Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sovereignty Imposes Responsibility

Sovereignty, Washington has informed the world, comes with responsibilities. Sounds good so far, but I have yet to hear Washington enumerate the responsibilities that come with its own sovereignty. Presumably the list would include the responsibility to attack every bad guy it wants to attack anywhere on the planet regardless of the attitude of the local population and regardless of whether or not that guy has actually been proven, by any standard, to be “bad,” and regardless of whether or not that guy has directed his “bad” behavior at the U.S. Presumably, the responsibilities of U.S. sovereignty do not include attacking corporate criminals who despoil the earth or allied politicians who foment war. The list of responsibilities adherent to the sovereignty of other states is of course different.

U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan returned with a vengence immediately following Islamabad’s agreement to allow the NATO supply trucks to start rolling into Afghanistan again and just before a meeting of the U.S. and Pakistani foreign ministers. Whatever the true attitude toward drone strikes in Islamabad, that constitutes an egregious public slap in the face by Washington. Now that strikes me as a curious way for Washington to thank Islamabad. But if the political elite ruling in Islamabad have ever demonstrated true sympathy for the poor marginalized people of Waziristan, it has escaped me, so an alternative interpretation offers itself:

Hypothesis: The ruling elite in Washington and the ruling elite in Islamabad both see themselves as having certain interests: keeping the lid on, remaining in power, satisfying the demands of those in their respective societies with influence.

Note that the above list says nothing about morality or patriotism; these are practical men and women, not philosophers.

To the degree that the above hypothesis may be accurate, it would follow that the two respective elite groups might concur that a few well-placed bombs will postpone serious problems until they, personally, have left office, at which point they will allow themselves the patriotic wish that their successors will do so well during their own turn at the helm. And so, the world keeps getting worse and worse.

But that is not all there is too it. In fact, there is some evidence that this short-sighted approach may fail even before the current batch of power-holders has its day.

Without citing, as reported, any “responsibilities” that may apply to U.S. sovereignty or to its claimed right unilaterally to attack people it dislikes inside other countries, the U.S. spokesperson responded to Pakistan’s ambassador that “Sovereignty has privileges but also comes with responsibilities.”

Even those defending the drone attacks as good tactics sometimes admit that they only serve to gain time for a more reasoned long-term political solution. Of that long-term political solution, only minimal evidence, such as small farmer training programs, is visible. As for the short-term military effectiveness of drone strikes, a February statistical analysis found them to be effective in reducing both the number and severity of Taliban attacks. Waziristan elders have recently accused the U.S. of destabilizing the region, Taliban control appears in the process of being consolidated, and the years of military intervention by Islamabad and Washington appear to have accomplished little, according to a 2011 report:

It is a Wild West where everyone is watching everyone else, a semi-autonomous region where, according to the country’s constitution, normal judicial and criminal laws don’t apply.There are no police here, no army and no courts.

With effective suppression of female voting in some portions of the border region, disruption of polio vaccinations, urban attacks, a wave of cross-border attacks by the Taliban into Afghanistan since NATO supply lines were reopened, and the tendency of the 80,000 Pakistani soldiers stationed there to hunker down in their quarters while the Taliban consolidates political control, the underlying socio-political situation appears, despite all the high-profile slaughter descending from the skies, to be moving in the Taliban’s favor.

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