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Monthly Archives: July 2009

More troops make more peace

Neocon and former occupation mouthpiece Coalition Provisional Authority spokesperson Dan Senor on the upcoming Kurdish elections:

On Saturday, the Kurds vote on a new parliament and president. While polls show that President Massoud Barzani and the two largest Kurdish parliamentary parties will be re-elected, the dynamic of this election is making Kurdish leaders nervous. Historically, Kurdish elections turned on the KRG’s power struggle with the national government. But in this election, the Iraqi Kurds seem to be more preoccupied with local governance issues such as KRG corruption. This may be prompting KRG officials to foment tension with Baghdad in the hope that the perception of external threats will strengthen their position at the polls. [emphasis mine]

He uses this analysis to argue for increasing not decreasing U.S. troop presence in Kurdistan.  I don’t buy that, but I also don’t buy the logic underlying it.  If Kurdish voters are mostly concerned about corruption in their own government, then their votes are most likely going to be in response to corruption in their own government.  Kurdish politicians can try to foment all the tension they’d like (over the next three days), but that’s not likely to assuage their constituencies’ concerns about corruption.

Senor seems to be doing a little fomenting himself here.  If there’s tension between Kurdistan and Baghdad, then he can argue for a greater U.S. military troop presence (and conveniently oppose the president’s agenda).  And there’s nothing to reduce tension like an enduring occupation force.

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When newspapers are closing their foreign bureaus…

…who will report from the desolate border area between Kenya and Somalia?  For now, fortunately — though covering what seems like half a continent — there is The New York Times‘ Jeffrey Gettleman, who reports how easily Somali al-Shaba militants are slipping easily to and from the thinly marked border with Kenya.

The most interesting takeaway from the piece, for me — more so even than the dangers of Shabab recruitment in refugee camps, of destabilization in Kenya, or of the bribery that is rife along the border — is that the region is not going unwatched.

Ever since Al Qaeda blew up the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing more than 200 people and wounding thousands, American counterterrorism officials have been watching East Africa warily. But in the areas along the Kenya-Somalia border, it seems that anti-Americanism is still spreading, despite the millions of dollars the American government has spent on a hearts-and-minds campaign.

Take an American-built well in the village of Raya. No one is using it, though Raya is desperately poor and dry.

“The Americans wanted to finish us,” said one villager, Ibrahim Alin, convinced that the American water engineers who built the well had poisoned it to sterilize him.

Bizarre.  I don’t think this shows the futility of “hearts-and-minds” campaigns, but it does speak to their great difficulty, when anti-Americanism is such a cheaply easy political card for regional actors to play.

(image from flickr user doneastwest under a Creative Commons license)

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The most neglected Millennium Development Goal…

…is #5, the agreement to reduce global maternal mortality levels by 75%, according to a moving appeal in The Huffington Post by Ethiopian model Liya Kebede.  She sounds a welcome call for a “Global Fund for Moms,” whom she rightly calls “our best stimulus package”:

In times of economic crisis, it is tempting to turn inward, to ignore or postpone the problems of the outside world and focus on ourselves. But, if we hope to thrive once again, we must realize that there are no outside problems in today’s interwoven, globalized world. Each mother who dies leaves behind a devastated family and weakened community that will eventually, somehow, affect each of us. Each mother who dies deepens the financial and social strain on our world and puts economic recovery further away. Mothers are our best stimulus package because they invest in their families and in our collective future.

Half a million women and girl, disproportionately in the developing world, die in childbirth every year, yet funding for maternal health programs from wealthy nations has actually decreased.  While this sad statistic may not be surprising, given the desperate humanitarian funding shortage that has accompanied the slumping economy, it is nonetheless counterproductive.  Helping mothers around the world ensures a better future for all, in this generation and the next.

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Bill Clinton reflects on his first trip to Haiti as UN Special Envoy

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Abyei loses an oil field, Sudan gains better prospects for peace?

As Mark forecasted, The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration handed down a ruling today on Abyei, the contentious border area that could prove the tinderbox for renewed civil war in Sudan.  A bit surprisingly, the ruling effectively favored the North, shifting the borders of Abyei to award valuable oil fields to the government in Khartoum.  Even more surprising, though, is that — for now at least — everybody seems happy with the decision.

Mutrif Siddig, the Sudanese foreign ministry under-secretary, said that Wednesday’s decision was a “step forward”.

“We respect this decision. And this decision is final and binding because all the parties agreed from the beginning that the decision of the court was binding and final,” he said.

Riek Machar, a representative of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which heads an autonomous regional government in the south, said that he hoped that the ruling would increase the chances for peace.

“We want peace. We think this decision is going to consolidate the peace,” he said. “We came to see justice and it’s a decision we will respect.”

Such punctiliousness is nice and all — particularly on the part of the South, which could be aggrieved at the ruling — but I don’t exactly share U.S. Sudan Envoy Scott Gration’s robust optimism at these rhetorical promises.  It’s worth remembering that a deal was reached four years ago, through an objective commission that determined fair boundaries for Abyei, and that that ruling was also supposed to be “binding and final.”  Diplomatic niceties were followed up to — and no farther than — the point of actually implementing the agreement.

One of the authors of the previous Abyei commission report, the very knowledgeable Douglas Johnson, says that “each side can come away feeling that they have been given something from this arrangement.”  If that’s all it takes to get a viable resolution of the border dispute, then an oil field or two seems worth trading for peace.  Let’s hope both North and South Sudan agree.

(image from UN Photo)

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Time for the Save Darfur movement to declare victory

Enough Project chief John Norris links approvingly to Randy Newcomb’s Foreign Policy piece explaining why the next 18 months are a make-or-break time for the Save Darfur movement. The argument is that the forthcoming dissolution of Sudan into two separate countries (following a 2011 referendum) may presage the return to civil war. If the Obama administration doesn’t provide a clear roadmap for how to handle the dissolution of Sudan, disaster may ensue. So, Newcomb writes, it is up to the movement to convince the Obama administration to make good with that roadmap.  Norris agrees that “the time for activism is now.” 

I respectfully disagree.   The time for activism is long gone.   In terms of being able to affect change, the movement has played itself out. This is not meant to diminish the accomplishments of the Save Darfur movement. In fact, I would argue that the Save Darfur movement is a singular example of successful activism (thanks, in part, to the likes of Newcomb and Norris). Like the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, the Save Darfur movement was able to bring to light a disaster halfway around the world and nurture a general political consensus around it. In fact, the movement was so successful it infiltrated the institution whose behavior it was seeking to change. A number of the leading lights of the Save Darfur movement now hold top positions in the Obama administration.   Darfur is a household name. 

These are amazing successes — for any movement.  

But we are now at a point where outside pressure has reached its limit. Unlike the previous administration, the Obama administration does not need convincing that Darfur should fit somewhere on its roster of global issues to which it ought to pay attention. Thanks to the movement it’s already there. 

Rather, the question now is what to do about Sudan policy, which is something relegated to the vagaries of the inter-agency policy making process. And here, there is a dispute within the Obama administration on the best way to approach Sudan. On the one hand, movement alumni in the administration are pressing for a hard line while others, like Sudan Envoy Scott Gration, reportedly prefer a more conciliatory approach that the movement abhors.

It is hard for me to see how activism (among, frankly, people who will vote Obama anyway) can influence this inter-agency debate. It seems hard to distill support for Susan Rice’s policy prescriptions over those of Scott Gration and the State Department’s Sudan desk into a placard.  It’s unrealistic to ask a movement to get that in the weeds of a policy debate.  Furthermore, pinning the success or failure of the movement  on the outcome of that interagency debate does disservice to the great successes that the movement has achieved. 

The fate of Sudan may very well hang in the balance over the next 18 months. But the trajectory of U.S. policy toward Sudan depends more on whether key administration officials are willing to go down in flames in support of policies they think will make a difference than activists making phone calls or attending rallies. 

(image of 2006 Save Darfur rally  from flickr user james calder)

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