Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Good question: has there ever been a successful humanitarian intervention?

In case you're wondering where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was when the Obama Administration began its drumbeat to war with Syria, it's important to remember that Hagel's nomination as defense secretary was originally opposed by his own party members as he was described as anti-interventionist. That could be the reason he appears to have been left out of the current war preparations.
At the Christian Century, Steve Thorngate raises more than one good question about the Obama Administration's drumbeat to war with Syria. Leading off his thoughtful analysis of the wisdom of pursuing "nebulous and unlikely goals via deadly, expensive missiles that are all too concrete," Thorngate writes:

James Fallows is impressed with Obama’s decision to go to Congress. So, presumably, are the almost 40,000 people who signed this MoveOn petition. And sure: if your main concern is (1) constitutionality, (2) the growing power of the executive branch, and/or (3) legislators’ ability to make a lot of noise about (1) and (2) without having to actually record a vote one way or the other, then this is welcome news.

But as always, it’s tempting to let the politics on this side of the world overshadow the death and destruction on that side. Waiting for congressional authorization is good. Better still: not pursuing nebulous and unlikely goals via deadly, expensive missiles that are all too concrete.

Last year, Steven Cook called for intervention in Syria, arguing that the situation was not as different from Libya as anti-interventionists insisted. Now he’s changed his mind: the situation is Syria has deteriorated so much that intervention “would advance Syria’s dissolution.”

But even if the comparison to Libya still holds, the intervention in Libya was not the unqualified success we’ve often heard about, as Freddie deBoer explains. Writing from liberal interventionists’ left flank, deBoer aims to expose the limited value of their good intentions; R. R. Reno does the same from the right. They’re both correct. As this n+1 editorial—reposted from the time of the intervention in Libya—puts it, “that there has never been a successful humanitarian intervention does not mean that there cannot be one in the future. But the evidence is piling up.”

Of course, the Obama administration isn’t calling this a humanitarian intervention. We’re not considering missile strikes to protect Syrian people; we’re doing it to punish Assad for using chemical weapons and to enforce the international norm against their use. But this isn’t as simple as it sounds, either. William Polk argues that chemical weapons are everywhere and their use isn’t as rare as we think. And Richard Price is skeptical that Assad has eroded the anti-CW norm:

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