Sunday, March 27, 2011
It occurs to me that our country has entered into a new foreign policy, that of "the defense of universal human rights." Very few people seem to know the origins of this phrase. However, as the former Executive Director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill (ERVK), Mrs. Roosevelt's former home, I am deeply aware that this is a reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was the main accomplishment of Mrs Roosevelt's career. In 1998, ERVK ran a multi-part program to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UDHR. It included a town hall meeting on the day of the anniversary, December 9, at Marist College, in the Roosevelt's home of Dutchess County; a 7 part college lecture series around the country on human rights that included then First Lady Hillary Clinton, former Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias; Gloria Steinem and others. We also sponsored several teacher training courses on human rights and a local Welfare Reform Monitoring Program that used the UDHR as the standard for evaluating the results of Welfare Reform. It was an ambitious program for a small organization.
But I have been disappointed in the disucssions for the past two weeks on these shows about Libya. There continues to be a reserve on the part of most commentators on the wisdom of our military intervention there. Some observers are clearly in favor of the President's decisions, but even they do not firmly resist some of the allegations of those who opposed him. Richard Haas of the Council of Foreign Relations has been especialy critical.
One of the most insistent points made by Haas and other critics is that we simply do not know who the Libyan opposition is so should not have rushed to support them. Even John Negroponte, a supporter of Libyan policy, ceded this one to Haas and urged the State Department to get diplomatic representatives to Benghazi to meet them. All this talk seems to ignore the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself met with these leaders as did earlier French President Sarkozy. (The story of how French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy travelled to Benghazi to meet them and then arranged for them to meet with Sarkozy is one of the fascinating turns of fate of this matter.) While I agree with Negroponte that we should dispatch diplomats to Benghazi, all this talk seems to ignore information already available about the Libyan opposition. For one, an excellent piece abou the origins of the revolt and the nature of it was published in the recent issue of "The New York Review of Books," by Nicolas Pelham called "The Battle of Libya:" http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/apr/07/battle-libya/?page=1)
My hope is that the rebels, after a most successful air intervention by the anti-Coalition, will continue their westward sweep and that all this doubt and angst will also be swept away by their victory and the President's and Hillary's wisdom and compassion will have been confirmed.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Huntington wrote a book in 1993 called "The Third Wave," about the wave of democratic transitions that took place in Southern Europe and Latin America, including Brazil, in the 1980s and 90s. The first two waves of democracy had taken place between 1828-1926 and 1945-1962, he noted. He explained a series of factors that made this third wave possible, but did not go on to say they had been inevitable. The last place that Huntington thought there would be democratic change was in the Islamic world. Most students of the Middle East and Central Asia would have agreed with him.
However, Huntington would have surely been one of the first to identify the current democratic uprisings in Northern Africa and the Middle East as a likely fourth wave of democratization. Though the dust certainly has not settled on the region and many properly express concern that these revolutions could be "high-jacked" by militant Islamic extremists, there are not concrete indications that this is happening or, even more important, that Islamic fundamentalism is at the root or even a part of these movements.
This is why I remain nonplussed by the consistent note of scepticism about these democratic revolutions and especially the decision of the international community to go in to protect and support the revolution in Libya. This is an unparalleled opportunity to see the entire Arab world move in the direction of democracy and modernity. Whether these revolutions have external support could be critical, if we read Huntington, to their success. It is easy to say, "this is not my fight," but in fact we have huge interests, global interests, in their success. I hope others can see it this way.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Several commentators on today's Sunday talk shows, based on the NYT piece, have noted that the shift in policy in favor of a military solution was the work of a group of women policy makers, including Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and UN Ambassador Susan Rice. One said, "the girls prevaled" against the boys, namely Robert Gates and Admiral McMullen and Tom Donilon. This had already occurred to me, and I think it is important to think why this happened. Some associated this with the Clinton administration's failure to respond adequately on Rwanda and the roles of these women at that time. I believe this is valid, but it goes beyond Rwanda. The Obama adminstration, as I have noted in previous blogs, has embraced fully the doctrine of universal human rights--without properly citing the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights--including again today during the President's speech in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I believe that this deep seated adherence to universal human rights and the importance given specifically to the new doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (P2P) drove the Obama decision. I would further venture the opinion that for whatever reason that one may chose to identify, women in general have been more dedicated to human rights than men, and the rise of women to positions of the highest power in government has influenced our foreign policy.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The United States seemed for a long while not to sense what was at stake in this conflict. A repeated call by the rebels themselves and their supporters for a "no-fly zone" appeared to stir concern and preoccupation with the complexities of carrying this out, the fact that, duh!, it would require taking out Gaddafi's air defenses, and would thus be getting involved in, well, a war. Obviously, US defense and military leaders, spooked by the hobgoblins of Iraq and Afghanistan, were loath to get involved in another "war" in a Third World hell hole, I mean "send a land army into Asia, the Middle East or Africa." They took the lead in the administration in expressing this view.
But in other recesses of the Administration, other views were being expressed. In the White House itself, the President had already made some bold statements in support of the rebels and that Gaddafi "had lost his legitimacy, and must go." But that was when rebel victories were piling up and ultimate victory seemed as inevitable as those of democratic forces in Tunisia and Egypt. But Libya is not either of those two countries, where leaders were toppled by peaceful protests and where the armed forces played a first neutral and then decisive role in dictators stepping down. Perhaps nobody in the US government thought that Gadaffi, crazy as a loon, could rally his forces to push back. But he and his regime proved much more resourceful. Crazy like a fox, seemed a more appropriate characterization.
As Gaddafi's forces took the initiative and rolled over the rebels, a debate of major proportions must have been going on within the administration. I believe that liberals in the White House and the State Department felt that we needed to be firmly on the side of history in this conflict and were also moved by the spector of a nationwide massacre of civilians associated with the revolt similar to a Bosnia and maybe even a Rwanda, or something that could be so characterized. In the White House, such a voice would be coming from foreign policy advisor Samantha Power (of "A Problem From Hell," about the genocide in Rwanda), and other "liberals." At the State Department, I am quite sure that people around Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were interpreting the importance of the wave of Arab rebellions and urging military action. However, the White House and State Department were spooked by their own hobgoblin, that of unilateral US action, stemming from Iraq, without UN authorization. The only problem is that the US was not taking the lead at the UN in seeking military action.
Then everything changed when the Gaddafi forces started rolling back the rebel cities, one after another, and a major human tragedy appeared in the making. Suddenly something clicked. But it is more than that. An activist position was a secret desire of Administration liberals but they were unwilling to appear to be taking on the Defense Department's wariness of another major military commitment. (I am sympathetic to some extent because Afghanistan is really hard and has required an enormous commitment by DoD and the military, remains a delicate and dangerous problem, but issue should crowd out another of national importance. Inevitably, we must fight the wars we have to fight, not the one's we choose to fight.) But the key element that added to this switch was the position of conservative Republicans and neocons who from the very beginning favored a more activist and militarist position. This both embarrassed the administration but also gave them political cover to do what they really wanted to do but were scared to do.
What followed was both a miracle at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and one at 1st Ave. and 44th St. in New York.