Fiddling While It Burns

Thief of a Nation | 14/04/2009

Thief of a nation. Photo: SMH.

No doubt the word Fiji, invoked in the offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs, draws sighs of distress and sharp breaths of horror. A relatively peaceful nation of less than a million should not be keeping anyone awake at night, but two Australian Prime Ministers in a row with designs on global significance mean that a nation oscillating between democracy and military dictatorship on our doorstep is not going to be ignored.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Australia leads sanction call as Fiji sacks judiciary
Jonathan Pearlman Foreign Affairs Correspondent

April 14, 2009
AUSTRALIA is leading a regional push to oust Fiji from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum after the military regime dissolved the constitution and sacked the judiciary.
The regime has intensified its media crackdown since declaring a state of emergency on the weekend. Yesterday it moved to deport an ABC reporter, Sean Dorney, and two New Zealand television journalists over objections to their coverage. A Fijian television journalist was last night arrested after interviewing Mr Dorney.
Fijian police and government officials have been previewing and censoring the local media, which led to the Fiji Times leaving holes in its Sunday edition and Fiji One cancelling its Sunday night news broadcast.
The Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, yesterday branded the regime, in effect, a “military dictatorship” and called for further measures to pressure the military ruler, Frank Bainimarama, to restore democracy. “We have been pushing Fiji to come back into the democratic group of Pacific nations,” he said. “If that require sanctions, so be it.”

By inclination, I am pro-intervention when it comes to human rights. As a young bloke I was so impressed by the Australian Army’s achievements in East Timor, I actually joined the damn thing. However, I am not a believer in the power of sanctions.

Sanctions work well in a media context. They create the appearance of firm action in defence of a people, while costing the sanctioning nation little. For that reason, editorial writers love them – it is very Serious and Responsible to call for governments to Maintain Pressure, and just as Serious to say that military force should not be used. Politicians love them, because they seem resolute and it takes a lot longer than the news cycle will pay attention to realise they don’t work. Sanctions are a lovely halfway point where you can feel like you’re doing something without actually doing anything, like buying a Lance Armstrong bracelet so everyone knows you disapprove of cancer.

Economic sanctions are very nearly within the sphere of consensus. I, however, propose a different standard solution.

One becomes a dictator because one loves power, but one stays a dictator because the Sword of Damocles demands it. Or, if you prefer, once you’re riding the tiger you pretty much have to stay on it. Sanctions lay waste to nations but only make dictators more paranoid, and what’s the only place to be when thousands of people want to kill you? Why, ruling a nation with an army to protect you, of course. We’ve seen from Iraq that war is a worse option than the dictator himself. As much as it outrages anyone’s sense of justice, the best way to get rid of a dictator is to let him get away and enjoy a nice quarter-century of retirement.

Dictators are thieves who steal nations, but as a world-class museum might tell you, some things are so precious that when they get stolen you just have to buy them back.

Cartoon: SMH.

Cartoon: SMH.

Regular readers, were there such a thing, would notice I’ve been delinquent in my posting lately – assignments due. A half-finished post on the Pakistani terror cell is passed out on the floor of my drafts folder, perhaps never to awaken, because rather than conveniently publishing racist stories on the matter, the English tabloids took the interesting route of not even mentioning this quite important story. An hour or so trawling through their websites was interesting, in a horrifying way – it’s kind of like if instead of The Daily Telegraph being Australia’s number one selling newspaper, Picture Magazine was. PHWOARR!!1

Anyway, I’m writing several posts in the evening while I spend a week working. I can’t post from my work computer, so I’ll put them all up at once. Ahhh, science!

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