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Obama’s Iraq-Darfur Analogy

Yesterday, Obama caused bit of a blogospheric stir by drawing a link between US genocide prevention in Iraq and unilateral invasions of the DRC and Sudan. His attempt to explain this position in a 10 second sound bite, and the reaction to, and interpretation of, his statement marks a telling example of a position missing from much of the Iraq foreign policy debate – that of liberal internationalists, and supporters of international humanitarian interventions.

So here is what he said:

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.

“Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done. Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea,” he said.

As I agree with the position he is espousing, let me try to both translate and elaborate.

First, the intro paragraph to the report is incorrect. I do not think that Obama believes that US force should never be used to stop a genocide (and since Samantha Power is one of his principle FP advisers, we can pretty much rule this position out), but rather, that it is often an ineffective tool for doing so. What’s more, using the military for humanitarian operations often does more harm than good. This is an equation, learned though decades of such operations, that has to be part of an assessment of the use of force – particularly unilateral force in a highly sensitive region.

Second, he was not arguing an amoral position on either Darfur or the DRC. Rather, he was saying that just because we want to stop a slaughter, does in mean that the only, or best, policy options available is invasion. In fact, humanitarian considerations are often a reason to look to other mechanisms. There are a wide range of considerations as to who should conduct humanitarian interventions and how. Ignoring these can OFTEN make matters worse. The most ardent advocates of strong international action on Darfur and the DRC, for example, are not pushing for a US invasion. They are, however, urging for a whole host of initiatives that are presently not being done.

Third, if we translate this line of reasoning to the situation in Iraq, just because we care about the humanitarian emergency in the country is not a de facto rationale for keeping forces in. The very real possibility that these forces are aggravating a significant percentage of the insurgency needs to be considered. As does the fact that a majority of Iraqi’s do not support the US troop presence, and that many endorse strikes against them, and are providing the insurgency with the tacit support it requires. On balance, this may still mean the draw down would have to be cautious, and probably dependant on the formation of a UN peacebuilding mission, as Obama advocates.

Indeed, with this in mind, here is his recommendation:

“Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis,” Obama said between stops on the first of two days scheduled on the New Hampshire campaign trail. “There’s no doubt there are risks of increased bloodshed in Iraq without a continuing U.S. presence there.

”The greater risk is staying in Iraq, Obama said.

“It is my assessment that those risks are even greater if we continue to occupy Iraq and serve as a magnet for not only terrorist activity but also irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions,” he said.

Seen through the lens of the international experience with humanitarian interventions and peacebuilding, a tradition in which Obama’s foreign policy advisers have considerable experience, this makes sense. If we are in a peacebuilding scenario, what is going to be needed is a massive humanitarian relief operation (which has not been done), supported by a UN peacebuilding force. Of course this will not be easy, but my bet is a humble next president, after dovetailing significantly from many of the more controversial Bush administration positions, and clearly expressing a humanitarian plea to the international community, will be able to secure these forces. I believe that Obama is the best positioned candidate to advocate this position, which is why I am supporting him.

One more thing. As we move into debates about post-Bush foreign policy, there is going to, obviously, be a lot of debate about various schools of US foreign policy. One thing that I think really needs to part of this discussion is how to not throw the baby of an activists (and some would say morality-based) US foreign policy, out with the bathwater of the nonconservative experience of Iraq. There are many who believe that the US should be an active player in humanitarian crises, but have a very different view of the mechanisms that must be used to achieve these ends.

Desired humanitarian outcomes are great, but if the mechanisms used have little or no chance of achieving them, then we need to dramatically rethink the tool box of foreign policy.

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The Same but Different

The FT, on the new Harvard boss, and gender. Of course.

Ms Faust said that leadership experts contend that the female management style, thought to be more collegial and involve more consensus-building, is particularly suited to running an educational institution. Her predecessor, Lawrence Summers, the former US Treasury secretary, resigned as Harvard president amid tensions with faculty over his sometimes blunt style and accusations that he had made comments questioning whether there are innate differences in intelligence between men and women.

I was directed to this wondrous quote, by the uncannily apt-at-identifying-mind-alteringly-absurd-statements, Andrew Potter. Who concludes, as only one could:

In other words: Larry Summers wasn’t particularly suited to be president because he suggested that there were innate differences between men and women; Ms Faust is more suited to be president because… there are innate differences between men and women.

Amazing.

Indeed.

I should just add that I also believed Summers’ comment was, ahem, ill advised. Not because he questioned innate differences between the sexes. I would not be tremendously surprised if science reveals that there are. Rather, it was his insinuation that this may have something to do with there being fewer tenured female scientists that was ridiculous. A position that would require completely ignoring the far greater influence, in this case, of nurture over nature.

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poseur alert…

Oh Puhleeze:

Does this set things up for a Friday verdict? Or will we go into another week?

For now we wait.

For reporters outside the courtroom sitting on the floor, it’s painful for sure.

But we have all been on far worse stakeouts in places colder and wetter, and where five-star eateries are not steps away and cellphone coverage and Internet connections are not as steady and reliable.

Like him or not, at least Conrad Black is a decent writer…

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The Summit of Discontents

Paul Well’s, on the phenomenon that is the G8:

This is progress, international summiteering subjected to the doctrines of work process design, a seamless parallel system for doing whatever it is one does at a G8: the politicians decide nothing in one town; we cover nothing in another; and aging grad students in black masks get mad at nothing in still a third.

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Wanna buy a presidency?

This is pretty incredible:

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is prepared to spend an unprecedented $1 billion of his own $5.5 billion personal fortune for a third-party presidential campaign, personal friends of the mayor tell The Washington Times.

He has set aside $1 billion to go for it,” confided a long-time business adviser to the Republican mayor. “The thinking about where it will come from and do we have it is over, and the answer is yes, we can do it.”

“Bloomberg is H. Ross Perot on steroids”

Indeed.

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Hitch on Charlie Rose

The latter was smitten and the former said a myriad of wild and wonderful things, as per usual. A couple of big quotes:

“The consequence of the Iraq war for the Middle East will be that it will be more dangerous to be a friend of the US than an enemy.”

“The Taliban is another name for the Pakistani colonization of Afghanistan.” I think I’ll just leave that one out there…

OK, one more, paraphrasing: I think, by the way, that I have figured out the difference between writers of non-fiction and fiction. Novelists and poets understand music.

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Why now?

I certainly think that US-Syria-Iran talks are a positive development, but I wonder what changed the administration’s calculus on this? Either something has moved empirically, or this should have happened long ago. I’d be curious to know which it is. If the former, what changed? If the latter, why now and not far sooner?

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Why print news is (nearly) dead to me

A couple of weeks ago I attended a panel at the Columbia School of Journalism on the future of newspapers. The panel was held in order to debate a recent piece by The American Prospect Editor Robert Kuttner. I have been writing a long response/rebuttal essay, which I will post a bit about in the coming week, but wanted to just throw out the following anecdote which exemplifies some of the arguments the essay makes.

This week, for some mysterious reason, I have begun to receive the Toronto Star newspaper, delivered daily, in hard copy, to my doorstep. Now for a news junkie, one would think this would be a gift from the gods. What could be better than beginning the day with a perusal of a large market daily? Well, a lot it would seem.

First, is the pure size of the thing. What a waste. Everyday it comes with half a dozen insert adds, some sort of quasi ‘magazine’ I won’t read, and five or six sections that are of absolutely no interest to me. After I have laboriously looked through the first section A, what do I do with the massive amount of paper? Well, straight to the recycle bin has been the trend. Unless you forget to do this for a couple of days, then the kitchen table disappears under an unwieldy mess of paper. I feel guilty just looking at the thing – talk about offending my ‘large market’ urban environmental sensibilities.

But by partaking in this ‘experience’ aren’t I strengthening our democracy by being civically engaged? Media types argue that there is something called ‘incidental reading’, that one can only get from print news. The theory goes that by flipping though the paper, one is exposed to stories they otherwise would not have sought out, thereby making them more knowledgeable citizens, and obviously strengthening the democracy in which they are now more actively participating. I won’t go into this in great length, as the essay goes into far greater, and slightly less sarcastic, detail, but suffice it to say, the theory is crap.

First, it would take an hour to go through the entire paper, all sections. Even if I do so, I am getting the news that the Toronto Star thinks is important. One source. Some democracy. This is not to say I don’t value the perspective or content of the Star, far from it, only that my relationship with them is not monogamous. Second, the internet is FAR better at providing incidental value added than a messy pile of paper. What do you think ‘surfing’ is? Even if I might want to know what the Star’s editorial board deems ‘news worthy’, I can look at their webpage (nicely redesigned I might add) and with the scroll of my mouse wheel, scan dozens of articles. How is this not exposing me to a wide range of content?

OK, I’ll save the other ten reasons why I don’t fully agree with Kuttner for the article. But how do others feel about this? Are there print news hold-outs among Oxblog readers? If so what do you like about it? (…and nostalgia doesn’t count, or proves my point, as the essay will explain)

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McCain vs. Ware

Point:

BLITZER: Here’s what you told Bill Bennett on his radio show on Monday.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.”

MCCAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: “The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq.”

You know, everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called green zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you’re in trouble if you’re an American.

MCCAIN: You know, that’s why you ought to catch up on things, Wolf.

General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee. You want to — I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media.

But I know for a fact of much of the success we’re experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts — not all. We’ve got a long, long way to go. We’ve only got two of the five brigades there — to go into some neighborhoods in Baghdad in a secure fashion.

Counterpoint:

BLITZER: Let’s go live to Baghdad right now.

CNN’s Michael Ware is standing by — Michael, you’ve been there, what, for four years. You’re walking around Baghdad on a daily basis.

Has there been this improvement that Senator McCain is speaking about?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I’d certainly like to bring Senator McCain up to speed, if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now, Wolf, that’s because of the helicopter circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing just a few blocks down the road.

Is Baghdad any safer?

Sectarian violence — one particular type of violence — is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Senator McCain’s confidence.

I mean, Senator McCain’s credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, has now been left out hanging to dry.

To suggest that there’s any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I’d love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.

And to think that General David Petraeus travels this city in an unarmed Humvee. I mean in the hour since Senator McCain has said this, I’ve spoken to some military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly, the general travels in a Humvee. There’s multiple Humvees around it, heavily armed. There’s attack helicopters, predator drones, sniper teams, all sorts of layers of protection.

So, no, Senator McCain is way off base on this one — Wolf.

[…]

BLITZER: Michael, when Senator McCain says that there are at least some areas of Baghdad where people can walk around and — whether it’s General Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, or others, are there at least some areas where you could emerge outside of the Green Zone, the international zone, where people can go out, go to a coffee shop, go to a restaurant, and simply take a stroll?

WARE: I can answer this very quickly, Wolf. No. No way on earth can a westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than five million people.

I mean, if al Qaeda doesn’t get wind of you, or if one of the Sunni insurgent groups don’t descend upon you, or if someone doesn’t tip off a Shia militia, then the nearest criminal gang is just going to see dollar signs and scoop you up. Honestly, Wolf, you’d barely last 20 minutes out there.

I don’t know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad.