Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dirty Hands

Are we seeing a replay of the Bosnia situation in the dilatory behavior of the Obama administration in imposing a no fly zone, or worse a replay of George H.W. Bush’s reticence to topple Saddam Hussein during the first Iraq war (despite the mandate he had in defending Kuwait), only to leave the U.S. to pursue a Johnny-come-lately policy that resulted in the loss of more lives 13 years later? Admittedly, the politics of intervention are complex. You are constantly shaking hands with the devil. We armed what is now the Taliban against the Russians, only to find our own weapons turned against us. Qaddafi is now using his huge lode of hard currency—piled up from oil sales to Western democracies—to hire mercenaries. If we are to opt for the no-fly zone, then perhaps we will realize that, contrary to those officials who the Times recently described as fearing “a backlash against the United States for meddling in what is a homegrown political movement” (“Obama Seeks a Course of Pragmatism in the Middle East,” NYT, 3/10/11), the U.S. will gain the moral credibility it has all but lost in its policy of supporting a host of repressive monarchies and self-appointed generalissimos for no other reason than to safeguard its oil interests. To complicate matters further, the latter is a source of renewed concern, particularly in light of the anti-nuclear-energy drive that is bound to result from the Japanese tragedy. We came late to Bosnia (“After the Vultures: Holbrooke’s Bosnia Peace Came Too Late,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1998), but if we hadn’t come at all, the genocide would have continued beyond the devastation of Sarejevo and Srebranica. Looking at it on a country-by-country basis, Bosnia is an example of an intervention that paid off. The bad guys (Milosevic and Karadzic) were routed and eventually tried at the ICC, we didn’t end up with “dirty hands” (to invoke Sartre’s famous existential play) and for the most part everyone lived happily ever after.

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