So, here’s me warmongering out of control

Glenn Greenwald wrote a piece that’s been showing up in my facebook feed for the past couple of days. Greenwald opposes the intervention in Libya, but not for any reasons that hold water.

Advocating for the U.S.’s military action in Libya, The New Republic‘s John Judis lays out the argument which many of his fellow war advocates are making: that those who oppose the intervention are guilty of indifference to the plight of the rebels and to Gadaffi’s tyranny:

[…] in Judis’ moral world, there are only two possibilities: one can either support the American military action in Libya or be guilty of a “who cares?” attitude toward Gadaffi’s butchery. At least as far as this specific line of pro-war argumentation goes, this is just 2003 all over again. Back then, those opposed to the war in Iraq were deemed pro-Saddam: indifferent to the repression and brutalities suffered by the Iraqi people at his hands and willing to protect his power. Now, those opposed to U.S. involvement in the civil war in Libya are deemed indifferent to the repression and brutalities suffered by the Libyan people from Gadaffi and willing to protect his power. This rationale is as flawed logically as it is morally.

Why didn’t this same moral calculus justify the attack on Iraq? Saddam Hussein really was a murderous, repressive monster: at least Gadaffi’s equal when it came to psychotic blood-spilling. Those who favored regime change there made exactly the same arguments as Judis (and many others) make now for Libya: it’s humane and noble to topple a brutal dictator; using force is the only way to protect parts of the population from slaughter (in Iraq, the Kurds and Shiites; in Libya, the rebels); it’s not in America’s interests to allow a deranged despot (or his deranged sons) to control a vital oil-rich nation; and removing the tyrant will aid the spread of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Why does that reasoning justify war in Libya but not Iraq?

Because there was no imminent massacre looming in Iraq in 2003. The no fly zone over northern Iraq, imposed at the end of the first Gulf War to protect Iraqi Kurds, had been effective. The rest of the country was hushed in fear by a totalitarian state and choked economically by international sanctions, but Saddam Hussein was not threatening to send his soldiers into a population center and carry out a house-by-house slaughter in March 2003. Gaddafi, in contrast, had promised to do just that. And not only had he promised a massacre, he’d also very nearly delivered on that promise.

Even after Western air strikes began, Libyan troops entered Benghazi, killing scores of people and sending thousands fleeing eastward. (Two of my journalist friends were among those who believed they would surely die if they did not get away from the city.)

In Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt argues that “liberal interventionists” and neocons share most of the same premises about America’s foreign policy and its role in the world, with the sole exception being that the former seek to act through international institutions to legitimize their military actions while the latter don’t. Strongly bolstering Walt’s view is this morning’s pro-war New York Times Editorial, which ends this way:

Libya is a specific case: Muammar el-Qaddafi is erratic, widely reviled, armed with mustard gas and has a history of supporting terrorism. If he is allowed to crush the opposition, it would chill pro-democracy movements across the Arab world.

Wasn’t all of that at least as true of Saddam Hussein?

Well, no, because, in addition to the reasons I mentioned above, there was no Arab Spring to chill in 2003.

Wasn’t that exactly the “humanitarian” case made to justify that invasion? And wasn’t that exactly the basis for the accusation against Iraq war opponents that they were indifferent to Saddam’s tyranny — i.e., if you oppose the war to remove Saddam, it means you are ensuring that he and his sons will stay in power, which in turn means you are indifferent to his rape rooms and mass graves and are willing to stand by while the Iraqi people suffer under his despotism? How can the “indifference-to-suffering” accusation be fair when made against opponents of the Libya war but not when made against Iraq war opponents?

UNSCR 1973 authorizes the use of force to protect civilians. It was passed in response to the imminent threat of mass killing, not the mere existence of a repressive and often violence regime. The world has no shortage of cruel governments, but instances of regimes planning or carrying out large-scale slaughters of their own people are mercifully rare.

If the lesson the international community took away from the shame of Rwanda was not to wring its hands while the graves overflow, the lesson of Iraq was to not rush into illegal military boondoggles. Both lessons seem to have been applied to Libya.  Action was not taken until the last possible moment and not until it had been sanctioned by a multilateral authority.

But my real question for Judis (and those who voice the same accusations against Libya intervention opponents) is this: do you support military intervention to protect protesters in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies from suppression, or to stop the still-horrendous suffering in the Sudan, or to prevent the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast? Did you advocate military intervention to protect protesters in Iran and Egypt, or to stop the Israeli slaughter of hundreds of trapped innocent civilians in Gaza and Lebanon or its brutal and growing occupation of the West Bank?

The only situation among the many mentioned here that comes anywhere close to the magnitude of Libya is the Ivory Coast. It looks increasingly possible that civilians there might soon face the same terrible prospects civilians in Libya are facing now –or worse. If the Ivory Coast appears to be on the verge of a bloodbath, and force is the last option left untried to prevent the unthinkable, then yes, shit, I guess I would support some kind of intervention in the Ivory Coast.

If not, doesn’t that necessarily mean — using this same reasoning — that you’re indifferent to the suffering of all of those people, willing to stand idly by while innocents are slaughtered, to leave in place brutal tyrants who terrorize their own population or those in neighboring countries? Or, in those instances where you oppose military intervention despite widespread suffering, do you grant yourself the prerogative of weighing other factors: such as the finitude of resources, doubt about whether U.S. military action will hurt rather than help the situation, cynicism about the true motives of the U.S. government in intervening, how intervention will affect other priorities, the civilian deaths that will inevitably occur at our hands, the precedents that such intervention will set for future crises, and the moral justification of invading foreign countries? For those places where you know there is widespread violence and suffering yet do not advocate for U.S. military action to stop it, is it fair to assume that you are simply indifferent to the suffering you refuse to act to prevent, or do you recognize there might be other reasons why you oppose the intervention?

In the very same Editorial where it advocates for the Libya intervention on the grounds of stopping government violence and tyranny, The New York Times acknowledges about its pro-intervention view: “not in Bahrain or Yemen, even though we condemn the violence against protesters in both countries.” Are those who merely “condemn” the violence by those two U.S. allies but who do not want to intervene to stop it guilty of indifference to the killings there? What rationale is there for intervening in Libya but not in those places?

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Gaddafi is crazy and evil; obviously, he wasn’t going to listen to our advice about democracy. The world would be fortunate to be rid of him. But war in Libya is justifiable only if we are going to hold compliant dictators to the same standard we set for defiant ones. If not, then please spare us all the homilies about universal rights and freedoms. We’ll know this isn’t about justice, it’s about power.

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But what I cannot understand at all is how people are willing to believe that the U.S. Government is deploying its military and fighting this war because, out of abundant humanitarianism, it simply cannot abide internal repression, tyranny and violence against one’s own citizens. This is the same government that enthusiastically supports and props up regimes around the world that do exactly that, and that have done exactly that for decades.

Greenwald could have gone on and made the point that the European countries involved in the Libya war have even nastier histories in the Arab world than the United States. All that and more would have been true. But this line of reasoning assumes that countries can never learn from their past mistakes and do better.

No UN Army exists. The Security Council is composed of member states and its writ under Chapter Seven is carried out by the militaries of member states. There are no angelic countries and only a handful capable of employing force thousands of miles from their own borders. At the top of that list is the United States, for better or worse.

By all accounts, one of the prime administration advocates for this war was Hillary Clinton; she’s the same person who, just two years ago, said this about the torture-loving Egyptian dictator: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” They’re the same people overseeing multiple wars that routinely result in all sorts of atrocities. They are winking and nodding to their Yemeni, Bahrani and Saudi friends who are doing very similar things to what Gadaffi is doing, albeit (for now) on a smaller scale. They just all suddenly woke up one day and decided to wage war in an oil-rich Muslim nation because they just can’t stand idly by and tolerate internal repression and violence against civilians? Please.

Clinton’s remarks about Mubarak, and the longstanding policies they represented, are repellent. The US should not be propping up oppressive regimes in the Middle East or anywhere else. At the same time, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are not currently planning any massacres (that we’re aware of) or employing violence on the scale as Gaddafi’s military. And scale should matter when the decision is made to intervene militarily.

For the reasons I identified the other day, there are major differences between the military actions in Iraq and Libya. But what is true of both — as is true for most wars — is that each will spawn suffering for some people even if they alleviate it for others. Dropping lots of American bombs on a country tends to kill a lot of innocent people. For that reason, indifference to suffering is often what war proponents — not war opponents — are guilty of.

That’s why military interventions like the one in Libya should be limited in scope, based on a well-informed calculation that they will result in fewer deaths than inaction, and adhere to international humanitarian law. As I wrote the other day, protecting civilians must be the only objective, even if that one day means protecting them from anti-Gaddafi forces.

But whatever else is true, the notion that opposing a war is evidence of indifference to tyranny and suffering is equally simple-minded, propagandistic, manipulative and intellectually bankrupt in both the Iraq and Libya contexts. And, in particular, those who opposed or still oppose intervention in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, the Sudan, against Israel, in the Ivory Coast — and/or any other similar places where there is widespread human-caused suffering — have no business advancing that argument.

I wonder if, as Bosnia descended into mayhem, Greenwald argued that the international community would be hypocritical to act there because it wasn’t stopping tandem mass killings of civilians in Chechnya, Burma, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

I have lived in Bosnia and Afghanistan. I know people from both countries who collected their neighbors’ body parts from the sidewalks and watched their capital cities blown to pieces. I do not think the international community’s limited intervention in Bosnia was made immoral by the fact that it showed indifference to Afghanistan’s ruinous civil war until that war indirectly led to the deaths of thousands of Americans.

Interesting things

The Migrant Express – Four days through Central Asia on the crowded Dushanbe to Moscow train. This tender, humane seven-part RFE_RL documentary explores the social and economic consequences of Tajiks migrating to Russia for work.

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Via the CPJ Blog – Afghan journalists are finally speaking with one voice, and are calling for a full investigation into the death of New York Times journalist Sultan Munadi and compensation for Munadi’s family.

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Also on the CPJ Blog – An Iraqi journalist finds refuge in Phoenix, Arizona, but struggles to find work. Eventually, his persistence pays off …he gets a job at Red Lobster.

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Kevin Heller blogs about the inevitable attacks on the Goldstone Commission, and the Goldstone-bashers respond in the comments.

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The slow march of justice in the former Yugoslavia continues. Four former members of the Bosnian Army have been arrested on suspicion of participating in war-time crimes against Bosnian Croats in a village in Herzegovina. Meanwhile, the ICTY trial of Radovan Karadzic is set to begin October 19th.

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The author of this article about expat snobbery and ignorance in Bosnia is someone I know personally, and we were part of the same large social circle in Sarajevo. He makes some important, if painful, points about how things work in the international organizations. However, I do think he exaggerates the extent to which young expats isolate themselves and eschew discovering all that is great about Bosnia. (Older, more mercenary expats are a different story.)  Also, the line, “the foreigners lecturing Bosnia have a fair amount of trouble mustering the necessary vocabulary to order a beer at a local bar” is a tad ridiculous. That’s the first phrase every expat learns.

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From the “things that make me ashamed of my country” files or, alternately, “America’s shitty domestic human rights record”: in eight states and the District of Columbia, many insurance companies consider being a victim of domestic violence a “pre-existing condition,” and thus grounds for denying coverage. Jillian Hewitt at Feministe is spot-on when she writes: “This is so ridiculous that it may make my post seem obvious or unnecessary, but I think it makes it all the more essential to talk about. This is not a controversial talking point; it does not even seem like a political one to me—this is about humanity. Or inhumanity, as it were.”

Some stuff

First the good news.

Via Spencer Ackerman: the AP is reporting that the concrete barriers in Baghdad are coming down. It’s about time.

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Before catching my return bus last weekend, I used my sister’s Netflix account to re-watch the first half of The Edge of Heaven and was again reminded why Fatih Akin is the best thing in European cinema right now.

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Now, plunging into the crappy stuff.

Jill has a great post up about how the larger culture of misogyny and dehumanization of women enables men like George Sodini by legitimizing their view that women are things they are entitled to possess.

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“In Florida and Pennsylvania children as young as 7 can receive a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole.”

America’s justice system: made of FAIL.

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Hamesha writes from Kabul:

[...]one fears we have bitten off more than we can chew. we have dived headlong into constitutional liberal democracy, with the attendant outcome that we have none of the above: neither rule of law, nor true democracy, nor liberalism. and in the process the masses have come to abhor all of it, because it has not come at their pace, their comfort zone.

Some will say, well duh, this is a tired point, holding parliamentary elections in 2005 was sheer insanity. But if it is such a tired point, why do we always seem to screw up the sequencing of these things?

With no way to rewind history, the task ahead is that of filling Afghanistan’s hollow democratic order with something approximating the real thing. It will be slow-going and, I worry, increasingly dangerous in the near term.

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A few weeks ago I received an email from the refugee resettlement office, inviting me to watch Turtles Can Fly,  Iranian Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi’s critically-acclaimed 2005 film about orphans in Iraqi Kurdistan during the weeks leading up to the US invasion.

As much as I enjoy activist get-togethers, I passed on this one. Back in early college, I picked Turtles Can Fly out, pretty much randomly, from the foreign films rack at the video rental store near my sophomore residence hall. Without exaggeration, it was the single most upsetting film I have ever seen (followed closely by Lilja 4 Ever and Osama). Days afterward, I found myself breaking down in the shower.

American films, even pitch dark indie ones, generally shy away from portraying the world as a relentlessly violent and callous place to children.  If a child protagonist suffers it is never so much or so viscerally that the viewer feels the need to look away. Turtles Can Fly dispenses with all the sentimentality that surrounds children’s experiences in American cinema and goes well beyond where, say, Spanish cinema goes in this direction.

The film’s main protagonist, Satellite, is the shrewd thirteen year old leader of a tribe of orphans in an IDP camp near the Iraq-Turkey border. The children earn enough money to survive by clearing minefields and selling the unexploded mines. Satellite supplements their income by installing satellite dishes and translating English television news to villagers eager for information about the impending American invasion.

Ghobadi’s film overflows with imagery of bodily and social devastation; the deformed bodies of child victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks, a toddler’s chubby fingers grasping a razor wire fence, a  soldier shooting at the heels of Kurdish children from a sniper tower across the border. Even the sky is merciless. Day after day, it rains on the orphans’ meager existence, muddying their feet and dirtying their leaky tents.

Turtles Can Fly isn’t about underdogs making it against all odds (the title refers to the release of death). Instead, it’s about how even brave, smart, resourceful people get ground into the dust by historical events and material circumstances beyond their control. Ghobadi rejects the (largely American) idea that the human capacity to bounce back from tragedy and trauma is limitless. By subjecting the viewer to the fates of Satellite and the other children, he says don’t be so naive.

The take-away message of Turtles Can Fly is that respecting people like the film’s child protagonists requires a more sober understanding of where agency begins and ends.

It’s an important film, but once was enough for me.

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John le Carré is being put out of business by real life.

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

This is one of those stories for which “fucked the hell up” doesn’t even come close.

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Take a look at this.

Thoughts for the weekend

HOLY SH*T!

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Next time I come across one of those ‘Feminism Killed Romance/Chivalry/Marriage/Civilization’ pieces that seem to be so popular right now, I think I’m going to start projectile vomiting Exorcist-style.

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Dozens killed in suicide bombings: Iraq is going to pieces. I didn’t think the surge would work, but I didn’t want it to fail. On the contrary, I very much wanted to be wrong in my prediction, and I still do.

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I am disappointed that Ashraf Ghani has hired James Carville to advise him in his bid for the Afghan presidency. Carville represents all that is mercenary, cynical and deeply illiberal in American politics.

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A trusted friend sent me a very reassuring email from Sarajevo, basically telling me to chill, and that Dodik knows he has already lost, but enjoys theatrics. Despite the deadlock, we push ahead, keeping sight of larger goals that move us beyond divisive politics –that was his message. This friend of mine is his country’s future, I am convinced.

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Ann Corcoran hates refugees. And Muslims. But more than anything else, she hates vulnerable Muslim minority refugees. Iraqi Palestinians, for example. On my other blog, I wrote about this.

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I keep telling my boss that I have hope that the reformists will win out in Iran. I believe they will, and I look forward to visiting a democratic Iran some day. I want to sit in a cafe in Tehran with my peers and listen to them tell me how they forced their government to recognize them as citizens and not mere subjects, how they won.

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“The most important lesson the struggle taught me and my friends is that no one is endowed with remarkable courage. But courage is another word for learning to live with your fears. Now, after eighteen years and the Chilean Truth Commission, courage has again evolved a new definition: the guts not to give in to easy justice. To live within the confinements of reality, but to search day after day for the progressing of one’s most cherished values.”

-Jose Zalaquett, at the opening of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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“One cannot expect morality from politicians, but one can hold them to the ethics of accountability.” -Antjie Krog. From  ‘None More Parted Than Us’ in the amazing book Country of My Skull.

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I know a lot of people think  Amnesty International letter (now email/fax) writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience are futile, but they’re not, even when the subject of the campaign remains imprisoned. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was right when she said this:

I know from the time of the GDR (East Germany) how important it was that people around the world made sure that the people stuck in (Stasi prisons) Bautzen and Hohenschoenhausen … were not forgotten. Iran must know, particularly in the age of modern communications, that we will do everything in our power to ensure that these people (arrested in Iran during the recent turmoil) are not forgotten about.

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Thinking of Bosnia, of Srebrenica, of the grim anniversary. A powerful letter by a member of Women in Black (Belgrade), translated and published here:

And my dear Senka…

I missed you…so much…yesterday in Srebrenica…Again at the place where crimes were committed in my name, in our name…
Srebrenica…every time…it is an experience that will be remembered…the physical experience above all…which can never be forgotten…it’s here again…in me…and me with her (Srebrenica).

Meeting with the Women of Srebrenica…meeting with women whose bodies have been emptied of children killed by Serbs in my, in our name…

That’s them, those are “our” women…the same ones that followed the trial of the “Scorpions” with us, the same ones who we visit in Tuzla, and the ones that we meet in Srebrenica every year…You know this best…You know…Home is where you are loved…They always welcome you with a smile in their eyes, the same eyes that will never see their loved ones again…Serbs killed them! And they always open their arms to us, the same arms that will never hold their children again…Serbs killed them! And they come to you with a pure heart and a pure soul…they hug you and kiss you and even say thank you… to us, people from a brutalized, shameful, guilty land…And then you just want to die…to be gone…to vanish…to cease to exist…

And then…after all, after you have been burned by the July sun…wearing black…when you feel so guilty that you think this is it…Srebrenica is inside you…and that, my dear Senka, is confronting the past…our feminist approach…No abstract process…and it’s not happening to someone else, someone  far away…it’s happening to us in a land of  humanity, we who live in a land deprived of its humanity.

And then I remembered you…You, my image of you, every time we would travel back together from Bosnia…that horrible…hard…weight and silence I would see in your eyes…In front of me I see a large eyeball, a mouth of stone, which gives the impression that the verdict is already there…in front of me is a stone jury…
“We are guilty…”

I love you,
Milos

After the euphoria

I want to see the following headlines (among others, I’m just getting started here) in the next few weeks, or, optimally, the next few days.

PRES. OBAMA ORDERS GUANTANAMO CLOSED

INDEPENDENT PROSECUTOR APPOINTED TO INVESTIGATE BUSH ERA CRIMES

Then…

HISTORIC TRUTH COMMISSION IMPANELED IN WASHINGTON

CHENEY, RUMSFELD, GONZALEZ, OTHERS TO BE QUESTIONED

Disturbing reads, disturbing thoughts

What I’ve been reading lately:

  • Erik Prince the humanitarian? Um, no. The founder and owner of Blackwater Worldwide, the private security contractor (PSC) of Nisour Square infamy, should have no involvement with aid organizations and decision-makers in aid organizations should have the good sense to stay well away from Prince and his ilk.
  • The CIA is handing out viagra to tribal leaders in Afghanistan in exchange for information and safe access. This strikes me as a Very Bad Idea, and I agree with Cara at Feministe that it smacks of misogyny and recklessness, and, I would add, cynicism –it’s not “thinking out of the box,” or any such nonsense. Let’s get over that.  It’s old-school sex-for-information bribery, only with a pharmaceutical twist. Just check out this quote from the article.

“You didn’t hand it out to younger guys, but it could be a silver bullet to make connections to the older ones,” said one retired operative familiar with the drug’s use in Afghanistan. Afghan tribal leaders often had four wives — the maximum number allowed by the Koran — and aging village patriarchs were easily sold on the utility of a pill that could “put them back in an authoritative position,” the official said.

Moving on.

  • Russia is forcing the OSCE Mission in Georgia to close down.  This is terrible for Georgia and terrible for the OSCE. Crap.
  • Joe Arpaio, one of contemporary America’s notable homegrown human rights violators, is getting his own reality TV show. I’ll get back to this after I stop retching.

The key to my neighbor’s house*

“Peace is more than the absence of violence.” It was a saying people working for the international community would often use in Bosnia, where I had a human rights internship last year. There was a deep truth to that statement. Peace is about so much more than an end to warfare, it’s about human security, justice, reconciliation, and reconstruction. It’s something that takes years, decades even, of painstaking work by everyone from high level diplomats and politicians to ordinary people. It’s the unsexy work of disarming and reintegrating former combatants, rebuilding infrastructure, locating, burying and mourning the dead, prosecuting war criminals, reforming legislatures, prisons, schools, and police forces. Peace accords are necessary because they enable all these things to happen, but they’re still just the first step, the basic ending violence part.

Now, Iraq. Pundits and politicians gleefully taut the success of The Surge, because violence has indeed decreased since it began. But that’s not the whole story. And the areas of Iraq where gunfire no longer rings out all day certainly aren’t “at peace,” despite what supporters of The Surge continue to argue.

Yes, the decrease in violence has been real, but the reason for the new calm should be cause for alarm, not celebration.

Ethnic cleansing. What an awful term. It became part of our lexicon after the Bosnian war, and, while linguistically problematic, its meaning is pretty straightforward: people of one ethnic of religious group are killed or exiled from the area they lived in until that area no longer has any members of the persecuted group. That is what has happened in Iraq, and why many formerly anarchic and violent areas, especially in and around Baghdad, are now ominously subdued.

Newly released satellite images back up what human rights and humanitarian organizations have been saying for some time now. Via Reuters.

Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence, according to a report published on Friday.

The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence, particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in which hundreds of thousands were killed.

This, like so many other horrible aspects of the Iraq War, was likely never even considered when the invasion was planned by our feckless regime in Washington.

A recent short film by an Iraqi journalist working for the Guardian shows in maddeningly vivid detail, just how brutally the war has torn apart the fabric of Iraqi society.

When the war in Iraq finally ends, the process of building peace will only then even begin. A major part of peace building is getting refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their previous towns and villages, but that’s not always –or even often– easy, as the Economist recently noted.

A few [refugees returning from Egypt to Iraq] expressed mild optimism that the situation has improved in their home areas. Many more said they were returning because they had little choice: they were unable to work in Egypt and were running out of money.

Nor were they the first of Iraq’s refugees to come home. Some 50,000 people re-entered the country in the nine months up to last March, the UN believes. Among these were 365 families who came back from Syria in late 2007, wooed by a resettlement offer of $800 per household. But most of that group later told the UN they could not “go home” in the literal sense; their houses had either been ruined or seized by others.

Officials of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees also say quietly that the returns from Egypt, insofar as they were prompted by near-destitution, risk violating one of the key principles of refugee law: the idea that people should not be sent back to their home country against their will. But for the UNHCR and other agencies that care for the displaced, this was only the latest of many cases where the high ideals of international law run up against the realities of power politics.

In the Balkans, the problem of illegally occupied properties was “solved”** by the international community carrying out property law enforcement jointly with local authorities. In Bosnia and Kosovo this literally meant (and in Kosovo it is still an ongoing process) employees of the UN or OSCE going with local law enforcement to evict people illegally living in houses that belonged to refugees, whether or not the legal owners had returned.

In Iraq…who knows? The war itself is not yet over, and, while some parts of the country are not experiencing conflict anymore, others may be just about to ignite.

Still, the war will end one day, as all wars do, and then will begin the long process of putting back together what is left of a shattered society. As a friend of mine who works on property rights for an IGO grimly remarked last year, it doesn’t seem like she or her colleagues will be out of work anytime soon.

*The Key to My Neighbor’s House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda, by Elizabeth Neuffer. Buy it, it’s a powerful read.

**Almost all occupied properties were returned in Bosnia (in accordance with Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Accords), but the majority of owners decided to sell them, instead of moving back, and not enough protection and support was given to returnees.