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Foreign Policy Still Most Important to Voters

According to Mike Boyer, writing in the Foreign Policy blog, the journal’s eponymous issue — foreign policy — is still what matters most to American voters.

Voters are still very much in a Sept. 11th mindset. Clinton won last night in large part by beating Barack Obama two to one among voters who made their decision within the last three days of the race. And she did that by attacking his preparedness to handle national security, not the subprime crisis. Most notably via the now-infamous, and apparently effective, “It’s 3:00 A.M….” ad.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, readiness in foreign policy is not of course limited to the ability to respond to the crisis at the other end of this proverbial phone call. Nonetheless, Boyer’s point is made on firm ground — the “reaction” context seems to be what most voters base their judgments of candidates’ foreign policy on. And with both Clinton and Republican John McCain poised to come after Obama hard on the issue of concrete foreign policy experience, Boyer’s formulation of this year’s campaign dynamics is particularly apt: “Like it or not, it’s a foreign-policy election.”

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UN in Limbo in Kosovo

Today’s Christian Science Monitor asks the very pertinent question of what the 4,000-odd UN personnel in Kosovo are to do in a region whose status as an independent country is, to say the least, still up in the air. A compromise proposal negotiated last year by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari laid out the groundwork to transition from the UN’s eight-year stewardship of the region to an EU-monitored independence, but the virulence of the Serbian and Russian reaction to Kosovo’s declaration has trammeled any hopes of a smooth handover. From the Monitor:

Unable to recognize the newly declared state without a new mandate from headquarters in New York, workers on the ground are left wondering what exactly their job is — and how long they’ll be here. For now, any work on a planned European Union takeover of police and justice responsibilities is on hold.

“We have received no instructions to proceed with transition,” says Alexander Ivanko, the UN’s spokesman in Pristina.

EU leaders agreed to send an 1,800-strong police and judiciary mission to Kosovo to replace the UN administrative mission following Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence on Feb. 17, and it is preparing to deploy.

Until the EU actually deploys — and Serbia is sending signals that it will continue to resist this deployment — UN personnel remain guided by the mandate of the 1999 Security Council resolution that created the mission, even though the scope of that mandate is clearly out of synch with the tension of the current situation. Caught in this awkward bind, UN staff are unfairly feeling the squeeze of the international showdown over Kosovo’s status; Serbs in Kosovo are suddenly supporting the UN as a bulwark against EU presence. To overcome this threat to its impartial presence, the UN Mission in Kosovo needs both clear definition from the Security Council and greater openness from Serbia and Russia to the EU’s proposed role.

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Wednesday Morning Coffee

John McCain has secured the Republican nomination and will be endorsed by the President today. Hillary Clinton earned campaign-saving wins in Ohio and Texas yesterday (as well as Rhode Island). The government of Chad is building a 10-foot-deep moat around Ndjamena to keep the rebels out. Bjork chants “Tibet, Tibet” at a concert in Shanghai.

Top Stories

>>Columbia, Ecuador, Venezeula – The tension between Ecuardor, Venezuela, and Columbia was ratcheted up yesterday when Columbian President Alvaro Uribe said he would ask the ICC to prosecute Hugo Chavez for his alleged involvement with FARC, based, in part, on intelligence Columbia claims was seized from FARC computers during its raid across the Ecuadorian border (the incursion that sparked this crisis). Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa stated yesterday that, if Columbia did not apologize for the attack and acknowledge the fabrication of claims that Ecuador supported FARC, it would be forced to “defend itself.” President Bush announced his support for Columbia.

>>Kenya – President Kibaki and opposition leader Odinga agreed to a roadmap for constitutional reform yesterday. When parliament meets on Thursday, its first act of business will be to enact the full power-sharing deal and create the post of Prime Minister, which will be filled by Odinga.

>>Gazprom – Yesterday Russia’s new president and Gazprom chairman, Dmitry Medvedev, kept his promise to cut gas supplies
to Ukraine by an additional 25 percent — on top of a previous 25
percent cut — due to the Ukraine’s failure to pay a $600 million bill.
Threats of additional cuts have been made. Europe is bracing for possible cuts to its supply.

>>Yemen – UNHCR has said that the number of people being smuggled into Yemen tripled during the first two months of 2008 in comparison to the same time period in 2007. Most are believed to be from Somalia and to have fled across the Gulf of Aden. Nearly 9,000 arrived during January and February; 113 died; and 200 are missing. The UN shelters those who make it.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch
  • href="">U.N.
    Human Rights Chief to Leave Post – by John Boonstra
  • href="">War
    crimes prosecutor won’t meet Uganda rebels – by
    John Boonstra
  • href="">Drew
    Barrymore Helps Fight Hunger in Kenya – by Mark
    Leon Goldberg

The Rest of the Story



Middle East

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Reese Witherspoon and Avon Team with the UN to Fight Violence Against Women

Apparently, it’s celebrity endorsement week at the United Nations. Yesterday, we learned that Drew Barrymore is donating $1 million to the World Food Program. Today, Reese Witherspoon is getting in on the action. She and Avon are partnering with the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. From the UN News Center.

Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon and cosmetics giant Avon have agreed to lend their voices to United Nations-led efforts to stamp out violence against women as part of a public-private partnership announced today.

Avon is committing $1 million to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which was created by the General Assembly in 1996 and is administered by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Avon’s donation will be the largest corporate grant ever made in a single year to the Trust Fund.

“Violence against women is the hidden pandemic,” UNIFEM’s acting Executive Director Joanne Sandler said at a press briefing in New York today.

But she also stressed that “violence is a problem with solutions,” welcoming Avon’s donation as a means to bolster the work of the Trust Fund, which has disbursed $18 million to 250 innovative programmes in more than 100 countries in the past decade.

Read more.

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War crimes prosecutor won’t meet Uganda rebels

Last week, I wrote on the risk that LRA rebel leaders’ insistence on amnesty from prosecution posed for the prospects of peace in northern Uganda. Now it seems that, fortunately, the importance of justice and accountability is not being overlooked. From Reuters:

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said on Tuesday he would not meet Ugandan rebels who want him to lift indictments against them before they sign a final peace agreement.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement the leaders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army he has charged can approach the court’s judges if they want to challenge his case.

“Any LRA legal representative would have to follow the judicial procedures and file applications before the pre-trial chamber,” he said, adding he was confident his case was sound.

Moreno-Ocampo’s response to this hurdle reminds us that, as important as the ICC’s work in bringing perpetrators to justice is, the court also fulfills a crucial role in establishing the rule of law and appropriate legal procedure. Uganda will not be able to fully transition into a phase of reconciliation through procedural shortcuts in the interest of a quick — but ultimately unsubstantial — peace.

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Scorched Earth in Darfur


This image — the Darfurian town of Abu Surouj, after it was burned to the ground by Sudanese government and proxy militia forces last month — is a sobering reminder that the genocide in Darfur is far from over. The photo accompanies another intrepid piece of reporting by the irreplaceable Lydia Polgreen, who provides stark proof that, in the chilling phrase with which she begins her article, “the janjaweed are back.”

The tale of this town’s — as well as multiple others’ — recent destruction provides a stark rejoinder to those who contend that the active military campaign in Darfur largely ended in 2004. As Polgreen reports, the uncompromising counter-insurgency tactics employed in the early years of the genocide have been resuscitated with little compunction:

Such brutal, three-pronged attacks of this scale — involving close coordination of air power, army troops and Arab militias in areas where rebel troops have been — have rarely been seen in the past few years, when the violence became more episodic and fractured. But they resemble the kinds of campaigns that first captured the world’s attention and prompted the Bush administration to call the violence in Darfur genocide.

Aid workers, diplomats and analysts say the return of such attacks is an ominous sign that the fighting in Darfur, which has grown more complex and confusing as it has stretched on for five years, is entering a new and deadly phase — one in which the government is planning a scorched-earth campaign against the rebel groups fighting here as efforts to find a negotiated peace founder.

These attacks deeply exacerbate the already precarious situation of displaced Darfurians, cutting them off from aid, forcing them still further from their land, and sharply reawakening the fear in which they must constantly live. Sudanese government spokesmen defend their army’s activities as necessary to secure areas from bandits and rebels, unabashedly affirming that “there is nothing abnormal about a government doing this.” While the rebels are also intimately responsible for Darfur’s deteriorating security situation, surely there is little “normal” about a government bombing its own civilians. Both rebels and government forces need to immediately accede to the rapid deployment of UN peacekeepers, for any meaningful peace accord is unsustainable without their active civilian protection.

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