Monday, September 27, 2004

More liberal internationalism

The Sock Thief replies to JustLeft's post on Dichotomies, accusing him of conflating two points when he characterises the underlying dispute as a question of whether the western way of life should be imposed by force. He begins by pointing out that

there probably are those that want the West to "dominate" but they are a very small minority

They may well be, but unfortunately they include some of the world's most powerful people - such as the current President of the United States and his closest advisors. The chief exhibit of this is the US National Security Council's September, 2002 National Security Strategy, which opened with the bold statement that there was

a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise.

It goes on to advocate for the imposition of this model around the world - for the US to use its "position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence" to

extend the benefits of freedom across the globe.We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world.

In other words, an explicitly Rousseauean project of "forcing people to be free", with a peculiarly American definition of "freedom". That isn't democratic by any stretch of the imagination, and it sure as hell isn't liberal.

The problem is that these people have been able to wrap their undemocratic and illiberal goals in the cloak of humanitarianism, democracy and liberalism - at least with regards to Iraq. As for real humanitarian crises, like Darfur, they don't give a shit.

Sock Thief's second point is to make a lot of noise about humanitarian intervention, but this is missing the point. There is widespread agreement on the left as to the desirability of democracy and freedom, and that military intervention can sometimes be justified in pursuit of these goods. What's in dispute is whether it was justified in the case of Iraq, and what else comes along for the ride. Intervening to help people is unquestionably a Good Thing; intervening to help people and totally remake their society without any pretence of their consent is another question entirely.

Finally, as a way of moving things forward (and in response to a Nick Cohen article in the Observer), JustLeft suggests that:

[i]n the current situation, the left should be engaged in a debate about when and how intervention should be done, to protect people's human rights from totalitarian governments. Once a clear position is worked out, it should apply that analysis wherever it is relevant.

I think that Human Rights Watch have given us exactly the sort of clear analysis that is needed, and I've been using it as the basis for my thinking on the matter.