Democracy Arsenal

« The Meaning of "Power" | Main | Can Parliamentary Elections be Both Fun and Important ? (The Opposition Gears up For November 9th) »

November 06, 2005

What Iraq Has Taught Us About Humanitarian Intervention
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

There's an important debate underway on America Abroad about where the liberal internationalist consensus for humanitarian intervention stands after Iraq (see Anne-Marie Slaughter's latest post for a partial summary).  The gist is an argument over whether, as David Rieff claims, after Iraq, humanitarian intervention can no longer be distinguished from self-interested, imperialistic interventions done under the guise of promoting human rights and ousting despots.  Back in the Spring of 2004 (actually, the Summer of 2003, in light of FA's pub cycle) I fretted that exactly this would happen, writing in Foreign Affairs that:

After September 11, conservatives adopted the trappings of liberal internationalism, entangling the rhetoric of human rights and democracy in a strategy of aggressive unilateralism. But the militant imperiousness of the Bush administration is fundamentally inconsistent with the ideals they claim to invoke. To reinvent liberal internationalism for the twenty-first century, progressives must wrest it back from Republican policymakers who have misapplied it.

Shadi Hamid has touched on similar issues in posts immediately below.   There's much I agree with in responses to Rieff from Slaughter, Bruce Jentleson, Ivo Daalder and John Ikenberry, including the essential point that Iraq was emphatically not a humanitarian intervention.  It doesn't even qualify as the hard case that might make bad law.   But that said, Iraq has taught us key lessons that can and must guide future thinking on humanitarian intervention, mostly raising the bar for when we should intervene and how we need to do it.  I list 10 of them.  Look forward to additions, subtractions and comments.

1.  Principle Motivation Must be Perceived as Humanitarian - I disagree strongly with Rieff that humanitarian intervention has already been discredited beyond salvation.  But after a few more Iraqs, that likely would be true.   No matter the stated reasons for intervention, audiences in the affected country and at home will judge motives for themselves.  Humanitarian intervention will normally implicate some strategic US interest, writ broadly.  But any whiff of narrower self-interest (especially involving economic or domestic political considerations) can foul the air completely.  James Baker's observation that we had no dog in the fight in Bosnia may, ironically, have helped legitimize our interventions in Bosnia and later in Kosovo.

2.  While it Need Not Necessarily Derive from Any Single Source, Legitimacy is Essential - Anne-Marie Slaughter and Ivo Daalder illuminate how the US operation in Kosovo, though without UN imprimatur, had the effect of "pushing" international law to provide broader license for similar interventions, culminating in this Fall's adoption of a UN "responsibility to protect" (a duty that, unaccountably, has not been invoked in Darfur).   Rather than fixating exclusively on a single form of sanction (UN Security Council, for example), advocates of humanitarian intervention will need to ensure they can credibly claim some source of legitimacy (for example, from a regional organization).

3.  Humanitarian intervention is war - Rieff is right to emphasize this, particular since the point was forgotten by those (outside the Administration) who favored war in Iraq on humanitarian grounds.    Many expected a quick, clean conflict and thought that if a brutal tyrant like Saddam could be ousted relatively bloodlessly well, then, why not?  Iraq is a reminder of the  risks that make going to war a momentous decision:  loss of American lives, loss of foreign lives, physical dislocations, social and psychological disruptions, regional destabilization and risk of unpredictable horribles.  While we rightly rue our failure to act in Rwanda, we perhaps don't think enough about what the never-fought "Rwanda War" (and subsequent occupation?) might have been like.

4.  Humanitarian intervention is more than just war - Those of us who believe that humanitarian intervention needs to be among the options available to US policymakers face a major challenge in bringing US capabilities to carry out the non-military aspects of intervention (stabilization, state-building, socio-economic reconstruction, etc.) up to the standards applied to our conventional military operations (counter-terrorism, unfortunately, excluded).   See here for more.

5.   Intervenor Bears Strict Liability for Anything That Goes Wrong - The reasons the operation in Iraq has gone so badly wrong have everything to do with the fact that this was not a humanitarian intervention:  if the US's motives weren't at issue, we wouldn't face the kind of insurgency we do.  But Iraq has nonetheless taught a sobering lesson about the responsibility an intervenor shoulders, fairly or not.  We should never again intervene without a serious examination of the worst-case scenario consequences and how to deal with them.

6.  Negligent Intervention May be Worse than No Intervention - Until Iraq, it never dawned on most of us that the US was capable of an operation as poorly planned and executed as the aftermath of the Iraq intervention.  But we know now.  A hard-headed assessment of preparedness and capabilities is essential to any future humanitarian intervention debate.

7.  When We Go at it Alone, We'd Better Understand Why - Many progressives subscribe to the mantra "with others where possible, alone where necessary."  When it comes to humanitarian intervention, we need to answer honestly why we're alone.  If its because of the rest of the world's biases, indifference, cowardice or helplessness, fine.  If its because we haven't proffered a rationale convincing enough to rally others, because they suspect our motives, or because they believe that measures short of intervention might work, we need to look hard at whether to go ahead.   Analyzing this objectively will be tough.

8.  Humanitarian Intervention Represents a Preventive Policy Failure - Given the emphasis that we progressives place on diplomacy, alliances, multilateral institutions, and fostering democracy and the rule of law, humanitarian intervention should only arise as a need once our best efforts on all these fronts have failed.  That notion may seem obvious, but truly embracing it means rejecting humanitarian intervention"ism" as a major pillar of progressive foreign policy (an pillar that wins favor partly because it allows liberals to demonstrate that they don't shy away from force).  John Ikenberry makes a similar point.

9.  Putting Values into Action Abroad Invites Scrutiny at Home - This is one of the most dangerous aspects of the neo-conservative hijacking of progressive priorities like human rights and the rule of law.  The abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have tainted the way these concepts are understood abroad, and we will spend years undoing that damage.

10.  Today's Interventions Will Both Dictate and Circumscribe Tomorrow's - What we used to think of as "Vietnam Syndrome" has turned out to be an eerie pendulum that swings from one era's mistakes of action (Vietnam, Somalia) into the next's errors of omission (Rwanda, Bosnia), and then back again (Iraq) and again (Darfur).   The challenge of us defenders of humanitarian intervention is to take the last 30 years of experience and build from it a vector of progress (Anne-Marie Slaughter's faith) rather than than a bloody cycle of repetition (Rieff's fear).

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451c04d69e200d83460a77b53ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What Iraq Has Taught Us About Humanitarian Intervention:

Comments

No. If you make a case for humanitarian intervention in Iraq, then you must explain the absence of humanitarian intervention in other places, eg, Darfur. It turns out that when it's in our interests to do so, we'lll intervene. And if we can somehow make it seem to be less than predatory, we'll call it "humanitarian."

Which makes anybody with a conscience queasy.

Which is why it's so much easier to see it as a pendulum effect.

Until Iraq, it never dawned on most of us that the US was capable of an operation as poorly planned and executed as the aftermath of the Iraq intervention.


James Fallows pointed out several months ago that this is a structural problem:


"Companies deciding which kind of toothpaste to market have much more rigorous, established decision-making processes to refer to than the most senior officials of the U.S. government deciding whether or not to go to war," said Michael Mazarr [profesor at the National war College]... The Bush Administration is ... less concerned about being sure they have covered every assumption, than other recent Administrations... But the problem is bigger than one Administration or set of decision-makers."


Until that problem is solved -- and IMO it would require more limits on the executive branch -- I don't see why the American people should trust their leaders with their children's lives.

Put it this way:

When we actually want to do humanitarian intervention we send the Peace Corps.

Here's a plan for soft-power intervention.

First, cut all ties between the US government and private organisations that are attempting regime change such as NDI, NED, etc. No government money, and federal employees must wait 5 years before joining these groups and vice versa. We can't be credible about promoting democracy while we're attempting regime change -- they'll think it's just more tactics.

To succeed we must encourage democracy in ways that don't promote any single opposition group or combination of opposition groups.

We can and should spread information that points out the advantages of democracy, and if possible we should get good-natured public debates going with members of nondemocratic governments. Democracies have a lot of advantages. For example:

1. When the public is truly represented, everyone gets a clear idea of the relative strength of the different factions. It's easier to avoid revolts when it's clear how few people stand for them, and when a whole lot of people have a grievance it tends to get addressed -- which tends to prevent successful revolts. When the citizens fight each other and destroy property the nation gets poorer. Democracy is probably the central reason the USA has had only one bloody destructive revolt in over 200 years.

2. With a clearly understood route for succession and replacement of administrations, we avoid violence on the deaths of rulers and the succession of dynasties. Such violence also reduces the wealth of a nation.

3. Democracies don't attack other democracies. When a legislature is required to declare war before starting hostilities, your neighbors know they needn't fear a surprise attack. This reduces military tension and may sometimes allow a cheaper military.

4. The USA does not make military attacks on democracies, unless we can persuade ourselves that they aren't completely democratic. Instead we rarely support coups and often give money to opposition parties. If you're going to do something the USA opposes, wouldn't you rather we give money to some of your citizens than for us to start covert or overt violence?

Etc. Apart from the practical reasons we might find moral arguments that would sound good in each country.

The purpose of having these debates would not be to win. It might even make sense to practice them ahead of time with the friendly opponents to make sure they have good counter-arguments. Like, we say it's important to represent the people and they say they do represent the people, their one party listens to the people's concerns better than our two parties do, their secret police find out what the people want better than our open police, etc. The point is we get them to claim they agree with our goals.

So after some years of them hypocritically claiming they represent the people etc, after awhile they set up fake structures that are supposed to do that. And then when some crisis comes and they muff it, the temptation is to make the fake structures real.

This worked in the philippines. Nearly 80 years after we did a military intervention to give them democracy, after many years of US-supported fake democracy, they finally threw out their dictator and set up a real democracy.

It worked in greece. When the US-supported junta collapsed the greeks took up democracy again and have had one of the best democratic intervals in their long history.

It worked in the USSR. The supremely hypocritical government was caught lying about Chernobyl, and was saddled with reclamation expenses they could not pay. The public realised they couldn't trust the government to even tell the truth, much less organise for a dire emergency. This may not have been the critical point but I tend to think it was. (The USA got a different result after Katrina because we developed the excuse that the problem may have been racially motivated, and so the government wouldn't mistreat other citizens.)

Real democracies get installed after the public becomes convinced that it's worth doing, and after their existing government becomes clearly incapable. So we need a way to encourage foreign publics to desire democratic ideals, without frightening foreign governments in the process. That's the first step in democracy promotion. Any other steps are premature before that.

Until the people get the idea they deserve good government, what good is it to try to get rid of the bad government they have?

http://tenner.thinkhost.com/stories/index.php?lang=en&target=16

Here's a plan for soft-power intervention.

First, cut all ties between the US government and private organisations that are attempting regime change such as NDI, NED, etc. No government money, and federal employees must wait 5 years before joining these groups and vice versa. We can't be credible about promoting democracy while we're attempting regime change -- they'll think it's just more tactics.

To succeed we must encourage democracy in ways that don't promote any single opposition group or combination of opposition groups.

We can and should spread information that points out the advantages of democracy, and if possible we should get good-natured public debates going with members of nondemocratic governments. Democracies have a lot of advantages. For example:

1. When the public is truly represented, everyone gets a clear idea of the relative strength of the different factions. It's easier to avoid revolts when it's clear how few people stand for them, and when a whole lot of people have a grievance it tends to get addressed -- which tends to prevent successful revolts. When the citizens fight each other and destroy property the nation gets poorer. Democracy is probably the central reason the USA has had only one bloody destructive revolt in over 200 years.

2. With a clearly understood route for succession and replacement of administrations, we avoid violence on the deaths of rulers and the succession of dynasties. Such violence also reduces the wealth of a nation.

3. Democracies don't attack other democracies. When a legislature is required to declare war before starting hostilities, your neighbors know they needn't fear a surprise attack. This reduces military tension and may sometimes allow a cheaper military.

4. The USA does not make military attacks on democracies, unless we can persuade ourselves that they aren't completely democratic. Instead we rarely support coups and often give money to opposition parties. If you're going to do something the USA opposes, wouldn't you rather we give money to some of your citizens than for us to start covert or overt violence?

Etc. Apart from the practical reasons we might find moral arguments that would sound good in each country.

The purpose of having these debates would not be to win. It might even make sense to practice them ahead of time with the friendly opponents to make sure they have good counter-arguments. Like, we say it's important to represent the people and they say they do represent the people, their one party listens to the people's concerns better than our two parties do, their secret police find out what the people want better than our open police, etc. The point is we get them to claim they agree with our goals.

So after some years of them hypocritically claiming they represent the people etc, after awhile they set up fake structures that are supposed to do that. And then when some crisis comes and they muff it, the temptation is to make the fake structures real.

This worked in the philippines. Nearly 80 years after we did a military intervention to give them democracy, after many years of US-supported fake democracy, they finally threw out their dictator and set up a real democracy.

It worked in greece. When the US-supported junta collapsed the greeks took up democracy again and have had one of the best democratic intervals in their long history.

It worked in the USSR. The supremely hypocritical government was caught lying about Chernobyl, and was saddled with reclamation expenses they could not pay. The public realised they couldn't trust the government to even tell the truth, much less organise for a dire emergency. This may not have been the critical point but I tend to think it was. (The USA got a different result after Katrina because we developed the excuse that the problem may have been racially motivated, and so the government wouldn't mistreat other citizens.)

Real democracies get installed after the public becomes convinced that it's worth doing, and after their existing government becomes clearly incapable. So we need a way to encourage foreign publics to desire democratic ideals, without frightening foreign governments in the process. That's the first step in democracy promotion. Any other steps are premature before that.

Until the people get the idea they deserve good government, what good is it to try to get rid of the bad government they have?

http://tenner.thinkhost.com/stories/index.php?lang=en&target=16

Suzanne is spot-on here, especially number 10 noting the debilitating effect of wide pendulum swings based on previous mistakes, which then mutate and metastasize, to wit: folks should be talking a close hard look at the role Somalia played in initiating the mind bogglingly bad place we’ve ended up (try to re-conjure the high hopes we had for humanitarian intervention in the immediate post-cold war moment, it almost could not have gone worse since then.) Had we understood how hard making peace and building democracy (versus delivering famine relief) would be among nomads who like to fight in Somalia and therefore refused to expand UNOSOM and thereby avoided not only Black Hawk Down but the whole disaster (the mission was already hugely compromised before October 3rd ), we may well have found the stones to intervene in Rwanda, which all post war gaming shows should have been relatively low cost and “permissive” - the Rwandan Interahamwe were at the other end of the spectrum from Somali’s militias in terms of thirst for and ability in battle – in which case there may have been more appetite sooner for Bosnia, and we would perhaps live in a very different humanitarian intervention world than we do now. Indeed, Democrats might have demonstrated/earned our national security chops thusly. The counterfactual hypothetical is always a weak argument, but it is worth reminding ourselves that this result was not inevitable.

I miss the GuildWars Gold because i like to meet it. I want to earn the Guild Wars Gold to make me strong. I want to give my friends a lot of GuildWars money, so i have to try my best to get more and more cheap gw gold to add my stock to have enough money to give my friends.

I hope i can get kamas in low price.
Ibuy dofus kamas for you.
dofus gold is present for you.
Do you like cheap kamas?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Emeritus Contributors
Subscribe
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Email: 
Powered by TypePad

Disclaimer

The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use