Author Archives: John Boonstra
Like Alanna, I too am glad to see Secretary of State Clinton focusing on the pandemic of rape in eastern DR Congo. I’m also glad, to judge from the flurry of media reports coming out of Goma and Kinshasa, that her visit and her attention are having some effect. And naturally, I’m glad that she’s calling for an end to impunity — for real “arrests and prosecutions and punishment” — for perpetrators of this crime (easier said than done, unfortunately, given its ubiquity among all sides of the conflict).
“The entire society needs to be speaking out against this…It should be a mark of shame anywhere, in any country. I hope that that will become a real cause here in Kinshasa that will sweep across the country.”
She’s right, of course, and her purpose is to upend the lamentable status quo, in which rape is rampant and unchallenged. And maybe there’s a sort of power in reversing the meaning of the phrase “mark of shame,” using it to signify the failure to combat rape, rather than rape itself, as so often occurs in places like Congo where what should be a war crime is seen as a stigma. But “mark of shame,” I think, falls too close to this line; in a culture in which the entrenched response to rape remains shame and ostracization — or even laughter and mockery — it’s difficult to use that emotion to galvanize a vigorous and difficult campaign to change not just a country’s punitive structures, but a society’s very mores.
In The Wall Street Journal today, John Bolton — the “Glenn Beck of foreign policy,” in Dan Drezner’s words — demonstrates once again his uncanny ability to pen ludicrous partisan blindsides and convince major editorial boards to give him the spotlight. His targets this time include former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, the older (and vastly distorted) demon of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (“Durban I” in conservatives’ no-holds-barred teleology), and, naturally, the entire UN itself.
Mark, citing Matt Yglesias, has already capably dismissed the alleged “furor” over President Obama’s decision to award Robinson a Presidential Medal of Freedom (a thought: leave it to self-avowed freedom-fighting neoconservatives like Bolton to invest such a symbolic honor with such life or death significance). As human rights commissioner, Robinson’s job was to criticize abuses of human rights. Some of these occurred in one of the UN’s 192 member states that is particularly sensitive to criticism: Israel. This meant that Mary Robinson on occasion criticized certain policies of the Israeli government. In the blinkered view of rabid pro-Israel hawks like Bolton, this means no less than that Mary Robinson was unabashedly anti-Israel — no ifs, ands, or buts. (Marty Peretz, unsurprisingly, goes even further off the deep end, disgustingly calling her “a real bigot.” Bolton relegates his ad hominem attacks to deriding her “ceremonial” position as first female president of Ireland.)
This is, quite bluntly, utter hogwash, as intellectually dishonest as it is factually untrue and insulting. Bolton’s criticism of Robinson for her role in the Durban conference fares little better. As High Commissioner for Human Rights, one of Robinson’s responsibilities was to chair the Durban anti-racism conference. She bears no more responsibility for the inexcusably anti-Semitic or anti-Israel antics that did occur there than does Colin Powell, who led the U.S. walkout that Bolton so admiringly cites. In lampooning Robinson’s characterization of the conference’s outcome as “remarkably good,” Bolton nowhere recognizes the reality that the overwhelming majority of the Durban outcome document had nothing to do with Israel. While NGOs did produce an unrelated document (which Bolton misleadingly conflates with the official one) that was indeed deeply offensive to Israel, Bolton does he mention the fact that Robinson refused to even touch this loathsome piece of juvenalia.
One of Bolton’s objections to Mary Robinson receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom is — I kid you not — that she once uttered the words “civilian casualties are human rights victims.” When a former high-ranking U.S. official is boisterously claiming that protecting human rights undermine national security, the extent of his fall (and of the country’s rise) is all too apparent.
Former Bush Administration official John Bellinger has an interesting WaPo op-ed on the prospects of the United States joining the International Criminal Court. In the main, he’s probably right: the United States is not likely to join the Court in the immediate future. But the argument with which he chooses to conclude his piece is deeply misleading:
Secretary Clinton is right that U.S. non-participation in the ICC is regrettable, especially given the long-standing U.S. commitment to international justice. Yet non-participation also reflects an unfortunate but deep-seated American ambivalence toward international institutions that the Obama administration, despite its support for international law, is unlikely to be able to change.
61% of Americans — well over a majority — have voiced support for that grand-daddy of all international institutions, the United Nations. The suggestion that there is a “deep-seated American ambivalence toward international institutions” is a self-serving straw man. To the extent that popular discomfort with the ICC exists, it is largely a result of myth-making, fear-mongering, and playing politics from above, not an inherent skepticism of the institution.
It’s telling that, while Bellinger claims that President Bush’s “objections” to the Court still exist, he never addresses the validity of these objections. Contrary to his self-confident pronouncement otherwise, the Court could not “be used to prosecute U.S. soldiers during a time of war.” This is political posturing, and a sorry excuse not to join a Court responsible for prosecuting only genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. If Bellinger is right that ICC ratification is not forthcoming, it will be because a select group of U.S. Senators will consistently maneuver to oppose it, not because of an overwhelming groundswell of popular “ambivalence.”
Conservative British journalist and historian Paul Johnson has a rambling op-ed in Forbes, supposedly on the possibility of an Israeli “surgical strike” on Iranian nuclear facilities. What’s worth pointing out is this error in logic that Johnson makes, which is similar to a flawed assumption made by many Iran commenters:
Knocking out Iran’s nuclear capability would be much more difficult because of the distance to be covered by Israeli aircraft and because the plants are underground. These difficulties must be weighed against the fact that the Iranian regime is unpopular everywhere because of its recent crooked election and the savagery with which protests against the results were put down.
The implication here is that, while the “con” to launching an attack on Iran is that it would be logistically difficult for Israel to do, the “pro” to this debate is that the Iranian government is unpopular and not very legitimate. Wait a minute. Wouldn’t bombing Iran be very unpopular with Iranians? Couldn’t this, just maybe, undo the very unpopularity and illegitimacy with which the Iranian regime is now saddled? Further on in the piece Johnson admits as much:
What we don’t know is if a successful Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would discredit the regime to the point that it would be forced out of power or if such an attack would be used to discredit the opposition, causing Iranians to close ranks behind their extremist leaders. [emphasis mine]
Generally, when bombs fall on people, they get mad at the people doing the bombing. It’s a simple enough lesson, but one that many, in their unconsidered haste to bring about the regime’s downfall, miss quite entirely. The second of Johnson’s possibilities, or a version of it at least, seems much more likely to result from a missile attack; this would only enhance the government’s hardline posture, and give needless credibility to its attempts to focus attention on outside “enemies.”
Plus, who in their right mind would suggest a bombing campaign if we don’t even know what the results of a successful attack would be? Missiles fired by armchair hawks tend to do a lot less damage than those that actually create the messy carnage of reality.
I’m not sure how I feel about this…
The French government is considering introducing a special lottery for Africa to supplement development aid.
“It could be bingo for Africa, or a lotto,” said the French Secretary of State for Co-operation, Alain Joyandet.
It depends what you think of gambling, and what you think of development aid, I suppose. On the former, I guess that old folks’ bingo money might as well be going to a good cause, though it would pretty much undo the benefit if obsessive lotto players are being impoverished to help un-impoverish Africans. On the development side…well, I’d be interested to see what Chris Blattman and Bill Easterly would think of this scheme…
(image from flickr user klynslis under a Creative Commons license)
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.