Commentary Magazine


Topic: Congo

How the West Can Help Congo

New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman has a good summary of Congo’s never-ending civil war, which recently heated up when Rwanda-backed rebels captured and briefly held Goma, a large town in the east. Gettleman writes:

Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight.

The problem, obviously, is that Congo has been plagued by egregious misgovernment and pervasive lack of security ever since winning independence. It goes without saying that colonial rule was awful in many respects–Congo was particularly savagely mistreated by Belgium’s King Leopold II in the late 19th century. Its condition only slightly improved when it went from being the king’s personal property to an official Belgian colony. But for all their sins (and there were many) the Belgians at least managed to keep the trains running more or less on time. Now those same trains are rotting away and the lack of transportation makes it impossible to get Congo’s rich agricultural bounty to market.

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New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman has a good summary of Congo’s never-ending civil war, which recently heated up when Rwanda-backed rebels captured and briefly held Goma, a large town in the east. Gettleman writes:

Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight.

The problem, obviously, is that Congo has been plagued by egregious misgovernment and pervasive lack of security ever since winning independence. It goes without saying that colonial rule was awful in many respects–Congo was particularly savagely mistreated by Belgium’s King Leopold II in the late 19th century. Its condition only slightly improved when it went from being the king’s personal property to an official Belgian colony. But for all their sins (and there were many) the Belgians at least managed to keep the trains running more or less on time. Now those same trains are rotting away and the lack of transportation makes it impossible to get Congo’s rich agricultural bounty to market.

Unfortunately Joseph Kabila, Congo’s president since 2001, has appeared unwilling or unable to fix the terrible corruption and incompetence that plagues his government and especially his army, whose soldiers appear more interested in drink and plunder than in keeping law and order. In this respect he hasn’t been much of an improvement over his predecessor, Laurent Kabila, who in turn wasn’t much of an improvement over Congo’s longtime strongman, Mobutu Sese Seko (who preferred to called his country Zaire).

What is particularly shocking about the depths to which Congo has sunk is that the outside world has made attempts to alleviate its misery–but they have been utterly ineffectual. As Gettleman notes, there are 20,000 UN peacekeepers in Congo but they are doing precious little to keep the peace. Barring a sudden Western desire to intervene with high-quality troops (as unlikely a contingency as one can imagine) it is hard to imagine any salvation for Congo unless its government can somehow establish its authority with a semi-competent military force.

As I have argued before, the only realistic way to achieve that goal would be to hire foreign security companies to train Congo’s armed forces and, quite probably, to take part in combat themselves. Rather than sending their own troops, Western nations could foot the bills for a mercenary outfit that could draw on well-trained veterans of the South African, British, American, and other armies. (I note that very soon, thanks to cuts in the defense budget, a lot of veterans of America’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will be out of work.) Mercenaries have proven effective in Sierra Leone but there is an opprobrium to their use which has kept that example from being emulated in Congo. So the world is instead consigning Congo to a continuing hell. Sure, mercenaries have their downsides–they have pillaged African states in the past. But Congo has already been pillaged and will continue to be pillaged unless some unorthodox thinking is applied to try to find a solution.

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Human Rights Policy Gone Mad

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

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Better for the Patient to Suffer than to Be Treated by Israelis?

Anyone who thinks the primary concern of human rights organizations is the welfare of the people they are trying to help should consider this report on Israel’s medical mission to Congo.

Last week, four Israeli burn specialists arrived in Congo to treat survivors of the fuel truck explosion that killed 235 people on July 2 — a mission organized and funded by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. They were not the first foreign doctors on the scene, but they were the first burn specialists, and the first to come with specialized equipment for treating burns. As such, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Congolese; President Joseph Kabila even phoned to thank them personally.

One might have expected them to be equally welcomed by the doctors already on the scene, a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres. After all, the MSF doctors had traveled all the way to the remote town of Sange to help the victims; surely they would be glad to see specialists with specialized equipment, who could help their patients in ways they themselves could not.

So when Haaretz’s reporter heard from the Israeli team that the MSF doctors — whose organization has repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes” against the Palestinians — “treated them coolly and suspiciously at first,” with a Belgian doctor even telling them “there are obvious political sensitivities” about working together, he naturally sought confirmation from the source. The Israelis could easily have been misinterpreting a naturally restrained European style as a cold shoulder or overreacting to a remark not intended to offend.

But when he tried to ask the MSF doctors, they informed him that they were forbidden to speak with him without permission from their head office. And when he then tried to contact the head office, it never responded to his request.

In other words, neither the MSF doctors on the scene nor the MSF head-office staff could bring themselves to say something as banal as “Yes, we’re glad to see our Congolese patients getting proper specialist care regardless of who the caregivers are.”

A social activist from that region of Congo, Jean-Michel Bolima, had no such problems. “Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable,” he declared.

But MSF, it seems, would rather see its patients continue to suffer than deal with the cognitive dissonance of discovering that, far from fitting neatly into its designated pigeonhole as the world’s pariah, Israel, by the very standards MSF claims to uphold, can often be downright “admirable.”

Anyone who thinks the primary concern of human rights organizations is the welfare of the people they are trying to help should consider this report on Israel’s medical mission to Congo.

Last week, four Israeli burn specialists arrived in Congo to treat survivors of the fuel truck explosion that killed 235 people on July 2 — a mission organized and funded by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. They were not the first foreign doctors on the scene, but they were the first burn specialists, and the first to come with specialized equipment for treating burns. As such, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Congolese; President Joseph Kabila even phoned to thank them personally.

One might have expected them to be equally welcomed by the doctors already on the scene, a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres. After all, the MSF doctors had traveled all the way to the remote town of Sange to help the victims; surely they would be glad to see specialists with specialized equipment, who could help their patients in ways they themselves could not.

So when Haaretz’s reporter heard from the Israeli team that the MSF doctors — whose organization has repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes” against the Palestinians — “treated them coolly and suspiciously at first,” with a Belgian doctor even telling them “there are obvious political sensitivities” about working together, he naturally sought confirmation from the source. The Israelis could easily have been misinterpreting a naturally restrained European style as a cold shoulder or overreacting to a remark not intended to offend.

But when he tried to ask the MSF doctors, they informed him that they were forbidden to speak with him without permission from their head office. And when he then tried to contact the head office, it never responded to his request.

In other words, neither the MSF doctors on the scene nor the MSF head-office staff could bring themselves to say something as banal as “Yes, we’re glad to see our Congolese patients getting proper specialist care regardless of who the caregivers are.”

A social activist from that region of Congo, Jean-Michel Bolima, had no such problems. “Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable,” he declared.

But MSF, it seems, would rather see its patients continue to suffer than deal with the cognitive dissonance of discovering that, far from fitting neatly into its designated pigeonhole as the world’s pariah, Israel, by the very standards MSF claims to uphold, can often be downright “admirable.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

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The Voiceless Victims

In Friday’s post, I noted that due to their warped focus, Israeli human-rights organizations are increasingly leaving real victims voiceless. But the damage is incomparably greater when major international organizations do the same. To appreciate just how badly groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have betrayed those who need them most, everyone should read Nicholas Kristof’s devastating recent articles on Congo in the New York Times (see, for instance, here and here).

The civil war in Congo, Kristof writes, has claimed almost seven million lives over the last dozen years. It has also created a whole new vocabulary to describe the other horrific abuses it has generated – such as “autocannibalism,” which is when militiamen cut flesh from living victims and force the victims to eat it, or “re-rape,” which applies to women and girls who are raped anew every time militiamen visit their town.

Yet the world rarely hears about Congo — because groups such as Amnesty and HRW have left the victims largely voiceless, preferring instead to focus on far less serious abuses in developed countries, where gathering information is easier.

Neither Amnesty nor HRW has issued a single press release or report on Congo so far this year, according to their web sites. Yet HRW found time to issue two statements criticizing Israel and 12 criticizing the U.S.; Amnesty issued 11 on Israel and 15 on the U.S. To its credit, HRW did cover Congo fairly extensively in 2009. But Amnesty’s imbalance was egregious: For all of 2009, its web site lists exactly one statement on Congo — even as the group found time and energy to issue 62 statements critical of Israel.

By any objective standard, of course, there is no comparison in the scope of the violations. Even if you accept all the Goldstone Report’s worst slanders against Israel as gospel truth, none of them remotely compares to the kind of atrocities Congo’s victims describe – such as experienced by the young woman who told Kristof that after Hutu militiamen tied up her uncle, “they cut off his hands, gouged out his eyes, cut off his feet, cut off his sex organs and left him like that.” Nor is this exceptional: such stories are routine.

The same holds for the death toll. The highest estimate of Palestinian fatalities in last year’s Gaza war is just over 1,400; for the rest of the year combined, Palestinian fatalities numbered around 115, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. By contrast, the death toll in Congo is around 45,000 a month — every month.

Human-rights organizations clearly should not ignore genuine violations in developed countries, but they do need to maintain a sense of proportion. Instead, the relative frequency of their press releases paints countries such as Israel and the U.S. as the world’s worst human rights violators. The result is that the real worst abuses, like those in Congo, remain largely below the public’s radar. And so the victims continue to suffer in unheard agony.

In Friday’s post, I noted that due to their warped focus, Israeli human-rights organizations are increasingly leaving real victims voiceless. But the damage is incomparably greater when major international organizations do the same. To appreciate just how badly groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have betrayed those who need them most, everyone should read Nicholas Kristof’s devastating recent articles on Congo in the New York Times (see, for instance, here and here).

The civil war in Congo, Kristof writes, has claimed almost seven million lives over the last dozen years. It has also created a whole new vocabulary to describe the other horrific abuses it has generated – such as “autocannibalism,” which is when militiamen cut flesh from living victims and force the victims to eat it, or “re-rape,” which applies to women and girls who are raped anew every time militiamen visit their town.

Yet the world rarely hears about Congo — because groups such as Amnesty and HRW have left the victims largely voiceless, preferring instead to focus on far less serious abuses in developed countries, where gathering information is easier.

Neither Amnesty nor HRW has issued a single press release or report on Congo so far this year, according to their web sites. Yet HRW found time to issue two statements criticizing Israel and 12 criticizing the U.S.; Amnesty issued 11 on Israel and 15 on the U.S. To its credit, HRW did cover Congo fairly extensively in 2009. But Amnesty’s imbalance was egregious: For all of 2009, its web site lists exactly one statement on Congo — even as the group found time and energy to issue 62 statements critical of Israel.

By any objective standard, of course, there is no comparison in the scope of the violations. Even if you accept all the Goldstone Report’s worst slanders against Israel as gospel truth, none of them remotely compares to the kind of atrocities Congo’s victims describe – such as experienced by the young woman who told Kristof that after Hutu militiamen tied up her uncle, “they cut off his hands, gouged out his eyes, cut off his feet, cut off his sex organs and left him like that.” Nor is this exceptional: such stories are routine.

The same holds for the death toll. The highest estimate of Palestinian fatalities in last year’s Gaza war is just over 1,400; for the rest of the year combined, Palestinian fatalities numbered around 115, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. By contrast, the death toll in Congo is around 45,000 a month — every month.

Human-rights organizations clearly should not ignore genuine violations in developed countries, but they do need to maintain a sense of proportion. Instead, the relative frequency of their press releases paints countries such as Israel and the U.S. as the world’s worst human rights violators. The result is that the real worst abuses, like those in Congo, remain largely below the public’s radar. And so the victims continue to suffer in unheard agony.

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“Please Take a Moment . . .”

The Obami have been no friends to human-rights activists and democracy promoters around the globe. Leading the charge … er … retreat has been Hillary Clinton, who infamously told the Chinese that human rights shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with other, more pressing issues like global warming. (Something real, and tangible, you see.) And this is the administration that stiffed the Iranian democracy protesters and defunded them, while Hillary and crew have been busy “engaging” the despotic regimes of Burma and Sudan.

So you can imagine my surprise when an e-mail from Hillary’s longtime gal-pal and frequent media spinner Ann Lewis came to me (well, me and anyone who signed up to get information from Hillary’s failed presidential campaign). It’s actually a fundraising letter and spin-gram from NoLimits.org — born when Hillary discovered there were limits to the Democratic party’s toleration of the Clintons — touting, yes, Hillary’s “strong commitment to human rights and women’s rights.” December 10 is Human Rights Day, so Lewis breathlessly reminds us:

In the last year, she has appointed the first ever Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, chaired the first UN Security Council session on violence against women, and offered significant medical help and protection for rape victims in the Congo. Secretary Clinton has spoken out for religious freedom and diversity in Tazakh, LGBT rights in town halls from Washington, D.C. to Moldova, and increased access to technology for grassroots advocates fighting to be heard in Iran. She’s condemned the murder of journalists in Russia, and called on China to release those still imprisoned for their actions during the protests in Tiananmen Square two decades ago.

Hmm. I think the administration isn’t exactly eager to help Iranian protesters with technology, because that might help Chinese democracy protesters. And we can’t have that. But fidelity to details was never part of Hillary’s campaign operation, so let’s not get too deeply mired in facts.

All this seemed rather out of joint, as if dropped from a time capsule. It seems to be from another year, another decade, in which Hillary was out trolling for support and in which human rights topped the agenda. And then I saw the accompanying photo, which seemed indeed to be from another era, five or six hairstyles ago.

box_join_us

Well, perhaps someone has been messing with the space-time continuum. Or maybe Hillary has been watching those Obama poll numbers that look like the hill for advanced skiers (i.e., featuring a really precipitous decline) – and she’s just keeping her options open.

The Obami have been no friends to human-rights activists and democracy promoters around the globe. Leading the charge … er … retreat has been Hillary Clinton, who infamously told the Chinese that human rights shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with other, more pressing issues like global warming. (Something real, and tangible, you see.) And this is the administration that stiffed the Iranian democracy protesters and defunded them, while Hillary and crew have been busy “engaging” the despotic regimes of Burma and Sudan.

So you can imagine my surprise when an e-mail from Hillary’s longtime gal-pal and frequent media spinner Ann Lewis came to me (well, me and anyone who signed up to get information from Hillary’s failed presidential campaign). It’s actually a fundraising letter and spin-gram from NoLimits.org — born when Hillary discovered there were limits to the Democratic party’s toleration of the Clintons — touting, yes, Hillary’s “strong commitment to human rights and women’s rights.” December 10 is Human Rights Day, so Lewis breathlessly reminds us:

In the last year, she has appointed the first ever Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, chaired the first UN Security Council session on violence against women, and offered significant medical help and protection for rape victims in the Congo. Secretary Clinton has spoken out for religious freedom and diversity in Tazakh, LGBT rights in town halls from Washington, D.C. to Moldova, and increased access to technology for grassroots advocates fighting to be heard in Iran. She’s condemned the murder of journalists in Russia, and called on China to release those still imprisoned for their actions during the protests in Tiananmen Square two decades ago.

Hmm. I think the administration isn’t exactly eager to help Iranian protesters with technology, because that might help Chinese democracy protesters. And we can’t have that. But fidelity to details was never part of Hillary’s campaign operation, so let’s not get too deeply mired in facts.

All this seemed rather out of joint, as if dropped from a time capsule. It seems to be from another year, another decade, in which Hillary was out trolling for support and in which human rights topped the agenda. And then I saw the accompanying photo, which seemed indeed to be from another era, five or six hairstyles ago.

box_join_us

Well, perhaps someone has been messing with the space-time continuum. Or maybe Hillary has been watching those Obama poll numbers that look like the hill for advanced skiers (i.e., featuring a really precipitous decline) – and she’s just keeping her options open.

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Rice Signals Iran

In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

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In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

Rice similarly promised to meet with her counterparts in a December 10 address at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group’s annual luncheon, and made similar remarks in a December 18 interview with al-Arabiya. For its part, Iran has acknowledged Rice’s signal, with state-run Iranian television reporting that she might visit Tehran in the coming year if certain preconditions are satisfied.

Rice’s shift is both pragmatic and disappointing. Insofar as Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power represents its greatest threat to the international community, Rice is correct in offering considerable carrots for the cessation of Iran’s nuclear program. But Iranian support for terrorism is also a major concern, and Rice’s offer to “talk about anything” with her Iranian counterparts opens the possibility that Iranian support for Hizballah and Hamas will become legitimate bargaining chips in forthcoming U.S.-Iranian negotiations.

For this reason, Rice should be reminded of her December 11 interview with the USA Today editorial board, in which she argued that the NIE indicated that Iran “is apparently responsive to international pressure and scrutiny.” As the Bush administration pursues Israeli-Palestinian peace and urges anti-Syrian lawmakers to choose a President in Lebanon, the cessation of Iran’s sponsorship of Hamas and Hizballah must remain a precondition for top-level U.S.-Iranian talks.

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Your Tax Money at Work

In what’s unlikely to be a surprise even to casual observers of the United Nations, an internal audit conducted by the international organization has discovered corruption involving hundreds of millions of dollars regarding the disbursement of contracts for peacekeeping missions. The UN these days seems to be little more than an elaborate racketeering organization for wanna-be crooks and gangsters—too cowardly to participate in actual crime in their home countries, and thus taking advantage of the miserable and oppressed people entrusted into the organization’s care. This latest scandal is only rivaled by the Oil-for-Food heist of some years prior.

The results of this latest investigation are the latest fruit of the Volcker Commission, established in 2004 to investigate similar kickbacks and bribes disbursed under the ill-fated UN program in Iraq. The task force that uncovered the peacekeeping abuse had hired some of Volcker’s investigators, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to his credit, has requested that the investigative body’s mandate be funded further. Unsurprisingly, developing nations are using parliamentary tactics to hold up the reauthorization process.

The details of this latest scandal surround Abdul Karim Masri—a procurement officer for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo and a Syrian national (why a citizen of a terrorist sponsoring state is given such a prominent position at the United Nations has not yet entered into the conversation)—who has a long trail of corruption accusations behind him. The internal audit found an “extensive pattern of bribery” up to and including taking $10,000 from a boating company, diverting a contract to a friend, and getting contractors to paint his house and give him a discounted Mercedes. Your tax money at work!

Read More

In what’s unlikely to be a surprise even to casual observers of the United Nations, an internal audit conducted by the international organization has discovered corruption involving hundreds of millions of dollars regarding the disbursement of contracts for peacekeeping missions. The UN these days seems to be little more than an elaborate racketeering organization for wanna-be crooks and gangsters—too cowardly to participate in actual crime in their home countries, and thus taking advantage of the miserable and oppressed people entrusted into the organization’s care. This latest scandal is only rivaled by the Oil-for-Food heist of some years prior.

The results of this latest investigation are the latest fruit of the Volcker Commission, established in 2004 to investigate similar kickbacks and bribes disbursed under the ill-fated UN program in Iraq. The task force that uncovered the peacekeeping abuse had hired some of Volcker’s investigators, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to his credit, has requested that the investigative body’s mandate be funded further. Unsurprisingly, developing nations are using parliamentary tactics to hold up the reauthorization process.

The details of this latest scandal surround Abdul Karim Masri—a procurement officer for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo and a Syrian national (why a citizen of a terrorist sponsoring state is given such a prominent position at the United Nations has not yet entered into the conversation)—who has a long trail of corruption accusations behind him. The internal audit found an “extensive pattern of bribery” up to and including taking $10,000 from a boating company, diverting a contract to a friend, and getting contractors to paint his house and give him a discounted Mercedes. Your tax money at work!

None of this is to say that the mission of UN peacekeeping isn’t worthy; it’s the very worthiness of international conflict resolution that makes this latest episode of corruption so devastating. Yet once again it has been shown that the United Nations cannot be trusted with anything beyond providing political theater. Those serious about the notion of international peacekeeping could do worse than seriously to consider Max Boot’s proposal of using mercenaries for such missions. Unlike UN peacekeeping forces—which consist almost entirely of poorly trained and ill-equipped soldiers from third world countries whose governments offer them up to the UN in order to make a quick buck—mercenaries are expertly skilled warriors. Moreover, they have no pretensions about who they are or what they are fighting for—money, which they will earn only if the mission is completed successfully.

No doubt this story will garner the usual outcry from the international bureaucrats who feed off the teat of Western nations. These sorts of people swarm Washington and New York City with little to do, it seems, other than to attend think-tank functions and cocktail parties, and to undermine the United States. With this latest bout of bad news for the United Nations, it’s become increasingly difficult for the organization’s lonely defenders to explain why the body deserves American time or attention.

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The Price of UN Membership

As noted yesterday on contentions, Libya was elected on October 16, 2007 to the UN Security Council, a position it will assume in January. Last month Syria was elected Vice-Chair of the General Conference of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. These goings-on at the UN have been presented not only as perfectly normal but as laudable. While they have provoked strong reaction in some people, they should not come as a surprise.

The UN, we are told, is an essential institution because of its unique inclusivity. The argument goes that the goals and values of democracies on the world scene are dependent on their doing business with dictators as equals. One state, one vote. Regardless of the numbers of real people being subdued in various ways back home. Regardless of the financial contribution made by each member state to the world organization. Regardless of the extent to which the founding principles and purposes of the UN are flaunted by the member state every day of the week.

So Libya and Syria join a long list of dictatorships, despotisms, and human-rights violators in UN leadership positions—positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their incumbents’ qualifications.

Here are only a few of today’s UN authority figures:

• UN Security Council: Libya
• International Atomic Energy Agency General Committee, Vice-President: Syria
• UN Disarmament Commission, Vice-Chairman: Iran. Rapporteur: Syria
• Committee on Information: China, Kazakhstan
• UN Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination, and Wider Appreciation of International Law Advisory Committee: Iran, Lebanon, Sudan
• Commission for Social Development: North Korea
• Commission on the Status of Women: Qatar, Togo, United Arab Emirates
• Commission on Sustainable Development: Sudan
• Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Libya, Russia
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vice-President: Myanmar
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Board: China
• UN Development Program Executive Board: Algeria, Kazakhstan
• General Assembly Vice-Presidents: Egypt, Turkmenistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo
• General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, Vice-Chairman: Syria
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Seyed Mohammad Hashemi of Iran
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Member: Saied Rajaie Khorasani of Iran
• UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) Governing Council: Zimbabwe
• UN High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee: Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan
• International Labor Organization Governing Body: Saudi Arabia
• World Food Program Executive Board: Sudan, Zimbabwe

In short, membership in the UN has no price tag, although, as this list suggests, Israel-bashing and anti-Americanism are its all-but universal currency.

As noted yesterday on contentions, Libya was elected on October 16, 2007 to the UN Security Council, a position it will assume in January. Last month Syria was elected Vice-Chair of the General Conference of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. These goings-on at the UN have been presented not only as perfectly normal but as laudable. While they have provoked strong reaction in some people, they should not come as a surprise.

The UN, we are told, is an essential institution because of its unique inclusivity. The argument goes that the goals and values of democracies on the world scene are dependent on their doing business with dictators as equals. One state, one vote. Regardless of the numbers of real people being subdued in various ways back home. Regardless of the financial contribution made by each member state to the world organization. Regardless of the extent to which the founding principles and purposes of the UN are flaunted by the member state every day of the week.

So Libya and Syria join a long list of dictatorships, despotisms, and human-rights violators in UN leadership positions—positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their incumbents’ qualifications.

Here are only a few of today’s UN authority figures:

• UN Security Council: Libya
• International Atomic Energy Agency General Committee, Vice-President: Syria
• UN Disarmament Commission, Vice-Chairman: Iran. Rapporteur: Syria
• Committee on Information: China, Kazakhstan
• UN Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination, and Wider Appreciation of International Law Advisory Committee: Iran, Lebanon, Sudan
• Commission for Social Development: North Korea
• Commission on the Status of Women: Qatar, Togo, United Arab Emirates
• Commission on Sustainable Development: Sudan
• Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Libya, Russia
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vice-President: Myanmar
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Board: China
• UN Development Program Executive Board: Algeria, Kazakhstan
• General Assembly Vice-Presidents: Egypt, Turkmenistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo
• General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, Vice-Chairman: Syria
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Seyed Mohammad Hashemi of Iran
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Member: Saied Rajaie Khorasani of Iran
• UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) Governing Council: Zimbabwe
• UN High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee: Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan
• International Labor Organization Governing Body: Saudi Arabia
• World Food Program Executive Board: Sudan, Zimbabwe

In short, membership in the UN has no price tag, although, as this list suggests, Israel-bashing and anti-Americanism are its all-but universal currency.

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