Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 4, 2007

More UN Fumbling

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Burma yesterday. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said his diplomat would try to further “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators.” This is Gambari’s second trip to the nation since countrywide protests in September, and it follows his Asia shuttle diplomacy that the Washington Post characterized yesterday as “time-wasting busywork.”

Specifically, Gambari will continue his efforts to initiate a dialogue between the junta that has misruled Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the opposition. After crushing the recent demonstrations, it’s hard to see why the generals, led by the notorious Than Shwe, would concede any ground. In fact, they just ordered the expulsion of the chief UN diplomat in the country, Charles Petrie, for his mild comments last month about the odious regime. In response to the government’s harsh response, the best that Ban could manage is to issue a statement saying that he is “disappointed.”

Well, the rest of us may be more than just a little peeved. We have moved beyond the point of wanting to talk to the junta and no longer wish to see Burma’s leaders trifle with the UN (even if Ban is perfectly content to let his organization be humiliated). In short, it’s time to call for a sanctions vote in the Security Council. Economic isolation is the one thing that can end this particular blot on humanity in fairly short order. After all, Petrie is being turfed out for linking the recent protests to deteriorating economic conditions. It was unhappiness over the doubling of gas prices that triggered the last round of Burmese protests.

It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions. And if tougher measures fail in the U.N. because Beijing, the regime’s main benefactor, exercises another veto, President Bush can try to rally the rest of the international community. If he’s looking for a legacy, then this is the moment to exercise the leadership of which he is still capable.

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Burma yesterday. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said his diplomat would try to further “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators.” This is Gambari’s second trip to the nation since countrywide protests in September, and it follows his Asia shuttle diplomacy that the Washington Post characterized yesterday as “time-wasting busywork.”

Specifically, Gambari will continue his efforts to initiate a dialogue between the junta that has misruled Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the opposition. After crushing the recent demonstrations, it’s hard to see why the generals, led by the notorious Than Shwe, would concede any ground. In fact, they just ordered the expulsion of the chief UN diplomat in the country, Charles Petrie, for his mild comments last month about the odious regime. In response to the government’s harsh response, the best that Ban could manage is to issue a statement saying that he is “disappointed.”

Well, the rest of us may be more than just a little peeved. We have moved beyond the point of wanting to talk to the junta and no longer wish to see Burma’s leaders trifle with the UN (even if Ban is perfectly content to let his organization be humiliated). In short, it’s time to call for a sanctions vote in the Security Council. Economic isolation is the one thing that can end this particular blot on humanity in fairly short order. After all, Petrie is being turfed out for linking the recent protests to deteriorating economic conditions. It was unhappiness over the doubling of gas prices that triggered the last round of Burmese protests.

It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions. And if tougher measures fail in the U.N. because Beijing, the regime’s main benefactor, exercises another veto, President Bush can try to rally the rest of the international community. If he’s looking for a legacy, then this is the moment to exercise the leadership of which he is still capable.

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Waterboarding, Elsewhere

My friend Bing West, a former Marine and assistant secretary of defense who currently writes for The Atlantic, makes some important points in the Small Wars Journal regarding the contentious issue of waterboarding.

Much of the debate so far has focused on whether American interrogators should use harsh techniques such as waterboarding on high-level terrorist detainees. Michael Mukasey’s failure to flatly state that such practices are illegal has put his bid to be attorney general in serious jeopardy. Whatever you think of waterboarding and the like, there is another side to this issue which isn’t getting much attention, one that involves the actions of our allies.

West notes that when he was an adviser in South Vietnam in 1966 he saw a village police chief named Thanh using “what is now called waterboarding, rubbing lye soap into a wet cloth and placing it across the face of the prisoner. I never saw a prisoner die or not be able to walk out of that room. But they talked. I reported it and our orders were to keep the Marines in our Combined Action Platoon out of that room.”

Our advisers in Iraq don’t have the same option of turning a blind eye. As West notes: “Today, 40 years later, the order would be for the American adviser to physically stop Thanh and to bring him up on charges.” As West notes, that is a misguided attempt to impose our cultural norms elsewhere—you might even call it “cultural imperialism.”

“Neither our advisers nor our military units are involved in waterboarding or other such techniques, be they labeled ‘torture’, or ‘harsh interrogation’ or whatever the vernacular,” he notes. But we should be more tolerant if our allies, who are fighting for their lives and that of their families, practice a harsher brand of counterinsurgency than we’re comfortable with.

My friend Bing West, a former Marine and assistant secretary of defense who currently writes for The Atlantic, makes some important points in the Small Wars Journal regarding the contentious issue of waterboarding.

Much of the debate so far has focused on whether American interrogators should use harsh techniques such as waterboarding on high-level terrorist detainees. Michael Mukasey’s failure to flatly state that such practices are illegal has put his bid to be attorney general in serious jeopardy. Whatever you think of waterboarding and the like, there is another side to this issue which isn’t getting much attention, one that involves the actions of our allies.

West notes that when he was an adviser in South Vietnam in 1966 he saw a village police chief named Thanh using “what is now called waterboarding, rubbing lye soap into a wet cloth and placing it across the face of the prisoner. I never saw a prisoner die or not be able to walk out of that room. But they talked. I reported it and our orders were to keep the Marines in our Combined Action Platoon out of that room.”

Our advisers in Iraq don’t have the same option of turning a blind eye. As West notes: “Today, 40 years later, the order would be for the American adviser to physically stop Thanh and to bring him up on charges.” As West notes, that is a misguided attempt to impose our cultural norms elsewhere—you might even call it “cultural imperialism.”

“Neither our advisers nor our military units are involved in waterboarding or other such techniques, be they labeled ‘torture’, or ‘harsh interrogation’ or whatever the vernacular,” he notes. But we should be more tolerant if our allies, who are fighting for their lives and that of their families, practice a harsher brand of counterinsurgency than we’re comfortable with.

Read Less