Day By Day

Monday, October 02, 2006

Eric A. Posner on Humanitarian Intervention

Eric Posner has a remarkably ill-conceived article in todays WaPo, arguing against the idea that wars can have beneficial humanitarian consequences.

His essential argument:

The idea that war can have a humanitarian as well as a national security justification has a long pedigree and surface plausibility.... If nations can intervene at little cost to themselves because the target nations are weak and by doing so they prevent massive human suffering, then surely they should do so. The logic seems compelling.

But logic is no substitute for experience, and experience shows that humanitarian war is an oxymoron.... The problem with humanitarian intervention is not only that the costs are usually too high, but it turns out that the benefits usually are low. There are just too many risks and imponderables when war is used to prevent atrocities rather than to defeat an enemy.

[H]umanitarian wars will rarely yield humanitarian results.

Read the whole thing here.

But even this amoral utilitarian argument fails when placed in any but the most limited context. If Professor Posner is depending on experience rather than logic or emotion, he's not doing a very good job of it. As Tom Barnett points out, with regard to Posner's prime example of humanitarianism gone wrong, the current Iraq war, this is,

A gloriously one-sided analysis that says in effect, "the only killing that matters is that which occurs after we intervene."

The UN (and no one disputes this) said the sanctions killed 50,000 a year in Iraq in the 1990s, more than the cumulative total of this "disastrous" humanitarian adventure in Iraq.

Then there are all those Saddam killed at home over his long reign, especially in the aftermath of our "limited" campaign (Powell Doctrine in action) back in 1991.

Then there are those who died in his war with Iran (cynically supported by us) and his invasion of Kuwait.

But none of those deaths matter, because they do not occur on our watch--so to speak.

Only a lawyer could argue anything so amazingly one-sided.

He continues:

The argument being floated here is, in essence,

better we "do no harm" and let Darfur burn, let Saddam kill..., etc. This is realism and the Powell Doctrine and international legal BS at its best.

Exactly! "Realism" and the "Powell Doctrine", indeed the entire liberal internationalist construct, has become nothing less than an excuse for inaction,

The moral obtuseness of the administrations' critics is astounding. Their recommendations add up to

Limited regret, limited morals, limited courage, limited caring.

And the weak be damned. Maybe they'll hold a rock concert to honor the dead.

As Barnett points out,

We live in an era of great circumspection, where the ass-covering careerist is worshipped and men of any firm action are vilified.

There was a time when liberals and the Left cared about, or at least affected some interest in, the suffering that took place throughout the world, and were willing to do something about it. But today they will sieze on any argument, however twisted, as an excuse to do nothing and viciously attack anyone who does deign to act.

I'm with Barnett when he writes:

I give it to Bush: he tries. You can disagree with the calls and the execution, but he tries. The Do-Nothings of our age are the foreign policy equivalents of the Know-Nothings that once plagued our political system. They always have an answer to the question, "why not do nothing?" They want from the world but they owe the world nothing. The selfishness and self-delusion know no bounds.

Selfishness and self-delusion indeed!

Read him here.

The moral imbecility of his critics only elevates my appreciation of President Bush. He is a man of compassion and of action, and in taking a strong stand against terrorism he punctures the smug complacency that characterizes today's liberal culture. It is not surprising that Bush is so viciously hated in the precincts of the Left. Every day, through his actions and strength, he is exposing the corruption and the moral rot that they have come to embrace.

1 comment:

P. Rajsic said...

Posner's argument is utilitarian but so is yours. You are just using a different accounting technique.