Politics, Please

Article excerpt

Nicolas de Torrente and Fabrice Weissman ("A War Without Limits," Winter 2008) insightfully document international complicity in Somalia's recent suffering. The piece leaves the reader incensed at our collective failure but uncomfortably bereft of a way forward. The dilemma is not surprising. De Torrente and Weissman are classic humanitarians. They fight for justice in war but; have little to say about the justice of war or how to end it. The authors call on other humanitarian organizations to "separate themselves from international political and security agendas," asking us to stay beyond politics so that we can continue to work in war zones and save lives.

But humanitarian organizations could also save lives by becoming more, and not less, political. Advocates of a more politicized humanitarianism believe politics are too important to be left to politicians. They endeavor to influence international political and security agendas by ensuring that local voices are heard. Too often, international policymakers impose solutions that fail to accommodate the political aspirations of local populations, and these solutions do not hold.

Embracing that challenge is particularly important now as global leaders seek to find their post-"post 9/11" voices. For years, US policymakers have talked about the "3 Ds": "defense," "diplomacy, "and "development." But Somalia reminds us how off-balance these pillars have been. As de Torrente and Weissman show, lack of political muscle has sapped the best convictions of the development and diplomatic communities while fueling the intensity of more military-minded strategists. Therefore, debate over US policy in regions like Somalia occurs within a "defense" mindset. There are those (including Secretary Robert Gates) who believe that US civilian-led development and diplomatic efforts could help regions like Somalia move away from perennial fragility, given adequate resources and strategic mandates for effective missions. …