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Monday, October 31, 2005
Liberal Clevage

The Nation has a great (long) essay about leftist support for humanitarian intereventionism. In acknowledging that the war divided the left, the Nation attempts to tease out the basis of pro-war liberalism. Long ago, in the lead up the Iraq war, ChienWen and others offered that to truly support human rights one also had support the "liberation" of Baghdad. I will find the archival evidence and post links to those later. The liberals that the Nation describes are those leftists for whom a commiment to humanitariasm drove them to support the neo-conservative liberation.

In writing about Paul Berman, the Nation observes that pro-war liberals made common cause with the pro-war right only to provide domestic political support for a declaration of war. However, the underlying ideological sources of that support were very different.
[T]he principal hero of Berman's story is Bernard Kouchner, the Nation writes, a founder of Doctors Without Borders and head of the United Nations administration in Kosovo from July 1999 to January 2001. For Berman "nobody in Europe was more heroic" than this "fearless humanitarian doctor" who always seemed to be "on a mission against injustice." The basic principle underlying Kouchner's political activism was that "the supremely oppressed had a right to be rescued, no matter what the theorists of anti-imperialism or the defenders of the inviolability of borders might say." Kouchner supported the war because he knew that Iraq was studded with Srebrenicas. If you hate genocide, place matters of conscience at the heart of your thinking and appreciate the larger grandeur of the interventionist idea (in Kouchner's terms, the droit d'ingérence, or right of interference), then you can only applaud the American invasion of Iraq. Never mind that most ex-'68ers, including Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Joschka Fischer, opposed the war as an expression of the Bush Administration's revolutionary hubris. Kouchner's example reassures Berman that an ex-'68er could join the war party and preserve his "left-wing soul."
The Nation ultimately decides that the pro-war liberal won't survive the leftovers of the Iraq war.

The article also traces the evolution of the thought of David Reiff. Reiff, once committed to interventionism, has backpedaled. The Nation writes, "[a]lthough Rieff "began the decade in Sarajevo a convinced interventionist," today he is "no longer an interventionist," having returned from Iraq with grave "doubts about the entire project of humanitarian intervention." This is the same Reiff who loosed his pen against lefty non-interventionists calling them: "a left that would prefer to see genocide in Bosnia and the mass deportation of the Kosovars rather than strengthen, however marginally, the hegemony of the United States."

Where does Reiff stand on the issue today?
Faced with the "appalling and degrading" conditions in postwar Iraq, where things were "worse than anything I was able to write about it," Rieff has felt compelled to reconsider his advocacy of US-led humanitarian intervention. What he discovered on his visits to Iraq was a collapsed state, not a liberated country. Those who fervently embrace American power, it turns out, are also condemning people to death. Rieff shifts his emphasis, therefore, from the complicity of noninterventionists to the complicity of interventionists. He begins to write persuasively about "the responsibility one has in advocating war when one will have little or no responsibility or say in how it is waged." Idealists who trumpeted a purely humanitarian case for invading Iraq should have known that their benevolent motives were not sufficient to trigger the war and were not going to govern the way the war and the occupation unfolded.

Read the article.