December 11, 2010


An Obama foreign policy win in South Sudan (Michael Gerson, December 10, 2010, Washington Post)

The Obama administration, elsewhere challenged by Iranian nuclear ambitions and North Korean brinkmanship, is on the verge of a major diplomatic achievement in Sudan. Barring technical failures that delay the vote, or unexpected violence, South Sudan will approve an independence referendum on Jan. 9. Six months later, a new flag will rise, a new anthem will be played. It is a rare, risky, deeply American enterprise: midwifing the birth of a new nation.

Even six years ago, this outcome seemed impossible. The mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south were engaged in a two-decade-old civil war that unleashed genocide, produced millions of refugees and took about three times as many lives as the American Civil War. But in 2005, the Bush administration brokered the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which created a government of national unity and promised an independence referendum for the south in 2011.

Disobedient: The leader of nonviolent protests in the West Bank—a potential Palestinian Gandhi—is in an Israeli jail (Michelle Goldberg, Dec 9, 2010, The Tablet)
Last month, the yearlong prison sentence of Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a schoolteacher and activist involved in nonviolent civil disobedience in the West Bank, came to an end. But an Israeli military court refused to release him, on the grounds that he would resume his activities if freed.

Abu Rahmah’s crime was organizing illegal demonstrations in a West Bank village where all demonstrations are by definition illegal. Abu Rahmah, 39, had long been involved in peaceful, multiethnic protests in the village of Bil’in, where Israel’s separation wall has cut Palestinians off from hundreds of acres of their land. Though barely covered in the American press, his conviction was protested by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, among others. “Israel’s attempt to crack down on this effective resistance movement by criminalizing peaceful protest is unacceptable and unjust,” said Desmond Tutu, one of Abu Rahmah’s supporters.

American Jews often ask where the Palestinian Gandhi is. What few realize is that if such a man exists, he’s probably sitting in an Israeli military prison.

Eyeless in Cairo (Leon Wieseltier, 12/10/10, New Republic)
Can one be for democracy in some states and against democracy in other states? As a matter of principle, of course not: democracy is universalism as a political order. It is premised on a certain conception of the individual and society, on an understanding of dignity and freedom that would be meaningless if it did not apply to all people. By bringing all people under a single philosophical description, it ignores, without regret, the social and economic and cultural distinctions among them. It equalizes. But policy, even when it is based in philosophy, is not philosophy; it cannot be indifferent to consequences. And the democratization of undemocratic societies is emphatically a policy of destabilization. In the anarchy of the attempt, all kinds of evils may be loosed. Unfree people dream of more than just freedom; they dream also of power, and vengeance, and exclusiveness, and heaven. The end of absolutism liberates them for their own absolutes, which may cause great suffering. Is the standpoint of the democratizer, then, too narrow, and is the universalist too blind? Do the costs of democratization ever outweigh the benefits? In the calculation of these costs and these benefits, in this encounter with the problem known as the “incommensurability of values,” are there instances when we would be right to choose against democracy? I recognize the arrogance in choosing such a destiny for other peoples, but a policy of democratization is also such a choice and no less tainted by such an arrogance. We cannot escape the responsibility of our influence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 11, 2010 6:19 AM
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