Posts Tagged ‘the Arab Spring’

International human rights in retreat, as Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia gain the upper hand

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

It has been a hard couple of years for advocates of international human rights, and respect for international law of which they form a part. Since the hopes of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran, and the Arab Spring beginning in Tunisia in February, 2011, the struggle for democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East, and elsewhere, has suffered grievous setbacks.

We can only imagine what Europe would be like today had Serbia and Milosovic and Karadzic not been stopped, eventually by the use of military force when that was ultimately required. Actually, long after it was required, when the U.S. and NATO got around to it.

Now we must imagine a future in which Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia, with their ally in the League of Authoritarian States, China, stand triumphant.

One can try to imagine what Europe would have been like had Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich been left standing after World War II.  Jean Monnet’s dream of a united Europe would have been unthinkable, for example.

So, after World War II, we had the vision of international peace and security which was embodied in the United Nations Charter. For 65 years we pursued the goals set forth in the Charter, without ever admitting they were beyond our reach.

But now, as the Middle East is swept into a vortex that is every bit as dangerous as the Balkans in the summer of 1914, that dream of a world made up of democracies governed by the rule of law, and nation states continuously developing treaties and legal institutions in order to achieve in concrete form the goal of peace, appears to be receding.

The dream, after all, can only survive so long as it is shared by the leaders of the world and their peoples.

Now, however, the enemies of that dream — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Russia, and China (which include the core members of the League of Authoritarian States) — are fighting successfully to replace its hopes with the guns and missiles and bombs and knives of the repression which they represent.

The rest of the world, including those countries which have or aspire to attain democracy and the rule of law, appear to be asleep.

Meanwhile, Iran is defeating the allies of the United States in a hot war in Syria, as Russia resumes its former role of being the ultimate friend of despotic states. The war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by al-Assad and his allies in Syria do not move the Kremlin, which has itself done worse in recent times in Chechnya, not to speak of its atrocities in the 20th century. China is sending troops to participate in the U.N. force in Mali, which is a welcome sign, but will not budge on its support of Russia on Syria.

If that were not enough, the head of the African Union on the 50th anniversary of its founding has accused the International Criminal Court of hunting Africans out of racist motives, notwithstanding the fact that the new head prosecutor of the court is from The Gambia. Together the dictators and autocrats of Africa have taken a stand against the ICC’s prosecution of the newly elected President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity.

So, we can forget all that talk about “the responsibility to protect”, as darker days lie before us in a world where Bashar al-Assad stands triumphant, Vladimir Putin (“the executioner of the Caucasus”) stands triumphant, and the clouds of looming war blacken the skies in which our future hopes might otherwise reside.

The leaders of the West of today, and Barack Obama first among them, will long be remembered as having faced the moment of truth in the struggle between the forces of freedom and those of darkness–who are supporting and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, firing artillery and tanks and bombs on innocent civilian populations—and having shrugged their shoulders and walked away from the battle.

This has been going on now for over two years.

We are witnessing a whole generation of Neville Chamberlains and Éduouard Daladiers in action, with not a single Winston Churchill to be found.

Who does President Obama remind you of more, Winston Churchill or Neville Chamberlain?

Syria does not concern them. Just as Germany and Japan did not concern the democratic nations of the world in 1936 or 1938, and just as the raging civil war in Spain in the 1930′s did not concern them, in which Fascist Germany and Fascist Italy supported Franco’s forces against the Republican armies, while the democracies of Europe hid behind their purported obligations of neutrality.

Iran and Russia appear to have taken the measure of Barack Obama and the resolve of the West, and decided as a result to back al-Assad to the hilt. Iran must now be highly confident that neither the United States nor Israel will engage in any military action that could inflict damage sufficient to halt their onward march toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

For the moment, Iran and Hezbollah and al-Assad and the Russians are winning in Syria, and beyond.

The Trenchant Observer

Words and Deeds: Obama’s Defense of Democracy in Africa, 2011

Monday, August 1st, 2011

In comments on July 29 following meetings with President Yayi of Benin; President Conde of Guinea; President Issoufou of Niger; and President Ouattara of Ivory Coast, President Barack Obama stated the following:

“Despite the impressive work of all these gentlemen, I’ve said before and I think they all agree, Africa does not need strong men; Africa needs strong institutions. So we are working with them as partners to build effective judiciaries, strong civil societies, legislatures that are effective and inclusive, making sure that human rights are protected.”
–President Barack Obama, West Africa: Remarks By Obama After Meeting With Four African Presidents”, July 29, 2011, reprinted in TheNigerianDaily.com, July 30, 2011.

As we have learned in other contexts, it is important to examine carefully not just what President Obama says but also, and most importantly, what he does. When he speaks of working with these and presumably other African leaders “to build effective judiciaries, strong civil societies, legislatures that are effective and inclusive, making sure that human rights are protected,” one must ask, “What are the specific programs, in which countries, and at what level of funding is he referring to?”

Again, how does this level of funding, per country, compare to the cost of deploying one American soldier to Afghanistan for one year?

Africans struggling to establish or strengthen democracy in their countries need not just words, but deeds. They need specific and meaningful programs that provide financial assistance for the strengthening of civil society organizations, including NGO’s working to ensure observance of fundamental human rights, and judicial reforms that not only improve the functioning of the courts but also expand access to justice among broader sections of the population.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Obama and Democracy in Africa, 2011,” July 16, 2011

Also worth noting in passing is the level of sophistication regarding Africa revealed at the White House, when the President refers to “Cote d’Ivoire” as if no one in the State Department knows the name of the country in English (Ivory Coast). If we are to start using the native languages for the names of different countries, we will have to refer to Egypt as Misr, Algeria as Jaza’ir, and Germany as Deutschland. It’s probably better to stick with English.

Or, to cite another example, when the Deputy National Security Adviser for Africa speaks of the president trying to find ways to speak directly to “the African people,” he is referring to the diverse peoples of the 54 countries of Africa as one people. It as if he were referring to people in Asia as “the Asian people” or the people in Latin America as “the Latin American people”. India, China and Brazil, to cite but a few examples, would not be pleased.

Details count, and are revealing.

The Trenchant Observer

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e-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Obama and Democracy in Africa, 2011

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Michelle Obama’s visit to Africa in June was, by most accounts, a successful goodwill tour by the First Lady and her family, serving to underline the importance of U.S.-African relations in general, and the personal interest of the First Family in African countries in particular.

See Andrew Malcolm (commentary), “Michelle Obama’s magical family tour of Africa,” Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2011

Certainly, the symbolism, particularly of her meeting with Nelson Mandela, was powerful, recalling as it did the triumph in two great countries of peaceful social revolutions based on the ideas and inspiration of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela himself.

Nonetheless, the visit was also a time to reflect on U.S.-African relations, evoking a number of criticisms of U.S. policy toward Africa under President Barack Obama.

An article by Krissah Thompson, published in the Washington Post on June 18, 2011, nicely captured the gulf between the attention given the Obamas as media celebrities when they travel to Africa, and the reality of U.S. policies toward the countries of the continent.

Typical of the criticisms cited by Thompson were the foilowing:

(T)he big challenges facing the continent — poverty, government corruption, threats of extremism, and AIDS — have not drawn the White House attention that Mwiza Munthali, public outreach director of TransAfrica Forum, had hoped for.

U.S. officials, said Munthali, “are not seeing Africa as a big priority. There has been some ambivalence.”

From another viewpoint, the following criticism was heard:

Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, a Ghanaian who runs a New York investment and research firm specializing in Africa, pointed to what he said was the irony in the shared disappointment. “We really said if a black man became president, it would change the world, but we are basically back at the same level we were before,” he said. “The bulk of the policy is still the legacy of the Clinton and Bush years. The Obama legacy toward Africa is still yet to be seen.”

–Krissah Thompson, “First lady’s African trip resurrects criticism of president on African issues,” Washington Post, June 18, 2011

A lame defense of U.S. policy towards Africa offered by White House officials only underlined the absence of really significant U.S. programs and initiatives in the region.

White House officials disagreed (with the criticisms), saying that the administration has laid out clear priorities in Africa: supporting democratic regimes, decreasing hunger and developing the $63 billion Global Health Initiative. That program seeks to integrate the Bush administration’s focus on AIDS with a wider approach to public health issues.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, noted that Obama met with the leaders of Nigeria and Gabon this month, and last year hosted a large group of handpicked young adults from the continent for a White House forum.

While Obama’s schedule has prevented him from traveling (to) the continent more, Rhodes said, the president delivered audio messages urging a peaceful democratic transition in Ivory Coast and an end to violence in Sudan, which recently divided into northern and southern jurisdictions with U.S. backing.

“We have looked for ways for him to continue to speak to the African people directly,” Rhodes said.

–Krissah Thompson, “First lady’s African trip resurrects criticism of president on African issues,” Washington Post, June 18, 2011

This defense was bolstered–perhaps–by an apology for Obama administation policies toward Africa written by two Brookings Institution Africanists and published on July 6.

See Mwangi S. Kimenyi and Nelipher Moyo, “Favorite or Prodigal Son? U.S. – Africa Policy under Obama,” Brookings (blog of the The Brookings Institution), July 6, 2011

Against this backdrop, one might ask, what is going on in terms of U.S. support of democratic forces and civil society in the region? How much money is it spending on such support?

Going forward, how much has the Obama administration asked for, and how much is the Republican-controlled House of Representatives willing to spend, on democracy and governance activities in Africa that support democratic forces and strengthen civil society?

To put these numbers in perspective, one might also ask how does this number, per country, compare to the cost of supporting one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan for one year?

The fact is that demands for democracy and accountable government are not confined to the North African countries of “the Arab Spring.” They have also been heard in West Africa, from Ivory Coast to Liberia to Nigeria, while deep and significant movements toward democracy are also underway in the countries of Southern Africa, inspired in part by the example of South Africa. Elsewhere in the 54 countries of Africa, elections are being held and democratic governments are being formed and, everywhere, the struggle for democracy is underway.

What is the Obama administration doing, now, to support democratic forces and civil society in these African countries that are caught up in the struggle for democracy?

That is the question.

The Trenchant Observer

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See also Words and Deeds: Obama’s Defense of Democracy in Africa, 2011, August 1, 2011