On a recent trip to Berlin I visited KZ Sachsenhausen, a former Nazi concentration camp located just an hour north of the city. It was a beautiful day—high summer in Berlin, in the mid-seventies with a slight breeze—and the treetops, visible over the camp’s reconstructed fence, bobbed in the wind. The tour bus pulled into a large gravel parking lot across from tidy stucco houses with drawn blinds and trimmed gardens. An older man dressed in shorts and an open shirt rummaged around in his tool shed and emerged with a pair of gardening shears.
There's a very important new paper out in Nature entitled "Approaching a state shift in the Earth's biosphere." Exec summary:
Strange bedfellows in the Malian Sahara of late. The Tuareg rebel movements that took control of northern Mali last month looked to have struck a deal over the weekend, only to have it come into question since. The supposedly secular, progressive, and multi-ethnic MNLA shook hands with the Ansar Dine, the Salafist movement that has been more or less playing host to sundry terrorists, criminals and hostage-takers like AQMI, MUJAO, or Boko Haram. It’s tough to say just what this deal means, or how long it will last, but it ought to have put some of the MNLA’s foreign fans in a bind.
On Lawfare.org last week I posted a review of Mary Dudziak's interesting new book War Time, dwelling on the American mythology of endless war. Dudziak offered her own reflections in response.
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.