U.S. In the World
I’ve been on vacation for the past week-plus, so I missed the (admittedly not very “new”) news that North Korea wants to join “a specific and reserved form of dialogue” — in other words, the bilateral talks with the United States that Pyongyang has long sought.
Is this business as usual with North Korean diplomacy, is it the strategic counterweight to its past couple months of brazen missile launches, or is it, as FP’s Brian Fung suggested, “a unique opportunity” for making progress?
I respect Brian’s points — that the six-party talks haven’t been too successful, that the resulting stalemate may have benefitted North Korea’s cause, and that the specific aims of the other five parties have been frustratingly divergent — but I’m not as open to his conclusion. Not that I support the misguided notion that meeting with the leaders of nefarious countries should be held out as some kind of “reward;” that’s nonsense, as I’ve blogged previously. But one should be a bit suspicious before acceding to exactly what North Korea wants — particularly when, as in this case, the issue is actually one of excluding other parties, not whether or not to conduct diplomacy.
Going at the North Korean nuclear issue through the six-party talks is the only acceptable option here for precisely the reason that the relevant actors — China, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Russia — are “working at cross-purposes” on seemingly everything else. In other words, North Korea’s nuclear program is the only thing they do agree on — namely, that Pyongyang should not be in possession of nuclear weapons. North Korea, of course, feels differently, but backing out of the six-party talks would be as short-sighted as has been the U.S. policy of insisting on North Korean disarmament before any concessions are made. Bilateral negotiations aren’t a concession, but the only way I see them working is as part of a communicative regional strategy.
(Maybe North Korea’s real purpose in seeking bilateral talks with the United States is to gain the know-how to upgrade its fastfood offerings from “minced beef and bread” to a verifiable hamburger.)
I largely agree with Mark’s analysis, but I’d offer a different possible conclusion: instead of the end of the “Save Darfur” community’s role, this may be a make-or-break moment for Darfur advocacy, or even for foreign policy advocacy writ large.
Most savvy Darfur advocates already know this, but the time for sloganeering and awareness raising is long past (and endured well past what should have been its expiration date). In some respects, the kind of misguided, generalist “stop genocide” tactics that one could find in early Save Darfur campaigns and that are so maligned by critics like Mahmoud Mamdani have affected the position we find ourselves in now, in which rhetoric that generates a lot of heat but no light can supplant directed action. This is not entirely the fault of vapid aims by advocacy organizations, to be sure; policymakers actually need little excuse to make noise instead of policy, and stopping genocide provides the perfect soundbite.
Darfur advocacy organizations for the most part adapted their tactics, targeting their energies and substantial constituencies toward specific aims, such as deployment of UN peacekeepers and the provision of long-needed helicopters. Some have had more, and some less, success (and in ways intended and unintended) than others, but the trickiest of them has always been the promotion of a robust peace accord.
This may be simply past the ability of advocacy organizations to effect, as Mark suggests, but it could also represent a stunning opportunity for transforming the nature of grassroots foreign policy campaigns. If the “Darfur movement” is successful in navigating the complicated and unsexy terrain of policymaking, then it will be a major victory for Darfur, for citizen activism, and for democracy.
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)
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.
(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.)
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)
POTUS’ statement at L’Aquila:
He said the U.S. – with its “much larger carbon footprint per capita” – now means to lead by example.
“The United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities,” Obama said. “Let me be clear, those days are over.”
And he prodded others to follow.
The question is, which comes first, the prodding or the emissions reductions?
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.