Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Is it better to blunder on into a war? Or to let the 800,000 people die?

In this story about Clinton's National Security adviser and Rwanda, Anthony Lake ponders the frustration of all their inactivity.

Here is a question for you: If the US led a force of UN soldiers into this conflict, do you honestly think they would have come away without mass protests around the world? Do you think that the situation would have been cleared up within two years? And even abuse stories of US servicemen?

Do you think that we could have pulled out with some sense of stability? I think not.

But I put to you, was it better to stand by and do nothing?

  • 'In Rwanda, the United States did not simply not intervene. It also used its considerable power to discourage other Western powers from intervening. '

To ignore the situation - rather than getting into a very messy military situation - was the choice of Clinton's administration.

  • 'Mr. Lake readily acknowledged other unattractive features of American policy: that the State Department prohibited use of the word "genocide" for months, that the Pentagon refused to jam Rwandan broadcasts that guided the killing and that there had been warnings well ahead of time, including one from the Central Intelligence Agency, that a catastrophic human disaster was in the making.
  • "It was based on the belief that if you used the word, then you're required to take action," he said. "They didn't go the sophistry route - using the word and finding a way to weasel out of it. Now in Sudan, we've used it and we're wriggling out of its meaning. Which is more unattractive? I don't know."'

What pisses me off is that so many people want this to stop and yet when the US goes in, the scandals start. And the same sorts of people are telling the US that they really screwed up.

Sure it is in vogue to ignore the thousands of people killed by Saddam and the previous issue of making WMD, in favor of the intelligence failure and the perceived fraudulent push by Bush to get a war started with a fabricated link to Al Q. But when a Rwanda and Bosnia started, the US and the UN drag their feet in favor of slow negotiation. In both cases Clinton chose to remain on the sidelines.

And when something gets started, too many say that force is not the only answer. Okay, how would you stop a Rawanda-like situation without giving a UN soldier bullets?

This really gets me angry and is where I get apoplectic with the left.


Scott said...

You are mistaken about Bosnia. It was the US that was pushing to arm the Muslims and bomb the hell out of the Bosnian Serbs. The EU was pushing for a political solution.

You're right about almost everything else, altough I fail to see what the ranting and raving of cynical leftists has to do with stopping a genocide. If that's the price to be paid for saving the lives of, what, 700,000 people, I'd gladly put up with it.

The connection to Iraq might seem relevant, but remember that lots of people like myself opposed the war on Iraq on practical and strategic grounds, not moral ones. Despite being a nice thing to do for the Iraqis, this war is going to hurt the US a lot in the long run. Intervention in Rwanda would have been a relative annoyance at best.

(On a related note, I believe Madeleine Albright cited the failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda as the biggest failure of her tenure. I can't imagine anybody in the Bush circle looking back with hindsight and admitting they screwed up.)

As I wrote in the comments on my blog, Bush's mistakes have sown cowardice and confusion among grass roots leftists, many of whom were just beginning to understand that a little intervention sometimes is a good thing. Still, in the end it's not "the left" that's causing mayhem in Iraq. It's the Iraqi insurgents. So while you may be annoyed, direct your apoplexy elsewhere!

Dantravels said...

It seems to me that the story of Darfur may be a good example: just now the BBC and CNN are giving us tear-jerking stories about the tradgedy there (I use the cynical 'tear-jerking' to describe the actors who call themselves reporters, not the situation which warrants the word 'tradgedy'). Aid agencies and care groups are certainly in a position to witness the violence and ask for help from the outside. I don't think I am too far off the point to say that the ones that bring to attention these issues are decent, left wing do gooders. More power to them.

My problem is that when help comes, it is many times in the tool of a blunt hammer of force. And then the ranting in raving, which you so accurately call it, starts and the US is abused.

For Bosnia, I would defer to your description, but would easily say that the problem comes out this way.
- Tradgedy, murders, injustics.
- Outcry, television, aid groups call for help.
- Inaction, debate, Let us negotiate!
- Military, force, collateral damage.
- Western powers imposing 'their democracy', world protests against US imperialism, left protests against US hawks for wrong means and ends.
- Damned because they did, voted out of office.
=== a play in six acts.

The moral is that those that protest are of similar make up as those that bring it to the attention. When a tough guy comes in, that guy is anything but noble....in the eyes of the original groups that noticed the injustice.

On strategic grounds, why does everyone think that simpletons like us have a superior knowledge of strategy that people at the brookings institute. Are your really ready to enter into a debate with these DOD guys on strategy? Bush may very well seem to be an actor, a mouthpiece and indeed a buffoon, but I cannot agree that he arrived in this role on the dumb luck and influence wielding that many blame. It has got to be a tough job.

Bringing on an election, has got to be a good thing. Is this another Bush mistake? Or is everyone just arguing about how to do it, when the guys who have taken on the job are now forced to listen to the gallery.

If the the military is doing a job there now, more people should lend support rather than criticising and slowing down the process. And I believe the sowing of confusion is clearly evident.

Especially in the press, when they are a tool for the advertising of beheadings. Yes, I believe these stories have value to two groups only: the press and the insurgents.

Soldiers dying because Bush is evil, "how can you sleep at night Mr. President?". Sorry that is what soldiers do, they take a job in which they can die from. That is what Presidents do; then send men to die for values - good and bad - that their country supports. Unjust? the world is unjust and will always be so. Get used to it.

And, yes, I do that believe normal US soldiers are committing atrocious crimes. Should that be an issue to transform cracks in the sheer wall of support and make them into gaping, structural holes in the effort? Should someone keep yelling at the driver of the car at every corner and thereby jeopardize an already dangerous ride? I don't think so. Afterall it is war, and while these guys should be removed and put away, you have to realize that the other side is much, much worse.

My apoplexy is valid. But like the left, it is hardly very useful just now.

Scott said...

"The moral is that those that protest are of similar make up as those that bring it to the attention."

In many cases, yes, but overall this is just a straw man argument. There are plenty of informed writers and commentators who are pushing for more a strong international role for the US, and then supporting it when it happens. Plenty! In fact, I'd say among influential opinion makers, "elites" as you call them, these are in fact the majority. If you take issue with somebody's individual argument, say so, but don't paint everybody with these broad strokes. The latter is the very definition of ranting and raving in my book!

"On strategic grounds, why does everyone think that simpletons like us have a superior knowledge of strategy that people at the brookings institute. "

Jesus Christ, what a scary thing to say! Yeah, why bother debating? Leave it to the experts, they know what's best! Actually, I've read numerous Brookings-Institute-level comments arguing that invading Iraq would be a strategic mistake, or at least a risk not worth taking. That was in fact the whole argument in the lead-up to war: whether it was worth the risk. In the end the hard-headed realists (both liberal and conservative) were drowned out by the optimists and moralists (both liberal and conservative). More accurately, our president chose to ignore the latter. If Iraq turns into a long open-ended occupation (which is already has) it's basically a gift on a silver platter to our future world power rival, China. This is not rocket science. What if a genuine crisis demanding US military action breaks out in North Korea, Iran or elsewhere? Either we re-institute the draft, or we won't have the men to fight it. Bad scene. Of course now that we re-elected the man who man these mistakes, I imagine the realists have given up on finding a solution to this problem.

rod said...

First, as Scott said upthread, I think your memories of Bosnia are a bit inaccurate. Then again, you know more about what's going on in that part of the world than I do, so I won't push the point.

More importantly, I'm a little confused by one line of your post: "Do you think that we could have pulled out with some sense of stability? I think not." I take this to mean that you have real questions about whether armed response could actually have helped the situation in Rwanda, but that trying to confront the killers would have been better than doing nothing. If I misunderstood your point, I apologize. If I got it, then please read on.

There is no doubt that Rwanda was not America's/the UN's/the world's finest hour. It was the most efficient genocide in modern history (measured by the number of deaths per month), and it is criminal that the rest of the world stood by and did nothing. However - if we assume that armed confrontation would not have prevented the genocide, then I wonder if simply adding more deaths in the name of "doing something" would have been a better course.

Now, I don't know that this was necessarily the case in Rwanda - it may be that armed confrontation would have saved a substantial number of lives. I will leave it to people more learned in the history and conduct of warfare than I to make that call. However, I think there can be little argument that America has limited military resources, and cannot possibly respond with superior firepower every time some nation in the world descends into bloody anarchy. At some point, I think we have to do some triage and sort the world's horrors into those we can do something about and those we can't; or, better still, between those which bear on our own safety and security and those which don't.

That's why Iraq pisses me off so badly - we were already engaged in a life-and-death struggle with certain parties who would like to (and, in fact, did) bring the fight to Manhattan, but we were itching for a very different fight so we took our eyes off the ball. We might as well have invaded New Zealand, given that the Kiwis had about as much to do with our real enemies as did Iraq. Except that invading New Zealand would not have resulting in the recruitment of quite so many al Qaeda suicide bombers.

Sometimes a great power needs to use military force. I don't like it, but I recognize that it's true. However, even the greatest powers must use force wisely, or risk the blowback. For too long, US foreign policy has been based upon the principles outlined by that old children's song, "The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly." We armed Saddam Hussein as a proxy against the Iranians, and then acted shocked when those arms were turned on innocent Kurdish civilians. We arm the noble Afghan mujahideen, only to have them fly planes into our skyscrapers a few years later. We run our diplomatic operations like Exxon runs its business - with an eye to next quarter's balance sheet, the long run be damned. And it's costing us dearly in blood and treasure.