Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Libya Example

Libyan women protest against Ansar al-Shariah Brigades and other Islamic militias in front of the Tebesty Hotel, in Benghazi, Libya, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. The attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans has sparked a backlash among frustrated Libyans against the heavily armed gunmen, including Islamic extremists, who run rampant in their cities. More than 10,000 people poured into a main boulevard of Benghazi, demanding that militias disband as the public tries to do what Libya's weak central government has been unable to.(AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

Associated Press/Mohammad Hannon -  Friday, Sept. 21, 2012

Amid the violence and protests in Muslim countries, the rage ostensibly in response to an anti-Muslim YouTube video, a silver lining has emerged. Interestingly, this silver lining has surfaced in the place where all the trouble began a few weeks ago: in Libya.

The trouble started when, on September 11, militants in Benghazi stormed the U.S. consulate and a safe house, resulting in the deaths of four Americans, including Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens and State Department official Sean Smith–an act of violence described by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a terrorist attack.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end here. What happened next was an outpouring of anger and frustration directed at the militants, not Washington, and feelings of loss for Ambassador Stevens and significant sympathy for the U.S.

Immediately after Stevens’ death, the Libyan government offered repeated apologies for the killings. Prime minister Keib said the perpetrators were "a group of outlaws (who) must be brought to justice". Additionally, the Libyan government fired the Deputy Interior Minister and the Police Chief for Benghazi.

Even more significantly, Libyan citizens took to the streets, holding signs decrying the violence and expressing condolences for slain individuals. And surprisingly, these emotions were translated into concrete actions. Last Friday, as many as 30,000 Libyans in Benghazi held a mass protest against the uncontrolled and extremist militias that are rampant in the country, demanding that they disband. Within hours, thousands stormed the headquarters of Ansar al-Shariah, the Islamic extremist group allegedly behind the 9/11/12 attacks. Reports state that

"They drove out the Ansar gunmen and set fire to cars in the compound — once a major base for Gadhafi's feared security forces — and then moved onto the base of a second Islamist militia, the Rafallah Sahati Brigade. Brigade fighters opened fire to keep the protesters at bay.
The state news agency said four protesters were killed and 70 injured in the overnight violence."

Importantly, this anti-militia fervor isn’t limited just to Benghazi. It has spread to Derna. As the AP nicely summarizes, this is a novel event:

The anti-militia fervor in Darna is notable because the city, in the mountains along the Mediterranean coast north of Benghazi, has long had a reputation as a stronghold for Islamic extremists. During the Gadhafi era, it was the hotbed of a deadly Islamist insurgency against his regime. A significant number of the Libyan jihadists who travelled to Afghanistan and Iraq during recent wars came from Darna. During the revolt against him last year, Gadhafi's regime warned that Darna would declare itself an Islamic Emirate and ally itself with al-Qaida.

Further, and this is crucial, the AP also points out why Libyans in Darna are so angry and willing to take a stand:

"The killing of the ambassador blew up the situation. It was disastrous," said Ayoub al-Shedwi, a young bearded Muslim preacher in Darna who says he has received multiple death threats because has spoken out against militias on a radio show he hosts. "We felt that the revolution is going in vain."
Activists and residents have held a sit-in for the past eight days outside Darna's Sahaba Mosque, calling on tribes to put an end to the "state of terrorism" created by the militias. At the city's main hotel, The Jewel of Darna, tribal figures, activists, local officials and lawmakers have been meeting in recent days to come up with a plan.
"Until when the tribes will remain silent," cried a bearded young man standing on a podium at one such meeting Thursday. "The militias don't recognize the state. The state is pampering them but this is not working anymore. You must act right now." Elders in traditional Libyan white robes stood up and shouted in support.

Almost immediately, rumors and conspiracy stories circulated that Gaddafi loyalists were behind the anti-militia activities in Benghazi and Darna. Maybe some did play a role. After all, spontaneous public action like mass protests, in a lawless and ungoverned country, offer ripe opportunities for all sorts of miscreants to join in and cause trouble. Even so, there’s not much doubt that many, perhaps most, of the participants in these events were sincere citizens disgusted with the ugly stranglehold that extremist militias have on their country.

In my view, the response of ordinary Libyans to the violence committed by extremist militants is a good sign. I am encouraged that Libyans are trying to take ownership of their society by confronting extremists and militants, driving them out of areas that they are located. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a greater recognition that the enemy isn’t abroad or foreign, as radical leaders and groups argue, but is within. As such, the Libyans present a good example to Muslims worldwide on how to combat extremism and militancy in their own countries.

Of course, there are success stories. For instance, Muslim countries such as Turkey and Indonesia have done an admirable job tackling terrorism, limiting the influence of extremists, keeping their societies unified, and embracing modernity while preserving their uniqueness. Both countries have also completely debunked the myth, embraced by radicals and ignoramuses in Muslim countries and in the West, that Islam and democracy cannot coexist.

But more needs to be done in countries with governments that are complicit with or support radicalism and terrorism, or are too weak to combat these issues. There a host of countries that fit this profile, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, and so on. In these cases, we find extremists, including terrorist groups, operating, even thriving. Many commit violence, sure. But they also demonize the West, criticize and attempt to suppress Muslim moderates and liberals, and often dominate the national discourse, deflecting blame for their corrosive impact on society. In response, there has to be a groundswell of citizen action to overcome the problems created by radical and/or incompetent state institutions. This is the crux of the Libya example. Often, the people are on their own; it is up to them to staunch the flow of extremist words and deeds.

Let’s look at this logically.

1. In the cases I’m speaking about here, the state is useless, guilty sins of commission and/or omission. We should not expect these governments and attendant institutions to play a meaningful, productive role on issues related to extremism and terrorism.

2. Muslim countries cannot count on international institutions for much help. Nowadays, with Russia and China taking on obstructionist roles, the UN can't even agree on paper statements, let alone on taking action when it’s necessary. NATO, as another example, is also unreliable. NATO countries are typically reluctant to intervene in foreign countries. They are war weary from their Afghanistan experience. And to the extent that NATO considers any foreign interventions or military assistance, the target country usually has to be in a specific location: in Europe’s backyard.

3. Muslim countries cannot count on foreign groups and NGOs for much help either. They are important for humanitarian relief and crisis monitoring. but they are not going to thwart terrorist groups and activities. They just do not have the capabilities to do so.

4. They cannot count on foreign countries. At this point, both Russia and China are sidetracked with internal issues. Both are focused on economic development as well as political turmoil and uncertainty--protests and frustration in Russia, and leadership succession in China. Moreover, Russia and China don't have the capacity to project enough power to deal with Islamic terrorism outside of their borders. And lastly, both countries believe they have their own problems with Islamic terrorists. If either one starts to ramp up its anti-terror activities, it’s going to happen within their borders, not outside of them.

And as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq illustrate, there are limits to American power. While it can project its power worldwide and defeat armed opponents, the U.S. cannot rebuild and remake foreign countries on its own. The U.S. needs strong and effective local partners in these endeavors, something that is often hard to find in unstable and war-torn countries. Furthermore, given the state of America's economy and the continued economic problems it will likely face in the future, the U.S. will, in all likelihood, will be reducing its footprint around the world. Arguably, under President Obama, this process has already begun.

The punchline? While the U.S. will seek to maintain a leadership position on international terrorism, the tools and scope and reach of its anti-terror campaign will likely change. The result is that, over time, Washington will put a larger burden on its Muslim partners to carry out anti-terror activities.

So what does this all mean? Muslim societies have to be prepared to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to dealing with Islamic extremism and terrorism. And right now, it's not sufficient to silently protest. Nor is it enough to issue critical statements or to write critical opinion pieces. These things are a start, to be sure, but new efforts are desperately needed. In short, what is needed is for the moderates and reformers to take on a larger public role in directly confronting extremism and terrorism. This is going to require considerable time and effort and resources.

We know that Muslims in the Middle East/North are very familiar with the techniques of peaceful civil resistance. Just look at the Arab Spring, which sought to overthrow repressive governments and install in their place free and open democratic systems. Admirable and courageous, yes. But there ought to be a more overarching platform that deems anathema any source that aims to undermine if not squelch freedom, whether church or state or ideological radical or terrorist. Using this simple principle as a guide, maybe we would see more protests and rallies and Facebook and Twitter pages denouncing Islamic extremism and violence. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Obama and Libya: The Bill Comes Due for "Leading From Behind"

Mitt Romney made a lot of news and cause some controversy over his attack on Obama in light of the attacks on  the US embassies in Cairo, Egypt, Saana, Yemen, and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that ended with the deaths of the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, State Department official Sean Smith, and two other Americans. He might have made a much stronger point had he followed McCain's advice and attacked Obama's broad Middle Eastern policy, because this messy situation is one of the results of Obama's infamous "Leading From Behind" policy.

"Leading From Behind" policy was thought to be a brilliant policy back when it was implemented. The U.S. essentially ceded its responsibility for Libya to its allies (the British and France). This policy bypassed the Republican-dominated Congress, avoided messy debates that might have roiled the democrats' liberal-pacifist base, and drastically increased the President's power over foreign policy.

It also provided some legitimacy to the rebel government. Unlike the governments in Afghanistan or Iraq, nobody could make an argument that the new Libyan government was a US-backed puppet government. It fought on its own (well, with help from abroad) to depose Qaddafi. The rebel government emerged virtually untainted from foreign interference. Plus, with the potential windfall from oil, the Libyan government could very well have sufficient funds and resources to get the country's house in order.

More importantly, however, it seemed as if Obama avoided the pitfalls that bedeviled George W. Bush. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. had the option not to be involved in the messy aftermath, notably the rebuilding of Libya. It is the ultimate "have cake and eat it too" scenario. No messy nation-building. This allowed the U.S. to position itself as a defender of human rights, a multilateralist to boot, with seemingly few to no electoral consequences for 2012.

This works well if the Salafis and other Islamists work and play together well. Unfortunately, they don't. The Libyan government is pathetically weak, because it doesn't have strong centralized security forces since the beginning of the rebellion. Remember, the so-called rebels were a motley crew of various groups, all united in their dislike (and fear) of Qaddafi. When Qaddafi fell, each ended up ruling their turf like mini-warlords. While the government is legitimate de jure, having been elected through a fair election, these militias still hold de facto power.

The Salafis that hit the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was one of these various militant groups (this is a must-read article). Why nobody could control these Salafis? Simple: there are too many militia groups nowadays in Libya, and all of them are busy defending their own turf and ignoring what happens outside their turf. Should they decide to either disarm or to help the government chasing/hunting other militias, they would risk losing their main base to an attack from one of their rivals. It is a mini balance-of-power.

Thus, the entire facade of "Leading From Behind" falls tumbling down. Libya is a total mess, because the government, while legitimate, lacks the requisite military power to impose order on the entire country. While many Libyans still have respect and gratitude for America's help in overthrowing Qaddafi, they must also realize that they are left on their own (a reprise of Egypt). What about the British and the French? It doesn't seem like either country is interested in rebuilding Libya. As a result, nobody in the international community is taking responsibility for the current state that Libya is in.

Could Obama have done anything different? Yes. He could have marshaled some resources to help strengthen the Libyan government. The problem, however, is that it was doubtful, due to his "leading from behind" policy in the first place. He did not clear the US involvement in Libya with the Congress first, and thus the Congress has no obligation to actually fund for the reconstruction -- unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, where in both cases, the congressional authorization also implied that the Congress would also approve money for reconstruction.

With the economy already reeling under a recession, Obama could not or would not ask Congress for the money needed. And if he had, Obama would have risked opening a Pandora box of further scrutiny over the entire "Leading From Behind" concept, which would not bode well for his reelection chances. Besides, Obama has no responsibility to do so. He didn't release the bull in the Libyan store, did he?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nationalism and Disputes in Asia

The story of present-day Asia, we are often told, is dominated by the rise of China. Some countries, like the Philippines and Vietnam, are concerned by China's expanding power and its willingness to flex its muscles in the region; some, like Cambodia, are friends with China; and still others, like Indonesia, prefer to stay neutral, opting for strategic flexibility. But what's often neglected is that this story is shaped and molded by a host of factors. And it's not simply a function of inter-state power relations or aggressive moves by China. Those things matter, sure, but there are intra-state factors that also matter.

One such intra-state factor is nationalism. In short, Asian nationalism has reared its head lately in several instances, profoundly impacting relations between countries in the region. Let's look at a few examples.

Japan and South Korea have squabbled over two islets, known as Dokdo in Korean, Takeshima in Japanese, which both countries claim as their own. Making matters worse, South Korea has put on hold a proposed agreement with Japan to share military intelligence. Tensions between Japan and China are on the rise over over competing claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. And as July's deadlocked Asean Ministerial Meeting attests, Vietnam and the Philippines are clearly agitated at China's increasingly assertive claims to territory and waterways in the south china sea. In fact, Vietnam and China have been engaging in a tit-for-tat escalation of tensions. As The Guardian points out, "Beijing, which lays claim to the whole South China Sea, recently upset Hanoi after the government-backed China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) said it was seeking bids for oil exploration in what Hanoi deems Vietnamese waters, while Hanoi increased tensions last month by adopting a law claiming sovereignty over the Spratly Islands."

Of course, a part of these tensions and disputes is rooted in the dynamics of government to government ties and competitiveness, which in turn is a function of scarcity (of material resources), power relations, diplomacy, and state interactions, among many other things.

But another part has everything do with ideas of sovereignty, fierce attachment to the nation, national history, and national identity. In short, nationalism. Arguably, the recent spike in tensions over the summer months has been largely aided and abetted by nationalist fervor. I don't doubt some, perhaps many, governments in Asia, empowered by their rising economic and diplomatic standing in the world, are feeling increasingly confident, so much that they are more willing to defend and at times advance nationalist views and claims. But even more importantly, bottom-up nationalism has manifested in public protests, public criticism and anger. This has only inflamed extant tensions in Asia and added pressure on Asian governments not to look weak, back down, or compromise, making it more difficult to resolve inter-state disputes.

Such nationalist outcry has surfaced in China, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. Some of this sentiment and fervor has been directed at China, just as we would expect given the country's rapid rise and concerns within the region that Beijing harbors acquisitive, power-hungry motives. But keep in mind that some nationalist protest and clamor has also targeted other countries in Asia. 

As tensions between China and Japan have ratcheted up during the last several months, nationalist emotion and zeal on both sides has been on the rise, even surfacing in public actions. Activists from Hong Kong attempted to visit a contested islet in the East China Sea, one claimed by both China and Japan, but were arrested and subsequently deported by Japan. In response, ten Japanese activists, including Japanese politicians, via a flotilla of 100 boats, arrived in the same area. Some of them left their boats and swam ashore, raising a Japanese flag. As you might expect, this defiant act had repercussions.

China's foreign ministry sharply criticized Tokyo, and protests emerged in "the southern city of Shenzhen.... Qingdao, Taiyuan and Hangzhou also saw protests, while smaller ones took place in several more cities across China, from far northern Harbin to south-western Chengdu. But it's not the extent of the protests that proved alarming, it was their destructiveness and hate-mongering. According to Scott Harold, "The kinds of ultra-nationalistic hate-fests that have taken place across the country – where protesters have carried banners proclaiming 'Even if China is covered with graves, we must kill all Japanese!', have smashed Japanese-branded automobiles and storefronts, and even attacked a car carrying Tokyo’s ambassador in Beijing – show levels of anger and lawlessness...." 

These anti-Japanese views and actions, in turn, as Harold points out, have triggered "counter-demonstrations in Japan and an effort by Tokyo to consolidate central government control over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, currently owned by private Japanese citizens."

Let's turn to the spat between China and Vietnam. Per Peter Enav of the AP: "China has also been at loggerheads with Vietnam, particularly after Beijing's formal creation of a municipality headquartered on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands, long a bone of contention between the two nations." And there's more. Per The Guardian: "Beijing, which lays claim to the whole South China Sea, recently upset Hanoi after the government-backed China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) said it was seeking bids for oil exploration in what Hanoi deems Vietnamese waters, while Hanoi increased tensions last month by adopting a law claiming sovereignty over the Spratly Islands."

Yes, Hanoi was upset, but so were some of the Vietnamese people. On three different occasions, hundreds of citizens protested in the streets of Hanoi, stopping traffic as they held banners and signs and Vietnamese flags and chanted "The Spratly and Paracel Islands belong to Vietnam!" and "Down with Chinese aggression!". But much like their counterparts in China, Vietnamese activists find themselves in a precarious position. Authoritarian Vietnam is reluctantly willing to tolerate public political displays as long they coincide with the party line and are peaceful, but once they challenge state authority, all bets are off. And over the last few months, as reports indicate, a number of Vietnamese activists and bloggers, particularly those human rights activists who have been critical of state land grabs and police violence, have been harassed and detained.

China has even been the target of nationalist fervor from the Philippines. The Scarborough Shoal dispute, involving clashing maritime vassels from china and the philippines and which led to a diplomatic standoff (between the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia) at July's Asean Ministerial Meeting, gave rise to a thousand-strong protest at the Chinese Embassy in Manila back in May. Al-Jazeera described the protests accordingly:   

"Our protest is directed at the overbearing actions and stance of the government in Beijing, which behaves like an arrogant overlord, even in the homes of its neighbours," said rally organiser Loida Nicholas Lewis.
The protesters carried placards that read: "China stop bullying the Philippines", "Make Peace Not War", and "China, Stop Poaching in Philippine Waters".
China...warned its citizens that they were not safe in the Philippines and urged those in the country to stay indoors and stay away from demonstrations.

Meantime, in South Korea, news of an intelligence sharing deal with Japan provoked widespread dismay and anger. Per a CNN report, here's an example of their views on the proposed deal:

"This is clearly a deception," said Kim Hwan-young, the head of Korean Veterans for Peace. "I am angry at the fact that our government pushed the deal ignoring the national sentiment. We were colonized by Japan for more than three decades and we also suffered separation and civil war because of Japan."
Another important factor here centers on the belief among many South Koreans that the negotiations with Japan were done in secret, behind their backs and without their input. In their view, this kind of a deal is antithetical to a supposedly open and free democratic country; it's a violation of existing democratic rules and norms. This is why South Koreans now want (1) a full airing and vetting of the specifics of the negotiations and of the deal itself and (2) officials to be held accountable for their actions.

On top of this issue, there is the tense dispute over the contested islets. On this front, lots of different actors have played a rather unproductive role. In a surprising move, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, viewed widely as a pragmatist (even by Japan), visited the rocky area on August 10th, then called for Japan's emperor to apologize for his country's past imperial aggression and violence on the Korean peninsula, which triggered harsh criticism from japan. In fact, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda sent a letter to South Korea to register his government's protest, but South Korea's president refused to accept it and returned the letter without comment, with the foreign ministry claiming the letter contained "inaccuracies." Japan has proposed settling the dispute at the UN, via its International Court of Justice, but South Korea has rejected this option.

Against this backdrop is a groundswell of South Korean nationalism. The rocky islets are viewed as a source of national pride, a powerful reminder of South Korea's independence from colonial rule under Japan. How important is it to South Korea? Takashi Yokota writes:

Since 2005, when Seoul began allowing tourists onto the islets, visits—pilgrimages, some say—have become hugely popular. Last year alone, some 180,000 people made the arduous trip. In 2010, civic groups, together with the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations, declared Oct. 25 to be Dokdo Day, an annual occasion for teaching the nation’s schoolchildren to love the remote island outpost. (Japan’s Shimane Prefecture celebrates a Takeshima Day). Broadcasters go so far as reporting on the weather there, and some television stations end their daily broadcasts with a video clip of Dokdo as the national anthem plays. 
Activists and political organizers have been holding “Dokdo awareness” events around South Korea. At a July gathering in Seoul promoting corporate social responsibility, small children were encouraged to write “I love Dokdo” on cookies. And after Lee’s August visit, a group of singers, actors, and college students braved the strong currents and made a 220-kilometer relay swim to the rocks.
But that's not all, as South Korean anger has bubbled to the surface. Voice of America stated that "hundreds of South Korean protesters staged a rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul...denouncing Japan's claim to the islands. Activist (sic) pumped their fists, chanted anti-Japan slogans and wore headbands emblazoned with words defending South Korea's claim over the string of islands." Added to this dangerous mix, by playing to the wave nationalist fervor, South Korean newspapers have already begun banging the drumbeats of war, going so far as to speculate on the potential for military conflict between the two disputants.

More ominously, on September 7, South Korea's military entered the fray, as its coast guard staged a drill around the contested islets. Japan had asked South Korea not to hold the drill. The silver lining here is that South Korea scaled back a bit the planned drill. According to a report from the Voice of America: "The coast guard led the exercise but South Korea's marines did not, as had been originally planned, land on any of the Liancourt Rocks."

Now, let's take a step back and digest these all of these turbulent events in Asia. Here's my quick take: we often think of nationalism as a tool used by tyrannical and despotic governments to bolster their legitimacy. There are many examples of this. Just think about contemporary China and North Korea.

But consider this: as countries in the region open themselves up, even if only in baby steps, their governments, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, naturally offer their citizens more points of access to express their interests, demands, and grievances. As this process unfolds, citizens become increasingly emboldened to wedge open that crack even further, seeking out all available means that enable them to do so. And they begin to discuss and critique publicly a growing number of issues, even those sensitive to the state. This is what we are seeing nowadays in China and Vietnam--where the state and society are in constant tension with each other--with activists taking to the streets to express their discontent on a host of domestic and foreign political issues.

But there's something else going on as well, a particular quirk of the globalization era that seemingly cuts across all countries, whether free or closed, East or West. In short, though economic and political interdependence and technological innovations, globalization allows for closer and more frequent contact among people worldwide. But empirical evidence suggests that closer contact doesn't erase political boundaries, as had been hoped by liberal scholars and politicians. It actually reinforces and hardens them. In other words, in this era of globalization, people are becoming more nationalistic, identifying more strongly with their home countries.

This logic applies to Asia, where there are lots of countries in constant contact with each other (via tourism, business linkages, trade, diplomacy, international organizations, and so on), yet solidly entrenched national political identities. Indeed, despite attempts to forge cohesion and unity across Asia (especially in southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific), nationalism runs higher than ever. As we might expect, Asians detest foreign countries, particularly those from within the region, attempting to encroach on their home country's turf, tradition, values, and history. Historical rivalries, pivotal events (regional wars, colonialism), and differences in political cultures help to ensure that this remains a fact of life.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

How Successful Was the Non-Alignment Movement Summit in Tehran for Iran?

So how successful was the recent Non-Alignment Movement summit in Tehran for Iran?

Tehran is using all of its tools to show what it believes is a diplomatic triumph, that not all countries in the world are joining the United States in isolating Iran, and most likely to make a case to end the Syrian regime's diplomatic isolation. Yet it did not receive what it wanted.

First, Mohammed Mursi, the first Egyptian president to visit Iran since 1979, bluntly stated that the Non-Alignment Movement had a moral duty to support the struggle of Syrian people. Then Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General whose presence was considered a diplomatic victory for Iran, warned of the dangers of nuclear proliferation, and rebuked Iran for threatening to destroy Israel and claiming the Holocaust a myth.

Therefore, while Iran might want to use the Non-Alignment Movement as a way to break America's attempts to isolate itself and build a counterbalance, Tehran placed its hope in the wrong place. The Non-Alignment Movement is an impressive array of 120 states that made claims of not aligning formally with or against any superpower in the world, though it has one major weakness: it is a jumble of 120 states with diverse interests and foreign policy objectives.

Iran can rely on the usual suspects (e.g. North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba) to provide it with much needed support, but other countries are not willing to explicitly support Iran, because they prefer to maintain cordial relations with the United States. In fact, most of the countries attending the summit in Tehran were there simply because it was the Non-Alignment Movement summit, a good soapbox to grandstand, to show to their publics back home that they are "major players" in international affairs, and maybe to throw around their sometimes bizarre ideas to countries that might listen out of politeness, without fear of condemnation.

Take the example of Indonesia, one of the founder nations, which sent its Vice President Budiono to Tehran to attend the conference. Back in Indonesia, not much ink was spilled about the Non-Alignment Movement. The leading newspaper Kompas only devoted one small column buried in page 6 and all discussions about summit was buried deep in the newspaper.

And what has lately transpired in Indonesia should make Iran pause. Indonesian newspapers have mostly focused on the recent attacks on Shiites in Sampang, Madura, with Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali raising many eyebrows with his declaration that Shia was a deviant sect. Considering that the theocratic regime of Iran is based on the teachings of Shia, these are most likely not the kinds of development that Iran would like to see.

Thus, the summit ended with whimper. Iran might play up the summit for domestic audience purposes, but  internationally, Iran's position was exactly at the same spot where it was before...well, maybe worse vis-a-vis Bahrain.