Sunday, November 25, 2012

Response to Class Discussion - 11/14

When we left off class last (last) Wednesday, we were discussing U.S. intervention in other nations, and the cultural imperialism that generally comes along with it. The discussion took a turn at the end, and a couple of people suggested that either the U.S. should never take part in foreign affairs or that we should only intervene when U.S. interests are at stake. Both positions strike me as worrisome, but I especially want to talk about the former.

Becoming more aware of cultural imperialism and the ways in which hegemonic culture asserts dominance should not make us want to drop all involvement with things that are different/not the norm because the rules are blurry! This is actually the opposite of the desired effect, I think. For instance, as the violence and state-sponsored murders in Syria go on, we confront similar questions that were confronted by the international community during the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust (along with numerous other genocides). Will we really be able to look back and be glad that we simply didn't intervene, regardless of the loss of life?

What we should take, in my personal view, from all that we are studying is that intervention and aid, both financial and diplomatic, are complex issues but also things that are inevitable within the global community. We have to figure out how to navigate this map, not just abandon it completely. 


  1. In class I commented that the US should avoid humanitarian intervention in our foreign policy. I realize that this is a harsh opinion to have. Yet I make it solely based on the track record of United states humanitarian intervention. Our successes are infrequent and rare, and the current methodology of intervention is flawed. Mostly humanitarianism is a mask for motivations that are anything but humanitarian. Solidarity is a vital aspect of what makes us human, but to continue a practice that results in failure is insanity. Morality shifts from culture to culture, and to impose value systems from one to another will lead to those cultures clashing.

    Rwanda is an important failure in global politics. The hatred and tension between the Hutu and the Tutsi was a holdover from colonial rule of Rwanda. Colonialism, famously was legitimized by humanitarian ideology. The UN failed to act during the conflict, which lead to a terrible outcome. Yet our intervention caused it to happen. If we had left Africa alone, it would not be as it is now.

    The holocaust is famously heralded as something that legitimized our actions in WW2. Though that is historical revisionism. America never entered the war to prevent the deaths of Jewish civilians, and the American public was largely unaware of it happening. We didn't stop it from happening, and we weren't concerned with it as a motivation for the invasion of Europe.

    Maybe we should change how we help our fellow man, but as it stands now we do much more harm than good. I would ask that you provide a solid example of when America or other western powers left a country better off after intervention.

  2. Hey Peter, thanks for replying and sorry for my own delayed response. I just typed out a really long reply that did not post (yay technology) so I'm going to just briefly sum up some of the things I said.

    In general, I think I agree with almost all of your premises but simply arrive at a different conclusion. I agree that in the Holocaust, the U.S. was looking out for its own interests, but does that make the intervention any less significant for the lives saved? We can't reasonably expect states to completely ignore their own interests and constraints, so a framework needs to be developed that spells out costs and weighs them against the moral obligation to respond.

    Genocide scholars have been having this conversation for a while now, creating tools for states to examine whether 1) militaristic intervention will even accomplish the stated goal (of saving lives in danger of being massacred) 2) what the costs will be to the state itself and 3) how long-term rebuilding and oversight will be carried out. I think, as you said, most interventions are heavily mixed bags because states and international bodies underestimate or estimate incorrectly the need in the targeted areas (for instance, in Bosnia in the 90's, foreign troops were bringing in endless food aid, and no one pointed out that what was really needed was military aid to stop the genocide against the Bosniaks).

    The long-term questions also pose real conundrums, since defeating rogue governments does not end the process. For this, international bodies need to figure something out. But it's definitely a work in progress.

    I also think using the past to completely cancel out involvement and intervention ignores the reality that right now, the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries or organizations that actually has the military capacity to carry out meaningful operations across the world -- due to the U.S.'s policies in the past themselves. I agree that intervention has certainly had its misses, but that doesn't mean it can't be fixed.

    **also, non-Western states have been intervening and been involved in regional conflicts for ages. I know humanitarian intervention generally implies cultural imperialism coming from the West directed towards over-exploited nations, but I mean intervention in a very broad sense, and any nation will need these guidelines.

  3. Your argument is definitely compelling and we do diverge on how humanitarian goals should be effectively reached. When I think of response, it splits into two camps; aid and military action. Aid, in my opinion is a band-aid on a gushing wound (which we inflicted). An example of this is the aid we funnel into Africa, and currently we give out more financial aid than any other country. Does this help destitute African countries? I would say no. Mostly its embezzled by warlords and corrupt politicians and in part destabilizes local economies. Military aid is a corrupt system as well, but in the face of a mass genocide it's hard to argue that intervention isn't important if a large population of people are going to be wiped out. Although I strongly believe in the tautology that violence begets violence, and the military industrial complex or ours is a cancer in our society and all societies.

    Maybe you do have a point that intervention is something that deserves to be fixed, but I think how we define that is flawed. I do love the idea of microfinance to drive local impoverishes economies to stability, but it's ignored by our government.

    There's a interesting thing called emergence theory. Simply, it is a theory that the actions of many people end at a better result than the actions of an individual. Even though government is "technically" the will of a nation, its behaviors are the result of the actions of a small amount of people.