Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stopping genocide

Yglesias has a good, balanced take on this. I admit, I'm struggling on this issue. Larison has me stumped. Every time humanitarian intervention comes up it sounds quite good, but then the logistics of it--the history of the conflict, the regional realities, etc.--makes the problem quite baffling.

But non-interventionism vs interventionism seems to leave other options off the table.

In any case, here's a sample:
The basic way the conversation goes is basically that whenever humanitarian emergencies break out, we do nothing to stop them. And sometimes we invade Iraq. But then whenever anyone suggests that the U.S. commit itself to following international law and not using non-defensive military force absent a UN Security Council authorization, people show up insisting that we need to maintain the right to unilateral non-defensive war in order to stop genocide. Then whenever humanitarian emergencies break out, we do nothing to stop them. But the larger cause of unilateral militarism lives to fight another day. Or something....

...The flipside of these considerations is that when skeptics of far-flung war-fighting hear that someone or other wants to do more to prevent mass killings of civilians abroad, they shouldn’t just assume that what the person has in mind is starting a lot of new wars. That is what Robert Kagan and Max Boot have in mind. And it’s what some Democrats have in mind, too. But other people — usually the people with a real interest in humanitarian issues and the crisis-afflicted regions, rather then generic Very Serious People — are talking about actually finding ways to prevent people from being killed, not finding new pretexts for killing people.

And so the question becomes: can America or the UN or any organization really, truly stop genocide? It seemed to work in Eastern Europe in the 90's, but then again, did we merely postpone a war that was meant to be had? Would it break out now if our troops left the region? Tensions there are still remarkably high. Nationalism doesn't simply fade when the fighting stops.

It's an emotionally driven issue, and rightly so. Images from Rwanda or Darfur or the Congo, or the countless other African crisis zones are heart-rending, appalling, and make even the most dovish among us wish for some good, swift military intervention.

It's simply not as easy as all that. I'd offer up Somalia as a vision of sorts for the trouble with what appears to be a rather simple humanitarian mission. The best laid plans, as they say...