In this episode I speak with Sarah Holewinski, the Washington Director at Human Rights Watch, and formerly the Director of CIVIC (Civilians in Conflict). In between those two roles she served under then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, and as special advisor on human rights in the Chairman’s Office of the Joint Staff in the Department of Defense. We begin by discussing an essay Sarah published in Foreign Affairs in 2013, in which she argued that the U.S. could do much more to mitigate harm to civilians in the armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that it had ethical and strategically self-interested reasons for doing so. She revisited the issue in a very recent blog post in Just Security, in which she argued that little has changed. Drawing on her experience in the Pentagon, we explore how and why the U.S. has failed to establish either formal policy or leadership positions within DoD to ensure greater protection for civilians; as well as why there is a tendency in the military to deny any and all claims of civilian harm, and a general failure to adequately investigate such claims or accept outside evidence in support of them. Finally, we discuss a simulation that she designed which revealed a rather disturbing tendency on the part of government officials to take positions on issues that they think are expected of their role, rather than positions that they personally think are right.
– “The Progress Not Made on Protecting Civilians,” Just Security, Feb. 2, 2021.
– “Do Less Harm,” Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 2013.
– Hugo Slim, Killing Civilians: Method, Madness, and Morality in War (2010).
– Jessica Mathews, “Present at the Re-Creation? American Foreign Policy Must be Remade, Not Restored,” Foreign Affairs, Mar./Apr., 2021.
– The DSR Network, Deep State Radio – Podcast.