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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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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

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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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U.N. Human Rights Chief to Leave Post

As reported by The Washington Post, UN humanitarian chief Louise Arbour is planning to leave her position this upcoming June. Arbour has clashed repeatedly with the Bush administration, criticizing some of its counterterrorism policies and being scolded in turn for her perceived silence to the more egregious human rights violations of "totalitarian and abusive governments." Working with both upstanding democracies and unsavory dictatorships, Arbour's travails illustrate the fine line that the UN must walk between idealism and practical operation:
Arbour acknowledged that she has taken a more diplomatic approach to promoting human rights in places such as China and Russia, saying she has chosen a strategy of private engagement "that is likely to yield some positive results" over one that "would make me and a lot of others feel good." She said that as a U.N. official she is constrained by the reality of the organization's power centers, including China, Russia and the Group of 77, a bloc of more than 130 developing countries. In that context, she said, "naming and shaming is a loser's game."
Arbour's point reminds me of an inversion of a famous maxim of Theodore Roosevelt that Sudan analyst John Prendergast frequently uses to characterize the Bush administration's Darfur policy. By limiting its action to sharp rhetoric, Prendergast contends, the U.S. has effectively pursued a policy of "speaking loudly and carrying a toothpick." Vocal condemnation of countries' human rights policies, as deplorable as they may be, is not the only way to induce a change in behavior, and Arbour is simply articulating the necessity of working within the UN system. When faced with the alternatives of unilateralism or inaction, this remains a laudable goal, even if some aspects of the UN, such as the Human Rights Council -- over which, incidentally, Arbour's office exercises no control -- fall short of the ideal level of reform. Instead of merely pointing its fingers at the transparent violations of notorious human rights abusers, the U.S. should work with the UN to effectively address these issues -- and should focus on cleaning up its own act as well.
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Tension Between Peace and Justice

A new development threatens to derail the recent ceasefire between LRA rebels and the Ugandan government. The snag? Indicted war criminal Joseph Kony and two other LRA leaders -- perpetrators of gross human rights abuses, including mutilation, sexual abuse, and recruitment of child soldiers -- have refused to accept the deal unless ICC arrest warrants are dropped. This dynamic brings into focus the extremely frustrating tension between securing peace and holding perpetrators of mass violence accountable for their crimes. To draw combatants to the negotiating table, mediators cannot exactly trumpet plans to arrest their leaders. However, whitewashing war crimes out of the urgency to enact a peace accord -- particularly one with groups that have a less-than-stellar history of abiding by ceasefires -- would severely undermine the legitimacy of the peace process, damage the entire notion of accountability, and jeopardize the prospects for post-conflict reconciliation.
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Increase Aid to Africa

Conventional wisdom -- here, and elsewhere -- has been that, while President Bush has fallen woefully short in supporting UN peacekeeping in Africa, he has at least done a fairly good job providing humanitarian aid to the continent, particularly in combating HIV/AIDS and malaria. Not so fast, argues Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Homi Kharas; the raw numbers of the Bush administration's aid to Africa look impressive, but a closer look reveals that even these sums pale, in proportional terms, to the amount given by European countries. Moreover, even the aid provided by the U.S. is often subject to bureaucratic delays and does not necessarily go into the areas identified by Africans as the most important. Kharas urges that the U.S. enact an explicit policy to increase the amount of aid it provides for Africa:
The United States can do much more to increase the level and effectiveness of its aid to Africa. It can allocate a greater share of aid to Africa which is the poorest continent and which faces the greatest development challenges. A target of at least 40% - about what the Europeans give - would be reasonable. It can shift resources from food-aid, which has above-market pricing and caters as much to domestic farm interests as to development, towards priority funding for infrastructure, agriculture and economic improvements. In programs like the Millennium Challenge compacts, which do respect local priorities, it should focus heavily on implementation and develop more realistic timeframes so that countries can actually use the promised money. That would be a legacy of assistance that the whole world would welcome.
As I've argued here previously, increasing humanitarian and development aid to Africa is helpful in more than just a feel-good way; by improving the U.S.'s image in the world, it can also actually contribute to a stronger national security policy. An even higher priority, though, is to make sure that the aid being sent is effective; this means, for example, relenting on abstinence-only programs and increasing contributions to concrete development programs -- not to mention anteing up the money for the peacekeepers crucial to the safety of millions of Africans.
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Secretary-General Introduces his Adviser on the “Responsibility to Protect”

An important step toward entrenching a bold new international norm to prevent mass atrocities, as reported by the UN News Centre:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Edward Luck of the United States as his Special Adviser with a focus on the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Currently Vice President and Director of Studies of the International Peace Academy and Director of Columbia University's Center on International Organizations, Mr. Luck will serve at the Assistant Secretary-General level on a part-time basis.

Agreed to by world leaders in 2005, the responsibility to protect holds States responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide and other major human rights abuses and requires the international community to step in if this obligation is not met.

Mr. Luck's appointment represents a crucial first step in shifting the paradigm that allows abusive regimes to massacre their own populations. While R2P was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly, it still faces stiff opposition in practice, and Mr. Luck will have an uphill battle toward implementing it. He must assure skeptics that R2P does not simply provide a carte blanche for intervention while simultaneously ensuring that the doctrine possesses sufficient teeth to change dictators' behavior. With his background working on issues of peacekeeping and UN reform, Mr. Luck seems to understand the need to balance the interests of individual Member States with the imperative of broad international goals. The importance of the responsibility to protect cannot be understated, and Mr. Luck deserves our full support in his efforts to make this bold new theory a reality.

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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.