Yesterday, French presidential candidate François Bayrou called for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, saying that China was not doing enough to stop the bloodshed in Darfur:
There is nothing easier than stopping this tragedy, this genocide. This is a political issue because China decided to bring its protection to the Khartoum regime."
China has come under increasing international criticism for investing in Africa, while ignoring human rights atrocities occurring on the continent. It currently buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil, and so has used its position on the U.N. Security Council to stymie attempts to put real pressure on the Sudanese government.
Bayrou's statement is not likely to have much of a real effect. The center-right party's candidate is currently running behind Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal in the polls. Press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ended its own call for a boycott during a visit to Beijing in January. And as for China, it trotted out Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao today for this bland retort: "The people who put forward those remarks are not very clear on China's position on the Darfur issue."
Still, it's unusual that Bayrou would call for a boycott on the basis China's foreign policy towards a third party. (The American and Soviet blocs each boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, respectively, in response to the other side's domestic policies and foreign policies aimed at them.) Nonetheless, it's an interesting thought. Beijing will invest more than $23 billion in the 2008 Olympics, and has been preparing for years to showcase China to the world. What better way for China to lose face than for no one to come to the party?
It's not just the U.S. Congress and the White House that are at loggerheads these days. The United States faces gaping divisions between "conservatives" and "progressives" on issues ranging from counterterrorism to the effectiveness of foreign aid. Two recent initiatives swim against the partisan tide by seeking consensus amid the rancor.
The second, a creative project of The Stanley Foundation, takes a different approach. The foundation asks top experts of perpendicular ideological stripes to put aside their differences and address serious international issues together. Each paper in the resulting series, "Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide," is structured as a dialogue in which these opposing voices try explicitly to find common ground.
The first two papers, on the purpose of the United Nations and America's detention of suspects in the "war" on terror, have already been published. So what should the role of the United Nations be? Does America really benefit from the system? Is it justifiable for terror suspects to be detained indefinitely? The papers offer a range of perspectives and, refreshingly, leave it up to readers to form their own opinions while still offering constructive policy advice. It will be interesting to see what Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan will offer on America's use of force, and how Francis Fukuyama and Michael McFaul will tackle the issue of promoting democracy in upcoming papers.
Two years ago in the United States, Terri Schiavo—a brain-damaged woman in a persistent vegetative state—made headlines with her famous euthanasia case. Her husband and her parents were battling over whether she should be unhooked from her machines so she could die peacefully.
Now the debate over euthanasia is raging on the opposite side of the planet, in China.
Typing with a chopstick held in her mouth, 28-year-old Li Yan has been writing a blog called "Nowhere to go" that calls for China to enact legislation on euthanasia, or "peaceful death." Li Yan has suffered from terminal cancer since she was a baby. She can only move her head slightly, along with several fingers. Her mother must feed her, take her to the toilet, and turn her a dozen times during the night.
"I treasure life, but I don't want to live," she writes.
Schiavo and Li are unusual cases, but controversy over when to pull the plug is bound to grow more common as the world population ages. My hunch? Euthanasia will become more accepted as terminal illness hits closer to home for more people.
And although it's repugnant to make human life a matter of money, crippling financial costs will be an unspoken factor that makes euthanasia more accepted. When U.S. President George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he signed the Texas Futile Care Law. It allows hospitals to discontinue life-sustaining treatment if the patient is so sick that all care is, well, futile. Families get a 10-day notice before the plug is pulled. While the Schiavo debate raged, a Texas baby was unplugged against his mother's wishes.
As the world grays and financial resources remain finite, some tough decisions will have to be made. So let the worldwide debates continue.
What's your kidney worth to you? Prisoners in South Carolina may soon find that one of theirs is worth six months of freedom. In a new bill before the state legislature, prisoners will be given 180 days off their jail sentences if they donate a kidney or bone marrow.
The problem is that U.S. federal law prohibits giving donors "valuable consideration" in exchange for organs. In other words, patients in need of kidneys (or middlemen) are prohibited from giving donors money or property in order to prevent an organ market from emerging.
So, does freedom count as money or property? Hard to say. But I think the scheme in South Carolina clearly violates the law because it incentivizes donating a kidney in a coercive fashion, just as a monetary payment would. It preys upon the prisoners' situation, in the same way that offering a poor person money for his kidney does. And since prisons are disproportionately full of low-income people, this is just another way of getting one class of society to provide for the health of a wealthier class—the reason why we don't want an organ market in the first place.
Of course, the recipient rolls are still beating out the donor rolls by a mile. Perhaps there should be amendments to the law that allow incentives for dead people. Pennsylvania tried to implement a program a few years ago that would reimburse a person's family for funeral expenses if the newly deceased became a donor. Donate a kidney, let your family avoid debt for your goodbye party. Everyone's a winner.
United Nations investigators have unequivocally condemned the Sudanese government for "orchestrating and participating" in crimes including murder, mass rape and kidnap in Darfur. Over the past four years, over 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2.5 million more displaced, yet international action to halt the crisis has been negligible.
Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to ban landmines and leader of the team that submitted the report, called the international community's response to this crisis "pathetic." She added:
There are so many hollow threats towards Khartoum, that if I were Khartoum I wouldn't pay any attention either .... It is more than a tragedy. It was after Rwanda that people said 'never again', and here we are again ... and the world sits by."
So why have we just sat by and let the slaughter continue and even spill over into neighboring countries?
It could come down to human psychology, according to decision-making expert Paul Slovic in FP's latest web exclusive. Slovic argues that the statistics of mass murder actually paralyze us into inaction, which is why we need more than just our moral outrage to stop genocide in places like Darfur and elsewhere. Check out Slovic's insightful—and not a little bit disturbing—article here.
In a development that's getting far too little press, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a limited amnesty bill into law this weekend.
The bill absolves most individuals of any wrongdoing (read: war crimes) in the fight against the Soviets and the country's bloody civil war in the 1990s. Warlords and militia leaders can still be prosecuted, but the burden of proof is solely on the accuser. And with the lower house of parliament totally dominated by former militia commanders (unsurprisingly, they were the authors of the bill), the idea that victims will now come forward and charge some of the most powerful men in the country with wrongdoing seems preposterous.
The bill's authors argue that war crimes tribunals for deeds going back decades would tear the country apart. But it's interesting that those authors had the most to lose if the tribunals went forward. And now it's clear who (still) pulls the strings in Afghanistan.
An intriguing report from the International Crisis Group this week contains what may be the first good news to come out of Zimbabwe in years. Cracks are appearing in the ruling ZANU-PF party, the research group notes, and President Mugabe may be on his way out:
After years of political deadlock and continued economic and humanitarian decline, a realistic chance has at last begun to appear in the past few months to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis, by retirement of President Robert Mugabe, a power-sharing transitional government, a new constitution and elections. Both factions of the divided Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition and powerful elements of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party support the concept in outline.
Crucially, the group found that targeted sanctions have played an important role in undermining Mugabe's support:
Targeted EU and U.S. sanctions on senior regime figures are working. ZANU-PF leaders cite their personal financial situations as motivation for wanting Mugabe out. “We have businesses which we worked hard over years to set up which are collapsing. It is about time we change course”, said a senior politburo member.
The possible implications stretch far beyond Zimbabwe. Targeted sanctions, which limit the activity of specific regime members, rather than the entire country, are a relatively recent innovation. The hope has been that they would better pressure a target government while sparing its citizens needless suffering. Officials in Sudan, Iran, and North Korea are currently on the receiving end of these appeals to their unenlightened self-interest. The news out of Zimbabwe is reason to hope they might be similarly persuaded.
Women and men around the world today have been celebrating International Women's Day, which has been observed now for nearly 100 years.
And how things have changed in the past century. In 1907, New Zealand and Finland were the only countries where women had full voting rights. In the United States, women didn't get the vote until 1920. It took all the way until 1971 for Swiss women to gain suffrage. Most recently, in 2005, Kuwaiti women at last gained access to the ballot box. And now, for the first time, a woman is a credible candidate for U.S. president.
I often reflect on how life has so radically changed for women in my own family. Neither of my grandmothers, who lived in India, had a high school education. One got married at age 13 and had her first child at 16. My mother was able to attain a college degree in India, and by the time she was the age that I am now, she was a married stay-at-home mom in the United States with two kids. Today, I am a woman who has a graduate degree, works a full-time job, and is nowhere close to having kids.
How fast women's roles have been changing!
As we reflect on achievements, though, let's not forget that much work still needs to be done. Today, sixty million girls are not in school. Preferences for sons has led to gender imbalances in parts of India and China. And in sub-Saharan Africa, women's lower social status is causing them to get infected with HIV in higher numbers than men.
It all makes me wonder: In 2107, how will women be doing?
The U.S. State Department released its 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices yesterday. Tucked away in all the jargon in the report on Kazakhstan was this gem, filed under the section titled Internet Freedom:
In December 2005 the government deemed as offensive the content of a satirical web site controlled by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and revoked the .kz domain."
Sacha Baron Cohen, is, of course, the British actor who plays a fictional Kazakh TV reporter in the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Shortly before the revocation of the ".kz" domain, a Kazakh government official had threatened to take "legal measures" against Cohen. Responding in the character of Borat, Cohen—who happens to be Jewish—said:
I ... fully support my government's position to sue this Jew."
In reality, Cohen didn't skip a beat, moving his site to www.borat.tv. As Nurlan Isin, president of the Association of Kazakh IT Companies, explained at the time, "We've done this so he can't badmouth Kazakhstan under the .kz domain name." So it's a stretch, to say the least, for the U.S. State Department to lump Cohen's case in with the very real and serious human rights abuses that permeate the rest of the report.
Editor's note: Passport blogger Preeti Aroon also contributed to this post.
In its latest effort to dissuade troops from following the example set by 24's Jack Bauer, the Army is asking Kiefer Sutherland to explain to West Point cadets why they shouldn't imitate the Fox show's torture-happy protagonist. Sutherland, probably alarmed by the slew of reports that interrogators are adopting the Bauer approach to torture, has agreed to pay the cadets a visit. The Army is hoping Sutherland will have better luck than West Point professors, whose in-class attempts to explain that "Jack Bauer is a criminal" have yet to resonate, as revealed in the New Yorker's critical profile of 24 creator Joel Surnow:
Yet the motto of many of [retired West Point Professor Gary Solis' former] students was identical to Jack Bauer’s: “Whatever it takes.” His students were particularly impressed by a scene in which Bauer barges into a room where a stubborn suspect is being held, shoots him in one leg, and threatens to shoot the other if he doesn’t talk. In less than ten seconds, the suspect reveals that his associates plan to assassinate the Secretary of Defense.
The failure to temper future soldiers' enthusiasm for the Bauer approach—in addition to reports that interrogators in Iraq plagiarize tactics displayed on the show—had previously led West Point's dean to make a bizarre, on-set appearance before begging 24's producers to be gentler with the show's almost exclusively Muslim torture victims.
As Blake noted in the Morning Brief, Angelina Jolie makes a strong case for Darfur justice in today's Washington Post. The victims want justice, she argues, and Khartoum doesn't. Those are very good reasons to celebrate the International Criminal Court's recent moves. But I think she also inadvertently highlights the danger of the judicial strategy for advocates of action in Darfur:
There has been a groundswell of public support for action. People may disagree on how to intervene -- airstrikes, sending troops, sanctions, divestment -- but we all should agree that the slaughter must be stopped and the perpetrators brought to justice.
This, in a nutshell, is the problem. The ICC becomes the lowest common denominator, and politicians averse to taking the hard steps can point to the prosecutions as evidence of progress.
Jolie also points out that the situation in Darfur has worsened considerably since 2004. The deterioration on the ground is evidence that, at least so far, the threat of prosecutions has not done the job that ICC enthusiasts hoped it would. And as the recent Bosnia genocide ruling demonstrates, the wheels of justice can move very slowly indeed.
The ICC is in action now, and it should aggressively push its case. But I think activists would be wise not to celebrate its small steps, lest they create the impression that something has actually been done.
Hugh nicely summarized the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) ruling on Bosnian genocide today. To my mind, the most remarkable thing about the ruling is that it is appearing in 2007, almost twelve years after the Bosnian war ended. Bosnia originally filed the case in 1993, but a variety of procedural maneuvers and jurisdictional questions delayed actual arguments until last year.
That time lag itself is quite a commentary on the impending irrelevance of the ICJ. Don't get me wrong: It's not that international law is dead, it's just that this particular court—which handles only certain disputes between sovereign states, and does so at a glacial pace—has little to contribute. The new International Criminal Court is handling crimes against humanity and genocide, and the World Trade Organization covers most economic disputes. The ICJ has become a dusty relic, and this verdict's tardiness is the proof.
As noted in today's Morning Brief, The International Court of Justice, the U.N.'s highest legal body, has cleared Serbia of direct responsibility for what it ruled was a genocide during the 1990s war in the former Yugoslavia. However, the court did rule that Serbia violated international law by not preventing the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men and boys. The court, which rules on disputes between U.N. member states, has been deliberating on the case since May of last year. In a nuanced statement that took nearly two hours to read, British judge Rosalyn Higgins said the Srebrenica genocide "cannot be attributed to the respondent's (Serbia's) state organs."
Bosnia's case rested on the argument that Serbia incited ethnic hatred within Bosnia, armed ethnic Serbians, and actively participated in the war, which killed over 100,000 people between 1992 and 1995. Serbia has always denied the charge, insisting the war was an internal Bosnian conflict. Indeed, Serbia disputed the legality of the whole proceedings, as the U.N. had suspended Yugoslavia's membership at the time in question. Today, however, Judge Higgins ruled that Serbia had inherited Yugoslavia's "legal identity," and was thus bound by the Geneva Convention at the time of the massacre. It's doubtful that most Bosnian Muslims—who were looking for justice, not legalisms, and likely see an ethnic Serb as inseparable from the Serbian state—will be satisfied by this result.
Afghanistan's warlords and their followers are planning a major rally in Kabul tomorrow. Their cause? Impunity. Of course, they wouldn't put it quite that way. The country's warlords will be demonstrating in favor of a bill guaranteeing amnesty for the mujahidin who fought against Soviet occupation.
In the gathering, the people will show their support for the jihadi leaders and for the amnesty bill," said Waqif Hakimi, spokesman for Jamyat Islami, one of the Islamist factions involved in the country's 1992-1996 civil war. "It will be huge. I think 50,000 people will attend."
Afghanistan's warlords have become unsettled as international human rights groups push for prosecutions of the worst crimes committed during the country's long and bloody civil war. An amnesty bill has gotten the parliament's support, but now needs President Hamid Karzai's blessing.
It's not clear that he'll give it. The warlords now like to pretend that they were all fighting the good fight against the Soviet infidels (and some were), but many committed heinous atrocities against ordinary Afghans. Still, the amnesty issue puts Karzai—and the United States—in a tough spot. Battling the Taliban resurgence is the immediate priority, so delving into twenty years of atrocities would be damned inconvenient. Karzai's already unenviable job just got a little bit harder.
The United Nations-sponsored international tribunal charged with bringing the remnants of the Khmer Rouge to justice looks set to collapse, following the latest round of dithering by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Despite near universal support for the tribunal in Cambodia and in the international community, Hun Sen has trotted out the old red herring that has doomed so many similar efforts: concern over the tribunal's threat to national sovereignty.
Exactly whom is Hun Sen protecting? Himself? He was, after all, a mid-level soldier for the regime. But he ultimately defected. Old Khmer Rouge cronies? Quite possibly, given that Sen's ruling party, the CPP, is a notorious haven for former members of the Pol Pot regime. Der Spiegel offers another plausible explanation:
[Hun Sen's] delay tactics may not just be a function of his powerful friends. The Khmer Rouge had support from China, and current Chinese leaders have made it clear to their tiny neighbor that Beijing's role in the 1970s bloodbath shouldn't be revisited.
If the tribunal does collapse and Chinese pressure on Hun Sen is seen as the culprit, international outrage will probably be minimal. After all, amid breathless reports on the country's GDP and the occasional bit about urban-rural stratification, China's ghastly human rights record doesn't get nearly as much play in the press as it did in the 1990s.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees warned today that the violence in Chad threatens to escalate to the level of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Eastern Chad has been facing spillover effects from its neighbor, the Darfur region of Sudan, for years now. The two areas share a similar ethnic makeup as well as a scarcity of resources. To make matters worse, 200,000 refugees from Darfur have flooded eastern Chad. The Arab Janjaweed militia from Sudan was responsible for the initial violence and murder, but now Chadian locals have joined in, leaving hundreds dead and thousands homeless.
With Darfur still embroiled in violence and chaos, and the Sudanese government still refusing entry to U.N. peacekeepers, the outlook for Chad looks bleak. It's unlikely that the nonaggression pact between Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic will do much good, since technically "government" forces are not engaged in the conflict. So once again we ask the question, will the "international community" step in to honor the commitment of "never again" this time?
For at least the third time, the Chinese government has blocked Gao Yaojie—a Chinese doctor who has played a critical role in drawing attention to China's HIV/AIDS crisis—from leaving the country to accept an award from Vital Voices, a U.S.-based advocacy group supported by Hillary Clinton. Gao was prevented by police from leaving her house, causing her to miss her flight to Beijing (where she was planning to apply for her visa).
Gao Yaojie was one of the first people to expose the "blood scandal" in Henan province, in which local authorities knowingly allowed blood contaminated with HIV to spread throughout Henan's blood supply, which has created around 100,000 orphans. In the 1990s, local officials set up clinics and began paying peasants $5 for blood donations to meet the massive shortage of blood in local hospitals. But because donors were suffering from anemia from giving away too much blood, the collectors switched to taking only plasma, then pooling the blood of different types together, and re-injecting the remaining blood into the donors—a sure-fire way to spread diseases quickly.
Authorities have tried to cover up the scandal by arresting AIDS activists, closing down orphanages, and trying desperately to prevent the media from getting wind of it. Thanks to people like Gao, though, they haven't succeeded entirely.
(Hat tip: China Shakes the World by James Kynge)
Ye Xiaowen, China's director of the State Bureau of Religious Affair has published a clear rebuke in the People's Daily of President George W. Bush's "unilateral" war on terrorism, which he argues has worsened global tensions. Ye also urged the U.S. President to "reflect deeply" upon his ill-judged decision to turn the fight against terrorism into a religious war through employing terms such as "crusade" and "Islamic fascism," the New York Times reports.
Religious intolerance has been a key sticking point in U.S.-China relations in the past, but the criticism usually flows in the opposite direction. President Bush has repeatedly called upon the Chinese government to protect religious freedom in light of China's well-publicized crackdowns on Falun Gong followers (see also today's blog post) and members of the Muslim Uighur minority.
This type of personal public criticism of a U.S. president by a senior Chinese official is rare, but it's certainly not the first time China has felt compelled to draw attention to what it perceives to be American "double standards." Since 1999, China has responded to the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices with its own list of abuses committed by the United States. The list has included criticisms over Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the high number of civilian deaths in Iraq. Here's a particularly shrill excerpt from 2005:
[The United States] frequently commits wanton slaughters during external invasions and military attacks.
Perhaps this most recent riposte over religious intolerance should be welcomed, though—if it prompts China to practice what it preaches.
We're going to hear a lot over the next couple years about nationalizing healthcare in America. But before you hop on that train, take a look at what's going on up north. With waiting lists for organ transplants running 4,000+ people strong in Canada's nationalized healthcare system, droves of crazy Canucks are heading over to China in search of cheap human organs. According to a report released Wednesday by David Kilgour, Canada's former secretary of state for the Asia Pacific region, and David Matas, a human rights lawyer, the organs are mainly being harvested from Chinese prisoners, particularly Falun Gong practitioners.
Much of the harvesting, Kilgour and Matas report, is being done by China's military. "Recipients often tell us that even when they receive transplants at civilian hospitals, those conducting the operation are military personnel,'' the report said. The going price for a People's Liberation Army kidney is about $52,000. As many as 100 Canadians have traveled to China to have transplants in recent years.
Matas had this to say:
Everywhere else in the world, you have recipients waiting for donors. In China, it's the reverse, donors are waiting for recipients. Once a customer arrives into China somebody is killed for the organ."
And it's not just China—it's unbelievable how global the phenomenon of organ harvesting has become. Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a prominent professor of medical anthropology at Berkeley, broke down the numbers on it for FP in this eye-opening piece:
Today, India marked the 59th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's death. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paraphrased one of Gandhi's teachings by saying, "We need a new development paradigm that caters to everyone's need and can keep in check human greed."
But just how appropriate is Gandhi's philosophy for the new India of the 21st century?
It's telling that in a survey published last year by the Economic Times newspaper, 37 percent of Indian students and young business leaders said today's biggest icon was Bill Gates. Only 30 percent chose Gandhi.
So, maybe this dance performance in front of the Taj Mahal celebrating Microsoft's Vista roll-out campaign isn't as absurd as it looks at first:
A 2-meter-high baby diaper made out of police uniforms has been banned by communist authorities in Vietnam. The artwork is the same light brown color as the uniforms of Vietnam's traffic police, and the inside of the giant diaper is lined with pockets—each fastened by a police button.
The artist, Truong Tan, was merely trying to make a coy statement on official corruption by comparing the absorbent capacities of diapers with the pockets of police officers. But he wasn't coy enough. All cultural events in Vietnam need to be approved in advance, and organizers must submit photos of artwork along with descriptions. In this case, the photo was submitted sans description, so authorities were a bit slow in picking up on the sculpture's hidden meaning. But after one member of the police department saw it up close, he got the joke—and the giant diaper was duly banned from the exhibition.
Think that India and the United States are natural allies? That India's democratic system will allow it to eventually surpass China? That India, despite its religious diversity, is a model for how we can all live together in peace and harmony?
That's what Barbara Crossette, who was the chief correspondent for South Asia for the New York Times from 1988-1991, wants you to do as you read a new web exclusive for ForeignPolicy.com that's bound to be controversial. She's backed up her argument with lots of data showing that, for now, India's vaunted rise, and its celebrated tolerance, are more hype than reality when it comes to improving the lives of most Indians.
But you don't have to take Crossette's word for it—just take a gander at what India's own pundits are saying. Here's Ramesh Thakur, writing in The Hindu:
The demoralisation and ill-discipline of the police forces is matched by the public's distrust and fear of them. They are widely believed to be anti-poor, anti-women, anti-Muslim, and anti-outcastes. Torture is as routine as corruption is endemic.
A previously undisclosed cache of letters written by Anne Frank's father reveals just how desperately Otto Frank tried to save his family and get them out of Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The letters, discovered two summers ago in New York City, reveal that he investigated escape routes through Spain to neutral Portugal, tried to obtain visas to Paris, and attempted to get his family into the United States and Cuba.
The letters once again bring to light questions about U.S. immigration policy at the time, and why Mr. Frank's desperate pleas for help were not successful. As chronicled in Anne Frank's famous diary, the family ended up having to hide in an Amsterdam attic for two years, only to be discovered and sent to concentration camps.
In this week's What We're Reading, FP's Christine Chen flagged a poignant narrative by Ishmael Beah about his life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. The New York Times Magazine article was a gripping sneak preview of Beah's new book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.
As it happens, Starbucks is planning to carry the book in its stores, a departure from its pleasant but bland choices in the past. What's behind this move? It all goes back to New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Allow me to explain. Before he became a favorite whipping boy for liberal bloggers, Brooks was best known for Bobos in Paradise, his brilliant and witty analysis of how former 60s bohemians took some of their cultural tastes and causes with them when the grew up and became the new bourgeois in America.
What does this have to do with Starbucks? For starters, the coffee shop phenomenon itself is one of the best examples of a counterculture trend going upscale. Starbucks succeeds as a chain in part because it has fostered an image of a kinder, gentler coffee company that is concerned about its workers and its global impact. So, the decision to publish Beah's memoirs is not really the "very courageous choice" that his publisher says it is. Starbucks should certainly be applauded, but let's remember that it's all part of the show.
POLLS TELL US that Americans want to be less involved in Iraq and more involved in Darfur. It's not hard to understand why. For the American public, and many of its leaders, Iraq is a tainted war without good guys. Darfur, by contrast, is a chance to save the helpless. In our minds, Iraq and Darfur seem to fit into neat categories: One is a botched war, the other is a humanitarian crisis.
The ugly truth is that in both cases, thousands of innocent civilians are suffering. Bosco highlights a recent finding by the United Nations that over 34,000 Iraqis died in 2006 (here's the pdf of the report itself). He could have added that another 471,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since last February's Samarra shrine bombing. The death toll for Darfur has become a political football, but the U.S. State Department's most recent estimate is that 200,000 people have been killed by the violence since it began in 2003, and over 2 million people have been displaced. But Bosco's not trying to play the numbers game. Rather, he's trying to grab Americans swayed by moral arguments over Darfur, and shake them into asking themselves whether the United States can still save lives in Iraq:
It's natural that Americans would yearn for a simpler and clearer conflict than Iraq to showcase their humanitarian impulses. But our concern for Darfur must not become a moral salve that allows us to abandon Iraq to its spasm of violence. There may be no blameless factions in Iraq, but there are thousands of ordinary victims. Unless it is clear that we are doing no good, we owe them more.
If Bosco wanted to make the case that Iraq is actually more important to American interests than Darfur, he could have, but I think he would reject that kind of cold, amoral calculus. Is one person's life more valuable than another's? Yet, while it's not clear to me that the U.S. military is doing "no good" in Iraq, absent a more realistic regional strategy from the White House, what little it is accomplishing by staying is probably not worth the costs.
News flash to Madonna: Telling David Letterman that you and your husband were "basically creating the laws as we went" when adopting a baby boy from Malawi is probably not going to earn you a lot of sympathy. I'm going to have to agree with Angelina on the need to stay on the side of the law when it comes to international adoption:
Madonna knew the situation in Malawi, where he was born," [Jolie] says. "It's a country where there is no real legal framework for adoption. Personally, I prefer to stay on the right side of the law. I would never take a child away from a place where adoption is illegal."
That said, I do think Madonna is getting something of a bad rap on this. Her critics are no doubt getting mileage today out of the fact that she said more people should adopt from Africa. But let's take her statement at face value. More people should adopt orphaned children from Africa—as long as there are proper frameworks in place to verify that kids aren't being exploited. But there are children in needs of homes everywhere, not just in Africa.
FP's current issue takes an in-depth look at trends in international adoption around the world: the costs, the sending and receiving countries, and the restrictions that many countries place on the adopting parents. Some countries even prohibit parents over a certain weight to adopt a child.
While Madonna certainly needs to rethink some of her rhetoric on adoptions, Angelina Jolie may not be the greatest role model, either. Rumor has it that the Seattle agency through which she adopted baby Maddox from Cambodia in 2002 was later convicted of visa fraud and money laundering.
But let's cut Madonna and Angelina a break. These two famous women have done wonders in making adoption fashionable. Their stumbles should simply be lessons for others, not discouragement.
As the world's eyes focus on Baghdad, problems in other parts of the world have a stubborn way of plodding along, whether or not anyone takes notice. In Bangladesh, a fragile democracy of nearly 150 million souls, caretaker president Iajuddin Ahmed has just resigned as "chief adviser" in the face of a general strike and growing protests. Our Thursday Video takes you to the streets of Dhaka, where violence between police and protesters is getting increasingly out of control:
Demonstrations by the opposition Awami League have thrown much of the country into chaos; the League claims that the outgoing government of the Bangladesh National Party has rigged a general election due in two weeks. The UN and the EU have both left, claiming that the deteriorating situation make it impossible to hold a free and fair vote as scheduled. A state of emergency had been declared by President Ahmed last night.
Why does this matter? As a country made up of mostly moderate Muslims, Bangladesh is an important counterweight to more politically repressive regimes elsewhere in the Islamic world. Countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Turkey, when their political systems work, show that democracy and Islam are not mutually exclusive. They also preclude the emergence of religiously-based terrorist groups by better channeling dissent. The success or failure of democracy in places like Bangladesh could reverberate in other countries, like nearby Pakistan and distant Iraq, that occupy more real estate on newspaper front pages.
It was five years ago today that the first detainees in the war on terror left Afghanistan on a flight to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They arrived at Gitmo in the early morning hours of January 11, so most of the major protests against the facility will actually take place tomorrow on the official anniversary of their arrival. Doesn't it seem so long ago, before the hunger strikes, the detainee suicides, the release of so many prisoners without comment, the international outrage, the Supreme Court rebuke, and Bush's trump card of making the place home to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind? Despite Bush's admission last summer that he'd like to see Gitmo closed, new buildings are going up to house more prisoners and the military tribunals for them. It looks like Gitmo will be blowing out six candles next year.
Saddam Hussein is dead and buried, and the charges against him for the murder of as many as 180,000 Iraqi Kurds have been dropped. Nevertheless, the former dictator held center stage at yesterday's court proceedings for the remaining defendants in the Anfal case. John F. Burns reports for the NYT on how recordings played of Saddam coldly advocating the use of chemical weapons on Kurdish villages prove that the world just said goodbye to a brutal despot.
On one recording, Mr. Hussein presses the merits of chemical weapons on Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, his vice-president, and now, the Americans believe, the fugitive leader of the Sunni insurgency that has tied down thousands of American troops. Mr. Douri, a notorious hard-liner, asks whether chemical attacks will be effective against civilian populations, and suggests that they might stir an international outcry.
"Yes, they're very effective if people don't wear masks," Mr. Hussein replies.
"You mean they will kill thousands?" Mr. Douri asks.
"Yes, they will kill thousands," Mr. Hussein says. [...]
Mr. Hussein sounds matter of fact as he describes what chemical weapons will do. "They will prevent people eating and drinking the local water, and they won’t be able to sleep in their beds," he says. "They will force people to leave their homes and make them uninhabitable until they have been decontaminated." [...]
But it was Mr. Hussein's chilling discussion of the power of chemical weapons against civilians that brought prosecutors and judges to the verge of tears, and seemed to shock the remaining defendants. One of the recordings featured an unidentified military officer telling Mr. Hussein that a plan was under development for having Soviet-built aircraft carry containers, packed with up to 50 napalm bombs each, which would be rolled out of the cargo deck and dropped on Kurdish towns.
"Yes, in areas where you have concentrated populations, that would be useful," Mr. Hussein replies.
Last month, FP published The Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2006. Today, the French NGO Doctors Without Borders posted its own list of what was overlooked last year, only from a humanitarian angle. Their list includes the plight of Somalians, refugees fleeing the Central African Republic, victims of tuberculosis, the effects of malnutrition, and those fleeing violence in Colombia, which has more internally displaced people than any country in the world except Sudan. Check out the NGO's website to see what you can do to help.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.