January 22, 2006

Syria decries Hariri probe ‘bias’ (BBC, 1/22/06)

The Syrian president has repeated criticism that the UN inquiry into the killing of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri is biased against Syria.

In Liberty’s Century there is indeed bias against you if you’re a totalitarian–get over it.


January 15, 2006

A Nation of Pre-emptors? (DAVID RIEFF, 1/15/06, NY Times Magazine)

The fact that political debate over the U.S. intervention in Iraq breaks down largely along party lines, with Republicans generally in favor and Democrats skeptical or opposed, has tended to obscure the fact that American interventionism has historically been a bipartisan impulse. Indeed, far less separates the parties than it might seem from the current polarized discourse in Washington. For all their scruples about the Iraq adventure, few Democrats question the idea that it is right for the United States to “promote” democracy in the world, by force if necessary. It could hardly be otherwise. As George W. Bush has pointed out, nation-building was a principal foreign-policy cornerstone of the Clinton administration.

Nonetheless, the pervasive sense that the Bush administration bungled the mission in Iraq has led Democrats to play down their own ideas about reshaping the global order. Recently, however, a number of Democratic foreign-policy analysts have tried to reinvigorate their party’s internationalist traditions. In a series of articles, Ivo Daalder and James Steinberg, both of whom held senior positions in the Clinton administration, have argued that “states have a responsibility to head off internal developments – acquiring weapons of mass destruction and harboring terrorists, to name two – that pose a threat to the security of other states.” If they do not do so, outside powers may and sometimes must intervene. “It would be unfortunate,” they write, “if President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption were a casualty of the Iraq war.” For them, “conditional sovereignty” is “central to a new norm of state responsibility.” Implicit in their argument is the view that nondemocratic states are especially likely to breed threats. For this reason, the lack of democracy may itself pose a security problem – a notion that Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, once summed up when he declared that “the spread of our values makes us safer.”

At first glance, such a foreign policy combines the best of Wilsonian moralism and sober realism. What could be wrong with a global consensus supporting action against states that commit crimes against their own citizens or maintain a nasty habit of supporting terrorists or seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction? But the sad fact is that what at first may seem morally obvious may prove to be morally ambiguous as well. The problem is that it is probably not the “international community” that will be doing the intervening; it is particular states – above all, the United States and its allies. And as the international reaction to the Iraq war so painfully demonstrated, the gap between the international perception of the legitimacy of America’s actions and the American view could scarcely be greater.

The Bush administration has claimed that the essential question is not whether an intervention is unilateral or multilateral, United Nations-sanctioned or not, but whether it is right or wrong. Agree or disagree, it is a coherent position: the world needs American leadership, and America must provide it.

The new theorists of conditional sovereignty share this benign vision of American power.

The one condition placed on modern sovereignty is that America approve of your regime.


January 1, 2006

A mixed year for a valiant Arab people (Rami G. Khouri, December 31, 2005, Daily Star)

A look back at eventful 2005 in the Middle East shows three broad and significant developments in historical terms, related to the citizen, the state and the foreign powers that intervened in the region. Important changes are underway at all three of these levels of identity discernable today, though we need not predict where they will lead.

The most positive development has seen the citizen in many Arab countries start to rebel against the many indignities and inequities that he or she has endured in silence for decades – mostly variations of abuse of power by unelected, unaccountable elites from their own country or abroad. […]

Changes at the level of states were largely negative this year, the most troubling one being the continued fragmentation of 20th-century sovereign Arab states into much more brittle collections of ethnic, religious and tribal groups. […]

The Arab state is in the midst of being fractured, retribalized and redefined into much smaller configurations. Three principal causes of this process would seem to be: the largely incompetent, often brutal rule practiced by the reining Sunni Arab-dominated power elites during the past half century, a clear Israeli penchant for weakening Arab states and promoting the emergence of smaller, weaker minorities with whom it can engage to its advantage (as it has done for years with Kurds in Iraq and some right-wing groups in Lebanon), and, the current American formalization of ethnic politics in Iraq as a possible model for the entire region.

This leads to the third important trend that has defined the Middle East this year, but without clear indications of whether the end results will be positive or negative for the people of the region. This is the stepped up international direct engagement in the internal affairs of countries, including Arab states, Iran and Turkey.

The Arab states were artificial creations of the Europeans, left to dictatorial rule by Realist elites who didn’t care about the people so long as they were kept quiet. Engagement by an idealist America means those states get broken apart and the dictators removed to be replaced by self-determined, democratic entities. The idea of sovereignty is collateral damage.


December 17, 2005

UN stages rare Burma discussion (Susannah Price, 12/17/05, BBC)

The United Nations Security Council has held a rare discussion of Burma.

Council members heard a briefing from a senior UN official and held talks behind closed doors.

The UK ambassador to the UN said that despite disagreement over whether Burma was a threat to peace and security, all showed concern about the situation. […]

Denmark’s ambassador to the UN, Ellen Margrethe Loj, said the briefing was a clear signal that the world had not forgotten the suffering of Burma.

The United States and the United Kingdom, among others, have argued that Burma should be taken up by the Security Council because drugs trafficking and refugees make it a threat to international peace and security.

But other countries say its record is an internal issue.

As long as there’s an America, denial of God-given rights will never be an internal issue.

Myanmar Back on U.N. Agenda: The Security Council discusses problems in the military-run Southeast Asian country after being prodded by the U.S. and Britain. (Maggie Farley, December 17, 2005, LA Times)

[D]iplomats said the United States and Britain argued in the closed-door meeting that conditions within the country destabilized the region, as refugees, drugs and slave labor flowed across its borders.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said that despite disagreement about whether those problems constitute an international threat, the meeting was an important first step. […]

Additional pressure to address Myanmar came from a September report commissioned by Desmond Tutu, another Nobel peace laureate, and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. […]

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Asian leaders for action during a recent trip to an economic summit in South Korea.

This week, the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations authorized Malaysia’s foreign minister to visit Myanmar to push for “tangible results” in the country’s democratic reforms.

Myanmar has produced a seven-stage road map toward free elections and held a constitutional convention earlier this month, but without Suu Kyi’s opposition party.

One of the conditions imposed by China and like-minded countries was that the Security Council discussion of Myanmar be a one-time event.

Discussions regarding politically sensitive situations in Sudan and Zimbabwe faced similar resistance by China and Russia, which generally object to interference in a country’s internal affairs, as well as African countries.

But Britain and the U.S. slipped them onto the agenda, and now problems in both African countries are being addressed by the council.


December 11, 2005

Remembrance day: Kanan Makiya wants his fellow Iraqis to remember what Saddam Hussein did to them, and what they did to each other (Chris Berdik, December 11, 2005, Boston Globe)

Profiled in these pages in November 2002, [Kanan] Makiya was an outspoken and influential supporter of invading Iraq on moral grounds-to rid his native land of Hussein and strike a blow for democracy in a region long dominated by dictatorships and the Islamic extremism they spawned. Allied with the controversial Ahmed Chalabi, then head of the pro-war exile group the Iraqi National Congress and now a deputy prime minister of Iraq, Makiya had the ear of the White House, and in January 2003 he assured President Bush that Iraqis would greet American troops ”with sweets and flowers.”

But nothing about post-invasion Iraq has been as simple as Makiya and others anticipated, and his argument for a liberal-democratic war has been severely tested. […]

Over coffee recently in his Cambridge home, surrounded by books shelved from floor to ceiling, and with traces of the Memory Foundation’s work sitting in file boxes marked ”documents” and ”oral histories,” Makiya spoke of the prospects for a new Iraq and the importance of acknowledging the crimes of the past. A democratic Iraq, says Makiya, ”can only arise in a society that is aware of its own frailties and limitations-that is aware of what it did to itself.”

IDEAS: Have your personal views of liberal intervention changed in the aftermath of the invasion?

MAKIYA: I got a number of things wrong, in retrospect. But calling for an intervention, a war, to unseat this regime in Iraq was not one of them. Among my mistakes were underestimating the Baath Party, underestimating the damage done by the sanctions, misjudging the extent to which the state institutions would survive…. But [Iraq] truly was 25 million people without a possibility of hope…. That situation needed a resolution.

In the run-up to the war, I was saying that even if there was just a 5 percent chance of success to build a democracy in Iraq, I thought it was a risk worth taking. Iraq may be a troubled country, may be a country going in all sorts of directions at once, but it is a country that is learning, like an infant in swaddling clothes, to walk in politics for the first time.

[The war] did not go in the facile and simple way that some of us may have painted in the run-up to the war. It turned out to be far more complicated. But that doesn’t mean yet that we can make a judgment as to whether we were in error. It will take another generation to judge that in Iraq.

IDEAS: What do you believe is fueling the insurgency now?

MAKIYA: The insurgency is about an old order, that perhaps we underestimated before the war-people like myself underestimated it-that is now at war with the emergent order that was made possible by the US war and occupation of Iraq. At its essence [it] is about Iraqis fighting other Iraqis. It’s an incipient civil war.

If universal liberal democracy were easily achieved it woiuldn’t have taken us 6,009 years…and counting….


December 2, 2005

UAE to Hold Elections to National Council (Arab News, 2 December 2005)

The United Arab Emirates yesterday announced partial elections to the Federal National Council (FNC). The announcement was made on the eve of the country’s national day and 13 months after the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan Al-Nahayan, passed away. […]

The move comes amid growing American pressure on Arab countries to adopt democracy. […]

Sheikh Khalifa said the move aimed at allowing wider participation of the citizens of the country in decision-making. “Through a gradual, organized course, we have decided to start activating the role of the FNC through electing half of its members through councils for each emirate and appointing the other half,’’ Sheikh Khalifa said.

“By doing this, we will embark on a march that culminates into more participation and interaction from all the citizen of the country,” he said.

Reality is what we make it.


December 2, 2005

Go Your Own Way (MARTIN INDYK, 12/02/05, NY Times)

American interests might be better served by mustering international support for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza first. Egypt is already quietly adopting the role of custodian in Gaza, putting Egyptian colonels in control of Palestinian border brigades, training the security services and leaning on terrorist organizations to cease their activities. With Egypt in the lead, the international community could help rebuild the institutions of governance in Gaza and reconstruct its economy. At the same time, Mr. Wolfensohn could focus his considerable energies on helping Gazans reorient their trade through Egyptian ports, across a border that is no longer controlled by Israel, and on generating foreign investment in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration could prepare to negotiate with the next Israeli government over the extent of its withdrawal from the West Bank and the Arab suburbs of East Jerusalem. American negotiators should pay close attention to how a West Bank withdrawal will affect the contiguity of Palestinian territory and its connection to East Jerusalem.

This process is not a substitute for hammering out a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, which could be facilitated once a Palestinian state in Gaza extends its writ to the newly liberated areas of the West Bank. Rather, such steps would constitute a recognition that practical separation – between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Gaza and the West Bank – may serve as a precursor to peace. Only when Egyptians and Jordanians put their own separate interests first was peace forged between those countries and Israel. Perhaps the time has come for Gazans to do the same.

Funny how unilateral democratic hawkishness has become the default position when just a few years ago it was irresponsible.


November 22, 2005

Politics trumps diplomacy in UN reform dispute (Warren Hoge, 11/22/05, The New York Times)

At issue is how management-reform proposals that would broaden the power of the secretary general’s office are being pressed assertively by Bolton and aggravating tensions between the 191-member General Assembly, with its entrenched bureaucracy, and the office of the secretary general.

“It looks like it could be a real train wreck,” said Edward Luck, a professor of international affairs at Columbia University in New York and a former president of the UN Association of the United States. “It’s a basic clash over who’s in charge: Is it the General Assembly or is it the secretary general?”

The clash is being seen in crisis terms in the offices of Secretary General Kofi Annan. “This is serious stuff,” said Mark Malloch Brown, Annan’s chief of staff. “I think in many ways it is setting the outcome of whether the United Nations matters or not in 10 years’ time.” […]

Distrust has deepened in the debate over change because many nations believe that the secretary general’s office has been tacking too close to the United States in its effort to repair relations with Washington that were damaged over the war in Iraq and the scandal-ridden oil-for-food program.

“One gets the impression that other countries are suspicious that the secretary general and his aides are really puppets being manipulated by Washington,” Luck said.

The only chance the UN has to matter in the future is by tacking to our line and joining the fight to make states conform to Anglo-American of democratic legitimacy.


November 22, 2005

The dogs that never barked: International peacekeeping efforts have gone largely unnoticed despite successes. (Gareth Evans, November 22, 2005, LA Times)

Contrary to what just about everybody instinctively believes, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of conflicts, down 40% since the early 1990s. There were just 25 armed secessionist conflicts underway in 2004, the lowest number since 1976, according to the meticulously documented Human Security Report 2005, a new multi-government study (

The number of mass killings has fallen 80% since the late 1980s, according to the report. And around the world, there has been a spectacular increase in the number of civil conflicts resolved — as in Indonesia’s separatist Aceh province this year — not by force but by negotiation.

There are many reasons for these turnarounds. They include the end of the era of colonialism, the aftermath of which generated two-thirds or more of all wars from the 1950s to the 1980s. The end of the Cold War meant no more proxy wars fueled by Washington or Moscow, and it also hastened the demise of a number of authoritarian governments that each side had been propping up and that had generated significant internal resentment and resistance.

But the best explanation is the one that stares us in the face: the huge increase in international efforts to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts.

The world recognized History had Ended fifteen years ago and the Soviet Union (“the focus of evil in the modern world“) with it, so how could conflicts not decline?


November 15, 2005

Can the U.S. find a substitute for the U.N.? (Betsy Pisik, 11/15/05, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

America’s representative at the United Nations said yesterday that the organization must become better at solving problems and more responsive to U.S. concerns or Washington will seek other venues for international action. […]

He added: “In the United States, there is a broadly shared view that the U.N. is one of many potential instruments to advance U.S. issues, and we have to decide whether a particular issue is best done through the U.N. or best done through some other mechanism. …

“The U.N. is one of many competitors in a marketplace of global problem solving,” Mr. Bolton said. That realization “should be an incentive for the organization to reform.”

One alternative, he said, is for regional organizations to play a larger role. He praised the Organization of American States for its work in Haiti and said he would like the African Union to take on greater responsibilities in Africa.

In one of the essays included in our forthcoming book, Jonathan Rauch discusses how some of the spadework has already been done on forming a democratic caucus within the UN, Voting Bloc: In Geneva, the U.N.’s successor may be testing its wings (Jonathan Rauch, 3/22/04, Reason). Max Kampelman has likewise written about the idea, A Caucus of Democracies: How to reform the U.N. (MAX M. KAMPELMAN, January 6, 2004, Opinion Journal)

The U.N. today remains far short of realizing its potential or its stated aspirations. Its direction and control have been hijacked by authoritarian regimes, the relics of yesterday. We must work diligently toward realizing its original goals: freedom, democracy and human rights for all the peoples of the world. Until then, with our national values and security at stake, we must not permit our interests to be diverted and undermined by the unprincipled.

At a minimum, it is essential that the U.S. take the lead in establishing and strengthening a Caucus of Democratic States committed to advancing the U.N.’s assigned role for world peace, human dignity and democracy. The recently established Community of Democracies (CD) has called for this move, a recommendation jointly supported in a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations and Freedom House.

In June 2000, the U.S., under the leadership of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and in cooperation with Poland, Chile, Mali and other democratic states, convened the first meeting of the CD to “collaborate on democratic-related issues in existing international and regional institutions . . . aimed at the promotion of democratic government.” More than 100 countries participated. It was necessary for the CD to withhold full membership from some countries that sought to be included but did not adequately meet democratic standards. A second such meeting took place in Seoul in November 2002, where participants reaffirmed the need to create a U.N. Caucus of Democratic States. Secretary of State Colin Powell called it “a new tool in the U.S. policy tool bag.” A third meeting of the CD is scheduled for Chile in 2005. The CD could be effective in refocusing the efforts of the U.N. to more closely follow its founding principles. At the same time, the CD is uniquely capable of filling the gaps left by the U.N.’s inadequacies, both internally and externally. But the CD’s existence seems to be a great secret in the press. How often have you read about it?

The Community of Democracies is not alone in recognizing the need for more ardent advocacy of democratic principles in the U.N. The European Parliament early last year called for the creation of a working democratic caucus at the Human Rights Commission. Recently, Sen. Joseph Biden introduced a resolution in the Senate in support of the establishment of a U.N Democratic Caucus as “an idea whose time has come.” It would be enormously valuable for the president of the United States to address the American people and enunciate a strong overall policy on the U.N., its opportunities and its limitations. He should make clear that broad promises about human rights must be replaced by specific implementation of human rights standards.

In order to advance the principles of the U.N. Charter, a strong Democratic Caucus must emphasize human dignity as an essential ingredient for peace and stability. It must challenge and limit the influence of the regional blocs that, for example, decide on the rotating membership of the Security Council and the various U.N. missions and commissions. Decisions and resolutions of the heavily politicized General Assembly–including the selection of states for commissions and other U.N. activities–should be formally approved by the Security Council before being considered decisions of the U.N. This would provide a safeguard for the U.N. Charter’s foundational principles and objectives. More difficult is the need to reorganize the composition of the Security Council itself to reflect today’s realities and not those of 50 years ago.

A strong case may be made for the need for an international body to which all of the world’s states, democratic and authoritarian, belong. Discussion and constructive exchange may flow from it. But let us not bestow on it the appearance of being a forum of principle or wisdom qualified to judge the dimension of our national welfare and value. The changes necessary in the U.N. will be difficult to achieve, and some may not be achieved at all. But the impetus for such change must be a commitment to human rights and democracy. We should put Kofi Annan’s statement to the test: “When the U.N. can truly call itself a Community of Democracies, the Charter’s noble ideas of protecting human rights . . . will have been brought much closer.”