Friday, April 25, 2008

Constitutionally Speaking - Mbeki & Mugabe

Pierre de Vos, the guy behind the blog Constitutionally Speaking, once again produced a very well thought through and articulated article - this time on Thabo Mbeki's much talked about political strategy of 'quiet diplomacy' towards Robert Mugabe's ongoing abuses in Zimbabwe.

The article, 'Zimbabwe: Why Mbeki is all carrot and not stick', lead to a rather long debate in the comments following below the article. It makes for interesting reading (in this case the comments) and is a good reflection on some of the different views present in South Africa on this issue. Once again many of the arguments is directly or indirectly race based - something that will sadly be with us for a long time to come...

Snippets from the article:

...Of course we have to remember that the two previous elections were declared credible and mostly free by South African observers (following the Mbeki line), despite the fact that these were conducted in an atmosphere of fear and violence and according to electoral rules that clearly allowed for the massaging of the results in favour of Mugabe. This suggests that the Mbeki ANC would have done and said almost anything to ensure that Mugabe was not humiliated or criticised in any way...

...There are at least two problems with these arguments.

First, South Africa is supposed to be a constitutional state based on the Rule of Law and a respect for human rights and the government police (sic) is supposedly to promote respect for human rights across Africa and to foster good governance in Africa through Nepad and the African Peer Review mechanism.

The failure of the government to forcefully criticise even the most flagrant human rights abuses and the stealing of two previous elections by Mugabe, suggests that South Africa is a silent or not so silent supporter of a tyrant and thus makes a mockery of the supposed leadership of our President and our country on human rights issues. This undermines our standing in the world and among right thinking people all across Africa. It is a matter of credibility: if one mollycoddles a tyrant it is hard to be taken seriously when making lofty statements about good governance and respect for human rights in other parts of Africa or the rest of the world (like in the USA or Iraq).

Our President has lost all credibility by holding hands with a person who has lost an election and now refuses to accept this reality and is using his military to terrorise the population who had the audacity to vote for the opposition.

Second, (and much worse) the South African governments’ silence (sold as quiet diplomacy) has actually helped to prop up Mugabe and thus helps him to stay in power... South Africa could place serious diplomatic and economic pressure on Mugabe to change but has failed to do so. This makes our government complicit in the murder and torture of thousands of Zimbawean citizens and the ruining of the economy in that country.

Thus South Africa’s actions have helped to support a tyrant in power and have made it potentially more (not less) difficult to get rid of him...

To read the full article & the interesting debate in the comments section go here.

I also touched on the subject in March of 2007 when I put the question - 'Robert Mugabe - credible partner for quiet diplomacy?'. That was after the leader of the opposition was detained and ended up in hospital.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Burt Glinn Retrospective (photographer & photojournalist)

The New York Times' online edition ran a multimedia retrospective on Burt Glinn today. It includes twelve impressive black and white photo's covering a range of subjects. He died Wednesday in New York.

"Members of the Seattle Tubing Society in full float." - Burt Glinn / Magnum

Magnum Photo's - "Revolution". A fascinating multimedia slide show of great b&w photo's with commentary by the late Burt Glinn in which he tells the story of how he left overnight for Cuba to document Fidel Castro's victory march to Havana. He tells of how he first had to locate the revolution, how he tracked down Castro and how events unfolded thereafter.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Bush's War" - Excellent PBS Frontline documentary available online

An excellent documentary on the Iraq War was broadcast by PBS (USA) in March of this year (2008). As a South African I can't tune in on PBS, but found a New York Times article (7 April 2008) on the online popularity of the documentary earlier today. Bush's War is a two hour, two-part, documentary available online from the PBS website in a series of 10-minute streams. The release of the documentary coincides with the 5th anniversary of the War.

The documentary is impressive for many reasons. Amongst others it includes an incredible amount of factual information; is comprehensive; includes scores of interviews with cabinet insiders, political commentators, journalists and authors; features amazing video quality for an online streamed feed (PBS has it's own media player...) and utilises the advantages of online information dissemination by providing optional links to full interviews (often with transcripts), time lines, etc. It's refreshing to view a documentary that holds your attention without trying to entertain.

I have watched the first three 10-minute streams and plan to watch the rest over time (I do have a day job...). The documentary starts with 9/11 and shows, based on credible information, just how early Iraq was put on the table as a target.

It also revisits the conflict-ridden relationship between Colin Powell and the cabinet neo-cons - particularly Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. The rivalry between the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA is featured. It looks at the role played by John Yoo, then at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, in providing legal memo's which assisted the Bush Administration in pursuing what Dick Cheney referred to as 'working the dark side' - a questionable, unconventional, strategy in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions, as well as America's own laws. The documentary continues in its very insightful, thorough, style to track the events and developments from 9/11 to where we are today.

In my view Bush's War represents a public broadcaster doing what it should be doing, informing and thus empowering the public. Now if only the SABC could generate this kind of material...

Additional information provided
Following the optional links to additional information that pops up throughout the documentary (online streamed version), and actually reading the linked articles, will take many hours. Some of the interesting information available in this remarkable feature by PBS, many from 'The Dark Side" - a previous PBS production that is utilised in Bush's War, are:

  1. Opinions on 'working the dark side'

    Exploring what Dick Cheney meant when he famously said that America would have to 'work the dark side' in its 'War on Terror'. Go here.

  2. Office Politics & Other Anecdotes

    "The tensions, conflicts, personality and politics that played out behind closed doors in the Bush administration, and in particular, during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq."

    For this very interesting article, go here.

  3. Interview with John Yoo. The legal memo guy from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Interview here.

  4. Interview with Richard Clarke

    "A counterterrorism expert, ...was a member of the White House National Security Council... and is the author of Against all Enemies, an insider account of the Bush administration's policy-making in the war on terror. As an intelligence analyst ... and later, a high-level policy maker, Clarke offers insights into the interplay between the two worlds and shares some thoughts on the heated intelligence wars during the lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003..."

    Interview here.

  5. Interview with Steve Coll

    "...a New Yorker writer and the author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. His interview here offers an overview of George Tenet, his relationship with President Bush, his leadership of the CIA, and, in particular, his management of the intelligence community's assessment on Iraq's WMD programs -- an assessment that contributed to the case for war, but soon after was proven wrong."

    Interview here.

  6. Interview with John McLaughlin

    "The deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2000 to 2004, and its acting director following George Tenet's resignation in July 2004, John McLaughlin has served 11 CIA directors. Here, he offers his perspective on some of the decisions and challenges during the months after 9/11 and then, the run-up to war in Iraq. He discusses the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that George Tenet backed, but which was soon proven wrong regarding Iraq's WMD capabilities. And he talks about the lessons the CIA learned from its intelligence failures and its involvement in the politicization of the intelligence process during this period."

    Interview here.

  7. Interview with Richard Kerr

    "...served in the CIA from 1960 to 1992, including three years as deputy director for intelligence (1986-'89) as deputy director (1989-'92) and a few months as acting director in 1991. In 2003, at the suggestion of Donald Rumsfeld, a group was put together to review the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, and Kerr was asked to head it. ...His group ultimately published four reports (two of which remain classified): The first looked at pre-war intelligence on Iraq; the second evaluated the raw intelligence that went into the infamous National Intelligence Estimate; the third assessed the strengths and weaknesses of intelligence analysis; and the fourth suggested improvements. Here, Kerr discusses his findings; his thoughts on the proper role and the future of the CIA; and his impressions of Dick Cheney and George Tenet."

    Interview here.