Friday, June 27, 2008

Zimbabwe and the death of Responsibility To Protect (update 6)

The Queen of England revokes Robert Mugabe's knighthood. According to the article, Mugabe is just the second person to lose his knighthood, the first being former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu.

Which makes me wonder?

1. How the heck did Mugabe get knighted in the first place?
2. How in the crazy heck did Ceaucescu get knighted?

Zimbabwe and the death of Responsibility To Protect (update 5: the West's diabolically clever use of Croatia)

The election "runoff" between Robert Mugabe and nobody went ahead today despite a chorus of international opposition. The US and UK want the Security Council to pass a Presidential Statement stating that the election results "have no credibility or legitimacy" and insisting that the March 29 results -- won by MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai by a 48-43 margin -- be respected. In other words, the Council would be saying that Tsvangirai should be President. ("Are we certifying elections now?" wondered South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo.) However, the US and UK don't want to play into Mugabe's "imperialism" rhetoric. So they gave the resolution to Croatia and had THEM table it, so that it wouldn't appear to be a case of Western powers ganging up on poor little Robert Mugabe.

South Africa, for one, was not fooled. "And now they're using Croatia!" exclaimed Kumalo. "Some countries," he confided to an amused UN press corps, "they probably can't find Zimbabwe on a map."

US diplomats, meanwhile, suggested that if South Africa blocks their -- er, Croatia's -- proposed Presidential Statement from passing, then the US will bring a sanctions resolution. Which China will block.

Did I mention I'm probably going to have to come back here and work Saturday because of this?

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Euro 2008's second semi-final, between Spain and Russia, took place this afternoon. The entire UN, as far as I can tell, has shut down. Dozens gathered in the delegates lounge to watch the game, and under the televisions on the first floor. Most of the reporters took a break in the afternoon to catch the end, including the Japanese press even though it's the European soccer championship.

And let me say, European soccer fans put American sports fans to shame. They care SO MUCH MORE than we do. After an American basketball team wins the Finals, the fans set a few cars on fire, but it's pretty subdued. In Europe? Wow. The whole country parties after a quarterfinal win. Amazing.

Meanwhile, the Security Council, for some reason, "postponed" its afternoon meeting, which was going to coincide with today's Spain-Russia game, until tomorrow morning. Russia is a permanent member on the Council. Coincidence?


An interesting portrait of Evo Morales's Bolivia, in National Geographic, of all places. In certain countries of the world, particularly in Latin America, they're one of the few magazines I can trust anymore to cover a country's geopolitics in a not-flagrantly-biased way. If you read this and then skipped over to, say, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, you wouldn't know you were reading about the same planet, let alone the same country.

like the stairs in Hogwarts, except 80 freaking stories tall

And now comes word that not only is Dubai building the world's tallest skyscraper, but also the first moving one.

My initial reaction is, A MOVING SKYSCRAPER?! What I want to know is, how do they decide when it moves, and to what position? Maybe it will be based on the mood of the architect. "Today I'm feeling chipper, so we'll have it do the spiral thing. Meh, today I'm in a rut, so let's make it do that thing where it looks like a giant jenga set."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

how many countries are there in Africa again?

Demonstrating my theory that America cannot handle more than 3 simultaneous stories about Africa at the same time (Sudan, Zimbabwe, and then pick your third, usually the Horn or Congo or Liberia) comes this Slate story about Equatorial Guinea, and how little anybody knows about or covers it. Fascinating read.

And for the record, it does routinely make Forbes's list of top 10 corrupt countries.

Eritrea vs. The World

The Security Council is currently discussing Eritrea's recent aggression against Djibouti. This means that Eritrea has now had military confrontations with ALL of its neighbors in its 15 years of independence. And I mean all of them. A war with Ethiopia. A proxy war against Ethiopia in Somalia. A border confrontation with Sudan. And now a border confrontation with Djibouti. I think they even had some hostilities with Yemen, across the Red Sea.

And now they've successfully ejected the UN peacekeeping force on their Ethiopian border, which will likely start another war with Ethiopia, and this time, thanks to American military backing, the Ethiopians will very likely win big.

I'm just grateful I don't live in the Horn right now.

Zimbabwe and the Death of Responsibility To Protect (update 4)

The New York Times today calls for Western countries to not recognize Mugabe's government, which I'm amazed any of them still do at this point, and for targeted sanctions against individuals. My immediate reaction is to wonder when and how often targeted sanctions have accomplished anything, but hey, they're an American paper, they have to call for us to do something.

The ANC in South Africa, however, feels otherwise. While it took Mugabe to task today, it also took the West to task for interfering. Mbeki's non-response to this crisis is rather disgraceful, but on the whole I think the ANC has the right balance here. I can't imagine an outsider-implemented change of government in Mugabe. In my view, the UK in particular forfeited that right during its colonial years. Change in Zimbabwe must come from within, and with the help of African neighbors. Not that Western countries can't lend our support, but if the past few years have taught us anything, it's that democracy can only become a lasting institution when it is homegrown.

Zimbabwe and the Death of Responsibility To Protect (update 3)

So, it appears that the international community is considering imposing on Zimbabwe the one sanction that might have the desired effect: banning the cricket team. You're not a pariah state in this world until your sports teams can't play other countries' teams.

What's especially surprising about this is that Cricket South Africa led the charge by severing relations with its neighbor. Add this to the South African Trade Union's strong stance on Mugabe, and you've got a major sway in South African opinion. Thabo Mbeki may not want to budge on the Mugabe issue, but his likely successor Jacob Zuma has no such qualms.

bring the guns and leave the tents

I didn't even get a chance to post a prediction on how soon the Israel-Hamas ceasefire would fall apart, because less than a week later, it's apparently over. It makes me sort of miss the days when two sides would fight a war, one side would surrender, and then there'd be a peace treaty. Remember when that used to happen? Asymmetrical warfare is bad for everybody.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Zimbabwe and the Death of Responsibility To Protect (update 2)

Paddy Ashdown calls for the United Kingdom to invade Zimbabwe, and the Times of London says there's already a contingency plan for such an intervention.

Because, you know, the last time Zimbabwe was ruled from London, it was a picture of good governance. I wonder how many times I'm going to bust out Matthew Yglesias's "It's not imperialism, we're here to help!" quote. I'm guessing about once a week for the rest of my life at this rate.


So this is a bizarre one. Voters prefer Obama in polling on most of the issues, according to Wolf Blitzer (I know, I know), except on Iraq, where they are tied, and on terrorism, where McCain has a 19% edge.

60% of Americans want out of Iraq, but only 43% say they prefer Obama's appraoch to McCain's. I just wonder what the other 17% are thinking.

not what I would call "political reconciliation" either...

McCain's campaign manager apologizes for a rather loathsome comment...

not what I would call "political reconciliation"

Iraqi councilman kills U.S. soldiers. sigh...

Sachs takes down biofuels

These are comments from Jeffrey Sachs on biofuels and the food crisis last Friday. Pretty damning...

"My own view is that it is a significant factor. It's not the overwhelming factor, but it's a significant factor, and it's a mistake in my opinion, under the circumstances. ... To take 1/3 of the maize production out of the food system is by any account a very significant development which when there was ample food stocks and lower food prices may or may not have been justified -- I think it was arguable then -- but under the current circumstances does not make sense. It's also billions of dollars of consumer subsidies. I don't think Americans are really aware of how much subsidy they're paying for this right now. To pay for subsidy that drives up their food crisis for a technology that does not net save energy or reduce the carbon footprint and is now being justified in my view an unconvincing way ["stepping stone to a second generation"] my question would be, why not start with the second generation, thank you. There's nothing special about investing in ethanol that's going to help us get to the cellulosic ethanol which could be better because it would compete less directly with the food stock, but there we go there's a tremendous amount of scientific research that's needed, and we're not learning what to do by using the current approach. It's not that this is a major scientific input to a new discovery. This is an established technology, and not a very good one. What we need is a better techonlogy and I'm all in favor of investing federal money in that ... and seeing whether there could be improved biofuel technologies that don't compete with foodstocks. ... But we don't have that right now, certainly not at a commercial basis. ... I think the US government is basically justifying what is hard to justify right now and it's become much less justifable under the circumstances of world price trends, and then with the disaster underway in the American midwest of an even bigger crisis in total grain output, I think it calls it into question even more sharply."

Zimbabwe and the Death of Responsibility to Protect

So now we get word that Morgan Tsvangirai has pulled out of the runoff due to the violence and sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy. This is a low moment for Zimbabwe.

And it naturally means another fight for the Security Council's soul is in order. On one side, you've got the US, UK, and France, who are quite rightly condemning Mugabe's actions and are somewhat more questionably calling for a Council statement on the matter. On the other side are South Africa and China, who are playing the sovereignty card, as always.

The French are proceeding more cautiously this time after their chastening on the Burma issue. In addition to letting the United Kingdom write the proposed press statement (a questionable move, given that Zimbabwe used to be a British colony, a factor which has been somewhat relevant in the country's history and campaign rhetoric), the French demurred on the applicability of Responsibility to Protect. Sort of.

"Every time we talk about that [Responsibility to Protect] there is some academic and theological discussions," said Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert of France, who once claimed his Foreign Minister "invented" R2P, "but I must say that this morning one delegation raised the issue, saying that it was denied in the case of Burma by everybody else than France because it was a case of natural disaster, and not a case of manmade disaster. There we are. But that's not the point. The point is not for theological discussions. We can do whatever we wish. What is important is to help the people of Zimbabwe today, now."

So basically, the French think R2P applies, they just don't want to say so in so many words.

Meanwhile, the text the UK brought currently calls on Zimbabwe to "take account of the 29 March 2008 parliamentary election," or, in other words, let Tsvangirai be president. We'll see if that stands.

Two other points on Zimbambwe. First, there's this Christian Science Monitor story that says Mugabe is more isolated, before concluding that basically he doesn't care.

Second, two pro-Mugabe Zimbabweans were outside the UN Secretariat today, handing out pamphlets titled "Zimbabwe: Land, Independence, & Sovereignty." The pamphlets charged that the whole thing is a Tsvangirai-Western conspiracy to recolonize Zimbabwe. When the redhead in front of me refused to take the pamphlets, the nearest Mugabe supporter started grumbling menacingly how "of course you don't want it, you redneck" or something like that.

Friday, June 20, 2008

the Balkan beat goes on

So, remember when Serbia didn't want Kosovo to secede, so it talked about how secession would never be accepted, and how Serbia was sovereign and it would protect its territorial integrity? Right?

Well, now Kosovo is its own country (or so says about a fifth of the world's countries), but its northern ethnic Serb region is restless and wants to break away. And how does Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu feel about this brazen secession bid?

Sejdiu: "Secession is not a topic for us. It will never be an acceptable topic for us. Kosovo, as I said earlier, is for all its citizens. It's a multiethnic society and of course it is a society which has its territorial integrity protected, and the state of Kosovo is also a sui generis case in all its entirety."

Bit of a role reversal, no?

They doth protest too much (and in the wrong place)

So every day outside the UN Secretariat building, protesters gather to shout slogans on megaphones. The most common protests are about Tibet and Darfur. Both issues are weekly regulars, at least. Less common but still reliable are aggrieved citizens of the Falun Gong and Taiwan.

Which makes me wonder: what do they actually expect the UN to do about these issues? Shouldn't they be protesting outside the Chinese embassy? All of these issues except the Darfur one are internal to China (and the Darfur one is internal to Sudan). China, like any P5 member, can stop any UN action anywhere. It can veto Security Council action. It has the developing world on its side to quash any General Assembly action. If the Secretary-General speaks up, China can block him from getting a second 5-year term at his post. And they can veto any future candidate who dares breathe the word "Tibet."

As for the Darfur issue, the UN is trying to get its peacekeepers on the ground, but without governmental consent its options are limited. Although I doubt even China can lobby Sudan to accept the UNAMID force unconditionally, they are the only ones who have any serious leverage over the situation at all at this point. Moreover, the UN peacekeeping department doesn't like sending missions to places like Darfur unless there's a peace to keep, and in Darfur there isn't any. So to the sober analyst, UNAMID probably shouldn't even be deploying at all at this point, and major donors are so unconvinced of its success that they won't even pony up a pittance of helicopters so the mission can do its job.

So why are the protesters gathering outside UN headquarters every day? The issue here is, people think the UN is this nebulous global good guy who can solve the world's problems, like a teacher in a classroom. Khartoum is being evil? Go tell the UN to fix it! Beijing quashing religious dissidents at home? Call the UN! It's the panacea to the world's ills, right? Well, news flash: IT ISN'T. It's designed to stop conflict between states. There is nothing, NOTHING in the UN Charter that allows for UN action to solve internal matters inside China, or Sudan, or anywhere else.

So welcome to the real world, Guy With Megaphone screaming "What do we want?! PEACEKEEPERS! When do we want them? NOW!" Now go protest the Chinese embassy, mostly so I won't have to walk in front of your damn megaphone on the way into the UN every morning anymore.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Land of Black Gold

What better way for the United States and its oil companies to prove that the Iraq War wasn't about securing Iraq's oil reserves than awarding no-bid contracts to American oil companies that Saddam Hussein had frozen out when he'd nationalized the oil fields?

I'm sure Iraq War protestors are rooting about in their closets for their "No Blood For Oil" placquards as we speak.

As Matthew Yglesias says, "don't call it imperialism, we're here to help!"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


The United Nations is very concerned about Palestine. It demonstrates this by having a lot of committees or ad hoc working groups on the subject, the most prominent of which (apart from the Human Rights Council, which despite such atrocities as Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Burma, is concerned with little else) is the COMMITTEE ON THE EXERCISE OF THE INALIENABLE RIGHTS OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE. (CONEOTIROTPP, if you like acronyms.)

Anyway, a few days back the committee listed all the resolutions that were passed in the General Assembly on this topic in the past year. You can read it here. It's fascinating, truthfully. Eighteen resolutions in all, under topics such as "Question of Palestine," "The situation in the Middle East," "United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East," "Right of peoples to self-determination," "Permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian peopole in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jersalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources," and so on. All of these passed overwhelmingly, most with between 2 and 8 no votes (the US, Israel, several small island states, sometimes Australia and Canada), occasionally with about 50 abstentions (the EU and friends), and otherwise everyone else voting in favor.

It's amazing how poisonous the debate on Israel in this building has become. As a Jew with moderate views on Israel (yes, it has a right to exist and defend itself: no, that doesn't mean it can do anything it wants to in the Palestinian territories), I find it hard to even have a conversation at the UN about the topic. The General Assembly spends a large portion, to the point of obsession, of its working days passing resolutions of this sort, one-sided affairs that Israel and its allies can never support, but that developing countries can vote on en masse to stick it to the US. Meanwhile, in the Security Council, the US retaliates by not allowing any statements to pass. The Council hasn't agreed on a statement on the situation in Palestine in over a decade. The UN, in effect, has been sidelined by the polarity of the debate.

Which brings up a major problem with the UN: it's designed to bring about peace between sides that are ready to talk but need an unbiased mediator. If the sides don't want to talk, there's not much the UN can do. Right now, Israel and the US don't want to talk to Hamas and the Muslim world on this issue, and vice versa. So for the time being, the General Assembly will continue to pass countless pro-Palestinian resolutions that aren't worth the paper they're written on, and the US will continue to block the Security Council from taking any meaningful action on the issue.

And the beat goes on...

Security Council reform

The Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Security Council reform is meeting again today. The United Nations, as I've said before, is perhaps the only place where a group intentially calls itself "Open-Ended" or "Ad Hoc." It's never a good sign when this happens. The Group -- which some privately call the Never Ending Working Group -- has been laboring over this issue for 15 open-ended years, with nary a result.

Currently, they are trying to decide whether to continue to have "consultations" in the OEWG, or to decide they are done with this phase and move on to "intergovernmental negotiations." This is hugely controversial. As in, they've been debating it for about a year now, and still can't get consensus. The main issue is that the different factions are split and until they can join forces, there will be no agreement.

For those who don't know who the factions are on this, they are:

- THE GROUP OF 4! Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil, and friends. They want to expand the Council from its current 15 members to 26, with permanent seats for themselves plus two African countries, and nonpermanent seats for some other countries.

- THE AFRICAN GROUP! This group makes up for its lack of clout by making completely unreasonable demands, like having multiple permanent seats on the Security Council with veto power. With over 1/4 of the General Assembly membership, though, no Council reform proposal can succeed without African support. Thus, the G4 has been trying to buy them off for a long time, but with no success.

- THE UNITING FOR CONSENSUS GROUP! A group that is about as accurately named as President Bush's Clear Skies Act or his No Child Left Behind act. The UFC (it rather hilariously shares its acronym with Ultimate Fighting Championship) is actually designed solely to submarine the G4 and prevent any kind of consensus whatsoever. Its primary members are regional mid-major powers who don't want to see their powerful neighbors get permanent seats on the Council. So Argentina is in the group to stop Brazil, Italy to stop Germany, Pakistan to stop India, and South Korea to stop Japan.

- THE UNITED STATES, which actually wants the Council to have LESS members, and probably won't accept any more than a 4 to 6 member increase, which will satisfy nobody.

Currently, several small states have put forward many reasonable proposals, such as one to make the Council's working methods more open and inclusive to the rest of the membership, or another compromise plan that gives "semi-permanent seats" that can satisfy the demands of the G4, UFC, and Africans. They are all ignored.

Which means that I can report to you in advance that today's session of the OEWG shall accomplish exactly what its predecessors did: nothing. But of course, I'm covering it anyway.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Daisy Days Redux

So the creator of the Lyndon Johnson "daisy ad" died today. This makes me think: in the 2004 election, Republicans broke out the "wolves ad" that attacked Democrats for being weak on national security. But Democrats haven't really taken this fight behind the woodshed in the post-9/11 era in the same way up to now, in part because I think they're historically not fully comfortable with making foreign policy an issue to their advantage, but in part because they believed that they shouldn't out of common decency. But given how Bush's doctrine has been so ineffective in terms of all its stated goals -- curbing extremism, promoting democracy, preventing nuclear proliferation -- maybe Democrats should start making the case that Republicans are dangerous on security. Perhaps a new "daisy ad" is called for. You know, something like this... except with a narrator who sounds authoritative, rather than one who's complaining.

And if you haven't seen the ad, it's worth watching.


I've always felt that the best way to predict the future in international affairs is to expect the worst. This is why I wasn't surprised by the Burma crackdown after the so-called "Saffron revolution" (news flash to media: it's not a revolution until power changes hands). And it's why I'm not surprised that Zimbabwe's election runoff is descending into the abyss.

Assuming the worst, while a bit of a buzzkill, has its advantages, as I learned long ago by rooting for the Indianapolis Colts as a child. If things go badly, you expected it, so the hit isn't as hard. If things go well, you're ecstactic.

Likewise, if Mugabe somehow cedes power after the runoff and disappears to a quiet life in Riyadh, as Idi Amin did, I'll be thrilled, but I'm not banking on it.

The real injustice is that in a country where the average lifespan has dipped into the high 30s, Mugabe is 84 and still in good enough shape that as of last September he could pound forcefully on the General Assembly podium while blaming the United States for all of Zimbabwe's woes.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bradley goes ballistic

Everyone has issues with anger management, but few people have such spectacular issues as Milton Bradley.

p.s. Milton Bradley's existence plays into my girlfriend's theory that pro baseball is a land of impossible names, either hilariously unlikely like Bradley's, or full of bizarre spelling, like how the Red Sox had a manager named Jimy Williams and three guys with the name "Miller" except each one spelled it differently. ON THE ROSTER AT THE SAME TIME. Also, Andruw Jones.

eat food

Ezra Klein has a link to a good TedTalks by Mark Bittman on how we should eat less meat. I'm sold. I ate 100% vegetarian today, and maybe I won't go get my usual lamb gyro today for lunch. Eating vegetarian is hard to do in Midtown Manhattan, though...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Biden for Veep

I've been saying it since the day Biden entered the race, since long before Obama had a prayer of winning it. Now E.J. Dionne joins me in drumming up support for Biden. Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias are on the bandwagon too, sort of.

intervention RIP (update 2)

Matthew Yglesias responds to Madeleine Albrights' op-ed. He makes a good point, first of all, that humanitarianism is much much more than military invasion. Also, that Iraq is actually a compelling reason for us to rethink the practice of interventionism, rather than a lamentable screw-up. In his words:

"In the wake of Iraq, few people around the world think "America is sovereign, and also can invade other countries whenever it wants to, but other countries can't do that" is a viable governing principle for the world order. So insofar as people would like to see certain international norms enforced, actual work needs to be done to make that possible."

Couldn't have said it better myself. The only problem I have is where Yglesias calls sovereignty-over-all logic "grossly wrongheaded" and "abstract." My point is, why? Historically, when the US has defended sovereign states against aggressors, we've done well. World War II. Korea (the part where we saved the South, not where we invaded the North). In fact, when exactly did violating sovereignty by invading a non-aggressor just because it was doing terrible things at home ever make the world a better place? Lesse... Kosovo. That's about the only time. Bosnia '95 was an example of Serbian aggression against its neighbors. Afghanistan '01 was in response to a direct attack. Haiti '94 was a US intervention to defend a sovereign democratic leader against a coup. In each case principle of sovereignty was being UPHELD, not violated.

Meanwhile, "preemptive" invasions like Iraq were disasters, humanitarian interventions like Somalia likewise, and if we'd invaded Burma last month, it would have been a more nightmarish quagmire than anything I've previously listed.

Sovereignty! An underrated gem.

American Realism Part 2: The Revenge of Condi (update 2)

The good folks at Democracy Arsenal have come up with an excellent takedown of Condi Rice's piece in Foreign Affairs. Patrick Barry calls it "the fever pitch of Bush Administration legacy salvaging," before pointing out that despite Rice's lauding of America's strong alliances, those alliances are in worse shape than they've ever been.

proof that France is not the United States

Forget Michelle Obama's ill-phrased comments and Cindy McCain's secret tax records: if this happened in the United States, it would be a campaign-ending. But because it happened in France, it's hilarious.

The Hundred Years' War, Part 2

Matthew Yglesias on why McCain's 100 years comment is, um, actually rather important. Especially given the negotiations over the future of the American force that the administration is painstakingly undertaking with an Iraqi body politic that does not want to make anything permanent.

intervention RIP

Madeleine Albright laments the death of intervention in today's New York Times. It's an interesting read. Her basic argument is that Clinton's interventions in Haiti and Bosnia couldn't happen in today's climate, because of Iraq and the resulting ascendance of the sovereignty doctrine.

The article ends with an ambiguous appeal to hear the cry of the people of Burma. But is Albright proposing intervention in Burma? Her piece doesn't really offer a solution to today's internal humanitarian and political quandaries, only a lament for the common sense under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton that was lost during the current administration.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

who cares about Darfur?

The World Food Programme reports today that it's having to scale down its helicopter aid in Darfur.

As I've mentioned earlier, it's clear that the international community has no confidence that Unamid can bring peace to Darfur, given that no one is willing to give the mission the helicopters it needs to succeed. But this is even worse, this is humanitarian helicopters in question here, and it's not even a question of getting someone to lend one, only to give money to WFP so it can run a chopper that it's already got. WFP has been putting out increasingly desperate press releases and taking the collection cap on a global tour for months now, so it's not as if this surprised anybody. I don't get righteous often on this page, but this is, frankly, shameful. WFP needs $20 million by June 15. On the grand scale of money -- even aid money -- this is peanuts. Get it together, donor states. You can't stop the Darfurian ethnic chaos, but you can feed a lot of hungry people.

Shameless Music Plug #5

Actually, I don't know what number we're on, but let's just pretend it's five. I've already plugged Elbow, but now it appears they're coming out with a b-sides record in September. As I've made a bit of a hobby of collecting their rare b-sides, such as can be found at reasonable cost, I can assure you they are excellent. Do seek this out when it becomes available, O readers.


The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission -- you know, the guys who were charged with finding Iraqi WMD, didn't find it, and then were ignored or vilified in the run-up to the invasion -- submitted their final report today. UNMOVIC had already closed up shop last year, but this was just a tying-up-of-the-loose-ends. It makes me sad to look at it, to think of how different things might have been if only anyone had listened to these guys, rather than pillorying them as incompetent and then quietly crushing their mandate in a backroom negotiating chamber in the Security Council when it was all over.

"a disaster"

The New York Times has thankfully decided that a military attack on Iran would be a disaster. Their suggestions are very prudent. It's a shame, at times like these, that the President doesn't read newspapers.

either negotiate, or don't

The one thing Bush has gotten during his trip to Europe -- apart from scorn, of course -- is an agreement to continue sanctioning Teheran. Bush again said that he would work to solve the problem diplomatically, rather than using military force as the Israelis have recently threatened.

The only problem with this is that he's not solving it diplomatically. Each of the last three Security Council sanctions resolutions has been more toothless than the one that preceded it, certainly for an issue as primal as Iran's pursuing the fuel cycle. The country's economy is in the sewer anyhow, and it's completely dependent on sky-high oil prices. But these are not going away, so ineffectual Council pressure won't stop Iran. Meanwhile, they can't get the US to meet unless they suspend enrichment. Assuming they're pursuing the fuel cycle for deterrence against US action, feeble threats give them no incentive to stop enrichment, nor do European-backed carrots when the prospect of direct dialogue with the US isn't on the table. (Think of the European diplomatic overtures as America outsourcing its foreign policy. We refuse to talk to Iran, so we'll get others to do it for us.)

John Bolton has repeatedly argued that negotiating with the Iranians "is not cost-free," because it takes time, which is to Iran's advantage. This is true, except that we could have done a lot of negotiating -- perhaps even negotiated our way to a suspension of enrichment by Iran -- in the last 2 years, during which time we did nothing at all except pass Council resolutions that very predictably failed to achieve any results. With China and Russia unlikely to allow for any further sanctions serious enough to give Teheran pause, our options are:

- Negotiate with Iran.
- The current course of passing ineffective Council resolutions demanding that Teheran suspend enrichment before we negotiate, then doing nothing when they refuse.
- Airstrikes, driving the Iranian program underground, thus leading to the necessity of a full-scale American-led invasion.

Which of those sounds like a viable option to you? As far as I'm concerned, only one of them does.

Monday, June 9, 2008

heat wave

In C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, it's always winter and never Christmas before the children and the Jesus-lion restore proper seasonal balance.

Here in New York, we split the difference. For half the year it's winter and no Christmas (January to May) and for half the year it's SUMMER. No spring. No autumn. Summer arrived with a bang this weekend here, when the temperature went from 40 and rainy to 70 and sunny in a week, and then from 70 and sunny to 95 AND BROILING in 12 hours. I expect the whole summer to be like this. And it will stay unseasonably warm well into December. You watch.

In the meantime, I'm breaking into a torrid saltwater-in-the-eyes sweat just typing this blog post.

Doug Collins... back to TNT!

So apparently I'm a little late on this one, but Doug Collins won't be coaching the Bulls after all.


American Realism Part 2: The Revenge of Condi

Condoleezza Rice dips into her trusty boilerplate machine to pump out the headline story in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. (For comparison, they also have her 2000 essay up here.) Clearly, this is a case of a sequel that was written just to cash in on the original and bring back the old characters for a tired rehash of another round. Except for reversing herself on nation-building (now she's in favor of it, but in 2000 she sniffed at "humanitarian interests" or the interests of "the international community"), there is nothing even remotely controversial here. Lesse...

- 9/11 changed everything? Check.
- China and Russia are competitors but not enemies, so we can continue to work with them and blame them for everything at the same time? Check.
- Democracy is good and we should be promoting it? Check.
- Latin America is important? Check.
- We should continue to be allied with Europe? Check. (Oh, and "hopefully, the day will come when Turkey takes its place in the EU." Glad we know where she stands on that. Oh wait... she didn't take a stand at all. Hey!)

The only controversial point is where Rice repeats her well-used line that for 60 years, we "focused exclusively on stability" in the Middle East, thus implying that unilateral regime change a la Iraq is now in keeping with America's idealistic tradition. But even then, she doubles back completely on this point later, confessing "hard choices" in picking friends in the region: "we do need capable friends in the broader Middle East who can root out terrorist now. These states are often not democratic, so we must balance the tensions between our short-term and our long-term goals. We cannot deny nondemocratic states the security assistance to fight terrorism or defend themselves." She does continue, "[a]t the same time, we must use other points of leverage to promote democracy and hold our friends to account." But the damage is done. We'll continue providing military assistance to Egypt and Saudi Arabia of course, so... um... how exactly is this different from the last 60 years?

When Rice gets to the Iraq invasion, she trots out the Nazi Germany analogies (we didn't invade Germany to turn it into a democracy either, she argues, but that was part of the plan). As they say, in a debate, the first side to mention Hitler loses.

All told, for a Secretary of State who represents the most diplomatically detested administration quite possibly ever, I feel like this essay could have taken some chances. After all, what has she got to lose? The administration's prestige?

Instead, we get such a thorough recycling of phrases that I actually could have written most of it myself, and agreed with much of it.

Myanmar and the debilitating but as yet non-fatal blow to Responsibility To Protect (update 21)

Reuters has an interview with John Holmes up today where he observes that delivering aid by force would not have been helpful in Myanmar.

Also, the UN reports that aid might be needed for up to a year in Myanmar.

Friday, June 6, 2008

"committed to diplomacy"

It's nice to hear that the White House is "committed to diplomacy" on Iran. So, um, why aren't we talking to them? Apparently "diplomacy" doesn't mean what it used to. Apparently it now entails stating your demand and then standing obstinately with your arms crossed while waiting for the other side to be accede to all of your demands before negotiations even begin.

better living through chemistry

Yesterday, for the first time since I started wearing ties, I got a stain on my tie. My best silk tie. Washing it out had no effect whatsoever. Majorly bummed, I stomped down to the local drycleaners to see if they could fix it.

Got it back today. Stain is GONE. Amazing. I don't want to think of what chemicals they used to do that, but the advantage is undeniable.

Myanmar and the debilitating but as yet non-fatal blow to Responsibility To Protect (update 20, or thereabouts)

UN humanitarian coordinator John Holmes spoke to the media again today about the food crisis, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe. According to Holmes, the UN and related agencies have now reached 1.3 million of the estimated 2.4 million people in need in Myanmar. Most of the rest have been reached by NGOs, private citizens, or the government. Visas are being approved relatively smoothly for the UN and related agencies, though NGOs are having a bit tougher a time. Over 135 flights have gone into Yangon airport. "Very few" people haven't received some sort of aid, though not enough as of yet. The important thing now, Holmes said, is to keep the supply lines open, because both short-term aid and long-term reconstruction assistance will be needed for months to come.

Now, I know an appalling death toll has come about as a result of delayed action and government intransigence/incompetence, but all things considered... aren't we glad we didn't invade?


Remember when Bush and Cheney came to power in 2000 and everyone said the one thing they'd do well was handle the oil supply, because that was their business and they knew all the right people?

Well, the market apparently doesn't. $138 a barrel. It makes me glad I live in one of the few cities in America (New York) that has a good public transport system. And it's not even that good.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Americas vs. Americans

How things change. Today, former Sandinista foreign minister and fierce US critic Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann was unanimously elected to be the next President of the General Assembly. Despite US concerns for a man who called manifest destiny a "demon" ideology, who referred to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as "aggression," and Reagan as a "butcher," the Group of Latin American and Caribbean states, who offered up his candidacy, got him through unopposed, and the US rolled over with very little opposition. They didn't even call for a vote to express their opposition. Brockmann was approved by acclamation.

Even two years ago, this tame reaction would have been unimagineable. If John Bolton was still Ambassador, we members of the press corps would have doubtless born witness to a fiery oratory outside the Security Council today about how this proves the General Assembly is irrelevant... the view that most of the US Mission appears to have but that few care to out-and-out broadcast as publicly as Bolton would. As it was, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad expressed hope that "a page has been turned" and that such behaviour wouldn't repeat itself.

Father Brockmann was more subdued in his press conference today. He said he didn't think the US was evil. Some of his best friends are Americans, he said. (Really.) But he did not take back any of his previous comments, and said that the world is caught in a "quagmire of individualism and selfishness." He also came perilously close to endorsing Barack Obama, quoting his campaign slogan "change we can believe in" as evidence that the US is no longer an international menace.

It's going to be a rough autumn in the GA, is all I can say.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

the best team money can buy (part 3)

So Sports Illustrated drops the Fortunate 50 on us, the 50 highest paid athletes in any sport in the US. Once again, Tiger Woods is tops on the list with $127 million in earnings, $105 million of that in endorsements. And while I hate to keep harping on Jason Giambi, he's #23 on this list. Also probably undeserving is Stephon Marbury, at #25. He made $19 mil to help the Knicks self-destruct, not that they need the help. Also impressive is JaMarcus Russell, who made $20 million and barely played a down.

breaking up is hard to do

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian pulls out the Russian argument that America's support of Kosovar independence is encouraging independence bids everywhere. His example is in Bolivia, and his solution is that we should encourage autonomy there (no discussion, meanwhile, of whether this is a good idea or not: it's just accepted by fiat because Evo Morales is a bad man who wants to grow coca everywhere) but not outright secession, because secession undermines sovereignty and leads to global chaos.

Now, I'm a big sovereignty buff, as I've repeatedly demonstrated here. (See all my Myanmar posts.) But Bolivia is a pretty unique case, because if you look at the world's would be ethnic separatist bids, just how many have US backing? Sri Lanka's Tamils? No. The Basques? Certainly not. Even our ally Taiwan gets Uncle Sam's hand over its mouth when it shouts too loudly for independence. Partition of Iraq and independence for the Kurds has never seriously been considered by anyone in the United States besides Joe Biden. We support none of the Russian breakaway provinces either, not South Ossetia nor Trans-D'niestra nor Abkhazia nor Crimea. Chechnya and Tibet are non-starters in Washington. All of our Africa policy seems intent on keeping the borders fixed, no matter how stupid or arbitrary they may be. The fact is, while a lot of ethnic revolutionistas felt that Kosovo was precedent for their own bids, the US has consistently said it's "sui generis" and on virtually every front we've acted like it too.

The other issue with Tokatlian's piece is that many countries, including Iraq and probably most flagrantly Sudan, have never functioned as nation-states, have always had ethnogeographic fiefdoms that wanted nothing to do with each other, and up to now have been sustained as sovereign states only by brutally tyrannical regimes crushing all dissent. All things considered, why should these countries continue to try to function in arbitrarily created colonial borders less that are than a century old when it's clearly impossible for them to do so? Partition is messy, yes, but when one in five Iraqis is dead or has fled, we have to ask, messy as opposed to what?

In this sense, the real test of US policy will be in the coming years in South Sudan, which is perilously near another explosion. Is Tokatlian seriously suggesting we try to get the South Sudanese to not secede? All I can say is, good luck with that.

Albright speaks

Madeleine Albright came to the UN to speak, along with Hernando de Soto (the economist, not the conquistador, of course) to us journalists about legal empowerment of the poor. The two had headed a report that concluded that 4 billion people don't have access to the law, meaning that they have no legal recourse to secure rights regarding property, labor, or justice, or business. This by itself is a rather shocking conclusion.

But of course the press didn't care about it. We cared much more about what Albright -- former Secretary of State and UN Ambassador and current Hillary Clinton supporter -- might say about the election, and about Iran.

And what did she say? That she supports Hillary but is a democrat and will support the nominee whoever it is. Sort of refreshing to hear, after the "McCain 08!" chants at the DNC meeting last week.

And that Iran's nuclear issue is best dealt with through the international community, and that the nonproliferation regime is broken. She's got a new book out on what the next President must do, and I might just have to pick that one up.

play the game

Now, heretofore Ambassador At Large has stayed the heck out of the presidential race on this page. AAL has also been known to lambast The New Republic , mostly for continuing to hold a post-Bosnia militant interventionist's zealotry for international misadventure long after the disastrous effects of such policy became demonstrably evident for all to see.

I'll take a break from both habits right now: I find this sports parable likening Clinton's campaign to the Detroit-Boston series in the NBA playoffs to be hilarious, both as political and sports satire. Very well done, Mr. Orr. Very well done.