08 August 2014

Trying to blow out blowback

Time for another humanitarian intervention with bombs. The President has decided that the Yazidi people of Iraq, trapped on a mountain after being driven from their homes, are in danger of a massacre bordering on genocide at the hands of The Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL). He has ordered air drops to the Yazidis and "targeted" air strikes against the IS to prevent a likely slaughter. Iraq remains in chaos as the IS have won their first rounds against the vaunted Peshmerga of Kurdistan, while Baghdad remains incapable of reaching a satisfactory power-sharing arrangement for Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. The IS is everyone's nightmare of Islamism (or takfirism) run amok, reportedly threatening pretty much anyone who deviates from their style of Sunnism and demanding conversion as the price of survival. It bears repeating now that they are, to some extent, a product of the west's desire to topple the Assad dictatorship in Syria -- another unintended consequence of our impulse to democratize the world at all costs. Liberals in particular find it hard to accept that in some places some kind of dictatorship really is the best option, or the least awful, and that in such places there is no substitute for personal courage -- no guarantee of your safety -- if you want to criticize the government. In looking at the wider world, liberals have to rethink their priorities. Free speech cannot be the only thing that matters. Americans themselves may have moved closer to realizing that liberty can't solve every problem. The alternative is not unconditional submission to a leader, but it does mean letting rulers rule when the alternative is tribal or ideological anarchy and accepting risk when you see a ruler going wrong. Too many people around the world remain uninterested in democracy as liberals understand it as the sharing of both power and life. Tribes and factions either want to be left alone by everyone else, or see exclusive political power as their only means of survival. The Islamic State may be an army of religious fanatics, but their essential motivation, I suspect, is a feeling that they must rule in order to flourish. Liberal democracy depends on most people relying on something other than political power to survive or flourish. In some parts of the world, we may have to acknowledge, there is no such "something" that people can turn to -- no commerce or civil society. We assume that dictators thwart the development of such things, since we assume that those things are seen as threats to their authority. But in a globalized economy it may be increasingly likely that some places and peoples will be shut out permanently from such things unless they win some resource lottery. For such people, political power may be their only hope for survival, not necessarily by wielding it themselves, but by allowing someone to accumulate enough to be useful to them. Again, liberals assume that dictatorship is never useful for the dictator's subjects because they assume dictators to be self-interested "kleptocrats" when they aren't aspiring gods. This is historically naive, but too few liberals take a longer view because it might mean deferring the gratification of freedom until that proves useful to people. The agony of Iraq should compel any objective observer to conclude that that country was better off under Saddam Hussein. That doesn't mean Iraqis had it good under his rule, or even that there weren't any viable alternatives to his personal rule. It simply means that, except for some people, Iraqis are worse off since their liberation.

Humanitarian intervention is a lovely idea, but the only really effective humanitarian intervention in the affairs of the world will be the one that establishes a world government. The possibility that it might establish a world dictatorship doesn't necessarily disprove the point. 


Anonymous said...

In the Koran there are two phrases for land. "Land of Submission (to Allah)" and "Land of War".

Samuel Wilson said...

And that's why every Muslim on earth is waging war on infidels, right???

Anonymous said...

Not every christian follows every teaching in the bible. I assume not every muslim follows every stricture in the koran either. That doesn't mean the intent wasn't there on the part of it's creator and in the hearts of many of it's adherents. Come to think of it, you don't hear a lot of world-wide denunciation of terrorist Islamists by their more "moderate" bretheren. But then you don't hear much denunciation of "christians" that preach hate by "christians" who don't.