochemical products, citizens' decreased purchasing power, etc. And finally, we have the foreign policy challenges. We need to settle our unnecessary disputes with not only the Western powers, but the Arab world, our neighbors and finally the United States. We need to find a viable solution for the nuclear controversy, which will surely solve many of the nations' problems.
NB: Media reports claim that Iran’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is Rouhani's pick as foreign minister. Zarif is said to be highly respected by those in the United States, and even Vice President Joe Biden told the Washington Post in 2007 that Zarif could “play an important role in helping to resolve our significant differences with Iran peacefully." What kind of changes do you see coming in Iran’s foreign policy? Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to visit Tehran as the first foreign guest of Rouhani. How will Iran’s relationship with Russia, and also China, grow?
KZOf course the appointment of Dr. Zarif as Iran's new foreign minister marks a significant change in Iran's foreign policy. Zarif is a reform-minded, moderate diplomat, like Rouhani himself, and he can certainly make effective contributions to a negotiated solution for Iran's nuclear deadlock. But please note that the change in Iran's foreign policy has already started, even before President Rouhani takes office. Officials from more than 40 countries are slated to attend his inauguration ceremony. Isn't this a major breakthrough for him, while he hasn't yet sworn in as the president? So, it sounds like the world is embracing Dr. Rouhani as a new president who has come to power with a slogan of moderation and constructive interaction with the world. Of course the change which I expect is that we will not be hearing adventurous statements by the foreign ministry officials, we will not find our president being left with an empty hall while addressing the UN General Assembly, we will not find our president being booed in the Columbia University and we will not find our president being called a hawk by those who are the real hawks of our world today. Iran will be hosting dignitaries from all around the world, especially given that it has assumed the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, but I'm sure that the whole world, including the European nations, will come to reconcile their differences with us.
Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist, writer and media correspondent writing for newspapers and journals across the world. For more on work, visit his website: http://kouroshziabari.com/

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.