Raghida Dergham
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
February 13, 2009 - 1:00am

New York --- Those who call for striking deals at any cost under the pretext of buying stability are merely burying their heads in the sand, regardless of how much they prance around like giraffes or imagine that US President Barack Obama is willing to sacrifice justice for stability or to give his blessing to extremism in order to spare himself its evil. This month in particular will reflect the relationship between politics and justice in Obama's administration, when the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issue their decision, which is expected to approve the request made by the Prosecutor to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir, on charges of committing genocide in Darfur. Then it will be made clear to all those concerned that after the ICC's decision there will be no chance for deals with the Sudanese President, regardless of how much the African Union and the Arab League may think otherwise. Hence it is in the interest of Sudan and of the region not to bury their heads in the sand.

Similarly, when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon begins on the first of next month, it will record a precedent of accountability for political assassinations and will place the Middle East on the path of ending impunity. Indeed, all those who think that such a tribunal will come down to political deals to protect a particular regime, in the name of maintaining stability and of obtaining its cooperation in putting a stop to its support of extremism, are mistakenly assuming that the Obama Administration is willing to do without justice, although it has made justice one of its cornerstones. The matter is much more complex and the tribunal might be full of surprises.

Even those who believe that the US administration will prevent and hinder any international investigation into what took place in Gaza are being hasty. If legally assessed efforts lead to an investigation, the Obama administration will not stand in its way, whether it condemns Israel alone, or condemns it along with Hamas, for violations of international humanitarian law against innocent civilians. Regardless of what those who welcome the US's willingness to engage in dialogue as a means to resolve disagreements with anyone and without preconditions imagine, the time of striking deals is not an open invitation to regimes like Iran's to bargain over stability - or instability - for nuclear rewards from the US or for approval of its regional hegemony. The new chapter which Obama has opened with the world is one of cooperation, dialogue and partnership in creating stability, but not at the expense of justice.

In about a week, the ICC will issue a decision that would amount to a precedent if it ratifies Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's warrant calling for the arrest of Omar Al-Bashir. Indeed, this will be the first time such a decision is issued against a president who is still in power. The Barack Obama administration will not be lenient in this issue. On the contrary, it has made Darfur one of its fundamental issues and has hinted at its willingness to cooperate with - and perhaps later join - the ICC. Indeed, it has not been cooperating in African and Arab efforts to delay the implementation of the ICC's decision for a period of one year, by virtue of a Security Council Resolution based on Article 16, which allows for deference. Its implicit message is: Wake up!

What will happen to the Sudanese President once an international warrant is issued for his arrest? And what will happen to the Sudanese government bound to comply with orders to arrest him? These are the fundamental questions at this stage, now that it is too late for action within the Security Council to defer the judges' decision.

This is why it will not benefit the Arabs, who are demanding that the ICC conduct an investigation into Israel's violations of international humanitarian law in its latest war on Gaza, to wage a smear campaign against the ICC and against its Prosecutor, who holds the keys of conducting such an investigation. Indeed, Ocampo is studying the demand presented by the Palestinian Authority to see how it would be possible for him to overcome the hindrance of the legal status of the Palestinian Authority (as a state), knowing that such a demand can only be accepted by the ICC if it comes from one of the states parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Beating around the bush in the issue of the relationship between the Sudanese regime and the ICC will benefit neither the Arabs nor the Africans, knowing that it was Security Council Resolutions that entrusted the ICC with investigating violations in Darfur. The Sudanese President's stubborn and arrogant attitude towards the ICC, and his refusal to comply with its decisions demanding the arrest of two Sudanese officials, are what has led to the current shameful situation. Indeed, President Omar Al-Bashir has completely disregarded the court's decision, and in fact entrusted the minister wanted by the court with supervising foreign aid and international organizations in Darfur, adding insult to profound injury.

So far, Omar Al-Bashir and his government have directed against the ICC and all those who support it accusations of conspiracy against Sudan, and have faced Security Council Resolutions with political escalation and hindrances. Today, directly threatening to set the Sudanese street loose for revenge only increases tension, to a level more dangerous for Sudan itself. In the past, heads of Arab regimes have placed the regime ahead of the country, and their countries have paid a very high price as a result. It is too late now for a deal that would save the Sudanese president from being held accountable. If there is an option available to him to save himself from what he has brought unto himself, it is the option of courageously resigning before the decision is issued, and of placing the government in charge of the country, as it would hopefully learn its lesson and better manage the country. Although this is quite unlikely in the Arab World and Africa, it would be the best way for Sudan and also for Omar Al-Bashir.

Let the Sudanese President take the initiative and place Sudan ahead of himself. Let him take the initiative, resign, leave the country and settle in a quiet place, in an Arab or African country - in order to save Sudan.

All those who call for deals and outbidding will disappear and their voices will subside once the ICC's decision is issued, and once it becomes clear that the nine votes needed at the Security Council to postpone the decision for a year are not available. Thus Omar Al-Bashir will be alone in the eye of the storm, regardless of the allies he imagines he has now.

The same applies to the Special Tribunal to try those responsible for political assassinations in Lebanon, most prominently the terrorist attack which led to the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and his companions four years ago. Many had wagered on preventing the establishment of the tribunal, and did not believe when they were told that the tribunal's train had left the station. They imagine now, as they did then, that political deals will save them from being held accountable and will grant them impunity yet again. They will be mistaken, as they previously were. The Special Tribunal will issue indictments and name names. The Special Tribunal will remain a sword hovering above the heads of those who have committed political assassinations and terrorist attacks in Lebanon even as they engage in political deals and procrastinate to the tune of dialogue and openness in Damascus or in Tehran.

Hindrances will pile up before the resolve for openness between the US and Iran, which will come after the US President agrees with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a direct dialogue based on "mutual respect." The conditions of such dialogue are in themselves the object of disagreement, and the Iranian strategy is clearly to prolong such disagreement. Indeed, Ahmadinejad wants a strategic change in the US's thinking, style and interaction with Iran, whereas the other leaders of the regime in Iran express their inclination to demanding apologies from the US before dialogue.

Obama's team seeks "indications" from the leaders of the Islamic Republic in Iran that they wish and are willing to "behave in a different manner." The fact of the matter is that this request in itself prolongs dialogue, turning it into an open dialogue with no foreseeable time limits. This would serve the interests of the mullahs in Tehran and not the US's intentions from the dialogue.

Some believe that the Iranian elections will produce "moderates" whom Washington can deal with, and some Europeans are calling on Obama to encourage the rise of moderation among the mullahs and the men of the Iranian Revolution, which took control of Iran after it was brought by Ayatollah Khomeini thirty years ago.

What Barack Obama and his administration will soon conclude is that the dream of exporting the Iranian Revolution still Iran's rulers, and this is why they will not compromise (except verbally and for the purposes of procrastination) on the roles they play in Iraq, and also in Lebanon and Palestine by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. The US President does well to lay all of those issues on the dialogue table, alongside the nuclear issue. However, Iranian wit and skill, which he will become closely familiar with during the dialogue, will work strategically to empty the dialogue of its meaning and of its regional elements, until what remains is a general headline without any results.

The same applies to the nuclear issue. President Barack Obama and his team will soon realize that Iran will not give up its nuclear ambitions under any circumstances, whether a "moderate" or an "extremist" from the mullah and the leaders of Khomeini's revolution comes to power. Even if Tehran surprisingly agrees to suspend uranium enrichment (which is the condition set forth by the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) to access the package of rewards, the Islamic Republic will not give up its nuclear ambitions.

One option is for the Obama Administration to design a strategic policy in which it would give its blessing - implicitly and as a de facto situation - to such ambitions, with everything they involve in terms of the perspectives and consequences of handing the leadership of the Middle East to the Islamic Republic of Iran, to the benefit of extremism and defiance. Another is for the Obama administration to profoundly examine the meaning of such a strategic decision and to look closely at the map of moderation and extremism to determine where lies the national interest of the US, as well as the world's interest, whether it is in supporting moderation or in supporting the hegemony and possession of nuclear capabilities by a country that will not cease to export its model, one based on suppressing freedoms and promoting a rigorous ideology.

Today, the extremism of Iran and the extremism of Israel meet. Each of them needs the other to justify his own extremism, and both are glad that their de facto situations collaborate to strike at Arab moderation and prevent the emergence of an Arab force on the map of the regional balance of power. They have both benefited when Iraq was struck off the equation, and both fear that Saudi Arabia could acquire the keys of a regional leadership that would radically affect the balance of power.

All of this does not negate a fundamental issue. There is, within Israel and within the Jewish lobby in the US and Europe, a radical divergence about how to deal with Iran. However, it would be wrong to assume that this will effectively lead to the US giving its blessing to a nuclear Iran. What Obama's team seeks at this juncture is to walk on two parallel paths: the path of dialogue and that of reinforcing sanctions on Iran, with help from Europe and from non-traditional partnerships. Furthermore, the new US President's attention is not focused exclusively on the nuclear issue, as he in fact insists on addressing Iran's roles in the regional balances of power.

Many, especially from the "defiance" camp are competing to inform Washington that they are the channel and the key to striking deals. They are sending noteworthy messages, hinting at the willingness to abandon partners amidst stability deals in exchange for normalization with the US administration.

They are burying their heads in the sand if they imagine that President Barack Obama will reward blackmail and assassination, give up on justice in Sudan and in Lebanon, or confine himself to submitting to the promises of the mullahs in Iran.

What the US President needs is to inform those who compete for his attention that he has no need to strike deals of keys and channels, because he has embraced justice and moderation as the permanent basis for Washington under his presidency, regardless of the dialogue and openness that take place.


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