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Friday Morning Coffee

President Bush’s dance movies in Liberia have been unfairly labeled as “David Brent-style gyrations.” Obama handily wins the Democratic “global primary,” but only claims .5 more delegates…don’t ask me how you get half a delegate.

Top Stories

vs.

>>Serbia – Hundred of thousands of Serbs protested Kosovo’s declaration of independence in Belgrade, setting fire to the already closed U.S. embassy and damaging the UK embassy, which was quickly condemned by the UN Security Council.

>>Uganda – Two days after reported progress in peace talks, the Lord’s Resistance Army has walked out of negotiations because the government balked at demands for cash and cabinet positions. The BBC reports on how the violence in Kenya has disrupted the food aid route from Mombasa to Kampala. The WFP has strategic reserves, but those are dwindling.

>>Missile Defense – In a predictable follow-up to yesterday’s missile strike on a failing satellite, U.S. Secretary of Defense has said that the action proved that the controversial U.S. missle defense system works.

>>Pakistan – The Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N, long-time rivals, have agreed to form a coalition government, after together claiming a majority of seats in parliamentary elections on Monday. Analysts speculate that the first acts of the new government may be to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudry as chief justice and call for a UN investigation into Bhutto’s assassination. The PPP will meet to pick the next Prime Minister. Party leader and Bhutto widower, Asif Ali Zardari is not eligible.

>>Iraq – Moqtada al-Sadr has agreed to extend his ceasefire, widely thought to have reduced violence in Iraq by more than half, another six months.

>>Iran – Britain and France have formally submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council seeking another round of sanctions against Iran. They hope for passage next week. The U.S. had hoped for earlier adoption of the resolution, but several Member States pressed to wait until after the IAEA’s latest report is released today.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch
  • Liberian
    President raises a glass to Bush and the U.S.
    by
    John Boonstra
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/02/2008_google_doc.php">A
    timely launch for Samantha Power’s new book – by
    John Boonstra
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/02/more_on_the_eri.php">More
    on the Eritrean Peacekeeping Crisis – by Mark Leon
    Goldberg

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Liberian President raises a glass to Bush and the U.S.

At a lunch on the lawn of the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf offered this happy toast to the health and prosperity of the American president and his country, which she described as Liberia’s “number one partner.” Liberia was the final destination on Bush’s six-day tour of Africa, and he received accolades there echoing the praises sung to him in his previous stops in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana. Beninese can now even celebrate a day named after President Bush — his trip there was the first ever by an American president — and Ghanaians can drive on a highway named in his honor.

Undoubtedly, President Bush deserves compliments for much of his work in Africa. His administration has greatly increased assistance to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria and has invested significant sums in promoting development. Humanitarian aid, however, is not a sufficient policy on its own, particularly in a society still experiencing the tensions of 14 years of civil war. The billions of dollars that the U.S. contributes to fighting disease, as well as the millions of textbooks that Bush has promised to provide for Liberia’s educational system, must be supplemented by concrete contributions to maintaining peace and stability in Liberia. Unfortunately, President Bush’s budget proposal falls almost $50 million short of meeting the needs of the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia, which, as we’ve mentioned before, was critical to Liberia’s dramatic turnaround and will continue to be central to its stability in the future.

At a lunch on the lawn of the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf offered this happy toast to the health and prosperity of the American president and his country, which she described as Liberia’s “number one partner.” Liberia was the final destination on Bush’s six-day tour of Africa, and he received accolades there echoing the praises sung to him in his previous stops in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana. Beninese can now even celebrate a day named after President Bush – his trip there was the first ever by an American president – and Ghanaians can drive on a highway named in his honor.

Undoubtedly, President Bush deserves compliments for much of his work in Africa. His administration has greatly increased assistance to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria and has invested significant sums in promoting development. Humanitarian aid, however, is not a sufficient policy on its own, particularly in a society still experiencing the tensions of 14 years of civil war. The billions of dollars that the U.S. contributes to fighting disease, as well as the millions of textbooks that Bush has promised to provide for Liberia’s educational system, must be supplemented by concrete contributions to maintaining peace and stability in Liberia. Unfortunately, President Bush’s budget proposal falls almost $50 million short of meeting the needs of the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia, which continues to provide essential security in a country still rife with weapons and threatened by violence.

Though she did not suggest “drinking lustily” to UN peacekeepers in this specific toast, Johnson-Sirleaf has been very outspoken in her support of the UN’s accomplishments in Liberia, which include organizing the free elections that brought her to power and bringing former dictator Charles Taylor to justice. President Bush too should greatly appreciate the efforts of these blue helmets, who greatly eased the concerns of his security detail by patrolling the streets of Monrovia during Bush’s visit.

President Bush’s commitments to fund development efforts in Africa are more than welcome to the Africans who have cheered him in their capitals, and they should be appreciated by Americans of all political stripes as well. However, President Bush cannot shirk from the U.S.’s responsibilities to contribute to peacekeeping efforts. Speaking from Rwanda earlier on his trip, Bush suggested that the delay in deploying peacekeepers to Darfur rests solely on the shoulders of other nations. The U.S. enjoys tremendous influence on the international stage, and it should use its position to both fully fund UN peacekeeping missions and to exert concentrated diplomatic pressure on countries like China, Russia, and Egypt that have been slowing the deployment of the force in Darfur.

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A timely launch for Samantha Power’s new book

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power chose an auspicious day to give her first “Sergio talk” — a discussion of her new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, Tuesday afternoon at The New America Foundation. Power’s book is a chronicle of the life and influence of Vieira de Mello, the career UN diplomat tragically killed in August 2003 after a suicide bombing of the UN’s headquarters in Baghdad. While the UN has bravely continued to operate in Iraq, the staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — the agency to which Vieira de Mello dedicated much of his career — has until now worked almost entirely out of Amman, Jordan. Wednesday, however, High Commissioner Antonio Guterres announced that he would send the organization’s first representative to Baghdad since Vieira de Mello’s premature death.

The weight of UNHCR’s responsibility — dealing with over 2 million refugees in Syria and Jordan, as well as an even greater number displaced within Iraq, all with a Baghdad staff that will soon increase to just five — underscores the courage with which the UN has conducted its mission in Iraq. Despite a persistent lack of security, the UN has nonetheless taken on some of the greatest challenges in Iraq and contributed to some of the country’s most tangible successes. As Power reminded listeners at yesterday’s talk, the indelible images of Iraqis proudly showing their purple hands, stained with the ink from their ballots, trace directly back to the UN’s crucial role organizing Iraq’s landmark elections.

The difficulties faced by the UN in Iraq echo the problems with
which Sergio Vieira de Mello grappled throughout his career. He
believed deeply that the key to the UN’s success was its impartiality;
yet he learned, through one experience after another, that this
impartiality is extraordinarily difficult to assert and maintain in situations of catastrophic violence and flagrant human
rights abuses. Moreover, while the UN’s aims may transcend borders, it
must always work intimately with the particular concerns of its
individual Member States.

In Iraq, the UN faces a double bind: even as it rightly touts its
independence from the occupying powers as the essence of its
usefulness, it must often rely on foreign military personnel to
maintain security — and thereby risk damaging the impression of its neutrality.

Despite the unavoidable tension of its position, the UN is still
appreciated as a neutral moderator in Iraq, emphasized by the Iraqi
Parliament’s recent decision to request UN assistance in organizing the country’s upcoming October
elections. As both the U.S. and the UN encounter further challenges in
Iraq, Power’s insightful and well-articulated book provides an
valuable insight into how one of the UN’s most fervent
supporters dealt with the issues that make its mission so difficult –
yet so very important.

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More on the Eritrean Peacekeeping Crisis

Reader Marian Houk in Jerusalem takes exception to a point made in yesterday’s post on UNMEE

I would agree with UN Dispatch that “the crisis facing the UN mission there is one of the more disturbing developments facing UN peacekeeping a long while.”

But I am more than surprised — I am perturbed — at the suggestion…that “Flagrant violations of the accepted rules of peacekeeping cannot be allowed to go unpunished.”

How does UN Dispatch suggest that any such violations be “punished”, exactly?

A fair question. “The UN”, as an institution, does not have the authority to punish or sanction member states. The Security Council, however, does have that power–and I am suggesting that it use the threat of sanction or other punitive action to respond to this flagrant harassment of peacekeepers. The actions of Eritrea are so disturbing because it shows the rest of the world that peacekeepers can be bullied out of their job by a member state. The Security Council needs to push back, and demonstrate to the world that that there are consequences to this kind of behavior.

And yes (neccesary caveat) the Security Council should be doing more to press Ethiopia to abide by the ruling of the Hague Court of Arbitration that awarded the disputed town of Badme to Eritrea.

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Thursday Morning Coffee

The French have made Terminator-style rubber out of urine, while the Americans were focusing on a wooden car that can travel 240mph.

Top Stories

>>Star Wars – The US Navy successfully hit an impaired satellite the size of a school bus that was falling to earth and potentially contained 453kg of hydrazine, a hazardous fuel. The missile was fired from a vessel off the west coast of Hawaii. The aim was to strike and disperse the contents of the fuel tank. The satellite flew 247km above the earth. The Pentagon denied that this was simply a pretext for a weapons exercise in the face of China’s unabashed test last year.

>>Kenya – The Kenyan government has “more or less agreed on” the creation of a prime minister’s post, a key demand of the opposition and a possible breakthrough in the political crisis. Kofi Annan sees this as considerable progress. Negotiators return on Friday, when they are expected to ink the final deal. The stakes are high says the International Crisis Group in a new report.

>>Bush’s African Tour – President Bush arrived in Liberia today to meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman ever elected to head an African nation and a U.S. Medal of Freedom winner. UN peacekeepers provided security in advance of his visit. This completes President Bush’s five-nation tour of Africa, which also included stops in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Ghana.

Quote of the Day

“The current uneasy calm in Kenya should not be misunderstood as a return to normalcy.”
– International Crisis Group

“We will continue waiting for the ‘Reflections of Comrade Fidel,’ which will be a powerful arsenal of ideas and guidance.”
– as written in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper

Yesterday in UN Dispatch

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Meanwhile, A Peacekeeping Mission Falls Apart

A day after another U.S. primary, and as the partition of northern Kosovo becomes more likely by the hour, the collapse of the peacekeeping mission along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border is understandably getting scant attention. This is unfortunate, because the crisis facing the UN mission there is one of the more disturbing developments facing UN peacekeeping a long while.

What happened is this: For weeks, the government of Eritrea has made it increasingly difficult for the mission, UNMEE, to access diesel. With its fuel stocks dangerously low, the mission decided to relocate to the Ethiopian side of the border. The Eritrean military, however, has blocked them from reaching the border. Two flatbeds carrying APCs and a number of personnel are currently being detained and harassed by Eritrean militia in a remote border crossing. Meanwhile, the rest of the 1,400 strong UNMEE has decided to “regroup” in the Eritrean capitol, Asmara.

Ethiopia is not with out reproach. The Eritrean hostility toward UNMEE stems in large part from an Eritrean perception that the international community is not doing enough to force Ethiopia to abide by binding arbitration which awarded a disputed border town to Eritrea. Nevertheless, nothing can justify this kind out outright harassment of UN peacekeepers. The international community must come down hard against this kind of behavior — the precedent that it sets for other peacekeeping missions is frankly dangerous. Flagrant violations of the accepted rules of peacekeeping cannot be allowed to go unpunished.

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