Monthly Archives: July 2008
Back at The Seminal, Alex Thurston, citing UN peacekeeping missions’ struggles in places like Darfur, Ethiopia-Eritrea, and Somalia, last week opined that “criticizing the UN sometimes feels like the equivalent of beating up a cripple.” Well, he’s right in that many commentators — including himself, on occasion — do often take up the chance to criticize the UN, using it as a convenient scapegoat for Member States’ own individual failures. When a complex problem arises, and the international community’s response is decried as insufficient, the simple answer is to toss the UN under the bus and look the other way.
Not only is this tactic a deplorably crass — and self-defeating — oversimplification, but it also frequently distorts the facts under which the UN is operating. Take the example of the recently shut down mission in Ethiopia-Eritrea. If the UN is “crippled” in its position straddling this contentious border region, it is only because the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea decided to cripple it, flouting international agreements and depriving it of fuel. In Darfur, too, the host government has persistently made UNAMID’s effective operation a practical impossibility. Are peacekeepers to be expected to take on host governments with force? In both of these instances, fault lies with the offending obstructionists — as well as with the individual member states that allow such manipulation to occur unchecked.
I have, perhaps, an old-fashioned view of history and just as it is hard to explain why the French were in Moscow in 1812 without Napoleon, and the rise of the Nazi party is inextricably linked to the views and personality of Hitler, its just not possible to understand al Qaeda, what it is and what it has done, without understanding bin Laden. Without him al Qaeda simply would not exist (look at the minutes of the founding meetings of al Qaeda in 1988, for instance). Without him 9/11 would have been one of many harebrained schemes in the head of Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM.) The Al Qaeda organization and bin Laden the man are largely co-terminus, after all it’s a rather small organization today and has always been so. The Al Qaeda movement is another matter, though that too takes its strategic cues from OBL.
Peter’s is an excellent article. I’d submit, however, that it conflates Bin Laden with al Qaeda and I increasingly wonder if perhaps al Qaeda the organization has outgrown Bin Laden the man. After all, a persistent AQ threat does not mean Bin Laden is still calling the shots. Sadly, if it’s true that the organization has grown past the man it is another sign of just how successful he and the organization both have been.
Some of the issues in the final discussion I tried to address in a story for TIME earlier this month, so rather than rewriting that story I’m pasting it in below:
Does Osama bin Laden matter anymore? You could be forgiven for thinking he doesn’t. In recent months, an impressive cast of terrorism experts and counterterrorism officials around the world has coalesced around the notion that al-Qaeda’s leader is no longer an active threat to the West. They point out that he has not been able to strike on U.S. soil since 9/11 or in Europe since the London bombings three summers ago. In Iraq, his most successful franchise operation is on the ropes. Across the Muslim world, opinion polls suggest his popularity has faded, and many of his early supporters — including prominent jihadi ideologues — have denounced him. Even his messages on the Internet scarcely merit headlines in the mainstream media. Did you know he posted two audio messages on the Web in May? I didn’t think so.
Today, the Security Council is poised to re-authorize the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur. The Council had split over the issue of the International Criminal Court’s potential indictment of Sudanese President Bashir, a step opposed by ICC opponents — and Sudanese allies — like Russia, China, Libya, and South Africa. Interestingly, though, the U.S. — traditionally wary of the ICC, but which, along with the other 14 Council members at the time, allowed ICC jurisdiction back in March 2006 — stood with countries like Great Britain and France in pushing for the ICC’s operations in Darfur not be tied to the mandate of the peacekeeping mission there.
It appears that a compromise has been reached, and today’s report will simply make note of the African Union’s recent appeal for the Council to suspend ICC jurisdiction. This still leaves open the option of suspension — pending adequate Sudanese follow-through on its commitments — but also rightly separates the imperative of protection from the work of an independent prosecutorial body.
Although there have undoubtedly been more plots launched by home-grown cells in the West since 9/11 than by Al Qaeda, the evidence suggests that the most dangerous plots, such as the July 2005 London bombings and the 2006 airlines plot, have all been directed by Al Qaeda.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.