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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

That’s Not Right

I was going to lead this story with something like this: “I found myself wondering if they had been inspired by So You Think You Can Dance.” Then I realized that it doesn’t really fit my mood right now; not that there isn’t room for humor, but that it isn’t how I want to see this story today. So, instead, this:

I continue to insist that I not only can judge other cultures, but I must judge them so that we maintain a clear-eyed understanding of what distinguishes us from them. We’re told we aren’t supposed to judge and we aren’t supposed to think in terms of us and them--I know this because, like the rest of you, it has been hammered into me from the time I was a child.

It just isn’t done. The problem is that what we were taught is wrong. It is vital for us to be honest and open about other cultures in the world--not in deifying or demonizing those cultures, but in being earnestly critical in the same way that I hope we consider our own culture and politics. With that said, imagine what I think about the culture that gives us a news story like this:

A group of young Muslim men have been publicly flogged in Sudan after they were convicted of wearing women’s clothes and make-up.

The court said the 19 men had broken Sudan’s strict public morality codes.

Police arrested them at a party where they were found dancing “in a womanly fashion”, the judge said.

We need to judge because we need to constantly remind ourselves of what it is that we value as a society and what it took to create something as grand and diverse as the United States of America.

Read the rest.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It Probably Wouldn’t be a Good Idea…

It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to test this on the Russian armor waddling through Georgia. But one can dream…

On the other hand, it seems a quiet test on the “battlewagons" here wouldn’t be out of bounds either ethically or politically.

Seriously, though: read through that first link and consider deeply. If that system works as advertised, as reliably as hoped, as accurately as predicted, and as quickly as that theoretical “strike” would indicate, the PASDEW is a game changer. From the moment the United States establishes air superiority in any region, regular flights could largely negate the effectiveness of enemy armor and even naval forces, completely disrupt supply lines, demoralize the enemy, and provide unprecedented support to advancing allied forces.

Of course, the energy use must be phenomenal and it’s far too early to judge anything like real world reliability. As a first step toward practical frickin’ laser beams, though, this looks like a hell of a thing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Who You Gonna Call?

No, not Ghostbusters. Get your head out of the eighties, pal.

You’re gonna call Blackwater--that is, you will if you have a very specific set of needs that generally don’t include finding the Keymaster or defending the world from the minions of Zuul. If you need a paramilitary outfit with global reach and capabilities to take on some dangerous, tough jobs, though, keep Blackwater on your speed dial. This even goes for left-leaning activists, apparently.

Mia Farrow, the actress and activist, has asked Blackwater, the US private security company active in Iraq, for help in Darfur after becoming frustrated by the stalled deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force.

Ms Farrow said she had approached Erik Prince, founder and owner of Blackwater, to discuss whether a military role was either feasible or desirable.

She acknowledged that many people might have reservations about Blackwater being involved in Darfur – the company’s men were involved in the fatal shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians last September – but said the threat of violence to refugees meant all options had to be explored.

“The people in the camps would say ‘we don’t care whether it’s Blackwater, any-water, as long as they help us’,” she told the Financial Times.

I recognize the concern many people have about subcontracting military functions to a group like Blackwater. In fact, I share those concerns. I find this approach from a charitable, non-government organization intriguing, though. Could Blackwater play a part of peacekeeper in Darfur? If so, would they be acting on a charitable level or a more mercenary level? Would they even be able to provide a good solution to the problem?

Without a willingness and the authority to take action--violent, decisive action--I’m not sure that any peacekeeper presence is going to make a significant difference. And that kind of action could precipitate a much larger confrontation. Does anyone have the will to stick through that kind of a military action right now?

Read the story.

For the record, Farrow represents Dream for Darfur, although I am unsure whether her approach to Blackwater was an official approach or not. When I called Dream for Darfur, I was given the number of their media representative. He didn’t answer his phone and has yet to return my call; if he does get back to me, I’ll update this post if necessary.

Update: I just spoke with Jonathan Freedman, the media contact for Dream for Darfur, who actually confirmed most of the story. Mia Farrow has been in contact with Erik Prince (although she has never personally met with him). She and the organization are reiterating their stance that they are willing to talk to anyone who can help provide security--and although the word “peacekeeping” was used, I have a feeling that they might be speaking more about a security roll, especially after consideration of what Robin wrote in the comments.

Freedman was very clear that there is no partnership with Blackwater at this time, but neither are they really backing away from the story. I was considering writing something a bit bigger on the subject, but, honestly, there’s not much story in this so I think I’ll leave it where it sits. While I don’t always agree with either methodology, tone, or some of the chosen targets of the Darfur activists, I admire their cause. I also admire the streak of pragmatism that allows them to approach a group like Blackwater that has been demonized in the media over the last few years.

And here’s a link for folks in Denver who want to join a Dreams for Darfur protest in hopes of forcing some large corporations into pressuring China to use their leverage to help end the genocide in Darfur.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sudan and the Concept of Sovereignty

Although the small African Union force tasked with peacekeeping in Darfur has utterly failed in its mission, the Sudanese government is opposed to UN sending troops to assist.

US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said the letter was “a direct challenge” to the Security Council.

A 7,000-strong African force has failed to end Darfur’s three-year conflict.

More than 2m people have fled their homes and an estimated 200,000 people have died.

Sudan does not want the UN to take control of the peacekeeping force from the AU, saying that would be an attack on its sovereignty.

Sovereignty is not just the right of a government to keep its own house, nor it is an absolute injunction against international interference, though. Sovereignty also implies obligations and responsibilities that the Sudanese government is utterly failing to meet. Few people would argue that the UN should respect a nation’s sovereignty if a government is standing by and allowing an ethnic minority to be slaughtered in the streets.

The Sudanese government has stood powerless to stop the killing and the destruction in Darfur. While refugees flee to other countries, militias rule, ineffectual local peacekeepers dither, and the government blunders on, the only potential to stop the killing is to send in international troops. The UN has obligations on this front that it has so far failed to meet.

In allowing the AU troops to try to solve the problem, the UN actually did make the correct choice. Africa, as a whole, will never be truly successful until it has the capacity to police its own problems on the continent. But when it became apparent that the AU troops were going to fail, the UN was bound by its own charter to act to stop genocide. Of course, the UN has failed to act and will probably continue to fail to act and will probably make excuses for its failure to act even as people continue to die. And then, some day in the future when “normalcy” has returned to the region we will hear stories of atrocities, watch movies about the brutality, and raiser our voices and say, “NEVER AGAIN!”

Until the next time it happens because, let’s be serious, it will happen again and the UN will fail its mission.

Read the story.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Selfish Case for Direct Involvement

I’m not particularly fond of Senator Corzine, and there aren’t too many areas where you would find me in agreement with the gentleman from New Jersey. For that matter, I can’t imagine that I’ll be a regular reader of The Huffington Post. But when someone makes a good point, I figure it’s worth noting.

But even if you put aside the moral case for ending genocide for a moment, consider our own interests in the matter.  The failed state that is being created in the wake of this horrific crime will be a hotbed for global instability.  I was there, and I saw what’s happening.  As I stood in the refugee camps of Eastern Chad, into which hundreds of thousands of desperate people are pouring over the border, I realized how dangerous to America the situation has become.  Not only is Darfur a lawless part of an unstable state, but the conflict there is destabilizing Chad.

The refugees, even when they are receiving food and shelter, have nothing to do.  Resentment is building.  And Eastern Chad, which has insufficient resources for its own population, cannot accomodate the refugees for long.  We must stop this genocide, and we also must bring about a long-term political solution to this crisis.  With two million people in refugee camps in Chad and camps for displaced persons in Darfur, we are creating the conditions for the collapse of law and order in an entire region and, potentially, for terrorism.

There are strong moral reasons to want to see the situation in Sudan, but even strong moral reasons aren’t always enough to warrant the kind of energy and political capital that it takes to resolve a difficult, violent situation like the one we are seeing in Darfur. Making the practical case--the argument that non-involvement will be far more expensive in the long run--is far more persuasive to me.

Read the story.

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