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3/03/2006

"Humanitarian" war

One of the more dangerous ideas that goes unchallenged by mainstream liberals and conservatives alike is the right of the United States to wage war on foreign peoples as long as the professed motive is one of "humanitarian" concerns. Accepting such a principle effectively allows the U.S. to attack any nation at any time, as Bruce Miller points out:
If a unilateral declaration by one nation that an invasion is for humanitarian purposes is to be regarded as legitimizing war, in practice that will remove all moral/ethical/legal barriers to wars of aggression. Some phony "humanitarian" reason for a war can always be drummed up.
Especially since it's nearly impossible to find a nation on Earth whose government isn't guilty of human rights violations. The effect is the same as that of accepting the principle that says that the U.S. has the right to attack "rogue nations" who might, conceivably, be capable of developing WMD; this allows whatever administration happens to occupy the White House to wage war indiscriminately. Chomsky:
Virtually any country has the potential and ability to produce WMD, and intent is in the eye of the beholder. Hence [the Bush Doctrine] effectively grants Washington the right of arbitrary aggression.
Similarly, virtually any country (including the U.S. itself) can be accurately accused of human rights violations; when these violations rise to a level that justifies a U.S. military offensive is something that is likewise in the eye of the beholder. (Plus, the extent of the violations is rarely known with any precision, so it is easy to exaggerate beyond all reason until otherwise rationale people believe that, e.g., Slobodan Milosevic is the second coming of Adolf Hitler.) And thus the doctrine of humanitarian war effectively grants the U.S. the right of arbitrary aggression.

In addition, the stated humanitarian goals, whether they are stated beforehand (Kosovo) or after the fact (Iraq), often do not come to fruition; sometimes, as in Kosovo and arguably Iraq, things are made even worse. So even if we were to take at face value the humanitarian motives offered by Clinton and Bush for their (illegal) wars, it would be insane not to be highly skeptical of the likelihood of such noble ends actually being attained.

The powers that be aren't stupid; they know that no matter what overseas adventure they are considering, three-fourths of the punditocracy can be won over by insisting that war must waged for humanitarian reasons. The inherent paradox of "humanitarian war" goes unnoticed.

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