Yearly Archives: 2008
Yesterday I attended an Internet and Politics conference convened by Harvard’s Berkman Center. Berkman’s mission is to “explore and understand cyberspace; to study its development, dynamics, norms, and standards.” I was on a panel to discuss various aspects of online mobilization. I relayed some of my experiences working with Hillary Clinton and the challenges (and opportunities) for campaigns and organizations communicating, fundraising and organizing using the web.
Toward the end of the panel discussion, I said there’s a tendency to expect too much of the medium and that despite the dramatic growth of the Internet as a political tool, we have a long way to go before it becomes a lever of true power for individuals and a mechanism for sweeping reform. As an example, I recounted the horrific story of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, a 13-year-old Somali girl who was gang-raped and then stoned to death in a packed stadium as “punishment” for adultery, an unfathomably cruel fate for this innocent child.
I noted that if we can’t stop something like that using the Internet, then we should acknowledge the medium’s limitations. I was being a bit hyperbolic of course – I realize that it’ll take a lot more than technology to address the atrocities that take place across the globe and to deal with the savage elements of human nature. But the point stands that a critical measure of the Internet’s role is how effectively it is used to combat violence, poverty, hunger, and the many ills that plague our planet. That question is addressed in depth in CauseWired, a new book by Tom Watson (a friend and fellow blogger). Tom offers insight into how a new generation is using technology for advocacy and activism, covering everything from Kiva and DonorsChoose to Facebook Causes and other aspects of the new “wired philanthropy.”
A couple weeks ago, news broke that Ethiopia intends to pull its troops out of Somalia by the end of the year, ending its very contentious presence in the country and hopefully leading the way to an eventual peaceful resolution of its conflict. Yesterday, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, made a sort of unilateral declaration that the African Union peacekeepers that would remain in Somalia also want out.
I wouldn’t blame the beleaguered AU force in Somalia for wanting out; their situation, by any measure, is unenviable and certainly dangerous. But count me among those who think that
Eritrean Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles [thanks to reader Ann for correcting the slip-up] is playing geopolitical games here. Either he is digging in his heels, seeking to get the AU out and consolidate Ethiopian presence in Somalia, or he is hoping that the AU and the international community call his bluff, bolstering the AU presence so that Ethiopian forces can in fact leave more easily.
Given that it seems that Ethiopia really has no desire to remain in the still-escalating firestorm that is Mogadishu, and that withdrawing its troops from Somalia would allow them to focus more on the tense situation on its border with rival Eritrea, I speculate that the latter is the case. The fact that Uganda — one of the two countries that, unlike Ethiopia, contributes troops to the AU Mission in Somalia — has vehemently denied Meles’ claim does not give much credence to the theory of an imminent AU withdrawal.
“This is absolutely not true and this is contrary to everything we have said. Our position has always been that if Ethiopia pulls out of Somalia, we will increase our presence there,” he told the AFP news agency.
The AU might want the UN to step in, but I’d say it’s pretty clear that they’re not about to high-tail it out of there before the Ethiopians. Some troops are definitely deserting, though — the Somali army, providing even more easy weapons to a country that already has way too many floating around.
In the surprisingly supportive piece that Mark cites below, the conservative Boot urges his “compatriots on the right put aside their reflexive-and usually well-justified-antipathy to all things UN and think about how we can improve this organization’s capacity.”
I would disagree with the “and usually well-justified” element of that advice, of course, but the rest seems rather sensible. Supporting and improving the UN so that it can succeed in endeavors that the United States would be loathe to take on itself — huge projects like providing peacekeepers in DR Congo, yes, but also the lower-profile, but equally important, aspects of the UN’s work, from promoting gender equality and providing vaccines all the way to regulating the flight paths of airplanes — is very clearly in the United States’ interests.
Yet if you title a blog post, “If You Trust The U.N. On Anything You’re A Fool,” it’s pretty clear that you are demonstrating just the sort of reflexive tarring of “all things UN” that Boot is cautioning against. Regardless of the validity of Marty Peretz’s specific objections, this kind of blanket statement can’t be anything but a patent exaggeration. Let’s just hope that, for his own sake, Marty can muster up some tiny smidgeon of trust for the UN at least when he steps on a plane.
My trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia two weeks ago coincided with Africa’s biggest single sporting event, the Great Ethiopian Run. I visited UNICEF’s office a couple of days before the race and there was a flurry of activity surrounding UNICEF’s participation, which included organizing a special race for disabled children using the “mobility cycles” featured in this video.
A couple of things to look for when you watch this video. 1) The young gentleman with the dreads who is painting the sign is a local artist I met named Robel. He is a member of Speak Africa, a UNICEF sponsored group that encourages young Africans to push for social change through art and media. Robel is a cartoonist who’s work can be seen here. 2) The smiling person in an Ethiopian flag track suit who is greeting the mobility cyclists is Haille Grebreselassie, the current world-record marathon runner. You can see my own adventures with Gebreselllsie here.
When I saw that the blog of the neo-conservative flagship Commentary linked to this terribly saddening Lydia Polgreen article about a massacre in eastern Congo I fully expected to see a rant against UN peacekeeping. Rather, to his credit, Max Boot makes a reasoned argument and draws the right lessons from this tragedy.
It is all too easy, reading accounts like this, to snort in derision and write off the UN as a hopeless failure. Easy, but not productive. After all, if the UN isn’t trying to keep the peace in Congo, who will do the job? However undermanned and underequipped and inadequate in every way, UN forces are often the only instruments available to stop horrific bloodshed.
I would urge my compatriots on the right to put aside their reflexive-and usually well-justified-antipathy to all things UN and think about how we can improve this organization’s capacity so it can actually be a useful instrument in stemming chaos in ungoverned spaces, something that is very much in the interest of the United States and other civilized nations.
The nub of the problem, it seems to me, is the lack of capacity among UN peacekeepers who are typically contributed by poor nations for no better reason than a cash stipend. This is a deficiency that would not be hard to fix. Imagine if the UN had a standing military force that trained together, made up of veterans of Western militaries and equipped with top-of-the-line hardware. Such ideas were in fact offered forth in the early 1990s after the end of the Cold War, but they died amid the UN’s debacles in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda. It may be time to revive them.
The Financial Times‘ foreign affairs correspondent, Gideon Rachman, is no wacky conspiracy theorist.
I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.
If these sinister UN choppers (why aren’t they being deployed to Darfur?) aren’t hovering over the future world capital of Butte, Montana, then why does Rachman see potential for a “world government” in the
near future next two centuries.
First, it is increasingly clear that the most difficult issues facing national governments are international in nature: there is global warming, a global financial crisis and a “global war on terror”.
But – the third point – a change in the political atmosphere suggests that “global governance” could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.
He goes on to discuss how the phrase “global government” — ostensibly euphemized as “global governance” or “responsible sovereignty” — is a bogeyman even for some Europeans. But what Rachman really is talking about here is not some cabal of global rulers; his very valid point is that the world’s problems these days cannot be taken on by a single sovereign government, or even a clump of them each hacking away individually at something like climate change or nuclear proliferation. The “governance” aspect of the term is less important than the “global;” the name we give to such international cooperation will matter much less than the melting icecaps that will flood our cities and the rogue nukes that will proliferate without a coherent global strategy to address them.
UPDATE: Responding to his readers’ mini-furor over his column, Rachman defends his impartiality by quoting his sister’s analysis of the piece as a “slightly dull discussion of a school-boy debating topic that went – on the one hand, on the other hand, probably not.”
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.