On responsibility, visibility

One of my favorite current essayists, Roxane Gay, has a piece up in the NYT about the recent events in a school in Columbia, South Carolina —

In the wake of such indecency, there has been a vigorous public response — shock and outrage, with many people denouncing Mr. Fields’s actions. There have also been those who questioned what the young girl did to beget such brutality and sought for her to take responsibility. Oh, how we are, as a culture, enamored with this ideal of responsibility when we don’t want to acknowledge the extent of an injustice or when we want to pretend that if we behave well enough, we will find the acceptance we have long been denied.


We are watchers and the watched, and we are burdened, never knowing when our best, or our most abject, moments will be preserved digitally and disseminated virally, exposing the vulnerabilities we aren’t allowed to keep to ourselves.

Given how pervasive surveillance has become, I would think the black body, black people would be safer. I would think that police officers or assorted racists would think twice before acting, inappropriately, against the black body. It is a horrifying, desperate reality where such people act with impunity, undeterred by the threat of surveillance. They know they might be seen and remain empowered in their racism, their sense of dominion. They realize the nauseating truth — there are some injustices, against certain groups of people, that can be witnessed without consequence.

Relatedly, it turns out my hometown wins a rather shameful title.


On intervention and vacuums

I feel like the same point keeps popping up in discussions about interventions:

From David Ignatius in the Atlantic, on the spread of ISIS —

The story of ISIS teaches the same basic lesson that emerged from America’s other failures in the Middle East over the last decade: Attempts by the United States or Islamist rebels to topple authoritarian regimes—in Iraq, Libya, and now Syria—create power vacuums. This empty political space will be filled by extremists unless the United States and its allies build strong local forces that can suppress terrorist groups and warlords both. When the U.S. creates such local forces, it must be persistent. If it withdraws from these efforts, as America did in Iraq in 2011, it invites mayhem. Halfway American intervention has produced nothing but trouble. Rebels have gotten enough support to continue fighting, but not enough to win.

From the Brookings website for Jean-Marie Guéhenno’s new memoir, The Fog of Peace

Guéhenno grapples with the distance between the international community’s promise to protect and the reality that our noble aspirations may be beyond our grasp.

The author illustrates with personal, concrete examples—from the crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Sudan, Darfur, Kosovo, Ivory Coast, Georgia, Lebanon, Haiti, and Syria—the need to accept imperfect outcomes and compromises. He argues that nothing is more damaging than excessive ambition followed by precipitous retrenchment. We can indeed save many thousands of lives, but we need to calibrate our ambitions and stay the course.

From Ty McCormick’s piece in Foreign Policy on the Central African Republic, “One Day, We Will Start a Big War” —

Part of the problem has been the tendency for intervening parties to focus on what Nathaniel Olin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, calls “cheap solutions leading to quick exits.” As he writes in a new volume on CAR edited by Tatiana Carayannis and Louisa Lombard, “In the past, U.N. peacekeepers departed quickly after securing elections.” This left delicate political transitions in the hands of regional players like Chad and Congo, feeding into two other problems identified by Olin: the tendency of meddlesome neighbors to intervene in CAR in order to advance their own interests and for their forces to work at cross-purposes with one another. The latter problem was especially evident in the French and African Union intervention that preceded the current U.N. mission.

update: From David Rothkopf’s post in Foreign Policy’s Voice blog explaining the rationale behind the Obama admin’s recent decision to send troops to Syria, he predicts the endgame —

I understand the White House’s decision clearly. It makes some political sense. […] (And the reality of that end deal looks like this: Assad stays for transition, leaves with immunity, is replaced by Assad-lite alternative acceptable to Moscow and Tehran, and the United States gets a fig leaf of promise of a more inclusive Syrian government — one that is soon forgotten because everyone values stability above niceties like democracy or respect for human rights — while much of the country will remain in turmoil because Damascus doesn’t, and may never again, control it.)

(links in original; bold text not)