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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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UN employee killed in Pakistan

Another tragic example of the dangers that UN personnel face:

The attack on the U.N. worker took place early Thursday at the Kacha Garhi camp near Peshawar. Local police chief Ghayoor Afridi said the assailants tried to abduct the U.N. official and opened fire when he resisted.

The chief of the U.N. refugee agency in Pakistan, Guenet Guebre-Christos, identified the dead U.N. worker as Zill-e-Usman, a 59-year-old Pakistani in charge of the U.N.'s relief efforts at the camp. She said Usman had worked for the U.N. for nearly 30 years and was set to retire soon.

"He was quite an old hand and he was looking forward to his retirement," Guebre-Christos told The Associated Press. She strongly condemned the attack, calling it a "cowardly assassination."

This UN worker was one of many trying to help the two million Pakistani civilians that have been displaced. Trying to abduct him -- and hinder the protection and resettlement of fellow Pakistanis in the process -- was indeed cowardly, as well as foolish, egotistical, and vile.

The report also notes the arrival of the UN team, led by Chilean ambassador Heraldo Munoz, tasked with investigating another cowardly assassination in the country: that of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

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Cooperative foreign policy

I disagreed with Peter Scoblic Beinart on another point earlier, so but I have to give him Peter Scoblic credit for nailing the essence of Hillary Clinton's speech yesterday:

If the speech was long, the key point was simple: Essentially, the secretary seemed to be saying that, despite the grave dangers we face--indeed, because of the very character of those threats--the emphasis in U.S. foreign policy today must be on cooperation rather than conflict. Not because the world is suddenly a friendlier place, but because meeting threats bluntly may be ineffective or even counterproductive.

Amen.

(I also agree with his colleague Michael Crowley on why the media seems determined to interpret everything that Clinton does into a silly Obama vs. Hillary storyline.)

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Global consensuses can be plural

With all due respect to Peter Beinart, I think he gets this one wrong:

And that means you can either forge truly global institutions—which include Moscow and Beijing—or you can forge institutions whose members genuinely respect freedom. You can’t do both. Similarly, it would be nice if there were a global consensus that nuclear proliferation was bad, but there’s not. Countries with nukes mostly think that no one else should enter the club. Lots of countries without nukes want in.

It’s all well and good to say that we can have different kinds of international institutions for different issues: global ones where there really is a moral consensus; limited ones where there is not. But in the real world, you can’t keep things so separate. The more you alienate non-democracies by creating powerful new institutions on human rights, the harder it is to get their cooperation on issues of common concern.

This reminds me of the tired debate about creating a "League of Democracies." On the one hand, Beinart is right that pushing for such a provocative (and ill-defined) "pro-freedom" institution will only make global cooperation more difficult. But on the other, different global institutions do exist. The role of the UN is not undermined by the existence of NATO, nor is the World Bank's by the G-8 or G-20.  Advocating human rights through the Human Rights Council does not impede the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Moreover, the fact that all countries in a global institution don't agree on something does not mean that the institution itself is useless, even at tackling a problem on which its members have differing viewpoints. The UN and other mixed groups of countries are proper venues for negotiating nuclear nonproliferation precisely because they contain both countries with and without nukes, and whose commitments toward nonproliferation vary. You can't come to an agreement on something in a group in which everyone already agrees. "Forging" a global consensus is difficult work; you can't just corral the right countries into the right groups. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try, even on aims that might seem to be at odds with one another.

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Sanctions tightening around North Korea

The facts that China appears to be on board -- not to mention that the UN panel on North Korea sanctions may come to consensus before its deadline -- do not bode well for a defiant Pyongyang.

The U.N. Security Council neared agreement on Wednesday on North Korean firms and individuals to be added to a blacklist for involvement in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, diplomats said

"We are very close" to agreement, Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu told reporters. Diplomats from several countries said a council committee that has been discussing the issue for a month was on target to meet a weekend deadline for completing its task and could do so as early as Wednesday.

Meanwhile, North Korea insists that its "sovereignty" be respected before negotiations can recommence. This seems to have it completely backwards. North Korea's leaders aren't exactly the ones to place conditions here; they're the ones who will need to reconsider their country's nuclear program if they are interested in, say, having unfrozen bank accounts or being able to travel anywhere.

Yet I wouldn't be surprised to hear some off-the-mark commentators continue to insist that an utterly isolated North Korea somehow has "the upper hand" in this drama.

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Happy 60th, Geneva Conventions

On the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, it seems appropriate to celebrate the possibility that the United States could firm up its compliance with another UN human rights mechanism, the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is reportedly considering launching an investigation of the use of torture during the Bush Administration, a step that President Obama had been loathe to take.

IntLawGrrls' Beth Van Schaack has much more on why the U.S. should be fully implementing the Torture Convention, so I'll just add my agreement that this is a good step both for international justice and for the United States itself.  The politics of an investigation will hopefully fade eventually, as this should be far more an issue of policy -- of making sure the United States is abiding by conventions it has agreed to -- than a partisan tactic.

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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.

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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)

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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)