Although I consider myself a committed pacifist, I have little time for articles like this one by Eric A. Posner in WaPo today, which argues that "humanitarian war is an oxymoron". A similar article, The inhumane folly of our interventionist machismo, by Simon Jenkins, appeared recently in the UK Guardian. Both writers argue against military intervention as a solution to humanitarian problems, which is good. But both writers also champion a do-nothing-instead approach, which (IMHO) is quite deplorable.
Posner cites Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda and even (perhaps) Kosovo as examples of recent failed efforts at what he calls "humanitarian intervention". It's interesting that he doesn't mention Afghanistan, but never mind that.
The problem with humanitarian intervention is not only that the costs are usually too high, but it turns out that the benefits usually are low. There are just too many risks and imponderables when war is used to prevent atrocities rather than to defeat an enemy. Military weapons inevitably kill civilians, and smart tyrants foil smart bombs by using their own civilians as shields. Dictators understand that a war premised on humanitarianism fails if they can make the invader kill their citizens. Removing the dictator risks civil war, which is almost always worse than the original abuses. Replacing him with another dictator only puts off the atrocities until another day. Long-term occupation breeds hostility, then insurgency and violence. In comparison with this, the original ruler might not seem so bad after all.Well, that is Iraq today in a nutshell, of course. But the problem with Iraq is that it was never a genuine "humanitarian intervention": it was a brutal military takeover, followed by a brutal military occupation, including massacres and torture, latterly disguised as a humanitarian intervention for political expediency.
But Posner is ready and waiting for that argument. He calls it "a psychological crutch that allows defenders of humanitarian intervention to keep the ideal alive for the next, presumably competent, administration."
The Iraq war, consistent with experience, suggests that humanitarian wars will rarely yield humanitarian results. Why, then, is there a so-called "responsibility to protect" movement to make humanitarian intervention obligatory as a matter of international law? And why was this idea endorsed by the United Nations during its millennium summit?Let's take a little diversion here. I can't help wondering if the real purpose of "straw man" articles like these is to hammer another nail into what US-UK powers hopes will be the UN's coffin. Look at Jenkins:
Even by UN standards last weekend's "global day for Darfur" was cringe-worthy...So many people are eager to step up and bash the UN! But what is their alternative? Either global control by a militant US Empire, or... nothing.
We NEED some real alternatives. We need some idealism and imagination applied to how our world should look in a post-Cold War environment. And as the Bush administration has made abundantly clear to one and all, a US Global Police scenario simply will not work.
So we need to either embrace whatever peace-oriented international institutions we now have in place, or replace them with new ones. And it seems to me that the UN is more than capable of fulfilling a proper peace-keeping role, if only it is given full international support from all countries - including the USA. That has never happened, because there is always far too much national self-interest on all sides.
I wonder what would happen if a contender for the US Presidency in 2008 started telling US citizens a few hard truths? It might sound something like this...
In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the USA had an historic opportunity to change the world for good. Folks, guess what? We blew it. For decades, impoverished and repressed citizens of the world had looked to the USA as a champion of democracy, freedom and equality. But when the time came for us to follow through on those noble promises, they proved hollow. The world now looks on Uncle Sam as a dangerous bully, a hypocritical liar and a torture-loving Fascist. It's our own fault, folks. We let this happen.You get the idea.
Worse yet, we let slip that moment of opportunity which would could have seen our lofty goals realised across the globe. But it's not too late. We can still take our nation back to those glorious ideals, right the wrongs that have been done in our name, and restore our good name around the world. But we cannot do that without facing some harsh truths. We didn't come to this situation overnight. Our nation has some deep-rooted problems which need to be fixed, and fixed quickly, if we really want to restore the dream that was America.
First of all, our electoral system is broken. It's been the plaything of politicians far too long, and now we have voting machines which cannot be trusted to provide a fair result, or even a paper trail to investigate irregularities. If I am elected, I will ask former President Jimmy Carter's international vote-monitoring agency to oversee a complete review of our voting sytem. The USA will finally become a real Democracy, a shining example to the world, of which we can all be justifiably proud!
Secondly, we need to improve our education and health systems. A nation of fools will never elect wise rulers. And good health is not a privilege, it's a basic human right. I'll be taking money out of the military budget to ensure that all Americans get a decent education, and full access to free healthcare whenever they need it. Damn those big, greed pharmaceutical companies and the parasitic health insurers - this is OUR country!
Thirdly, we need to take another good look at those terrible events of September 11, 2001. If elected, I will create a whole new 9/11 Commission, with powers to investigate all aspects of the attacks, including the Bush administration's clear attempts at a cover-up. We'll look at who really knew what before the attacks, how the towers came down, and how the tragedy was exploited for political purpsoes. We'll even examine Osama Bin Laden's original motivations for the attacks: if the USA is giving terrorists and their supporters around the globe any justifiable reasons to hate us, that's unacceptable. If elected, I'll be announcing an end to this ridiculous "War On Terror" and launching a new initiative called "Friends For Peace". Dialogue and friendship, not bombs and guns, are the real solution to this problem.
Fourthly, we'll be pulling all US troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. We'll ask the United Nations and the Arab League to take over security and help convene a new round of elections, and we will hand our military bases over to these forces. The USA will pay the full costs of the international restoration of Iraq, including reparations for past misdeeds. On behalf of the citizens of the USA, I will make a full public apology to the Iraqi people, and to the world, for this disastrous misadventure.
Finally, we need to stop playing Global Policeman. We need to restore old friendships, build new ones, and start contributing in a very real way to the international community. If I am elected, the USA will not only join the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming, we will exceed the Kyoto emmissions targets every year until this historic challenge is overcome. We will not only subscribe to the International Criminal Court, we will pass laws removing immunity from prosecution for any US citizens, including soldiers and politicians, who have committed atrocities in the past. I anticipate that several high-ranking members of the Bush administration - including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice - will be handed over to the Hague as soon as possible. If I am elected, the USA will become a vocal champion for the UN, the ICC and other international agencies, which can provide the best possible solution to entrenched humanitarian problems like Darfur, or tyrannical rulers like Saddam Hussein. These global institutions can only work if they are given the proper support, including financial funding. If I am elected, the USA will set an example of generous, altruistic participation for the world to follow. But we will not wield the right of veto as a bully stick, as we have in the past.
And that (returning to my original topic) is (IMHO) the best way to resolve these humanitarian crises - by changing the world in which they arise. The key to peaceful solution of these crises involves closing down the Global Arms Industry. Darfur and Saddam (among others) would not be nearly such a problem if it were not for the proliferation of weapons. And who are the biggest suppliers of military weaponry? Hmmn?
Like it or not, those who most loudly decry Dafur, and who decried Saddam before, are those largely responsible for creating the problems. Our own behaviour contributes to these tragedies, and changing our own behaviour is the best way to start solving the problems.