Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SADC: violating election results is only OK if you're the incumbent

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has, in an unprecedent move, suspended Madagascar from the group until constitutional order is restored and ousted President Marc Ravalomanana, who was booted from power by former radio DJ Andry Rajoelina, is returned to power.

It doesn't take a genius to notice that SADC did nothing of the sort when Robert Mugabe was busy stealing an election through violence last year.

The moral of the story is, if you're an anti-colonial national liberator and -- more importantly -- you are currently in power, your friends in SADC will support you. If you're an upstart trying to remove an existing leader from power, not so much. Especially after watching the SADC leaders steamroll Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC in Zimbabwe during the unity government negotiations last year, I think it's clear where this group's political loyalties lie.

Iraq to start executing gays

On the heels of my previous post (the one about how we invade countries, give them independence and control of their legislative bodies and lo! they start passing legislation we hate) comes this news out of Iraq. The country that once officially slammed a UN report on the lack of gay rights in Iraq by saying outright that gays had no rights is now going to start executing them in "batches of 20." I mean, heck, even Iran only executes gays one or two at a time.

I don't know about you, but I'm really glad we liberated Iraq right now, so that stuff like this could happen.

Karzai legalizes rape

See, this is the problem with independent countries. You let them make their own laws and they come up with stuff you find completely abhorrent.

From HuffPost:

In a massive blow for women's rights, the new Shia Family Law negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage and restricts a woman's right to leave the home, according to UN papers seen by The Independent.

"It is one of the worst bills passed by the parliament this century," fumed Shinkai Karokhail, a woman MP who campaigned against the legislation. "It is totally against women's rights. This law makes women more vulnerable."

The law regulates personal matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and sexual relations among Afghanistan's minority Shia community. "It's about votes," Ms Karokhail added. "Karzai is in a hurry to appease the Shia because the elections are on the way."

The provisions are reminiscent of the hardline Taliban regime, which banned women from leaving their homes without a male relative. But in a sign of Afghanistan's faltering steps towards gender equality, politicians who opposed it have been threatened.

Most interestingly, the article says that Karzai's move wasn't a cave to the Sunni Pashtuns, who are largely lined up with the Taliban, but rather to the Hazaras and other Shia power brokers. You know, the guys who are on our side in Afghanistan.

This should probably be the final death knell to those who wanted a liberal democracy in Afghanistan. Fortunately, most of what Obama's plans for Afghanistan have focused on up to this point have been securing geopolitical stability and ending safe havens for extremist groups. A futile bid to improve women's rights by strong-arming the weak civilian government we're propping up doesn't seem to be in the cards, for now. Given how easily this law was rushed through, that's probably realistic, and for the best.

Though not for Afghanistan's women, of course.

(Sidenote for Huffpost: correct me if I'm wrong, but, um, if you strike a blow FOR something, it's usually on behalf of that thing. It's a blow TO or AGAINST women's rights that happened here... unless your view of women's rights is very very different from mine.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009



interepreters work best when their brains are functioning

... and when they're not, it's time to call the meeting to a close. After 6 hours of consultations on Security Council reform in the UN basement, intrepid reporters discovered the above note from the interpreters on the chairman's desk.

I swear I'm not making this note up. I have multiple witnesses.

This makes my day.

a fun geography game

Have fun.

world's dumbest fatwas

courtesy of an old Foreign Policy article my coworker dug up. Salman Rushdie has some good company... Pokemon and the polio vaccine, for example.

Colombo enters Pyongyang/Khartoum Territory

When your military starts accusing aid groups of harboring terrorists and trying to overthrow your regime, it's a good signal that you've badly jumped the shark. From AP:

Sri Lanka's military accused "a vicious coalition" of international aid groups Tuesday of harboring terrorists and seeking to prolong the island's civil war for economic gain. ...

Aid groups have accused the military of shelling "no-fire" zones set up to harbor the tens of thousands of civilians trapped by the fighting, a charge the military denies.

The military, in a statement on the Defense Ministry's Web site, said aid groups operating in Sri Lanka had "hoodwinked" the world and did not want the war to end "to secure their income through a continued bloodshed."

Accusing aid groups of evil is normally associated with the likes of North Korea and the Sudan. But Sri Lanka? Man, it's a long way down, my friends.

this article may be illegal in the state of Texas

In some parts of the country, the cattle lobby has so much power that it's illegal to insult red meat.

So how did this story get through?

Diets high in red meat and in processed meat shorten life span not just from cancer and heart disease but from Alzheimer's, stomach ulcers and an array of other conditions as well, a U.S. National Cancer Institute study has found.

Could this possibly be -- gasp! -- unpoliticized science?!

news flash: volcano monitoring is kinda important

The Washington Post rightly takes Bobby Jindal to task for his attack on volcano monitoring, after Mt. Redoubt erupted and sent ash miles across Alaska. I'm not surprised a Republican would attack federal funding to prevent natural disasters, but I'm a little surprised that a Republican from Louisiana would do so. What's next, Bobby, cutting hurricane monitoring moneys for the National Weather Service?

"all we are saying is give peace a chance"

So said South African ambassador to the United Nations Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo, explaining why his country supported suspending the ICC indictment for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan.

Well, today comes news that the Dalai Lama was denied a visa to South Africa to attend the peace conference, leading most of the other attendees (including South Africa's own F.W. de Klerk and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) to walk out. The conference has thus been canceled.

Doubtless this will be played as another example of South Africa's fallen post-Apartheid promise, but the biggest thing here for me is how many countries China has now convinced that the Dalai Lama is some sort of separatist terrorist threat. As Nick Kristof has pointed out, though, once the Dalai Lama is gone and the real Tibetan terrorists start coming out of the woodwork, China may miss him.

Krugman slams Geithner's plan

This is a devastating column from Paul Krugman that was big news yesterday, but I just got around to reading it today. Read it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chavez calls Obama an "ignoramus"

I'm not making this up. This falls right into my Children On A Playground theory of international diplomacy:

"He goes and accuses me of exporting terrorism: the least I can say is that he's a poor ignoramus; he should read and study a little to understand reality," said Chavez, who heads a group of left-wing Latin American leaders opposed to the U.S. influence in the region.

First of all, Obama made $2.5 million in book sales last year. "Poor" is not the right word here. Second, Chavez clearly doesn't understand the body politic in the United States. If he wanted to bring Obama down, he should compliment him profusely.

Sri Lanka and the death of Responsibility To Protect

When Indonesian Ambassador Marti Natalegawa was asked today why many countries oppose the Security Council having a humanitarian briefing on the conflict in Sri Lanka, where over 50,000 civilians (the government's figure), and possibly twice that, are trapped in the conflict zone, his answer was telling:

"It would begin with a humanitarian briefing."

This, my friends, is the legacy of the Myanmar debacle. Humanitarian briefings at the Security Council have become politicized, so now no one wants to have them, because from the briefing would come a press statement, then a presidential statement, and then maybe a resolution, maybe with sanctions. This is the road the US, UK, and France went down with Myanmar and Zimbabwe. Each time, China and Russia double-vetoed.

So now, nobody wants to talk about Sri Lanka, no matter how many people get killed.

The US and EU, at least, have announced their support for a briefing, and Amb. Susan Rice clarified the US position last week:

"The United States feels strongly about and concerned about Sri Lanka and we support the provision of it to the Council- a full and updated information on the humanitarian situation."

China, needless to say, is opposed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ocampo: "I will arrest Bashir" (and maybe the rebels too)

International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo got downright feisty for the UN Press Corps outside the Security Council following a meeting on the humanitarian situation in Darfur. Saying the expulsion of the aid groups confirms the decision of the ICC to indict Sudanese Bashir for war crimes, Ocampo said that "any UN state can arrest President Bashir," even in international airspace. "If he travels through international airspace, he could be arrested," said Ocampo. "Two months or two years, it will depend on the states, how the states act, but he will face justice."

Ocampo dismissed the claims of a number of Council members suggesting that the ICC decision was responsible for the humanitarian crisis. "It's very interesting," he said. "The prosecutor is responsible, not the criminal [they say]. Here we describe the crimes committed by Omar al-Bashir. He's responsible. If the king is naked, it's not my responsibility that he is naked."

He also denied Khartoum's charges that the evicted NGOs had collaborated with the ICC. Asked how much collaboration he had with NGOS, Ocampo said "zero. Zero. Zero information from the NGOs. Zero. I respect different mandates. I never requested any information from these NGOs."

Off mic, Ocampo elaborated.

"The responsibility is with the person who committed the crimes, not the person who informed on the crimes," said Ocampo, brushing off charges from African countries that he was making the situation in Darfur worse, not better. "The person who attacked the villages, who decided to deny humanitarian assistance and now has expelled humanitarian assistance."

Ocampo announced, "Now I have a warrant, I will arrest Bashir." Pressed on how he would do this, he clarified, "I will not arrest. I will galvanize the effort to arrest Mr. Bashir."

Ocampo also warned the Darfur rebels. "In a few weeks I expect a decision of the judges on the rebels and I have one of the rebel commanders who promised to surrender to the court, if the court calls him. So in a few weeks probably I will have the rebels in court and will present a case against them. I am totally impartial."

Lastly, he flatly rejected the charge by President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann that the court was "racist" in its indictment of Bashir. "He's wrong," said Ocampo of Brockmann. "I'm protecting victims in Africa. ... That's the funny thing. The perpetrators are Africans. The victims are Africans. The perpetrators are Muslims. The victims are Muslims. This is brother killing brother."

ex-NFL QB/fugitive killed

As soon as I read about this guy, I knew he had to have been drafted by the Detroit Lions.

North Korea updates website technology

Want to know what the country sometimes known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is up to? Well, they've got a new and improved website to tell you.

Top stories included:

- "DPRK Premier Feted"
- "US Undisguised Scenario For Hegemony Flayed"
- "Punishment of War Maniacs by Arms Urged"


- "Spas Curative of Diseases"

Why is North Korea's entire website in passive voice, is what I want to know?

Obama's done his part, now it's Iran's turn

Obama sends a video to Iran offering "a new beginning." Iran responds by welcoming the video but demanding that the US recognize "past mistakes," end sanctions and end support for Israel.

First of all, the US will not end support for Israel, but it will support a Palestinian state, something the previous administration did not seek for most of its term. Second of all, the latter demands are something you can seek to get in the course of negotiations, not as a precondition.

sigh... the Iranian elections cannot come soon enough.

how dare they have culture!

A "Palestinian Culture Festival" gets shut down by Israeli authorities because it's in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the Six Day War. Another shrewd p.r. move...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kai Ede: Afghanistan is still miserable, but not as miserable as the media says it is

In his briefing on the situation in Afghanistan, UN Special Representative Kai Ede observed that although the security situation in Afghanistan has "deteriorated," it's really not as bad as all that. "Cooperation between key elements inside the government have improved," said Eide, and he noted that although high-profile attacks in Kabul were up, total attacks in the capital were down. So thank goodness for that.

Delightfully, after breaking all the global records for the most opium produced by one country in the history of the world, Afghanistan's poppy crop--half its economy--is expected to drop by about a third this year. Whether this is the result of counternarcotic efforts or merely a result of oversupply or a drop in demand due to the recession was unclear.

Added Eide, "Afghanistan is today the only country in the world where the average life expectancy for women is lower than for men." And this apparently even includes Oman, where there are no women.


Have fun.

Did I mention it's a slow news day at the United Nations?

"a war of religion"

Israel issues a damning report of the actions of some of its own soldiers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mandami: Darfur and Iraq, two of a kind

More from Mahmood Mandami:

What would happen if we thought of Darfur as we do of Iraq, as a place with a history and politics – a messy politics of insurgency and counter-insurgency? Why should an intervention in Darfur not turn out to be a trigger that escalates rather than reduces the level of violence as intervention in Iraq has done? Why might it not create the actual possibility of genocide, not just rhetorically but in reality? Morally, there is no doubt about the horrific nature of the violence against civilians in Darfur. The ambiguity lies in the politics of the violence, whose sources include both a state-connected counter-insurgency and an organised insurgency, very much like the violence in Iraq.

Basically, the "Out of Iraq and Into Darfur" people have a lot to answer for, in Mandami's view. Why do we think that sending in the marines would help the situation in Darfur? Why do we think Darfur is a case of good-vs.-evil and Iraq as a moral and political quagmire? What if they were both moral and political quagmires?

In that case, Save Darfur wouldn't have much of a case.

the mood in America

Take this, AIG.

Battlestar Galactica comes to the UN

So last night I attended the Battlestar Galactica: A Retrospective event in the Economic and Social Council chamber. Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Ronald D. Moore and David Eick were all in attendance, with Whoopi Goldberg moderating and various UN officials (Radhika Coomaraswamy, Robert Orr, etc.) taking part in panel discussions about world issues today and how they're dealt with on the show.

With the nerd factor turned way up (the delegations' placquards on every seat were replaced by the names of the 12 Colonies, I kid you not), the discussion was nonetheless interesting. Moore was the most circumspect and insightful as far as prying at the challenges and unsolved moral dilemmas brought up in the show. Olmos and McDonnell, interestingly, were unequivocally against many of the decisions their characters make, especially regarding security, torture, and the infamous abortion episode. Most interestingly was during the discussion of terrorism, when the panelists weighed into Colonel Saul Tigh's decision to use suicide bombers in resisting the Cylon occupation. McDonnell described the insurgents' collective mindset and how hard, even in acting, it was for her to come out and be against this tactic in the name of an even higher ideal. Edward James Olmos thundered that "There's no such thing as race. So say we all!" (Added Olmos, "when a bug hates you, that's racism.") He said the students in th audience can understand this, and that the adults can nod, but that the adults can't understand, and I'm afraid he's right.

Before we all adjourned for a reception in the Delegate's Dining Room, Whoopi Goldberg wrapped it up by thanking God for the word "frak." And I agree.

p.s. In other Battlestar news, my girlfriend has long observed Colonel Tigh's creepy resemblance to John McCain. She's not alone.

(Update) The other highlight I forgot about was when EJO said the UN should send troops to Mexico. More coverage of this event from Entertainment Weekly.

Springtime For Kim Jong Il

The new British Ambassador to North Korea waxes a little too eloquent over the happy days in the North. Writes Peter Hughes of the DPRK's "election" day:

“There was a very festive atmosphere throughout the city. Many people were walking to or from the polling stations, or thronging the parks to have picnics or just stroll.”

How lovely! And what shall they eat during those picnics, given that the North just rejected US food aid and ordered aid NGOs to leave the country? Maybe if they are lucky, they can have pizza.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

GA President Brockmann: ICC is "racist" and Israel is an "Apartheid" regime but Jews are cool

General Assembly President (Father) Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister under the Sandinistas and thorn in the side of America and Israel, had an entertaining press conference today after concluding his global tour that included Tehran and Damascus. On that trip, he made controversy for calling Israel an Apartheid regime and purportedly calling for a boycott of Israel. At today's press conference, he denied calling for the boycott ("I've read in the press that I've called for a campaign to boycott Israel. I don't remember doing it," he said) and addressed the Apartheid controversy. Brockmann:

I read that I compared or mentioned Apartheid. And that is true. I speak very frankly and I said the more I contemplate the style of life that is imposed on the Palestinians, the more I tended to think about Apartheid. And so that caused a huge scandal because I said Apartheid. And yet there's a book by President Carter, who nobody thinks of as a radical, and he put Apartheid in his title. ... And then I heard that Desmond Tutu used the word, and Nelson Mandela. I didn't see any huge campaign to say that these people hated Israel.

Added Brockmann:

Of course I don't hate Israel, much less do I hate the Jewish people. They are very high on my list of people.

Sadly, no one asked who was low on his list. It would have been pretty awesome to hear Brockmann rant about, say, Canadians, or Mongols.

The GA President went on to slam the West for the ICC indictment of Omar Hassan al-Bashir:

I think first of all it was unfortunate and I think it does a disservice to the peoples' perception of international justice. It helps the deepening perception that international justice is racist. ... But to me the thing that makes it most lamentable is the fact that about 2 weeks, no more than 3 weeks before that announcement, we received here in the UN a delegation from the AU, jointly with the Arab League. They were explaining to us that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had initiated conversations with the leader of the most important rebel group in Darfur. ... We in the west are notorious for getting involved in things we don't understand, and worse, we think we're the ones who understand, and we shoot first and then find out. ... We don't know if it's a person or if it's a deer. Shoot and find out. Western arrogance, traditional attitude.

He went on to liken George W. Bush to Al Capone. Remind me how this guy's a diplomat again?

Pakistani mad libs

Pakistan is so predictably unpredictable that Undiplomatic has dreamed up some Pakistani mad libs. Quality wonkish fun.

political football works well for Obama

The President appoints Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney as Ambassador to Ireland.

pope claims condoms make AIDS worse

No, really.

Fareed Zakaria slams the beltway's "imperial" foreign policy

An excellent piece by Fareed Zakaria in yesterday's Washington Post slammed the beltway and its "imperial" foreign policy. In doing, he also slammed his own newspaper's editorial pages. Classily but pointedly done, as always. Definitely worth reading.

The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own. The only way to deal with them is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it's imperial policy. And it isn't likely to work in today's world.

As Zakaria points out, a lot of Obama's changes from Bush on policy towards Russia, China, Afghanistan, and Iran are welcome and necessary, but are getting pooh-poohed in Washington. The problem here, I think, is Washington.

Polar bear nations meet behind closed doors

Apparently, this is a very sensitive issue.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sudan and the death of Responsibility To Protect

Can you force aid into a country? So, for example, if the Sudan kicks all foreign aid workers out of the country, as President Bashir suggested it might, could and should the Security Council pass a resolution forcing the Sudan to accept the aid workers back in?

Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes was asked this today at a briefing at UN Headquarters, and his response, the same as during Myanmar, speaks volumes.

Whether it's possible in practice to force aid into a country is an issue which we've addressed before in Myanmar. That's not a position I'd want us to find ourselves in because it's not one where aid can be satisfactorily distributed.

Of course, Holmes took the same line during the Cyclone Nargis aftermath. While humanitarian hawks gnashed their teeth, Holmes quietly negotiated the entry of almost all the aid with government permission over the course of two frantic weeks, saving thousands of lives and preventing a geopolitical showdown which would have probably involved overthrowing the Myanmar government and would have not saved anybody but would have killed and awful lot of people. Advantage, Holmes. The moral of the story is that aid cannot be delivered from the barrel of a gun. Get over it, Kouchnerites.

good news, more good news

From Pakistan, a wise decision to reinstate the chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. At last.

And from Iran, Mohammad Khatami says he will withdraw from the race if another reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has a better chance for success. Classy guy.

pizza has come to North Korea

With the Great Leader taking a "personal interest," the first pizzeria has opened in the DPRK.

Kim seems to have taken a personal interest: while the pizza-making sessions were under way, on a ship anchored offshore, he was apparently witnessed arriving to inspect his officers' progress. "I am not in the position to say whether it really was him," Furlanis later said. "But our chef, who had no reason to fib, was, for the space of several minutes, utterly speechless. He said he felt as if he had seen God, and I still envy him this experience."

This story makes me very hungry.

should I be more terrified on my walk to the subway?


Friday, March 13, 2009

Mahmood Mandani slams ICC, Save Darfur, says Darfur was not a genocide. And he might well be right

It's almost not even a fair fight, but listening to Mahmood Mandani do his thing at a United Nations press briefing today with an impeccably-reasoned critique of the ICC and Save Darfur vis-a-vis the indictment of President Bashir of Sudan and the Darfur conflict was a heck of an experience.

Mandani's explanation was complex, which is fitting, since Darfur is a complex place. I'll try to distill it into a few basic points, as he did.

1. How many have died in Darfur? According to Mandani, the figures are widely overblown. The typical figure used is 300,000 dead since 2003, and he says, and I know for a fact, that this is a completely arbitrary figure. It's based on a statement John Holmes made last year, saying that since it had previously been extrapolated that 200,000 had been killed by 2004 of all causes, we could further extrapolate that it must be 300,000 by now assuming the same level of killing.
Only problem with this is that the death rate dropped dramatically in Darfur. According to Mahmood, more reliable figures have the death rate at 200 civilians a month in Darfur since January of 2005, which he claims is a lower death rate than in South Sudan today, Khartoum today, or even Washington D.C. today. Meanwhile, an internal report from the State Department, as well as reports from CRED and the WHO say the death toll from 2003 and 2004 was probably more like 50,000 to 70,000, 100,000 at most. Still horrifying and tragic, but increasingly less genocidal. This brings us to a second problem:

2. The total figures always include deaths from drought and desertification (estimated at 70-80% of the deaths, total), and while some of those are war-related, many of them are just drought and desertification-related. The drought preceded the war in Darfur. The climate's been drying out for decades as the population exploded (Sudan's total population quadrupled in the past 60 years, according to UN Population figures) and in the past 40 years the desert has moved 100 kilometers south, driving predominantly Arab pastoralists with it onto the land of predominantly African peasant farmers. Which leads us to...

3. Why did the killings take place? The Darfur conflict goes back well before 2003. The civil war started in 1987, according to Mandami. Part of it is a legacy of the land system imposed by the British (farmers get land rights, camel nomads don't) and part is the drought, which pushed the camel nomads on to the farmers' land. Rights advocates monitoring the civil war, Mandami said, pointed out that the atrocity level was much higher than previous conflicts because "life itself was at stake." There just wasn't enough water and land to go around. Finally, there was the legacy of the Cold War, where the USSR and Libya battled the US, France and Israel for control of Chad, resulting in a 40 year civil war in Chad, with heavily armed militias spilling over into Darfur to rearm and reenter the fray. "Darfur is to Chad as Eastern Congo is to Rwanda," said Mandami. Out of the conflicts and easy armaments in Darfur came the militai groups: the janjaweed and the peasant militias that later formed the JEM and the SLA, the main rebel groups today. The Sudanese government didn't really get involved until it backed the janjaweed "counterinsurgency" in 2002 and 2003, and it quickly lost control of the conflict thereafter. That leads us to the next problem:

4. Save Darfur says the situation on the ground hasn't changed, that there's a "continuing genocide," a phrase I've heard US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice use repeatedly. Only there isn't. UNAMID's own figures, according to Mandami, said that 1500-1600 civilians died in Darfur in all of 2008, of which 600 were killed in conflicts between Arab groups over grazing land, and the remaining 900 were victims of government vs. rebel violence (with the rebels killing the larger part). Andrew Natsios said it in Foreign Affairs: if this was ever a genocide, it was in 2003 and 2004. It definitely isn't one now. Now it's anarchy and banditry. Now it's Somalia.

So how does it end? Mandami advocates, quite simply, peace over justice. Or, in his words, "political justice over criminal justice." That is to say, peace is established, no one is charged with crimes, but in exchange, there is political reform that will prevent the conflict from being renewed. Political pressure, says Mandami, has gotten the Sudanese government to the point where it is ready for that reform, but now the ICC indictment likely ruins any chance of it happening, since the government cannot risk ceding any power. Mandami says the lessons of South Africa and Mozambique and South Sudan were that amnesty and impunity actually work pretty well, no matter how viciously the government and rebels have behaved. Responding to Desmond Tutu's call for justice from the ICC against Bashir, Mandami gently chided his good friend: "Desmond, what about you?" he said, recalling that Tutu had said that even though Biko's killers were known, they must walk free so that peace in South Africa could be ensured after Apartheid.

In the end, he advocated a fairly hands-off approach, and less moralizing, from the international community. "The right to reform belongs to those who are independent," he said. "Those who are sovereign." Sudan is a weak and unstable country, he said. If the ICC indicted President Bush, red and blue states in the US would not go to war because the US is stable and prosperous and strong. But we cannot assume Sudan will avoid a bloodbath in the aftermath of the indictment.

* * *

I'm not sure if I agree with a blanket "peace over justice" or "political justice over criminal justice" worldview... but I mostly do. At the very least, I trust Mandami more than I trust Save Darfur, and I trust Andrew Natsios more than I trust a lot of the most outspoken celebrity advocates of US intervention in Darfur. It's not clear that there was ever a genocide in Darfur. Certainly it was a fraction of the violence in South Sudan, which was settled after 20 brutal years without justice. If there was genocide, it is no longer ongoing. Now a political settlement is needed, a political settlement that is probably not going to happen so long as the ICC indictment holds.

One final thought: Mandami echoed a thought I've repeatedly said here: ethnic wars end when someone wins (ie. they fight until one side is completely destroyed or subdued) or when both sides realize they can't and the need for peace with reform becomes apparent and necessary to all.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Iraqi shoe-thrower gets 3 years

Seems like a harsh sentence to me. Let's ask: what are the odds that this guy is ever going to do anything again? And furthermore: this is Iraq. As many as a million people have been killed in the last 6 years. And they're going to waste state resources imprisoning this guy for three years? I think they have bigger fish to fry.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

the rich are getting poorer too

By default, Bill Gates becomes the richest man in the world again, worth $40 billion. Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim tumbled to $37b and $35b respectively. I remember when they were all worth twice that. How the mighty have become slightly less mighty.

State of the Clippers

Wow. I swear, you don't even have to read this blog, you can just go to The Sports Guy's page on ESPN to catch all the Bill Simmons columns I link to. This one's just priceless.

What the frak?! Battlestar comes to the United Nations

Looks like Commander Adama and Laura Roslin, along with show producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, are having a panel discussion at the United Nations on March 17 about the issues that the sci-fi show Battlestar Galactica covers and how they pertain to global issues today. And why not? What I'm confused about is why Whoopi Goldberg is moderator.

maybe Paul Ehrlich was right

The UN has updated population statistics. It's grim. Global population is expected to hit 9.2 billion by midcentury, and most of that growth will happen in all the wrong places. A number of countries that really can't support a tripling of their population in 40 years, like Niger and Afghanistan, are about to experience one nonetheless. Niger heads up the field in alarmingly low median age, at 15.1. Not much better is Zimbabwe, at 15.5, though that number is skewed by their awful life expectancy of 38 years.

Another interesting statistic is how the male-female ratio by country, which in normal populations is almost always .95-.99 (ie. there are 95-99 males for every 100 females), is scarily skewed the opposite way in a handful of countries. Sure, there's the predictably froth-inducing figure in China (1.08), but that's nothing on Bahrain (1.35), which has eclipsed Oman (1.29) as having the lowest percentage of women on Earth. The Saudis aren't far behind, at 1.23.

They may just be data charts, but they're fascinating in how much they reveal about the society in question. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the realists rule the roost

Moralism goes on the shelf, says Richard Cohen, in a surprisingly cogent and well-reasoned piece on how Obama's doctrine-less foreign policy is a welcome change. That is, except for this part:

Obama is right to be realistic and to abjure bombastic rhetoric. Moralism is expensive -- costly in blood and treasure. This is the new reality. The danger is that we will turn inward -- not isolationist, because that is impossible -- but financially exhausted and callously indifferent to the rest of the world.

The assumption that US unwillingness to use military force against ethnonationalistic actors led by loathsome ideologues -- the Taliban, for example -- comes with some fairly serious moral baggage. Realists aren't heartless: they're just circumspect about what will and what will not work. Cohen goes on to say that our withdrawal from Vietnam was "sickening to behold." Does he think it would have been morally right to stay and continue the war? A realistic view of the world would hold that foreign powers have limited capacity to change the morals of societies through force or coercion, and that great power military intervention rarely has any humanitarian benefit (but often causes tremendous harm). Without some sort of deal that will bring in moderate Pashtuns currently fighting under the Taliban flag, we could fight in Afghanistan quite literally forever, and a lot of people would get killed, and peace, democracy and development would not come. That would be moral? Why? Because our intentions were noble? The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Still, Cohen's basic point is solid, and welcome. I never thought the day would come, but the Democratic Party is now the party of foreign policy realism. Long may it remain so.

Happy Tibet Day!

It's the 50th anniversary of the '59 Tibetan uprising, and Chinese state media is all over it. So are China's security services.

On March 10, 1959, the Dalai Lama and his supporters started an armed rebellion in a desperate attempt to preserve Tibet's feudal serfdom and split the region from China.

On Tuesday, exactly 50 years later, the Dalai Lama claimed that Tibetans have been living in "hell on earth," as if the Tibet under the former feudal serfdom ruled by him were a heaven. ...

Even from historical books written by Western scholars, people can draw the conclusion that Tibet under the rule of the Dalai Lama clique was a society of feudal serfdom that trampled human rights and easily reminded visitors of the dark age of medieval Europe.

The article goes on to say that China has allowed for "religious freedom" in Tibet.

For a region that has only 2 million of China's over 1 billion inhabitants, Tibet generates an awful lot of controversy. Yes it's true, as Penn and Teller have sharply pointed out, life under the Lamas was oppressive. And yes, the Dalai Lama was a CIA employee. And yes, the Chinese have put in running water and railroads. But, as Ambassador At Large loves to advise people, don't mess with ethnonationalism. The Dalai Lama isn't on the CIA's payroll anymore, his tactics are far less violent than, say, separatist Tibetans in Tibet, and his demand is no longer independence but autonomy and religious freedom. If China can allow for those demands, it can still maintain China's territorial integrity and access to critical water resources in Tibet. If it doesn't, Tibetan terrorists can be expected to become the norm once the Dalai Lama dies and is not replaced.

Mighty Britain built railroads in India, too, but the Indians were not receptive. Britain doesn't rule the Subcontinent anymore, and it's thanks to Gandhi that that transition was largely nonviolent (except for the partition of Pakistan, of course). If the Chinese miss their opportunity with the Dalai Lama, they might not get another.

the change we need

A court in Sudan announced Sunday that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir can run for reelection next year despite being indicted by the ICC for war crimes. So, um, how do you spell "negative advertising" in Arabic?

Monday, March 9, 2009

should we talk to the Taliban?

CNN has an interesting piece on it, in which the majority of those interviewed say no.

"You want to be working with the Afghans as partners as you reach out to individuals. You're not getting them as a group. If you do bring some of them in as a group, they'll cooperate with you just like they did in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, but the second you're gone, they're going to start abusing the population, violating human rights," he [former CIA officer Gary Berntsen] said.

I see two issues here:

1. Unlike in Iraq, the predominantly Pashtun Taliban are not facing ethnic annihalation like the Sunnis were in Iraq. Stuck between the pincer of ethnic cleansing and political domination from the American-backed Shiite government on the one hand, and from radical and hated AQI foreigners on the other, the Sunnis figured their best lot was to throw in with the Americans and get arms and training to police their own and ultimately defend themselves from the Shiites. (This is why many people say the long-term impacts of our "surge" Iraq strategy will be worse than if we'd just left, but that's another story.) Furthermore, a powerful Shiite central government with oil money can crush domestic opposition, as Saddam did for the Sunnis when he was in power. In Afghanistan, there basically is no central government, and the major source of revenue from Afghanistan is in the hands of the insurgents: opium. The Taliban has nothing to fear.

2. Our goals have to be realistic. We can't turn Afghanistan into a liberal democracy with a strong central government, it's just not going to happen. I'd love it if girls could continue to go to school there once we're gone, but the most important thing for America's goals in Afghanistan is to leave in place a political structure that gives no tribal faction an incentive to back, support, or give harbor to people like al Qaeda and bin Laden. Just because the country remains lawless, poor, and tribal doesn't mean it's a real threat to us. After all, until we meddled in Somalia via the Ethiopian invasion, it had been utterly stateless for 15 years and posed no threat to us whatseover apart from its piracy problem. We didn't remove the Taliban because of their human rights record, but because they supported a terrorist group that attacked us. The leadership of both the Taliban and al Qaeda was decimated by our initial assault. The key is -- to be perfectly realistic -- to make it clear to all sides how much they will suffer if they allow this sort of thing to happen again.

Accomplishing all our goals in Afghanistan would probably require a vicious campaign of indiscrimatory violence against pro-Taliban tribes to scare them into ending the insurgency, and the legalization of opium to wipe out their main source of income. Since neither of these are remotely morally acceptable, we'd better be prepared for a long slough. Probably the best way to do this is to reinforce our troops there to make it harder for the Taliban to succeed, then negotiating with them once we have greater leverage. Which seems to me precisely what Obama is doing.

bogus self-promotion

Played my first gig last night with a band called Oh Halo in New York. Check them out here.

Telegraph Kolkatta: Obama will liberate Tamils

Wait, what?!

Washington, March 7: The Obama administration will sound out foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon on Monday on India’s support for a US-led invasion of Sri Lanka to evacuate nearly 200,000 Tamil civilians trapped inside territory controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam with precariously declining stocks of food or medicine.

Given that no one except pro-Tamil groups seems to have followed up on this story, I'm guessing this is bunk. That saves me from having to go into a long-winded explanation of how stupid such an "invasion" would be.

Moving on...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I fear Britain has underestimated the custard threat

Perhaps this green custarding of Business Secretary Lord Mandelson will waken British authorities from their slumber...

Friday, March 6, 2009


UK Ambassador John Sawers just announced that the Security Council is not able to issue a press statement urging Sudan to let back in the 13 aid NGOs it booted out of the country following the ICC indictment of President Bashir. Press statements by the Council require unanimity of all its members. According to Sawers, "one member" wanted to put in an extraneous reference to the ICC indictment into the text. Sawers further clarified that this was one of the five permanent members, and that it was not the UK, France, US, or Russia.

Perhaps you can narrow it down from there.

Update: Ambassador Abdulmahmood Abdalhaleem Muhamad of Sudan dismissed the Council even meeting about the "so-called humanitarian situation in Sudan," and said the "irresponsible NGOs" that Sudan had booted from the country "were polluting the atmosphere unnecessarily against the Sudan government and leadership" and "messing up everything in terms of the stability and security in the respective states of Darfur." He dismissed the importance of the NGOs. "Definitely there is a storm in a teacup," he added. "It is propaganda. It is publicity."

Update 2: When reporters asked to see the dossier of evidence against the NGOs, Amb. Muhamad said he could bring it with him. When reporters asked him to bring it to the Security Council press stakeout on monday, Amb. Muhamad said "no it is better you should come to my office and see the whole dossier." After Bill Varner from Bloomberg offered to do this, Amb. Muhamad said "No, because if you saw it you might have a heart attack. It is very strong evidence."


next time, doublecheck that translation please

SecState Hillary Clinton presents a gift to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a, um, minor translation gaffe on it. Overcharge, anyone?

send in the clowns

Britain, thanks to some draconian immigration laws, faces a shortage.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

the ICC gives the JEM a helping hand

Interesting article from AFP on the fallout of the ICC indictment of President Omar al-Bashir. The most telling point, for me, is the final paragraph:

The Justice and Equality Movement, the most active Darfur rebel group which last month signed a deal with Khartoum to pave the way for broader peace talks, said it would not longer negotiate and that it was time to "get rid of Beshir".

The most compelling argument against the indictment was never the one that said that Bashir would retaliate against Darfur's civilian population or the UN, but rather the one that said that the indictment would embolden the rebels who -- free from any ICC judgments against them -- can expand their operations against the Sudanese government. Perhaps this is just a bargaining ploy by the JEM, but given that their raison d'etre is the removal of the regime, it seems wise to take them at their word.

As I've always said, wars end when someone wins or when both sides realize they can't. The JEM has to be convinced it cannot win, and that it should accept a political settlement. Until that happens, the war in Darfur will go on and more people will die, whether or not Omar Bashir or anyone else is brought to the Hague.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

when accused of genocide, don't use the phrase "final solution"

Sudan's ever-quotable Ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, had a press conference today after the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir.

Key arguments that Mohamad made:

1. This indictment isn't happening:
According to Sudan, the ICC doesn't exist, and the indictment isn't worth the ink used to print it. It is an insult to justice and it is a demonstration only for the Euro-American justice which caused destruction in Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza.

2. Actually, the war in Darfur isn't happening either:
Every day in Gaza, these images come every day to our bedrooms and we see them. In Afghanistan, everything can be captured and brought to our bedroom. Have you ever seen anything in Darfur, these 300,000? It's a big lie. And these lies are becoming weapons of mass destruction in our case.

3. You see, George Clooney made it up, and Save Darfur's only in it for the money:
The Darfur issue was blown out of proportion, in which all walks of life came to intervene in the internal affairs of the country, actors, mobilization of actors, and organizations who are war-mongers and money-makers like Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Now, and Save Darfur Coalition.

4. Darfur is a "traditional conflict" (sadly, given the nature of previous Sudanese wars, this is rather accurate) and Sudan will solve it on its own, thank you very much:
We are not surprised that a traditional conflict was blown out of proportion and has become a job of the jobless, and indeed we are not at all going to demand article 16 because our demand now is to dismiss this whole criminal plot against our country. I said the decision is a recipe for disaster and anarchy, and indeed it's intended to fragment our country and create chaos in it, but we are not going to fall into their trap. Exactly the opposite. What we are going to do is, we are already consolidating the domestic front in our country. The President's popularity is increasing by day. Our people are very much solid behind the President.

5. It's all the lawyers' fault:
The biggest value of justice is peace. So we are going to deliver this peace for our people, and also to remind those that are talking heavily on the ICC that it is not only through litigation that justice is established. We have a model in South Africa through our own traditional matters to achieve justice even without going through the courts.

6. Lady Macbeth had it right.

7. There will be peace at any price:
We will continue to peace process, starting with the Doha process, and reaching a final and lasting solution to the problem of Darfur, whatever the cost might be.

Priceless stuff, here...

and while we're at it, how many miles of unexplored passages are there in this cave?

Actual exchange today in the noon briefing:

Reporter: "Has the Secretary-General made any preparations for any unforeseen events in Sudan?"
UN spokeswoman Michele Montas: "I cannot predict any unforeseen events."


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Barry Manilow vs. the Mall Rats

In a mild update of the ol' blast-the-bad-guys-with-hard-rock-24/7 tactic of the US military, a New Zealand mall in Christchurch has decided that unruly youth hate Manilow music so much that playing it will make the them go away. Take-home quote: "I never said Barry Manilow was a weapon of mass destruction."

Nice strategy, except, what about non-unruly youths like myself (26 years old as of this writing) who also can't stand Barry Manilow? What about Dave Barry fans? I feel that on the whole, this can't be good for business.

Libya: Darfur's not a genocide... GAZA is

With less than 24 hours to go before the International Criminal Court -- in all probability -- indicts the first sitting head of state for war crimes, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, the presidency of the Security Council has rotated to none other than Libya, champion of Bashir's attempt to get the Court's indictment deferred. Libya's Ambassador spoke to the press this afternoon. He said that what is going on in Gaza "has never happened in human history," and downplayed the violence in Darfur relative to the violence in Afghanistan:

In Darfur there is now an armed conflict. It was a tribal conflict that developed into an armed conflict. Now, there is a legitimate government. There are rebels, or armed factions, that are against the govenrment. Certainly we feel the govenrment shoudl take all the necessary steps to secure the security and peace in that place. We expect that implementing its powers, the government may make mistakes possibly, and we see displacement of civilians and reports of the armed conflicts, this is the case all over the world. Victims also because of the armed conflict will certainly [happen], as usual, as in conflicts all over the world. As you know, hundreds of civilians died. The highest number was last year in Afghanistan on the hands of the multinational force in Afghanistan, and usually they say it was by mistake, whether it was a school or a simple citizen, it was by mistake. ... In Darfur, the Sudanese government they don't have this hihg-tech military technology, these smart bombers to attack selected targets, but we know that the forces in Afghanistan, they ahve the highest technology. However, so many people die each month because of the attacks by the Multinational force. ... So we should look at these issues impartially.

Pressed about Gaza being a genocide, he asked: "What else do you call it when 1,500 Palestinians are killed in a matter of days?"

As preposterous as the analogy is, the Libyans do have a point on Darfur specifically, insomuch as it is a tribal conflict started by armed rebels and that the government doesn't have high-tech weapons so it's just burning everyones' houses down, often with the inhabitants inside. This doesn't make the government any less reprehensible, of course, but I do think the rebels get an awfully free pass, given how much culpability they have in all of this. If I went up to Mike Tyson and punched him in the face and then he beat the tar out of me, he shouldn't get in more trouble than I do just because he inflicted more damage.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Krugman echoes Stiglitz

The oil embargo gave huge monetary inflows to OPEC members. They invested that money in American banks. The banks then lended freely and stupidly to terrible military regimes across the developing world, and when those countries defaulted on their loans, catastrophe came for all involved.

Krugman now says that the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 did the same. Just as Stiglitz argued, Krugman says that Asian governments built themselves up with massive financial reserves in foreign countries, creating a glut of capital in the US that had to be lended somewhere. This time, in a deregulated climate, they lent them to American consumers. The piper is now being paid. Scary article, worth reading.