Category: Global Issues

Global Issues, US Politics

The Incompetence Dodge revisited

Two quick points on what I have always thought was a good observation, first made by Yglesias and Rosenfeld nearly a year ago now.

First, the point that initial supporters of the war are more likely to place blame for the current predicament on the war’s conduct rather than on a revision of the first principle, is more true now than ever. This of course, applies to the war’s supporters in both parties. On the Democratic side, this has always been the means for recalcitrant hawks, such as Hillary, to appease an element of the base while not having to take back their vote. With primaries approaching, however, we are beginning to see the same from more and more moderate Republicans, with McCain notably tacking this way this week.

Second, Yglesias applies the same argument to recent critiques of Ehud Olmert:

In this instance, I think the case against the “incompetence” theory is even clearer. Lots of people around the world suggested that Israel‘s campaign was ill-advised. And, to the best of my knowledge, absolutely none of us who said that made any reference to Olmert’s competence or lack thereof in framing our critiques. Then the war turned out more-or-less exactly as the skeptics predicted . . . skeptics who had nothing to draw on but a general analysis of the situation.

Going back to the case of Iraq, I have no problem with first principle supporters/congressional-vote-casters either criticizing the conduct of the war and/or revoking their initial support for it. However, these two should not be conflated as they are decisively not one and the same. While one places the blame on either a political opponent or a politically inconvenient administration (depending on party of origin), the other concedes that the mission, as defined, may not have been feasible in the first place. These are quite different arguments. The latter argument then has two subsets. Those that thought it could not be done by anyone using any tools, and those that simply believed that it could likely not be done by this administration given it’s particular world view and desired toolbox. While the former are made up mostly of Realists, the latter are liberal internationalists and/or interventionists. While the majority of both were against Iraq, on future interventions they will likely part ways.

Global Issues

Those pesky moving goalposts…

Michael J. Totten, guest blogging for Sullivan, points to what has always been relatively intuitive but was once considered heretical.

Those inside and outside Israel who believed disarming Hezbollah by force was possible in a short time frame were supremely delusional. It’s not 1967 anymore, when Israel could defeat three Arab armies in six days. Hezbollah is a guerrilla army, as well as a terrorist army, and asymmetrical warfare is hard. Look at how much longer it is taking the US to put down a Baathist insurgency in Iraq compared with the Baathist army in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.

He also quotes from a recent Jerusalem Post piece, stating again what many uttered to much outcry at the beginning of the invasion:

Israel has essentially given up hope of Hizbullah being disarmed, and instead is now concentrating on ensuring that an arms embargo called for in UN Security Council resolution 1701 be implemented, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Furthermore, senior Israeli officials have made it clear in recent days during talks with foreign governments that Israel realizes a Hizbullah presence south of the Litani River is unavoidable, if for no other reason than because the organization is so well rooted there that the only way to get rid of Hizbullah would be to evacuate the entire region.

Given this, the strategic question then becomes, even if they knew perfectly well that they wouldn’t be able to disarm Hezbollah, was the damage done to Hezbollah’s operational capabilities worth the effort and consequences? Given the huge upswing in support for Hezbollah, the marginalization of the Lebanese state and the increased regional bellicosity of Iran and Syria, I think the answer is a pretty clear no. Either way, Israelis will decide, and the fate of Olmert is the most likely litmus test.

Global Issues

Against democracy does not a characterization make

While I am in theory sympathetic to the use of the core principles present in most stable democracies (such as the rule of law, free press, protection of human rights, universal suffrage, etc) as a desired goal for potential middle eastern reform, I am highly suspicious of it being used as an unqualified meta-narrative in and of itself. The following statement by Bush exemplifies this concern:

What’s very interesting about the violence in Lebanon and the violence in Iraq and the violence in Gaza is this: These are all groups of terrorists who are trying to stop the advance of democracy.

This is both empirically wrong and strategically dangerous. Surely the first step in resolving these three conflicts is to at the very least be honest about the motives and history of their actors. While certain insurgents in Iraq are undoubtedly ‘against democracy’, in so far as Al Qaeda elements are in part fighting against the creation of a democratic state, both Hamas and Hezbollah have widespread public support, represented in free and fair Democratic elections. Admitting this does not mean supporting them in any way, advocating their tactics, or endorsing their rhetoric, worldview or strategic aims. It simply means being honest about the nature of the actors in what is an increasingly perilous regional escalation. Not recognizing the fact that the these groups have democratic legitimacy, not to mention popular support, ignores a major complicating element of the regional dynamic. I do not see the strategic utility in this false simplification.

There is another problem with this characterization. While one could certainly argue that despite being elected Hamas and Hezbollah remain against some of the principles often found in democratic societies (such as those listed above), a far more simplistic, voting based, litmus test, however, is frequently applied to Iraq.

I understand the need for simplistic overarching foreign policy frameworks, the Democrats are certainly in need of one, but if this means the increasingly absurd insistence that all nefarious actors are simply against the “advance of democracy”, I will side with a slightly more nuanced, if less politically expedient, worldview.

Global Issues, US Politics

Philistine, or concerned citizen?

This curiously fascinating piece of personal Presidential information was in the U.S. News & World Report:

Maybe it was the influence of his wife, Laura, a former librarian, or his mother, Barbara, a longtime promoter of literacy. Or perhaps he was just eager to dispel his image as an intellectual lightweight. But President Bush now wants it known that he is a man of letters. In fact, Bush has entered a book-reading competition with Karl Rove, his political adviser. White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year (while the brainy Rove, to Bush’s competitive delight, has racked up only 50)…portraying Bush as a voracious reader is part of an ongoing White House campaign to restore what a senior adviser calls “gravitas” to the Bush persona.

Long ago, back when the President was a still a ‘regular Joe,’ critics longed (with a healthy dose of condescension) for a leader who at least feigned to read the newspaper. Well, perhaps they wished too hard. 60 books so far this year? Now I am more concerned about who is governing the free world during all this down time…

Global Issues

Settling in, Oxblog style

Perhaps it’s appropriate for my first ‘official’ Oxblog post to flog an article out today. It’s in Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly and titled ‘Sense and Symbolism: Europe Takes On Human Security.’

Porter, I hope you are suitably tickled that it leads with a Churchill quote, “The human tragedy reaches its climax in the fact that after all the exertions and sacrifices of hundreds of millions of people and of the victories of the Righteous Cause, we have still not found Peace or Security.”

While military policy is far from my expertise, the article looks at recent EU flirtations with the concept of Human Security, which is the focus of much of my academic work. Haven’t discussed the concept yet here, but as the Patricks both know, I can’t go too long without hard selling my definition of the concept and the overall utility of broader conceptualizations of security, so it shouldn’t be long until it rears it’s ugly (read, soft Canadian/Euro) head in this forum.

Anyways, my co-author on this piece, Peter Liotta, is an expert on US counterinsurgency strategy so is forcing me to think more and more in this direction. We have another piece out imminently in the The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and IR, which I’ll pass on when out.

And now back to your regular programing…

Global Issues

Sec gen straw poll

The results of the General Assembly straw poll are in.

1. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon
2. UN official Shashi Tharoor of
3. Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai
Jordan‘s ambassador to the United Nations, Prince Zeid al-Hussein
5. Jayantha Dhanapala of
Sri Lanka, a former head of the UN disarmament department.

Of course, the poll doesn’t mean that much as the chosen one must be security council veto proof. Me, I’m still hoping for the dark horse Canadian

Global Issues

Northern Uganda -Justice at what cost?

Returning to Northern Uganda for a moment, there is an interesting dilemma hidden in Erin’s account – one particularly poignant for liberal internationalists. By most accounts, the indictment of the LRA leadership was a positive international recognition of the war crimes that had for shamefully long gone unrecognised. However, since the indictments were not supported with viable implementation mechanisms, in many respects, they now present an obstacle to a regionally (as opposed to internationally) organised and sanctioned peace process. Frustrated that the international process was getting nowhere, the regional actors took the process into their own hands are close to a preliminary peace deal. The problem is that a component of this peace deal will almost certainly be amnesty for the indicted. A condition that Musevini has offered but that the international community flatly rejects.

The political explosiveness of this dilemma was evident in the British reaction to the peace negotiations. Two days after the meetings in the DRC, it was leaked that the British were going to table a SCR on the LRA that would extend MONUC and UNMIS mandates to Chapter 7 and go after LRA assets. In short, giving the indictment the legitimate enforcement mechanisms that they should have had from the beginning. First, somewhat superficially, the British are surely in part only acting as a reaction to the news that most LRA financiers are from London. Second, however, as Erin describes, is where the root of the liberal internationalists dilemma lies:

The timing of this is painful – it will not build confidence in LRA to talk, and having seen kids wearing the t-shirts of Guatemalan dead peacekeepers in Congo (not to forget those captive women and children) a military solution is not guaranteed to avoid a high cost or a victory. The victims of northern Uganda are almost outright hostile to ICC and anything international, viewing it as an obstacle to peace.

The questions then are threefold. First, idealistically, how does one weigh the symbolic value of the ICC indictments (international deterrent etc), against the realities of the conflict on the ground. Should peace and reconciliation, however imperfect, be prioritised over international punitive justice? Second, morally, is peace on the ground worth giving five war criminals amnesty? Third, practically, how does one separate victims from perpetrators in conflicts such as Northern Uganda’s and what are the consequences of this ambiguity for international action and actual, as opposed to idealized, reconciliation?

As someone who believes in the value, and even necessity, of international legal regimes, I am in some ways torn. Part of me thinks that what is needed is a raid on all foreign assets flowing to the LRA coupled with a 20,000 person force with a chapter 7 mandate to root out the LRA combatants. I say this, however, from a markedly privileged position. I have not been living this war for the past decade. I have not seen my child kidnapped and forced to rape and kill my wife, seen my government’s soldiers slaughter innocents, and my people forced into horrific IDP camps with no hope of a future, while the international community does nothing. As Erin explains, even if a force could be deployed, killing the LRA will mean a lot more death and misery for the Acholi people. It will mean more war before, and if, it ever provides peace. Those who have lived this war want peace and traditional reconciliation, not punitive justice. Cruelly, the five indicted get amnesty, but at least the war’s victims get peace. This is the tough concession they are willing to make. Perhaps we should be too?

Global Issues

Truly bizarre of wonderfully ingenious?

Back during the UK mad cow scare I remember hearing people in the humanitarian demining world jokingly suggest using contaminated cattle to clear landmine fields. Well, all joking aside, check out this video of rats sniffing out mines in Mozambique. Incredible, and nothing to laugh at, given that in Cambodia for example, estimates put the demining project at over 100 years.

Global Issues

Another Isreali view

Avnery questions the results thus far of the following progression of Olmert’s purported strategic objectives: To destroy Hizbullah; To push Hizbullah away from the border; To kill Hassan Nasrallah; To return to the Israeli army the power of deterrence; Deploying an International Force along the border; “We shall create a new situation in the Middle East”. His rhetoric aside, these are legitimate questions, and it must be considered whether the current strategy will achieve any of them.

This WaPo piece from last weekend describes similar and wider Israeli discontent and below is Andrew Stuttaford at The Corner saying basically the same thing on the strategic side.

You and I, of course, agree on how much we dislike Hezbollah. Where we disagree is how it can be defeated. I’d like to stress that I’m not debating here the rights and wrongs of Israel’s incursion into the Lebanon. What we’re debating is what will work. Clearly Israel had to respond to the attacks upon it, but my point is that taking the war as far as Israel has done has strengthened Hezbollah, and it was always going to do so. So long as Hezbollah has sponsoring powers behind it (as it does), so long as Hezbollah is indifferent to the deaths of the civilians in its midst (as it is), and so long as Hezbollah is able to recruit new ‘martyrs’ (it still is) the only military question was how bloody a nose it was going to get. It was never going to be knocked out. Given those facts, Israel would have better advised to devise a method of retaliation that (a) minimized any propaganda advantage Hezbollah might derive and (b) boosted the indigenous Lebanese opposition to Hezbollah. Clearly, it did the opposite. The result of all this is that over the longer term Hezbollah will emerge strengthened from this affair, something that was, I fear, all too predictable. As I’ve said before, I will be delighted if I’m eventually proved wrong, but it doesn’t look like I will be.

Global Issues

Dispatches from Northern Uganda – A meeting with Kony

Just received an email from a close friend, Erin Baines, who works in Northern Uganda on traditional justice as it relates to the re-integration of Lords Resistance Army combatants. Remarkable work in a conflict that Jan Egeland has called the “biggest, forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today.”

There are several aspects of the conflict that have received some international attention. First, the pernicious use of kidnapped child soldiers and sex slaves, which result in ‘night commuters’, children who walk for hours each night to sleep on city streets in order to escape raids in their villages. Second, the mystical personality of the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, who few westerners have ever met and about which we know very little. And third, the fact that the International Criminal Court has indicted 5 of the LRA leaders, in some respects, making them the most wanted men in the world.

Over the past several weeks, the Sudanese government has been holding peace talks in southern Sudan. Last week, Erin travelled with a small delegation into the Congo to meet Joseph Kony himself on the basis of her work on traditional justice. Again, very few people have ever met this war criminal, let alone spent days with him hashing out a peace deal. Incredible. Her email describing the week, along with some incredible pictures she took, are below. Enjoy.

I just returned from the peace talks in Juba and Nabanga between the LRA and Government of Uganda! The Government of South Sudan announced in May its willingness to host talks between the two factions who have been at war for the last 20 years. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) fought the LRA for years during their own struggle, but with the new comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan, the fledgling government has a definite interest in resolving the Uganda conflict to stabilize the south and open up trade routes for development.

It was a ride on an Anitov with mediator Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar and a 13 hour drive to the Congo border to get to the proposed meeting point. We travelled in civilian convoys (on a un level 4 security road) and the roads were some kind of sick carnival ride with potholes better described as crater holes filled with so much water we often wondered if we were in a river or on a road. we got stuck sooo many times, but wenches are a dream in those scenarios and I think I will put one on my wedding register. we arrived at a SPLA military outpost by 6am after travelling the whole night.

Okot Odhiambo and Vincent Otti, both indicted by the ICC

In our convoy were relatives of the high command; the request was to consult and meet with them for ‘advice’ on how to proceed – consider it confidence building but it was an awful lot of pressure to place on young girls who had been abducted at young ages and forced to marry commanders. turns out I knew one of Kony’s (60!) wives from gulu so we hung out chatting a lot. so strange when the LRA finally showed up to pick her up and take her into their base camp in Congo; i feared not seeing her again (luckily i did, and got a chance to meet her two brothers still in de bush!). her son was named by Kony George Bush. they have a sense of humor.

On the second day I was separated from my group by the LRA. They went into base camp in congo and i waited 36 hours in the SPLA camp fighting off dinka soldiers – very persistent lot. when my group emerged they debriefed Machar, the facilitators and myself. Basically the meetings with Kony were focused on their desire for a ceasefire (government refuses this, as in previous peace talk attempts the LRA were thought to use ceasefire to ‘buy time’and regroup); the location of the talks (given five are indicted by the ICC, they are reluctant to move out of the Congo!); desire to have the ICC repeal the indictments and guarantees of the safe return to Uganda with um, retirement packages.

Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti

I had a chance to meet with about 105 women and children the next day being held by the LRA. They obviously were told not to say much and mostly sang songs. Most repeated they wanted to come home, but together, when there was peace. It was hard as I know each person has a family waiting for them at home, wondering if they are alive or dead. Our team and others tried to negotiate for their release but so far no results.

We got a chance to meet the high command in Congo at a place the LRA called ‘the parliament’ – an impressive structure complete with male and female bathrooms constructed by LRA for the talks. The meeting included other representatives of affected regions who had dropped everything to come at the last minute to have a chance to meet Kony and appeal for peace. It was very emotional and very surreal.

LRA Child Soldier

Kony repeatedly talked about the fact he was young when he came to the bush to fight for the people of Acholi, and that he had been betrayed by his own people who failed to support him and the rebels. He denied being a killer or war criminal and accused the international community of having already judged him. He reiterated most of the concerns raised earlier in the week, but vowed that it was the time for peace, that God had shown him it was time.

Certainly the efforts that went into travelling to and setting up the camp, as well as the fact they attended most talks (if often 3-24 hours late for meeting times!) is an indication of seriousness, but well, that should be measured against varying interests at play in these talks. The LRA are far more organized than portrayed, large in number, armed and skilled. Some were holding UN guns they took off MONUC peacekeepers last December in the Congo. Its going to be difficult to defeat them militarily given the terrain and their many years experience.

LRA fighters (second from left holding a grenade launcher captured from UN peacekeepers)

The talks are fragile. One minute the LRA withdraw from talks over lack of faith in Machar, the next they declare a ceasefire. The ICC warrants would have to be withdrawn for the talks to succeed, but for that to happen, the LRA must demonstrate they are serious and there must be an alternative accountability mechanism advanced.

The news this morning is that the UK are planning to table a SCR on the LRA that would extend MONUC and UNMIS mandates to Chapter 7 and go after LRA assets. The timing of this is painful – it will not build confidence in LRA to talk, and having seen kids wearing the t-shirts of Guatemalan dead peacekeepers in Congo (not to forget those captive women and children) a military solution is not guaranteed to avoid a high cost or a victory. The victims of northern uganda are almost outright hostile to ICC and anything international, viewing it as an obstacle to peace.

On the trek out of the bush this kid calls out to me and says ‘if you love children you will give me your jacket!’ clever kid.