I don’t much care for the strident cynicism of this piece, primarily because it offers nothing whatsoever as an alternative for humanitarian intervention, but it is a good reminder of why the appointment of Samantha Power as the next UN Ambassador is not something to unthinkingly celebrate.
The left needs better thinking than the old knee-jerk anti-imperialism that always seems to cancel out whatever good we do in the world with reference to some crime or outrage we’ve committed. Whether it’s flooding in Pakistan, an earthquake in Haiti, a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, or an impending siege in Benghazi, sometimes the United States is the only organization available to meet or prevent human suffering. However, that this takes place in the context of us having a military presence to more than a hundred countries around the globe is something to think carefully about. We are undoubtedly too entangled in world affairs. In general, we have intervened too much, not too little. But Ms. Power is most famous for arguing the opposite. In her view, we have been too willing to sit idly by while killing on a large scale takes place. She was primarily talking about Rwanda and the Balkans, but the principles can be applied to places like Tibet or Sudan.
We do have to be mindful that we lent support to genocides in Indonesia and Guatemala, as well as countless small skirmishes in Latin America and Africa. Our shameful record in Southeast Asia is well known, and our blind support of Israel is the biggest stain on our international reputation. Plus, Iraq. We do our best to whitewash this history out of existence, but this can help lead us astray. Being blind to our moral and strategic failures can cause us to lack appropriate caution when considering what to do about a problem like Syria.
What we know about Samantha Power is that she is a strong proponent of U.S. intervention to prevent the widespread loss of life. If we read that to mean that she is a strong proponent of human rights even when intervention is not obviously in our national interests, it can sound like a fine and noble thing. But it’s also dangerous. There are circumstances where we, as a country, are literally powerless to solve a problem. There are times when our intervention is likely to compound a problem and when engaging in a conflict is not only not in our national interests but profoundly threatening to our national interests.
In retrospect, how does our liberation of Kuwait look? Problematic, at best, no?
Does anyone think we can intervene in Syria and wind up glad that we did?
I agree with Samantha Power that the U.S. must be an enforcement arm of human rights or the world won’t be able to intervene to stop conflicts, but that seems to me to be a problem in need of fixing rather than a situation that we can live with long-term. Our foreign policy elites like that we’re indispensable because it gives us the right to play by our own rules. But our bridges are collapsing, our veterans’ hospitals are full, and our schools have gone to shit. The strain of sustaining all of this has turned one of our two major political parties into a neo-fascist band of know-nothings who are one election away from seizing the most lethal military arsenal the world has ever seen.
I like and respect Samantha Power, but I worry about her judgment. I want caution at this time, because the biggest threat we face as a country and a world is not a lack of resolve to intervene internationally. It is the prospect that a Republican will become our commander in chief.