Thursday, August 31, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell Should Know Better

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of best-sellers The Tipping Point and Blink, has an piece in the most recent New Yorker entitled No Mercy. The essay is an argument against "zero-tolerance" policies, and makes the point that Robert Oppenheimer, he of the Manhattan Project, was nearly kicked out of Cambridge University for trying to poison his tutor with a chemical-laced apple (note to my students: I don't eat apples). Gladwell notes that if Cambridge had had zero-tolerance policies, Oppenheimer might have been expelled rather than being placed on probation, and the entire course of human history may have been changed.

Maybe this argument is persuasive to you. It shouldn't be. It illustrates the need for theory and analysis behind policy debates, a theme which has been heavily discussed in some of my earlier posts.

Gladwell's problem here is making an argument based on an idiosyncratic, unique, personal example. OK, so it would have been horrible if Oppenheimer would have been expelled from Cambridge. But, surely it's possible to point to numerous examples of people given second chances who shouldn't have been. Criminals out on parole who steal or murder. People with one DUI conviction who get off with a slap on the wrist, drive and drive, and kill someone. And so on. Gladwell has chosen an extreme example...better to make his point. But it's still one example, which can be countered by other examples.

Arguments can only be sustained when supported by theory and analysis. Trying to make policy arguments based on anecdotes is doomed to fail, because the other side likely has just as many anecdotes that support their position. Malcolm Gladwell should know better.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

An End In Sight?

The highest-ranking US general in Iraq has said that the Iraqi Army should be capable of assuming responsibility for the country's security in 12-18 months. According to General George Casey, "I don't have a date, but I can see over the next 12-18 months the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country, with very little coalition support."

No public policy can be successful without clear metrics for success, and this has been one of the critical flaws in President Bush's Iraq strategy. Now, despite the steady and increasing levels of violence in the country, we have some sense of what can and should be expected from the reconstruction process. As far as the US is concerned, many of the political goals have been met: A new government has been formed, a new constitution drafted, elections held. Now it's time to focus on the security goals, the measure of which is when Iraqi forces will supplant US ones in policing and securing the country.

The time line mentioned by Casey jibes with other statements from US military officers in positions to judge these things. It's time for supporters and critics of the war alike to hang their hats on a clear standard: In a year-and-a-half, US soldiers should begin withdrawing from Iraq and turning primary responsibility for security over to the Iraqi Army. If this can't be achieved, even those still supporting the occupation will have to admit failure.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Agony of Ethics

Ethical decisions are, by their very nature, excruciating and painful. A code of ethics, by definition, must exist above and outside of your own personal desires and beliefs; otherwise, you're a sociopath. That code, that comes from some external source -- religion, parents, society, or whereever -- must sometimes come into conflict with other wants and desires. You want to take action X, but your code of ethics tells you that X is wrong and you should do Y instead. You may still do X, but, even if you believe it was important, essential and maybe even right to do X, you'll feel badly about it, knowing that you violated your ethics.

This Sunday's New York Times had a fascinating article about ethical decisions. Written by a journalist, the article explored his ethical dilemma about whether to feed the starving people about whom he was reporting:

How to respond to it is a moral dilemma that lurks in the background of many interviews. Reputable journalists are indoctrinated with the notion that they are observers — that their job is to tell a story, not to influence it. So what to do when an anguished girl tells a compelling story about her young brother, lying emaciated on a reed mat, dying for lack of money to buy anti-AIDS drugs? Is it moral to take the story and leave when a comparatively small gift of money would keep him alive? If morality compels a gift, what about the dying mother in the hut next door who missed out on an interview by pure chance? Or the three huts down the dirt path where, a nurse says, residents are dying for lack of drugs? Why are they less deserving?

In reputable journalism, paying for information is a cardinal sin, the notion being that a source who will talk only for money is likely to say anything to earn his payment. So what to do when a penniless father asks why he should open his life free to an outsider when he needs money for food? How to react to the headmistress who says that white people come to her school only to satisfy their own needs, and refuses to talk without a contribution toward new classrooms? Is that so different from interviewing a Washington political consultant over a restaurant lunch on my expense account?


There are few fixed rules to cover such situations. My own code is simple: I never give people money in advance of an interview, even when the person is clearly in need. I argue that the value of educating the world about their problems is reason enough to talk. When I am personally moved by an individual’s situation, I sometimes offer help after completing an interview, and tell myself that I cannot also help all his neighbors and friends without impoverishing myself.

An interesting article in its own right, but it brought to mind an even more painful ethical question, also involving a journalist. A few months ago, I went to an exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, and was deeply troubled by this picture at top, taken by South African photographer Kevin Carter.

Carter's story is a sad one. According to Wikipedia:

In March 1993 Carter made a trip to southern Sudan with intentions of documenting the local rebel movement. However, upon arriving and witnessing the horror of the famine, Carter began to take photographs of starving victims. The sound of soft, high-pitched whimpering near the village of Ayod attracted Carter to a young emaciated Sudanese toddler. The girl had stopped to rest while struggling to a feeding center, wherein a seemingly well-fed vulture had landed nearby. He said that he waited about 20 minutes, hoping that the vulture would spread its wings. It didn't. Carter snapped the haunting photograph and chased the vulture away. However, he also came under heavy criticism for just photographing — and not helping — the girl:

"The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene."
The decision to leave the girl to her fate haunted Carter. He decided as he did for two reasons: One, the standard journalist imperative to not intervene in the goings-on being reported, and two, because journalists were being warned not to touch the starving for fear of disease. However justified or not his decision may have been, Carter killed himself just over a year after the photo was published.

Did Carter make the right choice? Very difficult to say. One one hand, he had a dying girl in front of him, likely with good odds that minimal intervention could have saved her. On the other, journalists shouldn't get involved with their subjects for a host of very good reasons.

Shouldn't saving a life have overwhelmed the other considerations? Maybe. But it's too easy for someone not in the situation, with all of the moral and ethical reponsibility for the decision, to say. Should a defense lawyer not get a client known to be guilty freed on a technicality? Should a doctor refuse to treat a criminal? Each situation is fraught with its own ethical dilemmas. And the only one who can truly judge are those who make the decisions and are forced to live with the consequences. In Kevin Carter's situation, I very well may have decided differently; but then I would have to live with the knowledge that I violated my professional code. Should a journalist who is granted an interview with, for example, Osama bin Laden reveal bin Laden's location? What would that do to the profession?

How is this related to international politics, which is, of course, the general theme of this blog? It's least not directly. But, it's sometimes important to remember that policy makers are often faced with agonizing and impossible decisions just like these. Do you think Bill Clinton was happy to see 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans hacked to death by their Hutu neighbors? Does George Bush revel in the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq, let alone the Iraqi civilians killed daily? Both men, and all people in similar positions, must make distasteful decisions every day on the job. They have to balance their own ethical codes, personal opinions, and beliefs against the needs and responsibilities of their jobs.

This is not to say that we should excuse leaders of moral responsibility. That's not how our society works. We expect our leaders to hold to some moral and ethical standards; we, as a nation, do not practice pure realpolitik, nor should it. But, we must realize that the decisions made in international politics are every bit as agonizing as that faced by Mr. Carter. It's easy for us to blame our leaders for their decisions; it's much harder to explain why a preferred alternative is so much more moral or ethical.

One of things I do in my courses here at the University of Puget Sound, which just started up again today, is prepare my students for making such decisions. Want to protect the people of Darfur from their genocidal government? Fine, but justify why the norm of sovereignty should be violated in doing so and explain why the consequences of eroding sovereignty are worth bearing to protect lives. Want to blame Israel for using cluster bombs in Lebanon? Fine, but explain why a government, which exists to protect its citizens and promote their well-being, should risk the lives of its citizens and soldiers to save the lives of another country's citizens and why adhering to the laws of war should mean more to a state than winning the war with as little cost to itself as possible?

Ethical decisions are agonizing.

Friday, August 25, 2006

What Does Amnesty International Know?

Amnesty International has accused Israel of committing war crimes during the recent conflict in Lebanon, claiming that the bombing of Lebanon constituted indiscriminate attacks against a civilian population and national infrastructure. There has been a very interesting discussion of this question over at Opinio Juris, along with links to a long-running discourse/argument between Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Alan Dershowitz, and the editorial staff of the New York Sun.

Most of the debate focuses on questions like whether Israel was justified in bombing the Beirut airport or whether Hezbollah's policies of basing near civilian populations justifies the severity of the Israeli attacks. These are all interesting and important questions, but I would like to focus on a different aspect.

How are Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch making the determinations that the Israeli attacks are war crimes, rather than tragic collateral damage? What methodology do these groups use to assess the legal and moral culpability of Israel, Lebanon, and Hezbollah? How are the deaths of Lebanese civilians weighed against Lebanon's unwillingness to deal with Hezbollah or Israel's need and right to defend itself? Any fair and serious analysis of war must involve clear and open methods and calculations.

Unfortunately, neither Amnesty nor HRW employs an overt methodology, leaving their conclusions and motives in question. Reading over Amnesty's report "Deliberate Destruction or 'Collateral Damage'? Israeli Attacks on Civilian Infrastructure" is, of course, saddening. However, Amnesty provides no mechanism other than a litany of assertions and list of destruction to bolster its claim of war crimes. Yes, Israel attacked civilians homes, water facilities, electricity and fuel supplies, and other areas of Lebanese infrastructure. But Lebanon had become home to a large, well-armed and trained military organization that existed outside of the bounds of the sovereign government; one that chose to cross and international border and kidnap soldiers of another state. Amnesty's report is basically a long list chronicling the damage Israel did to Lebanon, but provides no guide for how to judge or assess that damage.

War is, to be trite, hell. People die. Innocent civilians die. Vital national infrastructure is destroyed. If anyone at Amnesty International, or anywhere else, can tell me how to fight a clean, cost-free war in which only enemy soldiers are killed, I'm all ears. Unfortunately, it's impossible. Even more unfortunately, war is sometimes necessary. Israel did not want this war, nor did it start it. Hezbollah, a member of the Lebanese parliament and the de facto government in southern Lebanon did. I'm not saying Israel did or did not go too far in its response. That's a topic for a different post. But you can't make a case for war crimes by simply listing the damage. What Amnesty International is doing here is disingenuous and discrediting to the organization. In fact, this confirms in my mind what I wrote in an earlier post: Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are really pacifists trying to disguise their true motives by cloaking them in moral arguments. If everyone in the whole world could play by the rules desired by Amnesty, fine. But to demand that democratic states do so in the face of brutal adversaries is just idiocy.

So, until Amnesty International develops some kind of analytic mechanism to assess conflict, its reports hold no weight or merit. Furthermore, wild and unsupported accusations like this (and let's not forget the bogus reports of the Jenin "massacre" which Human Rights Watch continues to insist occurred) undermine both the good works these groups do, as well as the case for the laws of war. War is a necessity that is not going away. It's one thing to make serious arguments and analysis about its moral and legal nature; it's another thing entirely to, essentially, argue that states cannot commit hostilities. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would be better served to devoting their attentions to what they know best: freeing prisoners of conscience and shaming gross violators of human rights.

UPDATE: David Bernstein over at The Volokh Conspiracy has more on this issue. Money quote:

Apparently, HRW thinks it's okay to accuse a country of war crimes based solely on hearsay evidence of male "villagers", acquired while the war was ongoing, who are hanging out in a POG stronghold during an Israeli bombardment, after being warned to leave. Even if these villagers were not POG affiliates (but maybe they are) or even sympathizers, how do you think Hezbollah would have reacted if they had been quoted in an HRW report during the war as stating that Israel was only carefully targeting POG strongholds? I certainly wouldn't issue life insurance to them under such circumstances.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Problem with Sovereign Equality

Sovereign equality, or sovereignty, is, in case you're unfamiliar with the theoretical underpinnings of international relations, the principle that states have the right and the capability to exercise supreme power (military, legislative, judicial, political, etc.) over a defined set of people within a defined territorial boundary. Sovereignty is perhaps the most important legal concept in international politics, as it creates the basic political landscape that exists today. It has a nice democratic cant, establishing that any political power recognized by the international community as such has the right to develop as it sees fit, free from external influence. Of course, powerful states have long been capable of violating the sovereignty of others, but the principle has nonetheless endured and still defines the basic legal and moral status of political actors.

Sovereignty is all well and good so long as the states that enjoy such status get along reasonably well. But what happens when they don't? I'm not talking here about petty family squabbles like those between the US and France. I mean the kind of fundamental disagreement that occurs when one state decides to disregard basic principles of international law, perhaps by, for example, slaughtering large numbers of its own people.

What can the international community do when such a tragedy occurs? Not much. Take the example of Sudan. Long under the disapproving eye of the UN and international community writ large for its brutal campaign against nomadic Arabs in the south as well as approval and support for the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Darfur, Sudan has of late been under great pressure from the United Nations' Security Council to admit a UN peacekeeping force to Darfur. There is a small (7,000) force from the African Union on the ground now, but that is too few soldiers to police the area and protect those that live there.

Today, Sudan has announced its plan: Let us do it. Rather than accept a proposed UN force, Sudan has offered to send up to 10,500 of its own troops into Darfur. In essence, what Sudan is asking for is permission to monitor the marauding janjaweed that have, with support from the Sudanese government, killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced nearly 2 million more, and raped, tortured, beaten and maimed thousands.

What will the UN do? Not much. The UN is founded on the principle of sovereign equality, and in the absence of a Security Council resolution, which is unlikely to do Russian and Chinese ties to Khartoum, can essentially do nothing, even to a state clearly guilty of genocide. Meanwhile, as security in Darfur deteriorates in the wake of a "peace deal" signed back in May, sexual assaults against Darfuri women have been increasing.

While the UN may not bear direct responsibility for the situation in Darfur, by claiming to have jurisdiction over such issues and then refusing to act due to its institutional design, the UN certainly becomes morally culpable. It's long past time to realize that the UN is incapable of dealing with both serious threats to international security and serious violations of human rights. If the UN wants to continue protecting sovereignty, fine. But then it needs to stop pretending that it can and will protect the rights of people in sovereign countries.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Cease-Fire in Trouble

To my complete and utter surprise, the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah seems to be in trouble, just a week after going into force. The Europeans are balking at sending troops. France, which was understood to be the major force in the international deployment, has offered 200. Other countries, including Italy and Spain, have offered larger numbers, but don't want to deploy them until the rules of engagement (RoE) are clarified. The largest question: Who is going to disarm Hezbollah? This problem was ignored in the cease-fire agreement, and, understandably, no one really wants to be responsible for a task sure to involve combat.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, Israel launched a raid into Lebanon. Israel claimed that the raid was designed to interdict weapons being smuggled from Syria to Hezbollah, and that the UN and Lebanese soldiers already in place have no interest in seriously preserving the cease-fire.

As I wrote in earlier posts, the cease-fire is a disaster waiting to happen. Neither the UN nor the European powers (a term I use very loosely) have the stomach or nerve to challenge Hezbollah, so how can they be responsible for enforcing a truce? By leaving the decision making in the hands of the individual European nations, rather than NATO, the cease-fire is now in the hands of the same people who dithered while the Balkans burned.

The onus is on the US to see that the cease-fire can hold. Not that the US can, or should, send troops; that would be a disaster. But President Bush must convince the Europeans to deploy a robust force, no smaller than 15,000 troops, to Lebanon with broad RoEs. These troops must be willing and capable of confronting Hezbollah, intercepting arms shipments, and taking whatever actions are necessary to ensure that the cease-fire holds and that Hezbollah's power in southern Lebanon is broken. Whatever it takes -- aid promises, technology transfers, political log-rolling -- the US must give. This misssion is simply too vital to fail.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

NSA Surveillance is Struck Down

This just in: A federal judge in Michigan has found that the NSA surveillance program is unconstitutional.

Some of the critical language from the decision (which I haven't read yet):

"It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights," she wrote. " . . . There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution."
Furthermore, Judge "Taylor said the government's arguments in support of the program appeared to imply that Bush's role as commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces gave him "the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution itself."

This is, more or less, the argument I have been making in several places since the NSA program was revealed. Without express authorization from Congress, either in approval of the program itself or a formal declaration of war, presidential war powers do not inherently authorize such a program.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

To Profile or Not To Profile...

In the wake of the foiled liquid explosives plot, the never-ending debate over racial profiling has been re-opened. In one corner are the civil liberty folks who see racial profiling as racism and one step down the slippery slope to internment camps. In the other corner are those who believe it foolish to treat blue-haired grandmothers the same way as bushy-bearded Muslims from Pakistan, because, after all, "most terrorist acts of the past several decades have been perpetrated by Muslim men between the ages of 17 and 40."

There's no need for me to get into the ethics and morality of racial profiling. It's been done, and will continue to be done, by people who care way more about this issue than do I. I do want to address, however, one of the main objections against instituting formal racial profiling in, for example, airport security screening. When asked on Fox News Sunday about racial profiling (no, I don't watch Fox News...I'm citing this from the first article linked above), Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff responded that profiling is a bad idea because terrorists will just start using people who don't fit the profile. After all, racial profiling probably wouldn't have warned anyone about Timothy McVeigh. If he had been in the employ of Osama bin Laden, rather than acting alone, he could have operated below the radar.

To that, I respond: let 'em. It would be a great coup for counter-terrorism efforts if al Qaeda was forced to begin recruiting suburban white folk. Why? Because right now the prospective al Qaeda recruit has a very narrow and specific profile. This makes it very difficult for western intelligence and law enforcement agencies to infiltrate these groups. Al Qaeda has, to date, enjoyed a very high degree of operational security, largely because it draws from a very small and insulated population base. How many CIA agents can pass as a disaffected Muslim from Kandahar? Islamic culture also makes it exceedingly hard to recruit such people as spies or double agents.

As I said, I'm not weighing in on the moral and ethical questions surrounding racial profiling, so I'm also not saying whether the benefits outweigh the costs. But the major policy-based objection is, in fact, a positive. The more al Qaeda has to recruit to avoid a profile, the easier it becomes to infiltrate the group. Continuing to keep al Qaeda on the run and further degenerating its operational capability should be the top priority of US counter-terrorism efforts right now, and from that angle, racial profiling makes a whole lot of sense.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Assessing the Cease-Fire in Lebanon

Over the weekend, the UN Security Council reached agreement on the terms of a cease-fire, scheduled to begin today, between Israel, Hezbollah, and Lebanon. Basically, the agreement states that fighting will end today and that southern Lebanon will be occupied by a force made up of the Lebanese Army and an international force (about 15,000 soldiers each).

This deal is fraught with problems. First, the Lebanese Army is almost completely disfunctional. It was incapable and unwilling of taking on and reining in Hezbollah before, which permitted the current conflict to erupt. How is an army that has no tanks, no air force, and only a few 40-year old helicopters going to deal with "the best guerrilla force in the world?" Obviously, the cease-fire will largely depend on the willingness of the international force, which apparently will be dominated by (don't laugh) French troops, to prevent Hezbollah from re-asserting itself and challenging Israel once again. This does not instill confidence. The Battle of Algiers notwithstanding, the French have not, as of late, demonstrated much of a stomach for ground combat. Nor do the French possess a political system that can must sufficient will for such an extended deployment.

But there are even more immediate problems. Israel has said it will not withdraw until the Lebanese/international force arrives to replace Israeli troops; Hezbollah has said it will not honor the cease-fire so long as Israeli soldiers remain in Lebanon. Despite the cease-fire going into effect at 1o PM (Pacific time) last night, minor skirmishes continued throughout today. One has to believe it's only a matter of time until one of those skirmishes reignites the wider conflict.

The problem was the French, along with much of the international community, insistence on a UN role in monitoring the cease-fire. The fact that Israel agreed to allow the UN to monitor its borders indicates how badly the invasion went for Israel; but, the UN has never demonstrated the spine to take on enforce a peace. Keep a peace, yes. Enforce it, no. Neither Hezbollah nor Israel really wants this cease-fire as it is and if and when hostilities re-emerge, will the UN really be willing to stand up to either side? Will UN soldiers prevent Hezbollah from establishing artillery posts near UN bases? Will UN soldiers stop, and even shoot, Hezbollah fighters moving towards the Israeli border? Unlikely.

Unfortunately, Israel's campaign in Lebanon didn't go well enough to allow Israel to dictate the terms of the cease-fire and get the NATO force it so desperately wanted in Lebanon. Now, it will have to make do with the UN. That is no recipe for a long-term peace.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Coming Soon: Toddler Terrorists!

So, in the aftermath of the exposure of the terror plot to use liquid explosives to blow up as many as 10 planes, the Transportation Security Administration is banning all liquids and gels in carry-on luggage. Now, "everything from bottled water to coffee to common toiletries like contact-lens solution, nail polish and toothpaste now must be checked. Even beverages bought beyond the security checkpoint are forbidden on board. If you buy a soda or a bottle of water in the terminal, finish it before boarding because you will not be allowed on the plane with it." The UK has gone even farther:

passengers traveling to the United States must endure trans-Atlantic flights without iPods, personal DVD players and computers to distract them. Only essential items like passports and wallets held in transparent plastic bags are allowed in the cabin. Passengers are not permitted to carry anything in their pockets, and women’s handbags may not be carried on.

The British also banned carry-on liquids, from apple juice to whiskey; passengers had to check their liquid prescription medicine and contact-lens solution yesterday. Women’s sanitary items were allowed in the cabin, but only if they were removed from their boxes.

Tony Cane, a spokesman for British Airways, said reading material also could be affected. He said the airline had advised travelers to put books in checked luggage.

Do these new rules make anyone any safer? I go back and forth over how much of a threat terrorism is to the US. Sometimes, I see it as a serious problem that threatens to undermine the fabric of life in a free and open democratic society. Other times, I realize that more people in the US die each year from food-borne illnesses than have died from terror attacks in the last 15 years combined. Where this leaves me vis-a-vis homeland security is that I believe increased security measures can be warranted, when the cost is sufficiently low and the value-added is sufficiently high.

Do the new bans on liquids meet those criteria? No.

First, note that:

The liquid and gel ban has exceptions. Baby formula and medicine are allowed, provided that passengers present them for inspection and are prepared to prove that the name on the bottle matches the name on their ticket. That does not mean passengers will be required to taste baby formula to prove that it is not really a hazardous liquid, as was the case in Britain yesterday.
I guess terrorists aren't smart enough to bring their babies on board and disguise explosives as formula.

This is the same problem as with IDs: people who appear to be minors aren't required to provide a government-issued ID when they board. People under 18 don't always have driver's licenses or other ID; so when they travel they don't have ID. My wife's daughter is 16...she doesn't yet have a driver's license, and when she travels they just let her on, sometimes at my wife's or my assurance, sometimes, if she's traveling alone, without it. Either way, are terrorists really not sufficiently smart to figure this out and use teenagers? A teenager with a kid would be a double whammy: No ID needed and can carry on "formula."

When you see security gaps like this there is one most likely explanation: The regulation is more about reassuring a jittery public and conveying a image of a government in control of the situation than about plugging a security hole. And that means the regulation is not likely to be worth the cost.

If the screening of carry-on luggage is so problematic, then carry-on luggage should just be banned all together. Or, as I think Thomas Friedman once suggested, we should just all fly naked.

But, half-assed measures like this don't really provide serious security. Hopefully, these measures will only be temporary ones, intended to calm jangled nerves, and will soon be lifted, like the moronic ban on nail clippers. We need to focus on real security needs, like scanners that can detect liquid explosives, rather than making our lives miserable for no appreciable increase in our safety.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Can Lebanon Deal with Hezbollah?

My friends over at Truth on the Market have an excellent post about the recent offer from the Lebanese government to send 15,000 troops into southern Lebanon to restrain Hezbollah so that a cease-fire might be put into place, allowing Israel to withdraw.

Here's the analysis:

If it’s true that the Lebanese army is able to handle Hezbollah, then why didn’t it disarm Hezbollah before the current conflict began? And if the Lebanese army really can’t handle Hezbollah, then isn’t the current offer to use the army basically worthless?

Whatever the Lebanese army’s capabilities really are, it seems hard to fault Israel for its skepticism about the Lebanese offer and for insisting on dealing with Hezbollah itself and not withdrawing until a multinational force is in place.

As I note in a comment on TOTM:

The question isn’t “why didn’t Lebanon do this before?” It is “why should Israel trust Lebanon to do it now.” Lebanon always had sufficient numbers of troops to deploy to southern Lebanon for the purpose of confronting and reining in Hezbollah. But would those troops, once deployed, have been capable of carrying out such a mission? Unlikely. And that hasn’t changed. Lebanon is, unsurprisingly, trying to get Israeli forces out of the country, and will say and do just about anything to accomplish that goal. But just because Lebanon offers doesn’t mean the Lebanese Army is up to the task. So, Keith is exactly right when he writes “it seems hard to fault Israel for its skepticism about the Lebanese offer and for insisting on dealing with Hezbollah itself and not withdrawing until a multinational force is in place.”

Monday, August 07, 2006

Whither the ICC? is reporting, through The New Times out of Kigali, Rwanda, that the International Criminal Court has agreed not to prosecute the leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army, including Joseph Kony and his top commanders, so that peace negotiations between the Ugandan government and the LRA can proceed. [Please see my old post for some background on this issue, including links to information on the LRA.]

However, there's a catch:

"The ICC is willing to lift the indictments. They (the ICC) are willing to go with (watching) us through the peace talks provided the final agreement does not condone impunity," [Joseph] Kagoda [the Ugandan Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs] said while appearing before the parliamentary committee on Defence and Internal Affairs.
This makes no sense. Either the ICC should stick to its guns and insist on the arrest and prosecution of Kony and his thugs, or it should step back and allow Uganda to decide for itself what kind of peace settlement best meets its own needs. Granting immunity can be necessary and critical part of transitioning from civil war to peace, as countries like South Africa have learned, and presumably the murders of the LRA won't be so willing to end their fight if they know that they'll be put on trial. The ICC should put its indictments in abeyance pending a peace settlement that is agreed upon by the Ugandan government regardless of whether or not Kony and his cronies eventually face justice. It may be a true injustice if Kony and his band of child raping, limb-amputating murders is allowed to go free, but if that is the price of a comprehensive peace settlement, it must be Uganda's decision whether to pay it.

As an interesting side note, Kagoda continued with some comments that exposed the fecklessness and weakness of the ICC:

But Kagoda said: "We approached an international peace keeping force to arrest Kony and his commanders but they said it was not their concern and did not have the mandate. We had no partner to effect the arrests and yet Uganda was not authorized to go to DR Congo. That is why we decided to opt for peace talks with the LRA."
The ICC lacks any capacity to enforce its own indictments and warrants, depending on its member states to do the work for the Court. And yet, when a member state asks the ICC to back down so that it might find its own solution to a brutal civil war, the ICC puffs up its chest, declares its own importance, and barely ends up doing the right thing. This is why international justice is so far away from being realized. Only when (and a BIG) if the judicial power is backed up by independent enforcement power will the system of international justice approach anything close to a meaningful concept.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Want Peace in Lebanon? Don't Ask the UN!

The US and France are struggling to reach an agreement on a UN resolution intended to bring an end to the on-going Israeli operations in Lebanon. The main sticking point: The composition of the forces to monitor the Lebanese-Israeli border and keep an eye on Hezbollah. The US wants Israel to stay in southern Lebanon until an international force, perhaps through NATO, can replace the Israeli army. France's proposal calls for the UN to do the job, supported by the Lebanese Army.

France's plain is, plain and simple, a recipe for more war. Neither the UN nor Lebanon is capable of dealing with Hezbollah and maintaining a quiet border. The Lebanese government and army has already failed in this task; the inability to carry out UN resolution 1559 is what led to the current crisis. Lebanon has neither the political will nor the military firepower to challenge and corral Hezbollah.

But the UN would be even worse. While the UN does do a decent enough job of peacekeeping, southern Lebanon would not be a peacekeeping mission. Peacekeeping occurs when two waring sides seek peace but do not have sufficient mutual trust to adhere to the terms of a settlement. In this case, a third party is needed to stand between the two sides and monitor, lending confidence that the agreement will be observed. In Lebanon, however, Hezbollah does not desire a long-term peace; rather, it wants to end the current operation in order to regroup and rearm for the next one. When one, or both, side does not really want to end the fighting, the situation becomes one of peace enforcement, for which the UN is really REALLY unsuited.

In its desire to appear evenhanded, unbiased, and fair, the UN repeatedly fails to give its soldiers sufficient firepower or appropriate rules of engagement to deal with the tasks at hand. Witness the inability to stand up to the Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica. But we need not go back that far for evidence of the UN inability to enforce a peace. On July 26th, several UN peacekeepers were killed in Lebanon by Israeli shelling. Why would Israel have attacked a UN base? Because Hezbollah sets up missiles, weapon systems, and bases in close proximity to the UN bases, knowing (or hoping) that Israel would be hesitant to attack them for fear of hitting the UN troops. Here is an email sent on July 18th by Major Paeta Derek Hess-von Kruedener, who was killed in that Israeli attack:

The closest artillery has landed within 2 metres of our position and the closes 1,000-pound aerial bomb has landed 100 metres from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity (emphasis added).
According to retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, the first commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo, this paragraph, translated from military-speak, means: "We have Hezbollah fighters all over our position engaging the Israel Defense Forces and using us as shields. They will probably stay, hoping that the IDF won't target them for fear of hitting us." (The email from Hess-von Kruedener and quote from MacKenzie comes from an op-ed piece MacKenzie wrote in The Globe and Mail [Canada's national newspaper] on Thursday, July 27th. I couldn't find a link to it...sorry)

Why did the UN soldiers allow Hezbollah to base and operate in such close proximity to the UN base? Because the UN soldiers were unarmed. Yes, unarmed. Despite being in a war zone, surrounded by militant terrorists, the UN did not see fit to arm the troops it placed in harm's way. Furthermore, the UN soldiers did not have permission from their superiors to challenge or engage Hezbollah. This is fairly typical. The UN is good at peacekeeping, when it doesn't have to choose sides. But it is terrible when securing peace means taking on one side, be it Bosnian Serbs or Hezbollah.

So, for the sake of all those in Israel and Lebanon, let's hope that France fails and the UN stays out of Lebanon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Pacifism Disguised as Morality

In today's Los Angeles Times, Adam Shatz, the literary editor for The Nation has an article about the immorality of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon. The gist of the article is a response to the claims that, by virtue of basing itself in civilian areas and hiding weapons in homes, Hezbollah, and not Israel, bears the moral responsibility for the deaths of Lebanese civilians.

Shatz takes issue with this position, asking:

If Israeli assertions are true that these killings of scores of civilians were unintentional, does that mean that Israel can claim the high ground in its battle with Hezbollah and Hamas? Is Israel's "accidental" violence against civilians somehow better, or more morally acceptable, than that of a Hamas suicide bomber who steps into a pizzeria seeking to kill civilians? Or a Hezbollah guerrilla firing a Katyusha in the direction of a Haifa residential neighborhood? In short, do Israel's declared intentions make a difference?
The answer, according to Shatz, is no. He goes on to argue that:

The argument Israel and its supporters make to this audience is that Hezbollah and Hamas deliberately target civilians, whereas Israel only accidentally kills them in the noble cause of antiterrorism. Israel may be guilty of manslaughter, but not of murder.

But this distinction is meaningful only up to a point, and Israel, consistent with its history of violent raids in refugee camps and crowded cities, passed this point almost as soon as the offensive began.

Rather than limiting its strikes to key Hezbollah positions and pursuing all available diplomatic channels, as might be expected of a mature regional power with nuclear weapons, Israel launched a vengeful war on Lebanon, which, it has since been reported, was planned over a year in advance. It has displayed a callous disregard for human life, for Lebanon's infrastructure (which only in recent years had begun to recover from Israel's 1982 invasion), for the stability of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's fragile government and for the country's natural environment, now facing an ecological catastrophe from an oil spill caused by the bombing. An estimated 750 Lebanese, overwhelmingly civilians and many of them children, have died, a dozen times more than the 50-plus Israelis (more than half of them soldiers) killed by Hezbollah.
The last paragraph is so poorly argued as to be laughable. First, by pointing out that the Lebanese invastion was planned "over a year ago," Shatz seems to be trying to refute the claim that the invasion was taken out of self-defense in retaliation for the killing of 8 Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others. Does Shatz know anything about how national military planning works? Planners are continually preparing for contingencies of all kinds; when I worked for SAIC, we developed wargames dealing with invasions of several fictional countries that closely resembled potential enemies (the names were changed to prevent charges like that leveled by Shatz and to allow for plausible deniability but anyone with even a tenth of a brain would have recognized the targets). Would Hezbollah have been considered a likely military opponent by an Israeli military planner? Of course. And if so, then why wouldn't Israel prepare for any potential use of force against Lebanon and Hezbollah? A defense minister who did not prepare and plan for various military contingencies would be lax, at best, in his duties.

Next, Shatz writes that Israel has displayed a callous disregard for "the stability of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's fragile government." A government that is unable to prevent an armed militia from occupying large portions of the country is not a real government. A government that does not enjoy a monopoly of force within its own borders is not a government. Unfortunately, no matter how much Shatz wishes it to be so, the Lebanese government barely meets the criteria for sovereignty. It has refused to implement UN resolutions demanding it crack down on Hezbollah, and has made no moves to rein in the militia. Such a government demands no respect. It is a failed state.

Finally, Shatz points to the casualty disparities, noting that "an estimated 750 Lebanese, overwhelmingly civilians and many of them children, have died, a dozen times more than the 50-plus Israelis (more than half of them soldiers) killed by Hezbollah." What ratio is appropriate? Should Israel only kill as many Hezbollah fighters as Israeli losses? Shatz makes no argument, but simply claims that it's too many deaths on the Lebanese side (or is it too few dead Israelis?).

Shatz goes on to excoriate Michael Walzer, one of the pre-eminent scholars of just war theory. Shatz writes that:

Michael Walzer, the influential Princeton moral philosopher and author of "Just and Unjust Wars," recently opined in the New Republic that when Arab guerrillas "launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible — and no one else is — for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire." One expects this rationalization of collective punishment from a defense minister; coming from a "just war" theorist it is most odd. (By this criterion, the French Resistance would have been "responsible" if the Nazis had destroyed a village sheltering anti-Fascist partisans.)

In fact, Walzer's logic is explicitly repudiated by human rights groups. They weren't persuaded by this argument in 1996; in its damning report on the first Qana attack, Human Rights Watch concluded that the use in Qana of "deadly anti-personnel shells designed to maximize injuries on the ground — and the sustained firing of such shells, without warning, in close proximity to a large concentration of civilians — violated a key principle of international humanitarian law." And Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, has rejected it again this time: The most recent strike on Qana "suggests that the Israeli military is treating southern Lebanon as a free-fire zone."
This last point of Shatz's make his true argument clear: war of all kinds is bad. Shatz, along with Kenneth Roth, are opposed to the use of force for any reason. However, using just war theory to claim that this or that use of force is immoral is a much better strategy for Shatz than admitting his outright opposition to war. As Walzer notes in the article Shatz refers to above, "It is an important principle of just war theory that justice, though it rules out many ways of fighting, cannot rule out fighting itself -- since fighting is sometimes morally and politically necessary." Shatz's argument attempts to do just what Walzer says can't be done: rule out fighting itself. If states cannot plan military operations in advance, if they cannot hold other governments responsible , if they cannot kill more people than the losses they have themselves suffered, then states cannot go to war. As Walzer correctly argues:

...since Hamas and Hezbollah describes the captures [of the Israeli soldiers] as legitimate militart operations -- acts of war [and, as Walzer does not mention, are both party to their respective governments] -- they can hardly claim that further acts of war, in response, are illegitimate. The further acts have to be proportional, but Israel's goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.
Walzer goes on:
When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible--and no one else is--for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire. But (the dialectical argument continues) Israeli soldiers are required to aim as precisely as they can at the militants, to take risks in order to do that, and to call off counterattacks that would kill large numbers of civilians. That last requirement means that, sometimes, the Palestinian use of civilian shields, though it is a cruel and immoral way of fighting, is also an effective way of fighting. It works, because it is both morally right and politically intelligent for the Israelis to minimize--and to be seen trying to minimize--civilian casualties. Still, minimizing does not mean avoiding entirely: Civilians will suffer so long as no one on the Palestinian side (or the Lebanese side) takes action to stop rocket attacks. From that side, though not from the Israeli side, what needs to be done could probably be done without harm to civilians.
So, perhaps the attack on Qana was immoral. But one action does not, as Shatz would do, discredit the entire military operation or the very nature of fighting itself. States must be able to defend themselves; note the absence of serious protest against Israel, even from the Europeans, the Russians, and other Arab states. One can quibble about whether Israel should have dropped this bomb, or launched that missile. And of course one can grieve for the innocent lives lost. But using just war theory to claim that Israel's operation is immoral or illegal is disingenous at best. The blame for the deaths of Lebanese civilians lies firstly with Hezbollah, which started this war and secondly with the Lebanese government, which has allowed Hezbollah to operate with impunity. Israel may not be blameless, but Israel neither wanted nor started this war. War is a nasty, hideous, death-filled business. But it is, unfortunately, sometimes necessary. Shatz's attempt to moralize it away, along with much of the discussion of "proportionality" that has surrounded the current violence in Lebanon, is little more than a pipe dream to do away with all war.