Thanks to the work of activist groups like the Enough Project and the Genocide Intervention Network, the term "conflict minerals" has begun to seep into the vernacular of those of us who follow foreign affairs. Simply put, conflict minerals are the few minerals that are at the heart of the war in Eastern Congo. These minerals -- which include Tin ore (cassiterite), tantalite (coltan), tungsten as well a
Part of the reason that progress leading toward a binding international climate change agreement has been so halting is that President Obama has said that he will not commit the United States to emission reduction goals unless congress gives him a path by which those goals can be met.
Well, today, a new group launched that could be a big step toward helping the United States meet its international responsibilies on climate.
The AP is reporting that President Obama will nominate Rajiv Shah, a medical doctor and former official at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who currently serves as Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics at the US Department of Agriculture, to be USAID Administrator. The pick is somewhat of a surprise.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing this morning on international climate negotiations. Todd Stern, the administration's top international climate change negotiator, briefed the committee and was followed in a seperate hearing by UN Foundation head Sen. Tim Wirth (who had Stern's job during the Kyoto negotiations), Ellen Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Steve Groves of the Heritage Foundation.
President Obama just wrapped up his remarks at the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative. It was not much of a newsy speech, but he did touch a theme that I think we can expect to see elaborated upon tomorrow during his General Assembly address. Obama spoke of the need for new global partnerships to tackle global problems. A critical element of these partnerships, he stressed, was building capacity in the developing world and empowering low income countries to confront global challenges head on. Stay tuned.
My old boss Michael Tomasky wrote an interesting piece in The Guardian arguing that the contentious U.S. debate over health care reform augurs poorly for the prospects of a climate change deal making its way through congress anytime soon.
Now that Obama, Biden and Clinton are in office, and another fierce anti-genocide advocate, Susan Rice, is in as ambassador to the United Nations, we felt there finally would be a consequence for the perpetrators of the genocide, the regime officials in Khartoum, Sudan.
But rather than the kind of tough actions the these top officials had all advocated in their previous jobs and on the campaign trail, President Obama's Sudan envoy instead began to articulate a friendly, incentives-first message that even Sudan's president, an indicted war criminal, publicly welcomed. Our chins hit the floor in disbelief, because our chins had nowhere else to go.
That op-ed, plus this piece by Randy Newcomb in Foreign Policy and this new campaign from Humanity United all point to a deep frustration and dissapointment felt by Darfur advocates. Their angst is understandable. Even though a number of the anti-genocide movement's top luminaries hold positions of influence in the Obama administration, Sudan policy seems hopelessly stuck.
One country in the world owes its very existance, in part, to the humanitarian impulse of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Via Global Voices Online:
After the invasion of East Pakistan (also called East Bengal, now called Bangladesh) by West Pakistani forces in the spring of 1971, some 9,000,000 refugees streamed across the border into India. The world and the United States (Nixon/Kissinger mired in Vietnam, famously “tilting” toward West Pakistan) took little note. All except the 39 year old senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy.
In the brutal heat and monsoon muck of August, Senator Kennedy traveled to refugee camps throughout West Bengal (the neighboring Indian state) and reported back to the Senate in an extraordinarily passionate document about the plight of the refugees in India and what he called the “reign of terror which grips East Bengal.”
He concluded: “America's heavy support of Islamabad (West Pakistan) is nothing short of complicity in the human and political tragedy of East Bengal.”
Kennedy not only bore witness, he jolted the world into taking notice and aiding the refugees if not the independence fighters in East Bengal.
Kennedy basically embarassed the Nixon administration into supporting Bangladashi statehood. An editorial from the Bangladesh The Daily Star explains:
Senator Kennedy took up our cause in his country and in the international arena. His support gave that certain boost to our struggle that was so necessary for us at the time. The Nixon administration, in its misplaced obsession with opening a road to ties with China through making use of Pakistan, conveniently looked the other way as the then Pakistan establishment went on eliminating Bengalis. Mr. Kennedy chose to uphold reality as it then was.
What is truly amazing to me is that this is only a small footnote in the man's legacy.
Senator Edward Kennedy, who President Obama called "the greatest United States Senator of our time," died today at age 77 after a protracted battle with brain cancer.
Though best known for his expansive body of work on U.S. domestic issues, he also lead Congressional efforts to right wrongs abroad by applying pressure to repressive regimes like the apartheid government in South Africa and the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, denouncing war (in Vietnam and Iraq), and promoting peace. He was granted an honorary Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process, which was "tremendous" according to Tony Blair on MSNBC this morning.
But, more importantly, he serves as the model for public service and diplomacy. Despite being a frequent target of partisan attacks, Kennedy's legacy in the Senate is one of pragmatism, compromise, and, as countless colleagues and analysts have repeated today, unparalleled effectiveness. He stood above personal concerns despite suffering great personal tragedy, and, as an emotional Vice President Biden said today, "made his enemies bigger, made them more graceful, by the way he conducted himself."
His eulogy for his brother Bobby echoes today: "[he] need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it." It is a simple, definitive, and profound paradigm for effective public service and statesmanship and is the most fundamental lens through which we should judge all world leaders and their representatives. Blair also said today that Kennedy is "a great icon not only in America but around the world." I sure hope so.
Rest in peace Senator.
UPDATE: The S-G pays his genuinely heartfelt respects.