As happens more often that I'd care to admit, a commenter recently expressed a point better than I could. In a recent post, commenter Charles quoted another commenter saying
"I'd only like to add that I think a position that allows one to act,
or abstain, or fall anywhere along that continuum will always be a more
effective and rational approach to world affairs than one that
forecloses any possibility of intervention from the outset."
"Yeah, it sounds perfectly rational when put in the most abstract terms possible.
actually there are two real, not-abstract options here. 1) A major
power half the world away, that doesn't ultimately give a good goddamn
about what happens to most of the people in the region being invaded,
which has consistently misunderstood the political and social conditions
in the places it has invaded over a period of fifty years, can engage
in destructive military intervention and almost certainly do more harm
than good, or 2) Uhm, not that.
The abstract version doesn't
matter. It's pure fantasy. It has nothing to do with anything real. We
aren't talking about a position "that allows one to act" or any
such nonsense. We're talking about the most powerful military in the
world having a consistent track record of reliably fucking up
intervention. The only things you can reliably predict with regards to
American intervention is that lots of people will die, that most of them
will be civilians, and that things won't go the way you hope they will.
You can take that to the bank."
As a pacifist, I am subject to a constant drip of hypotheticals, counterfactuals, and fantasy scenarios that are designed to test the limits of the commitment to nonviolence. ("YOU'VE GOT HITLER IN THE CROSSHAIRS FREDDIE WHADDAYAGONNADO") I can reliably be bullied into answering them, and usually that means providing the answer that allows the questioner to return to the assumption of my unseriousness. But it is very telling that so much of the philosophical architecture of "liberal intervention" is based upon theoretical situations and elaborate setups, or pure theory divested from the history of American foreign policy, Western militarism, or past interventions. It's like arguing with Descartes-- all theory, no history. Beware the intellect that lives in abstraction. And this tendency only exacerbates the profoundly limited time frames in which liberal interventionists work, declaring victory months or weeks into complex and shifting situations. We are still living with the consequences of deposing Mohammed Mossadegh; that happened 60 years ago. I'm sure arming the mujahideen seemed like a great success in 1992.
I don't blame people for dreaming big. I do blame them for letting those dreams overwhelm their critical capacity. I hear liberal interventionists wax idealistic about all the good the good guys could do, and I just want to shake them-- America is not that country, violence is not that instrument, this is not that world.