Wednesday, July 30, 2008

oh dear

Ehud Barak is visiting the UN and speaking to the press. Now, I know Israel and the UN haven't had the best of relations for the past three decades or so, but someone could have told the Israeli Defense Minister that it's "Secretary-General Ban" that he just met with, not "Secretary-General Moon."


UNMEEeeeeeee ... ! (update 2)

It has been done. UNMEE is dead. The Council members are making statements. The Ambassador of Belgium said his delegation "hopes that once tension caused by the disturbance surrounding UNMEE and its future has abated, a climate more conducive to dialogue will emerge." But I rather doubt it.

UNMEEeeeeeee ... !


The Security Council is on the verge of ending the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). A draft resolution submitted by Belgium and with the apparent support of the Council's members calls for the force to be terminated effective July 31. This marks the first ending of a peacekeeping mission in the three years that I've been here.

This all dates back to December 2005, where the Eritreans, mad that Ethiopia hadn't accepted the UN's ruling on where the border was between the two countries, banned helicopter flights by the UN on its side of the border. In addition to making it very hard to monitor the rugged terrain, this actually prevented some places from being accessed at all. (Turns out, the disputed area is so remote it can only be accessed by chopper, which makes you wonder why the two sides are fighting over it apart from naked pride.) Eventually, Eritrea cut fuel shipments to the UN force also, leading the UN to evacuate its forces from the Eritrean side and repatriate them to their home countries. After two years of cajoling, threats, and ultimatums, it appears the UN will finally lay the hammer down and withdraw the force.

So Eritrea and Ethiopia, you now have de facto permission to go back to war! Obviously the leaders want to anyway...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sudan, Bashir, the ICC, and the "world's largest plea bargain"?

The plot thickens on Darfur. First comes yesterday's New York Times story that Sudan's disparate political forces have all united behind President Bashir. That's right, the indictment has managed to do something that no one has been able to do in Sudan for over 60 years: get all factions to agree on something. Too bad they're all agreeing that the indictment is a bad idea. Part of this is politics -- most Sudanese factions have people who have committed crimes against humanity at this point -- but part of it, as the Times puts it, is that the factions "looked into the abyss" and saw Somalia.

Does this mean that the indictment was a good idea, and will actually advance the peace process? Perhaps. Perhaps it's just a giant bargaining chip in the "world's largest plea bargain," as this fellow shrewdly suggests.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Myanmar and the death of Responsibility To Protect (update XLVII)

Today the Security Council is again discussing the issue of Myanmar. The Secretary-General's special envoy Ibrahim Gambari is going back to the country in mid-August, and by golly, the US wants some results this time.

Quoth Ambassador Khalilzad today at the Council: "[I]f they don't cooperate on a timebound negotiations and release of political prisoners, if they think that allowing Mr. Gambari is just to buy time to deflect pressure, that they can get away with that over time, they are misguided. There will be Security Council focus on this issue. There will be a majority of countries that will push for action if there is no progress. Now of course we know the rules of the game. Countries could stop effective Council action in this regard. We will come to that. But that will not deter us from pushing for action for sustained focus and attention by the Security Council on this issue. So I would urge them to take advantage of the opportunity that the Gambari visit offers ... ."

Translation: "Burma, if you don't do what we demand, we'll make China and Russia veto a draft Security Council resolution about it! So there!"

If this is supposed to "incentivize" (to use Khalilzad's so-called word) the Burmese authorities to be reasonable, I'm not exactly sure how.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

how to solve the Darfur Crisis

Khartoum's regime has the answer: a $246 million bounty on the head of the Justice and Equality Movement.

That's five times what the US is offering for bin Laden, if I recall. Doesn't that mean that Sudan will be five times aseffective in fighting the... ? No it probably doesn't, does it.

Go, Go, Mr. Bashir!

Ah, the Sudanese government and their dancing leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir... putting the "offensive" back into "charm offensive."

Cambodia/Thailand and the utility of the UN Security Council

I so often line up with China and Russia in arguing that this or that an issue is not a Security Council issue because it's not a threat to international peace and security (Zimbabwe, Myanmar, etc.) that some may question whether I think the Council has any use whatsoever.

But of course it has uses. And the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand that is escalating by the day is the perfect example. Mediating such disputes, and heading off unnecessary aggression and conflict, is precisely what the UN was made for. Granted, compared with Sudan or Somalia this should be a bit of a bunny, but the fact is, it's a true international incident and the Council, as the security organ of the world's global body, has the authority to help arbitrate the dispute, just as the Secretariat's political offices are uniquely able to mediate it. Reports are that the Council will take up the issue and I'm glad about it.

Meanwhile, I would laugh off the risk of actual warfare over a tiny patch of land adjacent to an 11th century temple, but when I read about the infamous Honduran-El Salvadoran soccer war, I remember that one should never underestimate the capacity of nations to engage in hostilities for the most juvenile of reasons.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

why we need a worldview

I'm finding the Iraq debate to be increasingly frustrating. Liberals are now delighted that Maliki is agreeing with Obama's drawdown proposal (though the Sunnis, naturally, are less enthused). But this is missing the point. The point is that even though Iraq's violence is down at the moment, the fundamental question of what Iraq should look like has not been solved. The Sunnis and Shiites are currently being paid off and armed by us, which is keeping them from being at one another's throats, but this is temporary. Ultimately, the ethnonationalist visions of the three major groups in Iraq are fundamentally different, and until a system of autonomy or federalism is developed, violence will remain high, as will the risk of wholesale sectarian flameout.

Which comes to the crux of what I've been arguing here. THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN ANYWAY, whether we stay there or not. Our strategy for the past two years or so has been much smarter than the previous three, but that does not make the war a smarter idea. What should be going on here is a wholesale disavowal of the interventionist and certainly neocon, worldview, in favor of a sovereignty worldview wherein America protects free countries from aggressors but doesn't seek monsters to destroy. When implemented, this has consistently worked for us throughout our history, and our ideas have spread as we lead by example and defend free nations from aggressors like the Nazis or Imperialist Japan. Diversions from this principle, however, have repeatedly tended to undermine our own ideals and lead to quagmires and terrible suffering. Think Iraq, Vietnam, the decision to invade North Korea after liberating the South, and the like.

What bothers me is that this debate is not happening. We are ripe for making the same mistakes again, be it in Sudan or Zimbabwe or Burma or wherever is next. Moreover, when violence continues in Iraq after we start withdrawing troops, people will say, "oh, we need to stay" because we haven't established what works and what doesn't in the world. The fact is, the Iraq War made inevitable a sectarian bloodletting in Iraq. It was exacerbated by bad strategy, but fundamentally the idea for the war was wrong, and furthermore, the consequences of that decision cannot be fixed, only minimized.

The end result should be simple: no more wars against nonaggressor states, no matter how crappy their regimes. Whatever we do in Iraq, the endgame will be messy, possibly very messy, but one must ask... as opposed to what? As many as a million or many more are dead, a sixth of the country is displaced. At the end of the day, I not only trust countries to fix their own problems more than I trust foreigners to do so, but on account of ethnonationalism, the people in the countries in question feel this way too. I don't trust the Sunni and Shiite factions to resolve this peacefully. I'm pessimistic about Sudan and Zimbabwe also. However, I'm very, very confident that any military intervention or continued occupation and presence in these countries would make them WORSE, not better, and at the cost of major resources and a destabilizing of the global system, which is, still, built on sovereign states, and whose institutions are primarily designed to protect sovereign states from each other.

No one talks about this. No one seems to realize it at this point. And if they do, they don't make a big deal out of it. And as long as they don't, Iraq could happen again. And again. And again.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Darfur remains grim

The Secretary-General's new Darfur report is out. Among other things, it says that the total strength of Unamid as of 18 June is 11,359 personnel, which satisfied no one on the security council, according to UK Ambassador John Sawers. Of course, 7000 of those troops were holdovers from the AU force, so of the 19,000 additional troops that were supposed to deploy, we've got slightly over 4000 of those on the ground so far.

Many non-Western countries on the council are expressing dismay at the ICC indictment of President Bashir, saying that it will undermine the peace process. The counterargument, of course, is quite simple. THERE IS NO PEACE PROCESS. Quoth the report: "Human rights and humanitarian law continue to be violated by State and non-State actors. Across Darfur, civilians continue to bear the brunt of increased violence and growing insecurity as a result of recurrent fighting by the warring parties and military action by the Government. The killing and suffering of civilians during attakcs on villages underscore the failure of all warring factions to distinguish between civilians and military targets, in violation of existing ceasefire arrangements and international law." The report goes on to say that an additional 190,000 people were displaced in the past six months, that rebel factions are now openly fighting with each other, and... you get the idea.

Oh, and the commercial contractor building UNAMID facilities is "far behind schedule and has not performed as expected." Turns out, the UN, which customarily doesn't do no-bid contracts for such things, broke its own rule to allow this one to Lockheed Martin... and learned, just as the US has in Iraq, that no bid contracts tend to be a very bad idea. (Heads up to Inner City Press for some excellent and persistent digging on this issue.)

Interestingly, this entire peacekeeping effort has had a budget of $1.2757 billion since it was authorized on July 1 of last year. That sounds like a lot of money, and for the UN it is, but then you look at how much we're spending per day in Iraq, and this doesn't seem so bad. Of course, it would help if the force was actually, you know, on the ground, but you can't have everything in life...

p.s. I'm starting to think I need a vacation. Can you tell that I'm becoming more cynical on this page? Luckily, I've got my summer vacation coming up in mid-August. Just in time...


I'll give credit where credit is due. On Iran, Bush finally did something right.

Zimbabwe and the death of Responsibility To Protect (update 8)

Tom Friedman blasts South Africa, China and Russia for killing the Zimbabwe resolution in the Security Council. (To which a South African official quipped that, if South Africa is now a "country with no morals," are there any countries with morals?)

The central flaw in Friedman's argument, however, is that he thinks the Zimbabwe resolution is a) within the Council's purview (strictly speaking, it isn't) and b) that it would actually do anything positive. In a post-Iraq world, interventionists are saddled with the burden of proof. My worldview is easy: China and Russia vetoing the Zimbabwe resolution probably won't lead to stable democracy in Zimbabwe, but then, at this point probably nothing will. By contrast, the double veto at the very least won't make things worse than they are already. In a post-Iraq world, this is a very salient point. The fact is, sanctioning ruling party members may well have torpedoed any chance of a power-sharing government in Zimbabwe. Granted, it's quite possible -- likely even -- that a power-sharing government will never come to fruition, but the point is, if the ruling party members are sanctioned, it definitely won't happen. Nobody talked about sanctions when Kenya's election was stolen, or when Nigeria's was stolen. Why Zimbabwe? If we're going to be righteous interventionists and take the Council far beyond its original mandate so that it deals with domestic problems rather than international ones, let's at least be consistent about it, rather than just going after countries whose leadership the US and UK don't like.

So, Tom, the reason the US is unpopular abroad isn't that we've got enough backbone to try to fix other countries' problems. It's that when we do try to fix them, we consistently make a hash of it. This undermines both the principles of sovereignty and our own credibility. If we protected the sovereignty principle a little more rather than running roughshod over it arbitrarily, our moral credibility to do something when the merit arises and the capacity is there (Kosovo, for example) would increase exponentially, as would our global approval ratings.

"The best leader is one whose existence is barely known. Next best is one who is lived and praised. Next is one who is feared. Worst of all is a leader who is despised." - Lao Tsu

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

peace vs. justice

In the NY Times today there's a good piece defending Ocampo's indictment of President Bashir for war crimes. It's worth reading. We'll have to see what happens, but I think the article makes the point that, indictment or no indictment, the promise of a quiet retirement in a neutral country for Bashir has to be a card on the table in negotiations. The peace process is too important for that.

We'll see. I still think that at best, this will be a wash, and at worst it will have adverse effects on the Sudanese political situation. But we'll have to see. There's very limited precedent for this sort of thing, although you could argue that Bashir's position is somewhat similar to Milosevic's in 1999, minus the NATO intervention in Kosovo.

Dept. of Moral Climates-approved, Part 2

China orders Beijing's pollution to vanish.

I love my democracy, but you gotta admit, only an autocratic regime could have the rights-trampling capacity to pull something like this off.

Dept. of Moral Climates-approved

Today the Commission of Truth and Friendship for Timor-Leste delivered its final report.

Ahem. The Commission on Truth and Friendship?! Does this sound like Orwell or what?

Monday, July 14, 2008

let's talk

A good article by Roger Cohen (I know, I know) on how the Norweigan tactic of negotiating with everybody would sure be a good thing for the US right now. Also, how the US should end the "war on terror." I'm glad we've come to the point where a mainstream thinker can say this without being thrown off a bridge, which is more than could be said for the years 2001-2004.

Shameless Music Plug #7

Beck's new album Modern Guilt is excellent. And at only 33 minutes long, it has no filler. I mean none. It doesn't quite have a killer lead single like Think I'm In Love or E-Pro, just ten really good funky murky melancholic pop-pyschedelia tracks in a row. Recommended.

"The Old Man is staying because I'm not ending up in The Hague"

Time has an article today on why the ICC is, arguably speaking, completely screwing up Africa's politics for the next generation. (They're a bit more diplomatic than that, of course.) Yes, you can make the "no justice no peace" argument that the next generation of African leaders won't commit war crimes for fear of punishment by international tribunal. But in Sudan, in Zimbabwe, in so many places, dreams are bowing to reality. African leaders, it turns out, are still committing war crimes, they're just more stubbornly unwilling than ever to cede power. As long as Bashir holds office, he's not going to face the ICC, no matter what Prosecutor-General Ocampo has to say about it. And the indictment of him today pretty much guarantees that he will stay in power until he dies or is killed. As for Zimbabwe, not only Mugabe but also his top generals and others who have committed atrocities all have an investment in staying in power. If the ICC had existed in the '70s, Idi Amin might never have left his country to spend a quiet retirement in Saudi Arabia. To me, how Amin spends his final days is far less important than the future of his country. A quiet retirement for such a man might be infuriating to witness, but it's better than this.

"democracy promotion run wild"

Samantha Power calls for a global showdown over Zimbabwe's stolen election, and for Morgan Tsvangirai to set up a "government in exile" and for countries worldwide to choose who to recognize. Basically, a world of "March 29 countries" who accept the legitimate Zimbabwe election results and the "June 27 countries" who back Mugabe.

Does this sound like a good idea to you? It doesn't to Robert Dreyfuss, who helpfully points out all the negative consequences it could have, like civil war in Zimbabwe, dreadful precedent worldwide, global polarization and division of the world into "free" states and "not free" states. If this sounds a lot like the League-of-Democracies-bashing I've been doing on this page, it should. Personally, I'm disappointed in Power. If she wants to convince us cynical "Iraq generation" types that her "Bosnia generation" can be trusted, she'll have to do better than this.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


My friend from back home got some kittens. And they like to wrestle.

This will make your day.

Friday, July 11, 2008

walking city

After seeing David Byrne's show "Why New Yorkers Ride Bikes" Ambassador At Large was inspired to recommend that part or all of Broadway in midtown around 42nd street be closed and turned into a biking and pedestrian walkway area with al fresco shops and open spaces.

And now it's happening!!!!

Bloomberg... is awesome.

double veto!

DOUBLE VETO. Russia and China lay the SMACKDOWN! Both voted no in vetoing the proposed Zimbabwe sanctions resolution. The resolution would have passed otherwise, gaining 9 votes in favor, with five against (Vietnam, Libya and South Africa in addition to Russia and China) and one abstention (Indonesia). This is only the second double-veto (the other being Russia and China on a Myanmar resolution two years ago) since 1972.


no justice and no peace

Yesterday came word that ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will introduce genocide charges on Omar Hassan al-Bashir, making him the first sitting head of state to be charged with genocide who wasn't on the verge of being thrown out of power (as opposed to Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor).

I'd comment, but an excellent analysis piece in the New York Times has done my work for me by noting what a catastrophic idea this is.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Zimbabwe and the death of Responsibility To Protect (update 7)

The United States submitted a draft resolution on Zimbabwe to the Security Council on Friday, calling for sanctions against 12 individuals in the Mugabe regime. The South Africans, of course, strenuously objected, arguing that in negotiating a settlement between two parties, passing a resolution that condemns one of them exclusively is probably a bad way to do it. The Chinese and Russians, predictably, expressed disapproval at the sanctions resolution, though at this point we don't know whether they will abstain and let the resolution pass, or veto it. The vote could be as early as this evening. If not, probably tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, do we really think that a travel ban will stop Mugabe and his regime? Or that an asset freeze, when the targets know their names days in advance, will accomplish anything substantial? Ambassador At Large has his doubts, mostly because he has yet to see a sanctions resolution accomplish diddly-squat in his three years of reporting from the UN.

Meanwhile, if I haven't already posted this fantastic piece of information, the following are all real people who would be hit with targeted sanctions:

Didymus Mutasa
Augustine Chihuri
Constantine Chiwenga
and, my personal favorite...
Happyton Bonyongwe

No, really, those are their names. Don't you wish your name was Happyton Bonyongwe? I do. It would almost be worth the travel ban, just to have a name like that.

funny ha ha

John McCain jokes about killing Iranians. Then clarifies that it's only a joke. Because that makes it okay.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

all your base are belong to us

Proving his amazing skill at using the English language to turn a mildly inflammatory phrase into an immensely inflammatory one, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls for US military bases to be eradicated.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi leadership is now demanding a timetable for US withdrawal. Plus no legal immunity for contractors. Plus no permanent bases.

It's almost like they don't want us to stay there...

Monday, July 7, 2008

"someone should do something"

Quoth Megan McCardle: "I'm now at a lunch talk by Stephen Carter called "The Tragedy of Just War Theory". The most interesting thing he's pointed out so far is that when Americans say "someone should do something" to stop a conflict somewhere, this is almost tantamount to saying "we should do something", because at a most generous estimate, there are four military forces in the world capable of deploying into a conflict zone and shutting down the war: America, Britain, Australia, and Israel. For diverse reasons, the other three are very unlikely to deploy without our support. We're it."

Never mind the many commenters below that post pointing out that the French intervene all the time in their former African colonies. The truth is, you know the last couple times I've heard people say "someone should do something" a lot? Zimbabwe and Burma. And as I've argued on this page, any "intervention" in either place would have been (and would still be) a disaster, particularly in Burma. So I don't really agree with Carter or McCardle on this one. Mostly when people say "someone should do something" it's because they're frustrated that nothing can be done. The danger is that then someone -- the Bush Administration, perhaps -- can subsequently convince them that something can be done, and that furthermore only we can do it. In this case, there's such a thing as too much "can-do" spirit, like the part where we invaded Iraq and one sixth of its population was either killed, maimed or displaced.

Another failure with this point is the lack of appreciation for regional powers or multilateral organizations to undertake action with US financial or military backing. Think UN or NATO or AU peacekeeping efforts or even Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia. These are not "US" interventions per se. They do require US leadership or military support, but neither would they work nearly as well if the US went in alone or instead. (Matthew Yglesias is right on the money with this one.)

And to people who say that the UN-AU force in Darfur isn't accomplishing jack, my point is, it shouldn't be there. (And for all intents and purposes, it isn't.) Until there's a peace deal or a peace to keep of some kind, nobody should be there who isn't in the mood to unleash hell across the horn of Africa and the Sahel when the Sudan splits into three or four countries and every one of its neighbors descends into ethnonationalistic chaos.

So when I read about Darfur, I do sometimes think "someone should do something." But I do NOT mean us. I mostly mean Khartoum and the rebels, because until they can both come to the bargaining table and be reasonable, there's not much to be done by anybody.


is the best movie I have seen this year. No, it's really that good. Go see it.

be cool

Temperatures are back up in the high 80s, approaching 90 this week in my hometown of New York. The enviros down at Grist have the straight dope on the window fans vs. air conditioner debate. What's their advice? Hint: air conditioners use a crapload of electricity.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Shameless Music Plug #6

Alabama 3 probably has the highest ratio of awesomeness to anonimity. Or maybe vice versa. Anyway, the point is, they're an awesome acidhousecountrygospeleverythingelse collective and they're sweet. They wrote the open credits song to the Sopranos. You can listen to clips of them here. I feel I need to plug these guys, because I just went to their show at the Fillmore last night and they really are probably the best live act in the UK, as the Guardian claims... but the place was only 2/3 full. The fans who came though were in the know, however. It was hopping. Go check them out.

it's not torture if they're terrorists, right?

So today the New York Times drops word that US "interrogation practices" are in fact directly copied from Chinese interrogators during the Cold War. Tactics that the Chinese used... on American troops.

Somewhere, Gavin Menzies is probably nodding knowingly. After all, he believes that China invented virtually everything of consequence. Add torture to the list, I guess.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

hell freezes over

The AU calls for Zimbabwe to form a unity government? THE AU REPRIMANDING A MEMBER NATION?!?!?!! Nooo.... waaaaaaaaaay....

blood for oil

I missed this story from yesterday, but it turns out that State Department officials helped draw up the no-bid contracts for American oil companies. I really didn't believe that the "no blood for oil" Iraq protestors were right.

But maybe they were. And that's depreeeeeeessing...

Zimbabwe and the death of Responsibility To Protect (update 7)

Zimbabwe has apparently taken diplomacy lessons from North Korea. Lesson Number One: when confronted with pressure from a great power, come up with silly insults and repeat them ad nauseum.

the New and Improved and Not At All Imperialist Sarkozyist France

So the French are taking over the EU presidency, and what they apparently want to do is to increase Europe's muscle abroad, so that the EU has interventionist capacity more like the United States, rather than just being a so-called "normative power." The first test case? Chad. And what a test case. Proving that their imperial African ambitions are behind them, the French are trying to get the EU to play a greater role in propping up the fetid, rotting administration of a corrupt dictator who is backed by and friendly to France (Idriss Deby of Chad) in his ongoing proxy war against a corrupt dictator who is NOT backed by or friendly to France (Sudan's Bashir).

Good going, France.

Madagascar 3: Very Brief and Uneventful Escape From the Circus (based on a true story)

I fear we have all underestimated the giraffe threat.