Sunday, November 8, 2009

UN Note: The Missing U.S. Ambassador

UN Note: The Missing U.S. Ambassador

Experienced United Nations observers uniformly noted that the US crusade to bury the Goldstone report (holding Israel and Hamas accountable for war crimes) was one of the fiercest of any waged in recent years. But somehow US Ambassador Susan Rice missed the General Assembly vote. Susan Rice, known for her powerful support for accountability regarding war crimes in Darfur, regardless of potential political consequences, had of course reversed herself when the issue was accountability for Gaza. That was no surprise. The call for holding all sides accountable for human rights violations and potential war crimes in Gaza was clearly the kind of human rights issue Rice had publicly dismissed as "anti-Israel crap" just last April.

But still -- the US had invested enormous efforts to influence [read: weaken] the General Assembly resolution. So where was the US ambassador last Thursday afternoon when the Assembly culminated its intense two-day debate on the Goldstone report and accountability in Gaza? It was left to the deputy ambassador, Alejandro Wolff, to explain and cast Washington's negative vote. There was lots of speculation why Rice was not there herself - had she been called to the White House for last-minute consultations? Would her presence somehow give the resolution and thus the Goldstone report itself too much significance? Was her deputy better at playing "bad cop"? Actually, it was none of the above. The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Her Excellency Susan Rice, was indeed in New York, but not at United Nations headquarters. The defining clue came at 11 p.m. that night, when "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" came on the air. Featuring special guest Ambassador Susan Rice.

The hit show of Comedy Central, "The Daily Show" airs in the late-night slot. But it always tapes the show ahead of time, around 5:00 in the afternoon. The UN vote to endorse the Goldstone report took place at 4:45. Priorities Central.

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Chomsky Kindergarten fingerpaint Commi Homo Pinko Liberal

(these are really good arguemnts! TRUST THE RIGHT WING FOX ET AL)

TODAY every news service in the world will transmit the same gratifying and facile images of the destruction of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago: a moment when -- as solemn-voiced announcers will intone in practised cadences -- not just a wall, but an entire era was ground into brick-dust.

Such commemorations are easy and agreeable because they invite us to celebrate the ending of something, without requiring us to know anything about what it was that ended. What could be more pleasant than to enjoy an obscurely heart-lifting, lung-expanding sensation of liberation without having to trouble ourselves as to what that liberation really consistedof?

The occasion is doubly gratifying because it invites self-indulgent reminiscence from the celebrity intellectuals of that era, many of whom at the time prophesied great things issuing from the wall's destruction (endless democratisation; the triumph of civil society) that never actually came to pass. In many cases they were the same people who a couple of decades earlier had prophesied great things for the workers of the world, which never came to pass, either. (By contrast, people such as Vaclav Havel who lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain, seem to have suffered no such messianic disappointments. They're just pleasantly surprised that everything has gone so tolerably well these past 20 years.)

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If there's one half-reliable lesson from the fall of the Berlin Wall it is this: that it signalled the death of grand political prophecy. With the wall went the last flickering remnants of dull heat from every radical-messianic fantasy, Left and Right, out of Europe's mad century of radical-messianic fantasies. From this point onwards we could assure ourselves, with tolerable confidence, that every glossy-eyed political evangelist promising deliverance from the manifold insufficiencies of everyday life, and from the world's harshness and injustice, was nothing more than a common-and-garden charlatan.

The clever salon Marxists, the air-castle builders, the adepts of interpersonal hatred turned into political virtue -- those people who had dominated political discussion for the previous couple of decades by the force of their political charisma -- were obliged after 1989 to re-groom and re-clothe themselves in various new guises. Henceforth soi-disant radicals would be forced to satisfy themselves with the maunderings of philosophers so artfully paradoxical that it is impossible to tell whether they are humanists or anti-humanists, foes of the West or tongue-in-cheek devotees. Or else they could swallow their dignity and pretend an interest in the political finger-painting of such kindergarten philosophers as Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy.

Yet while the Polaroid pictures of the tumbling wall are impressed on our memories like an image from a camera obscura, almost nobody remembers an equally significant Berlin anniversary this year: of the event that, after all, made the wall necessary in the first place. In 1948 the Soviet occupation authorities in Berlin progressively shut down transport, power and communications into the western half of the city, purportedly (and what is the essence of the Soviet legacy, if not the lie told without even the pretence of conviction?) because of technical problems. And so the volunteer remnants of the former Western Allied air forces were forced to ferry in by air almost 2 1/2 million tonnes of food and essentials, along three narrow corridors, through fog and rain, and despite the harassment of Soviet fighters and searchlights, every single hour of every day for virtually a year.

Many accounts of the Berlin Airlift nowadays revel in it chiefly as a grand military-logistical enterprise, a feat of aeronautics and engineering. Yet the airlift was also our greatest enterprise in humanitarian internationalism, aimed at rescuing the brutalised population of West Berlin from the Soviet maelstrom. Pilots were forced to bring in war-weary transport planes to Berlin's battered Tempelhof airfield at roughly 30-second intervals, along a narrow avenue of trees in the centre of the city, their wing-tips below the roof level of the surrounding tower blocks. During the course of that year several dozen planes crashed and more than 100 air crew were incinerated. All of this in the relief of a population that had been warring against those same air crews a mere three years previously.

Equally salutary is this fact: the guarantors of the lives of the West Berliners were two great social democrats, president Harry Truman and British Labour's monumental foreign secretary Ernest Bevin, neither of whom hesitated before wagering their legacies on the survival of West Berlin.

All sorts of disgraceful acts were committed in the name of the Cold War and the world is still swimming in an ocean of small-arms weaponry distributed in its name. And yet this first signal moment of moral clear-sightedness -- exercised at a time when the population of Berlin must have seemed as little interesting to Westerners as the population of Bosnia in the 1990s, or that of Darfur today -- defined the moral terms. I wonder if the present occupant of the White House will ever feel that same instinctual moral call.

"Obama, Obama, ya ba oona, ya ba ma," chanted the brave and bruised youths in the streets of Tehran last week. "You're either with them or with us." There is no hint that the President was listening. Meanwhile Obama's ambassador to Sudan, Scott Gration, has explained that he wants to hand out gold stars and smiley faces to the butchers of Darfur in order to persuade them of the merits of engagement. What, I wonder, would Truman and Bevin have made of that?

In 1949 the term humanitarian intervention had barely been coined, yet it was practised when it counted. Nowadays we open our hearts, flutter our hands and talk of little else and do nothing. Or else we put on pious faces and pass unctuous resolutions, which amounts to the same thing.

DAVID BURCHELL From:The Australian November 09, 2009

(this is an embedded newspaper owned by Murdoch?)

r David Burchell, School of Humanities and Languages

Areas of Expertise:
Australian politics

Bio Details:
Dr Burchell is the author of several books on Australian politics and the Australian Labor Party, including: 'Western Horizon: Sydney's Heartland and the Future of Australian Politics' (Scribe Books, 2003); 'The Prince's New Clothes: Why do Australians Dislike Their Politicians?' (UNSW Press, 2002); and 'Labor's Troubled Times' (Pluto Press, 1991).

See media releases featuring Dr David Burchell:
A change of heart: Western Sydney no longer ?blue ribbon? battlers? (29/10/2007)
Policy makers need to do more to tackle housing pain, say UWS experts (26/07/2007)
?Fresh thinking? ALP shapes up to tackle government head-on, says UWS political expert (30/04/2007)


For interviews contact:
Senior Media Officer, Paul Grocott, p.grocott@uws.edu.au, 02 9678 7083, 0406 429 304

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posted by u2r2h at 12:09 PM

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