Wednesday, January 26, 2005

After All, It's Only Genocide

Sorry for the paucity of blogging as of late. I've been inundated with work, and it doesn't look like it's going to let up. I'm going to the Model UN conference at McGill University this weekend, so I'll be gone from Thursday until Sunday. I don't know if I'll have internet access up there, so I might not be posting again until Monday. Anyway, back to the matter at hand.

I've been chewing on this article (link: Andrew Sullivan) for a few days now. To sum it up briefly:
Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, has written to Charles Clarke, the home secretary, saying the body will not attend the [commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz] unless it includes the "holocaust" of the Palestinian intifada.

Obviously, on a visceral level I'm infuriated that anyone would have the gall to compare the intifada with the holocaust. Anyone who engages in moral relativism at that level of myopia is ethically bankrupt, and deserved to be labeled as such.

However, I think it also is reflective of a deeper problem. The term "genocide" has become cheap. People toss it around carelessly, and on the flip side, the recognition of a legitimate ongoing genocide doesn't even provoke a reaction. Genocide is defined as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such." When Raphael Lemkin coined the term in 1944, he intended it to refer to the most horrific crime imaginable. Genocide was something that was supposed to force states to overcome their hesitance in intervening in other nation's affairs. It was the one crime that couldn't be excused by cries of "sovereignty." Because of the US' love affair with sovereignty, we didn't ratify and implement the Genocide Convention until 1989.

In 1994, Bill Clinton issued an order to the State Department warning them not to use the term "genocide" in reference to the ongoing atrocities in Rwanda. Clinton knew that the term "genocide" put both the moral and legal burden on the US to act, and after the Somalia debacle, that was the last thing he wanted. This was a morally abominable choice, to be sure, but at least we then recognized that genocide actually meant something. And Clinton absolved himself, in part, by intervening in Kosovo to stop the slaughter of ethnic Albanians there.

Fast-forward to today. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has explicitly labeled the situation in Sudan a genocide. The US response? Nothing. The EU? Nothing. The UN? Nothing. Nothing could have done more damage than nothing. Whereas in 1994 we feared our obligation to stop genocide, in 2004 we act as if we don't have one at all. Genocide simply doesn't have the gravitas to motivate America to action anymore.

A corrupt bargain has been struck by the left and the right, probably without each party knowing it. The left gets to label each and every conflict in which a civilian dies as "genocide" (of course, drawing no distinction between unfortunate collateral damage and "intent to destroy"). The right gets to completely ignore the issue, regardless of whether the genocide claim is warranted or not. And of course, people keep dying. Dictators become emboldened. Ethnic hatreds rage unchecked. And "never again" happens again, and again, and again.

Who's Ready to Rumble?

The players continue to set up for the grand finale, with Ayatollah Ali Sistani's United Iraqi Alliance dropping its campaign promise to seek an immediate deadline for American troop withdrawal. Instead, its platform now claims "the Iraq we want is capable of protecting its borders and security without depending on foreign forces."

I consider this a positive expression of realism from the party most likely to come out on top in the upcoming elections. I'm skeptical that any Iraqi government, with the troop strength currently available, will be able to quell the insurgency. US troops are still essential for a stable Iraq. But the Iraq'd blog warns us of the potential pitfalls:
If the Alliance has run on any issues at all--and not just on its connections to Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani--it's run on the promise to negotiate a U.S. troop withdrawal. Banners at Shia mosques read "Elections Are the Ideal Way to Expel the Occupier from Iraq." It may be that the Alliance, once elected, can persuade an anti-occupation Shia populace that a pullout can only occur after Iraqi capabilities exist. (And perhaps it'll seek to fill the capabilities gap with Shia militiamen.) Perhaps loyalty to Sistani can indeed trump the desire to be rid of a foreign presence. But the Alliance should be very prepared for Moqtada Al Sadr to exploit the issue to the hilt. Get ready for some serious inter-Shia tensions, right at the beginning of an elected transitional government that will have no shortage of difficulty writing a constitution and dealing with Sunni disaffection.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Keeping the Faith

The Bull-Moose Blog hits the nail right on the head with this post. Frustrated though us liberals may be that the Bush administration refused to put its money where its mouth is, operates through a flawed prism when evaluating US foreign policy, and generally spits on the Democrats at every opportunity, we cannot let our anger cloud our reason. The Democratic foreign policy has been and must continue to be one that emphasizes the rights of mankind, the importance of democracy, and the willingness of the United States to fight for both of them. As the Bull-Moose puts it:
Idealistic rhetoric without practical deeds is vacant utopianism. Progressives, however, should not cede democratic idealism because Bush embraces it. They should not become left wing versions of Bret Scowcroft and Pat Buchanan. Rather, people of the left should connect with the progressive internationalist tradition of Truman and JFK which promoted freedom abroad based on practical deeds and economic justice at home.

Above all, progressives should not permit their justified spite of the Bushies to lead them to abandon a proud tradition of liberal internationalism.