We can’t be friends

American and Afghan soldiers (via Dion at the Wall Street Journal):

In 68 focus groups involving 613 Afghan police and soldiers throughout three provinces, some Afghans praised their American colleagues. But many, when asked what criticisms they had of the Americans, described American troops as “violent, reckless, intrusive, arrogant, self-serving, profane, infidel bullies hiding behind high technology,” the report said.

In an accompanying survey of about 100 U.S. troops, soldiers uniformly gave their Afghan partners poor marks. In a series of focus groups with about 130 Americans in total, the soldiers, asked about their complaints, described the Afghan service members as “cowardly, incompetent, obtuse, thieving, complacent, lazy, pot-smoking, treacherous and murderous radicals,” according to the report.

The president and the parliamentarians (via Martine at the Afghansistan Analysts Network):

Afghanistan’s MPs have been in strike action that is unusual for a parliament: Since more than a week they refuse to debate. They sit still in the house and only from time to time let steam out by banging their desks, giving them some fun in a frustrating situation. The reason: They want to show their indignation to the President that he still has not made good of his promise to introduce the remaining seven ministers for a vote of confidence and force him to finally oblige (see an earlier blog on these developments here). In order to show that they are serious, they even had not gone into their summer recess which had actually started on 5 June. Now it is almost over without having ever started and the President is still ignoring them. He even chose to travel to Kazakhstan, instead, to participate as a guest in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.

Afghanistan and Pakistan (via Josh at Registan.net):

Afghanistan and Pakistan have made a habit of engaging in combat with each other over the last few years. I wrote about it earlier this year for AfPak Channel, and later noted an even bigger engagement than had previously been reported. But things have found a way to get even worse.

Militants in Afghanistan launched an attack onto Pakistani forces in Bajaur earlier this week [map]. In response, the Pakistani military moved in force into the area, and destroyed a few bomb factories.

Further south, the Pakistani military got into a scuffle with Pashtuns at the Chaman border crossing who resented being treated like insurgents during a search. A few hundred Balochi tribesman came out to protest the harassment, and managed to block the crossing for several hours until Pakistani troops fired into the crowd to disperse it, wounding eight people. Then, this morning the fighting inside Pakistan resulted in a stray rocket crossing the border and killing four Afghan children.

Endgame taking shape in Libya

Although I have a ton of work to do, I. cannot. pull. myself. away from Libya news. The latest whoa nuggets:

- Last night, the Libyan military sent text messages to Benghazi residents telling them the city would come under assault today.

- NYT journalists Lynsey Addario, Anthony Shadid, Tyler Hicks, and Stephen Farrell have been missing for two days and were last heard from just before the rebel-held city of Ajdabiya fell to Gaddafi’s forces. On facebook, my Benghazi-based friend Louis described the disappearances as a “gut check.”

- Human Rights Watch wants to be really damn clear about where things stand.

“What everybody is focused on is drawing a line, literally in the sand, around Benghazi, to prevent Qaddafi’s forces from capturing the city and staging a bloodbath,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “If Qaddafi wins, it could kill the moment in the entire Middle East.”

- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) moved its staff from Benghazi and Ajdabiya to Tobruk, farther from Gaddafi’s onslaught.

- Guy Verhofstadt, a member of the European Parliament and former Belgian prime minister railed against EU inaction [also from the Al Jazeera March 16 live blog].

“This makes me sick of the EU. We have learnt nothing at all of  history. When Gaddafi is back shall we say business as usual? Are we going to close our eyes again? Will we add one black page more to European history?”

- The International Crisis Group says a no-fly zone won’t help at this stage, and is advocating instead for an immediate ceasefire backed up by the credible threat of military intervention, a peace process for political transition, and an Arab and African-led peacekeeping mission.

- The UN Security Council is expected to come to a decision regarding Libya on Thursday morning EST.

The Libya conversation

Gaddafi’s forces are continuing retake ground from the rebels in eastern Libya, and only one town now stands between Gaddafi and the rebel stronghold Benghazi.

Over the past week, Libya has been the main conversation topic among my expat friends here in Kabul. Our conversations have gone something like this:

“Damn. It looks like Gaddafi is going to win.”

“That madman is going to make good on his promises to slaughter the opposition. There’s going to be a bloodbath. The international community needs to immediately impose a no fly zone.”

“But a no fly zone is unlikely to do much good at this point, because Gaddafi is relying more heavily on tanks and artillery.”

“Well, we should amend the arms embargo, so the rebels can buy better weapons.”

“Even if that were easy — it’s not– the rebels are mostly ordinary young people. They’re having trouble using anything more complicated than a Kalashnikov, and friendly fire injuries are rife in the hospitals in Libya’s east. Bigger, more powerful weapons aren’t going to help. “

“I guess we’re back to a no fly zone!”

“Except that imposing a no fly zone won’t do much, and inherently begs the question ‘what next?’”

“So… we should consider the possibility of sending troops?”

“No, because the Libyan rebels and the rest of the Arab publics are firmly against that.  The deployment of Western troops to any Arab country is going to evoke painful memories of Iraq, and popular rage against the United States and its allies.”

“But the rebels are already mad at the West for NOT doing more to help them.”

“True.”

“If the Libyan revolution is brutally crushed, the pro-democracy movements in the rest of the region will be halted and the narrative will be ‘The brave Libyan youth were massacred as the West stood idly by.’”

“The US and NATO cannot be the perpetual fail-safe. The Arab League and the African Union need to take some responsibility.”

“Oh yeah, like the Arab League or the AU will do anything but talk. Gimme a break. Their member governments are watching Al Jazeera and sweating.”

There are non-military steps the rest of the world can take to support the rebels. Governments can recognize the rebels’ council in Benghazi as the legitimate government of  Libya and isolate Gaddafi.

Gaddafi won’t care. It’s not like he’s ever going to be attending swanky trade summits after this, no matter what he does now.

“I need another drink.”

Smart people weighing in on the possibility of an intervention in Libya

Where does the debate stand now?

As Spencer Ackerman reports at Wired, some kind of military action by the west is looking increasingly likely.

The United Nations Security Council has already sanctioned Gadhafi and referred him to the International Criminal Court following his violent suppression of Libya’s revolutionary movement, creating the contours of a hardening international position against Gadhafi. And now most U.S. nationals in Libya have now fled, removing what the Obama administration has considered an impediment to action.

So here comes the Navy. The Enterprise carrier strike group, last seen hunting pirates, is in the Red Sea — and may sail through Suez to the Mediterranean — and the New York Times reports that an “amphibious landing vessel, with Marines and helicopters” are there as well. The Financial Times adds that the British are considering the use of the air base at Akrotiri in Cyprus as a staging ground to enforce a no-fly zone. Any envisioned military action is likely to be a multilateral affair, either blessed by the U.N. or NATO.

That seems to be the harshest policy yet envisioned — one explicitly discussed today by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (No one’s discussing a ground invasion.) For the time being, the Navy is simply moving assets into place in case President Obama decides to take more punitive measures against Gadhafi.

Andrew Exum of Abu Muqawama is shaking his head.

We are now paying the price for having waged two very difficult wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that far too few Americans have participated in or been made to sacrifice for. I sometimes get accused of being a hawk because I have argued that resource-intensive counterinsurgency campaigns have represented our best chance to salvage bad situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but my experiences in both countries also taught me that a) force has its limits and b) we should all be very cautious about committing U.S. troops to combat operations in the first place. I’m horrified to read liberal interventionists continue to suggest the ease with which humanitarian crises and regional conflicts can be solved by the application of military power. To speak so glibly of such things reflects a very immature understanding of the limits of force and the difficulties and complexities of contemporary military operations.

MK of Ink Spots has has a different take on the intervention debate.

The last time this debate occurred, Ex put forth four basic questions that cover most of the important ground. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, no one – including Ex – is publicly answering those questions with regard to Libya. Most of us (again, including Ex) just don’t know enough about the country, and what is currently going on there.

However, Ex, Elkus and others are all emphatically pointing out how complicated military intervention can be, and in the past have highlighted the potential for things to go wrong – very wrong, very quickly.

On this, they are absolutely correct, but it’s true of all military operations, regardless of the objectives. Repeating it ad nauseam is not really contributing to the debate. Certainly, those who underplay or obscure the very real dangers should be challenged. But those who draw false analogies with little if any resemblance in the specifics of the situation are equally guilty of misrepresenting reality. And the skeptics of intervention tend to stubbornly ignore examples of success in some very hard cases.

Moreover, those of us who’ve studied this particular type of problem in detail would warn that history has consistently demonstrated that when groups tip over into mass killing, very little short of military action has ever proven effective. Everything else takes too long to bite, or simply doesn’t bite hard enough to change the strategic calculus of the perpetrators. So instead of vague discussions of how difficult and costly it might be, or patronizingly dismissing the other side as not understanding the complexity of military operations, those who want to weigh in should be making specific arguments about the situation confronting us.

I will say this, though: a no-fly zone is unlikely to prove effective unless the perpetrators are only able to attack civilians from the air, or value their air assets above the goals they hoped to achieve through mass killing. Given that mass killing is usually justified or even triggered by a perception of existential threat from the victims, the latter is pretty unlikely. A pair of articles (to which Ex linked) highlight the limitations of no-fly zones in general, and with reference to Libya.

Ok, ok, ok. But what do LIBYANS want? (We should all be asking this.) The Guardian just ran a moving piece by a demonstrator. It begins with stories like this:

“Kiss my mum goodbye for me, and tell her that her son died a hero,” said my friend Ahmed, 26, to the first person who rushed to his side after he was shot in a Tripoli street.

Two days later, my friend Ahmed died in the hospital. Just like that.

That tall, handsome, funny, witty, intellectual young man is no more. No longer will he answer my phone calls. Time will stand still on his Facebook account for ever.

Betraying my age, I’m going to admit that the line above brought me to tears.

This is the kind of story you get out of Tripoli these days. Hundreds of them, perhaps even thousands. The kind of stories that you could never imagine on your doorstep.

Like when you hear a six-month-old baby has been murdered, you just hope with all your heart that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s claims turn out to be true that there’s precious little violence here, that al-Jazeera fabricated the story. You hope that infant is right now sleeping peacefully in his mother’s arms. Like when you hear of someone from Tajura who had a bullet in his head for two days before dying, leaving behind a bereaved wife and child. You have been praying to God that this father be there playing with his child. But the photos, the video show you the cold truth. The wails that need no translation: loved ones being snatched away by death. All humans understand that scream.

But the author’s message is this:

Don’t get me wrong. I, like most Libyans, believe that imposing a no-fly zone would be a good way to deal the regime a hard blow on many levels; it would cut the route of the mercenary convoys summoned from Africa, it would prevent Gaddafi from smuggling money and other assets, and most importantly it would stop the regime from bombing weapons arsenals that many eyewitnesses have maintained contain chemical weapons; something that would unleash an unimaginable catastrophe, not to mention that his planes might actually carry such weapons.

Nevertheless, one thing seems to have united Libyans of all stripes; any military intervention on the ground by any foreign force would be met – as Mustafa Abud Al Jeleil, the former justice minister and head of the opposition-formed interim government, said – with fighting much harsher than what the mercenaries themselves have unleashed.

Nor do I favour the possibility of a limited air strike for specific targets. This is a wholly popular revolution, the fuel to which has been the blood of the Libyan people. Libyans fought alone when western countries were busy ignoring their revolution at the beginning, fearful of their interests in Libya. This is why I’d like the revolution to be ended by those who first started it: the people of Libya.

Read the whole thing, but keep in mind that a no-fly zone is a military intervention, whether Libyans see it as one or not, and enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would almost certainly draw the intervening parties into an air war.

Bill Easterly is wrong again (This time on Libya)

Bill Easterly never wastes an opportunity to use Aid Watch to vent his disdain for all things military. In response to the growing consensus that something drastic must be done to prevent mass bloodshed in Libya, Easterly writes:

What can the rest of the world do? Any military intervention would play into Qaddafi’s hand, especially there really is nobody that can be trusted to do a “neutral humanitarian” intervention.

Other than Bill Easterly, who uses the term “neutral humanitarian intervention”? Such a thing does not exist and never has.

Military interventions are by definition not neutral, even when they are launched in response to humanitarian crises. Whether multilateral or unilateral, this kind of military intervention is aimed at thwarting the mass killing of one group (or more than one group) by an opposing group. A military intervention in Libya would be aimed at removing the Libyan regime’s ability to wipe out the political opposition. Success would almost certainly entail inflicting serious damage to Libya’s military infrastructure, and in the process severely weakening or even causing the collapse of the state.

And the “imperialism” canard isn’t likely to resonate in this case. Consensus in the Arab world supports the demonstrators, and the Arab League just suspended Libya in response to the government’s bloody crackdown. (Is Easterly even paying attention?)

Trade embargo not a good idea — why punish the Libyan people? (True confessions: I went to Libya myself for a trek in the Sahara over Christmas holiday.)

Oh, ew.

Libya’s opening to tourism and trade with the West in the last few years has arguably made this current revolt more possible, not less possible.

That might be so (I don’t know if it is, and I bet Easterly doesn’t either), but we’re not debating the relative merits of different long-term punishments for a repressive regime right now. We’re debating the wisdom of martial measures to keep Libya from becoming the next great argument for why the Genocide Convention should apply to political groups.

Too many NOs for you? Well here’s some Constructive NOs: NO to any aid to Libya, NO to any caving in to Libyan government contract blackmail, NO to arms sales. (Feel free to apply any of that to you, Italian government).

Look, I’m not sold on a military intervention, but any means, but I’m not willing to dismiss that option outright.

Gaddafi is not Ben Ali or Mubarak. Hell, he’s not even Nicolae freakin’ Ceaușescu at this point. He’s an obviously mentally unstable dictator who has already called in air strikes against his political opponents and dispatched foreign mercenaries to gun down protesters on the streets. He and his even scarier son (and likely successor) have both gone on television and told the world, in no uncertain terms, that they intend to slaughter their opponents and won’t hesitate to escalate the violence into a full-blown civil war.

Hundreds of protesters have been killed so far. It’s morally responsible to consider the option of a military intervention, among other options, if those hundreds look poised to become thousands or tens of thousands.

To that end, it’s critical that more information regarding the number of Libyan dead reaches the outside world.

“That is why you are here”

AREU just released a new report on the Shia Personal Status Law (previously known in the Western press as the Shia Family Law), and it is one hell of a report –fifty one pages long and illustrative of how the international community interacts with the Afghan government and Afghan civil society. I’m making my way through it now. When I’m done, I hope I’ll have time to post something on it. Until then, here’s a telling snippet:

The Afghan organisations interviewed reported being consistently told that this was an internal issue of the Afghan state and it was outside of the role of international institutions to interfere. UNAMA was singled out for particular criticism for their inaction. Civil society had higher expectations of UNAMA’s role in speaking out on human rights, gender and political development issues. One MP remarked on UNAMA’s cumbersome bureaucracy, slow reactions and the institution perceiving itself as always having its hands tied.

Representatives from UN agencies as well as western embassies were also reportedly present in the parliamentary gallery when the bill was being discussed and did not raise the issue as a concern with their own governments at that time, to the consternation of MPs alarmed at the bill’s contents and the lack of debate. During a meeting hosted by a UN agency between Afghan women activists, MPs, UNAMA and several embassies, one Afghan woman stated, “We understand if the embassies have to work behind the scenes. But they should be working, you know? And it is UNAMA’s job to be interfering, to speak up on human rights issues. That is why you are here.”

The same old canard

From the comments section of Aid Watch, emphasis mine:

Lure D. Lou:

Transitionland says that immediately tackling corruption could go far to reversing this. What I would say is that one man’s corruption is another man’s way of life…as long as you have great disparities in wealth, a non-democratic power allocation, and fortunes to be made from drugs and weapons you will get nowhere in tackling corruption. Corruption is endemic to even the most advanced societies…just look at New Jersey politics…what you need are alternative structures that aren’t corrupt that will hopefully draw enough people away and give them enough incentives to stay on the straight and narrow. This is not going to happen any time soon in Afghanistan, Nigeria, or even New Jersey. The focus on corruption is a waste of time…better to use the corrupt system than to try to change it…but goodie-two shoes Americans are unlikely to want to go there…we want to save souls while allowing our contractors to rake in the dough and our NGO legions to pad their ‘conflict zone’ resumes…the Great Game of neo-colonialism continues.

Good governance NGOs in places like Afghanistan make me laugh.

A few things:

1) When I mentioned corruption, I was referring to corruption by aid agencies and their contractors. If corruption in the aid world is, as Lure D. Lou argues, a “way of life,” it is not one I want any part of.  We condemn and punish corruption in the for-profit sector (or should); there’s no reason we should apply a different set of principles to non-profits, including aid agencies.

2) New Jersey is corrupt. Comically so. But its corruption is, for the most part, the non-lethal variety, and it is mitigated (though not always successfully) by strong rule of law. Comparing Afghanistan to New Jersey is absurd. Afghanistan won’t reach New Jersey’s level of governance development for a very, very long time (I’m pretty confident I will be long dead by the time it does), but that doesn’t mean Afghanistan can’t do better, or shouldn’t. Corruption in poor societies steals food from the mouths of the poor, deprives people of basic necessities of life, walks hand in hand with human rights abuse, kills. If you don’t have an ethical problem with that, you’re an asshole.

3) It’s “better to use a corrupt system than try to change it”? Use it for what exactly?

Lou’s muddled argument seems to be that corruption is hardwired into human nature, but some humans (read: people from the developing world) are slightly more prone to corrupt behavior than others.  Lovely.

*

Another prize-winning comment:

Justin Kraus:

Transitionland,

I for one wish there were more people like Lure D. Lou in development work, at least he is thinking outside the box a little bit. Your own approach, and that of most development agencies, strikes me as arrogant and patronizing. Talking about how the “international community,” which if it exists at all in any meaningful sense, is surely the most hypocritical entity on this planet, should “hold the Afghan government to its commitments” as if they were somehow freely made in the first place (how many troops do “we” have in that country?), and as if it were completely unproblematic for “us” to be telling them how to run their country. What we call vetting, they call western imperialist encroachment. Why not “allow” them to choose their leaders as they see fit? We don’t go waltzing into Japan which, even with the recent election, doesn’t have a “true” democracy in any western sense of the word?

And then you take this patroninizing protective posture over the Afghan people by stating that Mr. Lure is “dangerous” to the people that you are (supposedly) “helping.” Who is the best judge of what is and what is not help? From the looks of it most Afghanis are rejecting Western “help.”

Perhaps we should be humble enough to take a step back and stop trying to impose our “help” on a people who clearly prefer to manage themselves in ways very different from “our” own.

1) Putting international community in snark quotes is lame. Everyone knows what it means, or should anyway. It’s a convenient shorthand for a collection of governments and IOs working together. In Bosnia, it’s the OSCE, EU, UN, and United States. In Afghanistan, UNAMA, ISAF, donor agencies, NGOs, and foreign governments. No one is going to write all that out. You find international community an obnoxious phrase? Too bad. Get over it already.

2) Holding the Afghan Government to its own constitution and to international law is not disrespectful, but the opposite would be. “You must do better” implies “and we know you can.”

3) As for “telling them how to run their country” — well, this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Are we shoving an unsuitable form of government and set of ideals down the throats of unwilling Afghans?

We are, if you count only those  who gain personal benefit from anarchy, corruption, and misgovernment. These are the people who, in every transitional society, are first to invoke “cultural differences” when the existence of said differences would oh-so-conveniently allow them to gain or retain power.

Afghan public opinion on many things  –that is, what ordinary women and men think– matches closely the more principled goals of the international community in Afghanistan. If anything, Afghans have actually expressed stronger desire for good governance, rule of law, and transitional justice than many expats.

4) “What we call vetting, they call imperialist encroachment.” Um, no. That’s just factually untrue.

From page 28 of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission report, A Call for Justice:

Many people who participated in our study forcefully made the point that human rights violations continue in Afghanistan today and that abusers remain in power. The vast majority of respondents who participated in the survey wished to see those who committed human rights abuses removed from their posts. Ninety percent of respondents indicated a desire to see the removal of perpetrators from their posts. The results of the survey were reflected in the sentiments expressed in the focus groups. Most participants wished to see the exclusion of human rights abusers from public office in order to prevent the reoccurrence of injustice. In particular they wanted to prevent perpetrators from gaining political power in the future.

Some “Western encroachment” that is.

5) “Why not ‘allow’ them to choose their leaders as they see fit?” That’s a great idea. Only, slightly difficult in practice at the moment for two reasons: some of those in power will do almost anything, including defraud, intimidate and kill, to hang on to it. And the international community is not doing enough to protect the right of ordinary Afghans to freely and fairly choose their own leaders.

6) Afghans (Afghani is a unit of currency, like dollar or Euro) aren’t “rejecting Western ‘help’” –they are rejecting our hypocrisy, laziness, corruption, insufficient respect for Afghan lives on the military side of things, and unwillingness to listen to Afghans who actually want the best for their country. That’s a different animal entirely.

Predicting and preventing disaster in Afghanistan

Bill Easterly writes:

Maybe I have a biased selection, but it seems like every sensible economist, political scientist, development worker, and journalist that I know thinks our current course in Afghanistan can have only one outcome — disaster. Disaster for Americans, for our NATO allies, AND for Afghans.

Why is nobody listening?

I would argue that more people in positions to do something are listening now than they were in, say, 2002, when the course could have been corrected far more easily.

So, what needs to be done differently?

The following are literally no more than the first few things that popped into my head. Please do not berate me over all the things I left out:

Continue reading

Siding with tyrants

I found the following a thoroughly compelling distillation of Mahmood Mamdani’s views:

For Mamdani, colonialism seems to be just a matter of one continent involving itself too heavily in the affairs of another continent–a jurisdictional abuse. But what was it that made colonialism so vile, so repugnant? Surely the essence of colonialism was the denial of freedom. The provenance matters less than the crime. If you read accounts of the savageries that attended European ventures into Africa, and then read accounts of what has taken place these past few years in Darfur, you will be struck by the similarities between them. It is no coincidence that the historian M.W. Daly has described postindependence governments in Khartoum as governing Darfur by “internal colonialism.” And this phenomenon is not unique to Sudan. Today many African tyrants treat their people with the same contempt Europeans once did. Is it a consolation for the victims that their oppression does not come from the West?

To side with Mamdani’s notion of anti-imperialism is to side with these tyrants. And to side with tyrants is to side with something that very much resembles colonialism. This is the contradiction within Mamdani’s worldview. It is also, in the end, the reason that the left’s great disputation between anti-imperialism and human rights presents a false choice. There is no need to pick sides. To be for human rights always and everywhere is to be against the ugliness of colonialism. And Mamdani’s anti-colonialism? It is, paradoxically, an apology for the closest thing our world now has to the colonialism of old.

It is altogether too bad that was written by Richard Just, managing editor of The New Republic, a publication I and many others have still not forgiven for its shameful cheerleading in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

My colonial agenda

Bill Easterly writes:

The UN Security Council decides on military intervention (“peacekeepers”) or a Great Power does it on their own. Two of the Council’s permanent members are authoritarian, most of the Great Powers follow their own geo-strategic interests most of the time, and none of them have any democratic rights for Bottom Billion citizens to make Security Council or Great Power foreign policy decisions. (Small caveat: There never has existed or will exist a benevolent and politically neutral international force that will rapidly deploy to surgically solve Bottom Billion problems.) Yet the Great Powers will decide according to Collier’s proposals whether an “area or people” are allowed to have elections, whether the elections are legitimate when allowed, and when to send in the military (which, despite the nice “peacekeepers” label, are in a purely technical sense made up of soldiers carrying guns that are aimed at people.) The dictionary definition of “colonialism” is “Control by one power over a dependent area or people.” I agree that permanent colonies are a thing of the past, but the above description sure sounded a lot like “control” of “a dependent area” by outside powers. Many may indeed think me way out of line to call Collier’s proposals by the inflammatory word “colonialism” just because of the technicality that they actually fit the definition of “colonialism.” But us dissenters will persist anyway because the Bottom Billion deserve better than control by a development expert with an army, they deserve democratic rights just as much as all the other Billions.

I believe in the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). I believe that sometimes –very rarely, and only when a very strict set of criteria are met– military intervention in warranted to stop imminent or ongoing atrocities on a large scale. I believe that peacekeepers and international administration can lessen the suffering of civilians after civil war. As much as I want local leaders everywhere to look out for the wellbeing and reflect the real interests of their people, I know that is not always the case and that local elites  who claim to speak for this group or that group in divided societies often speak for and care about only themselves.

I also know many people who have lived through state failure and civil war, and they have told me very frankly that it’s all well and good to shout from the ivory tower about local ownership and the evils of “neo-imperialism” and the inherent democratic deficit in international administration –and there is truth to those charges, for sure– but refugees, IDPs, war orphans, disabled veterans and former child soldiers, survivors of wartime sexual violence, and preyed on minorities really don’t give a flying crap about any of that. They care about basic things, food, clean water, dignified housing, protection from predation, medical treatment, and an opportunity to pick up the pieces of their lives and rebuild. At an even more basic level, all development, all progress is contingent on people being alive. If local authorities cannot or will not protect the very lives of their citizens, it is not unethical for outside actors to step in — as a last resort, temporarily, and using means that maximize human security.

If believing that makes me a colonialist, so be it.