Archive for the ‘Intervention’ category

Kosovo and the Democratic Party

April 13, 2007

Peter Beinart has a pretty smart column in the new issue of the new (and much improved) TIME magazine about the future of Democratic Party foreign policy. (I offer this praise despite the unfortunate Prince reference that closes the piece). Beinart dials back the clock to 1999 and the non-UN sanctioned fight a US-UK NATO-led coalition waged against Slobodan Milosevic. It was around the success of this venture that Tony Blair articulated what he deemed his “doctrine of international community” – and what others termed “The Blair Doctrine.” Beinart describes it thus:

In a globalized world, bad things that happen in other countries spread more quickly to our shores. Genocides spawn refugees, who destabilize their neighbors. Corruption sparks financial meltdowns, which rock the world economy. Pandemics hopscotch across the globe. Blair’s answer was for Britain and the U.S., working through international institutions, to intervene more aggressively in the domestic affairs of other nations: to strengthen their financial and public-health systems, to push them toward capitalism and democracy, and in cases of extreme neglect and abuse, to take over the nation-building process by force.

Much of the Democratic Party foreign-policy elite (Holbrooke, Albright, Lake, etc.) more or less subscribe to this premise. The problem: a large part of the base of the Democratic Party does not. Beinart cites some compelling German Marshall Fund polling to prove his point that Democrats are turning inward. The heroes of the grassroots left are people like Virginia Senator James Webb who believes the U.S. should “send American forces into harm’s way only if the nation is directly threatened.”(It should be noted that others sketched some of the contours of this trend a year or so ago.)

Beinart basically punts when it comes to prescription. But his body of work suggests that he is pulling for the Blairite vision to prevail. All of this underscores the fundamental tension that sits at the heart of the Democratic Party: Will the radical excesses of the Bush era be confronted by the radical excesses of a left all too hasty to abandon anything that might be (inaccurately, most often) tarred as neoconservative? Or will it be met with a measured response that begins the work of resuscitating the legitimacy of the very liberal principles that have been soegregiously abused and debased by this president?


About That Curious Line

March 6, 2007

Over the course of its short, too often dormant existence, small-d has not been shy about criticizing the editorial position of The Nation. (Caveat: more accurately, I have not been shy about lambasting the editorial position of The Nation – while always taking care to note the very significant exceptions. As a professional courtesy, I leave my PITC out of this). As I have probably stipulated previously, The Nation’s front section suffers from being maddeningly predictable, while the back of the book offers consistently terrific literary criticism as well as consistently wrong-headed foreign policy prescriptions.

So it is only proper that I acknowledge my very pleasant surprise to see that Adam LeBor has a review essay in the current number of the magazine. (LeBor is the author of a searing new indictment of the United Nation’s complicity in acts of genocide during the tenure of Kofi Annan.) The essay is worth a read in its entirety, but one passage in particular warrants special citation.

Wrongly viewing Darfur through the prism of the Iraq War, much of the left, both in the United States and Europe, seems paralyzed by the fear of being seen to support another overseas adventure. For all its complications–pre-existing conflicts over water and agricultural land, desertification and arbitrary international borders–the crisis in Darfur is also simple. The Sudanese government is waging a sustained campaign of murder, ethnic cleansing and displacement against the people of Darfur, a campaign extensively documented by the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others. The slaughter could be curtailed or even brought to a close without Western military intervention. Such steps might include: deploying UN troops inside Sudan; deploying peacekeepers in Chad to prevent cross-border raids; targeted sanctions on Sudan’s oil industry; targeted sanctions on Sudanese government ministers, army and intelligence officers; using US trade as a weapon to pressure China, Sudan’s main sponsor, to stop the carnage; and even threats to boycott the Beijing Olympics. [Emphasis my own]

LeBor offers many compelling prescriptions in here. None terribly novel, but each warranting considerably more attention than they have been receiving in the trans-Atlantic halls of power as of late. That said, I question the notion that “the slaughter could be curtailed or even brought to a close without Western military intervention.” This questioning is not to say that such an intervention would be prudent. LeBor may very well think it not. He would be in good company. My questioning is to say that I am very curious about how this line found its way into this paragraph. Mere speculation, but having read some of LeBor’s work, it strikes me as curious and perhaps a bit out of character.

This non-consequential (and tediously minor) compunction notwithstanding, the essay covers a great deal of new literature in the field of genocide studies.

The Non-Intervention Alternative

January 29, 2007

William Pfaff, the long time international relations scribe and current columnist for the International Herald Tribune, has an essay in the most recent number of The New York Review that is sure to stimulate a great deal of chatter (in those tiny – primarily insignificant – precincts where such chatter can be stimulated. Like small-d).

Pfaff tells a story about American foreign policy since the end of World War II and argues for the path not taken. With an aged George Kennan as his guru, Pfaff argues that the notion that America has a mission to spread democracy is a dangerous fallacy that has set the country on a well-worn imperial path to self-destruction. Pfaff, quoting Kennan:

“To have real self-government, a people must understand what that means, want it, and be willing to sacrifice for it.” Many nondemocratic systems are inherently unstable. “But so what?” he asked. “We are not their keepers. We never will be.” (He did not say that we might one day try to be.) He suggested that nondemocratic societies should be left “to be governed or misgoverned as habit and tradition may dictate, asking of their governing cliques only that they observe, in their bilateral relations with us and with the remainder of the world community, the minimum standards of civilized diplomatic intercourse.”

There are prudent consideration’s in the Pfaff essay that are well worth considering. And we can expect to see more of this sort of argument – recently popularized by David Rieff and similar to one offered at great length in a forthcoming book by the Tufts University political scientist Tony Smith – as Iraq continues to undermine American confidence in American leadership (more on the Smith book in the week’s ahead).

But Pfaff veers wildly off the mark when he explains what might have been had the US followed his non-interventionist policy (which he first articulated in Harper’s in 1961):

Had a noninterventionist policy been followed in the 1960s, there would have been no American war in Indochina. The struggle there would have been recognized as nationalist in motivation, unsusceptible to solution by foreigners, and inherently limited in its international consequences, whatever they might be—as has proved to be the case. The United States would never have been defeated, its army demoralized, or its students radicalized. There would have been no American invasion of Cambodia, which precipitated the Khmer Rouge genocide. The tribal peoples of Laos would probably have been spared their ordeal.


The United States would not have suffered its catastrophic implication in what was essentially a domestic crisis in Iran in 1979, which still poisons Near and Middle Eastern affairs, since there would never have been the huge and provocative American investment in the Shah’s regime as American “gendarme” in the region, compromising the Shah and contributing to the fundamentalist backlash against his secularizing modernization.

I am skeptical of all such counter-factual arguments (to Pfaff’s credit, he does admit that such an exercise in “what-ifs” and “mights” is “otiose”) because they presuppose that had we not done “X” then “Y” would have been different. Perhaps. For instance, had we not orchestrated the overthrow of Mossadegh regime in Iran in the early 1950s, it is possible that Iranian history and culture would have been sent in an entirely distinct direction. Quite possible, in fact. But who is to say that this alternative course would not have been even more damaging to US interests? Counter-factual history is fun and interesting, but it often lacks a keen recognition that there is also a cost to inaction. That the intervention not undertaken can be as damaging than the ones we do (even when, short term, they seem like grievous errors).

In short, the logic of Pfaff’s argument is at best flawed and certainly unpersuasive.

ps. It is worth noting, as I believe this blog has many times, that the Pfaff essay appears in the pages of what is considered a left-liberal publication, while the David Rieff essay linked to above appears in the lefty Nation. Is it springtime for realism on the left?

The Stain of Iraq

November 16, 2006

My partner in thought-crime brushed up against a very important thought a few days ago. While the debacle that is Iraq is a daily reminder of the grievous cost of intervention we must consider this cost in light of the alternative of non-intervention. Congo is a perfect case in point. It may seem an obvious idea that there is also a cost to not intervening, but the tenor of the debate around Iraq suggests that it is not as obvious as one might think at first blush. Indeed, I think the meta-question surrounding American foreign policy is this: How far has the liberal internationalist agenda been set back by the botched effort in Iraq? How chastened will America – and the larger Western community – be in the face of grievous human rights violations going forward?

The editorial that graces the forthcoming issue of The New Republic demonstrates the difficulty of advocating the importance of a moral foreign policy – if not rooted then very deferential to the idea of a “Responsibility to Protect” – in the shadow of Iraq.

Postscript: “Idealism — sometimes naive but usually inspiring — has always guided American foreign policy,” writes Gerard Baker in the Times of London. “Whatever the truth behind the fierce little human drama being played out now inside the Bush family, it would be an awful shame if it were to be abandoned.”

Diplomacy as an Excuse for Inaction

October 20, 2006

Kudos to The New Republic for keeping on the Darfur issue. If only words mattered more. In the editorial gracing the forthcoming issue, TNR hammers home a point that is not so much new as it is undeniably true.

Money quote: The question now before the West, and Americans in particular, is simple: When will we have had enough of this charade? Will we wait until 600,000 die? 800,000? One million? Is there a magic number at which our moral outrage will suddenly trump our deference to Sudanese sovereignty?

I have nothing to add.

The Sin of Cynicism

October 3, 2006

Humanitarian intervention has never really had much of a constituency in the global marketplace of ideas. In the colonized world, the very term was so long abused as a cover for imperial exploits that it has long since been drained of any real meaning. Only in certain corners of West – namely the left and the neoconservative right – did the concept ever really gain any traction. And in the wake of Iraq, which has increasingly been justified on humanitarian ground after the WMD argument proved fallacious, the idea that humanitarian ends can be accomplished by military means is regarded with the utmost dubiousness, if not downright ridicule.

This sentiment was crystallised with unrivaled cynicism this past week by Eric Posner, professor of law at the University of Chicago, in a Washington Post op-ed lucidly titled, “The Humanitarian War Myth.” Posner’s argument essentially boils down to a belief that when one looks at the history of humanitarian interventions, the cure has been more disastrous than the disease. Or, in his words, though the logic of humanitarian intervention seems compelling, “logic is no substitute for experience, and experience shows that humanitarian war is an oxymoron.” In short, humanitarian wars rarely achieve humanitarian results. He cites Somalia, Kosovo, and Iraq as both evidence and warning against doing anything interventionist about Darfur.

Posner: “The best humanitarians of our day recognize that we face a painful dilemma: to tolerate atrocities in foreign states or to risk committing worse atrocities in the course of ending them. From Rwanda, many people drew the lesson that failure to intervene is the worse option. The Iraq war may be the first step in unlearning this lesson. If not, an intervention in Darfur surely will be.”

But will it? Some old foreign-policy hands from the Clinton administration also took to the pages of the Washington Post to urge the United States to move beyond unenforced UN resolutions to the firm resolve to act.

“After swift diplomatic consultations, the United States should press for a U.N. resolution that issues Sudan an ultimatum: accept unconditional deployment of the U.N. force within one week or face military consequences. The resolution would authorize enforcement by U.N. member states, collectively or individually. International military pressure would continue until Sudan relented.

The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan’s oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy — by force, if necessary, with U.S. and NATO backing.

If the United States fails to gain U.N. support, we should act without it.”

The authors – Susan Rice, Anthony Lake, and Donald Payne – acknowledge the gravity of the recommendation, yet counter that, “to allow another nation to deter the United States by threatening terrorism would set a terrible precedent. It would also be cowardly and, in the face of genocide, immoral.”

And Nicholas Kristof, ever persistent on this issue, offers an even less adventurous tactic. With the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur delayed indefinitely because of Sudan’s defiance, post them in the meantime in Chad and the Central African Republic — while still pushing to get them into Darfur itself. This is the suggestion of President François Bozize of the Central African Republic, a country that risks falling victim to the infectious legacy of Darfur.

The bottom line: Inaction is politically and morally unacceptable.

But as George Packer poignantly notes in the recent issue of The New Yorker, “since when does the world listen to Africans? Unless Ivorians and Congolese start blowing themselves up in front of Western embassies and shops, it seems, their grievances won’t be taken seriously.” Sad, indeed, but true.

Here is a prediction: President Clinton wrestled with a similar dilemma with the astonishingly fast-paced genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Ultimately, he did nothing. He has repeatedly cited this as one of the most-shameful moments of his presidency. It has been over two years since President Bush deemed the violence in Darfur a genocide. His decision to act on this declaration in a fitful and ineffective manner will be a uniquely damning blight on his profoundly blighted presidential legacy. This is both a cause and a result of Bush’s overarching failure: the obliteration of America’s moral legitimacy and credibility in the world.

To claim, as Posner does, that we must learn to tolerate atrocities in foreign states is little more than self-deceiving callousness.

A Cry for Who to Intervene?

September 12, 2006

Here in Washington, DC there was a march this past weekend on the White House. It was modest in scope, a few hundred at most, calling on the Bush administration to “Stop the genocide! Break the deadlock! Protect the people.” The gathering was organized by Africa Action, who planned the rally to coincide with the release of their new report, “A Tale of Two Genocides: The Failed US Response to Rwanda and Darfur.” The report (funded in large part by the American Jewish World Service and the indomitable Ruth Messinger) explores the similarities and differences in how US policymakers responded to the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur. The report, poignantly, was released on September 9 to mark the two-year anniversary of the Bush administration’s acknowledgement that what is happening in Darfur constitutes a genocide.

As my partner recently pointed out, the situation in Darfur has reached a crescendo of horror. The worst case scenarios that were for too long blithely dismissed as, well, worst case scenarios are in fact coming to fruition. The Abuja peace accord, brokered with American assurances and American pressure, has crumbled. It is yet another example of how America’s role in the world is so compromised at the present moment. The very idea of American resolve seems farcical in the present context. The Dinner Jacket sees this as clearly as I do (or at least as clearly as a delusional man can gauge any situation. And I am increasingly of the mind the Dinner Jacket is delusional like a fox. That or he is the crazy pawn on the backroom Mullah’s chessboard).

The mendacious government in Khartoum is asking for the tiny, ineffectual (though valiant) African Union force to leave Darfur. One Darfurian told Lydia Polgreen of The New York Times, “We beg the international community, somebody, come and save us. We have no means to protect ourselves. The only thing we can do is run and hide in the mountains and caves. We will all die.” Meanwhile, Kofi Annan – ineffectual and not valiant – warned the Sudanese government that they will be “held collectively and individually responsible for what happens to the population in Darfur.”

There are plans for large-scale rallies this weekend in New York City. A number of months back there was a similar demonstration on the Mall in Washington. The crowd on that sweltering afternoon seemed an interesting mosh of Africanists and human rights advocates. Though the organizers worked to keep the affair apolitical, the general ideological temperature of the audience (judging by the signs, conversation, and common sense) was decidedly liberal. I would guarantee you that there were a mere handful of Iraq War supporters (and even fewer out and out Bush supporters) in that audience. I was most troubled by the fact that the calls for action were all ambiguous, almost delusionally ambiguous. The most often-repeated refrain was “Not on My Watch!” But there was little rhetorical consideration offered by those at the podium as to what American would in fact have to do to ensure that this does not occur on our watch. I wanted to ask these passionate, heartfelt protesters, whether they support stopping this at all costs. In short, do they support American boots on the ground? Less dramatically, do they support American planes administering a no-fly zone?

Now, many months and deaths later, with no diplomatic option on the horizon, will the speakers at the rally this weekend resort to the same platitudes? More to the point, will President Bush take the opportunity of a speech next month at the General Assembly of the UN to publicly shame and admonish the Sudanese government? Will he call out, specifically, the Sudanese representative who will be sitting in that chamber on that day?