Monday, March 17, 2008

Amnesty International: Humanitarian, Idealistic, Well-Intentioned

Amnesty International and International Committee of the Red Cross issued reports about Iraq recently. Bottom line for both: things stink there. Both reports are interesting, but I'll pretty much ignore the Red Cross and give Amnesty International's report a quick once-over. And, the human rights organization's assumptions.

Amnesty International's Not Feeling the Love

Amnesty International is 'obviously' a tool of
  • Western oppressors
  • Anti-western radicals
Depending on who you read, that is. Generally, when countries with as little common interest as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China, Vietnam, Russia and the United States agree on something, I'm inclined to think that there's something to the claim.

In this case, that mixed bag of nations criticizes "Amnesty International for what they assert is one-sided reporting or a failure to treat threats to security as a mitigating factor." (I know: that's a Wikipedia article: not the most reliable source in the world. But this article has pretty good citations.)

Amnesty International, Iraq, and Realistic Expectations

Let's look at one of today's Amnesty International (AI) concerns: " Reports: 'Disastrous' Iraqi humanitarian crisis" CNN (March 17, 2008).

There were no surprises in the first two paragraphs:

"As the war in Iraq reaches its five-year anniversary this week, two of the world's leading humanitarian groups issued extensive reports Monday describing a crisis of huge proportions with little reason for hope.

" 'Despite claims that the security situation has improved in recent months, the human rights situation is disastrous,' Amnesty International says in its report, titled 'Carnage and Despair: Iraq Five Years On.' "

What's Actually Being Said?

Factually, I don't suppose there's anything arguable in AI's claims. After three decades of Saddam Hussein's mismanagement, it's no surprise that there isn't a city in Iraq that's in the same league as Zurich or New York City." Even without people blowing themselves up at fairly regular intervals, rebuilding a country would take time. (The latest mass murder/suicide killed about 40 "Attack in Iraq kills 40, officials say" CNN (March 17, 2008).)

CNN adds its two cents' worth in the " 'Disastrous' Iraqi humanitarian crisis" article:

"The Bush administration and many Republican lawmakers, including presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, have frequently praised successes in Iraq in recent months, noting improvements in security in key areas. They attribute that in part to the buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq ordered by President Bush last year."

Later, CNN summarizes the AI and Red Cross reports:

"The two reports cite a litany of concerns, including severe widespread poverty, a lack of food and water, and broken families left to scrounge for whatever they can find to get by. Both reports describe a situation that shows no sign of clear improvement.

"Amnesty also says conditions for women have worsened with the rise of fundamentalist religious groups. Many women 'have been forced to wear Islamic dress or targeted for abduction, rape or killing.' The group notes a study by the World Health Organization in 2006/2007 that found 21 percent of Iraqi women had experienced physical violence."

I was impressed that the AI report apparently said that the Iraqi government was to blame for at least part of the situation.

So What?

I think that AI, CNN, and the International Red Cross may be comparing apples and oranges here. Security issues are not economic issues, although there's a great deal of connection between the two.

Although it's important to keep track of situations that are bad, I also think it's important to look at what's going right. The problem with AI, the International Red Cross, and CNN (along with most news media), as I see it, is that they're willing to see all sides of an issue: as long as it looks bad.

Amnesty International also seems to have very high expectations about what can be achieved, when in comes to "security." I'm reminded of the 'good old days' of the sixties, when my peers would, quite seriously, say that things would be fine if we just gave peace a chance. The idea seemed to be that reaching out and listening to other nations would end war.

Sure, I'm oversimplifying.

Today, Amnesty International has the admirable desire to reduce human suffering. Where they seem to fail is in recognizing that some people don't want to reduce human suffering. Quite the opposite. And when these pro-suffering advocates have weapons, it can take more than gentle words and sympathy to stop them.

Good News from Iraq: Provincial Reconstruction Teams

If you haven't heard of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, you're not alone. These teams have, for years, been working in Iraq and elsewhere, to help people rebuild and improve their neighborhoods and infrastructure.

My guess is that they're as low-profile as they are because they don't fit the America-is-to blame / America's unilateral attack on Iraq is a total disaster / the war on terror stinks attitude that you've got to assume, if you're going to be seen as a 'serious thinker' in some quarters.

And now, something that's going right: "Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams" United States Institute of Peace (March 2008)

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.