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The problem with calls to "save Darfur"
Can U.S. military intervention ever bring justice?

By Lance Selfa | May 19, 2006 | Page 7

AFTER I wrote a column challenging the Save Darfur Coalition's calls for military intervention in Sudan ("A 'humanitarian' invasion?" May 5), Socialist Worker received a number of letters.

One came from Marc in Cambridge, Mass. ("Can military intervention save Darfur? May 12), who asked: "Is military intervention always wrong? When in the 1990s I heard news of one atrocity after another being committed against Bosnian Muslims by ethnic Serbs, it infuriated me that neither NATO, the UN, nor the US did anything to stop the slaughter. When they finally did, I rejoiced. And I am a pacifist by nature. We actually stopped a genocide!"

"Will we let this happen again? And what good is humanitarian aid and refugee camps if all that's going to happen is more slaughter with impunity? Perhaps U.S. intervention should be ruled out, but UN or African Union forces might be helpful in rescuing innocents from slaughter."

Marc's concerns obviously stem from the best of intentions. So is military intervention ever justified?

Because it is somewhat abstract and philosophical in character, this is the wrong way to pose the question. You cannot ask a question about military intervention in the abstract without considering the situation in the concrete.

For one thing, there are only a handful of powerful countries in the world that can even contemplate mounting a military intervention in Darfur or anywhere else. This means that they--and not some mythical "international community"--will determine whether and how to intervene.

With a few powerful states dominating the world, can there be any doubt that they will determine whose human rights abuses will be punished and whose will be excused?

In his book The New Military Humanism, Noam Chomsky shows that U.S.-allied regimes regularly commit atrocities as bad as or worse than the ones NATO's 1999 war was supposed to stop in Kosovo.

Stacks of United Nations resolutions condemn Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians. But there will be no "humanitarian intervention" against Israel as long as the U.S. is around to oppose it.

Can anyone seriously accept the idea that the most powerful nations in the world will agree to be held to the same standards that they hold the rest of the world?

In 1994, the United States invaded Haiti, deposed its government and reinstalled President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Yet the idea of, say, Haiti invading the U.S. in defense of Haitian Americans robbed of their vote in Florida in the 2000 presidential election exists only in the realm of fantasy.

Those who, for the best of intentions, believe that military intervention is the only solution to crises like that in Darfur need to remind themselves that it would be the Pentagon or NATO--and not global champions of human rights--who would be directing such an endeavor.

In the early days of the war on Afghanistan in 2001, the Pentagon made much of its humanitarian efforts to "bomb them with butter"--dropping thousands of care packages in poor rural areas. The Pentagon stopped this when the media, prompted by Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), showed that the care packages closely resembled cluster bombs.

The effect of "bombing Afghanistan with butter" had the effect of killing and maiming hungry Afghans who mistook cluster bombs for food packages.

That debacle was bad enough. But one might go on to ask why the Pentagon was using cluster bombs--whose only purpose is to kill and maim people--in what many liberals believed was a "just" war.

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MARC REFERS to intervention in Bosnia as an example of a successful and just humanitarian intervention. But Bosnia remains under European and Western supervision more than a decade after peace was supposedly won.

The Bosnian state was formed under the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended a civil war. Under the occupation of 7,000 European Union troops, backed up by NATO and another army of UN and non-governmental organization "nation-building" specialists, the Bosnian statelet remains to this day a ward of the "international community." A UN-appointed High Representative runs Bosnia like a dictator, deciding when local elections happen, who can participate in them, and what the media will say about them.

The NATO military occupation may have put a lid on the military conflict, but it is setting back any hope for the people of the region to determine their own destiny.

And it should be remembered that the Dayton Accords came after U.S. military contractors working with the Croatian government--under the direction of U.S. ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith--organized the forcible expulsion of 200,000 Serbs who lived in the Croatian Krajina region.

This atrocity--for which some Croatian generals, but not Galbraith or U.S. officials, were later charged with war crimes--weakened Serbia's hand in the Yugoslavian civil war, making it easier for the U.S. to get Serbia to agree to the NATO occupation of Bosnia under the Dayton Accords.

NATO-occupied Kosovo has in many ways replicated the Bosnian experience. Since the 1999 Kosovo war was sold as a means to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide committed by Serbia, it's worth considering the West's attitudes to Kosovar refugees. "Incredibly," writes Robert Fisk of the Independent, "we have allowed our leaders to bend the historical record, to twist the truth out of all recognition so that NATO's 'victory' will be the return of an army of refugees who were not even refugees when we began this wretched war."

In other words, the NATO war made conditions worse for the people the military intervention was supposed to help.

There were about 45,000 refugees when the war began. By its end, there were 800,000. Less than 10 percent of the total war expenditure was spent on refugees, with the rest--about $4 billion--spent on bombing Yugoslavia.

More than 16,000 NATO troops patrol the province today. Nevertheless, NATO has stood by repeatedly while Albanian extremists harassed and murdered ethnic Serbs. Thousands of UN and NGO nation-builders provide the only stable source of employment in the province. While thousands of Kosovars remained homeless, the U.S. military finished building its permanent Camp Bondsteel headquarters in 2000.

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LET'S KEEP all of this in mind when we hear U.S. officials pledge that they are concerned about stopping "genocide" in Darfur. Since when has the U.S. gone to war without proclaiming some lofty and idealistic-sounding reason for it?

For the four decades after the Second World War, U.S. intervention was justified by the need to stop "Soviet totalitarianism." When the Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, another rationale emerged--policing the "New World Order" against so-called "rogue states." The Gulf War against Iraq in 1991 provided the proving ground for this new imperialist ideology.

But perhaps no rationale for imperialist intervention has been more successful than the ideology of "humanitarian intervention." The rise of "humanitarian intervention" coincided with the end of the Cold War, when unparalleled U.S. military power was seeking new justifications for its use.

The last Bush administration and its Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Colin Powell staked out this ideological territory with Operation Restore Hope, the euphemistic title for their 1992 invasion of Somalia.

Proclaimed as an invasion to feed the starving, it actually took place after the worst of the famine in Somalia had ended. For more than a year, U.S. and UN forces intervened in Somalia's civil war in a futile attempt at putting a pro-Western government in place.

The Somalia invasion, memorialized in the film Black Hawk Down, is remembered as a failure. But in its initial stages, the Wall Street Journal hailed it for restoring the U.S. military's "moral credibility." The Journal added, "There is a word for this: colonialism."

Today, with the majority of Americans opposing the war in Iraq and concluding that it is not making ordinary Americans safer from terrorism, the ideologues of empire are on the defensive. What better way to regain public support for military intervention than to advocate humanitarian intervention to stop "genocide"?

It's no secret that many Iraq hawks are clamoring for intervention in Darfur. But before anyone is so quick to sign on to this call, let's remember this history. If the U.S. intervenes in Darfur, "saving" Darfuris will be the last thing on its mind.

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