Editorial Roundup: United States
Apr 13, 2022, 7:00 AM | Updated: 7:13 am
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on Haiti needing help from Washington:
Haiti passed a grim milestone in February, when the traditional presidential inauguration day came and went with no president taking the oath of office, no realistic prospect of presidential elections, and no established consensus on how to restore some semblance of functioning democracy in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. Meanwhile, the Biden administration props up an interim prime minister whose writ, so far as it runs, is to preside over a government with no claim to legitimacy.
That prime minister, Ariel Henry, was named to the job by President Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated two days later, before Mr. Henry could be sworn in. On Feb. 7, Moïse’s term expired. Mr. Henry has said he will organize elections this year, but that promise is empty, given how far-fetched it is that balloting could be staged amid rampant insecurity and the current power vacuum.
A potentially hopeful sign was the emergence last year of a coalition of civic organizations that proposes installing an interim government for two years, after which elections would be held. The coalition, which calls itself the Montana Accord, after a hotel in the capital where it meets, consists of political parties, faith groups, professional associations, human rights organizations and trade unions.
However broad-based, the coalition has no more constitutional legitimacy than does Mr. Henry. Moreover, its plan to run the country with a prime minister plus a five-member council exercising presidential powers is unwieldy, to say the least. Even if it assumed power by some unforeseeable means, there is no credible prospect that it would establish control over the nearly 15,000-member police force, which is rife with corruption. Without that, chances are nil that it could stabilize Haiti, mount elections and resuscitate the economy.
The country of more than 11 million has just a handful of elected officials, the terms of scores of others having expired in the absence of elections. Mr. Henry took office largely on the strength of support from a U.S.-led group of ambassadors. But the government and national institutions are in shambles.
Moreover, Mr. Henry’s commitment to bring Moïse’s killers to justice has proved not just hollow but suspicious after a report that he was in contact with a key suspect before and just after the assassination. Although signs point to the involvement of drug-trafficking figures in the president’s killing, most of the kingpins who have been implicated remain at liberty. Haiti’s own authorities have made no meaningful progress in the murder investigation. Meanwhile, according to The Post, U.S. prosecutors, who allege that the killing was partly planned in the United States, have charged two suspects and are seeking the extradition of a third.
The Biden administration has ruled out sending troops, instead paying lip service to finding a Haitian-led exit from the crisis. If there is such a way out — a big if — it might consist in a consensus between the Montana Accord coalition and Mr. Henry’s own forces. Forging such an agreement should be high on the Biden administration’s agenda. But there is little sign Washington is paying attention to events in the impoverished country — despite its long history of devolving into crises that then become impossible to ignore.
The New York Times on documenting war crimes in Ukraine:
The apocalyptic images of bodies sprawled in the mud among twisted tanks, charred walls and splintered trees in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities speak to the brutality of the war that Vladimir Putin started. The knowledge that more such horrors, many more, will be revealed as Russian troops retreat cries out for a reckoning.
President Biden called for a war crime trial, and President Emmanuel Macron of France declared there were “clear” indications of war crimes. Human Rights Watch reported documented cases of rape and summary executions. Ukrainian and international investigators have already begun collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. It is imperative that this work be done promptly and scrupulously.
It may appear unduly legalistic to parse evidence or to question witnesses as countless civilians cower in their homes hoping against hope that Russian shells don’t hit their apartment buildings. The very notion that warfare can have rules, suggesting that there are correct ways to inflict death and destruction on an enemy, is difficult to grasp, and prosecuting commanders carries the risk of appearing as victor’s justice.
For at least 75 years, the international community has undertaken a real but incomplete effort to define wars of unprovoked aggression as crimes in and of themselves. In the words of the Nuremberg tribunal, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
In Ukraine, there is no question that Russia is the aggressor, that Bucha, the Ukrainian town that had been occupied by Russian forces for five weeks — and Mariupol and Kharkiv and Chernihiv and Kyiv and scores of other cities and towns — would be peacefully greeting spring had Mr. Putin not ordered an unprovoked war to satisfy his ambitions of empire and the destruction of a neighboring nation. Ukraine’s resistance is unquestionably self-defense, and the nations of the world are within their rights to impose sanctions on Mr. Putin and his country. Concerned nations are also right to help arm the Ukrainian military, if only to make the price of aggression so high that he, or at least those around him, might come to their senses.
Yet the world has also identified crimes that are unacceptable even in the fog of battle. Objectively gathering and documenting evidence is a powerful way to cut through the muck and preserve the possibility that someone might someday be held accountable. It holds out the possibility, however slim, that someday a judge will declare the orders to fire on a village or hospital illegal and that that legal judgment might one day serve as a deterrent in the next war. War crime investigations are a powerful political tool that can be used to underscore the dignity of victims and the lawlessness of the invaders.
An array of international criminal laws emerged after World War II, most famously the Geneva Convention of 1949, which aims to hold combatants personally responsible for war crimes — such as intentionally slaughtering civilians, torture, wanton destruction of property, sexual violence, pillaging, conscripting children. Other measures included the Genocide Convention and laws prohibiting crimes against humanity.
The Russian Army’s actions give every appearance of violating these rules, and investigations have already begun in the International Criminal Court and some other courts. The indiscriminate shelling of cities and towns, the killings evidenced by the mass graves discovered in Bucha and the bombing of a Mariupol theater are among the many actions that could be deemed war crimes. The entire invasion would appear to be a crime of aggression, which would presumably reach Mr. Putin. If these crimes are determined to be part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population based on a state policy, they could also amount to crimes against humanity.
Russia, for the record, says the atrocities in Bucha are all staged. And it may well be that investigators will find evidence of atrocities committed by Ukrainian troops against Russians or collaborators. All the more reason to conduct a thorough accounting.
Delivering justice — collecting the evidence, securing an indictment, holding a fair trial — is hard, time-consuming and expensive. As such, few instances of war crimes lead to punishment. Though the I.C.C. can initiate prosecution on any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime on its own, a charge of the crime of aggression — the one most applicable to Mr. Putin and his lieutenants — would have to be initiated by the United Nations Security Council, where it would face a certain Russian veto. In addition, Russia does not recognize the I.C.C. and would not surrender suspects.
Ukraine also is not party to the treaty that established the court but has allowed it jurisdiction over crimes committed on Ukrainian soil. The United States, for its part, has its own history of hostility to the I.C.C., and when accusing Mr. Putin of war crimes, Mr. Biden did not make clear what forum should be responsible for prosecution.
Yet none of these hurdles should preclude a search for justice. Even if the process is difficult and stretches into months and years, it is important that history be left a forensic, credible, verified and judicially processed record of the specific crimes in Ukraine. Those responsible should be named, their actions specified, and if at all possible, the guilty should be locked away. The very fact that Russia is arguing that the atrocities were all concocted requires a detailed and incontrovertible judicial response.
The Biden administration and its allies have done an admirable job of puncturing the Kremlin’s propaganda with accurate intelligence. An authoritative record of war crimes would serve the same purpose for the future.
It would be good for the Biden administration to find a way to cooperate with the I.C.C. in collecting evidence, even if it is precluded by law from helping to finance the effort. There are other options: A special tribunal could be established without a U.N. endorsement, and several nations, including the United States, could claim universal jurisdiction and hold their own trials. But too many investigations would dilute the public impact of the legal process, and no tribunal carries the authority or mandate of the I.C.C.
However it is done, seeking justice against Mr. Putin and others responsible for war crimes in Ukraine is a goal for the longer term. Russia is not retreating. It is repositioning its forces for an assault in the east. And Russia’s participation in sputtering peace talks is looking increasingly like a ploy. The horrors of Bucha have prompted talk of offering Ukraine deadlier weapons and imposing yet more sanctions. These must be the focus of the West’s efforts to help Ukraine.
But it is also imperative to make sure that the horrific evidence of criminal atrocities on display in Bucha and so many other places is promptly collected while it is still there and that witnesses are questioned while their memories are still raw. Posterity must know what really happened. Justice must be given a chance.
The Wall Street Journal on former U.S. President Barack Obama’s history with Russia:
Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine has sparked an Olympic sprint of sorts as politicians run away from their abysmal records regarding Vladimir Putin. Few are running faster than former President Barack Obama, who this week tried to rewrite the history of his own Russia policies.
“As somebody who grappled with the incursion into Crimea and the eastern portions of Ukraine, I have been encouraged by the European reaction (this time),” Mr. Obama said at an event in Chicago. “Because in 2014, I often had to drag them kicking and screaming to respond in ways that we would have wanted to see from those of us who describe ourselves as Western democracies.”
As for Mr. Putin, the former U.S. President purports to be surprised by the Russian leader’s brutality. “I don’t know that the person I knew is the same as the person who is now leading this charge. He was always ruthless. You witnessed what he did in Chechnya, he had no qualms about crushing those whom he considered a threat. That’s not new. For him to bet the farm in this way–I would not have necessarily predicted from him five years ago.”
Mr. Obama managed to say all this with a straight face while speaking at an event about “disinformation” in politics.
Start with Mr. Obama’s claim he was a champion of harsher measures against Russia after the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014. His Administration imposed only mild, targeted sanctions on Russia–and then joined with Moscow to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran. He refused to sell Javelin antitank weapons to Ukraine. Germany pushed ahead with its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in this era with nary a peep from Washington until the Trump Administration.
Mr. Obama also can’t claim as much ignorance as he does now about Mr. Putin’s intentions and methods at the time. Mr. Putin had risen to power allegedly by bombing apartment buildings in Russia, as U.S. intelligence no doubt knew or highly suspected, and even Mr. Obama concedes Mr. Putin’s 1999 assault on Grozny in Chechnya was “ruthless.”
There also were the 2006 assassinations of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko, Mr. Putin’s provocative speech criticizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Munich in 2007, and the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia.
In 2009 Mr. Obama nonetheless dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Geneva to negotiate a “reset” on relations with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. In 2012 Mr. Obama accused Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney of hewing to a retrograde 1980s foreign policy for viewing Russia as a threat, while telling Putin henchman Dmitry Medvedev when he thought no one was listening that he’d have more latitude to cut Mr. Putin some slack after the U.S. election.
Some reset. In addition to the Crimea and Donbas invasions, 2014 saw the shoot-down of a Malaysian Airlines flight by Russia-linked forces in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s cluster bombing of Aleppo in Syria followed in 2015-16. Mr. Putin’s suppression of domestic dissent accelerated, and he amped up his rhetoric against NATO and an independent Ukraine. And don’t forget the meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, which Mr. Obama punished with wrist-slap sanctions only after Donald Trump won.
Mr. Obama’s main concession to Russian reality was to lobby NATO allies to increase their annual defense spending to 2% of GDP, although for the most part they ignored him. One can almost understand why they did, since they saw him cozying up to Mr. Putin on Iran while talking down the Russia threat.
All of this is relevant now because the Biden Administration is loaded with men and women who worked for Mr. Obama and shared his misjudgments about Russia. The conceit in many quarters on the left is that Mr. Putin has changed, or is deranged, such that his Ukraine invasion couldn’t have been foreseen.
But Mr. Obama’s weakness toward Russia, reinforced by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is one reason Mr. Putin felt he could act with increasing aggressiveness and get away with it. No one should believe Mr. Obama’s varnished Russia history.
The Los Angeles Times on steps Congress can take to battle the climate crisis:
The latest United Nations climate report couldn’t be clearer: We are at a planetary crossroads.
If we don’t act now to go beyond current pledges and cut fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030, it will be impossible to keep the heating of the Earth below a crucial 2.7-degree Fahrenheit limit and avoid increasingly severe devastation and suffering. We can still avert catastrophe, but there is only a narrow window left to end the era of fossil fuels.
In the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, scientists from across the globe spell out, in cautious yet exacting language, that what is blocking the replacement of dangerous fossil fuels with clean renewable energy is not technology, but politics.
“One factor limiting the ambition of climate policy has been the ability of incumbent industries to shape government action on climate change” and lobby more effectively than those who would gain from carbon-cutting policies, the report says.
Politicians, and the self-interested fossil fuel companies they serve, are the reason we are spiraling toward calamity. Wealthy countries like the United States, whose dumping of pollution into the atmosphere has done the most to cause the climate crisis, have a responsibility to take the lead, and our elected leaders need to overcome resistance from dirty industries.
There are steps President Biden and Congress can and should take immediately to spur the adoption of renewable energy, like wind and solar, electric vehicles, water heaters, heat pumps and battery storage, while taking on the oil, gas and coal industries whose products are fueling wildfires, storms, heat waves, drought, global instability and war.
Without any action from Congress, Biden can use his authority under the Defense Production Act to quickly ramp up the manufacturing and deployment of clean energy technology, including efficient electric heat pumps, which are air-conditioning like appliances that both heat and cool homes and will immediately reduce fossil fuel consumption by replacing models that burn climate-polluting natural gas.
Biden has already invoked the cold war-era law to encourage domestic production of critical minerals like lithium, nickel and cobalt that are used in electric vehicle batteries, and before that, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. And he banned imports of Russian oil and gas by executive order. The invasion of Ukraine has only underscored the global security imperative of ending our reliance on fossil fuels. If war and disease are reasons enough to warrant such action, the climate crisis is an even greater one.
Using defense powers to boost U.S. production of heat pumps at low cost has reportedly been studied by the White House. The idea has been gathering support among environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers as a way to respond to climate change and help Europe reduce reliance on Russian gas, similar to the “Lend-Lease” program that the U.S. used to help allies during World War II.
If Biden won’t act on his own, Congress should push him.
A bill introduced Wednesday by U.S. Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would do that, using the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production of renewable energy technology. The Energy Security and Independence Act would “invest $100 billion in reinvigorating the domestic clean energy industrial base,” provide $30 billion to help weatherize and insulate 6.4 million homes and “$10 billion to procure and install millions of heat pumps, significantly reducing consumption of imported fossil fuels,” according to a summary from Bush’s office.
But lawmakers need to do more. They must find a way to pass key climate provisions from Biden’s all-but-dead Build Back Better Act, including renewable energy incentives for wind and solar and electric vehicle tax credits that would accelerate these zero-emission technologies. They can also get behind the Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax, a bill introduced last month by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) that seeks to deter the petroleum industry from profiteering as gas prices surge by returning some of its revenues to consumers in quarterly rebates.
This kind of climate action may seem unlikely or even laughably ambitious, given the dysfunction in Congress, its failure to respond to decades of escalating warnings from scientists and the stranglehold of polluting industries. But if there ever were a time to press hard and go big to save our planet, it is now.
China Daily on NATO’s distrust of Beijing:
With the international community in danger of separating along the fault line of drastically different visions of the world order, the geopolitical landscape may become more difficult for Beijing to navigate without timely, efficient strategic communication to mitigate, if not dispel, increasing strategic distrust.
Since the start of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, Beijing has followed a path that is divergent from the United States-led West. But it argues that “promoting peace and talks” is the right and best possible way to de-escalate the crisis.
Unlike the United States and its NATO allies, which have resorted to increasing military support to Ukraine in the hope of bringing Russia to its knees, China has issued persistent calls for restraint and a negotiated end of the conflict, and it has provided humanitarian assistance to mitigate the suffering of civilians.
Beijing has made its decision based entirely on the situation at hand, in accordance with international law, as well as the spirit of the UN Charter.
Thus NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg identifying peace-brokering Beijing as an emerging threat at the transatlantic security alliance’s foreign ministers’ meeting last week will certainly have raised eyebrows among those who appreciate Beijing’s approach. To them, his remarks are both ridiculous and unjustifiable. But then, he has persistently sought to fan the flames of division.
Stoltenberg’s remark would be easily dismissible if NATO were not taking “the rise of China” into account when seeking to reposition itself.
Although it might appear natural for the transatlantic security mechanism to take note of that prominent factor and its global impacts, that was not the thrust of Stoltenberg’s comments.
Instead, Stoltenberg was taking China as a threat to the so-called rules-based international order. He said NATO would for the first time write China concerns into its Strategic Concept because China “is actually undermining” the “rules-based order”.
In his eyes, Beijing is not only “unwilling to condemn Russia’s aggression”, but “has joined Moscow in questioning the right of nations to choose their own path”, even “trying to bully countries all over the world” with “coercive policies”.
Those are serious allegations that will inevitably influence NATO’s actions, especially if they are fully incorporated into a collective strategic document. Yet, they show a complete disregard for Beijing’s upholding of the rules-based international order, Beijing’s long-standing advocating of the right of countries to choose their own development path, Beijing’s vision of state-to-state relations, and everything Beijing’s “diplomacy of peace” stands for.
The alarming nature of Stoltenberg’s words were highlighted by the invitations extended to Asia-Pacific countries to participate in the NATO meeting, as this was an explicit attempt to expand NATO’s influence to the region.
Considering that the conflict in Ukraine is an outcome of NATO’s constant expansion, and that NATO is a Cold War-era specter seeking to resurrect itself, the Asia-Pacific countries should be wary of NATO’s designs for the region.
The Guardian on dilemmas presented by the war in Ukraine:
Thousands of civilians, including many children, were waiting to be evacuated to safety in the Kramatorsk railway station in eastern Ukraine on Friday morning when two missiles, later reported to be cluster weapons that are banned under international law, exploded in their midst. At least 50 people died, and more than 100 others were injured. A message in Russian on the surviving casing of one missile read “For the children”. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, understandably described the attack as the action of “an evil that has no limits”.
Even amid so many other horrors in Russia’s war on Ukraine, the Kramatorsk attack stands out for heartless brutality. It is a week now since Russian forces began to retreat after their invasion stalled around Kyiv. During that time, reporters have filed horrific revelations of the carnage and destruction that the defeated Russians left behind them. Evidence from places such as Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel and Borodianka, in all of which Ukrainian civilians appear to have been summarily murdered, has appalled the civilised world. War crime charges rightly seem certain to be brought against Russia. Now the crimes of Kramatorsk must be added to the charge sheet.
The past 10 days mark an important change in the dynamics and location of the Ukraine war. But it is not a simple or conclusive change yet. Ukrainian resistance, aided by western weaponry and technology, has secured a notable military victory by forcing the Russians to retreat. Kyiv is, for now, able to come back to a kind of life; a few refugees have begun returning from the west, and western leaders, including the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, have travelled there to show solidarity. Russian troops have now left the Sumy region in the north-east. Ukraine has also regained control of its border with Belarus.
But the war itself is far from over. Moscow’s forces are regrouping in the east, following Russia’s decision to make the Donbas region its primary focus. This is somewhat easier territory for them logistically and politically. It heralds a further assault in Mariupol, fresh offensives in Donbas (of which the missile attack on Kramatorsk station is part) and against Odesa, all of which will stretch Ukrainian supply lines and resources. As a result, President Zelenskiy has increased his calls for further western military aid.
After a week like the last one, he has morality more than ever on his side. He is also likely to feel less pressure to seek a compromise peace deal. Yet by making these appeals, the Ukrainian president has helped to trigger a new and intense phase of debate in the western democracies about how far they are really willing to go in supporting Ukraine militarily. This has exposed genuine differences about real dilemmas. The Czech Republic has supplied Soviet-era tanks, Poland is considering following suit and Slovakia has sent air defence systems. The U.S., Britain and France are more cautious, yet all of them have been quietly and incrementally crossing the military threshold they adopted in February that only defensive support would be given. Some in the west, including the Commons defence select committee chair, Tobias Ellwood, want them to go further.
This important argument is now taking place in real time. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s welcome visit to Downing Street on Friday was very much part of this process; an announcement about anti-tank weapons was expected. Britain, like all the western allies, needs to be more open about the choices that we and our allies face as a result of the new phase in Ukraine. At the very least, there is now a powerful case for parliament to be recalled before Easter, so that the very serious military options now under active consideration by governments can be more openly examined.
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