Monthly Archives: June 2009
I noted yesterday that the President’s Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration seemed to speak off a different set of talking points than UN Ambassador Susan Rice when it came to addressing the “genocide” question. Well, John Norris notes that this was not the only miscue from Gration during his first press availability.
The second linguistic thicket into which Gration wandered was the expulsion of humanitarian aid groups. Gration noted that we have “three new aid groups returning to Sudan” – something of an oxymoron. Are they new aid groups, or are they returning aid groups? As has always been clear, Khartoum was willing to let three of the 13 groups return to work if they were rehatted under new names, a charade the international community apparently was willing to accept. Now Khartoum is expecting credit for its willingness to partially address a humanitarian crisis which it manufactured itself. Gration also insisted that aid capacity in Darfur was back up to nearly 100 percent of what it had been before Khartoum put so many lives at risk through its callous decision to expel aid groups. Lots of analysts, including the humanitarian chief at the U.N., have suggested that we are still well short of restoring previous aid capacity, and most aid groups still face a maze of restrictions that allow Khartoum to turn aid on and off at will.
For more on how the message on Darfur is being hashed out in the inter-agency process, see Colum Lynch in today’s Washington Post. He reports what I speculated yesterday: the National Security Council has yet to reach a consensus decision on what to do about Darfur.
The Jolie-Pitt foundation today gave $1 million to the United Nations Refugee Agency to help UNHCR sustain its operations in the conflict torn Swat Valley in Pakistan. Bravo. Now its up to donor governments to step up.
Dan Drezner has some sharp analysis of the impact that the incipient Iranian revolution electoral unrest in Iran is having on the region, particularly Russia. But I think he’s a little too limiting in his read on the likely endgame of this very fascinating mess.
As the previous paragraphs suggest, I’m pretty sure a Rubicon has been crossed in Iran that can’t be uncrossed. This isn’t 1999 and 2003 — too many days have passed with the Khamenei regime on the defensive. The regime as it existed for the past twenty years — hemmed-in democracy combined with clerical rule — is not going to be able to continue. With the largest protests of the past week scheduled for tomorrow, I think this ends in one of two ways: the removal of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei from power, or bloodshed on a scale that we cannot comprehend.
He may be right, and a Rubicon may indeed have been crossed, with no going back to “the way things were” in Iran. That certainly seems to be the consensus. But I also wonder if it might be a bit of wishful thinking. There’s a tendency to imbue events as-they’re-happening as more important than they may turn out to be. To take just the color revolutions to which it has been so trendy to compare the situation in Iran: Ukraine’s “Orange” and Georgia’s “Rose” (not to mention Kyrgyzstan’s “Tulip”) were certainly major events, but the hype that they generated at the time far surpasses the attention that those countries, modestly different though their governments might be, attract today.
I think more useful comparisons would be Tianenmen or, better, the monks’ uprising in Burma in late 2007. What these examples — or even, as I suggested before, those of Kenya or Zimbabwe — show us is the possibility of an outcome distinct from Drezner’s either-or (or both) model. At the time, many thought that Burma’s junta couldn’t possibly survive such a brutal onslaught against the country’s most venerable institution. But…it survived. In Iran, the possibilities are simply too many to predict: Khamenei may retrench, and allow Ahmadinejad to take the fall; or, the two of them may make some sort of minor concession to the protestors; or again, they could simply wait until the crowds peter out. Revolution is not inevitable. In such an interesting situation, nothing is.
The World Food Program posts a video with some powerful images from Abyei, which is an oil-rich border region between South Sudan, Darfur and Sudan proper. Despite a peace accord between Souther Sudanese rebels and the central Government four years ago, Abyei remains a persistent flash point. The Enough Project call’s the region “Sudan’s Kashmir” and has published some important work highlighting the centrality of peace in Abyei to peace throughout Sudan.
The Obama administration still cannot decide internally whether or not to call Darfur a genocide. You will recall that during Susan Rice’s first press availability as UN Ambassador she described the situation in Darfur as “an on-going genocide.” Well, today, the President’s Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration walked that back a bit in his first press availability. Via ABC News’ Kirit Radia,
“What we see is the remnants of genocide,” [Gration] said, implying the wartorn region’s worst violence is behind it. “It doesn’t appear that it is a coordinated effort that was similar to what we had in 2003 to 2006,”
The takeaway here is not to rehash the tired arguments over whether or not Darfur = genocide. Rather, the fact that the Obama administration does not apparently have a coordinated message on this point suggests the level of attention that Darfur is receiving from the National Security Council. This is a pretty basic point to hash-out through the inter-agency process. Apparently, though, it has not been subject to much White House discussion.
Perhaps it’s because my ears are peaked, but it seems to me that there has been a flurry of ink on “geo-engineering” lately. If you spend your time in a cave, geo-engineering is, from the teaser of an article I’m about to praise, “schemes for reengineering the climate by brute force.” This is a concept you’ve most likely been introduced to through those folks at Climos who plan to seed the ocean with iron, which they say will create carbon-sucking plankton blooms.
This morning my inbox was hit yet again with some geo-engineering ink, via NPR. But I’m not going to link to it, because it sparked a memory of this superior treatment, written by my good friend Graeme Wood and also published this month, in The Atlantic. I’m convinced you shouldn’t bother reading anything else.
He does the subject justice, so much so that it’s almost impossible to pick quotes. I really recommend reading it all, but here’s the nugget:
We should keep such images in mind. And they should remind us that, one way or another, a prolonged love affair with carbon dioxide will end disastrously. A pessimist might judge geo-engineering so risky that the cure would be worse than the disease. But a sober optimist might see it as the biggest and most terrifying insurance policy humanity might buy—one that pays out so meagerly, and in such foul currency, that we’d better ensure we never need it. In other words, we should keep investigating geo-engineering solutions, but make quite clear to the public that most of them are so dreadful that they should scare the living daylights out of even a Greenfinger.
Graeme regaled me with some of these schemes while he was researching. And I was always quick to caution against a repeat of the 50s malaria-eradication efforts, an argument that John Anthony pointed out this morning I was stealing from Dr. Ian Malcolm. Sorry Jeff.
Middle East: During the last 48 hours of the continued ceasefire, humanitarian workers have delivered food to hundreds of thousands of people, repaired water and sanitation infrastructure, re-stocked medical supplies, and some of the 520,000 displaced Palestinians have returned to their homes. However, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator remarked the scale of needs remains “unprecedented in the Gaza Strip.”
Middle East: At today’s informal session of the General Assembly on Gaza the SG remarked that the most recent ceasefire has held since yesterday at 8 a.m. local time. He noted that a durable ceasefire is necessary and UN shelters must continue to remain safe zones. The SG thanked UN staff in Gaza and will fly the UN flag at half-mast tomorrow in memory of those who died in the conflict.
Middle East: The SG commended Israeli and Palestinian parties for committing to a 72-hour ceasefire that took place at 8 a.m. local time today. He urges all parties to abide by the ceasefire and commence peace talks in Cairo to address underlying issues and agree on a durable ceasefire to sustainably stop the violence. The UN lends its full support toward these efforts.
Middle East: The SG condemned yesterday’s shelling outside of an UNRWA school in Rafah that killed at least 10 Palestinian civilians. The SG stated that the attack violated international humanitarian law and UN shelters must continue to be safe zones and not combat zones.
SG: Last night the SG spoke at a joint press conference with the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica where he repeated his call for an unconditional and extendable humanitarian ceasefire. Speaking about yesterday’s shelling of a UN shelter he said: “Nothing – nothing – justifies such horror” and demanded “that all parties immediately respect UN premises”.
SG: The SG met with President Ortega yesterday in Nicaragua where he visited a wind farm and praised the country’s commitment to renewable energy. The SG arrived in Costa Rica today where he is expected to lecture about “Costa Rica and the United Nations: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century”.