Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Realities of nonintervention

Christopher Hitchens writes on Realism in Darfur:

Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens. Our policy in Darfur has not just failed to rescue a stricken black African population: It has actually assisted the Sudanese Islamists in completing their policy of racist murder. Thank heaven that we are tough enough to bear the shame of this, and strong enough to forgive ourselves.

I have been following some of the discussions of liberal interventionism taking place at the Talking Points Memo Cafe's America Abroad section, and also the TPM bookclub responses to Daadler and Lindsay's America Unbound. On the one hand the predominance of Monday-morning quarterbacking in these discussions effectively sidelines forward thinking about the problems in the world at this moment. On the other hand, the debate has clarified some crucial differences between popular varieties of internationalism (something I've tried to do pretty awkwardly), so it's a good read for those who would articulate a liberal foreign policy agenda. Hitchens' point has been raised by a few of the discussants, but not so starkly as Hitchens himself puts it.

"Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens." It's a good place to begin a discussion of how nations ought to be relating to other nations. As I've previously argued (pretty awkwardly?), the noninterventionist's claim to realism isn't particularly compelling. Not doing anything has real consequences, some of them quite nasty. It is also clear that the noninterventionist position does not emerge ex nihilo, but historically occurs as a step back from previous levels of engagement. Can there be a responsible stepping back, or a stepping back consistent with advancing longterm common interests in peace and justice? To a degree this must be argued case by case. We can't assume that not doing anything will lead to good outcomes any more than we can assume that military actions will lead to good outcomes.

My prejudice is to regard stepping back as an unattractive option. This puts me and likeminded liberals in an awkward position, because military action is self-evidently unattractive, and I share the liberal belief that war must be an option of last resort. If it's true, as I believe, that the Bush administration's doctrine of preemption presented us with a false choice between doing nothing and launching a total war against Iraq, it appears to be equally true that the political left, instead of articulating a strong alternative to a faulty premise, has more and more committed itself to the weak alternative of donothingism. Thus the political realities are such that the prospects for a genuinely liberal internationalism appear rather dim. Meanwhile the need for a strong advocacy of liberal internationalism is no less urgent than it has ever been.

posted by Fido the Yak at 12:37 PM.


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