“Cruise Missile Liberals”

Media Lens usefully critiques liberal interventionists advocating a US war front in Syria:

Despite hundreds of years of conflict, the documentary record, and the West’s disastrous ‘humanitarian’ wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, the Pew Research Journalism Project found last September that ‘the No. 1 message’ on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera, was ‘that the U.S. should get involved in the conflict’ in Syria.

The surprise failure to achieve that war has been a festering wound in the psyches of cruise missile liberals everywhere ever since.

In the New York Times last month, establishment intellectual Michael Ignatieff, one-time favourite of the Observer and BBC, commented that the near-certainty that Russia would veto any UN authorisation of air power meant ‘stopping the war in Syria will stretch domestic and international legality. But if legality is not stretched, the killing will go on indefinitely… Above all, using force would make the president “own” the Syrian tragedy. So far he has tried to pretend he doesn’t have to.’

International law needs to be ‘stretched’ – more accurately, broken – so that Obama can ‘own’ the Syrian conflict; by right, presumably, of his might.

Ignatieff’s compassion for the many civilian victims in Syria quickly made way for more ‘pragmatic’ concerns:

‘The fact is he owns it already. American inaction has strengthened Russia, Hezbollah and Iran. It has turned Syria into the next front in the war with Islamic extremism. And it has put in jeopardy the stability of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey and risks leaving a failed state next door to Israel.

‘If the president already owns the deadly consequences of inaction, it is only prudent now to back diplomacy with force so that the consequences do not become deadlier still.’

Like all cruise missile liberals, Ignatieff portrays himself as a man of peace reluctantly forced to endorse war as a last resort. In March 2003, the Guardian gave him space to write:

‘I don’t like the company I am keeping, but I think they are right on the issue… Bush is right when he says Iraq would be better off if Saddam were disarmed and, if necessary, replaced by force.’

There was no real moral argument:

‘The problem is not that overthrowing Saddam by force is “morally unjustified”. Who seriously believes that 25 million Iraqis would not be better off if Saddam were overthrown?’

In fact people far more knowledgeable than Ignatieff believed exactly that of Iraq in 2002 and 2003. No rational person can doubt it now after one million post-invasion deaths.

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3 Responses to “Cruise Missile Liberals”

  1. andreakente says:

    Useful post – sometimes I get confused by such “cruise missile liberal” logic and its good to be reminded that it is not in everyone’s interest for America to police the world. I’m curious, though, when you think intervention would be appropriate – in WWII for example? In Darfur? Is the corollary of this argument that “everyone deals with his own problems as he can” and we should take care of our own? Or that “help” doesn’t need to come in the form of military, and compassion should be demonstrated without guns? Money instead, for example?

  2. beautype says:

    “when you think intervention would be appropriate…”
    The answer is: When it is morally legitimate, which can be determined by the response to one major question: What are the predictable consequences of intervention, in both the short and long term?

    Often, this is a very difficult question, since the consequences of intervention are chaotic. Without exception, intervention creates enormous negative consequences. The only thing that could justify it is a very high likelihood of positive consequences that significantly outweigh the negative ones.

    But few, if any, instances of intervention meet this criterion. When the US has intervened in Kosovo, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, and elsewhere, it has consistently made the humanitarian problem far worse. So in the last 50 years, one cannot point to a single instance of US military intervention that accomplished the goal of improving the humanitarian situation. On the contrary, in every case, it exacerbated it drastically.

    Was intervention justified in the case of WWII? This is a complex question. The first question to consider is, What were the intentions of US intervention then? What some have forgotten is that the US did not intervene on humanitarian grounds, but because as a response to being attacked by Germany. The next question to ask is, What were the predictable consequences, both domestic and foreign, and what was the likelihood that probable positive outcomes would outweigh negative ones? Any assertion that the US intervention was justified must bear the burden of justifying the massive destruction of civilian life across Germany and Japan, the social consequences of the US soldiers who were killed and maimed, and the domestic consequences in the US, including such things as the abolishing of civil rights for Japanese Americans, the psychological effects on the destroyed families of soldiers who were deployed, and the economic hardship, such as rationing, on US society. WWII is often remembered as a caricature of reality, with only two or three icons standing out: Hitler, concentration camps, Pearl Harbor, and triumphant American soldiers. The reality of WWII is far more complex, more vile, and less morally clear. Anyone who wants to make claims about it bears the burden of first understanding it beyond a mere caricature.

    To be more concrete, in the cases at hand, such as Syria, the US *should* participate in a multilateral intervention on humanitarian grounds. But it would have to put its state interests aside first, and cooperate with the international community, something it has so far refused to do. What the US should do is cooperate with Russia and China to draft a binding resolution at the Security Council, which the UN would then, in full support of these countries, be in a position to enforce. This would be a powerful move, and a warning to future dictators or militia groups that the UN is willing to use its multilateral mechanisms to enforce the moral code of the UN Charter, including the sanctions on aggression and on crimes against civilians.

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