Sunday, March 6, 2011

When the Interventionists Hear Voices

Charles Krauthammer, like Joan of Arc , hears voices -- only the voices he hears from "around the world, from Europe to America to Libya are calling for U.S. intervention to help bring down Moammar Gadhafi." Yet, also like Joan of Arc, he seems to be the only one hearing those voices. Who, besides the folks who brought us Iraq 2, the liberal-hawk-neocon-usual suspects, has called for unilateral US intervention?

At best, you have John Kerry calling for putting potholes in airport runways. Kerry would not have the US attack Libya's airforce unless it was used for massacring civilians. I haven't heard the Libyan people ask for Uncle Sam to start the bombing campaign. They're not stupid; they saw how the United States destroyed Iraq in order to make it safe for democracy, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and US soldiers, sending the middle class into exile, and then propping up a pro-Western authoritarian ruler that replaced another authoritarian ruler not to its liking. As for Pakistan and Afghanistan – well, I am not one to cite Tom Friedman, but he has a valid point when he writes, "What are we doing spending $110 billion this year supporting corrupt and unpopular regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are almost identical to the governments we're applauding the Arab people for overthrowing?"

Those "voices from around the world" may indeed be calling for intervention, but not for unilateral intervention led by the US and some of its allies, but for international intervention. And last I heard, the US did not go to war against Saddam Hussein in order to stop him from mass killing his own civilians. When that happened we did nothing, and when he couldn't do it again, we went in to get rid of him.

But even if you are a liberal interventionist, when do you decide when to intervene? When civilians are being massacred in a bombing that is called disproportionate by the United Nations? I may be deaf, but I didn't hear any of the neocon hawk voices call for US intervention when Israel killed over 1400 civilians in Gaza, the vast majority of them non-combatants. Where was the call for a no-fly zone then? I didn't hear a peep from Messrs.' Krauthammer and friends at the outset of the Second Intifada, when the IDF killed 275 unarmed protesters, while suffering minimal (yet regrettable) losses. I didn't hear Mr. Krauthammer praise the Mitchell Committee report calling on the Government of Israel to "ensure that the IDF adopt and enforce policies and procedures. encouraging non-lethal responses to unarmed demonstrators, with a view to minimizing casualties and friction between the two communities" and "adopt tactics of crowd-control that minimize the potential for deaths and casualties, including the withdrawal of metal-cored rubber rounds from general use. "

And please don't respond that there is a fundamental difference between the cases; the Arab governments are going after their own citizens, whereas Israel is in a never-ending conflict with another…what? Because if there is a distinction, it is to the disadvantage of Israel. Israel has been oppressing the Palestinians under occupation for over forty years. They have much fewer rights than do the Libyans, Tunisians, Jordanians because they are being ruled not only by an authoritarian regime but one which sees them as aliens who can be dispossessed at will – something that no Arab under the most authoritarian regime feels.

This inconsistency shows that liberal interventionists are highly selective in their moral outrage, and that they suffer from a "Saving-Private-Ryan" complex – they will intervene to save people with whom they identify, people on their side. But if the civilians happen to be on other the side of their tribal divide, they become silent.

I don't hear their voices.


John Welch said...

I am not your typical interventionist...father and father-in-law of US Soldiers who served 2002 - 2009, member of Military Families Speak Out, supporter/member of JVP, but here is my voice for some kind of intervention. The same voice I found during the Bosnian slaughter.

We have to do something. I know the risks, and I know, all too well, the faces of the US military. They are family, and should not be used like images in a computer game. This blood is real.

Key voice I hear is that of the Libyan opposition, as reported in Al Jazeera:

The Libyan protesters need help: that counts more than all the psychotic ramblings of the neo-cons who promised a "democratic tsunami" is we "just" invaded Iraq.

AlJ agrees, as you can read between the lines.

Chancellor Magnes's argument fails, I think, where it tries to define a high-level rule for intervention, and then to apply that rule to the specific case of Libya. I've had those arguments before, and it might suggest the danger of approaching real politics from ethical rules or "moral values" (a nod toward ES Brightman, Martin Luther Link's most important professor atr Boston U).

The high-level rules never seem to get down to earth in a useful way. I'm not sure there are any rules.

Instead, here is a case: what should we do?

US air-suppression of Gadaffi's military is no casual side trip on the way from Suez to Gibralter. Granted. This takes planning and serious force. Gadaffi may well have surface-to-ship missiles that must be clobbered first. Then his surface-to-air missiles have to be obliterated. That takes care, and a large target. Nothing simple.

Still, the Libyans are asking for this help. I would listen to their voices.

John Welch
(Chicago Area Draft Resisters, unretired, admire of Staughton Lynd and Martin Buber and Breaking the Silence, among others)

Anonymous said...

"I may be deaf, but I didn't hear any of the neocon hawk voices call for US intervention when Israel killed over 1400 civilians in Gaza, the vast majority of them non-combatants"

deaf you are not....but please tell me when you received your phd in the rules of war and knowing who is and who is not considered a civilian.

or do you hold, as that great sage, norman finkelstein, that when hamas changed the numbers of their fighters that died in gaza, upping the numbers so that well over half of those killed were hamas operatives, they did so because they were ashamed at urging the citizenry to fight, while they ran and hid?

i dont believe that america should intervene. not at all.

it was your buddies in the un and the un hrc, who for years have given ghadaffi and his regime cover, while wasting their time attacking israel every time she sneezed.

but i bet that your bud norman, will go on citing un votes against israel as proof of the state's intransigence and insanity

and are honestly comparing innocent men, women and children riding in buses, partying in clubs, shopping in the shook to those who attack idf soldiers and police with weapons (look it up you idiot...use a rock, you can be charged with the use of a deadly weapon, and go to prison for a long time) are you mad sir? regrettable? have you no shame at you hate your people so much that you would wantonly spit on their graves?

less than a week from purim sir?


Turtle_fan said...

Hey bacci40,

attack the argument; not the man.
You just delivered a textbook example in self harm and arhument belittlement.

Regardless of you strong feelings, take a breather and construct an argument. If, that is, you want to pass for anything more than a rabid, outraged disagreer.

Juan said...

To be sure Krauthammer et al. have been quite hypocritical, as you note. (I would label them "intervention liberalists," because there is nothing I can see about K. generally that is liberal in any way, other than his frequent tendency to subtract from the sum total of human knowledge.)

Here's the problem as I see it. From the standpoint of universal values (fairness, social justice, equal rights, etc.), it is hypocritical to not speak out against injustice, whomever it afflicts. But intervention is often costly in blood and treasure. What countries (and probably all human groups) do in such a situation is to cost/benefit analyze, as you know.
Although this sounds cold and hypocritical (and it is, from the standpoint of univ. human rights), it is often more realistic that the more principled approach. Why? Because intervention resources are limited, adverse consequences of intervention often cannot be fully foreseen, etc. Human social groups as well as societies compete against each other and they are not going to weaken their competitive position vis a vis others doing interventions unless there is good reason to expect a positive return on investment. You and I know this, and you and I know the neocons and most other human beings have been guilty of the very type of hypocrisy which you address here.

What I think is that, WITHIN a given society, a strictly egalitarian doctrine ("equal opportunity") is most adaptive, because it minimizes social conflict).

With respect to INTERNATIONAL relations, we should all strive to treat each other well and equally so. When there is clear reason to consider intervention, it should be considered only working in conjunction with others (e.g., the United Nations) so that the costs of intervening are reasonably shared and as close to consensus is reached regarding whether or not to intervene. When a consensus as to intervention is not possible to reach, then individual countries will cost/benefit analyze and act accordingly. Of course, this sort of action can often cause wars. Anyhow, this is my $.02. Thanks for letting me share it.

Anonymous said...


moral relativism is not an is a belief system

and comparing passengers on a bus to rioters and terrorists is not an is an absurd statement, based on a hate i do not understand.

and jerry isnt following the debate very closely, or he would see that this is one time that the right and left are very mixed on their opinion regarding intervention in libya

and im still waiting for the great un to do more than just make speeches and freeze a couple of bank accounts

Moderator said...

There are reports that the reports that the Interim National Transitional Council is itself a creation of the the U.S. — see links below article at

Michael W. said...

Mr. Haber,

A few months ago it was publicized that a Hamas official claimed that 600-700 of the people killed were members of Hamas security wing and other militant groups. Do you believe this to be true? And if not, does the statement "the vast majority of them non-combatants" accurately describes what happened in Gaza over two years ago?

Jerry Haber said...

"Do you believe this to be true"

No, I don;t.


Unknown said...

I was and remained a strong critic of Iraq invasion.
I hover find myself urging the US to intervene in Libya. Iraq and are apple oranges if not more different. what we have in Libya is a true peoples revolution against a mad dictator and not against a a religious sect or ethnic ruler in Iraq0 or warlords (Somalia) . For a dictator to rule for over 42 years is a remarkable achievement not only in brutality, but massive pacification of the Libyans, for these Libyan to revolt is not only amazing it is a one time shot for liberation, otherwise the "Great" Gaddafi and the 8 Junior Gaddafi (his sons) will not only seek extreme revenge on the Libyans but will make sure that another revolt will not happen and they will rule for another 4 decades. Well Oil is a fact of life, and for better or worse has to be sold as long as the world wants it, so it is not a secret commodity that will be sold to one country and consequently that country will have some misterious extra powers over others. I believe when you analyze it from that sense, oil -in Libya's case can be seen as a neutral, if not even a negative factor, meaning that the west (mainly the US) will find itself compelling to help Gaddafi they did over the decades rather than the freedom fighters.
A no fly zone and some limited attack is a wish from my part, to help the freedom fighters from death by freedom, death because they want to meet the dictator, or death in order to unite this vast country, where these youth can be massacred a la' "turkey shoot" on that desolate exposed long desert road between Benghazi Tripoli. Gaddafi, over the years was enabled by certain western powers, he was a good, loud enemy entrusted to damage and weaken freedom movements around the world. The anti-colonial or "revolutionary" movement around the world were welcomed by Gaddafi and they naively thought that because of the outwardly vehement hate of and demonization of Gaddafi and as as a sworn enemy to the US and the west, he must have been a true revolutionary. In this case it was a win win situation for both Gaddafi and the West. In the meantime his people suffered immense oppression and fear and torture while Libya's wealth was actively squandered in every which way, most of the time in clownish fanfare by the great leader. I agonize, because I am asking for intervention and quickly, but in sparing the a large numbers of Libyans certain death makes my agony at least sufferable. I however find that this intervention if it will ever come, will be too late and not for humanitarian reasons, unfortunately.

Jerry Haber said...

Tim, I understand your impulse. It's a good one.

But we elect leaders so they won't shoot from the hip. I see absolutely no reason for the US to intervened unilaterally in Libya -- even if thousands are massacred by a crazy man. That's not our job, and it is our never been our job.

It is the US's job to lead and get support from other countries. But military intervention -- no.

Unknown said...

I also understand were you come from and definitely respect and admire it, but if anything I learned that I could not be an absolutist. in other words I wont use the word never. I also might say that the longer any intervention waits, the more complicated it will be, and therefore would be less genuinely for the sake of helping the Libyan freedom fighters, but rather to interfere, and manipulate this or that event with the usual intervention problems we have seen in the past..and if that happens then it will give credence to your position..In other words, the window for the intervention that I was calling for is shrinking rapidly..less than a week. What we have seen, on the contrary, a timely counter-revolutionary intervention, when 8 British marines who were mysteriously apprehended 50 kilometers from Benghazi, and it seems they had a hand in blowing up a huge ammunition depot 10-15 Km from there. The West's interest are with Gaddafi I am afraid.