Terrorism will never triumph.
One cannot expect much from a man who suggested to split Iraq into three autonomous regions but even by Biden’s generally low foreign policy standards, his comments on the Middle East in last week’s VP debate were breathtakingly oversimplified and disingenuous.
Biden started the debate with a desperate attempt to cover-up the debacle surrounding the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi. The Vice President failed to answer at least two crucial questions: a) why did Obama, Clinton and Rice apologise to a mob of extremists? and b) why did the US embassy staff had inadequate security?
Biden told an outright lie when he refused to call the attack what it was – an act of terrorism – and instead defended the administration’s discredited narrative. He carefully avoided mentioning the YouTube video which was, after all, nothing but a cover-up for a pre-planned assault against America on the anniversary of 9/11.
He further denied the allegation that the States Department had refused to tighten security, after repeated requests from personnel on the ground. Two officials, however, testified before Congress that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Charlene Lamb, was aware of the delicate security situation and failed to take appropriate action.
Ultimately, the negligence cost Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other servicemen their lives and someone in the Obama administration must be held accountable for it.
Biden’s quality of answers did not change appreciably when the moderator turned to Iran. For reasons only known to him, the Vice President started giggling when Martha Raddatz questioned him on the ayatollahs’ intention to acquire nuclear capabilities. He relativised the threat post by the Islamic Republic, despite the regime being the greatest risk to peace and stability in the Middle East and the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the region. His assessment of the status of Iran’s nuclear programme struck me as startlingly and dangerously naïve. There is credible evidence which suggests that Iran continues to stockpile uranium enriched to up to 20% purity, a nonessential procedure, unless one plans to build an atomic bomb. 225 kg of 20 percent is sufficient to make 25 kg of 90 percent enriched uranium.
Continuing the trend, the Vice President’s comments on the humanitarian and strategic crisis in Syria can be described as nothing but utterly shameless. According to Biden, the US government is doing everything in its power to stop the bloodshed and cooperates closely with its Arab allies. But if that were true, why would Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, amongst others, complain that the administration’s Syria policy is counterproductive, even destructive, and impedes their efforts to support the Syrian opposition?
Biden made it sound as if there was nothing else the US could do without sending troops to Syria. This, however, is a false choice. In fact, no one, not even the most hawkish supporters of intervention, like Senator John McCain, consider boots on the ground. What they suggest is arming the rebels, setting up humanitarian corridors along the Turkish-Syrian border, and establishing a NFZ to protect civilians from the wrath of Assad’s air force. NFZs worked well in the past, as for instance in Iraq, in the Balkans, and Libya, without zero Western casualties. So again, Biden resorted to overblown assumptions and scaremongering tactics to justify the Obama administration’s colossal moral failure and total absence of leadership in the Middle East.
And just when you thought things could not get any worse, Biden outlined his deeply cynical and reckless approach on the on-going war in Afghanistan. “We are leaving in 2014 – period”, he said. What message does that send to the Taliban? Not only does it strengthen our enemies in the sense that they know that they can play on time, as we will pull out in 2014 no matter the situation, but it also raises the moral question of whether our Afghanistan policy should really be determined by a fixed timetable or degree of success.
Our fallen shall not have died in vain.
Biden reached a climax of hypocrisy when he boasted about the Iraq pull-out. What he did not say, however, was that pulling troops out too quickly allowed al-Qaeda back into the country and now threatens the carefully-constructed peace. On top of that, the Vice President attacked Ryan on the Republican’s legacy of war. “No, we can’t afford that”, he apparently said when George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Too bad that, in fact, Biden voted in favour of both the Afghanistan and Iraq resolutions which authorised military action.
Post-revisionism at its finest.
In sum, Biden’s performance was embarrassing and unprofessional. One can engage in serious debate or mock and ridicule one’s opponent. The Vice President clearly chose the latter approach. He may have won the drama class award but Ryan convinced with facts and figures.
Today, humanitarianism is an integral part of our world. Funding has rapidly increased and never before in the history of mankind has the number of actors and agencies involved been greater. The result is a heterogeneous and diverse humanitarian sector. This was not always the case.
Like the doctrine of state sovereignty was not established until 1648, so was the idea of the right of the wounded soldier to receive care indiscriminately of his nationality not conceptualised until 1864 – the establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). To the present day, the ICRC considers itself as the guardian of the classical principles of humanitarianism: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.
But this apparent nobility can come at a high price, as it makes no distinction between good wars and bad, between just and unjust causes, or even between aggressors and innocents. It is, however, of uttermost importance to reflect deeply upon what humanitarian action represents and at what point it loses its sense and becomes a technical function in the service of evil.
An apolitical humanitarianism is neither possible nor desirable. There is no such thing. Aid agencies work in an inherently political environment where even humanitarian spaces become politicised. Even if meant to be apolitical, their actions have political consequences and are perceived as such by the conflicting parties.
Aid is not neutral. It is a myth destroyed many times in the past by what has happened in the concentration camps in World War II, during the frantic killings in Rwanda, the safe heavens on the Balkan, and in the sands of Afghanistan and Iraq. Not only is it naïve of the humanitarianism community to deny its relationship to politics, it is also reckless. Aid works have to be conscious about the impact of their work, including the negative side effects, if they want to make responsible and informed choices.
The call for a return to an apolitical humanitarianism is misguided. It never existed in a pure form. In recent years, the politicisation of humanitarianism has been institutionalised and appears almost impossible to revers. Therefore, the debate should be focused on how to deal with the new realities.
Each conflict is distinctive. It takes individual approaches to deal with them accordingly. Humanitarianism should not be seen as a rigid, evangelical code of principles but a flexible tool to achieve what it does best: saving lives. Sometimes that might best be accomplished in a limited alliance with governments, while other situations require a more comprehensive cooperation. Humanitarian militarism is no longer an oxymoron. National interests might well be at the heart of it but they can and do equal values.
The bottom line is that humanitarianism and politics are dizygotic twins now. The latter has become embedded in a wider, long-term strategy of democracy promotion, human rights and development. If we are serious about eroding the root causes of conflict, it is a process that should be welcomed and seen as an opportunity rather than a threat.