Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Segregation

Did you listen to BBC Radio 4's Start the Week on Monday?

One of the guests was Samantha Power, talking about her new book on Sergio Vieira de Mello, an extract from which appeared in The New Yorker.

Towards the end of the programme, another guest, Ronan Bennett, asked her in her capacity as an adviser to Barack Obama whether as president Obama would pull out of Iraq. Part of her answer surprised me - here it is in full:

"Yes, I think one of the things that he's done though, that sets him apart from his colleagues in the Democratic Party and on the left, is actually developed a plan for responsible withdrawal, which to you might sound like an excuse for staying but is in fact a planning process that would actually put Iraqis central to our thinking about how we get out, so it would involve fair notice, and moving potentially people from mixed neighborhoods to homogenous neighborhoods, tragic that it's the equivalent of facilitating ethnic cleansing, which is terrible but if that is the choice of people there, massive refugee assistance initiatives so that neighboring countries actually open their borders again because they've been sealed for a long time, so the short answer is his best guess right now, from talking to military people, is that you could get all combat brigades out within eighteen months, but you also have to embed in it some consideration of what is happening to Iraqis as you go. But his objective would be both to be able to focus on Afghanistan and in quotes deal with al Qaeda, and I think we have to learn to live with insecurity in the way that people in this country have lived with it, but also in order to restore American standing longterm."

- Apologies for that unwieldy paragraph, but I didn't want to seem to be taking anything out of context.

The bit that surprised me was "...moving potentially people from mixed neighborhoods to homogenous neighborhoods, tragic that it's the equivalent of facilitating ethnic cleansing, which is terrible but if that is the choice of people there..."

Samantha Power is obviously more knowledgeable about ethnic cleansing than I am, as she's best known for her book on genocide, so I find it strange that she's advocating entrenching the results of terror in a way that is likely to increase sectarianism rather than overcome it. And I find it bizarre to talk about this as a choice by Iraqis, as the population shifts have been as a result of terror carried out by the minority of violent thugs on each side of the divide.

I also find it strange to suggest that Barack Obama would wish to enable segregation rather than combat it, albeit segregation in Iraq rather than the US. Is that really his thinking?


This post appeared first as a comment on Harry's Place. The drawing above is an old one from 1993, published in the Times Higher Education Supplement, illustrating a different war.


I have a follow up post on this topic here.

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