Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Assistant Secretary Barton Says Diplomacy Matters

Dean's Discussion
Frederick Barton, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, told an SIS audience that the United States is entering a “golden era of American diplomacy” as it moves away from a “terrorist-heavy narrative to an understanding that conflict resolution has an extremely heavy political, diplomatic element.”
Dean Jim Goldgeier explained in his introduction that the Bureau Of Conflict And Stabilization Operations that Barton heads was created in November 2011 in an effort to bring a more systematic approach to conflict prevention and response. The bureau's mission is “to advance U.S. national security by driving integrated, civilian-led efforts to prevent, respond to, and stabilize crises in priority states, setting conditions for long-term peace.” The talk was facilitated by SIS Professor Charles "Chuck" Call, who is on a two-year sabbatical from AU to serve in Ambassador Barton's office.
Barton explained that the increasing complexity of conflicts precipitated the creation of the new bureau. “Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan underlined to us the complexity of all of these cases,” he said. It seemed that a lot of smaller conflicts were becoming bigger and thornier, so it became crucial to bring together policy and practice.” The bureau’s work is mostly focused on Syria, Kenya, and Honduras, with additional efforts in Burma, Nigeria, and Bangladesh.
He summarized the tri-fold strategy of his bureau as: “1. Where—make a difference in two to three places of strategic importance to the United States; 2. People—create a team; 3. The nature of the work—bring agility to the U.S. response.”
Barton conceded that the State Department did not yet have the agility to move into conflict situations as quickly as humanitarian organizations. “We have tried to be much more agile and build a strong, reliable civilian response network. We also work closely with the military community, who are eager to find civilian partners,” he said.
Barton outlined five elements to successful conflict resolution: “1. Sophisticated understanding of places and an advanced level of analysis; 2. A common view of the problem—for example, the United States would get involved only in areas of strategic importance; 3. Being opportunistic about who does the work; 4. Real-time evaluation; and 5. Improved public communication.”
Politics are also important to conflict prevention and resolution efforts. Namely, which conflicts the United States chooses to involve itself in is a strategic and political decision. “Basically, we are concerned about whether the place matters to the United States, whether there is that moment of ripeness for an intervention, and whether there is something we can actually do,” he concluded.

Crossfade Roulette--My Weekly Music Column

Crossfade Roulette

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dirty Wars Film Blurb

Blurb on the film Dirty Wars for BYT’s Top 13 Movie Superlatives of 2013

Jeremy Scahill, a veteran war journalist and the national security correspondent for The Nation, shines a light on the shadowy outfit known as JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command, better known as the people who killed Osama bin Laden in this especially timely and weighty documentary, with the recent controversy over the drone program. JSOC, in place for decades, was created to essentially function outside the purview of any legal or military rule, but Dirty Wars makes a strong and shocking case for it reaching the apogee of its power during Obama’s terms, enjoying a level of impunity unheard of before, targeting assumed terrorists, launching drone attacks, and killing innocent civilians in countries with which the US is not even officially militarily engaged. Having chanced upon the very concept of JSOC in 2010, Scahill is stunned to see it come defiantly into the spotlight, taking credit for bin Laden’s capture, and turning its previously-camera-shy commanders into heroes. Ultimately, Dirty Wars, as the title indicates is about global war being waged in the name of national security by an organization with almost no accountability, except to the President, and one prone to night raids and “kill lists” without regard to nationality or legality. This was the case with American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who were both killed by drones. Dirty Wars is the grotesque flipside of Zero Dark Thirty: piles of bodies do nothing to make this kind of warfare seem just and blow the concept of “collateral damage” to smithereens. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Let The Fire Burn Movie Review

My Review Of Let The Fire Burn

Let The Fire Burn is an incendiary documentary on the tragic standoff between MOVE, a “radical” black group and the city of Philadelphia in the early 80s. Director Jason Osder eschews narration in favor of weaving together archival news footage, city hearings footage, and a MOVE film to create a visceral, eloquent, yet even-handed portrayal of events on the day of May 13th, 1985.
The film is a trenchant look at how a series of incredibly bad political decisions resulted in a fiery fiasco that claimed the lives of six adults and five children and led to the destruction of 61 homes in West Philadelphia. Let The Fire Burn is a subtle exploration of race tensions, police action, and terrorist labeling—the audience is left to draw its own conclusions, although answers as to how something so egregiously grievous came to pass are hard to come by.
MOVE’s first incarnation in the mid 70s is as progressive political organization concerned with issues impacting the black community. They do not espouse violence; they are not a religious cult. In fact, they come across as benign as any other hippy-dippy commune with their rhetoric of unity, love, and harmony. Their kids do not wear clothes and only eat raw food and the community does not believe in using modern luxuries, but that might well be the extent of their singularity. The heavily dogmatic component is definitely not present, especially in a religious sense. They all take the last name of their leader, John Africa, and while concerned with “the system” and its corruption, they are a far cry from the militant organization the city seems hell-bent on portraying them as. One cannot help but feel that had conservative Mayor Frank Rizzo not made it his tenure’s goal to dismantle MOVE, this story would have read rather differently.