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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Jubilation on Bush woes but how many frankly give a damn about Iraq or Darfur?

President George Bush meeting on Thursday, Nov 09, 2006 with speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Party Whip, Congressman Steny Hoyer .

Anti-Bush folk beyond America's shores feasted happily on schadenfreude last week, following George Bush's "thumpin" in the mid-term elections, that was perceived to be a repudiation of US policy in Iraq.

Delight that the world's only superpower has been contained in Iraq, does not of course mean that many of those anti-Bush people care about the people of Iraq or for that matter, the millions of victims in Darfur, West Sudan. The Chinese Government has replaced Western firms in running Sudan's oil industry and the genocidel killing of hundreds of thousands of African Muslims by their Arab brethren, is a matter of indifference to most of the Western media, those who make loud noises about Iraq and the Arab world.

In Europe, an American angle is usually necessary to fire up interest in foreign issues while China gets a free pass.

It's an ill wind that blows no good and Iraq has been good for the book industry. The latest addition to the genre, is from RTÉ journalist Richard Downes. He spent some weeks in Iraq and I lived 5 years in the region. That of course does not imply that either of our views are any more credible.

Without an invasion in 2003, UN sanctions would not have been removed while Saddam and his family remained in power. The sanctions resulted in many Iraqi deaths and a UN oil-for-food programme that became operational in the 1990's, was manipulated by Saddam and became a honeypot for thieves in many countries.

No US administration of either major party would have supported the removal of the sanctions regime, while Saddam remained in power.

The alternative to an invasion, was far from a pretty scenario either.

The "something-must-be-done brigade"

In The Financial Times in November 2005, John Lloyd wrote that the forward march of the "something-must-be-done brigade" has certainly faltered. The phrase is Douglas Hurd’s, used when he was UK foreign secretary in the early 1990s, about the demands of human rights campaigners, journalists and opposition politicians that western states must intervene to stop the slaughter in Bosnia.

On the opposite side of the fence were advocates of realpolitik who argued that a state requires security and retains interests and that any effort to impose a different politics on states of whose politics one disapproves is, as Henry Kissinger put it, international relations as social work.
Lloyd writes that governments of large states with diverse interests have largely agreed with the Kissinger option: idealism has been confined to smaller states, such as Sweden, the country that has long played the role of Dostoevsky’s Prince Myshkin, forever hopeful of the world’s capacity for goodness. Britain has moved towards idealism under Tony Blair who has argued that "acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter".

The intervention of American forces ended the genocide in Bosnia and the murderous campaign against Muslims in the Serbian province of Kosovo ended when NATO, under the leadership of the US and the UK intervened. Lloyd says that the interventions of the 1990s and "noughties" in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and in smaller ways in Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo and Sudan, have rarely been without large bloodshed - and not one has been unambiguously successful...Those who always saw these ventures as sins against realpolitik are grimly confirmed in their views.

Lloyd asks what of the liberals and leftists who were the generals, the officers or even the foot soldiers in the something-must-be-done brigade?

"When push came to shove, most have melted away, without, it seems, a backward glance at the ideals they once espoused. This is most true in the case of Iraq," Lloyd says. "The sheer bloodiness of the country and the revelation to the British in Basra, as well as to the Americans elsewhere, that a large part of the active population hates them, have amplified the calls made to get out, last week at the Labour Party conference, against the leadership, the week before at the Liberal Party conference, by the leadership," Lloyd adds.

Lloyd says that it is a sad spectacle that liberals and leftists who spent decades demanding that something must be done to end all sorts of repressions and foreign horrors, and denouncing theirs and other governments for refusing to end them, now denounce the British and US governments for having removed one of the great monsters of the late 20th century because blood was shed (and is still being shed) in the course of it.

This isn’t debate about the manner of waging war: it is a smug, I-told-you-so (or I didn’t tell you but I am now) blast against apparent failure - usually oblivious to the consequences of that failure, especially on the ideals and practice that liberals and leftists claim to have espoused.

Irish commentator Vincent Browne for example who opposed US intervention in Iraq, in the past lamented the failure to stop genocide in Africa while he has both supported and opposed the American led NATO military action in the Balkans, in the 1990's (Browne supported US military action to stop a war in 1995 that had resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 people; He opposed US led action against Serbs in Kosovo, in 1998).

The late UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, supported NATO action in Kosovo in 1998, which did not have UN approval because of the threat of a Russian veto. Cook opposed intervention in Iraq, because it did not have UN approval.

People who support the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to a state, can be oblivious to the dramatic improvement in the lot of the Kurds of Iraq.

The people of Kurdistan who are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state, have been treated badly for many decades by Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

As media commentators in the West agonise about the impact of Iraq and Palestine on disaffected Muslim youth who have been weaned on a very narrow view of the world, there is seldom a reference to how Muslims have for long mistreated fellow Muslims in Kurdistan. Then there's Darfur, which is hardly on the curricula of the madrasas. The infidels are a more useful target than focusing on ethnically Arab Muslims driving ethnically African Muslims, off their land.

Iraq

Thomas Cushman - "George Orwell once noted in a famous epigraph, “Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist.”
The American writer on human rights Thomas Cushman, in his introduction to a collection of essays titled A Matter of Principle - Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq, says that the for most of the authors, the liberal internationalist case for the war was not made strongly enough by the Bush administration or at least as strongly as the argument for anticipatory self-defense, which turned out to be empirically ungrounded. What is striking about these essays is the willingness of each author to voice pointed criticism of the Bush administration and its practices (as Christopher Hitchens wryly notes in his contribution, "I write as one who could not easily name a mistake that the Bush administration has failed to make").

Cushman writes: Yet at the same time the authors also offer pointed critiques of the liberal-left opposition to the war, much of which is contradictory, reductionistic, logically flawed, or excessively emotional, and irrational. Even the most sober and reflective critics of the war occupied a stage that also displayed demonstrators toting placards of Bush with a Hitler mustache, waving Iraqi and Cuban flags, and passing out copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Ironically, many of the authors in the volume point out that the antiwar position was, in fact, something of a conservative one in that it aimed to preserve a regime of intolerable cruelty in order to preserve the deeply flawed system of international law that gives both tyrants and democratically elected leaders equal seats at the table of international justice.

Indeed, as Daniel Kofman notes in his contribution here, it is odd that many leftists, who have built careers on challenging the unrestrained sovereignty of states and state power, would find themselves arguing in favor of the current system that supports and guarantees the power of sovereign despots and the inviolability of their states, even in extreme cases such as Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, or Saddam Hussein.

Had there been no war, Saddam Hussein would still be in power rather than preparing for his trial for crimes against humanity. He would still be tormenting, torturing, and killing his own subjects, destabilizing the Middle East, and giving succor to international terrorists who are the avowed enemies of liberal democracy.

What is striking about the antiwar movement is the way in which the global left has turned against the United States rather than gross violators of human rights such as Saddam Hussein. Indeed, the war has been the pretext for a global revival of anti-Americanism, much of it well grounded, but much of it a rehearsal of a more fundamental twentieth century proclivity of the left to vent its rage primarily at the "empire" rather than the various despots who have wreaked havoc on the global stage.

Indeed, such tyrants figured out very early on that they could always gain a certain advantage by articulating critiques of the bugbear of American empire (witness, for instance, the enthrallment of the left wing in America with Fidel Castro, who is the personification of resistance to the United States).

Lesson for Darfur

Thomas Cushman writes that it is clearly the case that current practices of international law and international organizations have failed rather glaringly to deal with tyrants. One has only to think of UN indifference to the plight of Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo and its current ineptitude with regard to events in Congo and Sudan to see that the current structure of dealing with illiberal despots with liberal principles of law, negotiation, and accommodation is deeply flawed. The flaw consists in allowing illiberal despots the luxury of treatment according to Enlightenment ideals of toleration. If you treat an illiberal tyrant liberally, you can count on rendering him a distinct advantage.

As recently as last Friday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour warned that unless the Sudanese Government curbs and disarms militias in West Darfur there could be more attacks like those around the Jebel Moon area that left over 50 civilians dead and thousands displaced late last month.

The High Commissioner reported that over the past month, West Darfur has witnessed increased movements and consolidation of armed militias, especially in the northern and south-western part of the state. At the same time, there are increased reports of the distribution of weapons to these groups in Geneina and outlying areas."I am deeply concerned that if the Government of Sudan does not take control of the militias, disarm them, and put an end to the proliferation of arms, the militias will continue to launch attacks on civilians, as they did on 29 October in an area south and west of Jebel Moon", Ms. Arbour said.In a 3 November report on the attacks, the High Commissioner called on Sudan's Government of National Unity to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians and implement its commitments to disarm militias. She reiterated that recommendation today.

UN Security Council veto power China is assisting the government of Sudan to develop its oil industry. A December 2004 a report in The Washington Post said: On this parched and dusty African plain, China's largest energy company is pumping crude oil, sending it 1,000 miles upcountry through a Chinese-made pipeline to the Red Sea, where tankers wait to ferry it to China's industrial cities. Chinese laborers based in a camp of prefabricated sheds work the wells and lay highways across the flats to make way for heavy machinery...Sudan is China's largest overseas oil project.

China is Sudan's largest supplier of arms, according to a former Sudan government minister. Chinese-made tanks, fighter planes, bombers, helicopters, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades have intensified Sudan's two-decade-old north-south civil war. A cease-fire is in effect and a peace agreement is expected to be signed by year-end. But the fighting in Sudan's Darfur region rages on, as government-backed Arab militias push African tribes off their land.

In Myanmar (Burma), a country like North Korea, that is stuck in a fifty-year old time warp, China has made an agreement with the military dictators who control the country, to develop its oil and gas industry. A week after hundreds of people were gunned down in Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov was warmly welcomed in Beijing. The access of the US to a military base in Uzbekistan has been withdrawn because of Washington's criticism of Uzbekistan human rights record.

China is extending its alliances without evident criticism from the many who would virulently criticise American missteps.

So the authorities in Khartoum are hardly worried about their campaign in Darfur, given China's veto in the UN Security Council and besides, does the rest of the world give a damn?

Download Professor Cushman's Introductory Chapter in A Matter of Principle - Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq (pdf format).