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Monthly Archives: July 2009

One case of swine flu, two cases of swine flu…

Eh, who’s counting anyway? Not the WHO any more (h/t Passport). But before your flabbergasted reaction — the World Health Organization is not tracking the number of cases of a disease it has called a pandemic?!? — consider that this is actually a sensible step.

On the one hand, unfortunately, it’s only practical to stop counting; new cases are popping up all over, and, with different countries’ reporting standards, keeping track would essentially be a fool’s errand. On the other, the number of cases is a much less significant fact than HOW the virus is spreading, and how it is being treated. These, of course, the WHO continues to track rigorously.

There are many cases of swine flu; we know this, and we’ll still have a good enough estimate of the number as it grows. But counting the global caseload can lead to a feverish panic over an ever-increasing number. I’d much rather the WHO focus on how to decrease this number.

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Why intervention is not forthcoming in Somalia

From a good article in Macleans, the Canadian weekly:

“It comes down to this question: can we intervene without doing harm?” says Brownwyn E. Bruton, an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “If you want to deal with it properly, you’re looking at an Iraq-style investment, where 20,000 peacekeepers isn’t going to do it—maybe 40,000, maybe 60,000. You’re talking about building a government and security forces from the ground up. It’s going to be a 10-year effort. And there’s going to be a lot of violence in the short term, as there was in Iraq.” [emphasis mine]

And that, in case the bolded parts don’t make it clear enough, just ain’t gonna happen. The article also makes the very valid point that such a force, wherever it came from, would require a substantial contribution from the United States. And even though the U.S. did recently contribute 168 million very important dollars to the African Union mission in Somalia, a 10-year investment in 60,000 troops would cost, um, a little bit more.

So where to look? The UN?

Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, a former resident of Ottawa and deputy prime minister of Somalia until Sheik Sharif Ahmed’s government was sworn in this year, hopes that the international community will shoulder this burden. In an interview with Maclean’s, he drew comparisons between Somalia and Afghanistan and argued that the international response should be similar. He wants the United Nations to send troops. While some Somalis would reject any international presence, Adan believes most would accept it as necessary. “Somalis are killing each other every day here on the streets, so why wouldn’t they accept anyone who is coming to save them?”

We’ve previously argued why a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia would not be a good idea, and the situation remains such that UN deployment would be much more likely to inflame tensions and exacerbate conditions on the ground than to achieve any sort of forced pacification. Adan’s logic is misguided (there are in fact no UN peacekeepers, only a small political team, in Afghanistan, his proposed parallel case), but his language is revealing: any UN blue helmets that might deploy in Somalia could not be there to “save” Somalis. Peacekeeping missions, even the ones with mandates to protect civilians, are not rescue missions. That requires a whole different (and more substantial) investment, one that, given Somalia’s history, is not likely to be forthcoming.

Does this mean there is no way for the international community to help improve the situation in Somalia? No, but it does mean that we should be candid about what full-scale protection of Somali civilians will entail. We can keep supporting the country’s government, conducting anti-terrorism operations, promoting peace processes, and providing vital humanitarian aid, but if we want to talk about making sure that everyday Somali civilians are safe, we’d need to be honest about what that’s going to take.

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Amnesty for everyone in Honduras?

Because there is a unified international front (aside from, ahem, a handful of members of the United States Congress) it is almost assured that Honduran President Manuel Zelaya will return to office.  What’s being hashed out in negotiations, overseen by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, are the precise terms of his return. 

According to news reports, it seems that amnesty is in the offing for both Zelaya and the coup leaders. This is obviously an expedient solution, but there is a down side to letting everyone off the hook.  The coup was a subversion of the rule of law. Any long term solution to the crisis in Honduras must include efforts to bolster the rule of law.  Amnesty has exactly the opposite effect. 

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ICC warrant working?

Sudanese President Bashir, who’d previously shown few qualms in provocatively traipsing across Africa after his indictment by the ICC, visiting allies that he knew were non-signatories to the Court, has recently backed off a planned trip to neighboring Uganda.  Why?  Well, Kampala hasn’t exactly been clear on the matter, but it seems that even the faintest threat of being arrested (Uganda has ratified the ICC’s Rome Statute) was enough to dissuade Bashir from the chance of looking foolish — and of ending up in the dock in The Hague.

This isn’t surefire proof that the ICC warrant is “working,” of course.  Bashir remains pretty safely ensconced in power — at least as long as he remains in Sudan.  But this is exactly the point of the of the warrant, to constrain Bashir in his movement.  Whether it will actually result in his eventual arrest — or, even better, a viable peace settlement in the country — is far from clear, but if Uganda is willing to arrest send mixed signals about arresting Bashir, well, then that’s a step at least.

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Jakarta bombing

By now you have heard of the twin suicide bombing attacks at the Marriot Hotel and Ritz Carlton Hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia.  At least 8 people were killed and 50 injured. Smart money is that Jemaah Islamiya is behind the attack. I found this video depicting the chaos following the explosion. 

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Friedman: Occupation only makes Iraqis “want” and “need” U.S. help

I just got around to reading Tom Friedman’s column from the other day about Kirkuk Iraq. It’s odd in a number of ways, from his love of using jokes to make a point, to his blithe assumption that the U.S. military has “left a million acts of kindness” in the country, and his bizarre contention that Iraq is “100 times more important” than Bosnia (what is the point of a powder keg competition between the Middle East and the Balkans, anyway?). But this is what struck me most from Friedman’s outlook:

Senior Iraqi officials are too proud to ask for our help and would probably publicly resist it, but privately Iraqis will tell you that they want it and need it. We are the only trusted player here — even by those who hate us. They need a U.S. mediator so they can each go back to their respective communities and say: “I never would have made these concessions, but those terrible Americans made me do it.”

First, I have a hard time believing that Thomas Friedman can reliably attest to the private desires of most Iraqis (especially when he is writing from Kirkuk, but makes no mention that Kurds, who form a substantial part of Kirkuk’s population, have a notably different outlook toward Americans). Second, I have an even harder time believing that six-plus years of military occupation has made Iraqis “want” and “need” more American help (something tells me that simply observing the diversity of American military personnel has not, as Friedman weakly argues, made an impression on Iraq’s own ethnic politics). I don’t believe for an instant that “those who hate us” trust the United States simply because it has been there for a long time.

Third, the United States is not the “only” purportedly neutral party in Iraq. The UN, I’d wager, has a lot more public support, and, more importantly, can lay a better claim to being an objective mediator. Rather than advocate what seems an entirely collapsible and unsustainable strategy of blaming concessions on “those terrible Americans,” Friedman should consider the political reconciliation work that the UN already is doing in Iraq, particularly in Kirkuk, which he, again, oddly fails to mention. Rest assured that it does not involve sending Iraqi mediators home with the implicit point of blaming “those terrible” UN types.

(image from flickr user Charles Haynes under a Creative Commons license)

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