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My sentiments exactly

August 16th, 2003

This piece from the Guardian summarises pretty exactly my views on Iraq. By joining an unjustified war on false premises, Blair has undermined the whole principle of humanitarian intervention. What’s left is the idea of the US as a ‘selective policeman’, punishing the crimes of its enemies and ignoring those of its friends or those that simply fall outside the sphere of interest. This idea precluded making war on Saddam Hussein when he was filling mass graves in the 1980s, but allowed for him, and the Iraqi people to be retrospectively punished when he changed sides.

Even the limited constraints on dictatorship posed by the threat of US intervention will disappear if, as seems likely, the nation-building exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq fail for lack of resources. Along with the fact that the US government is on a path to bankruptcy, this will probably produce a swing back to isolationism sometimein the next few years.

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  1. Jim
    August 16th, 2003 at 22:40 | #1

    “Neo-conservatives are motivated by the selective and self-interested pursuit of their own geopolitical goals. ”
    This could be said about any political group – right or left – couldn’t it?
    The article mentions Kosovo but doesn’t dwell on the thousands that died as a result of the initial reluctance of the Europeans to commit decisively and the Americans to commit at all.
    The humanitarian benefit to Iraq of the removal of Saddam can hardly be disputed – how many hundreds of thousands have been discovered in mass graves so far?
    This doesn’t alter one iota the fact that the prime reason given for the war was most likely wrong due to faulty intelligence – intelligence shared by some of the most passionate opponents of war.
    Isn’t it at least equally likely that the motivation for opposition from France and Russia was self intersted pursuit of geopolitical goals?

  2. August 17th, 2003 at 08:35 | #2

    Pr Q tries to bash GW II, again to no avail:

    By joining an unjustified war on false premises, Blair has undermined the whole principle of humanitarian intervention.

    A few years is a long time in geo-politics. Ten years ago that the US got it’s fingered burned in Somalia and opinion hardened against humanitarian interventions. But then the US hum-interevened in Kosovo and Timor.
    A few months ago the US got into a quagmire in IRaq. Now the “coalition of the willing” is on the humanitarian go:
    US has sent troops to regime change Liberia for humanitarian reasons
    AUS has sent forces to purge an inhumane war lord from the Solomons
    Far from wrecking the case for humanitarian military interventions, GW II seems to be speeding them up! I tis more likely that success in Iraq will lead to calls for more military interventions. both Kantian-moral and Hobbesian-strategic, by the US, perhaps subsidised by the RoW.
    Does Pr Q read remember his own blog on this subject?

    When Bush went to Africa, he seemed set to announce a [military] commitment, but now he looks to be going cold on the idea.

    That prediction had a pretty short shelf life.
    Also a little while back Pr Q was arguing that the strategic security doctrine underlying GW II was going to licence a period of self-justifying pre-epmtive military interventionism by the US.
    Now he says that it’s going to lead to the US into a period of callous isolationism.
    I suppose in theory the US can be strategicly interventionist and morally isolationist, but I doubt that in practice it will work that way. Americans like to feel that God is on the side of their power.
    I do agree with PR Q when he says that:

    Even the limited constraints on dictatorship posed by the threat of US intervention will disappear if, as seems likely, the nation-building exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq fail for lack of resources.

    Bu this economic constraint is independent and irrelevant to the fact that GW II was waged on a bogus pretext. And I am skeptical of pundits who think that the US is going bankrupt in a few years. THey said that after Reagan. For all it’s fiscal woes, the US’s financial base is pretty impressive. And it may well pull another techno-revolution out of the hat any day.
    The real question Pr Q fails to address is the 800 lb gorilla squatting on the conscience of the anti-war Left: why didn’t the UNSC move to approve a regime change in Iraq on purely humanitarian reasons?
    I would suggest that this was because the anti-war members of that august body were more concerned with protecting their oil interests than humanitarian rescues.
    Finally Pr Q ignores the fact that the Coaltiion of the Willing did employ humanitarian rationales in attempting to justify GW II, and these were frequently derided by the anti-war Left. The CotW has in fact delivered on those rationales. GW II has produced two good humanitarian results:
    direct: fascist militarist Iraqis deposed
    indirect: funamentalist terrorist Saudis sidelined

  3. John
    August 17th, 2003 at 11:21 | #3

    On Liberia, I’m thoroughly underwhelmed by the US contribution. it’s not so much the fact that only 200 troops were sent as the delay until the Nigerians had done the hard yards. The Solomons are a better example. In any case, this kind of ‘failed state’ intervention has been accepted in principle for a long time.

    On isolationism, you’ve missed my Hegelian point, Jack. I’m asserting that Bush’s aggressive advocacy of pre-emption is likely to produce an isolationist reaction.

    On why the UNSC didn’t support a humanitarian intervention, the short answer is that no-one proposed it.

    The longer answer is that the only plausible legal basis would have required giving the ICC jurisdiction over past crimes, then charging Saddam over his crimes in the period 1980-92. If anyone had proposed this, Bush would have vetoed it.

  4. August 17th, 2003 at 14:51 | #4

    on why no state proposed a humanitarian regime change of Iraq in the UNSC:
    I tend to think that France/Russia had more oil prosperity to lose by licensing US-forces to march into Iraq than the US had moral credibility to lose by letting some legal Lefties in Belgium throw mud at it for past misdeeds.

    on a UN War Crimes tribunal:
    The US would have probably killed Hussein et al while trying to escape rather than let war crimes tribunals drag old skeletons out of it’s cupboards.
    Or it would have done a deal with Russia/France: don’t mention our shady political deals with war criminals and we won’t cancel your shady economic deals with war criminals.
    So long as the Bad Guy gets his just deserts, who cares what the legal moralists have to say?

    on strategic isolationism:
    You have missed my Hegelian point.
    I quite agree that the US state cannot afford to many finance too many US-force enabled regime changes,for either moral or strategic reasons. It needs to rely on internal reform of troubled states to keep the peace.
    But failing the military-enforced internal reform of the Gulf, and allowing another 911-scale attack, the US is likely to exercise the Carthaginian option. Armegeddon is a whole lot cheaper & more certain than appeasement, containment or roll-back.
    That increases the stakes for success in the reconstruction, reformation and reconciliation in the Gulf.

  5. wmb
    August 17th, 2003 at 19:43 | #5


    With regard to your helgelian point: What form of new isolationism would that be?

    It seems to me, that more so than ever before, we are now in a new world of transnational politics, arising from such influences as communications and, not least, international financial markets. Then there is the cross national manufacturing and inventory systems, and so forth, such as the manufacture of computer parts, for example, in Shanghai, which in part may be factor in reduced price.

  6. August 18th, 2003 at 23:49 | #6


    none of these mass graves were prevented by this invasion; the time for that was when Rumsfeld still thought of Saddam as America’s best ally against Khomeini.

  7. Jim
    August 19th, 2003 at 08:58 | #7

    Agreed that the removal of Saddam does nothing for the dead.Also agreed that America’s indifference to the Iraqis when Saddam was an ally was disgraceful.
    But the removal of a recidivist mass murderer has to be a positive for the people he ruled.

  8. John
    August 19th, 2003 at 09:15 | #8

    Not for those killed in the process, or the chaotic aftermath.

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