Friday, July 31, 2009

going to Italy

I'm leaving for Italy tonight and I'll be back on Aug. 16. Probably not a lot of blog posts will come out of those two weeks. So peace.

Obama Administration split on Sudan policy

The Washington Times reports. Basically, it's a Gration vs. Rice split here.

Gration: the Darfur genocide is over. It ended in 2004. We should take Khartoum off the list of state sponsors of terrorism because they haven't done that in years. We should remove a lot of the sanctions too, so we can build roads in South Sudan and work with the South Sudanese to deal with whatever happens after the 2011 referendum on independence.

Rice: It's still a genocide. Once a genocidal regime, always a genocidal regime. The sanctions are good. Bashir should go to the Hague.

Couple points: as the article points out, this is good. It's nice to see a US Administration actually debate policy for a change.

Second of all, if my summations above didn't give it away, I'm firmly in Gration's camp here. Only 2000 people were killed in Darfur in all of last year from violence, and most of those were soldiers or rebels or victims of banditry. The humanitarian situation is still dire but the sanctions aren't really helping to change that. And a peaceful resolution of the North-South dispute is way more important than whatever happens in Darfur in the long run anyway. Solving Sudan's many political schisms must come first. Justice might have to wait for a while.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

oddly, it has a border dispute with Absurdistan

An American diplomat, speaking fast to the media at UN Headquarters, accidentally referred to Bolivia as "Oblivia." This makes my day.

UN asks, why do they hate us?

Amazingly, backing one side in a proxy war in Somalia delegitimizes the UN. UNDP has been thrown out of Somalia even though it denies having done so. And the Secretary-General's special envoy will only talk about crimes committed by one side in the war. From Inner City Press:

Inner City Press asked [UN Special Envoy Ahmedou] Ould Abdallah if he acknowledged that the forces of the Transitional Federal Government which he supports, and also of the AMISON African Union, have at time fired mortars into civilian areas. "I don't like to introduce AMISOM as a part of a problem," Ould Abdallah said. ...
But isn't it the UN's role to speak out against the killing of civilians by either side?

Well, you would think so, yes...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

UN Dispatch defends R2P

To the Chomsky school of R2P haters (who say R2P is just imperialism in disguise), Mark Leon Goldberg at UNDispatch retorts:

Not for nothing, but "in practice" R2P has never been applied. The responsibilty to protect is a legal term agreed upon by UN member states in 2005. It provides the Security Council a legal endrun around traditional arguments of state sovereignty in cases where a country is unwilling or unable to prevent mass atrocities from being visited upon its citizens. Since 2005, however, the Council has yet to invoke R2P to authorize intervention.

Actually, as the SG's advisor on R2P Edward Luck points out, it was invoked once: Kofi Annan's diplomatic intervention in the Kenya crisis in 2008. That helped head off an alarming ethnic conflict... at least until the next election cycle, where it looks like it might be much worse despite the creative efforts of Kenyans to end the political impasse.

The problem with R2P isn't the idea, but rather the idea as understood by its more zealous promoters. When Bernard Kouchner wants to invoke R2P to invade Myanmar to deliver food at gunpoint, it doesn't matter whether that's part of the doctrine or not. Kinda like how humanitarian intervention was okay until the Bush Administration tried it. When China blocks an R2P resolution at some point in the not-too-distant future and a Western power says this is a violation of the spirit of R2P, thus allowing a military operation in the name of protection to proceed without Council approval, we'll be right back where we were in 2003. You know it's coming. It's not too early to worry about this stuff, because it's already almost happened.

Basically, I like R2P. I just don't trust anyone in power to implement it.

Sidenote: here's a good essay in pdf form from the Asia-Pacific Center for the Responsibility To Protect on the Nargis disaster in Burma and whether it was an "R2P" moment or not. The conclusion: it isn't, because natural disasters aren't covered under R2P.

Somalia and the death of Responsibility To Protect

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah didn't have to call Somalia an R2P situation in his press briefing today, but, at the prodding of a reporter, he did. So here we go.

Somalia is the worst example of R2P imaginable, because foreign meddling and the ongoing proxy war between Eritrea et al vs. Ethiopia et al are responsible for nearly all the problems the country faces today. Really, Somalia would be so much better if everyone just stayed the hell out. Call it the Responsibility To Not Make It Worse. Trekkies have another name for it.

Mr. Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General's special envoy to Somalia, argued in a speech to the Security Council today that the Council should:

1. Move UN operations back to Mogadishu despite the daily shelling that happens there. The best way to do this, he said, would be to set up a Green Zone "similar to those elsewhere." Apparently, Mr. Ould-Abdallah hasn't read Imperial Life In The Emerald City.

2. Support the African Union's AMISOM peacekeeping force. AMISOM is staffed entirely by pro-Ethiopian forces from Burundi and Uganda and opposed entirely by foreign fighters allied with Eritrea. So, when is a peacekeeping force not a peacekeeping force? When it's one side of an ongoing proxy war! So the UN's solution to the catastrophe in Somalia is to back the pro-Ethiopian side and hope they win. This is Responsibility To Protect? Apparently it is.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Darfur activists, keeping it classy

CafePress unveils the new Darfur thong. 100% of the proceeds go to the Save Darfur coalition who, I'm sure, is thrilled to be the recipients of such a politically astute marketing campaign.

Foreign Policy blog's take:

On the other hand, if the Save Darfur Coalition's "millions of everyday citizens" all sent a thong to the White House, someone would have to pay attention.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Middle Earth approaches Oz

That huge earthquake that struck near New Zealand recently? Well, turns out it moved the entire country a foot closer to Australia.

GOP Rep: "We're Not Going To Cry 'Emergency' Every Time We Have A Katrina"

Huffpost is on it. Mindblowing...

the silence of sound

Tokyo police come up with a novel solution to troublesome youths after dark in public places: blast them with high-pitched noises only young people can hear.

It's like annoy-a-teen, but over an entire public park for 5 hours a night. With ingenuity like this, it's no wonder that Tokyo is the most crime-free city this side of Riyadh... and they don't even have to cut off robbers' hands to do it!

However, note to self: Ambassador At Large, despite approaching his 27th birthday, retains excellent hearing and would probably be bothered to all hell by this tactic.

Darfur has been saved?

Mark Leon Goldberg says that Save Darfur has basically done its job and gone as far as it can go.

The time for activism is long gone. In terms of being able to affect change, the movement has played itself out. This is not meant to diminish the accomplishments of the Save Darfur movement. In fact, I would argue that the Save Darfur movement is a singular example of successful activism. ... Like the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, the Save Darfur movement was able to bring to light a disaster halfway around the world and nurture a general political consensus around it. In fact, the movement was so successful it infiltrated the institution whose behavior it was seeking to change. A number of the leading lights of the Save Darfur movement now hold top positions in the Obama administration. Darfur is a household name.

These are amazing successes -- for any movement.

But we are now at a point where outside pressure has reached its limit. ... [T]he question now is what to do about Sudan policy, which is something relegated to the vagaries of the inter-agency policy making process. And here, there is a dispute within the Obama administration on the best way to approach Sudan. On the one hand, movement alumni in the administration are pressing for a hard line while others, like Sudan Envoy Scott Gration, reportedly prefer a more conciliatory approach that the movement abhors.

It is hard for me to see how activism (among, frankly, people who will vote Obama anyway) can influence this inter-agency debate. It seems hard to distill support for Susan Rice's policy prescriptions over those of Scott Gration and the State Department's Sudan desk into a placard.

I'll go one step further and say that Save Darfur's likely position (pro-Rice, anti-Gration) may at this point do more harm than good. Their accomplishments aside, Save Darfur was never able to delve into the complex politics of Sudan, or to grapple with the fact that Darfur itself was just a sideshow to the long-running North-South war. Continuing to take a hard line on the regime may lead to a terrible renewal of the North-South conflict, and won't lead to an end to the continuing Darfur rebellion that keeps that region anarchic and ungovernable to this day. A realist's touch is called for, and realism doesn't really have bumper sticker appeal.

The GA and the death of Responsibility to Protect

Tomorrow, the General Assembly is going to have an open debate on one of Ambassador At Large's favorite topics, the erstwhile Responsibility To Protect, or R2P. Theoretically the GA will just have an open debate (read: canned speeches with no outcome), or adopt a resolution welcoming the report. However, worries abound that developing nations, worried about infringements on their sovereignty, might force through a GA resolution watering down the statue or backing away from the GA's previous endorsement of R2P. Over at UN Dispatch, John Boonstra explains why they shouldn't.

This would be a grievous, and terribly counterproductive, mistake. In adopting R2P three years ago, GA countries signaled their commitment to helping the doctrine progress, making its laudable goals an achievable reality. The emphasis on R2P shifted to the more powerful Security Council, which officially incorporated the next year in Resolution 1674, then applied it to the specific case of Darfur. It has been hard enough to implement R2P; the misguided notion that it provides carte blanche for military intervention by Western powers is entirely fictitious, but it carries with it easy political points for the leaders of developing countries.

Symbolically, when the Secretary-General presented his report, he did it solely to the GA, not to the Security Council. (Normally, he would present such a report to both of them at the same time.) Still, tomorrow's debate will demonstrate whether the report's even-handed and practical treatment of R2P is enough to sway the membership. AAL yesterday asked a Western diplomat if there would be any outcome from the GA meeting, and was told "I hope not. If there is, it would probably not be positive."

In short, the pro-R2P crowd has some work to do.

Clinton's umbrella imbroglio

Hillary Clinton freaked out the Israelis today by suggesting a possible nuclear umbrella against Iran... implying Iran might have nukes someday. Later, according to the AFP, she clarified her remarks:

However, Clinton, during a visit to Thailand for an Asian security conference, said later that she was not announcing a new policy and simply wanted to turn Iran away from pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Clinton told Thai television in Bangkok that President Barack Obama's administration was still open to engage Iran in talks about its nuclear programme but warned that Tehran would not be safer if it obtains a bomb.

I've been worried about Clinton's Iran stance for some time, but this seems to be the right course to take. Clinton's premise is based on the idea that the Iranians want the bomb largely for deterrence and prestige, rather than to go on some messianic suicidal crusade agaisnt Israel. In that sense, establishing security norms that a) convince Iran that it doesn't need the bomb and b) convinces them that they won't gain anything by getting it. Clinton's comments effectively accomplish the second of these things, and give a diplomatic solution the best chance to succeed.

At the very least, this beats the hell out of saying we'll "obliterate them."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Canada decides it's too popular...

... and threatens to complain to the World Trade Organization over the EU's new ban on products made from clubbed baby seals.

Henry Farrell explains why the real victim here, if Canada wins, is the WTO:

Screw the turtles – when anti-WTO protest groups are able to run full page newspaper ads with adorable baby seal cubs, they’re going to be in a truly excellent position to wage public relations war. All the more so when the Canadian counterposition (that the seals are killed humanely) turns on the legal requirement that the baby seals should have stopped blinking before the hunters start skinning them. Perhaps Stephen Harper should have applied similar attention to the current state of the Doha round – I don’t see it moving around very much at the moment, but it does still blink occasionally.

Via Matthew Yglesias.

... and a Republican Senator shall make a racially awkward comment...

In advance of today's epic lunar eclipse, astrologers are predicting there will be world violence.

This is my issue with astrology. Could they make an easier prediction? I, knowing beans about astrology, will attempt to divine the future from today's eclipse:

- There will be turmoil in the Middle East!
- There will be another Gubernatorial sex scandal in the coming months!
- There will be famine in a small African country 90% of Americans have not heard of!
- Children will be born with birth defects!

After six months or so, when all of those things have happened, you'd think I'd know what I was talking about or something.

This is why I respect those guys who predict the end of the world on a specific date. They may be full of crap, but at least they're laying their reputations on the line, 'cos it will demonstrably either happen or it won't.

Monday, July 20, 2009

North Korea and the death of Responsibiltiy to Protect

A new report by the Korean Bar Association on North Korean human rights has me thinking. Often when I take the case of sovereign rights, people ask me how terrible a government would have to be before international intervention is justified.

Well, it can't get much worse than the gulags that North Korea uses. From the Washington Post article linked above:

A distillation of testimony from survivors and former guards, newly published by the Korean Bar Association, details the daily lives of 200,000 political prisoners estimated to be in the camps: Eating a diet of mostly corn and salt, they lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken and, as they age, they hunch over at the waist. Most work 12- to 15-hour days until they die of malnutrition-related illnesses, usually around the age of 50. Allowed just one set of clothes, they live and die in rags, without soap, socks, underclothes or sanitary napkins.

As the article points out, human rights in North Korea take a backseat, the efforts of Sam Brownback notwithstanding, to security issues in Northeast Asia. So if we're not going to intervene in North Korea, it's really hard to justify intervention pretty much anywhere else.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Somalia and the death of Responsibility to Protect

Why will there be no peacekeeping mission in Somalia? In short, says UN Dispatch, because it would be really really expensive and wouldn't work. Other than that, it's a great idea!

white American ethnonationalism, meet Rachel Maddow

Maddow gets into a huge spat with Pat Buchanan.

Just to clarify from my previous post on this topic, I in no way support Buchanan's views at all, and I agree with Maddow entirely here... except that there's an element of human nature that will always bring out the Buchanans of the world, and his sentiments, however blinkered and bigoted, will not go away. America is a multiethnic nation. We handle it way better than most multiethnic nations (Iraq, anyone?) but we still vote disproportionately on racial lines. Racial minorities in this country tend to go overwhelmingly Democratic (with blacks, upwards of 90%). The white vote hasn't tended to do this — except in the South — because it's been such an overwhelming majority until recent years that it hasn't felt the need to. But as America becomes more diverse, don't be surprised if white Americans start voting more decisively in blocs too.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

F-18 buzzes apartment

Try and guess what city this photo was taken in. Beirut? Gaza City?

Try Detroit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Democrats, meet white American ethnonationalism

Pat Buchanan on how the Republicans need to use more race-baiting, not less, to defeat Obama (and Sonia Sotomayor specifically). Buchanan's argument: if everyone votes along ethnic lines and Republicans are the "white" party, they win!

In 2008, Hispanics, according to the latest figures, were 7.4 percent of the total vote. White folks were 74 percent, 10 times as large. Adding just 1 percent to the white vote is thus the same as adding 10 percent to the candidate's Hispanic vote.

If John McCain, instead of getting 55 percent of the white vote, got the 58 percent George W. Bush got in 2004, that would have had the same impact as lifting his share of the Hispanic vote from 32 percent to 62 percent.

But even Ronald Reagan never got over 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Yet, he and Richard Nixon both got around 65 percent of the white vote.

All I can say is, if you want to know why Iraq and Nigeria will never be a functional democracies, look no further than Mr. Buchanan's observations. As Matthew Yglesias points out, identity politics along racial, ethnic, or religious lines becomes much more effective as a country becomes more diverse:

At any rate, while Buchanan is being repugnant, I do think this is something conservatives are going to want to think about. Consider the case of Jeff Sessions (R-AL). We’re talking about a guy who’s too racist to get confirmed as a judge, but just racist enough to win a Senate seat in Alabama. And it’s not because Alabama is a lilly white state. With 65 percent of its electorate white, and 29 percent of its electorate African-American, Alabama is much more demographically favorable to the Democrats than is the country at large. But while McCain pulled 55 percent of the white vote nationwide he scored 88 percent of white vote in Alabama. And this is what you tend to see in the Deep South, white Americans exhibiting the kind of high levels of racial solidarity in voting behavior that you normally associate with African-Americans in the US political context. ...

An analogy might be to religion. When the country was overwhelmingly Christian, Christianity didn’t play much of a role in our politics. But as the Christian majority shrank it became more and more viable to explicitly mobilize Christian identity for political purposes.

The difference between me and Yglesias is that he's outraged by this sort of demagoguery and census-style bloc voting, whereas I see it as the natural human condition. Loathsome, but as inevitable as the sunrise.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Malthus comes to Pakistan

Water shortages coming.

China, meet Uighur ethnonationalism

The Uighur plot thickens. After Turkish President Erdogan described the events in Xinjiang as "like a genocide" (perhaps a touch extreme, given that at most a few hundred people have died, as opposed to 800,000 in Rwanda), the Chinese fired back with a nasty editorial. Xinhua is getting downright North Korea-ish with their headlines over the matter, as in today's "Distorted reports on Xinjiang riot denounced."

Meanwhile, an interesting tidbit from the BBC:

In a report, a UK-based global security intelligence firm said that events in Xinjiang had triggered a call from an Algerian-based al-Qaeda affiliate for reprisals against Chinese workers.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQM) had promised to target Chinese workers in Algeria and north-west Africa, Stirling Assynt said.

AQM appeared to be the first al-Qaeda affiliate to officially state that it would target Chinese interests, the group said, warning that others could follow suit.

Until now, al Qaeda and its ilk have largely left the Chinese alone, presumably because they don't see China as a threat given China's strongly pro-sovereignty political stance. But no longer. Muslim solidarity with the Uighurs might mean that China may soon face the kind of extremist threats that Western nations are already used to.

On the NYTimes op-ed page, Philip Bowring explores Muslim solidarity with the Uighurs, and to what extent this will cause big problems for China's relations with its Asian neighbors. The answer... probably not much, but it's a tricky issue that affects China's standing with governments from Indonesia to Kazakhstan to Turkey to the Magreb.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

ICP: No Turkish move on Uighurs

Inner City Press has the latest:

Inner City Press asked the charge d'affaires of the Turkish Mission to the United Nations Fazli Corman about the quote and if Turkey had in fact made any moves to that effect. "We didn't make any moves on that," Ambassador Corman said. "That reports were not actually based on the realities."

Inner City Press asked if Prime Minister Erdogan had been misquoted. Yes, Ambassador Corman indicted. [sic]

Interestingly, both AFP and Reuters carried the original story, claiming that Erdogan said his comment at a meeting of Gulf states. But if the Turks are now denying he said it, he a) didn't say those precise words or b) got a very quick phone call afterwards from Hu Jintao.

Either way, any Security Council discussion of Xinjiang now seems much less likely.

Hillary tries to become high-profile again

With a major foreign policy speech forthcoming, Foreign Policy observes:

Perhaps more than any other member in Obama's "team of rivals," Clinton has had to walk a fine line: to prove to the president and his loyalists (to say nothing of a rapacious press corps) that his former primary opponent would be a trustworthy team player, restraining her own foreign-policy inclinations to bolster and never undermine his. Channeling Obama's vision while making the secretary of state job her own has required impressive self-restraint amid a host of foreign leader powwows, interagency meetings, and appointments. Not lacking for opportunities to seize the megaphone, Clinton appears to have carefully calibrated the amount of individual voice, vision, and volume she has projected so far, perhaps with an eye to gaining a measure of trust that will ultimately enhance her effectiveness.

This sounds about right to me. Except for some unfortunate Iran comments early in her term, Clinton has largely kept to the Obama line and strayed less often than, say, Joe Biden (he of the "well, if Israel's gonna bomb Iran, hey, that's their call" sentiment).

But if our Secretary of State doesn't believe in negotiations with Iran, it'll be interesting to see what happens if a fully recovered Clinton winds up being an instrumental player in those talks.

I await her speech with interest.

apparently I'm a "self-hating Jew" too

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can't get the White House to pick up the phone, so apparently he's decided that any Jews in the Administration who do not agree with the Likud stance on settlements are "self-hating Jews." From Haaretz (hat tips to Andrew Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias for digging this one up too):

Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communication normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama's senior aides: as "self-hating Jews."

Hm, this kinda reminds me of all those "liberals hate America" attacks that one hears from the likes of Glenn Beck. Rather beneath a head of state, right? So why is such a man still in power? Well, check out the sharpest tactics of his opposition (again, from Haaretz here):

Later, Kadima supporters handed out stickers with anti-Netanyahu slogans in the Knesset cafeteria.

Tell me this does not remind you of Draco Malfoy distributing magical "Potter stinks" buttons to Hogwarts students in the fourth Harry Potter book. Or am I just a nerd?

tap water safer than bottled water

A bad day for bottled water, a good day for the planet.

- GAO reports that tap water may be safer than bottled water, removing one of the remaining justifications for bottled water

- A small Australian town's residents became the first to vote to ban bottled water in their town. The final tally was 354-2, and one of the two was a representative of the bottled water industry.

Another good step for Australia, which not only spends US$390 million a year on bottled water but, if it drinks the same brands we do, has to have that water imported over vast distances. The negative effects of bottled water -- energy usage, plastic waste -- are well-documented, but it's doubly galling to have to pay for something that used to be free, back when most stores and parks had, you know, drinking fountains. Hopefully more people will do as Bundanoon has done.

SHOCK! China opposed to raising of Xinjiang in the Security Council

Surprise, surprise, the Chinese reacted swiftly from Beijing to Turkey's call to raise the ongoing Urumqi violence in Xinjiang at the UN Security Council. From Xinhua:

"The Chinese government has taken decisive measures according to the law. This is purely China's internal affair and doesn't demand a UN Security Council discussion," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told the regular briefing.

Now, no one can stop the Turks from simply raising the issue in Security Council consultations, but in order to get it on the Security Council's agenda, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan called for, one would need 9 of the 15 Security Council members to vote for it.

As of this morning, Ambassador At Large has heard no word from the Turkish delegation over whether they will actually attempt this, but if they did, AAL would love to know which nine countries would dare to risk publicly crossing China on its own internal affairs.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Turkey wants Uighur issue at Security Council

Hoo boy. In a shocking development, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced today at a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting that he wants the issue of violence in Xinjiang discussed at the Security Council.

The Turks, currently non-permanent members of the Council, are usually reticent of bringing issues of internal ethnic unrest within states to the Council because of their domestic issues with the Kurds. But apparently Islamic solidarity won out for Erdogan.

One cannot help but feel that Turkey's previous secular administrations would never have done this. One cannot also help but feel that the Chinese are going to be seriously ticked off by Turkey's move.

(UPDATE: I initially said the Turks were Council President for the month of July, but actually they presided in June. It's Uganda this month. Corrected.)


Iranian pop group's clever music video. Via Andrew Sullivan.

Kaplan on Sri Lanka: to beat an insurgency, just throw the rule of law out the window

Robert Kaplan's got a good piece up over at the Atlantic about how the Sri Lankans defeat the Tamils. How'd they do it? Well, mostly they threw human rights out the window. From the piece:

The insurgents are using human shields? No problem. Just keep killing the innocent bystanders until you get to the fighters themselves. ... Bad media coverage is hurting morale and giving succor to the enemy? Just kill the journalists.

Kaplan correctly posits that "these are methods the U.S. should never use" but says that the case of Sri Lanka shows we're in for a long road in Afghanistan.

As this page has argued previously, ethnic wars end when someone wins or when both sides realize they can't. Thus, violence in Iraq didn't decline until the Sunnis effectively lost their war with the Shiites (and even now, the unsettled outcome makes escalation highly likely in the years following the US withdrawal). And in Afghanistan, "victory" under these terms would involve the violent subjugation of the Pashtuns and their allies. Since this can't happen unless we copy the dubious methods of the Sri Lankan government, I'd suggest moving to plan be: "both sides realize they can't." Leaving Afghanistan as a tribal, but locally owned, mess, where every ethnic group more or less controls its affairs and none have incentive to harbor groups intent on attacking the United States, is the most sustainable long-term option.