The Wrong Lesson On Intervention

While news of human rights abuses in Syria are burning up the headlines, it’s worth remembering that Libya still has major human rights problems despite Western intervention there, thanks mainly to the plethora of militias run riot. And let us not also forget that Iraq, almost a decade on, still has serious problems with its humanitarian record. Afghanistan’s problems post-intervention have never been more manifest than this last week.

The lesson the West took from Iraq and Afghanistan is that it was best to intervene and get out again, rather than try to manage the aftermath. That’s why current calls for intervention in Syria, which are often hopelessly unrealistic even on their own terms, usually don’t mention any plan to manage the aftermath despite the fact that any such intervention will be destabilizing on a scale comparable to Iraq.

It would be far better to accept the utilitarian principle of “first, do no harm” and not employ military means in pursuit of humanitarian causes at all. After all, the resources involved could be better expended – saving more lives and relieving more misery, fulfilling “for the greatest good of the greatest number” – by non-military aid and development in places where the shooting hasn’t started yet.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

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  • between human rights problems associated with non-state actors and state sponsored human rights abuses. In the case of Syria, you have the military with tremendous assets, air power, the ability to bomb and use all resources available to the State against its people. Unorganized, uncoordinated violence with small arms is in a different class altogether.

    The killing in Syria is State sponsored and to the extent something can be done, it probably should. But the lesson is being learned because no single outside State is intervening without using the existing international apparatus. Hence, Russia and China have been able to block intervention. You will not see any country, including the US, sidestep the coalition process developed in the international community going forward.

    The other reality is that Syria is not in OPEC, which has significant implications for the United States. The US by Treaty has been obligated since the 1970s to protect OPEC nations, or to intervene in OPEC affairs if called on by Saudi Arabia as head of OPEC. This was the source of involvement in Kuwait and Iraq. It is also a support to the intervention in Libya. In each instance Saud ‘invited’ the US to intervene.

    There is no such structure in Syria. Nor is Syria linked to the EU, or in any way connected to NATO structures. So there are no international structures except the UN to guide intervention here. It is much more complicated. Because of the aftermath problems this absolutely should be a UN sponsored affair, because they have the best capability in post-conflict operations.

    I do believe sidelining Iran is a first step before dealing with Syria. There is great effort at severing their relationship.

    In all of this I have added the overlay of the tremendous long term decline of violence due to so many forces it is hard to outline them all. An excellent book, Our Better Angels, lays out the premise very well. Peacekeeping forces are one of the primary avenues for violence to decline, and also the intervention of the international community. Democracy and trade is also a contributing force. These are all in play in the Arab Spring. The process is messy but the arc is clearly toward modernism, trade, openness, democracy and less violence. The past three years have been unimaginably positive for the Arab world, and the transitions speed adds another contributor to nonviolence – that of the internet and the social connective power. No one could have imagined such transitions to a more peaceful future. Here is an interview with Pinker on Our Better Angels,

  • In terms that the dead understand? At it’s height, non-State sponsored violence in Iraq was killing far more people than State-driven violence is doing in Syria. Famine in West Africa is killing people at an even greater rate than either. Surely the moral imperative is “the greatest good of the greatest number”?

  • …that the US has treaty relations with OPEC encompassing defence?

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • the link but I just don’t see it getting better. The killing in Syria is State sponsored but there is more than just the country of Syria involved. I think it might help if you read more about what’s going on in the world other the normal juan cole corp. media press.

    The arc to me is back to serfdom and the house of saud doesn’t invite Amerika to anything they just go through the motions and do what their masters want.

  • Bretton Woods really sets the US dollar as the reserve currency of the world at that time, after WWII. But it required the dollar to be on a gold standard. But the Bretton Woods Gold Exchange broke down in the 1960’s as the growing western economies, combined with the US war in Vietnam running deficits, draining gold reserves.

    US deficits in this environment led to Europe to demand payments in gold instead of US dollars, which was legal under Bretton Woods. France led this demand. By 1967 the US gold reserves was described as critical, and rumored to not be able to cover the issued US dollars.

    Thus, the dollar began to devalue, and inflation began to get out of control. By 1971 gold reserves were truly depleted in the US. In response the Nixon Administration abandoned the gold standard and let gold float. Control over monetary policy ceased to be guided by Bretton Woods, but was privatized and at this time operated by Citibank, Chase Manhattan, JP Morgan and Barclays Bank. The response was rapid and negative and the dollar was plunged into uncertainty and devaluation.

    Inflation emerged, and by 1973 in conjunction with the rise of OPEC the price of oil rose by 400%. The US was plunged into recession.

    To restore backing and order to the dollar, it was Kissinger who came up with the PetroDollar. Rather than the dollar being backed by gold it would in future be backed by oil. The US entered into a longstanding treaty with Saudi Arabia, wherein the Saudis would price and sell all their oil only in US DOLLARS, and to reinvest a certain portion of those dollars back into US Treasury Bonds. In exhcange, the US promised to sell Saudi Arabia weapons, to open US military bases in Saudi Arabia (and Qatar) to “protect” the Saudi oil fields, oil pipelines and transport corridors.

    This original Treaty was then extended to other OPEC members. This Treaty denominates all OPEC oil sold in US dollars, must reinvest a portion of those dollars back into U.S. Treasurys. The US agrees by Treaty to sell weapons and provide protection.

    This treaty is what set the US dollar as the global reserve currency for the last 40 years, provided the US with oil that is on average 15% cheaper than the world average, and established the US military presence in the Middle East, subject to ‘protecting’ OPEC nations.

    Keep in mind it was Saddam Hussein who announced rejection of this treaty in 2000, and all Iraqi oil was to be denominated in Euros by 2003. Saudi Arabia requested US intervention at that time and Iraqi oil never traded in Euros. Keep in mind also that all of the countries identified by the moniker of ‘axis of evil’ had begun to transition oil transactions away from US Dollars to Euros. Iran, Iraq, and North Korea (Korea as buyer). We are still in conflict with Iran and North Korea. Venezuela also has attempted to move off the US dollar and are also in sights of military intervention and also at the behest of OPEC.

    Interestingly, in 2011 Russia began selling oil to China not using the US dollar as currency.

  • It gets called the Bilderberg Plan or the Petrodollar Recycling Plan. It was from what I can tell Kissingers invention, even down to the amount OPEC oil would be increased – 400% was the agreed figure.

  • Yes you forgot Libya, they were beginning to do a Bank for African nations to undercut imf and wb just like what been done in South America. The system that was setup in SA is done on the price of all commodities at the moment that the trade is done. It was a complex idea but with computers this starting to catch on. Russia and China have indeed moved to trading everything not only oil in their own currencies. Russia has moved remove the dollar from govt. vaults. China has offered the Paper Tigers and Japan the same deal but nothing has happened yet do the fear of Amerika
    Venezuela still has too many Amerikan oil companies to move to far but I’m sure China doesn’t pay in $$. Hugo was the one that got other South American nations to setup a bank just for South America so they could tell imf and wb to shove it. That’s the main reason we back to doing what we do best as a nation and that destroy any hope of freedom for the citizens. Like Honduras, Egypt and a host of other nations around the world, Oh even here at home.

  • …but I don’t think it’s very exact to characterize that as an OPEC-based defence treaty relationship. There’s a series of bilaterals with some of the OPEC member states, but each relationship has its own historically particular background (as an example the US – Saudi defence arrangement long predates the formation of OPEC). I certainly wouldn’t be interpreting this as Saudi calling the tune and the US dancing to it like you seem to think – the House of Saud is pretty pissed at the US right now for a whole range of reasons.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • of suad can be house what ever they want but they will do what ever the the elite that allowed them power to think they had some power over the house of Amerika. This goes back to the great created fuel problem of the 70s. It’s just a game and it’s against the citizens of the planet. I wonder what profits will be the next Q?

    JPD I have nothing but hope that you are right but the house of saud is really not important the minute they decide to not do what they are told they are history and not a good one at that;)

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