Thursday, April 28, 2011

'Arab spring' update

Many critics of U.S. foreign policy have long decried the close ties between the U.S. and the House of Saud. It's no secret that the Saudis have been uneasy about the U.S. role in helping nudge its long-time ally Mubarak offstage, and as David Ignatius mentioned in his Wash. Post column of April 27, Pres. Obama's national security adviser met with Saudi King Abdullah this month and gave the king a reassuring letter from Obama. 

It has been plausibly suggested that the Saudis supported the initial proposal for a no-fly zone in Libya because they thought it would distract attention from what has been happening in Bahrain and elsewhere in the region. If that was their motivation, it doesn't seem to have worked. The Libyan intervention turned into a broader effort to protect civilians (and, in effect, indirectly aid the rebels), but it has not distracted attention from the ongoing violent crackdowns on protesters in Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain. The simultaneous repressive actions by different governments, and the variation in international response, underscores something that should have been clear all along: humanitarian interventions are always a product of more than one motive and 'consistency' is not necessarily the main criterion by which they should be judged. That said, one hopes that real pressure is being brought to bear on the Yemeni and Bahraini regimes, with both of which the U.S. and Europeans have leverage, to modify what they are doing now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Will drones save the day in Libya?

Hard not to have at least a couple of qualms about this, given their track record in the Pakistani border areas. Admittedly the environment is different.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Desperation in Misurata; residents angry at NATO

Leila Fadel's first-hand report in the Wash. Post portrays a battered city under siege whose residents are angry at NATO for failing to protect them. She writes: "There are few signs in Misurata of NATO's military campaign to protect civilians. The fighting is all urban warfare, making accurate strikes from the air difficult." No doubt; but her report indicates that Gaddafi's snipers are using particular buildings, which NATO could probably target if it wanted -- although to be honest, I really have no idea. (Nor am I going to debate the intricacies of who counts as a civilian.)

On the question Who are the rebels? that has been much asked, again I really don't know. But Fadel's report suggests that at least a few of them are idealistic young men who may or may not have known what they were getting into:
"We tried to blow up the buildings, but we don't know how," said Alaa el Deen Khesham, 30, a rebel fighter who until two months ago worked in public relations for the government. "We threw homemade bombs in there, but it didn't do anything." ...
Khesham was born in Germany and spent part of his childhood in Boise, Idaho. He has two homes in Tripoli and a sports car. But he gave it all up to fight with the rebels in Misurata.
Given what appears to be happening based on this story, I'd say there's a fair chance he'll never see that sports car again.

Update: The city council in Misurata has now formally requested foreign troops on the ground, according to Fadel.

That S&P warning

See here.

[Hat tip: dsquared]

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wilson and Mexico

In the previous post I mentioned Woodrow Wilson's 1914 intervention in Mexico. There is a somewhat different perspective on this episode in John Judis's 2004 book The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Judis writes that after sending troops to occupy Veracruz, which turned out to be a "disaster" which incited "riots and demonstrations all over the country" (pp.91-2), Wilson "learned his lesson" and switched to a non-interventionist stance. When his Secretary of War urged Wilson to send U.S. soldiers to Mexico City, he replied: "We shall have no right at any time to intervene in Mexico to determine the way in which the Mexicans are to settle their own affairs...." (p.92) Judis says that "in his policy toward Mexico, Wilson also broke with a century-old view of the Mexicans as Indians who were incapable of self-government." (p.93)

I know virtually nothing about this episode and perhaps other interpretations of it exist. Just passing this on FWIW.

P.s. H.W. Brands, in his Woodrow Wilson (The American Presidents Series, 2003), p.50, notes that "the lessons Wilson learned in Mexico didn't prevent him from sending troops to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in 1915 and 1916 respectively, when trouble in those countries threatened American interests and Caribbean stability" -- or, at any rate, what Wilson considered to be American interests and Caribbean stability.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Will R2P become a 'European Monroe Doctrine'?

DPTrombly has a post suggesting that, inasmuch as European states will be willing and able to enforce the Responsibility to Protect only within a defined geographic area, R2P will come to resemble a European Monroe Doctrine, with Europe attempting to ensure certain norms of behavior by states within its sphere of influence, i.e., "Sahara, Sahel, Mediterranean rim, and Balkans."

Does the analogy work? I'm not convinced. The U.S., as DPT indicates, relied on Britain's naval power to enforce the Monroe Doctrine for most of the 19th century. And not too long after the U.S. became capable of using its own navy to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed in 1904 his famous 'corollary' to the Doctrine which "declared that misgovernment (or 'chronic wrongdoing')" by Latin American governments would be grounds for U.S. armed intervention (Penguin Dictionary of International Relations, 1998, p.337). Applying this principle via his paternalistic pronouncement that "we must teach the Latin Americans to select the right man," Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Mexico in 1914 (ibid., p.573).

By contrast, R2P is less paternalistic than the Monroe Doctrine as applied by TR and Woodrow Wilson. R2P's application is limited to four circumstances: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity (see M.W. Doyle, "International Ethics and the Responsibility to Protect," Int'l Studies Review 13:1, March 2011). It is not a question of teaching the inhabitants of country X "to select the right man [or woman]." A leader can drive his or her country into the ground and can be as corrupt as all get-out, but as long as he or she does not engage (or very credibly, by his or her own pronouncement, appear to be right on the verge of engaging) in genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity -- all of which, with the possible exception of ethnic cleansing, have accepted definitions in international law -- the question of R2P does not even arise.

Of course, application of R2P will be selective and considerations of the sort mentioned by DPT will influence the 'selections'. But that does not mean that R2P will be used to legitimize interventions of the kind that Wilson ordered in Mexico. Thus "European Monroe Doctrine" may not be the right description, inasmuch as it may conjure up a history of paternalistic, imperialistic interventions that I think few have any interest in defending or repeating.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In the wake of Boumediene

A piece by Robert Barnes in the Wash. Post makes it sound as if the Supreme Court's June 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which held that Guantanamo Bay detainees could challenge their detentions via writs of habeas corpus in federal court, has not had much of a practical effect. Barnes writes that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which had to work out the details of what rules would apply to detention hearings, has issued "a string of rulings" against the detainees which the Supreme Court has declined to review. "The bottom line," according to Barnes, "is that while Guatanamo's population has declined from around 270 at the time of the decision to 172 today because of decisions of the executive branch, not a single release has come as the direct result of a judicial order."

This statement, if one emphasizes the word "direct," may be technically correct, but it does not capture the story of what happened with the named plaintiffs in Boumediene, a story I found when a search on "Boumediene v. Bush" turned up the site of WilmerHale, the law firm which handled the case for the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis.

WilmerHale's post reminds those who had forgotten the facts (or never been too clear on them, such as myself) that the plaintiffs were six Algerians living in Bosnia who were transported to Gitmo by the U.S. government in 2002 and held there for more than five years before the Supreme Court's 2008 decision. The U.S. claimed among other things that they had been planning to attack the American embassy in Sarajevo. I pick up the story from the law firm's post:

In October 2008, WilmerHale filed the first-ever evidentiary response ("traverse") on behalf of Guantanamo prisoners, refuting the Government's asserted grounds for detention...

As a result of WilmerHale’s challenge, the US Government dropped its most inflammatory claim against the men, namely that they were planning to attack the US Embassy in Sarajevo in 2001. The US Government abandoned this claim even though President Bush had specifically mentioned it in the 2002 State of the Union address.

In November 2008, Judge Richard J. Leon of the US District Court in Washington DC held a seven-day hearing into the Government’s allegations. It was the first merits hearing in a habeas case involving Guantanamo prisoners. The hearing also included another first-time event: testimony by Guantanamo prisoners, live via videolink from Cuba, in support of their own bid for release.

On November 20, 2008, Judge Leon ruled that the Government had failed to show any credible evidence justifying detention of five of the six men. Judge Leon also took the extraordinary step of imploring the Government not to appeal that ruling. Judge Leon ruled against the sixth Petitioner, Belkacem Bensayah.

In December 2008, the Government informed WilmerHale that it would, indeed, forgo any appeal and abide by the ruling as to the five successful Petitioners. On December 16, 2008, three of WilmerHale’s clients—Mustafa Ait Idir, Hadj Boudella, and Mohamed Nechla—arrived safely home in Sarajevo, Bosnia, where they were met by elated family members and friends. This was the first time that the US Government has released Guantanamo prisoners in response to a court order. The remaining two successful petitioners, Lakhdar Boumediene and Saber Lahmar, were released and transferred to France in 2009.

WilmerHale appealed Judge Leon's denial of Belkacem Bensayah's habeas corpus petition to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia... On June 28, 2010, the DC Circuit panel unanimously reversed and remanded Judge Leon's ruling, holding that the government's evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that Mr. Bensayah was detainable. This marks the first (and so far only) case in which the DC Circuit has reversed a district court's denial of habeas corpus to a Guantanamo prisoner.

So although Barnes's article is no doubt correct that the practical impact of the Boumediene decision has been much less than proponents had hoped, at least in the case of the original plaintiffs the decision did make a difference: the five who were released (the three who returned to Bosnia and the two who went to France) were set free in response to a court order, as the law firm's post says.

Why hasn't Boumediene benefited more detainees? The Barnes piece suggests that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has weakened, if not undermined, the decision (he quotes the Center for Constitutional Rights as saying the D.C. Circuit has "openly defied" Boumediene). That is probably part of the reason; another may be that most detainees, unlike the Boumediene plaintiffs, have not been lucky enough to receive the skilled pro bono services of a big, very well-resourced law firm like WilmerHale. (This is not in any way to cast aspersions on the various lawyers who represent detainees, merely to note that resources can make a difference.)

P.s. Looking back at a post I wrote when Boumediene was decided, I see that Roberts in his dissent said the decision would have only a "modest practical impact," whereas Scalia in his dissent said it would have far-reaching and "disastrous" consequences. On this point, score Roberts one, Scalia zero. (But note that two commenters on my June 2008 post thought Scalia and Roberts were talking about different things, not making different predictions about the same thing. Whatever.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

World Bank: aid should emphasize justice systems, police

The World Bank's 2011 World Development Report calls for directing more aid to the reform of justice systems and strengthening of police, especially in countries experiencing conflict, where poverty rates are higher than in other places. The emphasis on police may seem at first glance like a somewhat odd proposal, but it is not new in development circles. The development-conflict connection isn't particularly my field, but I recall hearing John Richardson talk some years ago about his work on Sri Lanka and he emphasized, among other things, strengthening police forces. How strengthening the police in a country that is descending into or emerging from civil war, or caught in a cycle of violence (as opposed to 'ordinary' crime), helps things is a bit mysterious to me, but apparently it does. I note in this connection that training of the Afghan national police has lagged behind training of the Afghan army, or at least that was the case when I last heard something about it. Presumably a well-trained police force is less open to corruption; however, corruption in Afghanistan seems so deeply ingrained (see Dexter Filkins's piece "The Afghan Bank Heist" in the Feb. 14/21 New Yorker), one wonders whether anything would make any difference. (Cf. also the ongoing Mexican drug wars, which I've not blogged about.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The House Republicans and the last colony

As part of the deal that avoided a government shutdown, House Republicans managed to get in a provision that prohibits the District of Columbia from using its own funds to pay for abortions for low-income women. Even more outrageously, there is a provision, whose fate has yet to be worked out in the appropriations committees, that would prevent D.C. from using its own funds to pay for needle-exchange programs. How anyone could oppose the latter, whose aim is presumably to stop the spread of diseases (including HIV), is beyond me.

The limits of 'home rule' for the last colony in the mainland U.S. have long been apparent, but this brings them into sharp relief: there is nothing to prevent Congress from telling the District of Columbia how to spend its own funds. Suppose, as a hypothetical, that the legislature of Colorado passed a law allocating a certain sum of money, raised entirely from state taxes on Colorado residents, to fund the construction of a series of playgrounds in state parks. Could Congress prohibit that expenditure? Although abortion and needle exchanges are more controversial than playgrounds, the structure of what is going on is the same: Congress is prohibiting a jurisdiction from spending its own money for purposes that are neither unconstitutional nor illegal. Shame.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sad story from the West Bank


[hat tip: HC]

Cameron: 'we are responsible'

I haven't looked up the context (and of course context is everything) of Prime Minister Cameron's recent remark in Pakistan about the legacy of British imperialism. But taken out of context at any rate, the remark is, well, sort of remarkable, even in 2011. Or perhaps not? I don't have time right now for a little potted excursion into the history of the Conservative Party and the Empire, but if anyone wants to provide it in comments, feel free.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

From Wealth to Power reconsidered

A brief exchange in comments with someone elsewhere in the blogosphere (specifically, at Slouching Towards Columbia) about Fareed Zakaria's 1998 book From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role prompted me to take another look at the book last night. (It was his dissertation and presumably is the only 'academic' book he will ever publish.)

From Wealth to Power argues that states are not simply security-seekers that expand in response to actual or perceived threats; rather, states expand when they see opportunities to extend their influence and when they have sufficiently strong central governments to translate desire into action. In the conclusion, Zakaria writes (p.185):

A scholar looking at great-power behavior over time -- even in a secure, relatively benign nation like the United States -- must conclude that states seek more than mere security: they seek influence over the international environment. And the more powerful they become, the more influence they seek.
Let's put aside the valid point that the U.S. was not "relatively benign" in the eyes of the native Americans or Filipinos whom it conquered, and focus on the main assertion: that states seek "influence over the international environment." This raises the question: why? What does it "do" for states, how does it benefit them, to have such "influence"? In the case of the U.S., one answer might be that "influence" resulted in overseas markets for capitalists. This is the answer given by the Wisconsin School (William Appleman Williams, et al.). But Zakaria, though he acknowledges a debt to certain writings of this school (p.51), clearly does not go in that direction.

Does he answer the question at all? Not as I recall, though I did not re-read the whole book. But if he were to have answered it, it seems to me he would have had a couple of options. He could have gone with Mearsheimer and said that expansion is the surest way to ensure security in an 'anarchic' world. Or he could have gone with Schumpeter and said that expansion is an atavistic impulse, an 'objectless disposition'. Neither of these is very satisfactory. A third possible answer, at least in the case of the U.S., would focus on culture and ideology (Social Darwinism, white man's burden, and all that), and Zakaria does mention this in passing (pp.135-36). Finally, one could look at the role of domestic pressure groups and parties. But as it is, the question why states seek "influence" rather than "mere security" is left hanging.

It may be worth noting that the very end of the book is guardedly optimistic. Zakaria does not talk of the obsolescence of great-power war, but he does note its "long absence." These are the concluding sentences (p.192):
The long absence of great-power war and the growth of the global economy have weakened the state and intertwined it in structures that will make the once-straightforward rise and fall of great powers a complex, friction-filled process. These complications may create greater uncertainty for scholars, but they could help blunt the otherwise aggressive temperament of great powers and tame the fierce nature of international life.

Context is everything

It must be difficult to be an op-ed columnist. You have to come up with a certain number of words twice a week or so, and the words have to make enough sense to an editor to avoid provoking a "what are you talking about?" reaction. Sometimes one wonders how a particular column has managed to clear this hurdle. Take Maureen Dowd's "Fight of the Valkyries". As L. Sjoberg pointed out at Duck of Minerva, Dowd misunderstands feminist IR theory. But toward the end of the column, there is also this:

As compelling as the gender split is, it’s even more interesting to look at the parallels between Obama and W. Candidate Obama said about a possible strike on Iran, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Obama's quoted statement referred to a possible decision to launch a unilateral U.S. strike on Iran, and the considerations in such a case are different from those involved in a multilateral, UN-authorized intervention. Still, it's possible that Obama meant that a president needs congressional approval for any use of U.S. forces that does not respond to "an actual or imminent threat" (or, like the 'Afghan surge,' relate directly to an ongoing conflict). If so, he would not be the first president to have said one thing about the scope of presidential power during a campaign and then to have discovered, once in the Oval Office, that he found a somewhat more expansive notion of executive power to be congenial.

Presidential systems, as opposed to parliamentary ones, seem designed to encourage a certain amount of gridlock stemming from the almost constant tug-of-war between president and legislature, especially in periods of divided or semi-divided party control (as is the case now, with the Republicans in control of the House). And congressional action can frustrate what should be properly be executive branch decisions, as in the case of where to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators on trial.

But to come back to the quote on Iran, I'm inclined to think that Obama said it in the context of that particular issue and probably meant it to be less sweeping than the actual words themselves would suggest.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A UN vote to admit Palestine?

Today's front-page NYT story by E. Bronner (the opening graphs of which I just read in the print edition) says that there may be a UN vote in September to admit Palestine as a full-fledged member state. In addition to putting Israel in a difficult position, this might be the catalyst that pushes Hamas and Fatah to resolve their hitherto apparently irreconcilable differences (which may be a point the article goes on to make, I don't know). Will be interesting to watch.

Quotes of the day

I'm finally getting to the end of Mantel's Wolf Hall. Occasionally a sentence will leap out from the rest. Referring to Henry VIII's need to discover the value of the Church's properties: "The king -- lord of generalities -- must now learn to labor over detail, led on by intelligent greed." (p. 566; paperback ed.)

Mantel is good at drawing not only Cromwell and Henry and Anne Boleyn and Charles V's ambassador Chapuys and other wielders or agents of power, but also younger women and men (girls and boys, really). Here's the Duke of Richmond, Henry's thirteen-year-old illegitimate son, in conversation with Cromwell (p.369):
"Master Cromwell," he says, "I have not seen you since the cardinal [Wolsey] came down." A moment's awkwardness. "I am glad you prosper. Because it is said in the book called The Courtier that in men of base degree we often see high gifts of nature."

"You read Italian, sir?"

"No, but parts of that book have been put into English for me. It is a very good book for me to read."
This seems to catch how a young prince, "endowed with a proper sense of himself and his own dignity," might speak to his father's powerful (but non-noble) counselor. Whether people actually spoke this way or not, it reveals character and thus works as dialogue. Her ability to do this is one reason I've persevered, despite not having found it a page-turner.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Orford on Libya

Anne Orford of Univ. of Melbourne, author of a recent book on R2P, had a post at the London Review of Books blog (link to it here); see my brief (and admittedly rather too flippant) comment on it here.