James Traub seemed a little bummed in a Sunday New York Times op-ed ("The End of American Intervention?," 2/18/10), that military cuts and changing priorities will mean fewer humanitarian interventions in America's future.
So we must accept, if uneasily, the future which now seems to lie before us: We will do less good in the world, but also less harm.
A leading advocate of "humanitarian intervention," Traub doesn't waste many words on the "harm" produced the by two decades of them, but he seems pretty sure about the "good." For instance, he writes that the post-Cold War period "raised the question of whether and when we would resort to force," a question he says was answered "when the Clinton administration felt compelled to respond to political chaos in Haiti and mass violence in the Balkans. Force could be used in pursuit of justice."
Traub doesn't mention that Clinton's Haiti intervention promoted anti-democratic forces (Extra! Update, 12/94) and that U.S. interference eventually scuttled that nation's democracy (Extra!, 7-8/06), bringing more chaos and bloodshed. Or that the bombing in the Balkans resulted in even more deadly recriminations against the people the US/NATO forces were allegedly protecting (Extra!, 1/08).
In fact, a close look at Traub's record shows he is generally supportive of U.S. military adventures whether they are dressed up with the "'humanitarian" label or not. From his lofty perches at the New York Times, Foreign Policy and elsewhere, Traub has seldom met an intervention he couldn't embrace. He supported early on an intervention in Darfur (PBS Frontline interview (11/20/10) and Kyrgyzstan ("Not Too Late to Save Kyrgyzstan," Foreign Policy, 6/22/10).
But he was willing to scuttle set aside the "humanitarian" qualification to get at Libya, as he wrote in a Foreign Policy piece last year (3/11/11) headlined "Stepping In: Libya Doesn't Meet Any of the Criteria for a Humanitarian Intervention. We Should Do It Anyway."
The U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 was launched over supposed weapons of mass destruction, but in a 2005 book review (New York Times, 10/30/05), Traub tried to argue that the Iraq War was started for humanitarian reasons, that "the case for war did not actually depend on the threat of imminent attack–even if the White House said otherwise."
But even the premise of Traub's Times op-ed, that the future will necessarily see fewer U.S. interventions, seems suspect. For instance, he doesn't mention the U.S.'s expanding use of drone missile strikes, or the increasing number of nations in which U.S. special forces are deployed–while it was 60 nations at end of the Bush administration, according to Nick Turse (Tomdispatch, 8/3/11), "By the end of this year, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120."
According to Traub, the White House is currently pivoting away from the Middle East to prioritize the Pacific and China. Reflecting on the challenge of China, Traub writes, with no apparent irony:
China is an emerging power, and once having found their footing, emerging powers usually seek to expand at the expense of their neighbors. The world is accustomed to dealing with this kind of problem, which involves persuading the bumptious power that its interests lie in cooperation rather than in confrontation.
But who's going to persuade a bumptious United States to abandon its policies of constant confrontation?