I found this article from AlertNet interesting. I’m not sure if I should be depressed by it, or retain some hope that aid work can become apolitical again. I guess my feelings are clouded by my now ever-present outrage and disgust at the actions of the Bush Administration and my horror at the bloody mess in Iraq.

Judge for yourself. Is Malloch-Brown right? 

In the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, aid workers have come to be seen as part of the West’s political machinery, and so have lost much of their protection, Malloch Brown warned, pointing to attacks on the United Nations and Red Cross in Iraq.

It has also become politically impossible to talk to some groups who control access to needy populations, he said. "I, and my generation, thought nothing of talking to the Khmer Rouge, the Taliban, internationally unrecognised rabble and terrorist groups to negotiate humanitarian access… Getting these leaders, even war criminals, to allow us to reach civilians did not in our minds constitute political recognition of them. In the Age of the War on Terror, such contacts have become near impossible."

At the same time, he said it was important the world should realize it had a right and responsibility to intervene in sovereign states that were committing gross abuses.

"If the old humanitarian work had an internal fault, it was in its belief that food or medicine was neutral… We cannot be neutral about suffering and rights," he said. "And we must hold the perpetrators of abuses to account."

It wasn’t dissimilar to some of the rhetoric that preceded the Iraq war. And when a young international lawyer shot back that apparent failure in Iraq might be seen to undermine that argument, Malloch Brown conceded he had a point.

"We have been dealt to the worst hand possible," he said as he shared the stage with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the war and then its envoy to post-war Baghdad.

But Iraq was also an opportunity, Malloch Brown argued, drawing a parallel between it and the aftermath of the Vietnam, when torrents of young humanitarians rushed to help in the aftermath of another unpopular war.

"For most of us each argument for the war – weapons of mass destruction, the promotion of democracy, bringing stability and freedom to Iraq and the wider region – lies shattered," he said. "That is why the argument for helping has never been stronger. At a humanitarian, as well as a political level, we need to try and fix a broken country."

In my office, we talk about Iraq frequently, and my colleagues have told me that many Bosnians are doing aid work in Iraq now. My emotions tell me I should be in Iraq, where humanitarian assistance is so desperately needed by so many, but my brain reminds me that my mere presence, as an American, would endanger the lives of everyone around me.