Category Archives: International Institutions

Statements And Resolutions… Wasn’t That A Paul Simon Song?

Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy:

The U.S. informed Arab governments Tuesday that it will support a U.N. Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” a move aimed at avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolution calling the settlements illegal.

But the Palestinians rejected the American offer following a meeting late Wednesday of Arab representatives and said it is planning to press for a vote on its resolution on Friday, according to officials familar with the issue. The decision to reject the American offer raised the prospect that the Obama adminstration will cast its first ever veto in the U.N. Security Council.

Still, the U.S. offer signaled a renewed willingness to seek a way out of the current impasse, even if it requires breaking with Israel and joining others in the council in sending a strong message to its key ally to stop its construction of new settlements. U.S. officials were not available for comment, but two Security Council diplomats confirmed the proposal.

Jennifer Rubin:

The U.S., according to an informed source on Capitol Hill, also offered “support for a UNSC fact-finding mission to the Middle East, which the Russians have been pushing.” And there was “some sort of Quartet statement that would reference the 1967 borders.” Israel, of course has made perfectly clear that 1967 borders are unacceptable, and, in any case, that this is an issue for direct negotiations. (That would be the direct negotiations that the Palestinians walked out of last fall.)

This remarkable deviation from past administrations’ treatment of Israel was not lost on Pawlenty. His spokesman provided a statement via e-mail, “The Obama administration has shown an astonishing unwillingness to stand by Israel at the United Nations, an organization with a long history of blaming Israel for just about every problem in the Middle East. It’s time for our UN ambassador to finally show some leadership, draw a line in the sand, and defend our historic ally. Global stability depends more than ever on a respected America that is loyal to our allies and realistic about the malice of our adversaries.”

Pawlenty is exactly right. Because this administration does not want to do what its predecessors did — exercise the Security Council veto to shield Israel from one-sided resolutions seeking to isolate the Jewish state in the international community — it instead has offered to join the pack of jackals that seek, at best, to extract concessions and impose a deal on Israel and, at worst, delegitimize Israel.

Hugh Hewitt:

This is as shocking. For the president to undercut Israel even as instability mounts on all of Israel’s borders is a clear signal that Team Obama is either indifferent to Israel or incompetent beyond even its critics estimates.

The presider-in-chief is presiding over a major and unprecedented turning against Israel.  Allahpundit says it isn’t a “total sellout” of Israel, but it is a major blow to Israel at precisely the moment when Muslim radicals are wondering if they can run the board, and whether the U.S. will stand behind its long-time ally. Ben Smith has some updates.  Even if the blowback forces the U.S. to do what it ought to have done from the beginning –threaten a swift and conclusive veto on any such resolution– no supporter of Israel ought to forget that at a moment of great peril to Israel, President Obama endorsed piling on with statements of disapproval from the Security Council.   Perhaps the U.S. ought to have suggested statements of disapproval of Iran, Libya, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas were all in order first.

John Tabin at American Spectator:

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) gets it exactly right:

This is too clever by half. Instead of doing the correct and principled thing and vetoing an inappropriate and wrong resolution, they now have opened the door to more and more anti-Israeli efforts coming to the floor of the U.N. The correct venue for discussions about settlements and the other aspects of a peace plan is at the negotiating table. Period.

This is a moment of uncertainty in the Middle East, with a wave of protest movements threatening the stability of autocrats across the region. If this leads to the opening of Arab societies, that’s a good thing in the long term (tyranny has bred radicalism; freedom is likely to breed moderation). But in the short term, a more democratic Arab world could be enormously destabilizating; people who have been fed decades of propaganda laden with Jew-hatred will be tempted to embrace a politics of confrontation with Israel. Maintaining Israel’s ability to project strength is the best bet for maintaining peace — Israel must be able to credibly say things like “You don’t like Camp David? We’ll be taking the Sinai back, then.” This is no time to be shy about reminding the world the the US has Israel’s back.

Danielle Pletka at AEI:

Hmmmm, how do we get back to a more “balanced approach”? Aha! The way we always do: Screw Israel. After all, the resolution the Palestinians are pushing is little more than cheap maneuvering. It certainly isn’t going to advance the peace. What the administration fails to appreciate is that this “feed the beast” move is going to have the effect that feeding the beast always has. It will be hungrier. So of course, the White House’s execrable “compromise” has only encouraged Israel’s (and our) enemies to up the ante. Clever.

Israel Matzav:

On Wednesday night, a couple of hours before this report broke, an Israeli Radio commentator expressed amazement that with all that’s going on in the Arab world today, the Arabs are still aggressively pursuing this resolution. After watching what has happened in Egypt, my sense is that the Wikileaks disclosures to which Omri referred reflected the views of the elites and not those of the Arabs on the street. The Arabs may be trying to save their regimes by distracting them with Israel big time. The US is apparently willing to help them out, even at the expense of throwing its most loyal ally under the bus. And the Europeans, as always, are cheering them on.

Maybe the US is hoping the ‘Palestinians’ will once again not miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity by saying that the Council statement isn’t good enough?

What could go wrong?

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Filed under International Institutions, Israel/Palestine

I, For One, Welcome Our Last 2010 Obama Scandal

Bryan Fischer:

President Obama likes the “U.N. Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” He says it can “help reaffirm the principles that should guide our future.”

The State Department added helpfully that although the declaration is not legally binding, it “carries considerable moral and political force and complements the president’s ongoing efforts to address historical inequities faced by indigenous communities in the United States.”

This declaration – which carries”considerable moral and political force,” don’t forget – contains this little gem of a paragraph, in Article 26:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired,” and nations “shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources.”

In other words, President Obama wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians. He wants Indian tribes to be our new overlords.

Joseph Farah at WND:

It’s about time!

Barack Obama has finally done something right.

I’m always asked by interviewers if I can think of anything Obama has done that is commendable.

Frankly, until now, he’s done nothing but plot ways to steal my wealth. But things are about to change.

Maybe you missed it, but Obama has endorsed a United Nations resolution declaring the rights of indigenous people that could mean large swaths of the U.S. will be returned to native Americans like me.

I’m hereby staking my claim to Manhattan.

Maybe you didn’t know I have native American blood coursing through my veins. I’m more well-known for my Lebanese and Syrian ancestry. But, truth be told, I have a fair amount of Indian heritage on my mother’s side. So this proposed redistribution of wealth is welcome news for me.

Where do I apply? I want to return wampum for Manhattan.

Alex Pareene at Salon:

Congratulations, 2010, for fitting in one more completely insane made-up right-wing scandal: Barack Obama is going to give Manhattan back to the Indians! Also the U.N. will help, because grrrr, the U.N.!

Earlier this month, Obama said the U.S. would support the U.N.’s “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People,” a non-legally binding promise to finally treat indigenous peoples with some small amount of decency after hundreds of years of the government murdering them and expelling them from their homes and forcibly relocating them to barren desert ghettos and now just letting them live in conditions of appalling, abject poverty. Bush refused to sign on to this, because, I dunno, it was from the U.N., and it might lead to frivolous lawsuits, or something? It’s a non-binding Declaration that basically says “we will be nice to indigenous people,” there’s no good reason not to support it.

But because hysterical right-wingers are hysterical right-wingers, they are seizing on this document as yet more proof that Obama wants to forcibly redistribute all the wealth, from productive hard-working Real Americans to swarthy welfare leeches. Take it away, World Net Daily!

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs

James Joyner:

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adoted by the General Assembly more than three years ago, says what Fischer says it does.  And it says all manner of other things that, while consistent with our current moral principles, would be absurd if applied retroactively.   Fortunately, after all the affirmations, recognitions, proclamations, and  acknowledgements, followed by 45 Articles that say very nice things, we come to the final article.  It negates all the others:

Article 46

1. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations or construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.

2. In the exercise of the rights enunciated in the present Declaration, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all shall be respected. The exercise of the rights set forth in this Declaration shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law and in accordance with international human rights obligations. Any such limitations shall be non-discriminatory and strictly necessary solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for meeting the just and most compelling requirements of a democratic society.

3. The provisions set forth in this Declaration shall be interpreted in accordance with the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and good faith.

Emphases mine. Recall that the United Nations is a body chartered under the principle of state sovereignty.  The people who passed this Declaration are representatives of its 192 member states.  Rather clearly, then, the Declaration was not intended to give non-state actors – indigenous groups living inside state borders — power over states.  Thus far, 143 countries have voted in favor.

Another clue in this regard is that the Declaration was issued by the UN General Assembly.   It’s quite literally nothing more than a debating society.  Each of the 192 states has equal voting power and the right to bring up matters.  But anything passed by the assembly is nothing more than a recommendation.  Indeed, that’s what the State Department announcement [PDF here] meant when it stated “The United States supports the Declaration which–while not legally binding or a statement of current international law–has both moral and political force [emphasis mine].”

Nonetheless, concerns over the ambiguity of the language is what caused the Bush Administration to withhold its approval.   Ditto, initially, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand — other notable countries with similar concerns.   All of them have since signed.  ABC reports,

The US about-face came after officials determined that the language would, in fact, not conflict with US law and the complex relationship between national, state and tribal governments. Officials said they waited until a formal comment period for soliciting tribal input had expired before making the move to support the declaration.

“We think it is an important and meaningful change in US position,” said State Department spokesman PJ Crowley. “Of course, as with any international declaration we have certain reservations which we will voice reflecting our own domestic and constitutional interest. The president thinks it’s the right thing to do… Even though it is legally non-binding we think it carries considerable moral and political force.”

So, what’s the point?

Well, it’s an affirmation of existing American and international principle.  While states have sovereignty, there’s been a growing consensus in recent decades that aboriginal groups–such as our 565 federally recognized Indian tribes,  Native Hawaiians, and Aleuts–should be given a wide berth in preserving their native customs, language, legal systems and so forth. Indeed, it’s established in the United States Constitution that the tribes have a high degree of sovereignty on internal matters.  (That’s why, for example, Indians can establish casinos on tribal lands contrary to the law of the states in which they happen to reside.)

So, is this just empty political symbolism?   Pretty much.

Wonkette

Joan McCarter at Daily Kos:

This is only slightly less kooky than good ol’ Colorado governor candidate Dan Maes’ great UN-taking-over-American-cities-with-bicycles conspiracy theory, but mark my words, it’s going to get traction. Pretty soon we’re going to be seeing it on Beck and then Limbaugh and before you know it, Michele Bachmann will be introducing resolutions on the House floor about it.

Ed Brayton at Scienceblogs:

Seriously, are they that stupid or do they know they’re full of shit? Anyone who thinks Obama, or any other president, is going to give Manhattan back to the Indians is either delusional or engaged in the most egregious demagoguery imaginable. And the fact that it won’t happen will not change their thinking one bit.

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Everything You Thought You Knew Was Wrong

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up.

Christophe Chatelot at Le Monde:

Sur près de 600 pages, ce document, dont Le Monde a obtenu une version quasi définitive, décrit les “violations les plus graves des droits de l’homme et du droit international humanitaire commises entre mars 1993 et juin 2003 en RDC”.

Derrière l’intitulé se cache une décennie de meurtres, viols, pillages auxquels prirent part plusieurs pays de la région. Des conflits qui firent un nombre indéterminé de morts, mais qui se chiffrent au bas mot en centaines de milliers.

La compilation des rapports existants et la collecte de nouveaux témoignages menée par le HCDH fournissent une base pour des poursuites judiciaires à venir contre les auteurs de ce que le HCDH qualifie de “crimes contre l’humanité, crimes de guerre, voire de génocide” après des années d’impunité.

“CRIMES DE GÉNOCIDE”

Depuis des semaines, le Rwanda déploie ses réseaux et son énergie pour tenter d’étouffer ce rapport qui risque d’atteindre le cœur du régime du président Paul Kagamé, l’homme fort du Rwanda depuis 1994.

Le document estime en effet que “les attaques systématiques et généralisées [contre des Hutu réfugiés en RDC] révèlent plusieurs éléments accablants qui, s’ils sont prouvés devant un tribunal compétent, pourraient être qualifiés de crimes de génocide”.

Il reste à savoir quel tribunal se chargera de cette œuvre de justice alors que la plupart des crimes sortent du champ de compétence de la Cour pénale internationale.

Fisher:

A leaked United Nations report on the Rwandan genocide makes the explosive charge that the Rwandan Army, long credited with helping to end the infamous 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis, committed hundreds of acts of genocide against ethnic Hutu refugees in 1996-1997. The document, first reported by French newspaper Le Monde, states, “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.” The report implicates much of Rwanda’s current government, including President Paul Kagame, in joining with Congolese rebels to slaughter Rwandan refugees who had fled to the Congo. Rwanda is challenging the accusations, saying they only attacked members of the Hutu militias responsible for the 1994 genocide. The UN report risks seriously complicating the always-tenuous politics of Central Africa, where Rwanda has become a beacon of stability.

Baobab at The Economist:

Many countries’ armies, militia groups and rebel groups were involved in the killings, and all get dishonourable mentions in the report. But attention will focus on the Rwandans, partly because they started Congo’s collapse by invading the country in 1996, but also because the present regime of Paul Kagame has been most vigorous in denying that its forces did anything wrong at all during that awful conflict, despite many peoples’ suspicions to the contrary. Indeed, Mr Kagame has generally taken a “holier than thou” attitude to the whole Congolese imbroglio, arguing that his soldiers alone had the right to act in eastern Congo, to hunt down the Hutu genocidaires who had fled there after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

But the UN report will prove deeply embarrassing reading for Mr Kagame and his Western allies as it alleges that far from merely finding and killing genocidaires, Mr Kagame’s army and allied militias knowingly committed wholesale killings of Hutus, often “mostly children, women, old and ill people”. Indeed, the report goes on to say that some of the attacks could have amounted to a genocide, “if proved before a competent court.”

Human-rights activists have often pointed out that whereas most of the Hutu ringleaders of the 1994 Rwandan genocide have been brought to trial, no one has been found responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Congo wars. This UN report will provide powerful ammunition to prosecutors.

But its more immediate effect will be to further damage the reputation of Mr Kagame. It will be very interesting to see the reaction of Western governments to the report. Some Western politicians have become increasingly queasy about giving Mr Kagame so much aid and diplomatic help. These UN allegations could turn that queasiness into decisive action.

Nicholas Kristof at NYT:

I traveled in eastern Congo during 1997 and saw truckloads of Hutu men being rounded up, apparently for execution. One commander, apparently a Rwandan, was busy organizing such a campaign east of Kisangani and detained me when I came across his soldiers, who acknowledged that they were killing Hutus. (The soldiers noted, correctly, that many of the men they were killing had blood on their hands not only in Rwanda but also in Congo.) Likewise, other reporters have written about the mass graves and killings from that period. But the report goes far beyond anything I saw or was aware of. Most striking, the report suggests that the brutality unfolded there was systematically aimed at Hutus, including women and children. An excerpt:

31.       The scale of the crimes and the large number of victims, probably several tens of thousands, all nationalities combined, are illustrated by the numerous incidents listed in the report (104 in all). The extensive use of edged weapons (primarily hammers) and the systematic massacres of survivors after the camps had been taken show that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage.[1] The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.[2] Numerous serious attacks on the physical or mental integrity of members of the group were also committed, with a very high number of Hutus shot, raped, burnt or beaten. The systematic, methodological and premeditated nature of the attacks listed against the Hutus is also marked: these attacks took place in each location where refugees had been screened by the AFDL/APR over a vast area of the country.[3] The pursuit lasted for months, and on occasion, the humanitarian assistance intended for them was deliberately blocked, particularly in the Orientale province, thus depriving them of resources essential to their survival.[4] Thus the systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of damning elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide.

32. It should be noted, however, that certain elements could cause a court to hesitate to decide on the existence of a genocidal plan, such as the fact that as of 15 November 1996, several tens of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees, many of whom had survived previous attacks, were repatriated to Rwanda with the help of the AFDL/APR authorities and that hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees were able to return to Rwanda with the consent of the Rwandan authorities. Whilst in general the killings did not spare women and children, it should be noted that in some places, particularly at the beginning of the first war in 1996, Hutu women and children were in fact separated from the men, and only the men were subsequently killed.

The report goes along on that vein, describing specific examples that are devastating to read. It describes Congolese civilians packed into rail cars that became “coffins on rails,” with air supply cut off or petrol bombs thrown in. It also describes the role of conflict minerals in sustaining the warfare and chaos in eastern Congo — an issue that the Enough Project in particular has focused on.

I’m still absorbing the report, and it’s worth emphasizing that it’s a draft rather than a final version. And the truth in Congo is always hazy, so this mustn’t be taken as gospel. My main hope is that the report will get more attention to the humanitarian disaster of eastern Congo. One lesson I’ve learned over the years is that it’s very difficult to solve a humanitarian problem unless it is in the spotlight, and Congo’s problem has been that it rarely gets much global attention. No country has suffered so many millions of deaths and received so few column inches of coverage. There are signs that that may be changing, and maybe this report will be part of the process.

Jason Stearns at Congo Siasa:

The striking conclusion is that the crimes committed by the RPA/AFDL against Hutu refugees and Congolese Hutu could constitute a crime of genocide. This will be a bombshell for Paul Kagame’s government, which prides itself for having brought an end to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and has built its reputation and its appeal to donors on its promotion of post-genocide reconciliation. This report will rock the internet for months and years to come. Its political importance is hard to overstate.

A few words of caution. The report was not based on the standards of a judicial investigation; it was intended to provide a broad mapping of the most serious human rights abuses between 1993 and 2003. Indeed, the report says that an international court will have to be the final arbiter of whether the RPA/AFDL did actually commit acts of genocide. Verbatim: “The systematic and widespread attacks described in this report, which targeted very large numbers of Rwandan Hutu refugees and members of the Hutu civilian population, resulting in their death, reveal a number of damning elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide.”

Nonetheless, the mapping team’s mandate was to documents crimes of genocide, and it was rigorous: In total, the team gathered evidence on 600 incidents of violence between 1993 and 2003. Their standard was two independent sources for each incident. They interviewed 1,280 witnesses and gathered 1,500 documents. Many of the reports of killings of Congolese and Rwandan Hutu civilians were corroborated by eyewitnesses. While we always knew that there had been large massacres of Hutu refugees in the Congo, this is the first rigorous investigation, and the first time an international body has thrown its weight behind charges of genocide.

Another word of caution: This is the preliminary draft. The report is due to be released on Monday, but it has been leaked, I gather because Secretary General Ban Ki Moon – or othr UN officials – has pressed for the charges of “acts of genocide by the RPA/AFDL” to be removed. The Rwandan government has reportedly threatened to withdraw its troops from the AU mission in Darfur and the UN mission in Haiti. I imagine that it is to prevent such editing that the report was finally leaked.

Philip Gourevitch at The New Yorker:

The U.N. has so far refused to comment on the leak, except to say that the draft is not the final version of the report. The Rwandan government has rejected the report, but not said much more.

But earlier this month in Kigali, top Rwandan officials spoke freely and on the record about their efforts to have the draft report quashed. Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, came to power in 1994 at the head of a rebel army that brought the extermination of Rwandan Tutsis by Hutu extremists to a halt. This army today is the chief contributor of troops to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur—and last month, after Rwanda received the draft report, Kagame met with the U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, in Madrid, and told him that if the report came out, Rwanda would withdraw from all of its commitments to the U.N., starting with Darfur.

“I was in the meeting,” Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, told me in Kigali a few weeks ago. Mushikiwabo followed up with Ban by letter (pdf), elaborating her government’s complaint and reiterating its threat.

Picture 1.png

In our conversation, she insisted that Rwanda wasn’t bluffing. She described the draft report as a disgrace, methodologically and politically, and she told me, “If it is endorsed by the U.N. and it’s ever published, we used very, very strong words—if the U.N. releases it as a U.N. report, the moment it’s released, the next day all our troops are coming home. Not just Darfur, all the five countries where we have police”—she mentioned Haiti, Liberia, and South Sudan—“everybody’s coming home.”

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Let Us Learn What The Weekly Standard Has Learned

William Kristol in The Weekly Standard:

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned that senior Obama administration officials have been telling foreign governments that the administration intends to support an effort next week at the United Nations to set up an independent commission, under UN auspices, to investigate Israel’s behavior in the Gaza flotilla incident. The White House has apparently shrugged off concerns from elsewhere in the U.S. government that a) this is an extraordinary singling out of Israel, since all kinds of much worse incidents happen around the world without spurring UN investigations; b) that the investigation will be one-sided, focusing entirely on Israeli behavior and not on Turkey or on Hamas; and c) that this sets a terrible precedent for outside investigations of incidents involving U.S. troops or intelligence operatives as we conduct our own war on terror.

While UN Ambassador Susan Rice is reported to have played an important role in pushing for U.S. support of a UN investigation, the decision is, one official stressed, of course the president’s. The government of Israel has been consulting with the U.S. government on its own Israeli investigative panel, to be led by a retired supreme court justice, that would include respected international participants, including one from the U.S. But the Obama administration is reportedly saying that such a “kosher panel” is not good enough to satisfy the international community, or the Obama White House.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

Kristol’s report comes just as Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has informed Israel’s representatives the world over that there were never any humanitarian supplies or equipment aboard the Mavi Marmara, where Israeli commandos were ambushed by armed mercenaries posing as peace activists. Of related interest are the videotaped statements of two Mavi Marmara crew members showing that preparations for a violent confrontation with IDF forces were put in motion about two hours before the boarding began, when the Israeli Navy hailed the ship and told it to halt; according to the statements, the atmosphere aboard the Mavi Marmara; IHH operatives on the main deck were cutting the ship’s railings with metal disks they had brought with them into lengths suitable to be used as clubs.

Despite outward appearances, the Obama administration is not clueless. It has plenty of clues. Let’s just say now is a good time to meditate further on Dorothy Rabinowitz’s Wall Street Journal column on “The alien in the White House.”

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Recall that this week Obama himself spoke about an international board of inquiry. And other sources confirm to me that, indeed, this was Susan Rice’s recommendation. (This may explain why the U.S. was mute when Israel was condemned by the Human Right Council.)

But this brain storm might be a bridge too far, even for timid Democrats on the Hill. So (like the leaks about an imposed peace plan from James Jones meeting with such illustrious characters as Zbigniew Brzezinski), this may be an idea that the Obama administration really, really wants to pursue but doesn’t know if it can pull off. Test the waters, make Israel nervous. Turn up the heat. Show the Arabs what good guys we are. But if the game plan is exposed and a firestorm erupts, well, then — retreat. Deny that was ever the intention and come up with a plan that is less offensive — another “compromise.”

There is another alternative, of course. Veto (if it should come to the Security Council) and/or refuse to cooperate with any UN investigation. Support an Israeli investigation. The administration can and should do both. Perhaps the revelation that Obama is playing footsie with the UN (again, and as he did with the NPT group), will cause the administration to sound the retreat (as the Obama team was forced to do regarding the trial balloon on an imposed peace plan). But Obama can never bring himself to wholeheartedly embrace Israel and say no to the international community. Let’s see if he can manage to do that this time around.

Andy McCarthy at The Corner

Carol Platt Liebau at Townhall:

So on the one hand, the administration actually tries to ease sanctions on Iran — an avowed enemy that poses, literally, an existential threat to our ally, Israel — as it undermines our friend.

This is foreign policy, Alice-in-Wonderland style.  It’s surreal and frightening.

Howard Portnoy at The Examiner:

I suppose, if nothing else, one should be grateful that Obama is showing his true colors for once. Among his failings as a human being and a leader—and they are legion—perhaps none is more glaring than his dishonesty, which has been on fairly continuous display since he took the oath of office. He has not leveled with the American people regarding his stance on health care (despite his refusals to acknowledge the fact, he is on record as stating his ultimate goal for the country is universal health care), nor has he been forthcoming about his views on black nationalism or socialism.

At least at last, he is flautning his anti-Semitism for all the world to see. I trust that Jewish voters will find some way to repay his candor in the polls come November of 2012.

Ben Smith at Politico:

The White House is sharply denying a claim by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol that “the administration intends to support an effort next week at the United Nations to set up an independent commission, under UN auspices, to investigate Israel’s behavior in the Gaza flotilla incident.”

The White House has suggested in the past that it supported international participation in an Israeli investigation, but a shift to the kind of international inquiry supported by many of Israel’s critics would be a dramatic one, and a White House official brushed off Kristol’s flotation.

The White House pushed, immediately after the incident, to downgrade a planned resolution condmening Israel to a vague presidential statement that didn’t directly target the Jewish State.

The White House official said the administration continues to support “an Israeli-led investigation into the flotilla incident that is prompt, credible, impartial, and transparent.”

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

The White House is pushing back hard against a claim by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol that the administration is preparing to support an independent U.N. investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident.

Kristol, writing on the Weekly Standard blog, claimed he had heard, “the administration intends to support an effort next week at the United Nations to set up an independent commission, under UN auspices, to investigate Israel’s behavior in the Gaza flotilla incident.”

The White House quickly and sharply denied that account.

A  White House official told multiple reporters, “We’ve said from the beginning that we support an Israeli-led investigation into the flotilla incident that is prompt, credible, impartial, and transparent. We are open to different ways of ensuring the credibility of this Israeli-led investigation, including international participation.”

The official also said, “We know of no resolution that will be debated at the U.N. on the flotilla investigation next week.”

Kristol’s allegation, and the White House’s rebuttal of it, is further illustration of the ongoing tension between some in the pro-Israel advocacy community and the administration over how strongly and aggressively to defend Israel in the international arena.

While it’s true there is no specific resolution expected, sources close to the issue say, what pro-Israel leaders like Kristol are worried about are continuing calls for tougher measures against Israel, such as the vote in the Human Rights Council, and whether or not the administration will really oppose them with vigor.

Jennifer Rubin again:

As expected, the administration is denying the report — sort of. The response is telling, and not only for its gratuitous nastiness. First, the administration plainly thinks it’s achieved a grand success by toning down the UN resolution and downgrading it to a statement. And it lets on that, once again, some “compromise” is under consideration. Moreover, it only denies that the UN will not debate the resolution “next week.”

What is missing is any determination to rule out an international investigation. Indeed, it advances the notion that an Israeli investigation would not be “credible.” No mention is made of, and there seems to be no interest in, investigating Turkey or the terrorists.

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

A simple denial would look something like this: “The United States will oppose any UN investigation into Israel.”

But the White House didn’t say that. It couldn’t even muster an official response on the record. Politico originally included a statement from White House spokesman (and friend of THE WEEKLY STANDARD) Tommy Vietor—”We have no idea what Bill Kristol is talking about, and would surmise that neither does he”—but that quote has since vanished from the blog (it can be seen here).

Maybe Tommy had to ask for his quote to be deleted because it was a tad snarky—given that the administration probably is going to end up supporting (or at least yielding to), and cooperating with, and pressuring Israel to cooperate with, a UN investigation.

He’s also probably on a tight leash after this picture zipped around the Internet this week (for the record, I fully support Vietor’s right to drink beer at a bar—and even play beer pong—though he really should keep his shirt on at public establishments, especially on a Sunday afternoon).

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More Voting, But Not Involving Mickey Kaus Or Orly Taitz

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

The United Nations Security Council has passed a new, tougher Iran sanctions regime by a vote of 12-2, with Brazil and Turkey voting against and Lebanon abstaining. This will not create enough pressure to end Iran’s nuclear recalcitrance, but it’s a significant achievement nonetheless. It send a strong message to the Iranian people that the world–even friends like Russia and China–considers their government an international outlaw. That means something; it will have an impact on the growth and depth of the political opposition movement (and may eventually sway some of the crucial bazaaris, whose businesses may be affected by the sanctions, against the Revolutionary Guards’ dictatorship). We’ll see, over time, if Iran responds to diplomatic pressure;  it often has done so in the past.

The no votes by Brazil and Turkey are a matter of concern and sadness. Obviously, those two emerging powers aren’t feeling too pleased that their lame bid at nuclear diplomacy with Iran fell flat. They should be included–indeed, they should be front and center–when Iran is ready to return to the table; indeed, their initiative could be the start of the next round of negotiations. They could be valuable intermediaries between Iran and the rest of the world.

Michael Rubin at The Corner:

It is a blessing that Turkey is on the United Nations Security Council. For the first several years of Erdogan’s premiership, Turkish diplomats tried to be all things to all people, and, as so often happens with American diplomacy, we were willing to accept insincere Turkish statements in closed doors rather than listen to what the Turkish leadership was saying publicly. Today, Turkey decided definitively to side with Iran.

I am reminded of 1990, when Yemen represented the Middle East on the Security Council and did not vote to condemn Saddam’s invasion of  Kuwait. It is a vote that Yemen watchers still remember, 20 years later. Turkey’s vote today is similar.

A question for Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates: Given Turkey’s slide toward Iran, are you really willing to sell the Joint Strike Fighter to Ankara? Do you really want to supply that technology to a country, albeit for now a NATO member, where the government might simply transfer the technology to adversaries that seek to kill Americans?

This further round of sanctions is unlikely to stop Iran if it is set on making a bomb. The sanctions add a list of heavy weapons that may not be sold to Iran, and forbid Iran to develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. They lengthen slightly a list of Iranian officials and institutions on which various travel and financial restrictions are imposed. Perhaps most prominently, the resolution calls on countries to board ships bound for Iran and inspect their cargo, to enforce the resolution (if the country flagging the ships agrees, which is a big if).

What the resolution does not do is take a bite out of Iran’s main economic activity, the sale of its oil and gas. China made sure of that. As symbolic a blow as the vote is to Iran, these are not the “crippling” sanctions that the most fretful Iran-watchers have called for.

If these sticks are unlikely to do the trick, what of the carrots? The last annex of the resolution reiterates the P5+1’s offer from 2008 to recognise Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear power and to co-operate in areas from aviation to trade to security if Iran will suspend enrichment and enter a larger dialogue. The resolution now throws the focus back on Iran’s response. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, is likely to continue his public theatrics against the Western powers and Israel. But the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, holds a great deal of power in Iran. It remains to be seen whether the new sanctions, combined with some muted sweet-talk from the P5+1 can change his mind.

Noah Pollak at Commentary:

Let’s review how we got here: The “reset” with Russia that was supposed to earn cooperation on Security Council sanctions merely taught Russia that Obama can be defied, cost-free. China noticed, and has joined the hands-off-Iran coalition. The “daylight” policy of being rude to the Israelis as a way of unifying the Arabs behind the peace process and against Iran has only left Israel isolated and the Arabs in disarray. Obama’s review conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and his calls for a nuclear-free Middle East have been easily manipulated to deflect attention from the threat to American interests — Iran — to the threat to Iranian interests, Israel.

The world has noticed Obama’s inability to get serious: Russia and China are now joined by Brazil and Turkey in openly thwarting the president’s meek effort to confront Iran. You know your enemy has lost respect for you when he admits, as Jalali does above, that you’re not even making it hard for him anymore.

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary:

So, like the three previous rounds of UN sanctions on Iran, we can expect this latest one to have no impact on either Iran’s willingness to buck global displeasure over the nuclear issue or its ability to proceed with its plans.

All of which leaves us asking the Obama administration, what now?

In theory, the new UN sanctions could prompt the United States and other Western powers to unilaterally impose far harsher sanctions by themselves. But that move will take even more months of negotiations and would almost certainly not include Russia and China, countries that have played a major role in enabling the Iranians to avoid paying the price for their nuclear ambitions. With force off the table and little hope of a truly crippling round of international sanctions, what does Iran have to worry about?

Though the administration is busily spinning recent developments as proof that the year they wasted trying to engage Iran helped build support for sanctions, the fact remains that Iran is not only a year closer to its nuclear goal but also in a stronger political and diplomatic position today than it was 12 months ago. Having completely suppressed domestic opponents in the wake of their stolen presidential election, the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime can also now point to the acquisition of two important foreign allies: Brazil and Turkey, both of whom are now firmly in Iran’s camp. And those two countries can say that the mischief they are making on Iran’s behalf is no different from what President Obama tried to do himself during his long unsuccessful attempt to appease Tehran.

Just as bad is the fact that over the past year, Obama has allowed the Iranians and their friends to establish a false moral equivalence between their nuclear program and that of the State of Israel, a country whose very existence requires a nuclear deterrent that Iran’s does not. The United States’s vote last week in favor of a resolution at the UN nonproliferation conference, which called on Israel to open up its nuclear facilities, is a clear signal that the Obama administration’s faltering resolve on Iran is matched by its ambivalence about the Jewish state and its security needs.

The bottom line is that far from today’s UN vote being a cause for celebration or even satisfaction over the fact that the world is finally paying attention to the threat of a nuclear Iran, it may well be a better indication of the West’s slide toward ultimate acquiescence to Iran’s goals.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

Now that the U.N. Security Council has passed its new sanctions resolution against Iran, the path is clear for Congress to move forward with its own, tougher set of sanctions.

Lead sponsors Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT, and Rep. Howard Berman, D-CA, had agreed to give the administration more time to complete the U.N. track before reconciling the Senate and House versions of Iran sanctions legislation. After an unusually public first session of the conference committee, work has been quietly proceeding at the staff level and is finishing up now.

The sequencing here is important. Congress is also waiting until the European Union has a chance to meet and announce its own set of measures. That meeting will happen June 16 and 17 in Brussels. After that, Congress will have two weeks to unveil its bicameral bill before lawmakers leave town for the July 4 recess.

“We now look to the European Union and other key nations that share our deep concern about Iran’s nuclear intentions to build on the Security Council resolution by imposing tougher national measures that will deepen Iran’s isolation and, hopefully, bring the Iranian leadership to its senses,” Berman said Wednesday. “The U.S. Congress will do its part by passing sanctions legislation later this month.”

Hill sources say that it’s still unclear whether Congress will be able to pass the conference report out of both chambers before the July 4 recess, as Dodd and Berman promised. But they see the passing of the U.N. resolution as the needed signal to move the conference process to its final conclusion.

“Now that the U.N. vote is behind us, there is a strong case to be made that the sanctions should be as strong as possible,” said one congressional aide working on the issue. “We’ve now begun the process of what is essentially the last, best hope of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Still, even among sanctions advocates, there’s great skepticism that Iran can be convinced to change course.

“The good news is that everything is going according to plan,” the aide said. “The bad news is that the plan might not work.”

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Don’t Come Crying To Me, Mr. President, When A Probe Comes And Sucks Up Our Oceans

Stephen Clark at Fox News:

Environmentalists, already peeved with the administration’s handling of the Gulf oil spill, are accusing President Obama of breaking his campaign pledge to end the slaughter of whales.

The Obama administration is leading an effort within the International Whaling Commission to lift a 24-year international ban on commercial whaling for Japan, Norway and Iceland, the remaining three countries in the 88-member commission that still hunt whales.

The administration argues that the new deal will save thousands of whales over the next decade by stopping the three countries from illegally exploiting loopholes in the moratorium.

But environmentalists aren’t buying it.

“That moratorium on commercial whaling was the greatest conservation victory of the 20th century. And in 2010 to be waving the white flag or bowing to the stubbornness of the last three countries engaged in the practice is a mind-numbingly dumb idea,” Patrick Ramage, the whaling director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told FoxNews.com.

Wayne Pacelle at Huffington Post:

Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States, together with actor Pierce Brosnan and his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, are asking supporters to take action to save whales — again. Nearly a quarter century after the moratorium on commercial whaling took effect, the threat to whales worldwide has never been greater. Whaling, toxic pollution, ship strikes, noise pollution, and climate change are all factors in the endangerment of these creatures.

This week, on the eve of the 62nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Agadir, Morocco, the government of Australia took a decisive step to protect whales, filing suit in the International Court of Justice against Japan’s “scientific whaling” in the Southern Ocean. The suit seeks an injunction to bar Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary. In 2007, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an election pledge to ban whaling in the sanctuary, a 50-million-square-kilometer area surrounding the continent of Antarctica, where the IWC has banned all types of commercial whaling.

The lawsuit comes even as the member nations of the IWC are locked in debate over a compromise proposal, to be voted on at Agadir, that would allow the whaling nations to resume commercial whaling with the understanding that they abide by quotas.

Australia’s filing claims that Japan has abused its right to conduct scientific research whaling under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which provides for a scientific exemption. In 2008-09 Japan killed 1,004 whales, including 681 in the Southern Ocean. Since the moratorium came into effect, more than 33,000 whales have been killed under the article.

The lawsuit also asserts that Japan has breached its international obligations under the 1973 Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by hunting whale species listed as endangered, and invokes Article 3 of the1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, claiming that Japanese whaling is causing harm beyond national jurisdiction in the Southern Ocean.

Unfortunately, in the view of nearly the entire American animal protection and environmental community, the United States government has abdicated its leadership role in the defense of whales, encouraging consideration of a compromise proposal and actively politicking for its adoption. The delegation head has even disparaged the Australian initiative in the International Court of Justice.

Rich Lowry at National Review Online:

When it comes to whaling, Japan is a rogue state.

Since 1986, there’s been a moratorium on commercial whaling that Japan has honored only in the breach. Norway and Iceland don’t honor it at all, while a few aboriginal communities get exemptions. As a consequence, during the past 20 years, the number of whales killed annually has steadily increased; roughly 2,000 were killed last year.

This is a vast improvement over the 80,000 whales killed in 1960, but it’s a very leaky ban. The International Whaling Commission, the 88-nation body that regulates whaling, is now considering a proposal to formally lift the moratorium, in exchange for supposedly tighter limits on newly sanctioned hunting. The idea is that a more realistic regime will save thousands of whales during the next ten years.

But conservationists are rightly galled at a proposal that will again legitimate the killing of nature’s most majestic creatures — as harmless as they are awesome — with no guarantee that the number of whale catches will really go down substantially.

Whaling lost its Melville-esque romance long ago. Once, “iron men in wooden boats” hunted the beasts in something of an even match — otherwise, Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for the white whale wouldn’t have been so self-destructive.

The rise of steam engines, explosive harpoons, and then factory ships — capable of killing and processing whales at sea — facilitated the mass slaughter of whales. The creatures had as much a chance against their hunters as bologna does against a grinder. They were killed in a decades-long movable charnel house.

In the first four decades of the 20th century, about 900,000 whales were killed just in the southern hemisphere. Blue whales, the largest animal on earth, had once been too fast for whaling ships. Not in the new age. Since 1920, their population has declined by 96 percent. Many species were hunted to the brink of extinction.

It became clear the carnage didn’t even suit the interests of the hunters, who would soon be bereft of prey. Hunting became restricted, and then, in a great victory for animal conservationists, the IWC ratified the moratorium in 1986.

Why protect whales? They should be preserved as befits anything else that evokes wonder; they are the mammalian equivalent of the Grand Canyon or of the giant redwoods. They are also incredibly long-lived creatures with a sophisticated social structure, closer to chimpanzees than to cattle.

Besides, there’s no reason to kill whales. No one has needed whale oil to light lamps for at least a century, and blubber isn’t a necessary source of nutrition in a modern society. Yet Japan persists. It agitates against the moratorium and organizes international opposition to it at the same time it cynically defies it.

The Economist:

Countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, that oppose whaling are frustrated. The IWC has become a battleground between the two camps, with each side trying to recruit allies from neutral states. Half the body’s 88 members joined in the past decade—helping to make it deadlocked and dysfunctional, unable either to curb whale hunts or to reauthorise them.

There have been physical stand-offs as well as diplomatic ones. In January there was a collision between a Japanese ship and a trimaran from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a green group based in the American state of Washington. The crew (from Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands) had to abandon ship. In February Australia (with quiet sympathy from New Zealand) threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice unless it stopped whaling off Antarctica.

Against this nastiness, a “peace plan” was unveiled on April 22nd, Earth Day, by the IWC’s Chilean chairman, Crishán Maquieira, and his Antiguan deputy, Anthony Liverpool. It reflected months of closed-door talks among a dozen countries. The moratorium would be lifted for a decade, but whalers would agree to a sharp reduction in their catch, stricter enforcement measures and a ban on all cross-border commerce in whale products.

The aim is to buy time in which countries can hammer out a longer-term agreement, while achieving an immediate drop in the number of whales that are killed. Supporters—including Monica Medina, who heads America’s IWC delegation—say the deal seeks to “depoliticise” the whaling that does go on, while laying the ground for a tougher conservation system. The plan will be considered in June at the IWC’s annual meeting in Morocco.

Enter the naysayers

But objections are already coming in. New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, calls the proposed quota for Antarctic waters unrealistic and unacceptable. Junichi Sato, a Japanese conservationist from Greenpeace who does not share his compatriots’ predilection for whaling, regrets that “the whales are making all the concessions, not the whalers.”

That is not an easy corner to argue in Tokyo. Japan’s fisheries minister, Hirotaka Akamatsu, deems the limit “too drastic” and wants it raised. But in principle at least, Japan is ready to make a deal. An official at the Fisheries Agency says that the country is willing to hunt fewer whales provided it can do so without international opprobrium. “We have to lose something in order to get something,” he says. Indeed, it can be argued that the biggest obstacles to a cut in the number of whales slaughtered do not lie with the harpoon-wielders, but rather with their most zealous opponents, for whom the best is the enemy of the good.

Japan’s critics say that by using a loophole in the IWC charter to practise “scientific” whaling, the country is violating the spirit of the document. Japanese officials counter that the 1946 convention never anticipated a moratorium on all commercial whaling. Whale meat is still occasionally served to schoolchildren in Japan as a reminder of their culture, though large-scale whaling only really began after the war, on the orders of General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw America’s occupation. The aim was to provide cheap nourishment for a famished nation.

AtlantaJan at Daily Kos:

The current proposal would also:
Overturn the global ban on commercial whaling and allow hunting in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica.
Approve the killing of whales for commercial purposes by Japan around Antarctica and in the North Pacific.
Add new rights for Japan to hunt whales in its coastal waters.
Allow continuing whaling by Iceland and Norway in violation of long-agreed scientific procedures and the global whaling ban.

The Obama administration is spearheading a policy that would allow commercial whaling to proceed for 10 years. Commercial whaling has been banned since the 1970s. Before the ban on commercial whaling, close to 40,000 whales were killed annually; since the ban, that number has dropped to fewer than 2,000, and whale populations have begun to recover.

The administration is arguing that if we see whales being slaughtered, we are more likely to support a total moratorium. But that is like saying if we see people killing puppies, fewer people will kill puppies. It’s garbage.

According to a survey by the Nippon Research Center, more than 95 percent of Japanese residents had never eaten whale. But the Japanese government has begun supplying schools with whale meat in an attempt to justify its slaughter. Additionally, Japan has begun bribing land-locked nations in Africa, and poor nations like Nauru and Togo, with aid in exchange for support of position within the IWC.

Whales are intelligent animals. Australia has taken the lead on their protection. For the US to take any other position is abominable.

Tom Maguire:

Enviros are enraged, and rightly so – Rich Lowry explains that Japan has been a rogue state for decades on this topic.

But can we blame Bush?  Yes we can!  Or at least, the Brit Independent can:

The deal which may do away with [the ban], which has been on the table for three years, was first thought to be merely a diplomatic compromise to end the perpetual confrontation at IWC meetings between the whaling nations and the anti-whaling countries. But recently it has become clear that it had a different purpose, and was cooked up in the US – by leading figures in the Bush administration, among them being Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who, until his conviction for taking unreported gifts in 2008, was the longest-serving Republican senator in American history.

One of the most powerful figures in US politics, Senator Stevens sought a deal with Japan after the Japanese caused problems for the US by objecting (as a bargaining counter in IWC negotiations) to the whale-hunting quota for Alaskan Inuit peoples, who have a traditional hunt for about 50 bowhead whales.

Senator Stevens is believed to have put pressure on the then-US Whaling Commissioner and IWC chairman, William Hogarth – whose budget, in the US National Marine Fisheries Service, Mr Stevens controlled as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee – to open talks with Japan, which Mr Hogarth duly did at the 2007 IWC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

Mr Hogarth’s proposals, which would have allowed the Japanese and others to restart whaling commercially, were eventually thrown out by the IWC. Yet the deal now back on the table is essentially a modified version of his original plan, which is even more favourable to the whaling states.

It is notable that the US, which used to have to negotiate its Inuit bowhead quota every five years, will get a 10-year quota if the new deal goes ahead.

Blaming Bush and the Eskimos – I knew it.  But if that is all the payback we get, I am surprised.

And can we find a flip-flip quote from Obama?  Yes we can!

As a candidate, President Obama said, “As president, I will ensure that the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” (March 16, 2008 – Greenpeace candidate questionnaire)

Yeah, well, that was more than two years ago, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and no one thinks Obama has a little mind.

UPDATE: Alex Knapp

Doug Mataconis

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I Love The Smell Of Drones In The Morning

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston has announced that he will formally ask the U.S. to halt its CIA programs of drone warfare. Alston, representing the UN, says that the drones should be operated by the military because the military drone program better complies with international warfare codes and because the military program is more transparent and accountable than the officially secret CIA program.

Charlie Savage at NYT:

Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Thursday that he would deliver a report on June 3 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva declaring that the “life and death power” of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces, not intelligence agencies. He contrasted how the military and the C.I.A. responded to allegations that strikes had killed civilians by mistake.

“With the Defense Department you’ve got maybe not perfect but quite abundant accountability as demonstrated by what happens when a bombing goes wrong in Afghanistan,” he said in an interview. “The whole process that follows is very open. Whereas if the C.I.A. is doing it, by definition they are not going to answer questions, not provide any information, and not do any follow-up that we know about.”

Mr. Alston’s views are not legally binding, and his report will not assert that the operation of combat drones by nonmilitary personnel is a war crime, he said. But the mounting international concern over drones comes as the Obama administration legal team has been quietly struggling over how to justify such counterterrorism efforts while obeying the laws of war.

Legal Insurrection:

I warned about this previously in Drone Strikes Put Obama Admin Officials At Risk, noting how the same Mr. Alston previously raised the issue of drone strikes constituting human rights violations:

“My concern is that drones/Predators are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” he said.

The use of human rights laws against democracies defending themselves against terrorists is a favorite tactic, and Israel is the usual target. The goal is to tie the hands of civil societies through false moral equivalencies, in which the terrorist trying to kill civilians is equated to the people trying to stop the terrorist.

Expect more of this, as the world becomes less enthralled with Obama, and seeks to give him some small measure of the attention given George W. Bush.

What goes around comes around, and it will come around for Obama and those in his administration who were so quick to accuse Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld of violating international and domestic law as they struggled to find a means of stopping al-Qaeda.

Andrew Exum and David Kilcullen at NYT:

The appeal of drone attacks for policy makers is clear. For one thing, their effects are measurable. Military commanders and intelligence officials point out that drone attacks have disrupted terrorist networks in Pakistan, killing key leaders and hampering operations. Drone attacks create a sense of insecurity among militants and constrain their interactions with suspected informers. And, because they kill remotely, drone strikes avoid American casualties.

But on balance, the costs outweigh these benefits for three reasons.

First, the drone war has created a siege mentality among Pakistani civilians. This is similar to what happened in Somalia in 2005 and 2006, when similar strikes were employed against the forces of the Union of Islamic Courts. While the strikes did kill individual militants who were the targets, public anger over the American show of force solidified the power of extremists. The Islamists’ popularity rose and the group became more extreme, leading eventually to a messy Ethiopian military intervention, the rise of a new regional insurgency and an increase in offshore piracy.

While violent extremists may be unpopular, for a frightened population they seem less ominous than a faceless enemy that wages war from afar and often kills more civilians than militants.

Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent — hardly “precision.” American officials vehemently dispute these figures, and it is likely that more militants and fewer civilians have been killed than is reported by the press in Pakistan. Nevertheless, every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.

Second, public outrage at the strikes is hardly limited to the region in which they take place — areas of northwestern Pakistan where ethnic Pashtuns predominate. Rather, the strikes are now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion in Punjab and Sindh, the nation’s two most populous provinces. Covered extensively by the news media, drone attacks are popularly believed to have caused even more civilian casualties than is actually the case. The persistence of these attacks on Pakistani territory offends people’s deepest sensibilities, alienates them from their government, and contributes to Pakistan’s instability.

C. Christine Fair at Foreign Policy:

The anti-drone argument goes like this: Because drone attacks kill innocent civilians and violate Pakistan’s sovereignty, they are deeply and universally despised by Pakistanis, and contribute to deepening anti-U.S. sentiment in the country — enmity that could boost terrorist organizations’ recruitment and eventually force Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders to abandon their cooperation with the United States. 

During his testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 2009, David Kilcullen, a former counterinsurgency advisor to Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus, said it was time for the United States to “call off the drones.” Later that month, Kilcullen and Andrew M. Exum, who served as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 to 2004, published a provocative editorial in the New York Times, titled “Death From Above: Outrage from Below,” in which they estimated that over the “past three years” drones had killed just 14 “terrorist leaders” at the price of some 700 civilian lives. “This is 50 civilians for every militant killed,” they wrote, “a hit rate of 2 percent.” Their conclusion? Drone strikes produce more terrorists than they eliminate-an assertion that has become an article of faith among drone-strike opponents.

It would be a damning argument — if the data weren’t simply bogus. The only publicly available civilian casualty figures for drone strikes in Pakistan come from their targets: the Pakistani Taliban, which report the alleged numbers to the Pakistani press, which dutifully publishes the fiction. No one has independently verified the Taliban’s reports — journalists cannot travel to FATA to confirm the deaths, and the CIA will not even acknowledge the drone program exists, much less discuss its results. But high-level Pakistani officials have conceded to me that very few civilians have been killed by drones and their innocence is often debatable. U.S. officials who are knowledgeable of the program report similar findings. In fact, since January 1 there has not been one confirmed civilian casualty from drone strikes in FATA.

Not only do drone opponents rely upon these fictitious reports of civilian casualties, they also tend to conflate drone strikes in Pakistan with air strikes in Afghanistan, lumping the two related but very different battlefields together as one contiguous theater. They also conflate different kinds of air strikes within Afghanistan.

These distinctions matter, a lot. In Afghanistan, it is an ignominious truth that hundreds of civilians are killed in NATO airstrikes every year. But most of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan have not stemmed from pre-planned, intelligence-led attacks; rather, civilians are most likely to die when troops come into contact with the enemy and subsequently request air support. This is because when it comes to air strikes, NATO forces in Afghanistan have a limited range of air assets at their disposal. As a result, when troops come into contact with insurgents and call for  air support, they get the ordinance that is available, not the firepower that would be best suited to their needs. Sometimes large bombs are dropped when smaller ones would have been better, and the risk of civilian casualties increases accordingly.

Exum responds to Fair:

Chris: I do not care how many civilians drone strikes actually kill. And I do not care how many civilians Americans think drone strikes in Pakistan kill.

I care only about how many civilians Pakistanis think drone strikes kill. As one of the world’s experts on Pakistani public opinion, you should be able to provide that number to me, right? Because all you can tell me right now is the Pakistani press is dutifully reporting whatever the Taliban tells them … and I already know that. I don’t care in the slightest about what Pakistani generals or the CIA is telling you behind closed doors. It does not matter. I care about what those Pakistani generals are telling their public. I care, in other words, less about reality as defined by verifiable facts and figures and more about reality as it is interpreted in Pakistan and within Pakistani diaspora communities.

Honestly, I have been making this point over and over again for a year now. But the only thing the CIA and other agencies and departments have done since then is to have stepped up their information operations campaign aimed at U.S. public opinion — i.e. to have convinced Americans that drones are a good idea. But who cares, honestly, whether or not the Americans who read http://www.foreignpolicy.com know how many civilians die in drone attacks or think drones are a good idea? I certainly don’t. I care more about the people who stand to be most easily radicalized by the strikes.

C’mon, dude, get out there, do some polling, crunch some numbers, and then come tell me I’m wrong. Until then, stop telling me what I and everyone else in America already knows.

Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent:

It’s the most controversial counterterrorism program there is. The CIA’s remotely piloted aircraft, operating with the tacit consent of the Pakistani government, fire missiles at suspected militants in the Pakistani tribal areas where U.S. ground troops are prohibited from operating and where the Pakistani military is often hesitant to tread. The United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings plans to formally request the Obama administration stop the program out of fears that civilians inevitably die in the strikes. Recent research from the New America Foundation finds that 30 percent of drone strike fatalities are Pakistani civilians. It’s an enormous issue in bilateral relations with a major non-NATO ally, and experienced counterinsurgents like David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum have warned that the incendiary attacks may create more militants than they kill. Even John Brennan, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, indicated on Wednesday that he shares Kilcullen and Exum’s fears and gives scrutiny to ensure that the much-valued program doesn’t become “a tactical success but a strategic failure.”

But a forthcoming study, led by Brian Glyn Williams, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, finds that the civilian death toll from the drones is lower than most media accounts present. “We came to the conclusion that the drones have a unique capability for targeting militants, as opposed to civilians,” Williams said in an interview.

Williams’ study, which he provided to The Washington Independent, has yet to be published. A writer for a blog affiliated with the International Herald Tribune, Farhat Taj, blogged some of the key details of his research today, but prematurely stated that the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point will be publishing Williams’ work. Erich Marquardt, the editor of the center’s journal, said that he hasn’t even begun to review Williams’ submission yet.

Much like the New America Foundation study, Williams’ team relied on English-language media accounts of the drone strikes in Pakistan to compile a data base of how many civilians and militants were reported to be killed. He conceded from the start that such a reliance is a “serious limitation” of the study — news reports can, after all, be incorrect — but the tribal areas of Pakistan where the strikes occur are often off limits to Western researchers, and even their Pakistani counterparts. (Still, Williams plans on traveling to the tribal areas on June 10 to attempt a poll of local attitudes about the strikes.) His team took measures to mitigate that limitation: they only considered strikes that had been reported by multiple independent outlets and they erred on the side of treating the deaths of people in disputed militant status as either civilians or “unknown.”

Williams’ results, which he said have been peer-reviewed, are as follows:

According to our database, as of 1 April 2010, there have been a total of 127 confirmed CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, killing a total of 1,247 people. Of those killed only 44 (or 3.53%) could be confirmed as civilians, while 963 (or 77.23%) were reported to be “militants” or “suspected militants.”

That leaves just over 19 percent of reported deaths out of either category, as their status as civilians or combatants can’t be rigorously determined under Williams’ methodology. But he writes that “even if every single ‘unknown’ is assumed to in fact be a civilian, the vast majority of fatalities would remain suspected militants rather than civilians – indeed, by approximately a 3.4:1 ratio.”

Williams insists that he went into the study with an open mind. “We didn’t know what to think” about the drone program, he said, and he considers his research agnostic on the wisdom of the drone strikes (to say nothing of their legality). “We’re not necessarily trying to alter policy on this,” he said.

Both of the principle authors of New America’s drone strike survey, Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, are on vacation, but they both still (generously) addressed my questions. All three researchers — Bergen, Tiedemann and Williams — appeared to agree that New America was more methodologically aggressive than Williams in counting as civilians all who could not be clearly identified as militants, which perhaps accounts for the variance in their results.

James Joyner:

Bergen observed in a Blackberried message that although his civilian death tallies are higher than Williams’, he has observed that the drone program has increased its accuracy over time, “so the later the the date that the study begins the lower the rate [of civilian deaths] will be.” That’s in line with Brennan’s intimation (he never actually uses the word “drones”) that the drone strikes “are more precise and more accurate than ever before.”

Accordingly, Bergen now pegs the civilian death rate from the drone strikes at 20 percent. Williams pegs it at 3.53 percent. What no one knows, however, is how many outraged Pakistanis take up arms against the U.S. or its allies as a result.

Dexter Filkins in NYT:

The American military on Saturday released a scathing report on the deaths of 23 Afghan civilians, saying that “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting by a team of Predator drone operators helped lead to an airstrike this year on a group of innocent men, women and children.

The report said that four American officers, including a brigade and battalion commander, had been reprimanded, and that two junior officers had also been disciplined. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who apologized to President Hamid Karzai after the attack, announced a series of training measures intended to reduce the chances of similar events.

The episode, in which three vehicles were attacked and destroyed in February, illustrated the extraordinary sensitivity to the inadvertent killing of noncombatants by NATO forces. Since taking command here last June, General McChrystal has made the protection of Afghan civilians a priority, and he has sharply restricted the use of airstrikes.

The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan are caused by insurgents, but the growing intensity of the fighting, and the big push by American and NATO forces, has sent civilian casualties to their highest levels since 2001.

Mattthew Yglesias:

Obviously killing civilians is horrible, as well as strategically counterproductive, and killing civilians by the dozens is just awful stuff. But the relevant authorities do seem to me to be quite earnest and at least somewhat successful in their determination to mitigate the extent to which these things happen. The problematic aspect of the drone attacks that I haven’t seen discussed as much as it deserves is really on the Pakistan side of the border and concerns the National Security Strategy’s stated aspiration to create a rules-based global order.

Simply put, having the CIA conduct a secret undeclared de facto war in Pakistan is kind of the reverse of rules-based activity. There’s a colorable rationale under existing rules for unilateral military action in Pakistan under the UN Charter’s absolute recognition of a right to individual and collective self-defense. But this isn’t military action, it’s CIA action. And by definition covert use of force is not rules-based. Now I think you could fairly say that a world of “liberty under law” is a regulative ideal rather than an actual reality, so it’s not per se a violation of the relevant principle to engage in activities outside the rules. Simply pretending that an airtight rules-based global order exists doesn’t make it so. At the same time, to say “the rules-based global order is an aspiration rather than a reality, therefore we can operate outside the rules whenever it’s convenient” actually makes a mockery of the aspiration. And the covert actions in question are some of the worst-kept secrets in the world. So I think there’s a real problem here that’s worthy of more critical thinking.

Ultimately the United States is judged more by what actually happens than by what policy documents say, and I think it’s important to do more to align what we’re actually doing in this regard with our big-picture policy aims.

Charli Carpenter at Lawyers Guns And Money:

I would like to posit that to some extent, the issues at stake in all of these debates are much broader than the issue of drones and it may be problematic to focus on drones, as if altering our “drone policy” will resolve the broader issues. Drones themselves are simply remotely piloted aerial vehicles. They’re not robots and they’re not making decisions on their own, Star Wars-like. (Though they might in the near future which would raise entirely different ethical questions.) Except for the fact that the pilots are operating remotely from the safety of a military base (or CIA facility), these weapons are little different than other forms of air power. Of course, as Peter Singer has documented there are those who are troubled by the dislocation of the warrior from his targets, but this argument is as old as the long-bow and doesn’t necessarily pose legal issues. It should also be pointed out that drones have many extremely useful non-lethal applications: reconnaissance that helps ground troops avoid civilians, for example. And drones are not simply being used to hunt terrorists in Pakistan. They have civilian and law enforcement uses as well: to monitor the drug trade in South America or population flows across borders. (Not that these surveillance functionalities don’t also involve pressing trade-offs with respect to rights and civil liberties.)

Speaking just in terms of using drones as attack weapons here, I would argue the important issue here is not whether we use drones. The issues are a) whether it is right to use any weapon in such a manner as to risk more casualties among civilians than we are willing to accept among our own troops (as both manned and unmanned forms of aerial bombing do) b) whether we are willing to use any weapon to summarily execute individuals we have associated with criminal organizations whether or not they are engaged in what might be considered combat operations against us and c) whether it is either right or effective to outsource the deployment of lethal violence – by drones or by other means – from our military to our civilian agencies?

bmaz at Emptywheel:

One of last Friday’s big stories somewhat lost in the hustle and focus on the BP Gulf oil disaster and the holiday weekend concerned the continuing outrage of the US drone targeted assassination program. Specifically, Charlie Savage’s report at the New York Times that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, was expected to issue a report calling on the United States to stop Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes thus “complicating the Obama administration’s growing reliance on that tactic in Pakistan”.

Today, the report is out, and Charlie Savage again brings the details in the Times:

A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects is undermining global constraints on the use of military force. He warned that the American example will lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spreads.

In a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the official, Philip Alston,the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen, outside the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report — the most extensive effort by the United Nations to grapple with the legal implications of armed drones — also proposed a summit of “key military powers” to clarify legal limits on such killings.

In an interview, Mr. Alston, said the United States appears to think that it is “facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks” that justifies its effort to put forward legal justifications that would make the rules “as flexible as possible.”

Here is Alson’s official report.

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Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT, International Institutions, Military Issues