The New York Times saw fit to grace its "Sunday Review" section this weekend with our editorial board member's Faisal Devji's excellent essay on the poety of Muslim radicalism, as well as my own piece on human rights. Thanks!
Explanations of American national security policy can scarcely be more timely. Events in Iraq, Libya, and Syria invite reflection on the propriety of US interventions abroad. Both the Bush administration's domestic wiretapping program as well as the Obama administration's “targeted killing” of American citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki have reflected an expanded executive authority that has drawn criticism. As the country faces new challenges—Iran, Pakistan, China—contemplating the future of its national security policy demands an unambiguous understanding of its recent past.
My new piece in The Nation reviews two new books on the subject.
One of the things that fascinate me about humanitarianism is how chaotic it is. I expected to find the aid community to be highly professionalized, highly organized, and highly disciplined—something more like WalMart than a MASH unit. What I found instead was a huge group of aid agencies, donor governments, and representatives of local government who were mostly winging it. So my problem became figuring out how to theorize "winging it," and to find out how to trace its effects on both geopolitics and on the lives of displaced people.
I’ve abstained from commenting on Beth Simmons’s early chapter about the history of human rights. It is not so much that, in my obviously self-interested view as a contributor to that field, her chapter is often uncritical and occasionally unsubstantiated (in its frequent repetition of the commonplace but dubious notion that the Holocaust prompted human rights law for instance). Rather, Simmons’s history of the origins of human rights doesn’t matter to her argument.
Domestic politics, then. This interim post explores how Beth Simmons thinks the interface between international treaties and domestic forces works. When she turns to the domestic forum, Simmons lays out a tripartite structure for how domestic actors can make use of the new tool of international treaties – at any rate, more than they could make of the hazy moral norms of natural law, or their clarification in written form in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
Beth Simmons’s Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics (Cambridge, 2009) has been celebrated as the most significant work in the field in many years. And the reception of the book is generally well deserved. As most people know, Simmons brings extraordinary quantitative rigor to the topic of whether several human rights treaties make a difference.
Editorial collective member Miriam Ticktin has just published her book, Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France with University of California Press. Congratulations! Here is the book description:
Drug addiction in Russia has reached epidemic proportions, but the government is refusing to address the problem head-on, preferring instead to inveigh against external forces like the USA, NATO and the war in Afghanistan. On current problems and their implications for the future.
A couple of weeks ago when it became clear that Barack Obama has reneged on his campaign promise to close the Guantánamo Bay facility, Hendrik Hertzberg inveighed against the result in the New Yorker. Torture was a “vile offense to elementary morality” on George W. Bush’s watch, and there were sundry other “crimes against American and international law” from which Obama’s new policies do not sufficiently depart.