Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Hawks Descend on Burma

To continue our discussion of dangerous, hawkish foreign policy with little regard for the consequences, such attitudes are not limited to conservatives by any stretch. George Packer, who initially supported the invasion of Iraq but also wrote the excellent book The Assassin's Gate, is now urging us to use military force to achieve regime change in Myanmar/Burma. While humanitarian urges are good, Packer's stance is surprisingly reckless even given his caveats. "War" and "humanitarianism" also don't mix particularly well (although I realize that's a shocking notion to many hawks).

I've linked them elsewhere, but BJ at Newshoggers considers "The Ethics of Forced Interventions" and why such decisions shouldn't be taken lightly, while Josh Marshall in "Asking the Tough Questions" points out the many reasons why invading Burma would be a bad move, then caps it by saying, "But I have an even simpler idea. Why don't we not invade any more countries for a while?"

I've seen many other good pieces on all this, but Stephen Saperstein Frug links many of them and makes several excellent points in a post that should be read in its entirety. He starts by quoting a Mori Dinauer post at The American Prospect:

…The take-home point is that few in the opinion-generating business are really serious about re-evaluating the wisdom of invading and occupying other countries. It's always going to be premised on either our national "interest" or security from the right, and always going to be premised on humanitarianism from the left. During the dark days of the run-up to the Iraq War it really became clear that the only daylight between a neocon hawk and a liberal interventionist was the labels. Now that that war has exposed the folly of using the blunt instrument of the military for whatever purpose suits our political zeitgeist, it's a race to differentiate the liberals from the neocons, without ever seriously taking stock of the unprecedented decline in American moral authority in the world, not to mention our increasing inability to actually carry out and fund these foreign policy adventures. Like it or not, idealism is dead in American foreign policy, and apparently only the pundits didn't get memo.

Frug agrees with most of Dinauer, but seizes on this last line:

However, the following sentence -- " Like it or not, idealism is dead in American foreign policy, and apparently only the pundits didn't get memo." -- is only right if by "idealism" you mean "a willingness to travel a long distance to kill foreigners at great expense" (cite) -- not, it must be admitted, the standard definition -- at least outside of the American political classes; amongst them, it's probably a common if not absolutely universal one…

But even more screwed up is the bizarre twists and turns of American hawkish "liberalism" that has brought it to the point where the question of "humanitarianism" is more or less reduced to the question of "should we invade or not"?

Frug goes on to reference the same Marshall post linked above:

Marshall does make a point that Dinauer misses, namely, that not only is this an absurd idea, but that even suggesting it is, in the current environment, unbelievably toxic. The US has earned itself a reputation as a warmongering power in the last decade**. People in other countries -- particularly ones that American pundits are speculating about invading -- don't tend to make fine distinctions between the various branches of the various American ideological positions; they just hear voices in the world's strongest military power calling for the invasion of their homes.

The point being, if (say) Canada were to consider some sort of intervention in Burma, it might at least get a hearing; if the US did it -- even under a new president, even with genuinely good intentions -- it would be suspected almost universally. And rightly so.

So I'd like to go farther than Dr. Marshall. I'd agree, of course, that we shouldn't invade any more countries for a while. But I'd like to further suggest that anyone who is openly speculating about the merits of invading other countries is, at best, irresponsible, and most likely a warmonger; and that such people should not be paid the least attention to -- should not, for example, be given op-ed slots in major national newspapers or blogs in major national magazines.

America, and the world, have a lot of problems right now. A lot of dialogue and idea are needed on how to solve them. But suggesting starting new wars just isn't among them.

Militarism must be eliminated from the American mind.

In an update, Frug links a Matthew Yglesias piece that observes that it's very easy to advocate for an invasion of Burma, in part because it clearly ain't gonna happen. "It's self-righteousness without responsibility," writes Yglesias. I'd add that it's horribly irresponsible, stupid, and adds more unnecessary, dangerous bullshit to the scene. Or, as Frug puts it:

…The fact that the idea of starting a war is now a pleasant thing to muse about as a hypothetical, an act of self-righteousness, just shows how broken our discourse is.

Yup. Look, some of these proposals for invasion might have been made in good faith, some were not, but regardless, they're still wrong and reckless. We have neither the moral authority nor the resources to do it right now, but that shouldn't be allowed to obscure the simple notion that invading countries is generally a bad idea and not something to be taken lightly in the slightest. Who's elected president in November matters a whole hell of a lot less as long as it's an accepted Beltway social norm to toss off the suggestion of an invasion so blithely, and with less reflection than it takes these people to decide whether they want the venti double mocha or the grande espresso on ice. Invading and not invading a foreign country are simply not equally valid, wise options, nor are they the only options. Any military action, anywhere, should require a high threshold and extensive scrutiny. People die. They suffer. And it's expensive, and harmful in many other ways, among them the way it can negatively affect international prestige and trade. "A willingness to travel a long distance to kill foreigners at great expense" about sums it up.

And why the hell do I, or anyone else, have to explain this, to people who are supposedly smart? Really, have these people missed recent history, or just failed to learn its lessons — along with the lessons of many, many previous wars? Do some of them just want vindication for their ferociously-cherished, horrendous policy views? I suspect that's very much the case, and much of this is the same ol' vanity that drive so many horrible human decisions, but with more dire consequences. I don't know about anybody else, but having read a little bit about war, having studied the British Empire and other powers to some degree, and knowing how the U.S. was founded given that I, y'know, went to elementary school, I'm sorta familiar with both the costs of war and the evils of imperialism, and don't much like it when the U.S. acts an empire. By all means, let's do some humanitarian work, and we could even help any refugees emigrate to the U.S. if they want. While we're at it, we could make it much easier for Iraqis who have helped the U.S. to emigrate here, should they want. Yeah — remember Iraq? Remember what a splendid state it's in, and those 4-5 million displaced Iraqis who rarely seem to make the news here and into the rosy assessments of far too many pundits? Really, maybe the very best humanitarian aid we could give to the world would be corralling all these pundits and forcing them to watch No End in Sight, Taxi to the Dark Side, The Fog of War and listen to a series of lectures by Chalmers Johnson. That would be a good start, at least.

(And yes, there would be a test on it all. Just imagine if the punditocracy actually were a meritocracy. Radical.)

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


debg said...

You've hit the nail on the head with the "history" question. Yes, I'm a card-carrying historian, so I think everybody should take lots of good history courses. Santayana's famous comment about those who don't learn from the past being doomed to repeat it really holds water these days. As a sidenote, the small state college where I work just decided that history was now an option within the general education curriculum, whereas previously it used to be a requirement. I'm still bitter.

As a crusades historian, I now think both Bushes were correct in labelling their adventures "crusades." They didn't show much more foresight than European Catholics in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. I was horrified when the Bushes made these remarks; now I realize that they were accurately describing their mindset.

Batocchio said...

Debg, I'll be hitting this theme again in the next few weeks, I think, since some of the neocons are trying to give history lessons...

I agree with you on the crusades thing! If you have the time, you might want to consider writing a post on the whole thing. I'm sure QuestionGirl, who runs Blue Herald, would be open to taking a look at it for posting, or Blogger blogs are free...

Suzi Riot said...

I was going to post on this very topic this weekend, but you have done a much better job than I would have.

Like debg, I am also a "card-carrying historian" and I strongly believe in the cliche that history is a great teacher of what NOT to do.

So many excellent points here that I won't comment on all of them. But my favorite is Marshall's statement: "Why don't we not invade any more countries for a while?" Oy, from his mouth... etc, etc.

99 said...

Doesn't the fact that the ruling junta is only the ruling junta because of the billions it gets from Halliburton and Chevron and some others make you wonder at all if there is even the remotest possibility we'd invade Burma?

American and European plutocrats are 100% in charge. Look it up.