Monday, April 25, 2011

Already Embattled Team Obama Hit with New Shots

This is a dark day indeed for the US foreign-policy establishment, as well as for US public diplomacy in general, courtesy of Wikileaks in an immediate sense, but in the longer view, courtesy of American self-righteous high-handedness in the wake of 9-11.  We already knew that Guantanamo was a black stain on America's self-promoted image as a beacon of human rights and fair treatment, but the revelations emerging from the new release by Wikileaks has blown up completely whatever was left of that image.

The NY Times has extensive coverage (you can start here, with links to other NYT stories), but as one commentator has noted already, the NYT's perspective seems overly geared toward the issue of US security.  The Guardian, on the other hand, as can be expected, is much more up-front with the human-rights issues.  To wit:
  • Innocent people interrogated for years on slimmest pretexts
  • Children, elderly and mentally ill among those wrongfully held
  • 172 prisoners remain, some with no prospect of trial or release
Add to that the evidence that many of those who were detained - for very long times - were detained not as "bad guys," but because they might provide intelligence about the Taliban (like the al-Jazeera reporter who, it was determined early on, did nothing wrong, but might be otherwise useful).

And compounding all of this - as again reported in The Guardian - is the revelation that any detainees for whom there was evidence of links with the ISI - Pakistan's military intelligence - were to be treated as if they were al-Qaeda or Taliban terrorists.  This comes on the heels of a very bad couple of weeks in US-Pakistan relations on account of drone strikes, Raymond Davis, and US accusations that the ISI is unreliable and in cahoots with the Taliban (which to a significant extent has been true, but which the Pakistani military claims is not).  The damage-control teams at Foggy Bottom are going to be working overtime for a long time trying to dampen this one down.

Add to all this the continuing bloodbath in Libya (where, in the eyes of many commentators, Team Obama is not doing nearly enough - but that is an issue that surely is debatable), and the rapidly worsening bloodbath in Syria (at least 11 more killed today), where tanks have rolled onto the streets in Daraa, security forces are going house to house to round up and "disappear" protesters, and Team Obama is again being hammered for not doing enough to get onto the "right side of history" and for being too credulous with its hopes that Bashar al-Asad just might step up and become the reformer he always claimed to be.  It's not happening - but I recommend this NYT piece that at least paints Bashar as not so much a monster as someone who's trapped between his better inclinations and the more repressive elements surrounding him (especially in his family):
Some diplomats who know him personally say they believe Mr. Assad understands what is happening — and what he needs to do to stop it — but is too hesitant, or too timid, to carry it out. “I think Bashar knows there has to be a political solution,” said one former European diplomat who spent years in Damascus. “But he doesn’t have the courage to do what he needs to do for the sake of the country, and perhaps for his own survival.”
It's reported today that the Obama people - and the UN - are putting together a set of sanctions against the regime.  But as others are noting, that will be of little help to those protesters who are being killed, maimed, and detained.

As some noted at the start of the US's intervention in Libya, we did so there because, in essence, we could.  It was perceived to be a low-risk, high-reward gamble.  To date, it hasn't quite worked out that way.  The sense about Syria is that it's a place where we can't step in with much more than sanctions.  But if Asad's security forces continue as they are, the bloodbath that's being inflicted systematically on innocent civilians who have resisted, so far, quite peacefully may end up making the toll taken by Qaddafi - on citizens who are indeed fighting back, with the help of NATO airstrikes and US drones -  look mild in comparison (but I shudder to put it that way; what's happening in Libya is awful). 

At what point will people like the WaPo's editorial board start insisting that we launch drones to decapitate the Asad regime?  Some will argue that that might be a dagger in Iran's heart; ergo, a good thing.  But as opposed to the situation in Libya, the aftermath's impact on Israel is anything but sure.

We'll see . . . .

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