Red Line: U.S. protests, Veto on Syrian Resolution and Steve Jobs

Protestors march past Federal Hall on Wall Street, Monday, Sept. 26, 2011, in New York. The "Occupy Wall Street" protest is in its second week, as demonstrators speak out against corporate greed and social inequality. Source: AP

Protestors march past Federal Hall on Wall Street, Monday, Sept. 26, 2011, in New York. The "Occupy Wall Street" protest is in its second week, as demonstrators speak out against corporate greed and social inequality. Source: AP

Each week, Voice of Russia hosts Red Line, a discussion about global events as seen from Moscow. In this edition: Protests in the U.S., Russia and China veto UN resolution on Syria, and Steve Jobs.

Participants: Ekaterina Kudashkina, Dmitry Polikarpov, Sergei Strokan, Iwan Morgan, Eyal Zisser, Vyacheslav Matuzov

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Before we start, let me introduce our new colleague Dmitry Polikarpov, who is going to replace Mira Salganik as a co-host of our program. Mira was a founding host of Red Line and is moving on to start another project. We wish her all the best and hope to have her back on a future program as an expert! 

 

Now, this week we will start with the mounting protests in New York, then we will move on to the decision by Russia and China to veto the UN Security Resolution on Syria, and finally, our Face in the News this week is Steve Jobs.

Let’s start with our first section, Beyond the Headlines. This week we will begin with the mounting protests in New York, and across the United States. We will try to explore where the rapidly growing Occupy Wall Street movement will take President Obama and the whole of the political establishment of the United States. In our second section, Between the Lines, we are going to look at the scandal that broke out after Russia and China used their veto rights to block a draft resolution on Syria at the UN Security Council. And in our final section, Face in the News, we will discuss Steve Jobs, a visionary and an icon.

Let’s take a look at the mass protests in New York, which have come as a surprise to many people. The rapidly growing Occupy Wall Street movement is making headlines for another week as world media try to draw parallels between the “American Autumn” and “Arab Spring.” What are we witnessing in the United States now? Is it really connected in any way to the Arab Spring? We asked these questions to our guest speaker – Dr. Iwan Morgan, professor of the U.S. Studies Institute at the University of London.

 

Dr. Morgan, many experts are saying that this movement largely resembles the Arab Spring movement in the Middle East. First, do you agree with that and, if not, how could we explain to our audience the big difference between the two?

 

Iwan Morgan: The Arab Spring was a movement of flowering democracy against authoritarian rulers. The U.S. is a democracy and these protests are a part of the democratic tradition. The US has always had protests – civil right protests, Vietnam War protests. In effect, we’ve gone through 30 years of quiescence, which is unusual for the U.S. So you could say that these protests are all part of the real nature of the American democracy and they are a reflection of economic dissatisfaction.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: So we face quite a different phenomenon, with only remote relevance to the Arab revolutions? The protesters’ website claims they are using Arab Spring tactics, although we all can see that the parallels are really farfetched.

 

Sergei Strokan: TV images of thousands of angry people pouring into the streets of world capitals to fight for their basic rights might create an impression that we are witnessing the same process – the global revival of public resistance movement.

 

But with all seemingly obvious similarities, we should not be trapped by the mistaken identity of those who chant anti-government slogans in Cairo, New York and Damascus. The thing is that their agenda, their motives and reasons, when carefully scrutinized, prove to be totally different.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I suppose you are quite right, but as for the Occupy Wall Street protests, I found one really surprising thing. On the one hand, every mass protest in any other part of the world serves as a powerful argument against the government and its policies. Some experts are now trying to present the Occupy Wall Street movement as the “last nail in the coffin” of President Obama’s much-advertised and promoted reforms, as a public no-confidence vote for his ability to handle the U.S. economy and meet people’s daily needs in a time of economic meltdown.

 

Sergei Strokan: While speaking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, President Obama for the first time admitted that “Americans are not better off than they were four years ago” and Obama hinted he could lose the election. So, this is changing rhetoric.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But I am not sure that it is really connected with the Occupy Wall Street movement. While people are increasingly skeptical of President Obama’s performance, the very slogan “Occupy Wall Street” reminds me of Barack Obama’s numerous declarations, which are highly critical of those whom he himself calls “the fat cats from Wall Street.”

Dmitry Polikarpov: So, Obama and the New York protestors are saying the same thing about Wall Street? 

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: This question actually reveals the major paradox of the U.S. protests.

Sergei Strokan: I think what you are referring to largely explains why the U.S. is not Egypt, and why American Autumn has very little to do with the Arab Spring. The basic slogan of the Arab Spring is the demise of authoritarian rule, restoring basic human rights and building democratic institutions ‑ sometimes building them from scratch, and these institutions will serve as a foundation for just and fair redistribution of national wealth. But the American Autumn is not about democracy. It is not about the right to vote for the leader you like, it is not about a real multi-party system that allows you to change the government you find ineffective and utterly corrupted. The American protests are mostly about consumption and quality of life.

{***}

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I don’t agree with you. I think they actually target the whole system. I don’t know whether they are aware of it or not, but they are opposing the systemic faults in the whole U.S. political and economic system. They are opposed to the inequality in the redistribution of wealth. Of course, it starts from protests against certain shortcomings in the consumer sector, but I am not sure that it actually will be limited to that.

 

Sergei Strokan: So, you mean to say that the protestors in New York want to change the political system of the United States?

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I am not sure they are aware of it, I am not sure they want it consciously, but what they are protesting against is something that has been there under any administration – be it a Democratic administration or a Republican administration. 

 

Sergei Strokan: But this is discontent that is natural for a democratic society.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: The discontent is not only typical for a democratic society, it’s a way of expressing discontent that is quite democratic. But unlike in the Middle East, where the opposition wants to change the government and topple the regime, I believe Occupy Wall Street protesters are challenging the foundations of the system.

 

Sergei Strokan: Don’t you find that it is the democratic system that gave them basic instruments to fight its limitations without the fear of being bombed, tortured, jailed for life like in Libya or screwed to the ground?

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Yes, absolutely. But protestors are being arrested by the hundreds.

Sergei Strokan: And jailed for life?

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: No, they are not jailed for life, of course, but let me remind you that after 9/11, many critics said that the U.S. society lost some of its democratic flavor considerably – just consider the Patriot Act. It is still seen as a democratic, it still retains its image, but the images are waning. That is why those people are now finding themselves in similar situation like many people around the world.

Dmitry Polikarpov: Let me remind you, 150 years after Karl Marx wrote his famous Communist Manifesto, predicting world proletariat revolutions that would shatter the capitalist world and bury the “power of the bourgeoisie,” Marx stated that the driving force of the revolutions will be the proletariat that “has nothing to lose except its chains” and which is ready to fight tooth and nail against the hated system.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But I cannot find any proletariat now, in the United States especially, with its manufacturing sector going down.

Sergei Strokan: Well, life is changing, but coming back to Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto, Marx would have to rise from his grave and rewrite the whole piece so that it fits present-day reality. To me, those Occupy Wall Street protesters are by no means the descendants of that classical proletariat that were fighting against the bourgeoisie.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: That’s what we are talking about, precisely. I think it is more appropriate to say that the driving force of the present-day revolutions within the industrialized world is no more proletariat, but middle class and disenchanted youth.

 

Sergei Strokan: Yes, the driving force of the revolutions is middle class. These protests in New York almost coincided with protests in Manchester against government budget cuts, and some weeks ago Israel was rocked by giant protests under similar slogans. So, this is a global tendency within the Western world; this has nothing to do with the Arab Spring.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I would disagree, because in the Arab Spring movements we also see the disenchanted youth and the growing middle class.

 

Sergei Strokan: But the source of disenchantment is different.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: That is a different thing, but if we look at the social aspect of those protests, the social groups are the same. I think in Egypt and Tunisia, the situations were moved by people with higher education, with no prospects for employment, with no good prospects for a good job.

Sergei Strokan: I don’t think that in societies like Egypt or Libya it is appropriate to speak about the middle class.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  Egypt? They have a powerful and growing middle class and the middle class voiced its discontent and came to the Tahrir Square.

Sergei Strokan: This can be an endless dispute, but I think we can agree on one thing –probably both in the countries of the Arab Spring and the American Autumn, the driving force behind these protests are socially vulnerable people.

Dmitry Polikarpov: I would say – people who have something to lose.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now we are moving on to the next section of our program, Between the Lines, in which we usually discuss something we believe to be a most remarkable – and provocative – story of the week. This time it’s a “Washington Post” editorial entitled “At the UN, a blow to Syria’s freedom.” I quote: “The cause of freedom in Syria took a blow Tuesday when Russia and China vetoed a watered-down UN Security Council resolution on the slaughter of peaceful protesters by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But there was a silver lining: the governments of Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao finally were held accountable before the people of Syria and the larger Middle East for their cynical and self-interested obstructionism.”

To me, that’s a very vivid illustration of the way the U.S. is acting – and feeling –towards its partners. The general mood is belligerent. They are seeking confrontation, and eventually, they’re going to get it.

Sergei Strokan: Frankly, I too didn’t expect that Russia and China would veto the draft – the West has done everything to respect Russia’s concerns.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Not exactly. The tone of the draft was still threatening, it was confrontational, if its ultimate goal was to help end the unrest – that wouldn’t have worked.

{***}

Dmitry Polikarpov: But Russia and China produced their own draft, which, according to Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s representative in the United Nations, was based on respect for Syria’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: And this draft was supported by the BRICS countries. By the way, the rejected draft was supported by nine out of the 15 UN Security Council members.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: And the double veto is a rare occasion.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But vetos are no rare occasion at all. I looked up some figures. During the 50 years the UN Security Council was operating in the 20th century, the U.S. itself used its veto power 70 times. Since the start of this century – roughly a decade – it has already vetoed UN resolutions on some 40 occasions. And let me remind you that the resolutions they were vetoing were no less important – it was like Israeli occupation, Israeli killings in Gaza, it was like proliferation of nuclear armaments – they were very important resolutions.

 

Sergei Strokan: What’s your point actually? Look, people are getting killed in Syria – the UN says the number of casualties amounts to some 2,700 people. Don’t you think it needs to be stopped?

Ekaterina Kudashkina: No one is arguing that killings need to be stopped, but the question is whether you need to extinguish fire using something like gasoline. What an idea to resolve a conflict through threats and economic sanctions!

 

Sergei Strokan: You’re trying to reinvent the wheel – sanctions do work. Look at North Korea, for example.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Sanctions do work – mostly on ordinary people. They’re the ones who suffer. Let me remind you, if there is any concern about the growth of Islamist and extremist ideas in the Middle East, then the perfect breeding ground for those ideas is the popular desperation, is the popular anger and it is only mounting in the face of the economic sanctions.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: We’re just acting the way the UN Security Council does. We’re giving way to emotions instead of carefully analyzing the situation.

Sergei Strokan: Let’s get to facts and figures first. Let’s see what interests each party has in this region.  

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Right. We could start with the Syrians themselves. To make a long story short, the Syrian opposition started with demands for political and economic reforms and has ended with demands that the Assad clan should go. No one objects to this statement?

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: Well, the opposition is so diversified that we can hardly talk of a unified position.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: As far as I know, the opposition and government supporters were united on a single thing ‑ in their desire to keep the international community out of their country. I mean they were all against international intervention.

Sergei Strokan: No one has talked of international intervention in Syria.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Oh, yes – just as they weren’t saying anything about the prospects of international military action in Libya.

Dmitry Polikarpov: I agree, the Libyan case could well be regarded as a precedent.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Well, you know, the “Washington Post” story has touched on that. Let’s have another quote: “Moscow and Beijing sought to justify their vetoes by citing NATO’s bombing in Libya and claiming that a Security Council resolution on Syria would become a pretext for another intervention. [U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan] Rice rightly dismissed that excuse: ‘Let there be no doubt: This is not about military intervention. This is not about Libya. That is a cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people.’”

Dmitry Polikarpov: I don’t think this is the main reason why Russia and China vetoed the draft.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: What are their reasons, then?

 

Sergei Strokan: Let me answer. I think, first of all, it’s money. Russia has lots of vested interests in Syria. We have a naval base there, our only naval base in the Mediterranean.

Dmitry Polikarpov: Then, we have a long history of arms sales, there were several new contracts totaling several hundred million dollars negotiated not so long ago.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Oh, yes, the article focuses on it, too. “China,” it says, “might have allowed the European-drafted resolution on Syria to pass had it not been for the resolute stance of Russia, which has sold billions in weapons to Mr. Assad.” Now, my question is, following this logic, how has China not fallen under the magic spell of the U.S., which has even more lucrative contracts in the region?

Sergei Strokan: Russia is just backing one of its oldest allies in the region.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: The whole situation in Syria is so complicated. Mr. Assad generally was seen as a pro-Western reformer. I know the situation has been handled rather clumsily, and I know that the protests must be stopped, but if civil war breaks out in Syria, who would profit from that? No one. Israel would get a nasty blow; Turkey is not going just to contemplate what is going on in Syria, on its borders, it is going to intervene; Lebanon would be crushed. The first thing we need is to use diplomatic methods to stop the unrest, whatever it takes – not sanctions, not resolutions. That is my point. And, of course, we are supporting the Syrian people. If you remember, Mr. Lavrov was quite definite on that when he told his Syrian counterparts that bloodshed needs to be stopped. Russia has been exercising full pressure in this issue.

Sergei Strokan: No one is interested in civil war in Syria. These resolutions and sanctions are about different things. Let me explain the logic behind the Western position, not that I share it. Initially Bashar al-Assad was seen as a reformer, as a young technocrat leader, who was educated in London, who was probably ready to depart from the path he inherited from his father, late president Assad, and obviously he is not the leader who is similar to Gaddafi. But unfortunately, the situation is evolving in a dangerous direction in Syria and this growing frustration in the West over Assad’s mishandling of the situation, this growing irritation that he is probably losing his historic chance to become a reformer.

{***}

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I absolutely agree with you, so we are coming to an issue of emotions – this is an emotional reaction and emotions are of no help.

Dmitry Polikarpov: Let us consider another version, just for a change. Can you imagine that the authors of the rejected resolution, after several consultations decided to put it forward, knowing it would not be passed? No one knows who could replace him. No one would like to see an Islamist movement coming to power. So, now the U.S. and its partners can say that they tried, but Russia and China stood in their way. 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: They’re already saying so. I have started with the quote from the “Washington Post,” but then, I wonder, why does no one think of Syria’s closest neighbors, like Israel? What does Israel want in this situation? Or, perhaps, what does Lebanon want in this situation?

 

Sergei Strokan: As far as I understand, Israel has not been voicing its position too clearly, has it?

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: It has not. But here is an Israeli professor for you. Listen to Eyal Zisser, a professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at the Tel Aviv University.

Eyal Zisser: Altogether, it’s a very problematic situation because Syria, like Egypt, is not a case where there is one dictator. In Syria, the regime enjoys some support within many segments of the Syrian society and there is always a fear it might lead to chaos and anarchy and some sort of a civil war. At the same time it is not a democratic regime.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: It’s a dilemma. It’s also interesting that Turkey, which used to be one of the closest allies of Syria, now is pressing to introduce more sanctions on Syria.

 

Eyal Zisser: I’m not surprised. Turkey used to be an ally of the regime. But what is the alternative to the regime? Sunni Muslim groups. This is what worries Russia. But this is exactly why [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is very pleased with this development – the rise to power of Sunni Muslim groups in Syria might help Turkey.

I think sanctions would put tremendous pressure on the regime, and this might eventually lead to its collapse, and they do encourage the protesters. But anything that has to do with Syria will be very slow and gradual. This is a case where we don’t speak of a smooth transition. I have no fast solution that can solve the problem.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: So, as you can see, Israel is well aware of what might happen if some kind of a civil war breaks out in Syria.

 

Sergei Strokan: But, the civil war is already there! And failure to vote on a resolution is only making it worse.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I think it’s the resolution that could have added to tensions.

Dmitry Polikarpov: I would say sanctions never resolve the problem, they just put it in a standby mode.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now I suggest we listen to someone who has just come back from Syria. Please meet Vyacheslav Matuzov, President of the Russian Society for the Promotion of Friendship and Business Ties with Arab Countries.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: As far as I understand you have been to Syria recently. What are your impressions?

 

Vyacheslav Matuzov: There were 24 Russian political analysts, journalists and public figures that visited Syria on the invitation of the Syrian government. They gave us an opportunity to see some cities that are well-known from the world press – Hama, Homs, Latakia. We visited those cities, and I can say that we didn’t notice any ruins in the streets. None of the houses were destroyed, only governmental centers were destroyed –the main police department and some others.

So I can say that the so-called revolutionary forces in Syria are inspired by the position of the U.S. and the declaration to support them, the demands to throw over the Syrian government. Among those forces we also see some terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood that were killing people. The latest case of their killing was the great Mufti of Syria, who was killed by unknown people belonging to this organization.

I can say that hundreds of police officers and servicemen were killed by the “peaceful demonstrators.” It is not a peaceful demonstration, and Russia understands that. When they called on the Syrian government to calm down and treat demonstrators in a peaceful way, the same thing was told to the opposition leaders, but the U.S. rejected such an approach and demanded Russia support their position and to throw over the legal Syrian government. It’s unacceptable from any point of view – moral, legal and political.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: With emotions running so high – we don’t want to fuel tensions. What we want is an end to unrest and a start of a dialogue.

Sergei Strokan: I totally agree that probably dialogue is the only way to solve the issue, but there is one big “but” over that. I am afraid that the Russian and Chinese vetoes are unable to put brakes on the process. I am sure that after two UN Security Council heavyweights impose vetoes on the resolutions, the United States and their Western partners will go ahead with unilateral actions aimed at ousting Bashar Assad from power.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: This is another way that this is going to resemble the Libyan situation.  

 

Well, here’s another sad story rooted in Syria for you. It’s a fairy tale with a real-life ending. It’s about a young boy, the son of a Syrian immigrant to the United States, who became a millionaire in his mid-twenties, and who died while still young. Our Face in the News, Steve Jobs, the famous founding father of the Apple brand passed away Wednesday at the age of 56.

Dmitry Polikarpov: He was a real icon for millions all over the world and a singular figure in American business history. While business analysts in the U.S. argue about the place he deserves in the pantheon of great American entrepreneurs, inventors, and innovators, Jobs’ fans rushed online to debate whether their guru will go to iHeaven or to iHell.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I had a very interesting meeting with some young people – they were not exactly Apple fans, but they are people who are involved in marketing. There were certain things they told me which I was not aware of. They told me that what Steve Jobs created – this company of his – was very much different from the rest of the computer companies because his initial approach was to create a person-friendly product and he started with a design. His idea was that a design is no less important that the hardware of the product. So, that’s why their products are so nice to handle – it’s nice to hold them in their hands. That is a very human-friendly approach. Another thing is that Steve Jobs always made sure – he was the one to present the new products of his company and that was very important.

{***}

Getting back to Jobs’s fans reaction to his death, let’s not forget that one of his most passionate fans in Russia has been President Dmitry Medvedev. He was quick to express condolences to the family and to all Jobs’s fans. “My sincere condolences to his loved ones and to everyone who admired his intellect and talent,” the Russian president wrote on his blog.

Sergei Strokan: President Medvedev’s reaction seems to be more than a pure courtesy. It is not a secret that Dmitry Medvedev uses the iPad religiously thus indirectly promoting the Apple’s device in Russia. Do you think this attitude might have any personal background? 

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: They met and had a rather warm conversation when president Medvedev visited Silicon Valley in June 2010 to kind of reinforce the message of “restarted” relations between the U.S. and Russia. On his Twitter page, Medvedev’s aide Arkady Dvorkovich called that meeting “interesting.” During Medvedev’s visit, Jobs presented him with an iPhone4. It happened only one day before sales in the U.S. started and several months before this new gadget officially came to Russia.

Actually, it was a funny story. Jobs gave Medvedev a pretty new black iPhone that was locked to a U.S. carrier, which made it unusable in Russia. So, the president had a choice between putting it on the shelf or unlocking it with a pirate program, as millions of our compatriots have already done trying to save their money.

Sergei Strokan: Has Dvorkovich provided any details about what finally happened? Was the iPhone unlocked?

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: We don’t know the answer yet. The only thing Dvorkovich wrote on Twitter on was “applause to Steve Jobs for all he has accomplished during a not such a long life”. However, Medvedev’s trip to the Silicon Valley was quite fruitful. It was during his stay in the U.S. that he set up a Twitter account. He returned to Russia even as a more convinced supporter of modernization and innovation and a promoter of the Skolkovo project, the state-supported Silicon Valley-type hub near Moscow.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: I would like to add some personal detail referring to that meeting between Medvedev and Jobs. As one of the persons who took part in the conversation told me, a member of the Russian delegation asked Jobs a question about the secret of Apple’s success,s which created the whole army of millions of faithful consumers reluctant to switch to other leading brands. The answer was somewhat like “we just have good taste.” Quite characteristic of Jobs’s profile as a businessman I believe… As he once said “My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”

 

Sergei Strokan: However, some people would argue that many of Jobs’s revolutionary inventions, which made millions feel almost inseparable from their iPhones, iPods or iPads are not that positive. They make users more withdrawn help them stay further and further away from real human relations and interaction.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But every time we talk about technical progress it’s a double-edged sword, because you can use a substance as a remedy, as a medicine and you can use it as a drug. It’s a matter of your own personal choice. 

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: Anyway, he is not the only person to be blamed. I believe that his philosophy was to educate people, to bring up enlightened consumers by offering them sophisticated and harmoniously designed products. And to tell the truth he often spoke with irony about his technological innovations despite all the praise and admiration coming from his colleagues and fans. “I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates,” was one of his famous phrases.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Something you could have expected from a talented and bright visionary like Steve Jobs.

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