Recently in U.S. Foreign Policy Category

Obama pensive.jpgPresident Obama publicly committed today to passing the DREAM Act in 2011. He called the recent vote blocking the bill in the Senate his "biggest disappointment." White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said that grassroots activism will be essential to getting the DREAM Act passed.

Hearing these comments, I had to scratch my head. I have seen a lot of grassroots activism around the DREAM Act over the last couple years. Some of the most intense organizing has come from communities fighting to keep individual Dreamers from being deported ... by President Obama's immigration enforcement agency, ICE.

I have consulted on several such cases, and represented Dreamers directly in a few. In nearly every case I've seen, ICE fought tooth and nail to keep Dreamers locked up and get them deported. ICE attorneys often took harsh litigating positions with the goal of moving Dreamers out of the country as quickly as possible. ICE deportation officers often shut down requests to release Dreamers to pursue removal defense outside of detention.

ICE wouldn't budge on Steve Li's case last month, refusing to release him from detention even after his case got national attention and support from Dreamers around the country. He would likely be in Peru right now if Senator Feinstein hadn't introduced a private bill in the Senate, which put an automatic hold on Li's deportation.

In other cases, ICE refused to back down until a case got national media attention and the support of Senators.

Mark Farrales is detained right now in California, waiting to be deported. He came to the U.S. when he was 10 after his father was shot by gunmen in the Philippines. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and was working on his doctoral dissertation when he was arrested by ICE.

Haiti quake line.jpgOn one level, I appreciate the decision of Paul Mayer, a U.S. Department of State (DOS) employee stationed in Canada, to travel to Haiti to assist in the evacuation of U.S. citizens stuck in Haiti after the earthquake.  For one thing, it's certainly more than I've done to date in response to the quake.  For another, I'm a U.S. citizen, and if I were stuck in Haiti after the earthquake, I would want to be helicoptered out of there asap. 

I know from my interactions over the years with DOS that many foreign service officers join DOS because they want to improve U.S. relations with other countries or show non-Americans that we're not all in thrall to Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.  In fact, I completed an internship at the Rome Embassy in college and once dreamed of becoming a foreign service officer, or "FSO" for those in the know.

But Mayer experienced some inner conflict in Haiti that he didn't quite know how to deal with:

To say that it was heart-wrenching to do this work doesn't fully capture the feeling. Many tears were shed and many voices were raised. Time and time again, we would hear people begging us, "Please, what are we supposed to do?" It was so, so hot, and we all perspired copiously, but we knew that the people waiting in the queue were hotter and thirstier than we were. As much as it hurt, we had to say no to the unqualified cases; not doing so would be against the law and would also disadvantage those American citizens whose safety and well-being was our first priority. Under U.S. law, the State Department has very clear guidelines for the aid and assistance we provide American citizens in times of crisis, and our office of Overseas Citizen Services in Washington is there to support and guide us every step of the way. The Foreign Affairs Manual (we call it "the FAM") explains things in precise detail.

The FAM, however, doesn't prepare you for the feeling you get from saying, "No" and "I'm sorry" over and over. The FAM doesn't tell you how many bottles of water you will need to give people who've been standing in line for six hours. The FAM doesn't tell you how quickly you need to take the Power Bars you'd bought at Wal-Mart out of your backpack, just so you can give them to the people who are saying, "Please, j'ai faim." The FAM does not tell you whether you're permitted to shed a tear when you see the look of resignation in a person's eye after you've said, firmly, "I'm sorry, but you do not qualify." People just walked away, with their kids in one hand and their suitcase in the other. There were 500 more in the queue, waiting for their turn to come. This was Day 6 after the earthquake.
I propose that this inner conflict stems from Mayer's job description: to prevent the poorest and most vulnerable from coming to the U.S.  It is the organizing principle of the entire immigration system.  As he points out with some regret, the laws are clear and he must not stray from enforcing them.  Yet as Consular Section Chief  at the U.S. Embassy in Montreal, Mayer has uncommon insight into the impact of the screening function of the immigration bureaucracy.  He knows that the people he turns away will suffer; he knows that some will die.

This is the particular tragedy of FSOs around the world: cosmopolitan and compassionate, their instinct is to give refuge to the dispossessed, but rules are rules and must be obeyed.  Who are they to challenge the System That Keeps Us Safe?  Those who question authority tend not to work for the most powerful institution in the world, policing the boundaries between Us and Them. 

But there are other paths.

(Via BIB)

Drone.jpgToday's New York Times story titled "Pakistan Reported to Be Harassing U.S. Diplomats" highlights the hypocrisy of the Pakistani government in accepting U.S. aid and military support while refusing to renew visas of U.S. personnel and subjecting American diplomats to routine vehicle checks. Certainly Pakistan's government doesn't have to accept the billions of dollars the U.S. government is giving it. But there is more to this story.

First of all, the U.S. wrote the book on denying visas for opaque, often senseless reasons.

The State Department has a history of denying visas for political reasons, and should not be surprised when other countries do the same from time to time. (I believe denial of the right to travel is rarely justified, but this is an oft-used tool of U.S. foreign policy.)

Second, the U.S. is unpopular in Pakistan because it bombs Pakistanis using unmanned drones and has this year pressured the Pakistani military to take action that led to societal upheaval and mass suffering. This has had the not unforeseeable consequence of making the current Pakistani government's relationship with the Americans somewhat toxic.

But this is mostly missing from the Times story. Only near the bottom of the article do we get any indication of why Pakistanis might not be grateful for the presence of the Americans in their country:

Kyle has graciously lent me the Citizen Orange platform again after a hiatus of several months.  Going forward, I will most likely be spending more time here and at the Sanctuary (more to come soon on recent events in the social change-o-sphere, such as it is). 

This by way of pointing out that an uncouth pseudonymous libertarian blogger has again accurately deciphered the most recent chapter of the U.S. imperial adventure--Vietnam Part VIII: Afghanistan.  Now that the last U.S. troops have finally exited Iraq, all four million Iraqi refugees have happily returned to their ancestral lands, and Iraqi citizens have breathed a collective sigh of relief to live in the peaceful, fully sovereign, beacon of democracy they now inhabit, President Obama has turned a stern eye to the Enemies of Freedom currently plaguing the good people of Afghanistan. 

Or at least that's the version of events Tom Friedman subscribed to until recently.

the theatre of war

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I wanted to drop a couple of links to an insightful pairof posts over at Obsidian Wings. First, Eric Martin quotes Henley:

Insurgency can't pose an existential threat to the country. Is there a single instance of insurgency warfare conquering foreign territory? Even if you consider South Vietnam and North Vietnam to have really been separate countries, it was, as certain hawks never tire of pointing out, Hanoi's regular Army that conquered the South. The FLN could kick France out of Algeria, but it could never rule France. Hezbollah drove Israel out of Lebanon in the 1990s using guerrilla warfare. It couldn't use the same tactics to drive Israel out of Galilee. Insurgencies can prevent foreign or local governments from consolidating control over the insurgents' "own" territory. Guerrilla movements that get big enough have been able to take power in their own countries.

But they can't conquer. Insurgency is fundamentally reactive and, if not always merely "defensive" . . . parochial. A guerrilla army swims in the sea of the people, like the man said, and foreigners make a lousy sea. Even if all "the terrorists" wanted to follow us home after we "cut and run" from Iraq, they could never have remotely the effect here that they manage in Iraq. Here they lack a sea.

By and large, a country like the United States only needs to commit to an ongoing posture of counterinsurgency if it is also committed to serial military domination of foreign populations. In fact, the United States is currently so committed, on a bipartisan basis. But that's an unwise and immoral posture that will lead to national ruin in the medium to long term. The Iraq defeat offers one of those rare moments for real national reappraisal, an openness to genuine reform. Rather than work at getting better at executing an unwise and immoral grand strategy, let's choose a different one.


I can't emphasize enough how much these foreign policy discussions bleed into and encompass the immigration debate. The barbarians are at the gate, so we must fight them over there and build a big wall to keep them out.

Scarily, the argument is as reductive as that. The common orientalizing conception of non-Americans, fostered in part by inculcation of the heroic national narrative in All Dutiful Children, allows us to simultaneously posit that the savages can't run their own societies without our military oversight and are clever enough to infiltrate our Great Nation's border and defeat us from within.

Part two comes from Publius:

And that brings us back to the real problem with terrorism - its potential for success. Terrorism gives way to a nationalistic fury that is hard to contain or to channel in constructive ways. Even the most reasonable people get outraged - and are right to be outraged.

Even worse though, most countries (India and USA included) have hyper-nationalist parties ready to seize upon tragedies like these for domestic gain, regardless of the collateral damage the parties' proposed policies would cause. Of course, the outrage these parties exploit is perfectly understandable, and it's universally shared. And the terrorists know this - indeed, they're counting on it. That's what often makes their strategy successful.

It's just infuriating -- you want to get mad, but getting mad is exactly what they want. Indeed, it's part of the plan.

In other words, the act of terror and the response are carefully choreographed episodes played by wealthy elites, symbolic gestures that happen to grind up real lives. And the cannon fodder believe in the drama most passionately--that is, after all, the purpose of the theatre.

I'm reading Legalizing Moves: Salvadoran Immigrants' Struggle For U.S. Residency, by Susan Bibler Coutin, for a class I'm taking here at Harvard with Dr. Sarah Willen.  I can't comment on the whole book, since I'm only reading the first two chapters, but I came across this powerful metaphor for mass migration to the U.S.:

Jorge Lima, a Salvadoran who had been active in opposition groups in both the United States and El Salvador, attributed [denying asylum to individuals] to the lack of responsibility regarding the consequences of U.S. policies that destroyed lives in El Salvador. 

Jorge told me that the situation of Central American immigrants "is like when a woman has been raped and is pregnant, see?  Then there's a reality! Understand? She has conceived, and however you try to exterminate that fact, it's a reality!  You can't keep it a secret.  You may not register it in your structures, as though it never existed.  But yes, it did exist!" 

In this graphic image, El Salvador is a raped woman, the United States is the rapist, Central American immigrants are the illegitimate child, and U.S. immigration law is a means of denying the child's existence.
Susan Coutin - Legalizing Moves (2000 : pp. 40-21)

It would be a fair criticism of my writing to say that I dwell too much on doom and injustice.  That's not the best way to attract converts to your cause.  Still, I believe graphic imagery like this metaphor Jorge Lima expressed in an interview is useful for putting migrant rights in perspective. 

Orishas: Desaparecidos

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a los presidentes asesinos

a los responsables
de desaparecidos
pa' los que trafican con ninos
el culpable sabe de que hablo yo


To the assassin presidents
To those responsible
for the Disappeared
For those who traffic children
The guilty knows of what I speak

This week's musical entry comes from Orishas, a hip-hop group of Cuban migrants that combines rap en Español with a traditional Cuban sound.

From the group's Wikipedia page:

Orishas is a hip-hop group whose members had emigrated from Cuba. . . . The Orishas delved into a realm of music in which they challenged "Castro's ideal of a colorless society" and created a black identity that the younger generations could relate to. They tackled important and obvious issues that dark skinned Cubans faced everyday though the government refused to recognize.

. . .

The name "Orishas" refers to the set of deities worshipped in African-based religions that were brought to the Americas by slaves of the Yoruba people in West Africa. These religions, parts of the Yoruba mythology, include Santeria in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil. These orishas, or deities, each represent a natural element (such as the ocean or leaves) and exhibit a human characteristic (such as motherhood or love). The choice of this name for the hip hop group is a way of creating a direct link between this band and the African diaspora. This link is evident in the lyrics to "Nací Orichas" and "I Sing For Elewa and Changó".

One of my favorite Orishas songs, Desaparecidos, is about the "Disappeared," the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people kidnapped and murdered by their governments in Latin America during the Cold War, from Cuba to Guatemala to Argentina to the DR. Anyone who believes the Cold War was relatively casualty-free didn't spend much time in Latin America while it was happening.

From the NY Times today:

KABUL, Afghanistan -- An airstrike by United States-led forces killed 40 civilians and wounded 28 others at a wedding party in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Wednesday. The casualties included women and children, the officials said.

The United States military and Afghan authorities were investigating the reports about the latest attack, the American military said in a statement, but it gave no confirmation of the strikes or any death toll.
By now, this is a familiar pattern.

The outlines of a cynical strategy emerge: deny, deny, deny for the first week or two until the story recedes from the front pages, then concede in bits and pieces until the story is broken up and defused over time and new distractions materialize. 
But this strategy only works if you stop blowing up wedding parties or villages every other month.
dead Afghan babies.jpg

Beware Subcomandante Zapatero!

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Subcomandante Marcos.jpgJohn McCain, he of the purported decades of foreign policy experience, apparently doesn't know who the elected leader of Spain is, doesn't know where Spain is, or else simply won't back down once confronted.  None of these being hopeful signals of a potential McCain foreign policy.  

Here is Josh Marshall's breakdown of the reaction of the Spanish press:

In Spain, there seem to be two lines of thinking. The great majority appear to think the McCain was simply confused and didn't know who Zapatero was -- something you might bone up on if you were about to do an interview with the Spanish press. The assumption seems to be that since he'd already been asked about Castro and Chavez that McCain assumed Zapatero must be some other Latin American bad guy. A small minority though think that McCain is simply committed to an anti-Spanish foreign policy since he's still angry about Spain pulling it's troops out of Iraq. Finally, a few of those who lean toward the first view speculate that McCain may have confused Zapatero with the Zapatista rebel group in Mexico.
My money is on the Zapatero/Zapatista confusion.  McCain doesn't speak Spanish, his mind had already been focused on suspicious, indigenous Latin American revolutionary types like Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez (who once called George Bush the devil!), and he heard "Zapat___" and that was all he needed to know to form his response. 

Let me clarify for John McCain: Subcomandante Marcos is not the elected leader of the European country that colonized most of Latin America.  He does not have a seat at the table at NATO.  He does wear a ski mask and tattered revolutionary cap in all his public photos.

Let's hope that John McCain can figure this out before taking office this coming January.
Today was a day for remembering, and for asking hard questions.

El Loco at Latinopundit remembers 9/11/01 and 9/11/73, and the tragedies that occurred on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and in Allende's Chile on those dates.

Karima Bennoune at IntLawGrrls says that

both our contemporary human rights and security discourses on terrorism need to be broadened and renewed. This renewal should be informed by the understanding that international human rights law protects the individual both from terrorism and the excesses of counterterrorism, like torture.
She reminds us that

Counterterrorist policies that violate international law clearly undermine the endeavors of people like Sifaoui and Kheddar. But a human rights response that focuses solely on the impact of counterterrorism, and not of terrorism itself, hinders their work as well. Instead, international lawyers need to develop what Gita Sahgal has called a "human rights account" of terrorism. Perhaps that could be our best contribution to commemorating the terrible events of September 11, 2001.
Duke at Migra Matters recounts the tragic events of 9/11 and then the tragic two weeks that followed during which the Bush administration began preparations for the war in Iraq.  This war has led to the death and displacement of a far greater number of people than the 9/11 attacks.

Nezua provides a very personal look into his world on 9/11 and the subsequent days and weeks. Tracing his ideological and emotional trajectory will hit close to home to many readers, myself included.

And here are my scattered recollections of that day in lower Manhattan, recorded two years ago. I've probably grown even more skeptical since then of those who claim to lead us and of U.S. claims of the efficacy and good faith of its actions abroad. It is a strange experience--I feel at once more cynical and more hopeful than I have felt before.

Cynical when I think of our upcoming election and the ways I feel the U.S. will be stuck in the status quo regardless of who wins the presidency. Hopeful in the potential I see for transnational organizing and a youth movement that knows no borders.

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