David Rieff

First, Do No Harm

This is the most recent item in a debate about humanitarian intervention.

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This is part of a debate about humanitarian intervention. Click here to read other contributions by Richard Just, Leon Wieseltier, and Michael Kazin.  There is a great deal of debate, not least in both the real and the virtual pages of this magazine, about what the United States should do to further global justice—to use a word that, unlike democracy and human rights, both of which have lost much of their original force by dint of their ideological instrumentalization over the past twenty years, has retained its dignity and its coherence.

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My colleague on ‘Entanglements,’ Adam Kirsch, posted a perceptive column a few days ago that asked both why we are—as we seem to have been since at least the advent of the middle-class newspaper-reading public in eighteenth-century London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam—so passionately interested in the affairs of “leaders and nations we don’t know, never will see, and certainly have no power over,” and whether this avidity for consuming news actually brings us closer to reality or instead makes it harder to “see things as they actually are?” It’s an excellent question, whether or not one agrees (I

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Armchair Experts

My colleague on ‘Entanglements,’ Adam Kirsch, posted a perceptive column a few days ago that asked both why we are—as we seem to have been since at least the advent of the middle-class newspaper-reading public in eighteenth-century London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam—so passionately interested in the affairs of “leaders and nations we don’t know, never will see, and certainly have no power over,” and whether this avidity for consuming news actually brings us closer to reality or instead makes it harder to “see things as they actually are?” It’s an excellent question, whether or not one agrees (I

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For the sake of argument, imagine, if you can, an American foreign policy based on interest alone. To begin with, to use the current Wall Street phrase, it would need to overweight Latin America and underweight the Middle East. For whether the Obama administration believes it or not (in fairness, they are no worse than their predecessors, though they are no better either), crises are brewing in Latin America that pose potentially greater threats to the United States than those posed by Al Qaeda.

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NG-Uh-O

In the wake of Israel’s sanguinary assault on the MV Mavi Marmara, much of the debate has focused on the question of whether those aboard the Free Gaza flotilla were humanitarians, peace activists, or Hamas supporters. The benign, and, crucially, the depoliticized interpretation was that they were humanitarians bringing aid to a besieged people desperately in need of it.

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The End of Hunger?

Famine: A Short History By Cormac Ó Gráda (Princeton University Press, 327 pp., $27.95) The earliest recorded famines, according to Cormac Ó Gráda in his brief but masterful book, are mentioned on Egyptian stelae from the third millennium B.C.E. In that time--and to an extent, even today, above the Aswan dam in Sudan--farmers along the Nile were dependent on the river flooding to irrigate their fields. But one flood out of five, Ó Gráda tells us, was either too high or too low. The result was often starvation.

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For at least six months before the United States announced it would veto his nomination for a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali had been running hard for re-election. Not only had he been courting his traditional patrons, the French and the Chinese, but in his travels in the Third World, particularly in Africa, he had repeatedly characterized his tenure at the U.N. as a work in progress. He needed, he insisted, another term to finish the job. "Every U.N. secretary-general has received two terms," Boutros-Ghali has said publicly.

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