Déjà Cloo’

Hello. Remember me? More importantly, remember George Clooney? He’s back–in spirit.

Yes, George Clooney’s idea to prevent and monitor human rights abuses and mass atrocities via satellite has come back down to earth. Unfortunately, instead of crashing and burning like SkyLab, it’s hanging out around 5,000 feet like SkyNET.


In today’s New York Times, Mark Hanis* and Andrew Stobo Sniderman of the (former) Genocide Intervention Network suggest non-governmental organizations use drones to monitor human rights and support accountability measures.

I say more, and make worse drone jokes, at Wings Over Iraq. Unsurprisingly, I take out my frustrations on human rights advocates again.

I’d burn the bras but for the toxic fumes

Perhaps it’s time I let my inner militant feminist out and burn some bras. I could collect used bras from all of my friends fed up with the claustrophobic tyranny of polyester and plastic and set them alight in Dupont Circle. We could solicit passers-by to support our floppy freedom and turn over the proceeds to some organization promoting real freedom, like the Polaris Project. To make our demands clear, we could call it, “Free the Girls.”

Imagine my disappointment when I learned there’s already an organization called “Free the Girls”. They, too, are collecting used bras, but instead of simply burning the bras, they’re sending the used bras overseas in order to free—get this—not boobies, but actual girls.

Continue reading

An Army of One to Three Billion Dollars

It used to be we complained about the U.S. military trying to do AID and the State Department’s job in Iraq. Now, it seems, the State Department wants to do the military’s job in Iraq.

While the U.S. military draws down in Iraq, next year the State Department is boosting its own army of private military contractors from 2,700 strong to a force of around 5,500. This build-up is “one of the most complex and dangerous endeavors the State Department has ever undertaken,” says Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room. Yet despite the gravity of this new mission, significant details about how State plans to regulate, monitor, and hold its contractors accountable remain shrouded in secret. State isn’t even allowing the federal agency that audits Iraq reconstruction spending to conduct the oversight it’s created by law to do, Ackerman reports.

That’s yours truly writing over at UN Dispatch. Of course, the best bit about what kind of force $3 billion buys is from Spencer’s piece:

…even though there’s been a nearly 90 percent drop in violence since the surge, State’s hired army still acts like Iraq is a killing field, with death squads and insurgents around every corner.

“Have the standards for convoy travel changed at all from the worst moments of Iraq civil war? The answer’s no,” Bowen [the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction] says. Diplomats are allowed an hour for meetings outside secured U.S. fortresses. Then it’s time to hit the road, in armored cars full of men armed to the teeth and wearing black sunglasses

Could we buy DVDs of The A-Team for $20 and let the contractors live out their fantasies that way instead? Meanwhile, diplomats who control the purse strings on meager multi-million dollar grants won’t actually get out to the provinces and see the work local and international NGOs are doing in an increasingly hospitable operational environment.

But, of course, Congress has found a way to stop this exorbitant spending on private military contractors–but potentially shutting down the entire government.

Thinking about progress

In case you missed it, I put some snark-free thoughts about arming South Sudan onto the computer screen over at Think Progress.

Arming South Sudan with air defense systems would put them into deeper conflict with the North, not bring the two closer to peace. Further, South Sudan’s army still doesn’t have the requisite training to use and maintain an air defense system. That poses a distinct problem when it comes to distinguishing friendly aircraft from the North’s attack aircraft. In 2007, a UN panel of experts sent a report to the Security Council documenting the North’s use of attack aircraft painted to look like UN aircraft in bombing raids of Darfuri villages. Were the North to use this tactic in the South, it could put UN aircraft at risk.

David Sullivan, a policy analyst who—to borrow from Andrew Exum’s bag of tricks—I respect very much, responded for the Enough Project, an organization which promoted sending surface-to-air missiles to South Sudan, calling them a “less bad option.”

In a recent post for Think Progress, guest blogger Lauren Jenkins raises some salient concerns about the provision of air defense capabilities to the Government of Southern Sudan, an idea that Congressman Don Payne (D-NJ) proposed during last week’s hearing on Sudan. Given that Enough endorsed this approach in a press release that same day, it’s worth taking a moment to address some of these concerns.

Salient! That’s going on the resume. But I’m pretty sure “less bad” is still bad and bad is something of which South Sudan can’t afford much more.

I can see bad ideas from my Twitter feed

It’s possible an anonymous aide to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has already said everything that ever needs to be said about Sarah Palin.

Upon learning the former governever espoused a dreamy hope to meet with the Iron Lady, an ally of Thatcher’s responded with a very curt, “Lady Thatcher will not be seeing Sarah Palin. That would be belittling for Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts.”

Continue reading

Under Pressure

Under peer pressure, to be exact. In DARE, we were taught to “just say no” to drugs, but no one ever said anything about how to turn down pleas for hilarious computer-voiced videos about celebrities and aid work.

So, in the grand tradition of those Geico commercials, Starbuck from Wings Over Iraq, and International Aid Worker Meets an African Villager, here is a video about dumb celebrities.

Continue reading

In space, no one can hear you say “WTF?”

If you’re anything like George Clooney, you lounge around on your yacht off the coast of Italy thinking up ways to save Africa.

What ideas does a respected Africanist like Clooney come up with, you ask? More Bono, perhaps? More used sneakers? More of Bono’s used sneakers?

Nay, it is the twinkle of sunlight off a photographer’s telephoto lens that holds the answer.

Continue reading

I’ll see your “change we can believe in” and raise you some COIN

There is a scourge upon the earth known as Joseph Kony.

Since the late 1980s, he has led the quite blasphemously named Lord’s Resistance Army in a brutal insurgency nominally targeting the Ugandan government. I like blasphemy as much as the next person but next to Kony my jokes about gay angels and their role-playing fetishes sound like Sunday morning hymns.

For decades, Kony and the LRA have terrorized northern Uganda and environs by laying waste to towns, killing and maiming civilians, abducting and arming children, and generally recreating the goriest parts of the Old Testament.

Continue reading

Water, Water, Everywhere, Even on Megan Fox

Are you one of my intellectual readers? One of those people who wonders why they keep coming back to a blog that talks about Lady Gaga more than USAID?

If so, I implore you to hit the back button. Pretend this post never happened. It’s okay because you already know everything I’m going to talk about. You know that over a billion people go without clean water. You know how essential water is to human life. You know that as water becomes scarcer, the idea of an international water war becomes likelier. Come back in a few days, I’ll have something new, astute, and worthy of our shared intelligence.

The rest of you—we need to talk.

Continue reading

In Which I Ask Lady Gaga for $1.15 Billion

You know what really grinds my gears? No, not people quoting sophomoric cartoons they watch on a daily basis like they’re a 14 year-old boy.

Senator Tom Coburn really grinds my gears. And not in any good or dirty way you might want to take that.

He really pisses me off.

Continue reading