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August 26, 2007


Glad to see you write this post. I too read Jamie's piece in the RI paper and I gave my computer screen the puzzled dog look...as in WTF? Jamie's take seemed like such intentional misunderstanding that I was taken aback.

I'll second that. Jamie's piece struck me as being either sloppy or mean-spirited or both.

You are (as far as I can tell) absolutely right above. Also note that he favors expanding the Army (which I'm rather leery of) - not I presume in order to ignore the next catastrophe.

But by your criterion in the other thread, wouldn't you like Obama to say "I will withdraw our troops and will not respond in case of genocide because we will be unable to make matters better, much as I wouldn't have intervened in the Congo" or whatever you think is his actual belief is? It's not at all clear to me what the leading candidates actually have in mind with their leaving-forces-there-in-case statements - I've been guessing that's political cover.

According to Scott Horton, Jamie is Martin Peretz's assistant over at TNR.

Explains a lot.

I'm leaning Obama at this point because I think he is sincere about bringing America back, and I think he'll be able to go a long ways toward restoring our reputation. This rhetoric, and this judgment, that you point to are the sort of thing that makes me feel that way.

I was surprised to see Kirchick guest blogging for Sullivan. So much of what he's written at TNR has been so quickly debunked and so far off base that I thought he was not long for the world of punditry.

Yeah, I'm naive.

Keep up the good work knocking down his efforts at mythmaking.

Surely the mistake - and I guess it's Sullivan's fault more than Hilzoy's - is trying to take Jamie Kirchik seriously, as being someone who actually merits a response.

Just to clarify something in the Rolling Stone quote - although Samantha Power came of age after the Cold War, it is clear that Obama came of age well before the Cold War ended.

I don’t know Hilzoy. Not intervening while people are dying daily because it might “further fan anti-American sentiment” just seems like an excuse. I’m not going to claim that unilateral action is the answer, because I’ve not been able to answer Gary’s question “and then what”. But then I’m not running for president (thankfully).

I’ll give him credit for being more visible on the issue than most. But sending a “signal to the world that we want to act in concert” is not a plan – it’s a fantasy because the “world” just doesn’t give a damn. Severe sanctions sound good. Pressuring China is a little iffy because in reality I think China has more leverage over us these days than the other way around.

But he is a sitting Senator. If this is seriously his position he could be introducing bills and resolutions every single day that the Senate is in session. He could be working to form a coalition that would start with sanctions but be prepared to quickly follow up with concrete military action.

All this other stuff just comes across as hand-wringing IMO. He is a Senator – he should do something more concrete. And I’m sure that “wait until I’m president and then I’ll do something” is a real comfort to the people dying.

None of that implies that any other candidate has a better position BTW…

OCSteve: the thing is, he did introduce one bill -- well, an amendment, actually, -- on Darfur, and worked on the main one for several years. And as best I can tell, he was one of the main people working to do something about the Congo, which is a ghastly nightmare that doesn't have anything like the visibility of Darfur. That was why one reason I found Jamie's piece puzzling: he actually does have a track record.

Also, about Darfur specifically: I think it's important to ask: what exactly would our troops do, and would unilateral v. multilateral affect what they had to do? The last thing we want to do, it seems to me, is create a situation in which the Sudan defies us to such an extent that we have to, say, capture and hold all of Darfur against the Sudanese army. (Not that we couldn't, but that it would be far better if they just backed off.) The extent of their resistance, I would think, depends a lot on what they think they can get away with, and that in turn depends a lot on the perceived legitimacy of the protective force. And I think that they would have a much harder time saying 'screw you' to a multilateral force than to just plain us.

And that's leaving aside the question: where are we going to get these troops from, exactly?

I have no idea what I would think we should do if we hadn't gone into iraq. But I think that the fact that we did drastically altered things, both in terms of the resources we have at our disposal (e.g., whether we have soldiers just hanging around waiting to be deployed) and in terms of the consequences of our doing something unilaterally, and in both cases it made unilateral action a much, much more problematic option than it would have been otherwise.

Note: I would never have supported unilateral action as a first option in any case. I think that in humanitarian crises, multilateral is always way better. The question I'm addressing above is: what if the world community won't act in the face of true genocide? What then?

I know you don't want to directly attack your (temporary) co-blogger, Hilzoy, but isn't the likeliest example, given Kirchik's track record, that he wants to devalue any response that doesn't involve swift and overwhelming use of American force? He out-and-out says it:

Simply put, the only way to end the Darfur genocide is by NATO intervention, and, failing that, unilateral American military involvement. Bombing government facilities in Khartoum may also be necessary.

OC Steve:

You wrote:

I’ll give him credit for being more visible on the issue than most. But sending a “signal to the world that we want to act in concert” is not a plan – it’s a fantasy because the “world” just doesn’t give a damn."

My daughter, when she was a child and pre - teen rode with me in a car trip to my parents home probably hundreds of times. Once she became licensed to drive and wanted to go visit them, she had to ask me directions. After that first trip, she absolutely knew the way.

What is the point? "The world doesn't give a damn" is just like saying my daughter didn't care about visiting her grandparents. She did care, obvious by her actions, once she was able to carry out her own agenda, so to speak. She did chose to go visit them often. Her inattention to doing anything about it while totally under her father's control made perfect sense, regardless of her motives toward her grandparents.

Similarly, when we have and constantly use a military larger than the next fourteen nations of the world to police whatever areas we unilaterally choose, why should anyone else waste any energy on the issue?

We have declared them irrelevant. We can back that up militarily. They are, currently irrelevant (relatively) militarily. Policing the world has de facto become our problem. It's not that they "don't give a damn", it's that we have told them to go play in the back yard, while we handle the world's problems.

I believe people in other parts of the world are, individually and collectively, no more or less concerned about atrocities and tradgedies than Americans are. This, to me, is a major difference between left and right thinking. I can't imagine thinking that people in the rest of the world "don't give a damn" about genocide and other forms of injustice. Can you give any evidence that only Americans care?

Well said, hilzoy. I also thought Jamie's piece was ludicrous. Thanks for taking the time to nail all the details.

Well said, Oyster Tea, too, btw. I agree 100%.

I'm a big fan of Obama's, but the notion that the people that have attacked us got that way from "poverty and conflict and health problems and autocracy and environmental degradation in faraway places" (from his think tank) seems a bit far-fetched if you look at their actual, mostly professional backgrounds.

Let us understand something about Kirchik and people like Kirchik. They don't actually think *anything*--Kirchick doesn't *think we should interfere in Darfur* and he doesn't *think we should stop genocide.* The whole point of this post, and his other work, is that it is propaganda for an unnamed and unnamable republican candidate for president. He picked Obama to slam as "not anti genocide enough" because he was looking for a line of attack on Obama that would discredit him with *liberals* and *liberal interventionists* and, fleetingly, with whatever conservatives actually care about stopping genocide (these are very few, if by conservatives we mean actual conservative leaders rather than voters).

The word genocide as it is currently being used, and Darfur, as it is currently being used in American political speech is simply a *proxy for what is predicted to happen in Iraq when and if the US pulls out.* So when a libertarian or conservative propagandist starts talking about genocide in the abstract, or darfur in the particular, the only point they are trying to make is that America should stay in Iraq for the foreseaable future until the problem of Iraq and its bloodshed becomes a wholly democratic/liberal problem. At that point Kirchick and poeple like Kirchick will forget any qualms they may have had about the lives of the Iraqis (or the people of Darfur) and begin campaigning against the Democratic administration on the grounds that no amount of bloodshed in far-off places justifies the loss of a single american serviceman.

Responding to Kirchick on his own terms and immiediatly is good. But realizing that what Kirchick does isn't done in good faith is even better. I'm willing to take bets that within a week of a Democrat--any Democrat--taking power in 2008 the Republicans and their paid stooges like Kirchick will start attacking them for wantonly throwing away our blood and treasure to prevent non-white people from carrying out their savage will and committing genocide against each other *as they always do*. All of Peretz and Bush's writers have always used this subliminal message as a secondary underlying the overall "democracy/whiskey/sexey" line they sell us at other times.

And as for the poster above (Bittern)--people who study insurgenices and terrorist groups know that both are necessary--poverty, oppression and hopelessness for the mass of civilians and education and rage for the elite in the terrorist movement. The elite can't last long without the support, however pathetic and passive, of the larger societies in which they hide. That is why so much of the energy of the various far right islamic groups is spent on social and human services that the states won't or can't provide. If the Muslim Brotherhood hadn't been funding hospitals and schools and human services, if the saudi's weren't funding the only schools available to people in poor countries, there wouldn't be places for terrorists to hide.


Hilzoy: The question I'm addressing above is: what if the world community won't act in the face of true genocide? What then?

Aren’t we already there?

Oyster Tea: Can you give any evidence that only Americans care?

That wasn’t my claim – I did not say “no one besides America cares”. When I say the world just doesn’t give a damn I include America as part of the world. At least no one appears to care enough to actually do something about putting an immediate stop to it. 400,000 and counting – I mean what’s the threshold?

The UN won’t even call it genocide because “the crucial element of genocidal intent appears to be missing, at least as far as the central Government authorities are concerned”. Sure individuals are perpetrating genocidal acts, but the overall situation isn’t really genocide. The Genocide Conventions exist for just such an occasion – but if you don’t call it genocide then you don’t have to actually worry about doing much about it. The cry of “Never Again!” rings pretty hollow today.

The US labeled it genocide three years ago. All we’ve done since is pass some bills that impose sanctions on responsible individuals, appointed a special Envoy, or “urge” this or “call for” that. Other bills (some with more teeth) are languishing in congress.

It doesn’t have to start with military intervention. Do we need to pressure China? I don’t think we have much leverage there, but we could certainly threaten to boycott the Olympics and ask other countries to do the same. The Olympics is probably the most significant leverage we have right now, but it will soon come and go.

This, to me, is a major difference between left and right thinking. I can't imagine thinking that people in the rest of the world "don't give a damn" about genocide and other forms of injustice.

As it drags on year after year with little or no concrete action to stop it, yes I’ve come to believe that the world does not care. Maybe for clarity I’ll change it to “don’t care enough to do anything substantial about it”. I’m sure that individuals all over the world feel badly about it, but that isn’t rising to the level of action to put a stop to it.

Oyster Tea, I don't think your analogy is a good one, because nothing actually stops most other nations from assembling a military and using it -- with or without UN backing -- to stop genocides. However discouraging we may have been with regard to other nations adventures in areas we regard as our turf, we have not, AFAIK, told France, or Great Britain, or Poland not to invade Congo or Sudan for humanitarian reasons. We have not, AFIAK, voted down intervention resolutions raised by some other nation at the UN.

So these are not kids who don't have their own cars yet. It's more like the guy at college who kept mooching rides because he was too cheap to buy a ticket, but always seemed to have the latest CDs to play on his mondo sound system.

In other words, these nations have other priorities than keeping up a strong standing military for humanitarian purposes, which I guess is fine, but it's reasonable to say that in practice, they don't give a d-mn. It also makes them look pretty shabby when they criticize our priorities.

apparently, we don't have a priorty for a "strong, standing kmilitary for humanitarian purposes" since we have kept up an expensive, large, but not (apparently) very strong standing military that is *unable to intervene* for humanitarian purposes because we are already intervening for the purposes, variously, of:
flat taxes
junior AEI employment

The discussion isn't about who gets bragging rights about doing enough for humanitarian causes--because we'd lose that one--or who puts enough military muscle behind humanitarian causes--because we'd lose that one too. Its who builds and grows moral, economic, and military muscle that can be put behind humanitarian causes. And to those to whom much has been given, much is required. Lets try to at least live up to our own standards, before we whine about others not living up to our standards.


amai, I never said we have much to boast about in terms of humanitarian intervention -- though we did our part re South Africa and much more than our part in Bosnia and Rwanda, to name the most recent examples. All I said was, nobody else in the world in practice cares even as much as we do, so nobody else has standing to criticize our failure to send our young men & women out to die for charity. Let them look to the beam in their own eye.

I for one would LOVE to see an EU force kicking butt in the Sudan. What's stopping them?

Obama = Not ready for prime time.

'nuff said!

Because what we need is more political reasoning that fits on a bumper sticker, and which embodies the sophisticated political wisdom and gravitas of Stan Lee.

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