July 11, 2007

CNN has a piece on the re-burial of victims of the massacre in Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995, worth reading. If you haven’t already, you should check out Sheri Fink’s War Hospital, an excellent account of the siege from the perspective of national and international medical doctors trapped in the Muslim enclave.

Let Freedom Ring?

June 12, 2007

I am not a patriot. I dislike nationalism in all its forms, and I hold no extraordinary allegiance to my country of birth. I see no more reason to fight for the economic gain of those who share my nationality at the expense of others as I do to fight for my Caucasian ethnicity.

I do however hold allegiance to certain principles–freedom and justice being primary among them–that I believe are worthwhile. To the extent that America is in line with those principles, or at least better than some other countries, I love America. To the extent that America falls short, I am an irrepressible critic. Principle stands higher than country, and it seems that most of the wars in the world have followed when country stands higher than principle.

Truthdig has a piece on Bush’s (positive) reception in Albania, at the same time as a report was released by the Council of Europe on America’s secret prisons. From the report:

What was previously just a set of allegations is now proven: large numbers of people have been abducted from various locations across the world and transferred to countries where they have been persecuted and where it is known that torture is common practice. Others have been held in arbitrary detention, without any precise charges leveled against them and without any judicial oversight. … Still others have simply disappeared for indefinite periods and have been held in secret prisons, including in member states of the Council of Europe.

So, how should we judge President Bush? They say history will judge him… Who knows, maybe later Americans will retain their penchant for preemptive war and laud Bush as a hero for setting a precedent. That’s not an America that I look forward to. One thing I can certainly say now is that the abuses of freedom and human rights that were often justified in our foreign policy by utilitarian calculations (civil war in Guatemala or elsewhere is better than a Communist takeover) have been thrown front and center by George Bush. From TruthDig:

We will remember that long after it was clear that Guantanamo was doing serious harm to our nation’s reputation in the world—on Sunday, Bush’s former secretary of state, Colin Powell, called for the place to be shut down “this afternoon”—Bush stubbornly kept it open.

Let the scandals of today pass. Certain things will stick in our minds much longer:

We will remember Alberto Gonzales not for his hapless stewardship of the Justice Department or the firings of those U.S. attorneys—well, actually, we will remember him for those things—but we’ll also remember that when he was White House counsel he dutifully provided legalistic justification for subjecting prisoners to treatment that international agreements clearly define as torture.

And, one last note on the Council of Europe report:

Marty [the author of the report] makes this point in his report. “We are fully aware of the seriousness of the terrorist threat and the danger it poses to our societies,” he writes. “However, we believe that the end does not justify the means in this area.” Resorting to “abuse and illegal acts,” he says, “actually amounts to a resounding failure of our system and plays right into the hands of the criminals who seek to destroy our societies through terror.”

If America is a beacon for freedom, justice, and human rights, then she is worthy of praise. If she is a den of selfish, aggressive foreign policy and a hunger for economic gain with no question of its consequences, then she is not. Most Americans don’t really care about numbers killed that much. In truth, American forces have killed (whether purposefully or accidentally) many more civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere then died on 9/11 in New York. The conflagration begun by our military belligerency has arguably resulted in the deaths of more civilians than the continuation of Saddam’s murderous regime would have.

We, as Americans, normally accept these numbers not because we like death, but because we believe the American government is fighting for something that is true, noble, and just: American forces are fighting to preserve the American way of life. If America is not just in its treatment of enemies, are we fighting for justice, or for blind self-preservation?

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Croatian Vacation

November 16, 2006

I think this post may be the first of many that will explore my love for travel photography; i.e., it’ll probably become a regular series. I have a lot of pictures from places around the world and I might as well share them. Today’s subject is Dubrovnik, Croatia, which has well-preserved medieval walls perched on the edge of the ocean, a beautiful harbor, red-tiled roofs, and is nestled into the side of a mountain. It would’ve been about perfect had it not been for all those Italian tourists…







Why Both Parties Have it Wrong on Iraq

November 10, 2006

For the last few years American politics have been dominated by Iraq, and this isn’t likely to change. In fact, opinion polling showed again and again that Iraq is right up there with terrorism and the economy as the most important issues for voters. While I had a strong preference in this election, it wasn’t based on the war because I believe both parties’ policies (or lack thereof) on Iraq are doomed to fail.

First, as the Republicans haven’t been shy to point out, the Democrats have failed to articulate a clear position. The Democrats seem split between the urge to stay the course and hope things get better and the urge to drop everything now because we’ve suffered too many losses.

The so-called “cut and run” strategy favored by many on the left is exemplified by Cindy Sheehan. Every compassionate person should sympathize with the loss of her son, a soldier in Iraq.

But while some of my peers see Sheehan’s anti-war stance as a clarion call of truth, a prophetic voice in the desert, to me she has all the grating appeal of a shrill reactionary.

Are we as Americans wholly unwilling to sacrifice for a good cause? Regardless of the initial rationale for the invasion, or the morality of that action, pulling out now could result in absolute chaos, and we would be responsible.

The world is full of hot spots, potential genocidal regimes, conflict-induced famines and other situations that may morally necessitate intervention by the U.S. and other powerful nations to prevent atrocities.

Our unique sensitivity to American casualties is to some degree a testament to our dislike of war, but it kept us from doing a lot of good in Somalia (the incident portrayed in Black Hawk Down) and in places like Rwanda and Sudan.

On the other hand, the Republicans have rallied behind President Bush and his mantra of “stay the course”. This was recently moderated (largely due the political pressure of Tuesday’s elections) to having “benchmarks” for withdrawal—a slightly more nuanced view, but quite similar in most respects.

Some Democrats have rather correctly called Bush’s “stay the course” what it is: “stand still and lose.” Our strategy simply isn’t working. Despite the improvements we may have made to some portions of Iraqi society, both the sectarian violence and the flow of refugees out of Iraq have steadily increased.

The only policy direction that, in my opinion seems viable in the long term is largely absent from the debate: a three-state solution.

Why? Iraq is at its heart an unnatural state, a creation of British imperialists who cobbled together long-opposed tribal districts. David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace explores the history of the Middle East after the fall of Ottoman Empire, revealing that Iraq was created for the convenience of its rulers, with virtually no correspondence to ethnic and religious realities on the ground. Following imperialism, it took a tyrant like Saddam Hussein to hold Iraq together.

In a similar situation, Yugoslavia was only held together by imperial and dictatorial communist rule, and ethnic nationalism flared back up after the fall of Tito. While an early military intervention might have prevented a downward spiral of violence in what was to become Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, at some point separation becomes the only workable option.

After Saddam Hussein was deposed, an occupation by a much more powerful American force might have been able to use crushing force prevent anti-American and sectarian violence and secure Iraq’s borders with Iran and Syria. But our failure to have a large enough force on hand and a lack of planning allowed an increase in violence that has steadily increased.

I believe Iraq has reached a breaking point. Ethnic and inter-religious tensions have been exasperated to the point that maintaining a viable, tolerant multiethnic nation would require a level of force and commitment that the American public is simply not willing to sustain.

Based on the escalation of Iraqi-vs.-Iraqi violence since the invasion of Iraq, we basically have two choices: divide Iraq into three states now, or watch the Iraqis (or more accurately, the extremists on all sides) ethnically cleanse themselves into three states after we withdraw.

The reason a three-state solution of Kurdish, Shi’a and Sunni regions hasn’t gained strong support is that Iraq’s neighbors hate the idea. Iran and Turkey fear independent Iraqi Kurds because their countries hold their own Kurdish separatist movements. Also, enclaves in Iraq lack of clear boundaries, Baghdad is divided, and a number of minorities could suffer persecution in divided states just as the states of the former Yugoslavia struggle with minority rights.

These problems might be moderated by moving Iraq toward a loose federation that gives regions significant autonomy, and allows some sharing of oil revenues. This would make Iraq’s neighbors uneasy, but less so than full independence. And again, if segments of Iraq are likely to separate themselves through the process of war after the Americans depart anyway, giving people the choice to move now might curtail future violence.

I hope I’m wrong; the process would be messy and result in more loss of life before the situation could ever stabilize. But regardless of what Democrats and Republicans claimed in their campaign speeches, neither of the presently espoused strategies seems likely to succeed.

Serbs Them Right

October 28, 2006

Serbia is voting this weekend on its new constitution. The controversial part is that the new constitution (necessitated by Serbia’s split with Montenegro, which opted for independence earlier this year) maintains that Kosovo is an “integral part” of Serbia. And most Kosovars disagree. Serbian politicians have urged citizens to either vote for the new constitution or risk “grave consequences”.

Kosovo is currently governed by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), with security provided by NATO. Since most Kosovars want independence from Serbia, the UN will likely eventually give it to them, and hopefully Serbia won’t have the military might (or will) to resist seriously. So Serbia’s new constitution will likely have no impact on Kosovo’s actually status.

Instead, it could hurt Serbs themselves. Serbia is hoping to join the European Union sometime soon, and without protection for the rights of (or possibly independence for) Kosovars, Serbia’s chances of joining the E.U. are close to nil.

From my short time in the former Yugoslavia, I got the impression that everything I had read was more or less correct. Blind nationalism and religious self-righteousness were found on all sides. The Serbs just had better weapons, so the others suffered more.

Hard feelings are close to the surface between ethnic and religious groups. Over breakfast coffee in Split, right next to Diocletian’s palace, a former Croatian tank commander told me about fighting for “his country, his people”, gesturing that he smiled when he got to fight.

And I realized a sort of truth about pretty much every war in history. What group has ever gone to war without believing that fate, or luck, or righteousness was on their side? And what people have fought a war not believing God was on their side?