Comments: Brilliant, Original, Intelligent, POWER

The one thing I'd say in Power's defense is that in the most extreme cases (like Rwanda), intervention by literally anyone would be better than just sitting by and allowing genocide to happen. The problem with Power is that she deliberately ignores cases like East Timor, where people from both parties (like her pal Richard Holbrooke) actively assisted in genocide. She's got a nice little racket going--being the conscience of the political establishment.

The most charitable interpretation is that she has calculated she can do the most good by playing it safe and only condemning the safe targets and not being overly honest about what mainstream Democrats and Republicans have really done, because the instant she steps out of line, she's marginalized. (Which has happened now anyway, at least temporarily.)

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 9, 2008 10:26 PM

The most charitable interpretation is that she has calculated she can do the most good by playing it safe

I don't know if that's that charitable. Everyone in a position of power tells themselves that kind of thing. I'm sure Saddam Hussein did. If he were alive now, he would be pointing at the necessity of him doing everything he did to remain in power. I mean, just look what happened to Iraq when he was forced out! They needed him!

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at March 9, 2008 10:31 PM

Yglesias is a bore nor is he original in his conception. John L. O’sullivan who coined the phrase Manifest Destiny writes about it in 1839.

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/osulliva.htm

Here is a little excerpt from Yglesias’ grandpa…

The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High -- the Sacred and the True. Its floor shall be a hemisphere -- its roof the firmament of the star-studded heavens, and its congregation an Union of many Republics, comprising hundreds of happy millions, calling, owning no man master, but governed by God's natural and moral law of equality, the law of brotherhood -- of "peace and good will amongst men.". . .

Yes, we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. Equality of rights is the cynosure of our union of States, the grand exemplar of the correlative equality of individuals; and while truth sheds its effulgence, we cannot retrograde, without dissolving the one and subverting the other. We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission -- to the entire development of the principle of our organization -- freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality. This is our high destiny, and in nature's eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man -- the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen; and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?

http://rob-payne.blogspot.com/2007/11/manifest-destiny-and-jacksonian.html

Posted by rob payne at March 9, 2008 10:43 PM

Jonathan--

I don't object to the notion that some prominent Americans are as evil and thuggish as Saddam because I think some are or have been. There are cultural and political constraints on what a powerful person can get away with in any given society, so in our case a Saddam-like American generally has to have one or two extra layers between him and the victim who dies in agony. This idea (that mainstream American politicians might be monsters) seems to shock people at more mainstream liberal blogs, and also some of your commenters, but I'm with you on this.

But I think highly enough of Samantha Power to suspect that if she is ever in a Presidential Administration or had been in some past Administration, she would argue against something like the East Timor policy we had for 25 years. I see her as a hypocrite in what she is willing to say (gotta stay relevant and close to those who matter, you know), but not as someone who would have participated in something so heinous. Or anyway I'd be surprised if she were.


She struck me as someone with a bad conscience on the East Timor subject when Amy Goodman brought it up recently on Democracy Now, when Amy challenged Power on whether it was a case of the US merely looking away or actively doing more than just that. Power hastily agreed with Amy and changed the subject. A Holbrooke would have flatly denied it.

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 9, 2008 11:04 PM

I really do not get the Power-bashing going on here. She's a decent person advocating caring about and taking measures against genocide. It seems to me she's way more like you and your readers than anyone you'll find walking the halls of the State Department right now. If she hasn't hit every single note you'd like her to, or if she used "monster" hyperbole in a foolish moment to talk about a Dem candidate, honestly, so what. I've never seen Darfur or Bosnia adequately discussed here, or really considered much at all, probably for reasons similar to Power not talking much about East Timor: it's inconvenient. Someone needs to talk about Gaza and Argentina and Lebanon, too -- and I'm glad you are. Just don't get on your high horse when someone else doesn't.

And IOZ is nothing like you. Why? Because he's an asshole. To say somebody ought to do something about the siege of Sarajevo, or the genocides in Rwanda or Darfur, is not on its face evidence of desiring U.S./Anglo hegemony, it's evidence of wanting to stop helpless people from getting massacred. No one -- not even bad, stupid, naive, bad Samantha Power -- is saying jump in everywhere, or do everything; we just shouldn't act like it's the height of wisdom never to try. (You might call that "[calculating we're] doing the most good by playing it safe".)

Posted by Thomas Nephew at March 10, 2008 02:45 AM

Jonathan, have you seen Edward Herman's take on Samantha Power? It's from 2004.

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=5538

Posted by anonymous at March 10, 2008 02:49 AM

...in the most extreme cases (like Rwanda), intervention by literally anyone would be better than just sitting by and allowing genocide to happen...

Not sure I agree with that. You'll kill a whole lot more people intervening with 500-pound bombs than they will with their machetes.

Posted by abb1 at March 10, 2008 07:57 AM

well, look, the US is going to play a significant role in any part of the world worth a damn. Bosnia matters because it's in Europe. Rwanda doesn't matter, machetes away! : ) East Timor? Where the fuck is East Timor? Oh, Indonesia? OK, dear friend, no problem ; ) what about any of this can't you understand? It just makes sense.

unrelated note, my managing partner wandered over, we had a nice chat about the credit crunch. Krugman's silly sometimes, but his column today was good. I was telling my MP about spreads in the US muni market showing extraordinary stress levels. Man, the US economy actually might have a severe drop ahead of it. Oh I will laugh my ass off, and President O is just gonna muck it up worse : )

Posted by xyz at March 10, 2008 08:38 AM

Oh, and the real role we played in Bosnia was Operation Storm in 1995, not the bombing. That and the Bosnian XIII Corps relief of Bihac. That's what set the stage for Dayton. And Holbrooke? A very great man.

Posted by xyz at March 10, 2008 08:44 AM

Thomas Nephew, it's kinda simple. I think it's fine that Power thinks we should have intervened in Rwanda. I'm not a purist on the intervention issue. An outside intervention by almost anyone would have been a huge improvement over what happened in Rwanda in 1994.

The problem with Power is that she's oh-so-careful in what issues she tackles and I think it's fairly obvious that it's because she wants influence. So she writes a huge book on the history of US foreign policy and genocide and she barely says a word about the most obvious cases, like Guatemala or the invasion of East Timor. In the case of East Timor the US was on the side of the Indonesians in every Administration from Ford to Clinton (until 1999). We supplied weapons and diplomatic support. Some of this has made it into the mainstream press, though generally they just focus on the Kissinger role in the initial invasion.

It defies common sense to think that Samantha Power just happened to overlook East Timor when she wrote her genocide book. As it happens, she's good pals with Richard Holbrooke, who is one of the biggest villains in the story. Coincidence? Yeah, right.

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 10, 2008 09:11 AM

Donald:

I see her as a hypocrite in what she is willing to say (gotta stay relevant and close to those who matter, you know), but not as someone who would have participated in something so heinous. Or anyway I'd be surprised if she were.

Yes, I agree. She'd probably quit, particularly since she has a separate career to fall back on. But you really never know with these people. Having a powerful position is apparently so much fun that you can persuade yourself of preposterous things to keep them. I can easily imagine her telling herself that she was involved in something bad, but better a nice person like her be on the inside fighting it, etc. than someone less nice take the position instead. And who knows? On rare occasions people are right to think that.

Thomas:

I really do not get the Power-bashing going on here. She's a decent person advocating caring about and taking measures against genocide.

Think of it like this: there were lots of people in the Soviet Union who spent their time weeping bitter tears about the crimes of the United States. Oh, they were so very sad about the oppression of The Negro. Oh, they were outraged by the murderous capitalists dumping napalm on little Vietnamese children. When they had extra time they were deeply troubled by the Bangladesh famine.

People like this were widely celebrated by Soviet society. They got all kinds of awards, fancy jobs, etc. They were the conscience of Soviet foreign policy! Sometimes they even got exciting positions within the Politburo.

Yet when seen from the outside, these people looked like bozos. Obviously enough cruel things were happening that were directly caused by the Soviet Union that any Soviet citizen who truly cared about human beings would be concentrating on stopping those. Yet somehow the people who did do this did not receive wonderful awards and fancy jobs. They were not the conscience of Soviet foreign policy.

The same dynamic is at work here. The only reason Power was ever in a position to advise Obama is because she gets selectively angry about only those things which she as an American can have the least effect on. If she concentrated on the things she COULD have a real effect on, she would never have gotten within twelve miles of him. You will note, for instance, that she hasn't had a single word to say about what's going on in Gaza right this very second. Strangely enough, her deep compassion for suffering humans doesn't extend quite that far. Nor, as Donald notes, does it prevent her from being best buddies with Richard Holbrooke, someone who probably has as much blood on his hands as Milosevic.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at March 10, 2008 09:42 AM

I agree with most of that, Jonathan, but I do disagree a bit with the part about caring only about the stuff we can have no effect on. It's not quite like that--in rare cases, like Rwanda, we could have had a very great effect and so I don't disagree with Power's activism there. Of course the foreign policy elite loves to be told they need to invade someone somewhere, but again, in very extreme cases an invasion is the lesser of two evils.

Of course they then apply the same reasoning all over the place, and you end up with the Iraq War (which Power apparently did oppose). Or the Balkans, where some ethnic cleansings deserve to be stopped with air strikes (which might also accelerate them) while others are either overlooked or supported.

If Power were completely sincere, she could advocate for intervention in extreme cases (Rwanda) while also condemning the foreign policy mainstream for its role in actively supporting genocide in places like East Timor. One could agree or disagree with her on specific cases, but her sincerity would be obvious. The real Samantha Power doesn't do this.

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 10, 2008 10:05 AM

wow, stunning ignorance of Soviet history. I can guarantee you Politburo membership was not awarded on the basis of public displays of indignation at US crimes etc. And I am also quite sure that for all of their realpolitik and devotion to power, there were people in the Soviet nomenklatura who did care about the welfare of Soviet citizens (the primary objects of misery caused by the USSR). Eh, doubtless there were those in the system troubled by 56, 68, etc as well.

As for Rwanda, it is clear some places just don't matter, and machetes are bestsellers at the local DIY store.

Posted by xyz at March 10, 2008 10:40 AM

Rob:

For a moment you got me thinking that Yglesias' real grandpa, fiction writer José Yglesias, actually wrote that O'Sullivan quote.

Posted by Pepito at March 10, 2008 10:59 AM

Must be the new filling, Jon. I also get an Oldies station.

I agree with most of that, Jonathan, but I do disagree a bit with the part about caring only about the stuff we can have no effect on. It's not quite like that--in rare cases, like Rwanda, we could have had a very great effect and so I don't disagree with Power's activism there.
Perhaps everyone should take a look at the tense and mood of that last sentence and then explain to me how a past conditional counterfactual hypothetical statement is a valid point in favor of interventionism. Posted by IOZ at March 10, 2008 11:03 AM

I once saw Power on the Charlie Rose show (am I the only person who hates him?) with a few other people, including a Rwandan exile/refugee. This man said that the killings in Rwanda could have been largely if not totally prevented by Clinton's making some phone calls. Rose and Power were stunned and incredulous; Rose said something like, "You really believe that?" "Yes, I do." Shaking head: "Well, moving right along..."

The trouble with making phone calls, jamming hate radio, and other non-violent interventions is not just that they don't make money for arms manufacturers but also that they don't give boners to boys who've seen too many war movies.

Posted by Duncan at March 10, 2008 12:11 PM

WHAT IS the answer for Gaza? What would solve or move toward solving the Palestinian/Israeli problem? Is academia ONLY for rehashing old opinions of yesterday? What about finding SOLUTIONS for TODAY? (OT; Nan 1-202-225-0100)

Posted by Mike Meyer at March 10, 2008 01:27 PM

Perhaps everyone should take a look at the tense and mood of that last sentence and then explain to me how a past conditional counterfactual hypothetical statement is a valid point in favor of interventionism.

Who's defending "interventionism"? Arguing that a particular intervention was likely to have a good effect is not the same as arguing for a foreign policy that generally endorses intervention.

Thomas Nephew, I would not be so much against Power's brand of interventionism if the history of our government--and other powerful nation-states--suggested that it was at all trustworthy. I'm not talking about individual government officials here, I'm talking about the structure of politics and the interests behind it. Killing people to prevent a far greater number of deaths might be justified in some cases, if that was actually our intent and if we were actually competent. I do have a high regard for the competence of the government (it's very good at power-grabs!), but not its intentions.

And of course, as Schwartz and Duncan pointed out, there are plenty of non-military ways to defend humanitarian moral causes. My bet is that these would be much better than military means, given that promoting human wellbeing by bombing people is just a bit self-defeating even if it really is for the greater good.

Posted by Vetinari at March 10, 2008 01:30 PM

It seems to me [Samantha Power] is way more like you and your readers than anyone you'll find walking the halls of the State Department right now.

Allow me an admittedly extreme example: if I was a black man living in the South two centuries ago, I'd prefer to live under a kind master rather than a brutal one, but no one today would say the answer to slavery is to improve the quality of the masters. We all understand that, with slavery, systemic change - the abolition of the whole system - was needed.

That's IOZ's criticism of Power and Ygelsias - that they think things would be OK if we just had better people running the system, because they can't see that the system itself is the problem. They're like those well-meaning folks back in the 19th century who would say, "Yes, I've read Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Simon Legree is indeed an evil man, but I'm sure there are some good slaveowners, too, and what would the slaves do without them?"

Isn't that basically where most Americans are today with regard to US imperialism? Especially with regard to the "What would brown people do without it?" question.

I think any system that has such a wild imbalance of power - with the US spending more on its military than the rest of the world combined - is always going to give us war, no matter who is "advising" those in power. The only answer I see is to address the power imbalance, and if Americans aren't willing to do that by making their military smaller, we'll have to rely on China, Russia and Iran to resolve the imbalance by making their militaries larger.

Posted by SteveB at March 10, 2008 01:46 PM

IOZ, you're not going to learn anything from studying the grammatical structure of my sentences except that I'm not a very good writer.

Anyway, my position is basically what vetinari outlined--in very extreme cases an invasion is sometimes less bad than, say, 800,000 murders in 3 months. It has crossed my mind that the most defensible military intervention the US could have made in the past few decades is precisely the one we didn't do. Where we really have intervened we've made a mess of things. Now if that's what you meant, I agree (while still thinking that almost any alternative in 1994 in Rwanda would have been better than the one that occurred).

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 10, 2008 02:00 PM

I'm genuinely surprised to hear that Samantha Power was surprised by the Rwandan's point about phone calls. A man in the Hotel Mille Collines saved quite a number of lives by making phone calls -- to the French military.

And one of the more valuable contributions Power has made to discussion of responding to / preventing human rights atrocities is to emphasize how many non-military options exist.

I did a lot of Rwanda reading this weekend, due to a post at Obsidian Wings on HRC's claim that she urged intervention in 1994. What jumps out at me is the very different quality of thinking between people who are focused on the immediate situation (Gourevitch, the presentation of Rwanda at the U.S. Holocaust Museum site) and those who are willing to look closely at the history that led to the situation.

Posted by Nell at March 10, 2008 02:34 PM

Nell, who falls into the second camp?

I'm going to reread Power soon. It's been years and when I read her first, I was so disgusted by what she left out and how she was lionized that I didn't feel inclined to give her any credit for what she did say.

On Africa, I thought Howard French's book "A Continent for the Taking" was pretty good, though it weakens my praise when I have to admit I don't remember it very well either. What I do remember is that French was critical of Gourevitch and the "Tutsi good, Hutu bad" meme. In French's telling the genocide didn't stop in 1994, but continued on into the Congo, only this time with the Tutsi as the perpetrators.

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 10, 2008 03:10 PM

the irony here, the irony here, is this conversation is an example of how ethnic cleansing and military massacres come to be. facts to fit the policy!

Posted by hapa at March 10, 2008 03:56 PM

Not everyone in the thread is shaping facts to fit the thesis, and there's engagement as well as name-calling.

I recommend Samantha Power's book, which is a contribution to the discussion of genocide but also seriously flawed by omission. I certainly recommend reading it rather than accepting other people's characterization of her positions, whether by Matt Yglesias or IOZ or Jon.

Interventionism is the default position of our foreign policy elites, and the fundamental assumption they all share is our absolute right to intervene anywhere in almost any way. Economic and diplomatic intervention can be as deadly as military. My attitude to U.S. intervention is a lot more like Jon's than like Samantha Power's. But I think IOZ's characterization is a cartoon.

Posted by Nell at March 10, 2008 04:15 PM

But I think IOZ's characterization is a cartoon.

Agreed. I was more endorsing his take on Yglesias. "If only nice people like me were running things!"

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at March 10, 2008 05:00 PM

hapa, I stand corrected. I was going by my memory, and I know all too well how shaky memory is as a source. I should have looked up the show, but I'm still getting used to the idea that stuff like that is available on the internet. (As opposed to printed sources in libraries.)

Since you've evidently watched it, though, what about Rose's reaction? I notice you didn't mention it. Bonaventure Niyibizi was certainly odd man out on that panel.

Nell, one thing I know: I not only read but copied out Power's false description of the US reaction to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor. No one's been misrepresenting her on that. I also read her review of Chomsky's Hegemony and Survival; I think it says something about her that she's the kind of person that the New York Times would hire to do one of their standard hatchet jobs on the Truely Politically Correct.

Posted by Duncan at March 10, 2008 05:03 PM
NIYIBIZI: [continuing, after power] i don't think to stop the genocide in rwanda, troops were needed. i think very simple telephone call from clinton and mitterrand were enough. the genocide would have stopped the same day.

ROSE: a call to whom.

NIYIBIZI: to, to the existing leadership in kigali, to colonel bagosora, to the government in rwanda, and saying—

ROSE: "there will be consequences."

NIYIBIZI: you say, "what you are doing today is unacceptable. you have to stop it today, or you are going to face the consequences. enough." i'm sure that the genocide would have stopped, without sending troops in rwanda. with the early warning signs that she [points to power] was talking about, it was clear. it was very easy to say, "this is too much; you have to stop."

there's no surprise in rose's voice.

Posted by hapa at March 10, 2008 05:22 PM

sorry about the other....

Posted by hapa at March 10, 2008 05:27 PM

I not only read but copied out Power's false description of the US reaction to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor.

You're ahead of me there, Duncan. It's been several years since I read A Problem from Hell; my memory was that the words 'East Timor' aren't even in the book. But, clearly, the sin is one of commission as well as omission.

If you have the passage handy to cut and paste, I'd be very interested to read it. If not, I'll dig out the book and put it up tomorrow morning.

Posted by Nell at March 10, 2008 05:42 PM
...on the Charlie Rose show (am I the only person who hates him)

I'd prefer James Lipton doing the interviews, that way the proper gravitas and respect could be conveyed to the guests.

Anyway, my position is basically what vetinari outlined--in very extreme cases an invasion is sometimes less bad than, say, 800,000 murders in 3 months. It has crossed my mind that the most defensible military intervention the US could have made in the past few decades is precisely the one we didn't do. Where we really have intervened we've made a mess of things...

1. Had we invaded, there's no guarantee things would have been better. Remember Somalia where we went to feed the starving and ended up with a C130 slowly circling the city and firing the M105 into the slums below?

2. In the alternate universe where we didn't arm the Croats, Bosniacs and the KLA, the Serbs continued their murderous rampage and killed absolutely everyone. Result -- 600 million dead in Europe alone. I don't think you'd want that. So it's a good thing that those MPRI guys were ready with a helping hand.

Posted by angryman@24:10 at March 10, 2008 07:51 PM

800,000 murdered in 3 months--yeah, obviously some form of American intervention was just bound to be worse. Even harsh language on the phone would have inevitably led to the deaths of millions.

Our intervention in Somalia was the usual screwup. It still didn't kill 800,000 in 3 months.

It's not even like I favor interventions--I merely said that in the very most extreme case of mass slaughter in recent decades, some form of American intervention might have been a better option than staying out. You have to be awfully sure of your view of the world to be so certain it's better to let nearly a million people be murdered.

I hope you don't reply with examples of cases where US intervention killed a million people or more, because chances are I already know about them.

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 10, 2008 10:51 PM

hapa, again, thanks for the transcript. That exchange comes closer to the end of the program, at about 33 or 34:00 I think. I watched much of the program, and I agree, there's no surprise in Rose's voice at that point. I'm not sure why I remembered it as I did; I think I was angry the night I saw it, because it took them so long to get to that point. The odor of sanctity in the other speakers still displeases me, watching it again now; there's much pious talk of how a few people standing alone could do something, save a few lives here and there, and then Niyibizi points out that a few people with power could have stopped most or all of the killing with a few phone calls. No, Rose doesn't seem surprised, but no one else chimes in to agree, and Niyibisi still seems to me to be alone there. The others are doing the White People Adoring Rosa Parks routine, where Parks appears as the One Person who stood up alone against prejudice and changed history, instead of the organization activist she was.

Particularly noxious to me is the Belgian general (in the film excerpts) who says that the bad guys' leader and those around stopped being human for him when he saw some blood on the leader's sleeve (or cuff?). How, he asks rhetorically, can you negotiate with the Devil? Leaving aside Belgium's murderous colonial history in Africa, and I believe that Belgian troops in more recent UN peacekeeping efforts have also distinguished themselves for brutality, all I could think was: do they feel the same way about the Western leaders and their proxies -- the Contras, Pinochet, Aubisson, Rios Montt, the Argentine generals, the graduates of the School of the Americas trained in torture and murder, whom the US has not merely tolerated but aided and abetted and given material aid of all kinds? I know that Samantha Power doesn't; probably neither do the other white people on that program. True, the men that general was dealing with are killers and evil, but so are the American Presidents who supported the slaughter in East Timor, and many other slaughters. The double standard stands out especially clearly for me on that show, which is no doubt why I misremembered it.

Nell, yes, that's the passage. The first thing I did when I saw "A Problem from Hell" in the library, after looking at the dust jacket to see what it was about, was to look in the index for East Timor. I found the passage you quoted, saw immediately where Power was coming from, and put the book back. One reason I kept watching that Charlie Rose show was that I came in a few minutes after it started, and I wondered who this pompous, idiotic woman was. Not that anyone on the show, except Niyibisi, is any better.

I don't think anyone has mentioned the boasts of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that as US Ambassador to the UN his appointed task was to make sure that the killing in East Timor (which he mentioned, so he knew what was happening) was not stopped. Noam Chomsky likes to quote his proud assertion of his success in carrying out that task. (Oliver Kamm has argued that Chomsky's taking the passage out of context; I've checked, and Kamm is wrong.)

Posted by Duncan at March 10, 2008 11:12 PM

Donald Johnson, you're playing games. I for one don't oppose non-military intervention (and why does it have to be American, as you specify?) in Rwanda, and I don't think anyone here does either. I am willing to believe Mr. Niyibisi, who says that a few phone calls from Clinton and Mitterand could have stopped all or most of the killing. That sort of intervention is just fine with me. (Clinton lied at the time, and no doubt since, claiming he didn't know what was going to happen.) Your attempt at sarcasm -- "Even harsh language on the phone would have inevitably led to the deaths of millions" -- is creepily dishonest under the circumstances.

True, the US "intervention" in Somalia didn't kill 800,000 people. I guess that makes it all right, then.

You might have a case if such phone calls and other such means had been tried and failed. Then you could perhaps argue that under those circumstances military action would have been a good idea. But as things are, you're obfuscating. I won't bother pointing out the beneficent results of other military "humanitarian interventions," since you don't seem to care. But do consider our present one, in Iraq.

Posted by Duncan at March 10, 2008 11:25 PM

Duncan, you are arguing with a strawman, not with me. Perhaps it's my fault for not being clear, though I also think people are very quick to assume the worst about others in these threads. My sarcasm was in response to angryman's sarcasm about 600 million dead in the post before me. Then you jumped in with yours. I'll try to reply without any in this one, because obviously it just escalates and people who might even agree on most things end up shrieking at each other.

As it happens, I may well agree with you about the morality and the bad effects of every American intervention either of us cares to name and your remark to the contrary was based on a misreading of my point. My point about Somalia is that in the worst case scenario, even a bloody fiasco like that would be preferable to what happened in Rwanda. That doesn't mean I dismiss 10,000 dead, which is (I think) the number Chomsky cites from an article in Foreign Policy or Foreign Affairs. I agree with Chomsky (or what I assume is Chomsky's position) that what happened in Somalia should have been investigated. In fact, I'm not defending the US use of force in Somalia at all. There was no ongoing genocide there, no group killing 10,000 people a day, so it was not an example where military intervention was the lesser of two evils. We just made things worse, as we usually do. Angryman brought up Somalia as an example of what can go wrong--my point was that if there had been a Rwanda-level slaughter going on in Somalia then, under those extreme circumstances, a military intervention might be the lesser of two evils.

I'll make an analogy here. The 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia probably killed thousands of civilians (I'm just guessing, but it seems reasonable) and the actions which killed those civilians may have been war crimes that ought to be investigated and punished. But that invasion also stopped Pol Pot's genocide. It's in that sense that I think a US military intervention in the worst case scenario might be preferable to genocide.

If all other forms of intervention (such as phone calls) failed, then even a military intervention with thousands dead is better than a genocide with nearly a million dead. (I assume that a believable threat of force would be behind those phone calls, btw.) I specifically restricted my support to military intervention to some hypothetical extreme case like Rwanda. I made a veiled reference to the Balkans in an earlier post. I don't feel like I know enough about the history of the Balkans to be able to judge what the US did there, but what little I do know suggests that we were hypocritical as usual, focusing on the atrocities of one group (the Serbs) while ignoring or even supporting the atrocities and ethnic cleansings of other groups. Plus our bombing killed at least hundreds of civilians (possibly thousands).

I mentioned "American" intervention not because I prefer that it be my country (I don't) but simply because in American blogs where we talk about American imperialism when we talk about interventions it's usually American ones that are under discussion. But to the extent that military humanitarian interventions are ever necessary and desirable, I'd prefer that they not be under the American flag, actually, because it just encourages our national sense of self-righteousness.

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 11, 2008 12:23 AM

Donald --

Quick take on your Vietnam/Cambodia ref.

Recall that the Vietnamese, whatever their official pronouncements, were responding to murderous cross-border raids by the KR. They didn't intervene for humanitarian reasons, though their invasion/occupation could be described as such, given the KR's barbarism. As Noam put it, that invasion is never touted as "humanitarian" in the US -- far from it. The NYTimes called the Vietnamese the Prussians of Asia (!), and you know how the USG recognized the KR as the "legitimate" Cambodian govt, sending aid, political cover, etc.

Posted by Dennis Perrin at March 11, 2008 12:45 AM

BTW, Duncan, I just read your 11:12 post and found myself in sympathy with everything you wrote. (And I can't stand Charlie Rose either, though maybe that was someone else). I doubt it crossed your mind that the person you attacked would have agreed with your 11:12 post--I even agree with the angry attack on that imaginary Donald Johnson in your 11:25 post, who does sound like a real prick.

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 11, 2008 12:47 AM

Agreed, Dennis. I was just using it as one case where an invasion had a net positive effect. Chomsky's other case was India's war against Pakistan in 1971 and that was triggered because the Pakistan genocide in Bangladesh had led to 10 million refugees in India.

Actual cases of genuine military humanitarian intervention are probably very rare (if they happen at all) and when countries claim to be doing it, there's likely to be some other reason that is the main priority.

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 11, 2008 12:55 AM

I wonder what East Timor cost the AMERICAN TAXPAYER. (bucks per life? cents per life?) What has OUR pressure cooker in Gaza cost US, so far? Gonna cost US? Should WE intervene militarily WHEN one side decides to swallow the other? ('cause that's what happens in pressure cookers) What would THAT cost US? (YOU know WE are paying for these problems, sometimes in cash, too often in BLOOD)

Posted by Mike Meyer at March 11, 2008 02:00 AM

Donald,

don't take it wrong. All I meant was that even things that start as humanitarian missions develop a political taint that turns them bad. It's our nature as Americans to take it to that level; to improve the situation to death.

One day we will actually do something for humanitarian reasons and not make it a political circus. I hope to see that so that I can be amazed (and confused).

Posted by angryman@24:10 at March 11, 2008 08:21 AM

rose usually makes me woozy.

Posted by hapa at March 11, 2008 12:16 PM

Donald Johnson, thanks for trying to explain yourself better. I'm sure we do largely agree on many things. But now look again at what you wrote:

"In fact, I'm not defending the US use of force in Somalia at all. There was no ongoing genocide there, no group killing 10,000 people a day, so it was not an example where military intervention was the lesser of two evils. We just made things worse, as we usually do."

Very good. Yet we killed or brought about the deaths of 10,000 or so people in Somalia. So, given this and the rest of what you wrote in that post, suppose the US had gone into Rwanda with guns blazing -- would the death toll there have been lower than 800,000, or would it have been higher?

I'm not even going to try to answer that question myself, nor do I expect you to do so, because the real world isn't a lab for controlled experiments. We don't know what would have happened in Rwanda if we'd invaded, nor do we know what would have happened there if Clinton and Mitterand had made those phone calls. We just don't know at all. (Just as I often have to remind frothing Democrats: We don't know what would have happened if Al Gore had become president instead of Dubya.) But given the US' track record, it's folly to suppose an invasion would have produced results to be proud of.

Dennis Perrin is right, too: the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia to repel attacks. But even so, given the actual results of their invasion, maybe we should let the Vietnamese do the next "humanitarian intervention" and have the US sit on the bench.

Posted by Duncan at March 11, 2008 04:41 PM