A Humanitarian War?

Do you remember the first time you gave some money to a beggar? How many had you turned away, telling yourself, “next time, next time” before you finally dug some change out of your pocket? If you have given often, have you ever thought, he’s just going to use it to get drunk? I’ll bet you have. Did that stop you from giving again?

If you could help everyone who was in need, and it was no sacrifice, I bet most of you would. But you can’t, so you have to be picky. The guy at the street corner with that smoldering spark of hope in his eyes, holding up a sign declaring that he will work for food: I bet you’d rather help him than the inebriated chap stumbling toward you saying, “Gimme yer money, I need some fuckin’ money!” I bet the choice is even easier when both guys are standing right there, in front of a bar. You have this gut feeling that the guy who hasn’t given in to drink is probably more worth your dollar than the lush.

So it is with humanitarian aid: In a world of finite resources, you help the ones that will benefit most, or maybe the one that’s easiest to reach. So too with humanitarian intervention. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe writes in defense of a humanitarian case for the Iraq War, beginning with a quote from Pamela Bone:

She is writing about a group of female Iraqi emigrees whom she met in Melbourne in November 2000.

“They told me that in Iraq, the country they had fled, women were beheaded with swords and their heads nailed to the front doors of their houses, as a lesson to other women. The executed women had been dishonoring their country with their sexual crimes, and this behavior could not be tolerated, the then-Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, had said on national television. More than 200 women had been executed in this manner in the previous three weeks…. Because the claims seemed so extreme, I checked Amnesty International’s country report…. Some of the women’s ‘sexual crimes’ were having been raped by one of Saddam’s sons. One of the women executed was a doctor who had complained of corruption in the government health department.”

It was cruelty such as this that has stirred other liberal lions, such as Christopher Hitchens, to join others in support of the war. And yet. And yet:

I remember asking Ted Kennedy during the run-up to the war why he and others in the antiwar camp seemed to have so little sympathy for the countless victims of Ba’athist tyranny. Even if they thought an invasion was unwise, couldn’t they at least voice some solidarity with the innocent human beings writhing in Saddam’s Iraqi hell? Kennedy replied vehemently that he took a back seat to no one in his concern for those who suffer under all the world’s evil regimes, and demanded to know whether supporters of war in Iraq also wanted to invade North Korea, Burma, and other human-rights violators.

It was a specious answer. The United States may not be able to stop every homicidal fascist on the planet, but that is hardly an argument for stopping none of them.

It is not a perfect analogy to the beggars, certainly. The fact of war makes it a less than perfect analogy. But the fact is that, despite whatever you, dear reader, may believe about the Bush Administration’s rationale for war, there was a deeply urgent humanitarian need in Iraq, that could only be met by the ousting of Saddam’s regime. Iraq was the case that could most benefit from “help”, and that was most easily reachable: Saddam had, through his intransigence not only on ceasefire terms, but U.N. Security Council Resolutions (for what they’re worth), provided the legal basis for what amounted to a resumption of the first Gulf War. There are few other countries that are implacable inimical to the United States, that are also security risks as well as humanitarian time bombs waiting to go off.

There is no doubt that we have expended much treasure on Iraq, not only in money, but in the irreplaceable lives of our sons and daughters. A cost so dear may not seem, to some, to have been worth it. Yet how much more meaningful is our aid, than mere money? Anyone can throw money around. But how many would have sacrificed lives? Especially, who among the Western nations would have sent soldiers in the path of real harm, for a people from such a different culture?

Anyway, what’s done is done. Now we have a choice. Do we withdraw, and congratulate ourselves for having given a fish to the pauper? Or do we stay, and teach the pauper how to fish for himself?

(Hat-tip: Lorie Byrd)

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

14 thoughts on “A Humanitarian War?”

  1. There is a story about a Jewish teacher and a drunken beggar. It assumes a mentality that God will provide for one’s needs, and that like the mannah in the wilderness money above one’s immediate needs isn’t to be hoarded overnight. The story: a drunk approaches the Jewish teacher and begs for money; the Jewish teacher gives him what’s in his pocket. The students chide their teacher for abetting the drunk, but he replies, “Dare I be more picky than the one of whose abundance I have eaten and by whose goodness I live?”

    Perhaps mercy is the work of individuals and the church.

    Governments on the other hand might the agencies of justice. Military organizations are one hand of government and they are a hand that executes destruction. Some have reservations about the capability of militaries to nation-build. Others have reservations about nations that presume to propel other nations forward in great leaps. There is no question that the former nation of Iraq has been destroyed, but are we employing tools that will be effective in imposing anglo-american style government upon the new nation of Iraq?

  2. I think the best test of humanitarian war is to ask: What would I want done if myself and my loved ones lived in the targeted area?

    It’s not a perfect test but it is a good one. In the case of Iraq, would most of people in the freeworld opposed to the war on supposed humanitarian grounds really have chosen to continue to live under Saddam themselves rather that suffer through the war for a chance at something better? I find that very difficult to believe.

  3. “beggars in spain” is a sci-fi short story. At the very end when the question is asked again, the answer comes. “If one beggar comes and asks for money, what if they all do?” and the heroinne answers the question “Let them help you.” (though there are a lot of artistic devices)

    Maybe if people are asked to stand up for something other than themselves, they will stand up, which is a start.

  4. Is the humanitarian war a subset of the class of just wars? Are there some good examples of humanitarian wars with positive outcomes for the families in the invaded countries?

    Does the golden rule thing break down at the level of the individual soldier looking down gunsights at a soldier on the other side?

  5. Are there some good examples of humanitarian wars with positive outcomes for the families in the invaded countries?

    South Korea comes to mind. The Korean war was a brutal one that raged up and down the entire peninsula and killed two million Koreans. Yet it is hard to look at the comparison of between South Korea and North Korea today and imagine that the people of South Korea would have been better off if we just let the communist walk in in the first place.

    Most contemporary Germans, Italians and perhaps even most Japanese are pleased with the long term results of WWII even though they got attacked like nobody every got attacked before.

    Wars that result in more freedom and opportunity for the people of an area are usually judged beneficial by those people in the long run.

    Let me clue you into an little secret about warfare. In the 20th century, any random human on earth was most likely to die by state violence in the following decreasing order:

    (1) At the hands of their own peacetime government usually due to programmed famines or mass executions.
    (2) A condition of anarchy or warlordism.
    (3) Civil war
    (4) International Invasion

    Case 4 actions that end or head off cases 1-3 can easily save lives on a huge scale.

  6. The first real post I put up on Chicagoboyz referred to the Atlantic Monthly graph on democide (their word for in-state murders) versus war deaths. From that post:

    I’m not much into graphs, but the pastels in the Nov 2003 Atlantic Monthly are unforgettable. In pink and soft green it compares “state-sponsored killings” with “battlefield deaths.” Only in the worst year of World War I are war deaths greater – and even there the “state-sponsored mountain” remains close, with the Russian Civil War and the Turkish massacre of Armenians.

    (The post describes the chart – unavailable on the net at that time – in more detail.)

  7. By including WarII and the Korean Police Action as examples of “humanitarian war” it is clear that you are throwing a much broader net than A. Roberts does in Humanitarian War: military intervention and human rights, International Affairs (Vol. 69, No. 3, 1993), pp. 429-449.

    His definition is closer to that used by Robert Lyman: “United Nations operations in Northern Iraq, Somalia and Bosnia in the half-decade following the end of the Cold War focused attention on the possibility of the international community employing force to ‘manage’ or even ‘resolve’ situations of humanitarian crisis.”

    Framing things in humanitarian crisis terms turns the conflict manichean and reduces realpolitik options. The humanitarian frame highlights the ideological nature of the conflict, and then humanitarians like Clinton and Bush dig in because they don’t want to “surrender to evil.” These do-gooders strut around on the international stage trying to cram whatever “universal” values they subscribe to down other nations’ throats. Unfortunately they’re doing it with our money and the blood of our children. It’s the sort of thing we’d complain about here at home if it were liberals
    trying to police our businesses, or if it were conservatives trying to police our sex lives.

    It seems to me that this is a problem with both liberal and conservative regimes here in America. We have a big state apparatus, let’s use it to make things right. We have a big military, so our foreign relations employ that tool heavily.

    The idea of applying the golden rule on a family basis to Iraq is interesting. Would a referendum of the Iraqi people want America to hang around now? The opinion polls over there seem to indicate otherwise. If we knew that’s what their families really wanted would we leave?

  8. Mark,

    I meant humanitarian in the sense that it benefits the people effected. Wars that are purely humanitarian, like Somalia, are very rare.

    Intervening against a one group attacking another is no different morally than intervening against someone beating someone else in the street. If you have the power to intervene and don’t, that has moral implications as well.

    The majority of Iraqi have always polled saying that invasion was justified to some extent and that they expect it to benefit the people of Iraq. The election have produced firm majorities for politicians that support the liberation and the continued presence of coalition soldiers in the country. The Kurds, who have lived under American occupation for nearly 15 years are wildly pro-American. The popularity of the US has risen slowly but steadily within the Shia population and I expect it will look something like the Kurdish levels in another year or two.

    Wherever we have fought successfully the people have subsequently approved of our intervention. I think Iraq will be the same assuming we don’t cut and run.

  9. Iraq is not a humanitarian exercise, nor does it need to be justified on those grounds. It is strategic in the context of a multi-front war on Islamic extremists who consistently use terroristic acts to attack the US and her allies.

    If GW2 is looked at in isolation, divorced from any connection to related aspects of the overall conflict, including GW1, then it is difficult to understand. But that approach is similar to asking why we landed in North Africa in 1942 when Germany and Japan were the ones who attacked us.

    Without any strategic context, many actions in a world wide war seem inexplicable.

    If the policies advocated by Kennedy, et al had been followed from 1991 onwards, Saddam’s regime would not only have control of Iraq, but also Kuwait, at least, as well as a commanding position from which to intimidate the rest of the ME.

    Instead, Iran finds a struggling but developing US ally on its borders, containing a battle tested force which is slowly withdrawing from its occupation duties as the Iraqi Army and security forces develop.

    Iran’s mullahs, repressive and fearful of their own people, must wonder if the infection is contagious when their populace sees a free press blossoming and free elections occurring just across the border from their own Shiite subjects.

    Pakistan finds an Afghanistan allied to the US on its border, perhaps ready to interfere with Pakistan’s increasingly turbulent political picture, just as the Pakistani radicals have fomented so much trouble for the Afghans.

    And, while the US President just visited to deliver some harsh words to the Pakistanis, he was just in India exchanging hugs and kisses with their newly friendly government. That little message, subtle as it was, was not missed by the Paks.

    GW2 was the continuation, and conclusion, of GW1. The position of Iraq in the ME is strategic, our forces an obvious threat to Syria and Iran, and Saddam on trial a clear warning to other potential adversaries that it is best not to place oneself in our crosshairs.

    Humanitarianism is a fine thing. The response to the Sumatran tsunami was a fine example of that impulse by US forces, and a pointed example of our ability to reach distant locales quickly, for good or ill.

    It is disingenuous to try to discuss GW2 as if nothing else had ever happened, or no other strategic relationships in the greater world conflict were pertinent.

    Look at a map. Iraq is Okinawa, or Normandy—a tactical position, and a strategic beachhead. A staging area, and a base of operations. It is a good place from which to send some sleep disturbing vibes to second generation baby-Baathists and apopletic mullahs.

    Come to think of it, those latter tasks might be considered a humanitarian project after all.

  10. From the polling it appears that:
    the Iraqis want a democracy, but many of them would be comfortable with an Islamist democracy of some form;
    the Iraqis say that getting rid of Saddam was worth the subsequent turmoil, but many of them view US as an occupation rather than a liberation.

    Looking at the following polling study I was interested in the contrast between the views of attacks on foreign military forces and the Iraqi police. Is this an indicator that they would prefer to solve their problems on their own?

    “In the intervening period, Iraq had seen bloody battles erupt around Fallujah, an uprising by the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr, and appalling photos of abused Iraqi prisoners broadcast around the world. How had Iraqi public opinion been changed by these events? Unsurprisingly, the poll showed a drop in support for the coalition. Only 40.8% of Iraqis now viewed the original invasion as somewhat or absolutely right, while 59.2% viewed it as somewhat or absolutely wrong. Equally unsurprisingly, more Iraqis now regarded attacks on coalition forces as acceptable, up from 17.3% in February to 32.8% in June. A large increase, but even so, despite a year of occupation, despite US troops turning Fallujah into a charnel house with a horrifying mix of incompetence and brutality, despite al-Sadrís uprising and despite Lynndie Englandís holiday photos, less than a third of Iraqis were willing to regard attacks on the coalition as acceptable. Meanwhile, their support for the Iraqi Police had actually increased slightly, with 96.9% opposed to any attacks on the IP. [9] The popular uprising just ainít popular.”
    Oxford Research International (June 2004) National Survey of Iraq

    This note is a summary of opinion polls I havenít seen, but it was in the context of an article critical of the anti-war effort in Britain:

    “It might seem tiresome to bring up the Iraqi opinion polls yet again, but we have no better way to find out about Iraqi feelings. The Iraqi people have been remarkably consistent in explaining what they want. Ever since the fall of Saddam, most Iraqis have told pollsters they wanted the invasion to happen, and they wanted it to be followed by a brief occupation lasting between six months and a year. This provided plenty of time for a democratic, representative Iraqi government to be elected; a similar timetable was followed in Eastern Europe after Communism. That year is up. Now they want us out.”

    If that sentiment is true, then the golden rule would have us make our exit. I wish we would get out of there and let them sort out their own problems. Itís not really like theyíre learning to ride a bike; their civilizations have occupied that soil for a few more years than we have our own. We’ve given them an opening if they’re man enough to take it.

    If we view our occupation of Iraq as a beach-head from which to play geo-political games, then we donít really care about their welfare as much as we do our own. In that case thereís no need to dress the venture up in new humanitarian clothing fit for the emperor.

  11. Yeah, the Iraqis want Hussein gone and they want us out by Tuesday. I don’t blame them for saying it but I also don’t see why we should defer to dubious poll results at the expense of our own interests. We are going to be in Iraq for some time. We have to be, to insure our own long-term safety.

    The “geo-political games” that you deride are important components of our strategy, as veryretired pointed out. One of our tactics in that strategy is the mentoring of democracy of Iraq. It’s not that we want to help out the Iraqis, though to some extent we do, it’s that we haven’t figured out a better way to secure our interests in that part of the world. The faster the Iraqis reform their own society, the faster we will leave. I’ll consider giving more weight to poll results when Iraqis can handle their own security and be effective allies. Until then, no.

  12. Mark,

    …despite US troops turning Fallujah into a charnel house with a horrifying mix of incompetence and brutality,

    Right, definitely a trustworthy polling organization. Might I suggest that the Iraqi elected officials are a better guide to the people’s true feelings?

    There is no need to “dress up” the liberation as a humanitarian operation. Was it merely an humanitarian operation? No, definitely not. However, the fact that the liberation will rebound to the enormous benefit of the people negates to a great extent the harm we must inflict in pursuit of our own self interest. The war is win/win. We accomplish our strategic interest while leaving the people of Iraq better off in the long run.

    However, I think it hypocritical in the extreme for people to claim that they oppose the war on humanitarian grounds when they would not have chosen life under Saddam for themselves.

  13. Iraq the Model on the anniversary:

    Before the liberation we were suffering and we had no hope, now we are also suffering but we have hope and I see this hope even in the words of those that are cynical about the outcome of the political process; who say they hope things will be better in four years or eight years.When Saddam was here we didn’t have any hope and we could expect nothing good from a dead regime that cared only about its absolute existence.Yes. We are facing enormous and dangerous challenges and this is not unexpected because the old will not easily step down and accept the loss; the old will fight back fiercely and the old here is not only Saddam and the Ba’ath, the old can be found among many of our current leaders and the mentality they carry that belong to the same generation that bred Saddam but I believe they will melt away as well because no one can go against the direction of time and the clock cannot be forced backwards.The green bud looks weak and is buried in the dirt and surrounded by a tough shell but it will break through this covering, pierce the dirt and stand on its feet to announce a new era.We will not be defeated and orphans of the dark past will get what they deserve and our sacrifices and the sacrifices of those who stand with us shall not go in vain, our sacrifices will pave an easier road for those want to follow us when they decide it’s time for them to change.And yesÖIraq will be the model.

  14. Ginny, thatís a hopeful, even utopian, vision. I hope it works out. However, as you pointed out in the pastel post above, utopian visions built with bullets tend to cost a lot of lives. Even if it is the one true anglo-american utopian vision that not only makes the world safe for democracy but makes the world democratic it can cost a lot of lives. Five year plans, great leaps forward, and other utopian political visions for the good of others are seductive and expensive games. They are games that use nations, peoples, and people as expendable pawns for the greater good, for our good, for their good.

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