Friday, April 28, 2006

Should the US Intervene in Darfur?

As noted in this article, public pressure is mounting on the US to step upits efforts to aid the people of Darfur. However, as Lawrence Kaplan notes in the New Republic (rr):
the use of unilateral U.S. military power isn't the solution most Darfur activists have in mind. Even as western Sudan burns, Darfur advocates such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi argue that the United States must employ its military power only on behalf of--and, more important, in concert with--international organizations such as the United Nations. The Save Darfur Coalition, a leading umbrella group for organizations bent on action, intends to save Darfur not by urging the Bush administration to launch air strikes against Sudan's murderous militias but by petitioning the White House to bolster funding for African Union peacekeepers and to lobby the United Nations.

But will the African Union put a halt to the killings in Darfur? Absolutely not. Its Arab members have stymied the force at every turn. Will the United Nations solve the crisis? That seems extremely unlikely as well. The organization amounts first and foremost to a collection of sovereign states, many of them adamantly opposed to violating Sudan's own sovereignty. Can NATO save the day? Not really, given the fears of entanglement expressed by its European members. As in Bosnia before it, the victims of Darfur can be saved by one thing and one thing alone: American power.

Unfortunately for the victims of Darfur, too many of their advocates have come to view that power as tainted, marred by self-interest and by its misapplication in Iraq. Hence, the contradiction at the heart of the Darfur debate, which pits the imperative to halt the persecution of innocents (Darfur activists have enshrined as their motto the biblical admonition not to "stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor") against a reflexive opposition to the only power that can actually do so.

With the latter sentiment in vogue as a result of the Iraq war, it is as if nothing has been learned and nothing remembered from the decade that went before. Never mind Bosnia. Never mind Kosovo. And, as long as Darfur activists like number two Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois cling to the mantra that the United States must be what he calls a "defensive nation," well, never mind Darfur either.
I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Surprise, Surprise!! Sudan Rejects UN Peacekeepers in Darfur

To what I can only hope is no one's surprise, Sudan today rejected a UN request to deploy a UN peacekeeping force into Darfur, where violence has claimed 100,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people over the last three years. The UN's second highest-ranking official for peacekeeping, Hedi Annabi, announced the rejection today, and stated, according to the Washington Post that "Sudan's opposition could doom U.N. peacekeeping plans. [Annabi] suggested the council look outside the United Nations for troops if it decides to intervene in Darfur without an invitation from the government."

This last statement from Annabi is troublesome. Not the sentiment itself, which I agree with, but the UN admitting it. As I have blogged about numerous time, including here, the UN is, as demonstrated in this case, hamstrung in its desire to prevent crimes against humanity by its commitment to sovereignty. The UN was willing to wink at NATO's intervention in Kosovo, but was displeased by the US invasion of Iraq; but you can't have it both ways. Either states can take the law into their own hands or they can't. If the UN continues to sanction interventions outside of the framework of international law, then it can't be upset if that power gets used for policies with which the UN disagrees.

So now the question is: Where to go from here? Will the UN and the New York Times really be supportive when and if (and it is a big if) the US and/or NATO decides to violate international law and Sudan's sovereignty by intervening in Darfur? Annabi argued that "such a mission is better undertaken by means other than a U.N. operation." President Bush has already secured NATO approval to attach observers to the in-place African Union peacekeepers (there's an article in last month's Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about the AU mission, claiming that it is effective, but ultimately too small), but it will take more than observers to stop the slaughter and crimes. Let's hope that the US continues to ignore international law and does what is right and just.

The Hamas Thaw

While it is still early in the game, there are signs that Hamas is feeling the pain of its international isolation and is considering taking steps to change its positions and end its isolation. Hamas officials announced that the organization was considering proposals to soften its stance towards Israel, including adopting the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which endorsed the concept of land-for-peace, various UN resolutions and even the PLO/PA's political platform. Adopting any of these would require Hamas to recognize Israel and consider negotiations to solve the problem of the Palestinians.

Of course, Hamas has not likely had a change of heart, but rather is reacting to the isolation and attendant economic pain. According to the finance minister, the Palestinian economy will, at current levels, collapse in several months. Already, government employees are one month behind in pay. Without aid from Israel, the US, and the EU, Hamas will have nothing to govern, and the organization is apparently beginning to realize that. However, even if any future shift is not genuinely heart-felt, the momentousness of any shift should not be underestimated.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The UN Steps Up to the Plate (Kind Of)

The UN has decided to impose sanctions on 4 Sudanese accused of abuses in Darfur. The sanctions consist of a travel ban and a freezing of assets abroad. The resolution, sponsored by the US, passed by a 12-0 vote, with Russia, China, and Qatar abstaining.

I don't think this will do much to end the suffering in Darfur or to stem the conflict as it expands into Chad. But, getting Russia and China (Qatar, lacking a veto, doesn't matter one way or another) to abstain is a major triumph. We can only hope that this will create pressure on the two permanent members to vote similarly the next time Sudan is before the Security Council.

Does this mean that the UN is now relevant and meaningful. No. Of course not. We'll see what happens when the Security Council is asked to authorize a UN or NATO deployment of peacekeepers to Darfur. I'm not holding my breath. Nor should the poor people of Darfur.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bin Laden and His Discontents

The US war on terrorism, or more specifically, against al-Qaeda as an interntational terrorist organization, seems to be working. How can we tell? Because the latest missive from Osama bin Laden smacks of desperation. In his newest release, bin Laden urges his followers to flock to Sudan and Darfur to fight international peacekeepers, expresses support for Hamas and Islamic rebels in Chechnya, and discusses the need to be prepared for a long struggle against the Crusader-Zionist alliance.

However, there doesn't seem to be much that worries terrorism experts and analysts. From the Washington Post article linked above:
"Bin Laden is a master craftsman at recognizing issues and knowing how to exploit these issues for his own purposes," said M.J. Gohel, a London-based analyst and chief executive of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a security policy group. "He's trying to enlarge the global conflict and is trying to incite and anger the Muslim world against the West."

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism specialist and director of the Washington office of the Rand Corp., a California-based research group, said al-Qaeda is confronting the same challenge that all terrorism networks face: how to remain relevant as a radical movement over time.

"It's entirely cynical," he said of bin Laden's rallying cry on behalf of Darfur and Hamas. "He's got to say something about someplace. They've got to keep talking or else they're going to be irrelevant, especially when they're not directly involved in the fighting."

"These are contentious contemporary issues that he can glom onto and milk for his own ends," Hoffman added. "It's more rhetorical than factual. Bin Laden is no friend of the Sudanese. They told him to leave in 1996 and took his money. And Hamas has basically told al-Qaeda to mind its own business."

Counterterrorism officials and analysts said al-Qaeda's leaders have also become more outspoken in recent months because they fear losing their influence in the fragmented world of Islamic fundamentalism. Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician, have been effectively sidelined since the Sept. 11 attacks while other radical groups and figures, such as Hamas and Jordanian fighter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, have stolen the limelight, the analysts said.

Of course, al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Zarqawi seem to be doing rather well. However, the international version of al-Qaeda isn't. Dan Drezner asks over at his blog "if there is no spectacular terrorist attack in the next year -- on a par, say, with either the London or Madrid bombings -- is it safe to say that the threat from Al Qaeda should be seriously downgraded?" I think the answer is yes.

UPDATE: Of course, just after I posted this comes the news of a bombing at an Egyptian hotel in Dahab, Sinai, killing 22 and wounding more than 150. Does this disprove the point made above: that al Qaeda is losing and becoming desperate? Not at all. With no offense meant to the dead and wounded, blowing up a hotel is neither meaningful nor congruent with al Qaeda's larger campaign. It's simply not hard to blow up a hotel, or a bus, or any other "soft" target. Yes, it causes fear. But it does not indicate that al Qaeda's infrastructure remains capable of carrying out large-scale 9/11 attacks. Nor does it make al Qaeda relevant or a serious threat. Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent all terror attacks, especially bombings against soft targets. When al Qaeda shows that it is capable of another 9/11 type of attack, I'll be worried.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The UN Proves Its Worthlessness

I've spent a lot of time bashing the UN on the website. I keep telling myself I'll stop, but the UN just keeps handing me ammunition. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. The newest item, however, is so ridiculous that it's hard to believe.

Iran has been elected as a vice-chair to the UN Disarmament Commission. Yes, that Iran. The Iran that is currently under investigation by the UN for violating its international non-proliferation commitments. The same Iran that recently used dancers waving vials of (what was claimed to be) real uranium to celebrate its first use of centrifuges to enrich uranium. That Iran.

The Commission is charged with, among other duties, deliberating on strategies to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons According to the UN Under-Secretart for Disarmement Affairs, Nobuaki Tanaka, the Commission plays a critical role in global disarmament policy through its "advantage of being a fully universal deliberative body."

Fine. It's wonderful if the UN wants to remain a truly democratic institution in which all states are treated equally and sovereignty is the main principle. But the UN can't have its cake and it eat too. If the UN wants to based on sovereignty it cannot assume, and must not be given, responsibility for dealing with major issues of international security. It simply is not capable of dealing with them. If the UN wants to seat Iran on a disarmament commission, or Sudan, China, or Zimbabwe on a human rights committee, fine. But then don't be shocked when the UN proves incapable of dealing with gross violations. And don't be surprised when other countries take matters into their own hands to enforce the laws and norms when the UN cannot do so.

al-Jaafari Steps Down

Ibrahim al-Jaafari has agreed to step down as the Shiite candidate for prime minister of Iraq. Early indications are that the Sunnis and Kurds will be willing to back the new nominee, Jawad al-Maliki, an ally of al-Jaafari, meaning that an acceptable unity government may be within reach. There is evidence that al-Jaafari finally succumbed to pressure from both within and without Iraq.

This decision, while not a guarantee that the political process will succeed, is an important step towards democracy. Democracy is not just about winning; it must involve sufficient protection of the rights and interests of minorities so that they will be willing to participate even when they don't win. It' s likely that, if the Sunnis do in fact accept the new candidate, that we'll see an abatement of a large part of the insurgency in the coming months as Sunnis decide that politics is a better guarantee of their interests than violence.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Update on al-Jaafari

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the thorn in the side of a functioning Iraqi government, has agreed to allow the Shiite political bloc, which nominated him as prime minister, to reconsider that nomination. As I've mentioned here before, al-Jaafari was unacceptable to Iraqi Kurds and, most importantly, Sunnis, who must be part of the political process if this democratic experiment is to succeed. While this does not, of course, mean that the political process will succeed or that the insurgency will abate any time soon, it is most definitely a critical step in the right direction (assuming of course that the Shiites decide to replace al-Jaafari. If not, all bets are off).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

al-Jaafari and the Future of Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is refusing to step aside as the Shiite nominee to lead the Iraqi parliament in its new term. The Iraqi government has been in limbo since the parliamentary elections last December in which the Shiite bloc won the most votes. According to the Iraqi constitution, the largest bloc gets to nominate the prime minister, but as al-Jaafari is unacceptable to the Sunnis and Kurds, and as the Shiites did not win enough seats to govern without a partner, the government cannot be formed.

As I've blogged about before, it is crucial that Iraq create a unity government that is acceptable not just to Shiites, but to the Kurds and the Sunnis as well. If the Sunnis do not believe that their interests can be protected in the political process, then there is no hope for stopping the insurgency and rebuilding the country towards democracy.

Iraq does not yet have a fully functional democracy that is capable of dealing with a crisis like this. It is time for the US and the UK to step in and force al-Jaafari to step down. Such a move may anger the Shiites, and Muqtada al-Sadr (al-Jaafari's main supporter), but the alternative is the failure of the political process. The former is bad but fixable; the latter is unacceptable.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Hilariousity of International Law (and the Stupidity of the EU)

The town of Limerick in Ireland is in trouble. It stands to fall below the EU-mandated population level of 50,000 residents needed for being designated a "city" under EU law. That designation is critical for obtaining EU funding, and if Limerick loses it status in a census being conducted this Sunday, it will lose the funding.

The problem is that Limerick's regional rugby team, Munster, is playing a critical match against Leinster in Dublin on Sunday (the census day), and as many as 20,000 of Limerick's 54,000 residents could be away watching the match. If even so many as 4,000, Limerick will not meet the EU standard for being a "city." The mayor of Limerick, Diarmuid Scully, is pleading with EU officials to relax their strict rules surrounding the census:

"Should the population drop below 50,000, then Limerick wouldn't be considered a city anymore by European standards, and we'd actually lose out in terms of European funding," [Scully] added.

Scully said census rules allowed forms to be completed on the following Monday morning, and he called on census officials to be lenient.

"I'm asking for a flexible interpretation of the morning -- let morning stretch throughout the day," he said. "Let it stretch until midnight."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Has al-Qaeda Given Up in Iraq?

Last Friday, the Washington Times ran an article citing US Lieutenant General John Vines, the commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps who led all coalition forces in Iraq during 2005, who claims that "Al Qaeda in Iraq and its presumed leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, have conceeded strategic defeat and are on their way out of the country." In a speech before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, General Vines states that al Qaeda's failure to disrupt national elections and a constitutional referendum last year "was a tactical admission by Zarqawi that their strategy had failed," and that "they no longer view Iraq as fertile ground to establish a caliphate and as a place to conduct international terrorism."

A quick Google search indicates that no one else in the US government is talking in such terms. It's hard to believe that, given the current state (or lack thereof) of the Iraqi government, Zarqawi and al-Qaeda would pack up and leave. I'd like to hear more from US intelligence or other military commanders before I began betting on Vines' horse. Still, even hints and indications that things are going well in Iraq are welcome news.

Punishing Hamas

A suicide bomber has struck in Israel, killing 9 people at a fast food restaurant in Tel Aviv. It's the deadliest attack in more than a year, and is the first attack since Hamas took over the Palestinian legislature almost 3 weeks ago. The attack was claimed by Islamic Jihad, but Hamas called the attack a legitimate response to Israeli aggression, saying "we think that this operation ... is a direct result of the policy of the occupation and the brutal aggression and siege committed against our people," and "the Israeli side must feel what the Palestinian feels, and the Palestinian defends himself as much as he can." Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah condemned the attack, calling it a terrorist attack.

So, what should Israel do in response? The answer: Strike at Hamas. Hamas is now the legitimately-elected leader of the Palestinian government. A government, in order to enjoy sovereignty, must possess a monopoly of violence within its borders. The existence of rival militias and armed groups is a fundamental challenge to the sovereignty of the Palestinian government. Both Yasir Arafat and Abbas refused to take on the militias and terorrist groups, and were unable to sufficiently control the political situation within the West Bank and Gaza. Now, Hamas seems to be in the same position. Hamas bears responsibility; if it wants to govern, it must bear the burden of governance. Furthermore, the situation as it stands now allows Islamic Jihad to strike at Israel, while Hamas washes its hands claiming "it wasn't us."

Israel needs demand that Hamas take action against Islamic Jihad, and be prepared to strike at Hamas of no such action is forthcoming. Hamas leaders and assets are now in the open as it tries to govern the Palestinian territories. Hamas may be observing the cease-fire, but now it needs to step up and assume the mantle of leadership. It can start by cracking down on the armed militias and rivial organizations, such as Islamic Jihad. If Hamas refuses to act, such attacks are, in essence, acts of war that demand military responses. If Hamas chooses not to behave as a responsible government and partner in the peace process, Israel must resume the targeted killing of Hamas leaders and officials, as well as continue the unilateral separation process that is underway. If there is no legitimate peace partner, Israel will simply force the issue and create a fait accompli on the ground. Hamas has an opportunity to demonstrate that it can govern. Let's hope it takes it.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Should Rumsfeld Go?

The New York Times has a front-page article about the growing swell of retired generals calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The Washington Post has an article and an op-ed from David Ignatius demanding the same. According to the various pieces, the time has come for Rumsfeld to step down. Among the retired generals who have spoken out are Major General Charles Swannack, the former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Major General John Batiste, former commander of the 1st Infantry Division, General Anthony Zinni, former CINC of CENTCOM, Lt. General Gregory Newbold, former Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Statff, Major General Paul Eaton, who commanded the training of Iraqi security forces, and Lt. General John Riggs. In general according to the Times, the complaints are that "Rumsfeld and his aides have too often inserted themselves unnecessarily into military decisionmaking, often disregarding advice from military commanders." This echoes the concerns I heard voiced by General Joseph Hoar USMC (ret.), aformer CINC of CENTCOM, who spoke at the Are We at War? conference at Chapman University School of Law that I attended last week. General Hoar also called for Rumsfeld to step down, citing in particular Rumsfeld's treatment (also cited in the Times) of the recommendations from General Eric Shinseki, then Army chief of staff, who told Congress prior to the invasion that securing and rebuilding the country would require, according to General Hoar, over 400,000 troops. Shinseki was dismissed and ignored by the Pentagon, and Hoar described Rumsfeld as insisting that the job could be done with just over 100,000. Of course, these calls are being met by responses from other high-ranking officers, both active and retired, defending both the war and Rumsfeld's handling of it.

So, should Rumsfeld step down? How much weight should the opinion of some of the finest soldiers in the US military carry in making political decisions? It's important to note that generals are no different from the rest of us in that they have their own personal biases and axes to grind. General Hoar noted that he believes Rumsfeld's insistence on a small troop footprint was rooted in his desire to transform the US military into a smaller, lighter, more mobile fighting force. Perhaps. But such a decision and change would be met with huge opposition from soldiers based in a more traditional understanding of the military. I met some of this opposition and skepticism from high-ranking officers when I worked for SAIC in the mid 1990s; soldiers who could not even imagine altering the fundamental nature of their armed service (like an entirely unmanned air force) and would get angry when forced to discuss it. It's not inconceivable that soldiers would be angry with Rumsfeld for tampering with their livelihoods. This is not to say that the soldiers are wrong in their assessments of Rumsfeld; it only means that we need not treat the advice and opinions of soldiers, even generals, as gospel from on high. Of course, they have expertise and knowledge that civilians must respect and often can never fully share. But, as with everyone else, their opinions and suggestions must be judged and analyzed, not just blindly accepted.

Furthermore, it is always troubling to some degree when soldiers inject themselves into the political process. A fundamental principle of liberal democracy is a separation of the military and political branches. This separation must be complete; the military cannot be involved in making political decisions, even when those decisions are poor. The military must, of course, provide advice to the decisionmakers, and must be honest in their appraisals of the situation. But, ultimately, theirs is not to decide but serve. This does create a fine line when the civilian decisionmakers are out of their league or making decisions that will have huge impacts and kill many soldiers and innocents. But a politicized military would be much worse.

That said, there does seem to be mounting evidence that Rumsfeld ignored multiple warnings about the size of the force that would be needed to win the second phase of the war. Does that mean he should resign? I don't know. But, the decision is not, and cannot be just about the handling of the war. I have been, and still am, a supporter of the war and remain very very very cautiously optimistic. But mistakes have been made. They are in every war. And sometimes someone has to accept responsibility for those mistakes, whether or not they are truly responsible. Perhaps the time has come for Rumsfeld to step down.

UPDATE: President Bush has given Rumsfeld a strong endorsement, stating that the SecDef has the president's "full support" and that "Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period."

Thursday, April 13, 2006


What Would the New York Times Do? In today's NYT, we find yet another editorial calling for action in Darfur. Noting that "it is enormously distressing to watch the sausage-making that passes for the world's attempt to do something about the carnage in Darfur," the Times lambastes the UN for "dawdling over plans to replace the African Union force currently there with a well-armed U.N. peacekeeping force," asks "Where are the Muslims who took to the streets to protest Danish cartoons? Where are the African leaders who demanded boycotts of South Africa?" castigates "Security Council members, like China, Qatar, Ghana and Tanzania, that continue to give diplomatic cover to Sudan" and praises President Bush for "trying to push the United Nations in the right direction."

Even if the UN does decide to take action, it will likely begin by imposing sanction on Sudan and perhaps on individual Sudanese officials for their roles in the genocide. Such sanctions are unlikely to work, and even if they do, will be cold comfort to those who have already died, or will die waiting for the Sudanese government to feel the pain in its pocketbook. And, it's certainly no guarantee that the UN will even decide to act at all. China and Russia have opposed any and all calls to action and fear setting precedents for international intervention to protect oppressed minorities.

So, What Would The New York Times Do? If one is to be serious about ending genocide, protecting the human security of individuals, and promoting basic levels of human rights, the UN cannot be the preferred option. But, how would the Times react if Bush decided to intervene, either with NATO, an ad-hoc coalition, or (gasp) unilaterally? If the Times seriously cares about ending the conflict in Darfur, it must be willing to support action taken outside of the UN framework. Sad editorials like today's that place hope in the UN and the international community do nothing but assuage guilty consciences and ensure that more people will die while the UN fiddles.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Weakness as Political Power

In today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman has a very interesting column (sr) about how Israel, the US, and the EU should deal with Hamas. Here's the crux of the argument:

Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians have a chance, not perfect, not ideal, but the best chance ever to build something decent of their own, without any Israeli occupation army breathing down their necks, and what are they doing? Mostly fighting each other and lobbing Qassam rockets into Israel, prompting increasingly iron-fisted Israeli retaliations.

Even the E.U. has decided to withhold aid money to the new Hamas-led Palestinian government, and when the Europeans get tough on the Palestinians, you know they really must be acting foolishly. The E.U. said it will not give the Hamas government direct aid or money for the salaries of Palestinian public employees as long as it refuses to abide by previous Palestinian decisions to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

What if Israel, the U.S. and the E.U. are right on principle, but that leads to an even bigger disaster in practice?
So let's just starve them of money until they come to their senses, right? But what if that leads to massive unemployment in the West Bank? Sure, it's Hamas's fault, but Israel will suffer the consequences of having a desperate Palestinian population on its doorstep. Or what if starving Hamas drives it deeper into an alliance with Iran to pay its bills? Can that be in Israel's interest?
So, yes, in principle, Hamas doesn't deserve to be treated like a democratic government. But in practice, Hamas has something Israelis badly want: a cease-fire — not recognition. Israel chose to destroy Yasir Arafat's government and got Hamas. What if it destroys Hamas? What will it get then? I don't know, but the answer is not simple. Designing the right policy to deal with a democratically elected terrorist group that deserves to be spurned but has something you want is not in the textbooks.

Friedman is here identifying one the critical problems in foreign policy: How to deal with an enemy that has something you want. In essence, this is part of almost all foreign policy dilemmas; if a country has nothing you want, it's probably not important enough to be an enemy. So, because Israel (and the US and the EU) ultimately want something from Hamas (Hamas exerting control over the militas and terrorists and maintaining the existing cease-fire), Friedman suggests thatpunishing Hamas for its present behavior may not be the best idea.

This same problem rears its head in other cases as well. Should the US continue to provide food and humanitarian assistance to North Korea? According to a CRS report available here, between 1995 and 2003, the US provided over $1 billion to North Korea, 60% of which was food and the rest in energy assistance. The aid is highly controversial as it no doubt helps the tyrannical regime of Kim Jong-Il maintain his grip over the country. But what might happen if the US was to cut off that aid? Would the regime collapse, flooding China and South Korea with refugees? Would North Korea sell a nuclear weapon or something else equally as dangerous to raise money? Would it lash out with a military strike? The fear of the unknown can be scarier than the danger of the present, making such decisions extremely difficult. Much of the time, existing policies, even if ineffective, are left in place for fear of the results of change.

There is no answer or good suggestion as to how to make decisions such as these. But understanding what makes them difficult is a key step in understanding why politics is such a nasty game. Ultimately, it all comes down to two things: An assessment of national interest and the level of risk-acceptance of the decision makers. Should Israel deal with Hamas before Hamas extends the cease-fire or recognizes Israel, or should Israel cut off funding to the organization hoping that it chooses to moderate itself to win back the money rather than turning even more towards violence? There is no easy way to answer that, but the process has to begin with a conception of national interest and an honest evaluation of the possible consequences of actions on either side.

In this case, it seems to me that giving Hamas a chance to moderate itself and behave like a responsible political party hold little risk for Israel; funds can always be cut off later and Israel enjoys a massive military and strategic advantage over Hamas. At worst, Israel might suffer an extra suicide bombing or two before it could punish Hamas. But starting off by trying to coerce Hamas to overtly change its stripes risks making conditions even worse in Gaza and the West Bank, touching off a third intifada, and scuttling any chances at moving the peace process forward. Let's hope that whatever decision is made, Hamas manages to find away to maintain its actual pragmatism, even in the face of its public rhetoric.

The Future of Iraq's Government

Things seem to have entered a critical stage in Iraq. The insurgents seem to be turning their efforts away from US soldiers in favor of targeting Iraqi army and police forces as well as Iraqi civilians. Meanwhile, four months after the parliamentary elections, Iraq still does not have a prime minister, as the Shiite Alliance continues to support Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a candidate who is completely unacceptable to Kurds and Sunnis alike.

The Iraqi parliament will meet next week to try to form a government. It seems to me that success here is essential. If the Sunnis and Kurds come to believe that their interests can not be met and protected by a Shiite-dominated government, both could withdraw from the political process. While the Kurds are unlikely to engage in a violent breakaway, their participation is important, both to moderate the Shiites as well as to provide a sense of inclusiveness. The Sunni are even more important, as their participation in the government may very well go a long way to determining the future of the Iraqi insurgency. The US and the UK need to lean very heavily on the Shiite Alliance, pressuring if not insisting that Jaafari be replaced.

The Shiites may complain of external interference, but that cry rings hollow. The Iraqi government is not yet capable of maintaining order or power without the support of the US and UK, thus it cannot claim sovereignty for itself (not to mention that the Shiites would still be under the thumb of Hussein if not for external interference). At this stage it is more important that Iraq be pushed in the direction of unity governments than it stand completely on its own two feet. Getting this wrong could doom the entire project, and the stakes are just too high. Bush and Blair need to make this happen.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The New UN Human Rights Council

OK, I'm back from my conference and a bit behind the news, but I wanted to mention an important development that occurred last week. US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton announced that the US will not seek a seat on the new human rights council as, according to Bolton, "[US] leverage in terms of the performance of the new council is greater by the US not running and sending the signal 'this is not business as usual' this year than if we were to run." The decision has been met with congressional criticism from both sides of the aisle as well as from human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which speculate that the decision reflects a fear that the US would not be able to receive a General Assembly majority (96 votes) to receive a seat on the council.

However, as noted in this memo from the Heritage Foundation and as I have previously argued, the council is deeply flawed. As noted in the memo:

The Failures of the Council

U.S. efforts to advance fundamental reform of the Human Rights Commission were blocked, and opponents of reform carried the day in the General Assembly. The final resolution creating the Human Rights Council contains many disappointing aspects:

  • There are no criteria for membership on the Council. New members of the Council will be elected by a simple majority of the General Assembly. No state, no matter how poor its human rights record, is barred from membership—even states under Security Council sanction are not excluded. UN member states are simply instructed that a state’s human rights record should be “taken into account” when they vote for prospective Council members. Some UN member states have pledged to oppose human rights abusers seeking Council membership, but they are unlikely to have the votes necessary to block their election.

  • The peer-review mechanism would not automatically affect eligibility for Council membership. While there is a periodic review requirement for Council members, the review is not tied to a mandatory outcome and there is no guarantee that even countries found complicit in massive and sustained human rights abuses would be censured. While there is a provision for suspending a Council member that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights, that step could be taken only with the agreement of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly. Not even 50 percent of the General Assembly could agree that Sudan was guilty of human rights violations in November 2005; reaching this threshold would be near impossible.

  • There is only a minimal reduction in membership from the old chr. Instead of a smaller, more streamlined body designed to attract the best members of each regional group, the resolution makes only a minimal reduction in membership, from 53 members to 47.

  • The resolution significantly shifts the balance of power away from the Western regional group. The African and Asian groups will hold 55 percent of the votes. The proportional representation of the Asian group will see the greatest increase, and the Western European and Others Group (which includes the United States) the greatest decline. Indeed, the Western group absorbed half of the total reduction of 6 seats, despite that the group is composed mostly of free democracies that observe fundamental human rights and freedoms and support those policies abroad. The end result is to reduce the voice of countries likely to promote human rights.

  • Special sessions of the Commission can be called by only one-third of the Council’s membership. Hailed as an improved capacity to deal with urgent human rights situations, the composition of the new Council will make it more likely that special sessions will be about the United States and Israel than about China or Sudan.

  • The Council has a mandate to follow up goals and commitments “emanating from U.N. conferences and summits.” Many of these do not have universal support and lack legal standing.

  • The resolution erodes the well-established standard of freedom of speech. A last-minute addition in response to the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Danish cartoons affair places an emphasis on roles and responsibilities rather than explicitly endorsing freedom of speech.

As I see it, the question is: Should the US join a flawed institution for the sake of multilateralism and try to effect change from within, or stay out of the council all together? I agree with Bolton and the administration in preferring the latter option. The UN human rights bodies have been some of the most ineffective and embarrasing examples of the failures and inadequacies of international law and the new council proves to be no different. China, Cuba, and Iran have already announced their intentions to run for seats, and there is no reason to think that some, if not all, of them will be voted in.

Furthermore, as the New York Times article cited above mentions, the US plans to observe the council, especially who is voted on to it, for a year and will consider running for a seat then. This gives the council a chance to self-regulate by enforcing even a bare minimum of human rights standards as criteria for membership. If it cannot, it can be surmised that the US would choose to avoid the council entirely.

Now, or a year from now, is as good a time as any for the US to start moving away from the sovereign equality of the UN and begin building some meaningful components of international society. Creating a human rights body outside of the UN structure that can offer some real incentives to join and comply would be a step that would advance both US and international interests. Let's hope that Bush and Bolton use this opportunity to accomplish something important rather than as an example of the kind of "senseless unilateralism" that Max Boot warns against.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Blogging Vacation

Security Dilemmas will go dark for the next few days, as I'm leaving the now-sunny and lovely Tacoma for the sunnier climes of southern California. I will be attending the Are We At War? conference at the School of Law of Chapman University. My paper is entitled "Presidential War-Powers in a Never-Ending War" and is part of a panel on Separation of Powers and Presidential Authority. The whole conference is being live web-cast: go here to watch. My panel is at 1:45 on Friday.

Saddam's Defense

Saddam Hussein took the stand in a cross-examination in the massacre of 148 Shiites in the village of Dujail in 1982. Unsurprisingly, Hussein's defense rests on his power as the sovereign ruler of Iraq. Hussein admits that his government executed dozens of Shiites in Dujail, but that doing so was legal because the victims had been involved in an assassination plot against Hussein. This mirrors the defense of the now-deceased former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who claimed that the acts he committed were done in response to a Kosovar revolt against Serbian sovereign authority.

This, of course, is why it is so difficult to prosecute sovereign rulers for these sorts of crimes. The question is not, and cannot be, whether we approve of Hussein's rule and regime, the Iraqi system of justice under Hussein, the death penalty, or any thing other than whether Hussein violated his power as the political leader of Iraq. The ruler of any country has the power to enforce its laws and hold his country together. Hopefully, the court will be able to demonstrate that these people were killed as a reprisal and had nothing to do with any plot. But it's very likely that that question will not be able to be answered one way or another. Which brings me back to the point I've blogged about many times: Should Hussein go free if his crimes can't be "proven?" My answer has been and still is no.

UPDATE: Over at Opinio Juris, Kevin Jon Heller has an excellent post pointing out that, at the time of the Dujail executions:
at the time of the attempt on his life, the maximum penalty for attempted assassination of the President of Iraq was life imprisonment. Paragraph 223 of the Iraqi Penal Code of 1969 prescribes death for murdering the President. Paragraph 31(1), however, expressly provides that the punishment for attempting a felony punishable by death is not death but life imprisonment.

In light of Paragraph 31(1), it is clear that Saddam did not have the authority to order the executions even if the villagers were involved in the assassination attempt. By signing the execution order, therefore, Saddam essentially admitted that he committed willful murder as that charge is defined by the Article 12(1)(A) of the IHT Statute.
Assuming Heller is right, Hussein's defense seems to have provided the prosecution with the rope with which to hang him. Literally.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Genocide Charges Against Hussein

Saddam Hussein has been charged with genocide, stemming from Operation Anfal, a military operation against Kurds in northern Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. It was during Operation Anfal that Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurdish village of Halabja, although Halabja will not be part of these charges.

According to the investigating judge who filed the charges, "[The Kurds] were subjected to forced displacement and illegal detention involving thousands of civilians. They were placed in different detention centers. The villages were destroyed and burned. Homes and houses of worshippers and buildings of civilians were leveled without reason or a military requirement."

However, it's possible that these charges will never be heard in court. Hussein is currently standing trial for the murder of more than 100 Iraqi Shiites in the town of Dujail, and if he is found guilty, will almost certainly face the death penalty. The question is: Will Iraq go ahead with the sentence immediately, or will Hussein stand trial for his other myriad crimes?

I'm sympathetic to either perpsective. On one hand, there is a strong interest in airing the scope and nature of Hussein's crimes. On the other hand, Hussein has been able to make a near-mockery of the current proceedings, and the longer he remains alive, the longer he is able to serve as a focal point for the Iraqi insurgency (at least for the Sunni part). I'm ultimately not sure which path I support...but I do look forward to the sight of Hussein swinging from a gallows.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Tables Are Turning In Iraq

Up until very recently, much of the political pressure for the future of Iraq lay with the Sunnis; the question was whether or not the Sunni political groups could come to believe that their interests were in joining the formal political process rather than with the insurgency. Now, it seems that this burden has been shifted. The Sunnis seem to be willing to join a government that they believe sufficiently protects their interests and future. Now the question is whether the Shiites will compromise to allow such a government to exist.

In the wake of bombing of the Askariya shrine and the looming possibility of the civil war, the Shiites had stubbornly been insisting on Ibrahim al-Jaafari to serve as prime minister. al-Jaafari has the support of some powerful Shiite forces, including Moqtada al-Sadr, but is not seen as an acceptable option to the Sunnis.

Now, pressure is increasing on the Shiite political parties to replace al-Jaafari as the choice for prime minister. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw (and no, he's not from Wichita) are today demanding that the Iraqi parliament form a unified government as soon as possible and that, seeing that al-Jaafari has been unable so far to create a government since his election on February 12, he be replaced as prime minister. But the pressue is not just coming from outside of Iraq. The single most powerful Shiite politica bloc, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, has agreed, asking al-Jaafari to resign. According to al-Hakim's top deputy, "the prime minister should have national consensus inside the Parliament and he should have the support of the international body." al-Sadr's bloc appears to be maintaining its support for al-Jaafari, but it's not yet clear where powerful Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani stands on the question.

It certainly is good news that the Shiites seem to be increasingly aware of the need to co-opt the Sunnis and build a political establishment that can include and protect all Iraqis. The US and the UK need to keep the pressures on both sides. Of course, there is the possibility, which has existed all along, of civil war within the Shiite factions, as both al-Hakim and al-Sadr possess large militias. But this will likely have to happen at some point in Iraq's political maturation anyway; no government can function if it doesn't enjoy a monopoly of violence. The Shiite militias will need to be disarmed at some point, as the government can't exist under the constant threat of collapse or violence. Perhaps better now than later?