Monday, February 09, 2009

A curious silence: Susan Rice, liberal hawks and Somalia

In her speech last month before the United Nations Security Council, ambassador to the UN Susan Rice spoke eloquently of the need to uphold international law and protect human rights. Yet while she listed a whole series of ongoing humanitarian crises that demand the world’s attention -- mentioning Darfur, twice -- she somehow amazingly declined to mention another African country suffering mass starvation and widespread violence: Somalia

The conspicuous absence of what may be the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in Africa, if not the world, is not all that perplexing when one considers the fact that “humanitarian interventionists” like Rice have always shown a remarkable ability to overlook crimes against humanity aided and abetted by the U.S. government. Instead, these liberal hawks choose to focus their efforts on painting neat little morality plays involving foreign countries, with conflicts often painted in the very stark, black and white terms condemned when used by George W. Bush, but relished by liberals eager to regain the moral high-ground on the world stage.

By conveniently neglecting to mention Somalia in her speech, Rice was not just seeking to avoid the messy scenario of mentioning a crisis caused by the U.S. government (the Bush administration, you will recall, urged Ethiopia to invade Somalia in late 2006 ostensibly in order to capture a handful of militants wanted for questioning by the FBI and to expel the Islamic Courts movement that had taken power in the capital of Mogadishu). Rather, Rice probably wanted to avoid discussing a crisis brought about by a policy she enthusiastically endorsed. Consider her comments on PBS in June 2007, defending the Bush administration's bombing of souther Somalia and backing the phony "transitional government" installed by the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion:
RAY SUAREZ: The new U.N. secretary-general said that this risks escalating violence in the region, as much as the U.S. is seeking to lower the violence. Do you agree with that, Ms. Rice?
SUSAN RICE: There's always a risk. But, let's face it, the risk of Somalia falling into intensified violence is the risk of the status quo persisting. It has been anarchic; it has been violent and ungoverned.
And the challenge now is to try to stabilize it. And, in the process of doing so, we shouldn't abandon our counterterrorism imperatives, which really are real in the context of Somalia. We have to go after the terrorist cells where we find them.
Like her fellow liberal bombardier Samantha Power, another Obama foreign policy official, Ms. Rice has shown a remarkable capacity for reflection when it comes where U.S. military action supposedly could have stopped genocide but wasn’t taken or wasn’t take as early and forcibly as necessary, as in Rwanda or the Balkans. But these same respected foreign policy scholars, with their fine educations and more developed moral senses, show an equally remarkable inability to recognize or discuss the disastrous humanitarian consequences wrought by past military interventions sold on liberal grounds, from the Philippines to Iraq. 

To this set of liberal interventionists, deplorable human rights violations are to be found everywhere the U.S. has not intervened, but rarely where it has. Only when the U.S. military fails to act to stop "genocide" in a given country is there any handwringing about the loss of innocent life (Samantha Power, for instance, is clear in declaring "a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective").

In the case of Somalia, the country went from relative calm in late 2006 to utter chaos after the US/Rice-backed Ethiopian invasion, which has resulted in more than one million refugees and three times that number in need of basic humanitarian aid. Doctors Without Borders notes that, “Already struggling to survive with little or no access to even basic health-care services, Somalis experienced some of the worst violence in over a decade in 2008.” Yet Rice, “one of the country’s leading thinkers on the role of human rights in statecraft”, can’t spend 10 seconds name-dropping it in her speech? Telling, though if Steve Clemons is right that the Obama administration is considering taking military action against Somali pirates, it's probably for the better.

But assuming for a moment thatc U.S. intervention abroad was consistently capable of achieving the results its liberal idealist proponents assume (and putting aside, oh, all of recorded human history), what about the vast military-industrial complex even such a benevolent foreign policy would require? Is it not possible that just maybe this vast constituency maintained for such a moral purpose might push for a broader mandate, and to intervene more often than not, even in cases where it may not be warranted? And assuming those running U.S. foreign policy are angels (they are Democrats, of course), what if someone less angelic -- say, a George W. Bush -- takes control of this powerful military and decides to start wars for less altruistic and humanitarian reasons?

Those who justify maintaining a massive standing army -- and by extension a massive self-interested military-industrial complex -- for saintly, Kipling-esque purposes, share blame for when that same military establishment is used to launch illegal wars of aggression and to maintain a world empire. And when humanitarianism is used to justify mass murder (see Korea, Vietnam, Iraq), it should cause these eager liberal interventionists to ponder: is the number of lives allegedly saved by U.S. military intervention in “good” wars greater than the number of people killed by the U.S. military in less defensible conflicts? Taking an objective look at history -- and the millions killed in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq by U.S. intervention -- the answer would clearly be the latter, but I’m not sure people like Susan Rice have ever considered the question.

1 comment:

  1. Re: Rwanda. No one wants to ask what might have happened if the US hadn't armed & encouraged the RPF to begin with. Something Ms Rice of course has no knowledge of. The paens to humanitarianism after Allison des Forges' death the other week demonstrate the will to kill for 'superior' moral values is alive & well today.

    Shocking, isn't it, to read in the NYT that US advisors were involved in the Ugandan army's recent operations against the LRA.

    Clinton, Rice, Powers, Jim ex-"Supreme-Allied-Commander" Jones all seem to portend a bloody period ahead for central/east Africa.