Sunday, July 31, 2005


Humanitarian Intervention

Chrenkoff asks, since there are 250,000 Iraqis living in Britain, how come none of them are doing suicide bombings?

Separately, Judith Klinghoffer points out that two of the suspects are from Somalia, where the invasion by Westerners was carried out at the urging of the U.N., but was abandoned in the face of strong resistance.

At the same time, the anti-war Neil Craig reminds us of some of the uncomfortable facts about Western intervention in Yugoslavia.

Now my gut feeling has always been against sending armies overseas. It may come as a surprise to my (literally several) readers, and I tend to forget it myself, but if asked outright whether it was the right policy to invade Iraq in 2003, I would say I think it was probably wrong.

There are several reasons why, believing this, I still am generally much closer to the "Pro-war" side than the "Anti-war" side.
  1. I think the policy, mistaken as it may have been, was nevertheless an improvement on the policy it replaced, as I discussed here.
  2. I felt that the previous attack on Yugoslavia was so outrageous and unjustifiable, that to make a big fuss about the much more finely balanced question of Iraq was to show a lack of sense of proportion.
  3. I had expected the operation in Afghanistan to be a failure, and, seeing it now as largely a success, I entertain the possibility that George Bush knows something I don't.
  4. Whatever the right answer to the difficult question in 2003, I am convinced that to cut and run from Iraq now would be a catastrophe. It would reinforce the most damaging belief held by Islamist terrorists -- the illusion that they can beat us.
  5. And at least there was a plausible national interest proposed for intervening in Iraq, unlike Yugoslavia or Somalia, and Bush was clear and explicit about it. I didn't agree with Bush's conclusions, but I liked his style.
Why are "humanitarian" military interventions so much worse in their effects than self-interested ones? I think partly it is related to the tragedy of plentiful raw materials.

It has often been observed that some of the richest countries are the ones with the least raw materials -- Japan, the Netherlands, etc. At the same time some of the countries with the richest raw materials -- much of Africa, Russia, South America, are among the poorest countries.

The most likely explanation is that, where things of value are easily available, either diamonds in Sierra Leone, or plentiful wild food crops, power will all go to those that can most easily dominate the available resources - bandits and warlords. Where survival requires actually making things, banditry will still exist, but there must be a structure in society that leaves some power to the people who make or grow stuff. It is that societal structure that enables further development.

Likewise, when a "humanitarian" force gets involved in a conflict the incentives for the factions change. It becomes most important to influence the "humanitarians" I remember a British officer on U.N. duty in Sarajevo, in a press conference, saying that he had proof that both sides had deliberately shelled their own civilians, in an attempt to win sympathy from the other end of the TV cameras. I thought this was one of the most astonishing and major pieces of newsof the whole conflict, but I have never heard any mention of it again from that day to this.

Influencing the humanitarians is, in general, easy, because those who sent them are mainly concerned with "doing something to help", and not with the nasty details of the situation. One of the reasons that I find Neil Craig's conspiracy theories about Yugoslavia far more believable than, for instance those of about the London bombs, is that fundamentally, nobody here really cared what was actually happening in Yugoslavia. We heard some sob stories, we said "something must be done", we did something, the details of context and consequence are of only idle or passing interest. Conversely, we care deeply about what happens on the Piccadilly Line and why, and it will be very difficult to pull the wool over our eyes for more than a very short time. (Another consequence of the "fire-and-forget" nature of humanitarian interventions is the opportunity of private exploitation of the situation by the personnel involved, as I discussed here.)

The unpredictability, from the point of view of the participants, of the "humanitarian" forces, means that otherwise lost causes are kept alive by the hope that the foreigners will intervene to support them.That is why, in my opinion, Western intervention in Yugoslavia and in immediate post-war Iraq in 1991, cost lives.

If the foreigners are acting on a clear statement of their own interests, then it is relatively obvious which groups can expect support and which can't. A foreign force which is pursuing its national interest is more likely to see through whatever it's doing, and less likely to fail to act at a critical moment, chicken out, or change sides. If the government behind the intervention gets a reputation for doing exactly what it says it's going to do, as Bush has done, then all the better. Carefully-judged hints about what a government might do create the uncertainty which perpetuates fighting. That's why I say I like Bush's style: style matters.
On 3 occasions somebody mortared Sarajevo's market. Immediately, on all 3 occasions. the western powers used it as a justification for bombing Serbs (in one case Holbrooke publically said the day before that we were set up to begin bombing but needed an atrocity). Each case was investigated by the UN who, much later, reported that in the first 2 cases the bomb pattern indicated that the shells had been fired from within Moslem lines (the blast pattern depends on what angle it came in at which in turn depends on the range) & in the 3rd case that nobody had heard that shell land & that the bodies produced had been dead for some time when the alleged shell landed.
for more details - I am somewhat optomistic that the web would mean that the truth would get out more easily.

I don't know of any incident of Serbs murdering their own for propaganda & it seems unlikely that had they produced such a story it would have been carried internationally - I think the officer was just trying to be moderate.

As you saw the BBC, ITN etc have, for over 10 years cesored any reporting of this as thoroughly as they would if every journalist there was a totally corrupt Nazi liar, morally equivalent to Dr Goebbels (not saying they are merely pointing out the fact).

PS you make a good point about countries without resources doing well - I would also mention Singapore & Hong Kong. Another factor is that friendly dictatorships are much easier for western leaders to do business with when their only interest is mineral so they have traditionally helped them - see Saudi or the way the CIA overthrew Mossadeg to establish the Baathist dictatorship in Iraq in the first place.
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