Thursday, January 19, 2006

INTERESTING COMBINATION of stories in the Christian Science Monitor's Terrorism and Security Report.

The CSM reports that Condoleezza Rice has announced that hundreds of diplomats stationed in Europe will be moved to countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. Further, she says that diplomats who aspire to move into senior positions will have to "accept assignment in a dangerous position, become an expert in at least two regions, and become fluent in at least two languages," such as Chinese, Arabic, or Urdu.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch slammed the United States for deliberately choosing a policy of torture and secret detention; and said that this choice by the world's most powerful and influential nation left a void in global human rights leadership.

Reuters reports that the group said the evidence showed abusive interrogation cannot be "be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, but was a conscious policy choice by senior US government officials. The policy has hampered Washington's ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law, said the 532-page volume's introductory essay."

"Fighting terrorism is central to the human rights cause," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "But using illegal tactics against alleged terrorists is both wrong and counterproductive."

Mr. Roth also said the tactic was fueling terrorism recruitment, "discouraging public assistance of counterterrorism efforts and creating a pool of unprosecutable detainees."

There is no direct connection between these two items; but I am struck by a certain symmetry in the idea that, on the one hand, the United States is abdicating its responsibilities as a human rights leader, endangering its broader security interests, and "fueling terrorist recruitment"; and on the other hand, is finding it necessary to beef up its diplomatic presence in countries that were largely ignored or underserved before. This symmetry is especially noticeable, for me, in this statement by Condi Rice, regarding the new policy:

"In the 21st century, emerging nations like India and China, and Brazil and Egypt, and Indonesia and South Africa are increasingly shaping the course of history. ..."
Adding that there are still almost 200 world cities of over a million inhabitants without any US presence -- despite its 7,440-strong diplomatic corps abroad -- Ms. Rice indicated "This is where the action is today, and this is where we must be."

Doesn't this seem like a tacit acknowledgment of a shift in the global locus of power? If U.S. power and authority in the world really is starting to wane (in large part because of conscious policy choices like the decision to abandon globally accepted norms of human rights), then a felt need to strengthen U.S. diplomatic presence in a part of the world that is "increasingly shaping the course of history" would make sense.

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