Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Immaculate Intervention"

We cannot really speak for the French, but they are hardly alone among those who strongly opposed the war to remove Saddam Hussein but who fervently support the intervention in Libya.

According to George Friedman, some policymakers find that the Libyan adventure is more justifiable because is purely humanitarian. The Iraq invasion lacks moral purity because it contains an element of self-interest. Link here.

Which is an astonishing notion. Wars can never be fought to defend the national interest or the national honor, but must always be fought to defend “humanity.“

This theory proclaims that our actions as a nation should or even must be free from sin.

Friedman is correct to call it a doctrine of “immaculate intervention.“ For those who care about such things, the difference between the immaculate intervention and the dogma of the immaculate conception is that the former is before-the-fact while the latter is after-the-fact.

The dogma refers to the act of sexual congress that took place between the parents of the Virgin Mary, between Joachim and Anna and that produced their daughter, eventually Mother of Jesus Christ. When this act took place, the two participants might have considered that theirs was a sexual act, thus tainted by association with original sin. Yet, after Christ, their grandson was born, he was, according to the great theologian, Duns Scotus, capable of retroactively cleansing or purifying the act. As the followers of Duns Scotus claimed: if he could, he did.

The immaculate intervention seems to refer to pre-existing intent, the feelings that determine the act of intervention.

When Friedman names this new policy the immaculate intervention, he is showing that a group of people seems to have forgotten about the separation between church and state.

As it happens, all of the talk about occupying the moral high ground fosters the same confusion. Wars are won by occupying territory, not by occupying the moral high ground.

As opposed to American or British policymakers, humanitarian warriors feel that we are morally obligated to intervene in crises around the world in order to prevent human calamities, especially genocidal war crimes.

We are not just our brothers’ keepers; we are effectively everyone’s keepers. Or better, we are when it is at all possible to do so… immaculately.

Effectively, this makes us the world’s policeman, but don’t tell anyone.

As I have mentioned before, in and of itself “humanity” is an empty abstraction. Every al Qaeda jihadi is just as human as are the victims of Islamic terror.

Given that everyone belongs to the human species regardless of how he or she behaves, making “humanity” into a defining identity reveals a fundamental amorality, an inability to pass judgment.

As Friedman has said before, and as I have echoed, when you choose to intervene in a conflict you need to know who the people are, what they believe, what their intentions and motives are, and what their culture dictates.

These past few days many Americans have been watching the murderous mobs in Afghanistan being whipped into a maniacal frenzy because a no-account pastor in Florida burned a book that they consider to be sacred.

Such depravity leads many Americans to ask themselves, rightly:  what and who are we fighting for?

If these people gain a right to self-determination, what are they planning on doing with it?

Are they yearning for freedom or are they lusting for the false pride that they manifest when they become enraged over an act by a nobody?

Perhaps humanitarian warriors do not believe that they are intervening in a real situation. Or maybe they believe that they can suspend reality for the time required for them to do good.

If they merely want to do their share of good, then they might not see the aftermath as their responsibility.

Whatever the case, in reality, Friedman explains, they are intervening on one side of a conflict, necessarily the weaker side, often against the will of the majority of the people in a country.

When you start lobbing missiles at one side of a conflict you are necessarily empowering the other side.

Lately, we have been starting to understand which segment of humanity we are supporting in Libya. The group that we call the rebels, is made up of a mix of al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and former Kaddhafi loyalists.

As Friedman explains, people who worked with the tyrant for decades must necessarily have some blood on their hands. They are not liberal democrats.

Friedman is correct to see the commitment to ideology as akin to a great passion, but one that is doomed to fail.

In his words: “My unease with humanitarian intervention is not that I don’t think the intent is good and the end moral. It is that the intent frequently gets lost and the moral end is not achieved. Ideology, like passion, fades. But interest has a certain enduring quality. A doctrine of humanitarian warfare that demands an immaculate intervention will fail because the desire to do good is an insufficient basis for war. It does not provide a rigorous military strategy to what is, after all, a war. Neither does it bind a nation’s public to the burdens of the intervention. In the end, the ultimate dishonesties of humanitarian war are the claims that ‘this won’t hurt much‘ and ‘it will be over fast.’ In my view, their outcome is usually either a withdrawal without having done much good or a long occupation in which the occupied people are singularly ungrateful.”

It seems clear that humanitarian warriors are not living in a world where there are national identities, national interests, or sides of a conflict. They are not in the arena; but they are trying to impose a set of sacred values on a profane activity.

To what end?

I don’t think that it is just about doing good. More importantly, they want to feel good.

The intervention does not profit humanity as much as it profits the souls of the humanitarians.

In this sense, it is designed to be therapeutic. Paradoxically, it must also set the humanitarians apart from the rest of humanity, as a happy crew that is above the fray, that does not need to get down and dirty in the arena, because it is morally superior to those who fight for country and honor. To use the old religious  term, they are acting as though they are earthly angels.

Humanitarians do not identify themselves as citizens of a state, as sharing a national identity. Humanitarians are a soulful bunch. When they rush to the rescue of threatened human beings, they are more concerned with establishing their own claims to sainthood than they are to rescuing human beings.

They have the right feelings. As long as they set the standard for having the right feelings, then the results and outcomes do not really matter anyway.

Even if an immaculate intervention provokes a multi-decade civil war where hundreds of thousands, even millions, are killed, humanitarian warriors will claim that hey saved lives. After all, sainthood only requires a finite number of miracles.

An immaculate intervention may look like policy, but its adherents will never allow it to be judged as policy. Given that it is impossible to know how many lives would have been lost in the absence of such an intervention, no objective fact that could possibly disprove their assertions.

And that’s the way they like it. As long as reality does not have the right to judge their policies, they can insist that they were right because their hearts are in the right place. They need merely await their otherworldly reward.


Anonymous said...

Such depravity leads many Americans to ask themselves, rightly: what and who are we fighting for?

We are fighting for the right of Southern Europeans to enjoy siestas and long lunches which would otherwise be threatened if there was instability in convenient Libyan high-grade crude.

(Germany doesn't give a shit 'cuz they hope the Euro tanks and they can go back to the DM.)

We are fighting for the solvency of the EU.

(When it is a true War for Oil, that three-letter word must never be uttered....)


Therapy culture said...

"what and who are we fighting for?"

Halliburton and other MNC's who profit from war-mongering.

Come now, Doc. Did you really have to ask?

wolfwalker said...

The Iraq invasion lacks moral purity because it contains an element of self-interest.

Which is an astonishing notion. Wars can never be fought to defend the national interest or the national honor, but must always be fought to defend “humanity.“

This concept isn't astonishing at all, when you consider who is advancing it: namely, men and women who were born and grew up in immediate postwar Europe. Their parents had lived through two gargantuan wars. Had lost brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers to those wars. Had seen their entire continent devastated in World War II. And all that destruction was caused by nationalism -- by nations acting in their own self-interest. Those men and women, those survivors of the Wars, revolted against the whole concept of nationalism, of national self-interest, of patriotism and national honor. If those things could lead to the horrors of World War II, then those things were inherently, absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

But a war fought for none of those purposes could still be acceptable. In particular, a war fought against a nationalistic leader who abused his own people and launched aggressions against other nations could still be acceptable.

Thus, the Afghanistan war was acceptable as long as it was a response to an aggressive act. When it turned into nation-building, it stopped being acceptable. The Gulf War of 1990-91 was acceptable )barely) because it too was primarily a response against an aggressor. But the 2003 invasion of Iraq was never acceptable, because it was not any of those things. It was portrayed in Europe as a war for oil, a war for machismo, an unjustified invasion of a sovereign nation by an imperialistic aggressor.

In the Libya action, no national interest is at stake, therefore it can't be nationalism, therefore it's acceptable.