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May 19, 2008

Comments

At some point it's going to be easier to count the countries that we haven't invaded.

OK, so we invade Burma. Preparation will take at minimum a few weeks, and the war itself probably a couple of weeks as well. During that period of time the following things happen:
(1) Everyone who was being saved by Burmese government intervention, no matter how few in number, dies.
(2) Everyone who was being helped by international aid agencies whose work is interrupted by the war also dies.
(3) Everyone who might hypothetically be helped by immediate provision of relief due to a change of heart by the junta also dies.
(4) Many who fight to preserve the junta die.
(5) Many innocents who were at the wrong place at the wrong time die.
(6) The Junta moves to eliminate the dangers of a fifth column by killing thousands of known opponents.

Net result: Many more dead than would have been the case if we'd done nothing. Also, the interventionist precedent is strengthened for use by other countries and by future administrations, such as Huckabee/Gingrich, which proceeds to intervene to protect the Netherlands from excessive taxation and burdensome regulation.

Ugh if we don't, like, invade them, how are they going to be free?

No, the Netherlands will be invaded to free Americans from the clutches of the Hague. During this operation all major dykes will be busted and the Dutch will have to either learn to breathe under water or become permanent boat people (if any boats will remain unsunk for some time). The navy will love this because it will be their one and only chance to occupy a country without leaving their ships.

Don’t you guys know that freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose?

Get it together, eh?

Invading the Netherlands will also be an important move in the war on drugs and abortion (although less women come now to the Netherlands for the latter purpose after the reform of §218 StGB).

make that "German women"

Ugh if we don't, like, invade them, how are they going to be free?

Exactly. Freedom via JDAM never tasted so good.

re the Netherlands:

"all major dykes will be busted"

Nah, we'll institute don't ask, don't tell. Major dykes will be prohibited from serving as interpretors; minor dykes will slip below the radar until later, when they will be cast into eternal damnation.

Dykes will not be joined in marriage, so help us God, even should the oceans rise up and seep into the basement of Rev. Hagee.

Some might find refuge in New Orleans, one place we didn't invade, teaching our dykes how to hold the waters at bay.


I like this Eric Martin person.

I like this John Thullen person even more.

I'm with Pooh. When the commenter hall of fame is erected in some bucolic setting, Mr. Thullen will be first enshrined.

The usual suspects overseas are all over this, too:

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Monday countries on the U.N. Security Council that did not agree to pressure Myanmar into opening its doors to foreign aid were guilty of "cowardice".

They may still snack on cheese, but dem monkeys in Paris don't know the meaning of the word 'surrender' anymore (nor 'hubris', apparently).

And of course our own favourite homegrown (capital-L) liberal interventionist (with apologies to Lloyd Axworthy) wants to play the R2P card:

Deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said in Ottawa the [Canadian] government should push the United Nations to invoke the responsibility to protect doctrine, the Star's Allan Woods reports.

"Canada pioneered the responsibility to protect, the idea that if one country fails to protect its own people, other countries have a responsibility to help," said Ignatieff, who was part of an international commission that drafted the policy.

Yeah, we absolutely love having Iggy back in the Great White North.

When the commenter hall of fame is erected in some bucolic setting, Mr. Thullen will be first enshrined.

This is incorrect. The Commenter Hall of Fame will be housed entirely inside the body of a John Thullen comment and result in a Möbius strip of hilarity.

More on R2P from Paul Wells, following a recent television appearance by Ignatieff and Paul Heinbecker, during which the dynamically well-intentioned duo "did a bang-up job of demonstrating the doctrine’s — what’s the word I’m looking for here — sucking vapidity":

I’m not sure how you can argue that R2P is a tool for deciding whether or how to intervene in the Burma disaster zone. R2P holds that intervention is permissible, over the objections or despite the resistance of sovereign states, if they are unable or unwilling to protect their populations from natural or human-inflicted disaster.

[...]

So how would Ignatieff and Heinbecker fulfill the Responsibility to Protect in Burma? Ignatieff told Don Newman he wants Canada’s government to go to the Burma thugocracy and say — this is a quote — “Come on, guys!” Heinbecker said the best method would be to put diplomatic pressure on Burma’s Chinese patrons, so China would in turn pressure Burma to let aid workers in.

Um. That’s not the Responsibility to Protect. That’s classic Westphalian diplomacy. The R2P isn’t about asking nicely, it’s about what to do when asking nicely fails. And the problem with R2P is that precisely the same hard choices face governments today as they did in its absence. Do we send in troops? What happens if the regime pushes back? What level of disaster rises to the level of requiring intervention? Did Darfur? Did Iraq?

R2P is a thing that looks like a decision and is, therefore, comforting to people who don’t like decisions. In that sense it’s like buying a gun to protect your home. You still have to decide whether to shoot the guys who break in. And if you ask them to leave — “Come on, guys!” — and they don’t, then the decision still awaits.

More "we must do something" sentiments from another R2P architect, International Crisis Group president Gareth Evans:

If what the generals are now doing, in effectively denying relief to hundreds of thousands of people at real and immediate risk of death, can itself be characterised as a crime against humanity, then the responsibility to protect principle does indeed kick in. The Canadian-sponsored commission report that initiated the R2P concept in fact anticipated just this situation, in identifying one possible case for the application of military force as "overwhelming natural or environmental catastrophes, where the state concerned is either unwilling or unable to cope, or call for assistance, and significant loss of life is occurring or threatened".

The UN resolution does not pick up this specific language, but it does refer to "crimes against humanity". The definition of such crimes (in the Rome statute establishing the international criminal court, as well as in customary international law) embraces, along with widespread or systematic murder, torture, persecution and the like, "other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health".

There is, as always, lots for the lawyers to argue about in all of this, not least on the question of intent. And there will be lots for the security council to quarrel about as to whether air drops and the like are justified, legally, morally and practically. But when a government default is as grave as the course on which the Burmese generals now seem to be set, there is at least a prima facie case to answer for their intransigence being a crime against humanity - of a kind which would attract the responsibility to protect principle. And that bears thinking about, fast, both by the security council, and the generals.

From the Kaplan op-ed cited by the TAPPED piece:

The magic of this is that an enormous amount of assistance can be provided while maintaining a small footprint on shore, greatly reducing the chances of a clash with the Burmese armed forces while nevertheless dealing a hard political blow to the junta.

Magic is the right word.

Of course, Kaplan goes on to discuss all of the problematic political bumps that would be involved in doing something like this. It couldn't be a unilateral thing. The Chinese would never go for it. Singapore has to make nice with everyone, so they won't like it either.

What he fails to account for, at least in this piece, are the dead people.

Yes, the cyclone killed a lot of people, and the Burmese government dragging their heels has made that worse.

Bombs kill people, too.

I'm actually not convinced that there's never a time to intervene militarily in the internal affairs of another nation. I'm not sure there's an easily described bright line to say when it's good, and when it isn't, which makes it really problematic. But I suspect there may be times when it's worth considering.

But any such consideration needs to account for the dead people. Which is to say, the innocent dead people. Because there will be some. Probably a lot.

Bottom line: the world is not our toy, nor are the lives of the people who live in it.

Thanks -

And hey, while we're on the subject of cyclones:

In this hemisphere, cyclones are known as 'hurricanes'.

Last March my wife and I visited friends in NOLA. Down in the lower ninth, there were still block after block after block of derelict homes, with the body counts spray painted on them from when the national guard folks went through just after Katrina. That was a year and half after the storm.

My wife is down there now on business. Same houses, same blocks of derelict homes, same spray paint. They can't even bother to tear them down, let alone rebuild them. Two and half f*cking years, and it's still the third world down there.

Bolds mine.

Go the P.O. and try to send an overnight letter to NOLA. Most likely they'll tell you they don't offer that service to that destination. To my knowledge, that's the only city in the nation of which that is true.

Anyone up for invading Louisiana?

Didn't think so. But no, let's go invade Burma, because their government isn't responding promptly enough to a natural disaster.

Fuckers.

End of rant, sorry for the NSFW eruption, thanks for your indulgence.

Hurry Cane and Cy Clone(how you get rid of the people toy problem, weather). China is an example for Burma. I think it was originally 150, then jumped to 200 volunteer workers killed.

Excuse me, are you telling me someone is seriously suggesting invading Burma?

the head explodes

Some time ago I wrote that we're living in a bad parody of a John LeCarre novel. Do I have to find a new metaphor? AAAAAAARGH!

Russell,
I totally agree with your sentiments, but leaving the buildings up is a mite understandable (just a mite), the waste products from tearing them down could be much a problem to deal with that it is better to leave them standing because no decision has been made as to how to proceed. This doesn't wave away your outrage because when I went down there at about the same time that you did, there were still places in the Lower Ninth that didn't have potable water.

The usual suspects overseas are all over this, too:
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Monday countries on the U.N. Security Council that did not agree to pressure Myanmar into opening its doors to foreign aid were guilty of "cowardice".
Matttbastard, it's extremely rare for me to disagree with you, but since when does "pressur[ing a country] into opening its doors" mean "invade it"?

"Canada pioneered the responsibility to protect, the idea that if one country fails to protect its own people, other countries have a responsibility to help,"

Sorry, what's inherently objectionable about that statement or policy?

since when does "pressur[ing a country] into opening its doors" mean "invade it"?

Quite right--there are all sorts of ways to coerce a country short of invading it--perhaps an economic embargo, or airstrikes against infrastructure . . .

We should routinely embargo and bomb any country in which a natural disaster occurs, until it demonstrates to the satisfaction of the international community that it is serious about disaster relief.

Count me with Andrew Sullivan: that the liberal blogosphere reacts like this to any possible use of force is yet another cost of the Iraq war. A large part of my strong opposition to the Iraq war was founded on the lack of broad international support. I felt that this would lead to a lack of legitimacy to the invasion and the occupation to follow that would do immense damage to the US reputation in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and would make rebuilding Iraq impossible. I think that has more or less been the case. The flipside of this is that broad international support can lend legitimacy to a military action that we didn't have in Iraq. Not every military intervention has to turn into a long-running, bloody grind against insurgents.

I have no problem with humanitarian military intervention with broad international support. Further, I think there are times when we are morally obligated to engage in such action. Rwanda will always be a dark stain against the Clinton administration, just as Darfur is against the Bush administration. I view the use of force as a last resort, to be employed with great reluctance. But there are times when nothing else in the international human rights toolbox works.

Exactly how much bloodshed and suffering constitute the threshold before it's ok to use troops? I don't see any sort of answer from the many liberal bloggers now rejecting any possible use of force in Burma. It's one thing to say that the disaster in Burma, while bad, is not bad enough to pass the threshold and justify military force. It's another thing entirely to suggest there is no threshold. Would we sit on our hands and watch another holocaust?

JB: I don't know which liberal bloggers you're thinking of, but my sense of the response (from Matt Y, Josh, etc.) is that it really isn't about isolationism, or the threshold of suffering that would make invasion OK, or anything.

It's about the fact that invasion seems to be the first thing that pops into some people's minds, despite such facts as: in this instance, it probably would be counterproductive; our military is already overstretched; we have squandered a whole lot of good will that might help with the legitimacy problems you mention; etc., etc.

I mean: invasion is, in this case, a stunningly bad idea. So bad that you'd think it just wouldn't occur to anyone except the editors of the Onion.

And yet, for some reason, it does. And that's the problem: invasion is the only option they seem to consider (except, of course, for resolutely not talking to anyone.)

To clarify: I think it's just a mistake to think that, faced with some calamity overseas, we should think: is this calamity bad enough to justify the use of troops? If so, invasion makes sense! As though the only reason not to invade countries was that things weren't bad enough in them; or as though bad conditions by themselves made invasion a plausible option.

You have to ask: what exactly is the problem we hope to address? Is there any reason to think that invasion would actually help with it? If so, what costs would invading another country involve, in terms of our military, our other foreign policy goals, our relationships with other countries, etc.? Do we even have the resources to invade? Is invasion consistent with international law in this case, or would the costs of invading include violating international law? Etc.

Then you weigh the benefits that invading a country might provide, given the specific problem at hand, against those costs. One reason not to invade (the normal one) would be that the costs are too great: the costs to our international standing, our relationships with other countries, international law, our own military and resources, etc. Invading another country is an extreme option, like blowing up your house, or killing yourself. It is crazy to invoke it lightly.

But another is: there would, in this case, not be many benefits. The flooding is a very specific problem. There isn't a lot of reason to think that invasion would help with it. It would completely disrupt any aid distribution that's now going on, for instance.

So why on earth are people suggesting it? The answer cannot simply be: they appreciate the suffering of the Burmese more than liberal bloggers do, or: they have a lower threshold for intervention. One also has to explain the use of an extreme response in a situation in which it seems unlikely to do actual good.

"We should routinely embargo and bomb any country in which a natural disaster occurs, until it demonstrates to the satisfaction of the international community that it is serious about disaster relief."

I have to disagree. I assume you are being sarcastic, but I have to wonder who at ObWi you are directing your sarcasm at, since you quoted my words, and seem to be directing them at me, in which case I wonder why.

"I'm not sure there's an easily described bright line to say when it's good, and when it isn't, which makes it really problematic. But I suspect there may be times when it's worth considering."

I agree that there's no objective clear measure, but my loose rule of thumb would be: a) when the number and kind of deaths rises to a level that, if not approaching genocide, shocks the conscience (my own conscience will be my own guide of my own opinion; you can use yours); and
b) it seems absolutely clear that all possible nonviolent alternatives have been explored and tried, and;
c) when the amount of likely deaths and suffering that would result as a consequence of the intervention would clearly and indisputably seem to be far, far, far, far less than not intevening would cause; and
d) when the minimal amount of force and intervention is used, and there's a clear and workable exit plan, and it's clear that there is an effective plan possible; and
e) there is clear and broad and deep international popular support for the move, which is made by an international coalition, or best of all, under the aegis of the UN.

And extreme skepticism is applied to all positive claims that any of these conditions is fulfilled.

But, yes, I think there should have been minimal intervention in Rwanda. And Cambodia under the Khemer Rouge. And, yes, I don't believe standing by while genocide or a holocaust happens, because violence is never justified. Sometimes it is, in my view; I'm not a pacificist, and I've studied genocide a fair amount.

But I again emphasize that such circumstances are very rare, that only governments that can be trusted can be allowed to be heard as plausibly making a case, and that extreme skepticism must always be applied. Violence must always be the absolute last possible resort.

My above criteria are why, for instance, every time someone suggests military action in Sudan, I keep asking a whole lot of specific questions about what this is apt to lead to. Simply seeing near-genocide taking place is insufficient; the other conditions also have to be met, or it's obviously not a good idea. "Doing something" isn't always the best idea; sometimes there just are no decent things that can be done.

I'd offer Bosnia as a defensible intervention, though I'd also say that reasonable people can disagree about that.

But so far, to me, it looks like the benefits outweighed the suffering and deaths that resulted.

I'm entirely open to arguments that this isn't the case.

Would we sit on our hands and watch another holocaust?

Yes, yes we would, if that Holocaust was happening in an unimportant African nation and the only people getting killed were dark skinned Africans.

Are you unfamiliar with the Rwandan Genocide?

When the world said "Never again", what they actually meant was "never will we allow a guy named Hitler with a funny mustache to kill this particular group of European Jews and other undesirables" -- that was it. Nothing less and nothing more.

I have a lapel button somewhere that says:

Politician's logic:

Something must be done!
This is something.
We must do it.

Kind of sums it all up.

When the world said 'Never again', what they actually meant was "never will we allow a guy named Hitler with a funny mustache to kill this particular group of European Jews and other undesirables" -- that was it. Nothing less and nothing more.
So you would say that the Bosnia intervention, and the fiasco in Somalia were purely based on power politics, and that humanitarian concerns played only a small or insignificant part?

How do you regard the anti-apartheid campaign, and eventual dropping of U.S. support for the regime?

So you would say that the Bosnia intervention, and the fiasco in Somalia were purely based on power politics, and that humanitarian concerns played only a small or insignificant part?

I wouldn't say that at all. I don't think I did say that, did I?

I think it is pretty clear that western nations want the freedom to use military intervention for small scale humanitarian invasions at the times and places of their choosing. But, those same western nations categorically reject an obligation to respond militarily to genocide.

So yeah, we may do quick little jaunts to Somalia, but we won't stay if we encounter serious resistance, and you can be quite certain that we won't apply any lessons we learned there about low-intensity warfare to our military in any systematic way. And yeah, because Bosnia is close to important European allies, we'll completely blow past the UNSC so that we can drop a staggeringly large amount of ordnance on a tiny landlocked country. In other words, we'll take the politically illegitimate and militarily ineffective action necessitated by our unwillingness to seriously deal with those issues.

How do you regard the anti-apartheid campaign, and eventual dropping of U.S. support for the regime?

I don't see how this is related to "Never again" or genocide, which were the points I was addressing. Can you explain the relationship?

How do you regard our support for Indonesian genocide in East Timor?

I agree that there's no objective clear measure, but my loose rule of thumb would be

I think your bar is actually higher than mine might be. Which probably means it's a sane and reasonable one.

Bosnia was intended to ward off systematic genocide. Rwanda, had anyone actually done anything effective, likewise. Darfur, were there something effective available to do, likewise. Cambodia, had anyone had the desire to do anything at all, likewise.

Burma, hideously crappy as its government is, is not a nation about to embark on the systematic extermination of some part of its population. It's just a crappy authoritarian government, interested in preserving their own power at the expense of the people.

Were we sincerely interested in improving the lot of the Burmese people, rather than just starring in our own John Wayne movie, there are almost certainly many things we could do, other than invading, to help them.

One of them might, in fact, be to use the catastrophe the Burmese are now living with as an entry point, a way to get the current government to open the country up, even if ever so slightly.

Why not try that first?

What I get from the articles cited in Frug's piece, and from similar writings, is the idea that war is some kind of handy toolkit that we can employ as needed to make the world a better place. That is, frankly, an insane and immoral point of view.

War is the violent killing and maiming of people, and destruction of the places where people live, in large amounts. It's the deliberate infliction of chaos and disaster, in whatever measure is necessary to destroy the will of the opponent to resist. Which is quite often considerable. By its very nature, it is not precise, surgical, predictable, or controllable.

It is not a toolkit. It is annihilation.

There are very, very few situations where that is better than the alternative. And even in those situations, as both hilzoy and Gary have noted, there may be 100 other reasons why war would be a bad idea.

Net/net, it's hard for me to how invading Burma will make the lives of the Burmese people any better. If that's the case, it's beyond a bad idea, it's insane and immoral to consider it.

Thanks -

What real "sacrifice" did the anti-apartheid campaign cost the individual? Over here it was mostly looking for another fruit supplier (difficult at times, CAPE was cheap and abundant). In the Bosnian case I got the impression that intervention was only accepted because there were assurances that no ground troops would be used in a way that would risk the life of the soldiers. It took also a lot of b/w painting (esp. whitewashing the Croats). So, my impression was that political (in)convenience played a major role in both cases (at least over here). On the other hand "humanitarian" use of troops is the way that parts of the German political establishment want to slowly soften the popular opposition towards military action (so Germany can become "normal" again). The situation in Japan seems to be similar with right-leaning politicians working* on getting rid of that "pacifist mindset" that (to my knowledge) is shared by the vast majority of Japanese citizens.

*encouraged by the Bush administration

For those who believe that the US should be dong more military intervention for humanitarian purposes, I have a question: what specific changes do you think the military should make in order to facilitate these interventions?

I mean, large institutions like the American military cannot do any random task you assign willy-nilly -- they require time and training and institutional support and dollars. And they require a change in focus, which necessarily reduces their ability to focus on their core missions. Jack of all trades and master of none. Put another way: how many American soldiers are you willing to sacrifice in a hot war because we've transferred sufficient resources/training/doctrine from the military's core competency to humanitarian missions? 10? 100? 1000?

More specifically, how much of the curriculum at West Point do you think should deal in topics highly relevant to humanitarian missions? What about the Army War College or other peer institutions? Right now, focusing one's career on humanitarian missions (as opposed to armor or infantry) is probably career suicide: how do you think we should change those incentives?

How do you think we should change defense acquisition allocation decisions? I mean, if we're going to take humanitarian missions seriously, then that means we need fewer F-22 and more heavy airlift capability. The Air Force brass is not going to like that and industry and congress will absolutely hate it (compare profit margins and foreign sales potential and market competition on the F-22 versus a large cargo aircraft). So, how do you propose we overcome those significant institutional obstacles? For that matter, humanitarian operations are not cheap: do you have any ideas for a funding source that would be less precarious than the yearly congressional budgeting process?

Discussions about humanitarian military interventions often assume that such missions are effectively free: we can undertake them without significant advance planning or significant changes to our force structure or doctrine or training or defense acquisition allocations. And we probably can do that if we don't mind doing a really bad job at it and we don't mind taking a pass on all but the easiest cases. Our intervention in Somalia was blinkered because we had no institutional clue about low intensity warfare (ditto in Iraq). But if we want to do these missions right, we have to take them seriously and plan in advance. That implies real costs. So, people who think we should be doing more of these missions: how much of those costs are you willing to bear?

I'm hardly an expert -- as I said in my original piece, I'm just a guy who doesn't want his country to go around invading other countries, and thinks it's appalling how casually our pundits call for it these days -- but it's worth pointing out that in the cases of both Rwanda and Darfur there were a lot of actions that the US could take (or for Rwanda could have taken) that didn't involve an invasion. (I hope someone with more knowledge will jump in here, but I recall talk about jamming radio signals in Rwanda, and I one of the people centrally involved in the Darfur protests emphasized to me that his group, anyway, was not calling for an invasion.) I presume that there are some non-invasion things we could do for Burma, too.

It's the framing of the issue as a dichotomy between "allowing holocausts to happen" and "supporting the invasion of foreign countries" that's the problem here.

There are a lot of other questions we could ask instead.

We could ask, "what can we do to help that is most resource effective, most likely to do good and least likely to do harm?" I bet that question, honestly pursued, would almost never suggest invasion.

Given our track record, I'd even prefer to see us ask the above question with the caveat that military intervention was not one of the possibilities. As I said in my original piece, I'm agnostic on military intervention in general, but given the situation of the US today, and the tendency of significant sections of its political class to cloak foreign adventurism in humanitarian terms, I think that in our specific situation a flat ban on considering invasions would do a lot more good than harm in any utilitarian calculus.

Even better, we could ask, "given all the problems in the world, what can we do to help that is most resource effective, most likely to do good and least likely to do harm?" This would correct the bias that we tend to focus in our national conversation on things where invasion sounds (to some) possible, and not on situations -- the vast number of people in this world who die of disease and hunger on a daily basis -- where we could do good without any of the risks of war.

(See also the quote from the first link that Eric Martin gives above: "...it’s terrible that people were killed by Saddam, or the government of Sudan, or Milosevic, or whoever. It really is bad. But it’s also bad that people are dying of water-borne illnesses, malaria, and many other problems that can be dealt with much more cheaply and reliably and without killing anybody.")

Rather than focusing obsessively on whether or not we are preserving sufficient space for military action in our ideological calculus should the need for it arise, let's talk about what we can do to help. If we really care, it's a better question.

"How do you regard our support for Indonesian genocide in East Timor?"

I think it was an appalling crime. I'm pretty well read on the documentation of exactly how our government and CIA were and weren't involved. I've read at least 500,000 words worth of details and memos and such over the years on that topic, as it happens.

For those interested, the National Security Archive is always a good starting point.

I'm fairly well read on the history of the U.S. government, both overt and covert. In considerable detail as regards covert. It was one of my various areas of nonfiction expertise when I was editing and buying nonfiction paperback rights in decades past, and a personal area of interest.

"I don't see how this is related to "Never again" or genocide, which were the points I was addressing. Can you explain the relationship?"

It's tangential, to be sure, but you seemed to be implying that there were never genuine humanitarian or positive impulses also at work as regards any act of the U.S. government at any time. Thus my curiosity to explore the limits of my impression, and gain a more accurate understanding of your thinking. I'm a big fan of asking people what they think, rather than assuming I know, when I'm the least unsure.

Thanks for clarifying where you have.

"And yeah, because Bosnia is close to important European allies, we'll completely blow past the UNSC so that we can drop a staggeringly large amount of ordnance on a tiny landlocked country. In other words, we'll take the politically illegitimate and militarily ineffective action necessitated by our unwillingness to seriously deal with those issues."

Shall I chalk you up as believing the Bosnia intervention was a mistake, and that you oppose/opposed it? Or not?

"What I get from the articles cited in Frug's piece, and from similar writings, is the idea that war is some kind of handy toolkit that we can employ as needed to make the world a better place. That is, frankly, an insane and immoral point of view."

Quite.

My only addendum would be that not all military actions are full-scale war, nor inevitably lead to that (some, of course, do; knowing the difference is kinda important).

But one always has to figure on the Law of Unintended Consequences, and wars cause the largest of those.

It's tangential, to be sure, but you seemed to be implying that there were never genuine humanitarian or positive impulses also at work as regards any act of the U.S. government at any time. Thus my curiosity to explore the limits of my impression, and gain a more accurate understanding of your thinking. I'm a big fan of asking people what they think, rather than assuming I know, when I'm the least unsure.

To more fully answer your question, I think there are some times when the US or other western nations conduct humanitarian military interventions based on genuine humanitarian impulses. But doing good things on occasion when it is convenient and doesn't cost you much is very different in my mind from committing to a act to stop genocide. I mean, I would think poorly of an emergency room doctor who only treated seriously those accident victims that he knew and liked. Helping people when it is convenient is certainly good and all, but that's not the same as committing to help people in general.

Also, as I discussed above, I don't think our military is well equipped to execute such missions in general: this sort of thing isn't a priority. And that's not a coincidence: there are structural factors that discourage the military from focusing in some areas, and this is one of them. Arguably, fighting low intensity wars is not a long term priority even though we're in Afghanistan and Iraq right now.

If we can't structure our military to prioritize low intensity wars at an institutional level, despite the fact that we're fighting two of them right now and likely will be fighting more in the future, what hope do we have for prioritizing humanitarian interventions? And if we don't prioritize them, that means we'll either be sending soldiers to do a job for which they're incredibly ill-equipped, ill-trained, and ill-prepared OR, we won't send them until after we ineffectively bomb for a few months. I don't really like either of these choices.


Shall I chalk you up as believing the Bosnia intervention was a mistake, and that you oppose/opposed it? Or not?

To be honest, its been so long since I thought about the Balkans interventions that I couldn't tell you off the top of my head; I'd have to reread and page in some long forgotten data.

I will say this though: I think our reliance on a massive bombing campaign was based far more on domestic political concerns than on mission requirements. Those political concerns include a tremendous amount of pushback from the military to the idea of ground forces casualties. The fact that we're making these kinds of decisions based on such criteria really concerns me: it means that we'll be tempted to intervene in ways that might be counterproductive.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the proponents of strategic bombing have always oversold the capabilities of bombing while lowballing the costs. Bombing is of limited use against an entrenched military force and trying to coerce a civilian population with bombing takes an extremely long time. In humanitarian interventions, time is often of the essence.

I'm thinking of two papers that I read recently that would bolster my points here but for the life of me I can't remember enough metadata to find them. One of them is an assessment of what impact air power had during the gulf war (answer: not much. Iraqi units were sufficiently well dug in so as to render bombing useless). The other was an assessment of how well the Army and Marine Corps have internalized counterinsurgency warfare as institutions (answer: a very mixed bag. there has been some real progress in short term metrics, but there has been a tremendous amount of institutional resistance, funding hasn't changed at all, and there is real doubt as to whether counterinsurgency warfare will "stick" after Iraq). If those are of interest to you, I can send them your way when I get home later tonight.


My only addendum would be that not all military actions are full-scale war, nor inevitably lead to that (some, of course, do; knowing the difference is kinda important).

That's certainly true, but in practice what options are there?

The same structural factors that ensure our military is ill-prepared for humanitarian interventions in general also impede our ability to launch non-full-scale-war humanitarian interventions. One example here was the proposal to use the National Guard aircraft that could have jammed radio transmissions during the Rwandan Genocide. Invasion was off the table, but the military flipped out at the prospect of deploying that one aircraft: who's going to pay for that asset if it is damaged? who will pay for fuel and crew time? Hardware is incredibly precious relative to the lives of people being slaughtered. Saving 10,000 civilian lives doesn't advance an officer's career; in fact, the time "wasted" on such non-core specialties detracts from the things that do advance one's career.

So, in general for humanitarian interventions, we're not willing to pony up our own soldiers, we're not willing to pony up hardware for other people to use (remember the sordid tale of the armored personal carriers we were supposed to deliver to the African Union for use in Rwanda?), we're certainly not willing to pony up serious amounts of cash to pay for operations...so what exactly can we do? Airlift? Maybe, if we're willing to pay for the cost of gas. Bombing? Well, we do have a strong institutional bias towards bombing. What else?

Whereas much of this thread has to do with questions about "humanitarian" military interventions in general, let me make a few country-specific comments about Burma/Myanmar, besides the well-known fact that it's run by brutal military dictators.

It has also had, over the past 60 years (ever since independence) one of the most suspicious, xenophobic, and isolationist governments in the world.

FWIW, the people, taken as individuals, are as warm and friendly as any you may be lucky enough to meet. But they don't run the show.

Burma's experience under British colonialism was not a happy one, and at the time of independence, the Union of Burma refused to join the British Commonwealth, so far as I know the only former colony to do so. (And this was over a decade before the military took over the country.)

They were suspicious/cautious with the efforts of both the USA and the USSR to recruit them during the Cold War.

They made it, for many years, almost impossible for foreigners to visit the country for any reasonable length of time. One reason there is so little scholarship on Burma (history, politics, economics, sociology, agriculture, you name it) in the modern era, as opposed to, say, Thailand or Indonesia or Malaysia or the Philippines or even Vietnam is that it was so difficult to get a visa. For tourists, up through the mid-1970s, the maximum visa available was 72 hours.

The current government has xenophobia at the very core of its claim to legitimacy: we are the Bama and everyone else is against us! Not just the Brits, but all other Westerners, and the Indians (most of whom fled the country in the first two decades after independence), and the Japanese, probably the Chinese (although the PRC offered the Union more dignity than most foreign governments, and got points for that), etc.

One of the (metaphorical) sticks with which they constantly beat Aung San Suu Kyi - they haven't got around to literal sticks for her yet, though plenty for her followers - is that she was married to an Englishman, and hence betrayed her Burmeseness. They harp on this endlessly.

Under these specific circumstances, ANY overt intervention by the USA in the current situation is doomed to be counter-productive, not only failing on the ground, but justifying in the eyes of the public (probably) the regime's claim to be the only true and pure defenders of the Nation against barbarian interference. It would certainly bring little benefit to the people on whose behalf we claim to be acting.

The best that we can do - and what I hope (without much reason) we actually are doing - is to operate softly, softly behind the scenes to encourage those foreigners who are somewhat less suspect in Burmese eyes (*) to ever-so-gently pressure the regime into graciously allowing more aid to reach those who need it.

(*) This would principally be Burma's ASEAN colleagues and neighbors, even though most of the great wars of Burma's past were against Siam (Thailand). But the Thai, Singaporeans, Indonesians, &c. have a much better chance of talking to the regime and getting something actually accomplished than we would have even if we weren't associated with neo-colonialism and invading Iraq, &c.

In short: If there ever is a place where "humanitarian" military intervention may be justified, THIS IS NOT THE PLACE.

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