Thursday, June 14, 2007

Foresight, hindsight and humanitarian intervention

The deteriorating situation in Iraq is enough to make you want to hide your head in the sand but that would be irresponsible. Looking back it’s clear of the many things (numbering in the hundreds) that were done wrong. Looking forward it is less clear of what the right things to do are other than the current policy is a failure. There is a very real degree of impotency in our actions there.

However, there are situations around the world where intervention has made and can make a difference. Are all interventions equal or can some be worthy and others not? Is there something horribly wrong about changing one’s mind about the wisdom of a particular wartime policy?

Jonathan Chait has these thoughts in today’s L.A. Times:
ONE OF THE annoying things about the debate over the Iraq war is the constant flurry of accusations of hypocrisy. If you favored the war when it started but later decided it was a bad idea, or opposed it from the beginning but think it would be a mistake to leave, somebody, somewhere is going to accuse you of flip-flopping.

The silliest version of this accusation holds that if you favored other humanitarian wars, such as those in Bosnia or Rwanda, but want to withdraw from Iraq, you're a hypocrite….

Many liberals favored humanitarian military intervention in various places in the 1990s, and favor it today in Darfur, but can't support the current mission in Iraq. … The argument for intervention was that the United States had a moral obligation to stop mass slaughter. Mass slaughter will probably ensue in Iraq if we withdraw. Ergo, those who favored war elsewhere but want to leave Iraq are

As Matthew Continetti put the accusation in a recent issue of the Weekly Standard, "It may seem as though the Bosnia analogy is more applicable to Iraq today, where coalition forces are the only thing keeping the various sectional, sectarian and political factions from slaughtering one another."

Well, no, it's not applicable at all. The key fact in Bosnia is that people were not, for the most part, "slaughtering one another." Serbs were slaughtering Bosnian Muslims (and later Kosovars). That's a situation in which American military force could clearly solve the problem. All we had to do was inflict enough punishment upon the aggressors to make them stop.

In Iraq, on the other hand, you really do have ethnic groups slaughtering one another. One of those groups, the Shiites, is mainly using the machinery of the state. The other group, the Sunnis, is using insurgent tactics. But the point is, we can't kill our way out of the problem, because success would entail not just persuading one side to stop its aggression ut persuading both sides to make peace. And the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government shows no signs of wanting to make the concessions it needs to make for peace.

Is it possible that, if we hang on long enough, Iraqis will give up fighting and start to compromise? Sure, it's possible. But the question of how possible it is cannot be answered from the lessons of Bosnia, Kosovo or the like. Those liberal hawks who have turned against the Iraq war are constantly being accused of losing their nerve or being driven by partisanship. But maybe there's something to be said for letting your opinions be driven by changing facts.

Letting your opinions be driven by changing facts – imagine that! You can read the entire piece here.

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