February 21, 2013

France Embraces the Rumsfeld Doctrine


French defense analyst Murielle Delaporte writes that France took an almost Rumsfeldian approach to the war in Mali:

The French approach is very much about how to intervene and to trigger coalition operations in order to stabilize the situation with regional partners, rather than to simply stay in place for a long time.

It is "shock and awe" to deter the enemy and to trigger space for coalition success, not "shock and awe" for the sake of staying.

France has obviously learned the lessons of both Afghanistan and Iraq, which is that foreign "stabilization" forces (particularly from the country responsible for initiating hostilities) end up getting bogged down in costly insurgencies.

The current French approach won't necessarily lead to a Mali that is unified and stable, but given a choice between a chaotic Mali with hundreds of dead militants and no French occupation force and a Mali with an on-the-march Islamist movement steadily making gains, it's a pretty clear choice. The trick, of course, is in the getting out. France currently has its full contingent (roughly 4,000 troops) in the country -- and they're still battling Islamist rebels.

(AP Photo)

January 28, 2013

United Nations v. @PaulKagame


Last month, a blog post by writer Georgianne Nienaber written in defense of Rwandan President Paul Kagame was published on the The Huffington Post. The author -- who went to great lengths in her post to defend the Rwandan government against UN accusations of meddling in the Democratic Republic of Congo, even comparing the charges against Kagame to the Salem witch trials -- went mostly unnoticed despite her efforts, earning a modest number of Facebook "likes" and Tweets.

Unnoticed by most, but not Paul Kagame:

This wasn't Kagame's first time dabbling in 140-character punditry. In 2011, the Rwandan president took to the platform in order to dispute charges of human rights abuses levied against his government by Guardian columnist Ian Birrell. Taking stock of the candid and unusual exchange, Birrell offered this takeaway at the time:

Several observers criticised Kagame's Twitter tantrum as exhibiting a lack of dignity. I disagree. It is admirable to see a leader engaging so personally with new means of communication – although it is telling there is no one he thinks worth following. And there is something rather splendid about a president so passionate about his country he confronts foreign critics in this manner.

The exchanges underlined the revolutionary nature of what is fast becoming the most important journalistic tool around. On Monday the Sky reporter Mark Stone blogged from Tripoli about his amazing use of Twitter to find a Dutch engineer and prove a bombed Nato target was a military bunker. In this new world, I was able to draw attention to Kagame's original statement, he was able to respond and we could debate in real-time watched by thousands of people worldwide, scores joining in with links, opinions and comments.

Maybe so, but Kagame's own sophisticated use of social media technology only serves to complicate an already complicated regime and region. The Rwandan government has been accused by the UN and other Africa watchers of fueling the bloody rebellion in eastern Congo -- accusations repeatedly denied by Kigali. A signing ceremony intended to end the ongoing unrest, originally scheduled for Monday, was unceremoniously cancelled.

Kagame, once a darling of the West, has come under pressure as of late. His Twitter page has gone silent in recent weeks, but it's probably a safe bet that Kagame will take to the Twittersphere once more to defend his presidency (scheduled, constitutionally anyway, to end in 2017) and regional behavior.

(AP Photo)

January 23, 2013

Pushing Back on the Mali Blowback Meme


Anthropologist Bruce Whitehouse dismisses the idea that the overthrow of Gaddafi or U.S. military training led to the chaos in Mali:

This would make sense if most of the US-trained officers in Mali’s armed forces had defected to the rebels. But that’s not the case: Pentagon-sponsored training was provided to a broad cross-section of officers and NCOs in the Malian military, of which the defectors (most of them Tuareg) made up a minority. US-trained personnel fought on both sides of the conflict: at best the effects of their training were canceled out, at worst they were negligible. The problem with the US military’s training program wasn’t that it benefited the wrong people, it’s that it didn’t work. Following exercises in 2009, detailed in Wikileaks, even one of the Malian army’s most elite units got poor evaluations despite lengthy collaboration with US trainers. Whatever “advantage” such collaboration may have provided, it was the last thing the Tuareg — experienced desert fighters — needed to defeat Malian government forces.

Whitehouse also clarifies the nature of the conflict:

Moreover, I’m not sure how accurate it is to call the forces fighting against the French “Malian rebels” or to describe the conflict as a “civil war“–the command structures of AQIM and MOJWA in particular are dominated by Algerians and Mauritanians. Malians widely perceive these groups as foreign invaders, motivated by racism and greed as well as a perverted, even ignorant view of their faith.

We cannot say that the war in Mali is primarily about natural resources, Western meddling, or religion. We can say, however, that it is a direct consequence of state failure, which as I have argued elsewhere came about largely due to factors internal to Mali.

Via: Sullivan.

(AP Photo)

January 21, 2013

Do Mali Terrorists Intend to Attack the United States?


The Obama administration has been slow to hop on the Mali intervention bandwagon and some reporting from the Los Angeles Times indicates why:

Militants in Mali, "if left unaddressed, ... will obtain capability to match their intent — that being to extend their reach and control and to attack American interests," Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, said in an interview.

But many of Obama's top aides say it is unclear whether the Mali insurgents, who include members of the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, threaten the U.S.

Those aides also worry about being drawn into a messy and possibly long-running conflict against an elusive enemy in Mali, a vast landlocked country abutting the Sahara desert, just as U.S. forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan.

"No one here is questioning the threat that AQIM poses regionally," said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing internal deliberations. "The question we all need to ask is, what threat do they pose to the U.S. homeland? The answer so far has been none."

It's hard to know just what kind of aims and "intent" AQIM has, since different leaders may have a different conception of their mission. According to the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, AQIM is more of a regional outfit and to the extent that it wants to target foreign countries, France and Spain top the list. Although as this CFR backgrounder makes clear, that picture may be changing with possible links between AQIM and the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Still, the Pentagon risks setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy if it ends up quickly diving into a war in Mali. AQIM will have regional aims up until the minute U.S. bombs start falling on their heads. At that moment, they will no doubt broaden their sights.

(AP Photo)

January 19, 2013

Understanding the Terror Threat in Africa

The NewsHour has a good primer on the brewing terrorist threat in Africa.

January 18, 2013

Mali Has Another Militant Problem


And that problem would be the military junta currently running the official government in the south. From Gallup:

Malians' confidence in their governmental institutions plummeted in late 2012, as Islamist rebels took control over much of the northern parts of the country and after a military coup in March 2012 overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure. Malians' faith in their national government fell 22 percentage points to 49% in November 2012, from 71% in 2011. Confidence in the military dropped 25 points and support for the judiciary declined 17 points.

Nothing terribly surprising here, but public support for the military is worthy of note. Gallup data from as recently as 2009 showed Mali to be one of the most pro-American countries in the world, but much of that was likely wed to Malians' faith in their civic and military institutions. (Institutions the U.S. has heavily invested in over the course of the last decade, incidentally.)

Driving Islamist radicals out of Mali is obviously the West's priority at the moment, but it's difficult to envision a sustainable victory in Mali without a more accountable regime in Bamako.

War in Mali: The China Angle


Joe Glenton argues that Western policymakers may be crying "jihadi" in Mali, but they're secretly worried about China too:

Mali and the other former French colonies which surround it have had extensive dealings with China. The country, one of the poorest in the world, has received substantial Chinese money for development. In 2011 China made good on a package of hundreds of millions, partially as a “gift” to improve the “living standards of Malian people”.

Some argue that China will sit back and let the French do its work for it by handling the crisis and restoring some kind of stability, with China perhaps moving back in later. Contrary to that view, it is worth considering that the intervention may be at least partially informed by a need to counter the Chinese, certainly on the part of the US and also on the part of major European countries.

For what it's worth, I don't doubt that prior U.S. and Western investment in Mali and other African nations had at least half an eye on China's rising influence there (China is said to have 2,000 citizens and roughly 20 firms operating in Mali), but that would hardly be a sufficient condition to motivate such a hasty intervention.

Moreover, I honestly cannot imagine Western policymakers would be so naive -- and historically ignorant -- to believe that a military campaign would foreclose the possibility of restored Chinese influence in Mali after the war. It didn't happen in Iraq or Afghanistan, where China was able to swoop in and scoop up resource contracts when the dust had partially settled. It's more likely that the West is acting against a perceived urgent threat and that the longer-term strategic implications with respect to China are pretty far on the back-burner.

(AP Photo)

January 17, 2013

France Adopts the Bush Doctrine


News is moving quickly in West Africa, making it increasingly difficult to get one's head around what's going on in Mali and the greater region.

This much appears to be true: Paris, sensing that its own military and civilian assets were at risk of becoming targets in both Mali and the surrounding region -- not to mention the potential for a terrorist attack on its own soil in Europe -- opted to forgo the multilateral case being built against the various Islamist insurgents in Northern Mali, and to instead act unilaterally. "We must stop the rebels' offensive, otherwise the whole of Mali will fall into their hands -- creating a threat for Africa and even for Europe," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently told reporters.

In short, France decided to take the fight to the enemy before that enemy could bring the fight to France. Sound familiar?

So it would appear that we're witnessing two competing counterterrorism doctrines at work in West and North Africa. While France has adopted some components of President George W. Bush's strategy in Iraq, we also know that there is now debate inside the Obama administration over whether or not its own reserved policy of Islamist containment in Mali -- call it "leading from behind," if you will -- was perhaps too reserved and poorly resourced.

Proponents of the Obama Doctrine both inside and outside the administration argue that the threat from Malian Islamists may well be overstated, and were the U.S. to get involved it might only agitate the situation, turning a once regional and territorial civil war into a more international conflict.

Judging from today's events in Algeria, they just might have a point.

(AP Photo)

January 15, 2013

Mali Makes the Case for Non-Interventionists


There's been a lot of nonsense talk of late about a potential American "retreat" from the world -- a return to the dreaded "isolationism" of the 1930s. In reality, most of those making the case for a more restrained foreign policy don't want a worldwide "retreat" but simply less meddling in countries whose dynamics the West doesn't understand and can't direct.

Fortunately (or rather, unfortunately) the Western war in Mali is serving as Exhibit A for the non-interventionist case. First, the New York Times' Adam Nossiter explains how the Mali rebellion benefited from the fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya:

Well, when Gadhafi fell, his extensive arsenals in the south of Libya were left totally unguarded, unprotected by the Western forces that brought him down. Gadhafi had fighting for him a number of ethnic nomad fighters from Mali, the Tuaregs. And so when Gadhafi fell, these Tuaregs returned to Mali, where their group had been conducting a rebellion for almost 60 years against the Malian state.

They took with them a lot of the weapons that were in Gadhafi's arsenal. So for the first time in their long history of rebellion against Mali, they were properly armed and equipped thanks to Moammar Gadhafi. And it was those weapons that allowed these nomadic rebels to crush the Malian army in January, February and March of 2012.

Al-Qaida was already installed in the desert and they made a sort of tactical alliance with these nomadic rebels. But the al-Qaida forces, being tougher, took the upper hand, and so now they're the ones in control.

Now, the rebellion in Mali had raged long before the Western intervention in Libya and even without Western help, the forces battling Gaddafi may have prevailed -- or may have provoked enough disorder and lawlessness that these weapons could have slipped from Libya into Mali. Still, the Western intervention clearly accelerated the disintegration of the Gaddafi regime and poured jet-fuel on the fires simmering in Mali. And that has now led to... another intervention.

And it gets worse:

But as insurgents swept through the desert last year, commanders of this nation’s elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle, according to senior Malian military officials.

“It was a disaster,” said one of several senior Malian officers to confirm the defections.

Then an American-trained officer overthrew Mali’s elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. American spy planes and surveillance drones have tried to make sense of the mess, but American officials and their allies are still scrambling even to get a detailed picture of who they are up against. [Emphasis added.]

It bears repeating that Mali's rebels would be fighting with or without American interference and the rebellion against Gaddafi may have resulted in the eventual collapse of his regime and a southern flood of weapons. But what is unmistakably clear is that American (and Western) efforts have not only failed to improve things, they've likely made the situation considerably worse. Will Congress question the Obama administration over this?

(AP Photo)

August 21, 2012

Why Any Financial Aid to Sudan Must Be Conditioned


By Jennifer Christian

Recently, the U.S. government announced that it will lobby international donors to pledge financial support for Sudan. The release of any funds that these efforts yield should, however, be conditioned so as to incentivize the government of Sudan to cease ongoing human rights abuses.

The U.S. announcement came on the heels of an agreement concluded between the governments of Sudan and South Sudan on oil and related financial transfers. Alongside this deal, the international community gave Sudan certain assurances that it would do its part to assist Sudan in closing the so-called financial gap it now faces following South Sudan’s July 2011 declaration of independence.

In light of the government of Sudan’s track record of committing atrocities against its own people, the U.S.’s commitment to assist in galvanizing financial support and debt forgiveness for Sudan may come as a surprise to some. Indeed, today, Sudanese government forces continue to wage an indiscriminate offensive against civilians in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, while impeding the unhindered flow of international humanitarian aid to these populations.

Atrocities such as these, and those that the Sudanese government previously committed against the people of Darfur and South Sudan, caused the U.S. government to enact sanctions against Sudan in the 1990s. These sanctions preclude the U.S. government from directly contributing any financial support to Khartoum. They do not, however, prevent the U.S. from lobbying other states, including China, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, to provide Sudan with direct cash transfers and debt forgiveness in an effort to alleviate the financial losses Sudan has recently sustained and help secure peace and stability within and between the two Sudans.

Continue reading "Why Any Financial Aid to Sudan Must Be Conditioned" »

April 10, 2012

Africa Is Splitting Apart - Literally

A new report in Nature Geosciences describes how Africa is, quite literally, splitting apart. Eric Tohver explains:

The researchers observed that the Cretaceous Congo River was largely flowing to the north west, with sediments mainly derived from the geological provinces to the south east. (This is the same direction the Congo River currently flows in.)

But by the Oligocene (roughly 34-23m years ago), the river had reversed course entirely, flowing to the south east.

Since changing the direction of a river’s flow requires a major reorganisation of continental topography (picture the Amazon River flowing west, towards the Andes), the researchers conclude that uplift of eastern Africa was already underway some 25m years ago.

The changing record of this ancient river’s flow direction now demonstrates when and where the uplift of the eastern African continent began. The first step in the break-up of Africa is well-underway.

September 28, 2011

How to Get Fired (S. African Newsreader Edition)

Mark Esterhuysen shows you how it's done:

A South African radio presenter has gone out with one almighty bang - dropping the f-bomb repeatedly in a ferocious rant before storming out of the studio.

Mark Esterhuysen, 23, invited listeners to follow his blog and signed off with "peace, love, respect, anarchy" after a vitriolic tirade that featured the f-word 13 times, The Daily Mail reported.

The Johannesburg presenter kicked off his graveyard shift as normal, then took aim at anything and everything, from racism to capitalism.

He described his working situation as "f***ing wage slavery graveyard shit" and said "F*** racism" three times in the 40-second spray.

You can listen to the profanity-laced tirade here.

July 28, 2011

Zimbabwe After Insane Inflation


Zimbabwe has long been synonymous with economic dysfunction. The country's inflation rate hit an amazing 231 million percent in 2008 and four out of every five adults in the country were unemployed. Today, Gallup notes that Zimbabweans are reporting improvements in their economic circumstances:

Zimbabweans appear to be benefiting from two consecutive years of economic growth and efforts to bring hyperinflation under control. Eighteen percent of Zimbabweans surveyed by Gallup in 2011 report "living comfortably" on their present household incomes -- double the 9% who said so in 2009. The 16% who reported they are "finding it very difficult" to get by is down significantly from 31% in 2009.

June 6, 2011

The True Size of Africa


A neat info-graphic via Nicole Kallmeyer (click on the photo for a full-size view).

January 11, 2011

Clooney and Sudan


It's always a bit of a question whether celebrity attention to a foreign policy issue is an asset or just a self-aggrandizing distraction. In the case of George Clooney's activities in Africa in support of a celebrity-funded satellite project, which have come under some criticism this week from Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating and other cynics:

George Clooney's "anti-genocide paparazzi" seems to be dominating nearly every transmission coming out of south Sudan this week. Clooney, along with the Enough Project, Harvard researchers, and some of his wealthier Hollywood friends, have hired satellites to monitor troop movements along the north-south border, particularly the oil-rich region of Abyei. Clooney, active for years in the Save Darfur movement, has also become something of a celebrity spokesperson for the independence referendum. Naturally, the international humanitarian blogosphere's snark brigade is out in force.

Laurenist: "If you're anything like George Clooney, you lounge around on your yacht off the coast of Italy thinking up ways to save Africa."

Texas in Africa: "While John Prendergast, George Clooney, and other advocates who don't speak a word of Arabic have been raising fears about violence for months … the likelihood that a genocide or war will break out immediately seems to me to be slim to none."

Wronging Rights: "Clooney has described it as 'the best use of his celebrity.' Kinda just seems like he's trying to recruit a mercenary for Ocean's Fourteen."

I'm not one to overemphasize the impact of a celebrity or his wealthy friends, but in this case, I have a hard time seeing what Clooney's doing that's so wrong. The western-focused communications reality of today is that your cause needs an American face, a recognizable and likable one. As Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch points out, "does anyone really think that Sudan’s upcoming referendum would be covered on a National Sunday morning broadcast without George Clooney’s handsome face to greet viewers?"

Continue reading "Clooney and Sudan" »

December 29, 2010

A Test of African Democracy

Mark Goldberg on why the post-election standoff in Ivory Coast matters:

Since the end of the Cold War, elections have been de rigeur in most of Africa. Most of the time the incumbent or his party wins handily and that’s that. Other times, the incumbent uses violence to reinforce his position. Sometimes challengers use violence to reinforce their position. But only once has an incumbent peacefully transferred power after losing an election.

What is remarkable about Cote D’Ivoire is that, so far, everyone is saying: “Enough is enough.” The African Union, the regional group ECOWAS, the UN, France and the United States are calling on Gbagbo to step down. Full stop. ECOWAS has even issued an ultimatum to Gbagbo: give up power, or we will intervene and forcible oust you.

This is a big test — both for the prospects of free and fair elections in Africa and of the ability of the African Union to support democracy across the continent. If African-led diplomacy is able to engineer Gbagbo’s ouster, other leaders might think twice before fomenting violence after losing an election.

November 15, 2010

How to Survive a Pirate Hijacking

The European Naval Force for Somalia has released a helpful brochure in the event that you find yourself captured by Somali pirates. The advice is here. (pdf) Among its many recommendations:

Be aware that the ransom payment process is very stressful for the pirates and they may be more agitated than normal. Try to avoid contact with the pirates at this time. Confine yourself to established routines and behaviour patterns so as not to attract unnecessary attention on you. It may be some days after payment before you are released. Do not expect to be released immediately....

Khat is a common drug used in the Somali region. If the pirates onboard your vessel use this or other drugs, you should be careful to avoid any confrontations whilst they are under the influence of such substances. You should not be tempted to take drugs, other than for legitimate medical conditions, whilst in captivity. The taking of drugs may offer temporary relief, however the negative effects of withdrawal symptoms and increased tension due to cravings could result in unnecessary violence from your captors.

[Hat tip: Danger Room]

September 3, 2010

Rape in Africa

Grim news from the Congo:

The number of rape victims from a four-day rebel attack in eastern Congo a month ago has risen to more than 240 and will likely go higher, aid officials said Thursday
Gallup offers up some polling on 18 sub-Saharan nations confirming that rape is seen as a pervasive problem in the region:
Majorities in nearly all 18 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed in 2009 say rape is a major problem in their countries. A median of 77% of sub-Saharan Africans see rape as this much of a problem, but in six countries, the percentage saying this reaches 90% or higher.

May 10, 2010

Plan B: Freedom?


Looking back on President Obama's Cairo speech, George Packer wonders if the so-called freedom agenda has become too cynically applied:

this Administration will devote its energy to repairing relations with foreign governments, and will not risk them for the sake of human rights. Where the stakes are low, as in the West African nation of Guinea, the Administration speaks out against atrocities, with positive effect; but where there’s a strategic interest, as in Ethiopia, which has jailed dozens of journalists and opposition politicians, the policy is mainly accommodation.
What if people around the world want more than a humble adjustment in America’s tone and behavior? What if American overtures to nasty regimes fail, because those regimes have a different view of their own survival? Then the President will have to devise a fallback strategy—preferably one that answers the desires of the people who applauded in Cairo, and doesn’t leave another generation cynical about American promises. [Emphasis added. - KS]

But isn't part of the problem that the so-called freedom agenda has become a de facto, as Packer puts it, "fallback strategy"? If the United States should learn anything from the previous administration, shouldn't it be that using the rhetoric of freedom as window dressing or, even worse, a "fallback" for policy failures only corrupts and sullies the very word itself?

For want of an actual freedom agenda, the American president is often asked to speak out against every petty despot and dictatorship around the world. But the United States cannot, I hope it goes without saying, invade and occupy every undemocratic country allegedly in need of liberation. Were it even effective - which, even in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, would be a rather untenable claim - it's simply not sustainable.

I believe a big part of the problem is the way in which we measure success and failure in American foreign policy. If, getting back to Packer, it's the American president's job to combat global cynicism, then we are in a lot of trouble. I think sequence matters, and if the United States wants to address freedom it should first start with basic human needs such as health. George W. Bush - for everything he got wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan - seemed to understand this in the case of Africa.

It might also be helpful to retain the moral high ground while discussing a sustainable freedom agenda. Which, for example, is more likely to engender global cynicism: the American president's failure to speak out against Ethiopia, or Americans publicly debating whether or not a U.S. citizen deserves his Miranda rights simply because he's a Muslim?

(AP Photo)

March 29, 2010

Video of the Day

Today's video of the day focuses on one of the few terrorist or insurgent organizations that claims to be Christian, the Lord's Resistance Army in central Africa:

To learn more about the Lord's Resistance Army, you can read a summary of the organization, a summary of the Ugandan Civil War, a summary of the Human Rights Watch Report, and the report itself.

For more videos on topics from around the world, check out the RealClearWorld videos page.

March 11, 2010

A New Plan for Somalia


Over the weekend, the New York Times reported on a covert U.S. effort to aid the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia in its battle to establish control over the country. As the fighting intensifies, the Council on Foreign Relations' Bronwyn E. Bruton has a new report out calling for a new approach. From the summary:

Bruton argues that the current U.S. policy of supporting the TFG is proving ineffective and costly. The TFG is unable to improve security, deliver basic services, or move toward an agreement with Somalia’s clans and opposition groups that would provide a stronger basis for governance. She also cites flaws in two alternative policies—a reinforced international military intervention to bolster the TFG or an offshore approach that seeks to contain terrorist threats with missiles and drones.

Instead, Bruton advances a strategy of “constructive disengagement.” Notably, this calls for the United States to signal that it will accept an Islamist authority in Somalia—including the Shabaab—as long as it does not impede international humanitarian activities and refrains from both regional aggression and support for international jihad. As regards terrorism, the report recommends continued airstrikes to target al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorists while taking care to minimize civilian casualties. It argues for a decentralized approach to distributing U.S. foreign aid that works with existing local authorities and does not seek to build formal institutions. And the report counsels against an aggressive military response to piracy, making the case instead for initiatives to mobilize Somalis themselves against pirates.

I think we need to set the bar for military support much higher, especially when it comes to civil wars in failed states. The threat of an al Qaeda safe haven is serious, but as the recent "JihadJane" revelations make clear, we're going to face a terrorist threat with or without failed states. And the rush to try and deny al Qaeda a foothold might very well create worse problems down the road, specifically new sets of enemies in the states where we're pouring in guns and enabling certain factions to prevail over others.

(AP Photo)

January 25, 2010

Tourism Boomed in Africa in 2009

While the rest of the world suffered through the Great Recession, Africa enjoyed a booming year in tourism:

Africa witnessed a tourism boom in 2009, while the tourism industry suffered a general decline amid the economic slowdown, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (WTO).

The latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer said that growth returned to international tourism in the last quarter of 2009 contributing to better than expected full-year results.

International tourist arrivals for business, leisure and other purposes are estimated to have declined worldwide by 4 per cent in 2009 to 880 million.

The full report from the UN World Tourism Organization can be found here.

December 21, 2009

Is the U.S. Repeating Cold War Mistakes?


One of the most intense debates during the early years of the Cold War was the extent to which "indigenous" communist movements were really that, or whether the Kremlin was a global puppet master, manipulating everything. Many in the U.S. at the time tended see communism as a monolith and the Kremlin as the hidden hand, secretly directing events. The reality was more nuanced. The Kremlin did extend its influence into other states, but it couldn't control all of them (see Ukraine and China, for instance). Just because a country "went communist" did not ipso-facto mean that it would take its marching orders from Moscow.

One of the consequences of the U.S. viewing communism as a monolith was the tendency to plunge the U.S. into a series of damaging, even catastrophic, interventions that didn't really reduce Soviet power but did take a bite out of U.S. strength. When we viewed global communism through more sophisticated eyes, we were able to pry apart China and Russia and begin to shore up our position after Vietnam.

No historical analogy is perfect, but we seem to be in a similar dynamic with respect to al Qaeda and "Islamic terrorism" more generally. After 9/11, there was a lot of talk about a broad-based war on terrorism that would tackle not just al Qaeda but groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and states like Iran and Iraq which were seen to facilitate terrorism (but not, of course, the states actually responsible for whipping up the Sunni jihadist whirlwind - Saudi Arabia and Pakistan). It was an undifferentiated lump and we would vanquish it all.

Two wars later, we have an administration that appears eager to scale back the conceptual framework of the war on terrorism into something more bite-sized. But even if the Obama administration would like to pare back to the more discrete goal of defeating "al Qaeda," the job has been made more difficult by the emergence of "like-minded" terrorists with only a tenuous connection to the "core" group inside Pakistan.

This poses a particular problem, I think, for U.S. policy towards Somalia and Yemen. Both are war-torn countries dealing with some insurgent elements that have links to al Qaeda. Do these groups share al Qaeda's core goals of bloodying the U.S. so we'll withdraw support for Arab autocrats? Will these individuals facilitate attacks against American targets in North Africa and beyond? And - most importantly - is that a threat worth taking military action against when weighed against other risks?

These seem like the kind of questions we need to be addressing before stuff like this:

The United States provided firepower, intelligence and other support to the government of Yemen as it carried out raids this week to strike at suspected hide-outs of Al Qaeda within its borders, according to officials familiar with the operations.

Those raids, the AFP reports, killed 49 civilians.

There are good reasons for using force against terrorist targets, and if the New York Times' report is to be believed, those targeted in the Yemen attack had fled Pakistan and so could plausibly be linked to the "core" al Qaeda threat which we are rightly concerned about. But the military is a blunt instrument and given the roiling instability in both Yemen and Somalia, it would be nice if the administration offered some kind of serious defense of its actions rather than just waving a hand and saying "al Qaeda," as if that's sufficient. Particularly because it seems intent on advertising its role in this attack.

(AP Photos)

October 21, 2009

Coming to America

Charles Wesley Mumbere—nurse's aid by day, Ugandan king by birth:

No word yet on Mumbere's "queen to be."

Check out more great stuff on the RCW video page.

September 15, 2009

Africa's Unimaginable Carnage

According to Gérard Prunier, 5.4 million people have been killed in Central Africa in the past decade in the biggest loss of life since World War II. Stephen Walt marvels at how such carnage could fly under the Western radar for so long. It is, unquestionably, a shocking humanitarian disaster, but I think it also exposes the weakness in the contention of both Susan Rice and President Obama that the security of American people is "inextricably linked to those of people everywhere."

Clearly, with such unfathomable carnage occurring in Africa with hardly a recognition, that's not the case.

July 22, 2009

Save Save Darfur?

John Boonstra believes it may be a critical moment for Darfur advocacy:

Most savvy Darfur advocates already know this, but the time for sloganeering and awareness raising is long past (and endured well past what should have been its expiration date). In some respects, the kind of misguided, generalist "stop genocide" tactics that one could find in early Save Darfur campaigns and that are so maligned by critics like Mahmoud Mamdani have affected the position we find ourselves in now, in which rhetoric that generates a lot of heat but no light can supplant directed action. This is not entirely the fault of vapid aims by advocacy organizations, to be sure; policymakers actually need little excuse to make noise instead of policy, and stopping genocide provides the perfect soundbite.

Darfur advocacy organizations for the most part adapted their tactics, targeting their energies and substantial constituencies toward specific aims, such as deployment of UN peacekeepers and the provision of long-needed helicopters. Some have had more, and some less, success (and in ways intended and unintended) than others, but the trickiest of them has always been the promotion of a robust peace accord.

This may be simply past the ability of advocacy organizations to effect, as Mark suggests, but it could also represent a stunning opportunity for transforming the nature of grassroots foreign policy campaigns. If the "Darfur movement" is successful in navigating the complicated and unsexy terrain of policymaking, then it will be a major victory for Darfur, for citizen activism, and for democracy.