Quantcast

Editor’s Introduction

In 2016, after twenty-five years in existence and the expenditure of more than $2 billion, the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will close with a few trials and many errors to its credit in its long pursuit of justice for the victims of the atrocities committed during Yugoslavia’s disintegration in the 1990s. In “Trials and Tribulations,” Gordon Bardos notes that by the time the court shuts its doors, it will have existed “six times longer than the Nuremberg trials and more than eight times longer than the Tokyo tribunal.” His disturbing account shows the tribunal as discriminatory, arbitrary, partial, hypocritical, and embarrassingly ineffective, if not counterproductive. More troubling still, Bardos argues that the hypocritical twists and turns the court has taken have had less to do with “justice” than with the policy interests du jour of the court’s main sponsor, the United States. Unfortunately, the case Bardos makes is persuasive.

Joel Brinkley examines a similar situation in his report on another UN-sponsored court, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was mandated to indict, try, and punish war criminals from Pol Pot’s killing machine, the Khmer Rouge. The former New York Times foreign correspondent notes that the court got off to a slow and ominous beginning in 2003 after “six years of tortured, acrimonious” debate between the UN and the Cambodian government, which was stacked with former high-ranking Khmer Rouge officers responsible for plowing the 1970s killing fields the ECCC was mandated to investigate. In the ten years the court has operated, Brinkley reports, it has spent some $209 million. The yield of all this time and money? A single officer was convicted—Kaing Guek Eav, a.k.a. “Duch,” whose “sentence was so light many Cambodians were appalled.” Brinkley’s story describes a toxic brew of delusional planning, incompetence, and wasteful spending at the UN and the court—coupled with cynicism, obstruction, and corruption in the Cambodian government.

In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” If King were alive today and read these essays by Bardos and Brinkley, he might be inclined to propose an amendment: Justice squandered is justice defaced.

This issue of World Affairs also examines the meaning of a handful of potentially pivotal elections that have occurred on three continents in the past year that are having significant consequence within their borders and could influence the world beyond in meaningful ways. Potentially the most important of these elections, for US interests, is President Hassan Rouhani’s surprising landslide electoral victory in Iran. Given the conflicting interpretations of that event being offered by the commentariat, we asked two Iranian Americans who once supported the revolution to overthrow the shah to give us their opinions.

Both see the election as a rebuke of the ruling powers, specifically of the omnipresent and powerful Revolutionary Guards. But Roya Hakakian, prize-wining author, poet, and former 60 Minutes producer, chides Western policymakers for reducing turmoil within Iran’s governing elites to a struggle between moderates and hard-liners, or between reformers and anti-modern millenarians who think heaven on earth begins with the obliteration of Israel. This conceptual framework, Hakakian says, is “guided more by narcissism than wisdom.” It is a prescription for shallow policy because it impedes a clear understanding of the rifts within the regime, which are “far better understood in mafia terms, as distinct groups warring over economic and political interests, rather than in the familiar and reassuring political terms of the West.” If not prescribing trust, Hakakian does want the US to verify the wisp of “liberalization” present in the recent election and to remember that past Iranian “reformers” have failed to produce and, indeed, their “reforms” were often used to disguise increased regime brutality and oppression which, too often, the West chose to downplay in order to encourage the reformers.

Ramin Ahmadi, a professor of medicine at the University of Vermont, offers another thoughtfully contextualized assessment of the power struggle now taking place inside the country’s leadership. Ahmadi cautions that, whatever happens at the ballot box, no meaningful change can occur in Tehran until the Revolutionary Guards’ control of the ministries of justice, intelligence, interior, and economy is greatly diminished. He suggests that we watch Rouhani’s appointments carefully to see if there is any intention of the new government to curb the Guards’ pervasive and deeply entrenched power.

It’s been nearly a year since the election in Georgia stunned many American policymakers when a politically inexperienced tycoon, Bidzina Ivanishvili, soundly defeated one of Washington’s favorite sons, President Mikheil Saakashvili, and his reigning United National Movement party. Lincoln Mitchell of Columbia University’s Harriman Institute revisits the election and what it says about the last decade of US policy in Georgia. The assessment is not good for Washington, which rushed into the arms of Saakashvili and allowed itself to be so beguiled by the talk he was talking that it ignored the walk he was walking and put a stamp of approval on his “democracy building” that was plainly a mixed record, at best, and illusory at worst. The people of Georgia, Mitchell shows, were far better at distinguishing fact from fiction than the policymakers at the State Department and some in the US Senate.

It has also been about a year since the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was returned to power in Mexico after its seventy-one year reign was interrupted for twelve years by Vincente Fox’s National Action Party (PAN) in 2000. In his wide-ranging commentary, Fredo Arias-King faults PAN for having squandered its historic opportunity to make a decisive break with the past while in office. He explains how PAN failed to dismantle the shadow government by which the PRI continued to govern behind the scenes, and failed too to clean up the country’s corrupt and highly politicized police and security forces. Despite all the loose talk about a Mexican “economic miracle,” Arias-King argues that the country has actually fallen behind others in the region as drug lords continue their reign of terror and control more territory with each passing day. Arias-King believes that the new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, will likely implement modest reforms, but that the “predatory yet pragmatic” PRI “has always calculated the costs and benefits of any reform to its own financial and political interests” and is, therefore, unlikely to carry out the “deep political and institutional changes” the country so badly needs, for fear of losing its control over Mexico’s riches and future.

If the news from south of the border is grim, the news from Central Europe is more encouraging. This region’s history of tragedy during the communist era is well known—fatefully wedged between Germany and Russia, it has famously suffered oppression from its neighbors and betrayal from its more distant kindred spirits. But now, according to Kristina Mikulova of the EU Institute for Security Studies, the so-called Visegrad Four—the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia—have not only rejoined the West but have begun to distinguish themselves as actors in EU foreign and security policy.

When World Affairs was considering a piece on the election of Pope Francis, I thought of Stalin’s question: How many divisions does the pope have? How much does the papacy matter after being tumbled so violently by scandal and disillusion? Roland Flamini answers that it may matter very much if Francis can overcome the inertial forces of the Vatican and implement his vision for the future of the church. Flamini stirs the tea leaves of the new pope’s early choices in style and substance and sees the possibility that the humble Jesuit from Argentina intends to rearrange some of the church’s priorities, as well as the relationship with its hierarchy and somewhat alienated flock, in ways that could significantly enhance the church’s image, and potentially that of Christianity itself. From what Flamini tells us, in looking past Eurocentrism—and outside the organizational box of the Vatican—in selecting a new vicar, the cardinals may have given Catholicism what it seemed to lack before Francis appeared on the scene: a chance to rebuild its image and resurrect its purpose and message along the lines of its Founder’s intent.

As part of its full menu, this issue of World Affairs also offers a look at wars you may not know are taking place. Katya Cengel reports from the front lines of one of them—between Armenia and Azerbaijan—that has been smoldering since the breakup of the USSR and now has a body count of more than thirty thousand, with the only prospect that of “armed truce.” Gordon Chang writes about another kind of war that may become the war of the future: the conflict over water, not only an endangered resource but also a casus belli for many countries worried quite literally about dying of thirst. Armin Rosen reports from Central Africa, where yet another coalition fighting force has been assembled to counter ongoing warfare in the border region of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While Rosen offers some cause for optimism, given the past failures of outside intervention, mostly Western, one would be wise to be stingy with optimism. And John Lee of the University of Sydney takes us into the command center of a war that has some of the features of a PlayStation conflict but has potentially grave consequences—the commercial cyber war being waged by brigades of Chinese cyber spies working in what American authorities call “advanced persistent threat” groups.

We’ve done our part in putting together this weighty piece of summer reading. We hope you’ll take it to the beach or the mountains and then do your part and let us know what you think.

— James S. Denton

OG Image: 
US