24/06/2011

A Serious Warning to the United States and Israel

Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia is one of the most respected individuals involved with the Middle East. He is a member of the Royal Family, educated at Georgetown University alongside Bill Clinton with graduate work at Princeton and Cambridge, former Ambassador in Washington and London, Director of the Saudi intelligence service for 25 years, nephew of King Abdullah and a leading candidate to be the next Foreign Minister; when Prince Turki speaks, people listen.

In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post, he gave a dire warning to the United States and Israel concerning the future of the Palestinian-Israeli situation. He wrote, “…the time has come for Palestinians to bypass the United States and Israel and to seek direct international endorsement of statehood at the United Nations”. His message was full of criticism for the failure of President Obama to change the United States’ favoritism toward Israel as well as Israel’s intransigence toward a Palestinian state.

Amid the euphoria of the Arab spring, Prince Turki concluded his article with the following warning: “Now, it is the Israelis who are saying no. I’d hate to be around when they face their comeuppance”. The Israel-Palestine stalemate is the hub of most Middle East tensions and one of if not the central thorn in the relations between the West and the Muslim world. Despite several efforts, the Obama administration has made no headway on the issue. Palestinians are threatening to put this issue in the forefront at the United Nations in September which would put the United States in the awkward position of either vetoing a resolution or going against Israel.

At an international conference on Thursday, Prince Turki called for an end to violence in the Middle East, saying that “much too much blood has been shed”. He did not automatically support dictators in the region, saying in an unofficial capacity that once the people had spoken, the Royal Kingdom would respect their wishes.

Prince Turki has been known as a wise and thoughtful leader. He has never been one to advocate violence. When Prince Turki speaks, people listen. That is why the last sentence of his article in the Post is so startling. Are the right people listening?

June 23, 2011

15/06/2011

Is Cooperation Difficult? The Example of Lebanon

Lebanon has finally gotten a government.  After over 5 months of negotiations, the different parties and factions have reached agreement on the formation of a new cabinet. As one of the last people to meet with the outgoing Foreign Minister, I was impressed at how difficult it was in Lebanon, as it has been in Belgium, Nepal and other countries, to reach a common accord. It is to Lebanon's credit that there was no outbreak of violence, as there had been previously. There are numerous military in the streets, but none of what we see in Damascus, 3 hours by car. Even in Switzerland, where consensus is deeply embedded in the national psyche, tensions between the political parties seem more and more evident; working for the common good has taken a back seat to factional posturing.

When I was a young student in the United States, there were two parts to our report cards. The left hand side of our grades involved academic subjects such as reading and math. The right side, on the contrary, dealt with social behavior. The most important column was "works and plays well with others". As I watch my children and grandchildren go to school, it is evident that those criteria had fallen by the wayside. Grades are individual, social skills are less important. Being successful in school requires excellent individual work; collective activities are less in evidence just as job interviews are carried out individually. Bosses rarely look for those who are catalysts for collective success; a winner is a winner separate from a team player. However, the recent victory of the Dallas Mavericks over the Miami Heat in the basketball championships in the US shows how dedicated teamwork can overcome star players.

Technology has perhaps also played a role here. Sitting behind our computers, listening to music through our earphones, we are more and more cut off from the other. We live in our own worlds.

Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane wrote about how our world has become interlinked through complex interdependence. Internet has brought us closer together as have advances in transportation. But, ironically, these changes have not led to increased cooperation. Au contraire. I keep thinking about my early report cards, and how we should give more attention to social skills, to "works and plays well with others". The ability to cooperate, to negotiate is perhaps the foundation of any civilization, yet it is very rarely part of an educational curriculum or valorized in the workplace.

June 15, 2011

 

 

 

08/06/2011

Osama bin Laden, Ratko Mladic and Justice

When President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, was dead after a search for over 10 years, he declared, "Justice has been done". His words were echoed by the UN Secretary-General who said, "Justice has been done to such a mastermind of international terrorism." When Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general was arrested after a 16 year hunt, President Obama said, "While we will never be able to bring back those who were murdered, Mladic will now have to answer to his victims, and to the world, in a court of law".

Justice is one of the most perplexing concepts in law, morality and jurisprudence. It can include simply bringing someone to trial, or seeing someone convicted or acquitted after a trial, or perhaps even an act of vengeance bypassing any legal system. Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Jody Foster have made popular films depicting extralegal acts of what audiences sympathetically consider proper justice. What are the differences of perceptions of justice in the cases of bin Laden and Mladic?

There have been relatively few voices raised questioning the killing of bin Laden. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch and two special experts with the High Commissioner of Human Rights have voiced concern about bin Laden's death. The example of Israel capturing Adolph Eichmann in Argentina and bringing him to trial in Israel is cited as an example of justice in the strict legal sense. Dismissing any argument about self-defense, the killing of bin Laden fulfilled President Bush's announcement of wanted dead or alive and President Obama's authorization of assassinations in the name of national security, including American citizens. The arguments about the difficulty of a trial as well as the general satisfaction that he was gone superseded any serious discussion of human rights; bin Laden being shot at point blank range is a very satisfactory sense of justice for most.

That is why the arrest of Mladic is so intriguing. Could we imagine a Bosnian soldier who had lost relatives at Srebrenica finding Mladic and killing him claiming self-defense? A lawyer for the Mothers of Srebrenica was quoted as saying that the mothers were "happy that after all they will get a chance to face Mladic in court". Why shouldn't this apply to the relatives of those killed in the Twin Towers or Pentagon? Did any of those dancing in the streets across America feel that they had been denied the satisfaction of seeing bin Laden in court?

The death of bin Laden, including his quick and secretive burial, seem to have fulfilled a Western sense of justice in all senses of the word Western. (We are much less certain about the reactions throughout the rest of the world.) The arrest of Mladic and his upcoming trial also seems to satisfy a Western sense of justice, although his supporters in Serbia maintain loyalty.

There are certainly technical arguments about the nature of the crimes of bin Laden and Mladic. There are also obvious differences between acts committed in the past and those that are ongoing. What I find difficult to understand is the emotional acceptance that justice was and is being done in both cases, where the killing of bin Laden was legally questionable. As a former military correspondent for the Wall Street Journal wrote, "For many at the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency who had spent nearly a decade hunting bin Laden, killing the militant was a necessary and justified act of vengeance".

Vengeance is a primitive emotion. For example, what is to be done with the Syrian torturers of the young Hamza? Justice, in the legal sense, is supposed to go beyond emotions towards a more objective reasoning in cases often involving raw emotions. Mladic was indicted for the bombardment of Sarajevo which killed 10,000 and the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. Bin Laden was indicted as well, but was never allowed to sit in a court of law.

The differences in the sense of justice for bin Laden and Mladic may reflect profound differences in cultures, as we have seen in the recent case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Although Barack Obama was a student of law at Harvard Law School and a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, the killing of bin Laden responded to a very American sense of law and order. Throughout its history, the United States has had a sense of justice coming from the Wild West, as evidenced by so many John Wayne movies. The court of law has always been suspect, as seen in the trial of O.J. Simpson. Accepted justice by the general population has not always corresponded to the legal system. As the famous assistant to Oliver North testified in the Irangate trial, "Sometimes you have to go above the law".

There will be very few discussions in the United States about what happened to Osama bin Laden. The general population is more than satisfied that he is gone, however it happened. President Obama's popularity jumped in the polls; he can no longer be seen as being soft on security. But, I would hope that there are questions being raised about the entire Operation Geronimo - the name itself going back to the cowboy wars against Native Americans - and that the trial of Mladic demonstrates the true validity of what law and order should mean.

 

June 8, 2011