Thursday, February 28, 2008

War Goes Glam? Angelina Jolie Rejects Iraq Retreat

Recall Daniel Drezner's recent point about celebrities and world politics:

IT IS TRUE that star activism can influence the global policy agenda. But as we’ve seen, when it comes to concrete achievements, celebrities have a spotty track record.
Not only that:

Celebrity activism rubs many policymakers and pundits the wrong way.
So, with that, what do we make of Angelina Jolie's rejection of antiwar demands for a precipitous retreat from Iraq? Jolie make the case for a long-term U.S. commitment to Iraq on humanitarian grounds:

The request is familiar to American ears: "Bring them home."

But in Iraq, where I've just met with American and Iraqi leaders, the phrase carries a different meaning. It does not refer to the departure of U.S. troops, but to the return of the millions of innocent Iraqis who have been driven out of their homes and, in many cases, out of the country.

In the six months since my previous visit to Iraq with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, this humanitarian crisis has not improved. However, during the last week, the United States, UNHCR and the Iraqi government have begun to work together in new and important ways.

We still don't know exactly how many Iraqis have fled their homes, where they've all gone, or how they're managing to survive. Here is what we do know: More than 2 million people are refugees inside their own country -- without homes, jobs and, to a terrible degree, without medicine, food or clean water. Ethnic cleansing and other acts of unspeakable violence have driven them into a vast and very dangerous no-man's land. Many of the survivors huddle in mosques, in abandoned buildings with no electricity, in tents or in one-room huts made of straw and mud. Fifty-eight percent of these internally displaced people are younger than 12 years old.

An additional 2.5 million Iraqis have sought refuge outside Iraq, mainly in Syria and Jordan. But those host countries have reached their limits. Overwhelmed by the refugees they already have, these countries have essentially closed their borders until the international community provides support....

The Iraqi families I've met on my trips to the region are proud and resilient. They don't want anything from us other than the chance to return to their homes -- or, where those homes have been bombed to the ground or occupied by squatters, to build new ones and get back to their lives. One thing is certain: It will be quite a while before Iraq is ready to absorb more than 4 million refugees and displaced people. But it is not too early to start working on solutions. And last week, there were signs of progress.

In Baghdad, I spoke with Army Gen. David Petraeus about UNHCR's need for security information and protection for its staff as they re-enter Iraq, and I am pleased that he has offered that support. General Petraeus also told me he would support new efforts to address the humanitarian crisis "to the maximum extent possible" -- which leaves me hopeful that more progress can be made.

UNHCR is certainly committed to that. Last week while in Iraq, High Commissioner Antonio Guterres pledged to increase UNHCR's presence there and to work closely with the Iraqi government, both in assessing the conditions required for return and in providing humanitarian relief....

Today's humanitarian crisis in Iraq -- and the potential consequences for our national security -- are great. Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won't explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?

What we cannot afford, in my view, is to squander the progress that has been made.

Now that's an interesting development!

While Jolie states she's "not an expert," humanitarian activism's brought her around to the
longstanding expert position that a U.S. cut-and-run from the deployment would be a disaster: It's fantasy to think that "our exiting Iraq would leave us better off, when in all likelihood it would fan the flames of jihadism."

See also Anthony Cordesman, "
Victory and Violence in Iraq: Reducing the "Irreducible Minimum."

Jolie and the experts start off at different points on the spectrum, but they all end up at a point of consensus on the importance of American's commitment to the Iraqi people (humanitarian and strategic).

Perhaps this will be
a case of celebrity interest in world politics that works to make a difference.