Round Two - April 11, 2000
I find the contributions by Edward N. Luttwak, David Rieff, and Benjamin Schwarz extremely sharp and insightful. Regarding Luttwak's hardboiled essay: I agree with his points that aggression and intervention are the same; and that intervention in such places as Sierra Leone and Rwanda is really colonialism by another name. What many people forget is that the weaker
Schwarz's background analysis of the former Yugoslavia points out a number of useful, unpleasant truths that the illuminati prefer to forget. However, I prefer to disagree with his conclusion that enforcing acceptable behavior abroad is a burden best not taken up. Here is why: At the time of the Kosovo bombing, I was traveling around the Caucasus, where I asked everyone I met what they thought of the NATO air campaign. They were not concerned with the clumsy and ill-thought-out policy of the Clinton Administration that precipitated the air war, nor the ill-thought-out campaign itself. But they were mightily impressed with the fact that the U.S. would just, well, bomb civilian cities. Our prestige rose significantly in the Caucasus simply because we demonstrated our ability to act ruthlessly and bloodily. Where institutions are weak -- the situation in much of the world -- people respect force. The very exercise of power in and of itself often sets limits on what our potential adversaries elsewhere in the world are willing to do to challenge us. Human groups react to each other the same way individuals do -- based on previous behavior. If we never intervened anywhere except on the basis of the narrowest definition of national interest, I am convinced that we would be challenged in a terrible way eventually. Throughout history, hegemony has often been a benign and efficient form of maintaining a semblance of peace in the world -- and better hegemony based on our values than somebody else's.
Rieff's essay is particularly stimulating. His point about how human rights arose as a cause naturally and organically because of the combined effects of economic globalization and the end of the Cold War is quite fresh and insightful. I also agree with him that the very fact that we argue about humanitarian intervention constitutes more proof that such issues are here to stay. However, let me respectfully disagree with his assertion that Americans -- being Americans -- simply are not motivated by realpolitik. That may have been true until recently. After all, even Kissinger accepts that while, in his opinion, Wilson was wrong, an American leader must nevertheless use Wilsonian arguments with the public (see Kissinger's Diplomacy). But I believe that American idealism has largely been a function of the luxury of geographic safety provided by two oceans. As distances are shortened by technology, and the world becomes uncomfortably closer, our foreign-policy inclinations will gradually become more European in tone -- as the Mideast, for example, becomes as close to us as the Hapsburg Empire was to France. Indeed, in addition to the Somalia experience that I mentioned in the first round of this exchange, there is polling data that shows this shift in American attitudes. If Americans are so altruistic in foreign policy, how come opinion polls showed such tenuous support for our intervention in Bosnia despite media revelations of war crimes? Moreover, despite the horrific stories of Serb atrocities coming out of Kosovo, Clinton -- whose political instincts are undeniably sharp -- instinctively knew that the public would not tolerate ground casualties on the basis of moral arguments alone. I have found that the public, like pundits, like to talk in idealistic, often sanctimonious terms, but what actually motivates people may be far more complex.
New! Round Three: Concluding Remarks -- April 14, 2000
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