article placeholder

Post-previewing Clinton’s speech

Previewed yesterday, here's a bit of a post-preview, if you will, of Hillary Clinton's speech at the Council on Foreign Relations today (just about over now), mostly courtesy of our friends on the FP blogging team.  Laura Rozen had some excerpts of the speech before Clinton even gave it; WaPo's Glenn Kessler looks at the Iran bits; Josh Keating couldn't find it on the teevee; and Dan Drezner has a great play-by-play for those who (like me) missed it.

The key graf for fans of international cooperation:

Today, we must acknowledge two strategic facts: First, that no nation can meet the world's challenges alone.... Second, that most nations worry about the same global threats, from non-proliferation to fighting disease to counter-terrorism....Just as no nation can meet these challenges alone, no challenge can be met without America.

I suppose the variant of the United States as "indispensable nation" was pretty much inevitable, but I'd just add (in case Secretary Clinton did not) that if no nation can meet these challenges alone, but America needs to be part of the battle, then U.S. engagement in the global body featuring every nation on the planet seems like a good idea.

article placeholder

Swine flu vaccine hysteria

I have no doubt that the H1N1 virus is still very dangerous. I am also confident that the World Health Organization is continuing to take extreme precautions to ensure that the pandemic does not reach catastrophic levels. But this Reuters article seems designed expressly to conjure up baselessly apocalyptic fears:

Saying the new H1N1 virus is "unstoppable", the World Health Organization gave drug makers a full go-ahead to manufacture vaccines against the pandemic influenza strain on Monday and said healthcare workers should be the first to get one.

Every country will need to vaccinate citizens against the swine flu virus and must choose who else would get priority after nurses, doctors and technicians, said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research.

The "unstoppable" comment was made in reference to the spread of the virus, not, oddly enough, its inevitable decimation of humankind. That H1N1 already isn't contained in one place should be obvious to just about anyone who's read the (equally frantic) reports of swine flu popping up in dozens of countries, or who can conceive of how keeping tiny little viruses from spreading all over an interconnected globe might be a trifle difficult.

As for vaccines, Reuters' depiction suggests a terrifying movie scene: government bureaucrats choosing who lives and dies while millions die for lack of the precious vaccine. These vaccines are necessary, yes, particularly for certain vulnerable populations, but they are not the only method of preventing contagion. The WHO describes the current severity of the pandemic as "moderate," with "most patients experiencing uncomplicated, self-limited illness." Instructing countries to implement vaccination strategies depending on local conditions is not leaving patients at the whims of capricious bureaucrats; rather, it reflects a smart realization on WHO's part that every country's epidemiological situation is different, and that each will have to incorporate vaccine and non-vaccine related strategies differently.

But an "unstoppable" virus with not enough vaccines makes for a better movie headline, I suppose.

(image from Center for Disease Control and Prevention, via Wikimedia Commons)

article placeholder

Previewing Hillary Clinton’s speech tomorrow

Ben Smith compiles some previews of what is being billed as a major speech from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tomorrow:

“She is bringing the concept of ‘it takes a village’ to foreign policy,” said Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott, invoking the title of a well-received book that Clinton wrote while her husband was in the White House.

“She thought it was a good time to try to give a framing speech to take some perspective, talk about what we have been doing, what we plan to do – the administration and her as secretary – and how these issues fit together as part of a larger strategy,” said an administration official familiar with the draft speech, who said it would tour a breakneck half-year’s diplomatic efforts everywhere from Iran to North Korea, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Middle East.

“It’s an opportunity to take a step back and talk about how this all fits together,” the official said.

The speech will include “strong discussion of development and a forward-looking overview of how we think about U.S. relations with [and] management of the great powers in a way that gets more comprehensive than what they are doing on this or that crisis,” said another Democratic foreign policy official.

I think everyone will welcome this kind of speech from Clinton, as it will be enlightening to hear her give the kind of big picture worldview that we've heard President Obama give in his major speeches in Cairo, Russia, and Ghana. But it will be unfortunate if the speech is assessed through the lens of the rather petty debate that has emerged over whether or not there is some kind of "rift" between Clinton and Obama. She is not giving the speech to enhance her own prominence; that it will do so, or that it may appear that way, is only a function of Clinton's undeniably large media personality. I don't remember too many whisperings going around if Condoleezza Rice hadn't given a big speech in a while.

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

article placeholder

Pakistan returns beginning voluntarily

The UN humanitarian chief should be relieved; Pakistan is beginning voluntary resettlement of the 300,000 or so displaced civilians living in camps (yet only a small fraction of the 2 million total displaced, most of whom have found refuge in the homes of other families). The tough part for many of these people, though, will be coming home to a society and an economy severely damaged by the insecurity.

No one expects a speedy return of the tourists who used to flock to the scenic alpine valley for its cool mountains in the summer and skiing in the winter.

"The business has been ruined," Zahid Hussain, president of a valley hotel association, told Reuters. "We're bankrupt ... It'll take three to five years for confidence to be restored."

And it will take a lot of work to make sure that these populations aren't radicalized in these three to five years along the way.

article placeholder

Tanks keeping the peace in Somalia

Danger Room's David Axe has the skinny on the kind of weaponry that (U.S.-backed) African Union peacekeepers are using to keep a few blocks of Mogadishu out of the control of insurgents:

The A.U. troops are low-tech, by American standards. But compared to Al Shabab, they’re freakin’ Stormtroopers. "We have the arsenal," Capt. Paddy Ankunda told me during my visit to Somalia, two years ago. He gestured to the A.U.’s machine-gun nests, its mine-protected trucks, and the handful of T-55 tanks stationed at the palace and the seaport. I asked him if the tanks were truly useful, considering the A.U.’s already overwhelming firepower. "We have them so that people know we could use them," Ankunda explained. But it wasn’t until this week, that the A.U. needed to use them. "Our troops were in an imminent danger, so we had to take some limited action,” A.U. spokesman Bahoku Barigye said. “That does not mean we are fully involved in the combat."

Axe makes a good point that using the tanks shows that the Obama Administration is serious about protecting Somalia's vulnerable government -- and that it is doing so in a smarter way than prodding an ill-advised Ethiopian offensive to occupy the country.  Still, even outfitting AU peacekeepers with tanks is relying on a military solution, and I don't expect anyone to be able to explode Somalia's enduring culture of violence away.

article placeholder

Does microfinance make up for war crimes?

Well, no. When there are 300,000 Tamils languishing in IDP camps, even a $26 million investment in microfinance loans won't erase the human rights violations that many of these civilivans faced in Sri Lanka's frenzied campaign against the Tamil Tigers.

But, even if Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's resettlement plan (180 days) is a little uncomfortably ambitious, microfinance seems a reasonably good idea -- better, at least, than simply pretending that ethnic distinctions don't exist, and that there are "only people who love their country and people who don’t love their country."

Then again, on the more cynical side, it seems that Rajapaksa is pretty eager to pick up tactics favored by his Western trading partners, without dealing so much with the attendant difficulties. He's followed George W. Bush's maxim to root out terrorists pretty much to the letter, and his military offensive steamrolled over supposed values of freedom of the press, proportionality, and the human rights of civilians.

Is providing microfinance loans a gambit to stay in the West's good graces? I wouldn't be that derisive, because it does seem like a good step forward.  But I do wish that Rajapaksa was more willing to look backwards, at his own military's conduct; it's difficult to hold a truth and reconciliation process when he doesn't want to "dig into the past."

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