View Full Version : Of Sarajevo and Baghdad

09-15-2007, 06:01 AM
Of Sarajevo and Baghdad
by Roger Cohen

Power concluded in early 2003 that intervening would ‘make the world a much more dangerous place’ even if it might make Iraq ‘a more humane place’. The former, for her, outweighed the latter.

Iraq did not grow more humane, not yet anyway. The world is still dangerous, possibly more so. When I spoke to Power the other day, she said something sad but probably true: ‘Humanitarian intervention - the non-consensual use of force - is dead. It had a very short life - September 1995 to the summer of 2003 - and it’s been killed for the next decade. America is the only power that can do it and, after Iraq, we would just be recruiting fodder for this apocalyptic nihilism.’

Put US soldiers in Dafur, in other words, and you create a target for the global jihadists.

An Iraq invasion turned ex-post-facto into a humanitarian intervention does not sit well with human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantŕ namo. The Bush Administration’s hubris has vitiated America’s moral clout.

Have we liberal interventionists of the Balkans, members of the rapidly emptying school of ‘liberal hawks’, been too quick to abandon our principles out of feat of alignment with the neo-cons?

Or perhaps, more inexcusably, have we fallen short merely because of a failure of the imagination, an inability to conceive of and work for a better Middle East, as if Arabs and freedom were somehow incompatible?

I think so. Paul Berman, a political historian, has a useful phrase to characterize American Middle East policy over the six decades before the Iraq invasion: the pursuit of ‘malign stability’.

This approach, involving acquiescence to dictatorships in the name of stable repression and a stable oil supply, found its vilest expression in US support of Saddam through his 1980s war with Iran (about 1 million dead) and the Kurdish genocide of 1988.

Backing turned to indifference when, in 1991, Saddam slaughtered Iraqi Shiites and Kurds whom the United States had encouraged to rise up. As malignity goes, that takes some beating.

Malign stability did not work, not in Iraq or Saudi Arabia. It produced a backlash that ended America’s self-image as sanctuary protected by two wide oceans.

The global jihadists were not created by the Iraq invasion. They were thriving on American policy prior to it.

The manifold blunders of America in Iraq have made it unfashionable to recall such truths.