Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Criminal Non-Intervention"

My old Feminist Theory professor has directed my attention to a short but very interesting paper on the subject of leftist opposition to American interventionism. It's by Harvard Women's Studies and History Professor Afsaneh Najmabadi, and it's titled "Must We Always Non-Intervene"? It raises precisely the type of questions that need to be discussed amongst those leftists reflexively opposed to an interventionist American foreign policy. It's very brief, but here's a taste just the same:
The dissident voices in this country (at least the ones with which I have engaged) have met this prospect with an orientation that could be summarized as: Oppose and Expose. This is a similar orientation to that taken toward the two recent American engagements with this part of the world; the Gulf War of 1990-91 and the campaign in Afghanistan against the Taliban. In both cases, this dissident American position came to be in conflict with those of the people who have lived and suffered under these regimes and who in both instances welcomed (and at times begged for) outside, including American and including military, interventions. The kind of social disintegration that the Ba'th or the Taliban had produced meant that internal forces opposing these regimes knew all too well that they were too weak on their own to get rid of them. No outside intervention meant continuing to live with (and die from) the intolerable brutalities of these regimes indefinitely. The American dissident position, therefore, was received by these forces (and is received currently by the Iraqi opposition) as worse than irrelevant: it is tantamount to criminal non-intervention. What here may seem the honorable position of opposing the war machine and military adventurism of one's own government, in this configuration, came at the price of other people continuing to suffer with no end in sight.

In all these instances, this opposition to war stance has been linked to another stance, that of exposing US government's history of prior support for the very forces that it then has set to overthrow, the Taliban and the Iraqi Ba'th. In the extreme, the Taliban and the Ba'th become mere creations of the all-powerful US government -- something verging on racist denial of any agency on the part of the people of the Near East to be able to even produce their own dictators. In any event, even if one were to agree on the total responsibility of the American government, that responsibility could just as easily and in fact more logically be invoked for a US intervention to set these past bad deeds to good for a change, instead of a non-interventionist stand. Why should Afghanis and Iraqis continue to suffer the consequences of terrible US foreign policy instead of expecting that government to take responsibility for its bad judgments and do some good? Without an interventionist orientation that is centered on the interests of the people of these regions, the exposition of prior US foreign policy by the voices of American dissidence over the war is received by Afghanis and Iraqis as hollow moralism at their expense. While they have been repeatedly betrayed by US government policies, Iraqi dissidents feel they have no other option but to seek its support for their struggle. Similarly, the great fear of Afghanis today is lack of long-term commitment by US government (and other international forces) to stay in Afghanistan and help their post-Taliban reconstruction. Why shouldn't the dissident energies in this country be focused on the kind of American intervention (one for the interests of Afghani or Iraqi people), rather than on a policy of non-intervention?
[O]ne may have to consider the terrible possibility that a policy that may be wise for internal US developments may not be good for Iraqis and Afghanis. One may have to openly say: sorry folks, but we have to abandon you. Yet I am not convinced that that desperate position is necessary, at least not until we have considered other options. I do not believe that opposition to the attack on civil liberties and immigrant rights has necessarily have to be linked with a non-interventionist policy. This is a link that the most hawkish and right-wing forces in this country have worked hard to forge in post-September 11th political landscape; the you-are-with-us-or-against-us mentality. It is critical to break apart this link. There is no reason why the opposition to the internal US developments cannot be linked with an interventionist policy that puts demands on the government over the terms of its interventions, and the consequent responsibility beyond the military aspects of intervention. [Emphasis Added]

I agree completely. I cannot say how many times I have written posts critical of appalling human rights violations done under the guise of the war on terror, and received responses (both liberal and conservative) which all assumed I was anti-war. We very well may fail in managing to have a foreign policy of liberation that does not stray into imperialism and mismanagement. But if that is the case, it is a failure, not some sort of vindication for the left. It is intellectually lazy to think otherwise.

Perhaps the Harvard Women's Studies Department is not exactly the place one might expect this sort ofchallengee to be coming from. But it's been my observation that even the liberal academia (including those professors in the much-maligned "identity politics" departments, such as this one) is nowhere near as narrow-minded and monolithic as it is made out to be by the conservative media. I doubt heavily that Professor Najmabadi is in the majority amongst her peers. But she is raising the right questions, and I hope to see her claims addressed in the near future.


The Disenfranchised Voter said...

Her article holds tons of weight since so many "liberals" opposed the Afghanistan War...


Her article can be summed up quite easily. "Unless the US acts as the police of the world, they are criminals for not intervening."

Interesting analysis. Last time I checked, the military's job was to defend America and Constitution. Not spread freedom and democracy.

On another note, maybe she should read the founding father's thoughts on "spreading democracy". I'll save her some time. They disagree with her.

Then again, she isn't a political science professor so that probably wouldn't matter to her.

I suggest she stick with women's studies.

David Schraub said...

It's a good thing I and her are talking about "leftists" as opposed to liberals, and American interventionism in general (including Iraq) and not just Afghanistan. Otherwise that comment might have actually been responsive.

In any event, I care what the founder's thought about American interventionism approximately the same as I do on their views of any other issue. Which is to say I think they deserve to be studied--but they can and have been wildly wrong. I'd imagine the founders would disagree with many aspects of contemporary society. Like that we let women and blacks vote. So I'm not miffed that they might disagree with me here.

As for the proper role of the military in our foreign policy--well, that's what's up for debate isn't it? It is entirely unhelpful to just assert the proposition in question--that we should only use military force to defend America from assault, as if it were incontrovertible fact, when that's what the debate is about.

The Disenfranchised Voter said...

It's a good thing I and her are talking about "leftists" as opposed to liberals

Leftists? You do realize that following your claims, libertarians, like myself would be considered "leftists". This issue isn't a left-right issue. It is an authoritarian-libertarian one. People who agree with policing the world are authoritarain on this issue, while people who believe in specifically defending our own country and Constitution are libertarian on this issue.

and American interventionism in general (including Iraq) and not just Afghanistan.

But she still uses Afghanistan as an example. And it just doesn't hold up. There was barely anyone at all that disagreed with the decision to invade Afghanistan.

Her article clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding when it comes to war opposition, specifically the Iraq War opposition. She claims that people oppose the war in order to expose our involvement in proping up Saddam. I'd like her to show me these people, as I have yet to met one person who opposes the war for that reason.

If anything that would be a reason to support the war. Which, at first, is what I did.

I believed in what the Administration said and I also believed that we should have never propped up Saddam in the first place. I even spoke badly about the protestors and said they were only protesting because they didn't like Bush. I later realized this was not the case.

Once I found out that the Bush Administration lied to get us to goto war I was completely against the war in Iraq. Never, EVER, should the President lie to the population in order to gather support for a war. It is inexcusable.

Bush and Company knew that the only way to gather enough support to goto war with Iraq would be to claim that Iraq was an imminent threat to us. So they decided to use fake documents ( ), imply falsehoods ( ), and outright lie ( ). Of course this worked in the short run, but as anyone can now see the support for the war has greatly fallen.

On top of all this, there is irrefutable proof that key figures in the Bush Administration KNEW that Saddam wasn't even a threat to his neighbors, let alone the US.

Colin Powell - February 2001

"[Saddam] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."

Condoleezza Rice - July 2001

"We are able to keep arms from [Saddam]. His military forces have not been rebuilt."

Clearly these two knew that Saddam didn't have WMD and that he wasn't a threat. I find it hard to believe that neither Powell, nor Rice expressed these opinions to the other members.

I just really don't understand how anyone can actually think that the Administration really believed Saddam had WMD. But that is beside the point. The majority of the opposition to the Iraq war is a result of the Bush Administration deliberately misleding the nation.

My point is that she really doesn't understand the "non-intervention" opposition to the Iraq war. If Bush came out and argued for "spreading democracy and freedom" and the American public agreed to it, I would be fine with that.

However, the Administration didn't do this because they knew it was an argument they would lose. So they misled us by hyping the threat of Saddam, significantly, in order to gather support for their war.

David Schraub said...

Which is an excellent reason to vote for John Kerry in '04. Which is precisely what I did. Lying about going to war is, as you say, inexcusable. I agree entirely, and I agree that Bush should be held accountable to it. However, Bush's position, alas, is and was not my position.

Judging from your post, you supported the war on the grounds that you thought Iraq was a threat to American security (a position Bush mislead you into taking). Upon learning that he was lying, you thus changed ure stance, as the underlying foundation was knocked out.

That's all lovely. But it has nothing to do with why I or many others supported the Iraq war. A very-present (but minority) group supported it all along on humanitarian grounds (incidentally, this group includes many libertarians, see, e.g., Daniel Drezner and Andrew Sullivan). Bush lying about WMDs has nothing to do with Saddam being a brutal dictator with a penchant for slaughtering his citizens. That support remains quite intact. And it gives me the lovely position of supporting the war while opposing Bush-on-the-war.

Your taxonomy is far too simplistic. I am critiquing the leftist attack on the war in Iraq (and yes, this group also was critical of Afghanistan--for example Saba Mahmood). This in no way implies that all anti-war people are leftists--there are anti-war centrists and conservatives. I (or rather, she) just chose not to address them in this article. Whatever reasons conservatives, libertarians, centrists, or even mainstream liberals had for opposing the war--they are not the subject of this post. Just as I supported the war for different reasons than many others, people oppose the war for many reasons as well. I critique a certain branch of them, nothing more.

The Disenfranchised Voter said...

And it gives me the lovely position of supporting the war while opposing Bush-on-the-war.

I think I need to clarify my remarks, because I think we are basically on the same page. We differ over the decision to invade Iraq, but that is about it.

While I disagree with the decision to invade Iraq, I still do support the mission.

However, I do want Bush and his Administration to be investigated for their actions in the lead up to the war, and I presume you do as well.

You see, I support the mission because I feel that since we "broke" Iraq, it is our duty to "fix" it before we leave. Now, I still don't agree with the humanitarian philosophy, which is an authoritarian foreign policy, and I don't think a majority of the US populace does either.

I honestly feel that the only way the public would have agreed with the decision to invade Iraq would have been an immediate threat, which is exactly what the Administration claimed Saddam was.

P.S. Thanks for being so cordial, David. I know I can be difficult when it comes to discussing politics; I have a short temper. You handled it well and I really do appreciate it.