Sunday, October 22, 2006

Humanitarian Interventions -- Bangladesh, 1971

One way to turn down the emotional volume on humanitarian interventions and consider them on their own merits, apart from discussions of U.S. policy is to consider humanitarian interventions that did not involve the United States. There were three major examples of such interventions in the 1970's. In 1971 India intervened to support Bangladesh in its war for independence. In 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to depose the murderous Khmer Rouge. Also in 1979, Tanzania invaded Uganda to depose despot Idi Amin. Let us consider these three examples to see what they teach us about humanitarian intervention. (Usage note: I use the term intervention to mean sending in troops when a war is ongoing and invasion to mean sending in troops in the absence of a pre-existing war. The use of one term or the other is not intended to indicate moral approval or disapproval).


Pakistain, pre-1971 was surely one of the least viable countries in the world. Consisting of the Muslim majority areas carved out of India, Pakistan had two separate lobes on opposite sides of the Indian subcontinent with no overland connection. West Pakistan was almost entirely Muslim, but had numerous ethnic groups, while East Pakistan was about 20% Hindu, but ethnically almost entirely Bengali, with a small Bihari minority. Pakistan's two lobes shared a common religion but were completely unlike racially, ethnically, linguistically and culturally. West Pakistan was completely politically dominant, although East Pakistan had the larger population. For most of its history, Pakistan was a military dictatorship, but in 1970 free elections took place. The West Pakistani leadership failed to account for the fact that Bengalis could be counted on to vote uniformly as an oppressed group, yet they formed a majority of the population. As a result an absolute but slim majority of the vote went to the Awami League, a Bengali nationalist organization with a program of East Pakistani autonomy that stopped just short of formal independence. The West Pakistani rulers were unwilling to accept the result and sought to renegotiate the demands for autonomy. Bengalis responded in March, 1971 with a general strike that gradually led to the de-facto takeover of East Pakistan's government by the Awami League, and increasingly to calls for an independent Bangladesh.

The Pakistani army ultimately cracked down, beginning with massacres in Dacca, the capital and then spreading to the countryside. The initial massacres in the city killed thousands, targeting particularly the university, police stations, and slums. The terror spread to the country, where numerous entire villages were destroyed. The remnants of the Bengali army and police launched guerrilla resistance to the occupiers, provoking further savage reprisals. The Pakistani army attempted to turn an ethnic war into a religious war by blaming the rebellion on Bengal's Hindu minority and calling for Muslim solidarity. Many accounts are given of the Pakistani army stripping men below the waist and killing any who were not circumcised (required for Muslims). A few Bengali Muslims joined in the holy war, but most regarded themselves as Bengalis first. The minority Biharis, on the other hand, sided with the West Pakistanis. Bengalis, when they gained the upper hand, massacred Biharis and Biharis, where in the majority, massacred Bengalis. Estimates of the number of people killed range from one million to 3.5 million. An estimated 10 million refugees fled to India.

India provided for the refugees and aided the insurgents, but did not immediately take direct military action. One reason for this was almost certainly that Pakistan had an alliance with China, which would have come to Pakistan's aid if India intervened. The Indian government therefore bided its time, signed an alliance with the Soviet Union, and waited for winter, when the Himalayan passes with be blocked with snow and prevent China taking military action. In December, India launched a blitzkrieg which swept the Pakistani army from the countryside. Within 12 days, the Pakistani forces were holed up in the capital and surrendered. Yet even during that short time, they went on one last killing frenzy, directed specifically against the educated and anyone who might be potential leaders of the new nation. Once triumphant, the Indian forces generally maintained order until the Bengalis were able to take over, but they were not able to prevent savage reprisals by the Bengalis against the collaberationist Bihari minority, and many gruesome murders and massacres took place. Although some early attempts were made to justify India's actions as a humanitarian intervention, the general reaction of the international community (included the United States) was hostile.

Bangladesh became an independent nation, the Awami League took over the structure of government, and India was able to withdraw within a few months. Mujibur Rahman, the winner of the original election, became president. He ultimately proved an inept leader and was overthrown and killed in a coup in 1975. Bangladesh continues to be an improverished, troubled, and turbulant country. But India's two-week war successfully ended the atrocities, and the two countries never developed the sort of hostility that continues between India and Pakistan to this day.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Humanitarian Interventions

The publication of a Johns Hopkins study alleging that approximately 600,000 Iraqis have been killed in the war following the U.S. invasion has touched off an intense controversy over whether the study is accurate.

It has also generated controversy (at least among some people)about the justification of the Iraq war as a humanitarian intervention. The whole topic of humanitarian intervention is controversial to begin with. Some people believe that anyone who does not endorse their favorite war against one tyrant or another is thereby endorsing the tyrant's behavior. Others so hate and fear Great Satan's power that they consider any atrocity to be preferable to U.S. action. I have long intended to post my own views on humanitarian intervention; this seems a good time to proceed.

I share the generally accepted view among serious advocates of humanitarian intervention, that such interventions are justified, but only in case of an immediate humanitarian crisis or the iminent danger of such a crisis. This in turn raises two questions from opposite sides of the divide: (1) why is humanitarian intervention justified at all and (2) why should it be limited to immediate humanitarian crises.

So far as I understand it, the case against humanitarian intervention can take one of two forms. Some people are pacifists and oppose all war regardless of circumstances. Others are opposed to American power and are certain that no atrocity by anyone else can be as bad as action by Great Satan. The pacifist view strikes me as naive. Is it truly better to allow genocide than to use military force to stop it? The other argument is that even humanitarian interventions kill innocents. This is indeed true. And when we drove the Nazis from France, we did cause the French some collateral damage. Would it, then, have been better to let the Nazis remain in order to ensure that we did not kill a single Frenchman. As Allied forces advanced on Nazi concentration camps, their usual response was to step up the killing, and/or to force march the inmates away. But surely it would be absurd to conclude that it would therefore have been better to allow the concentration camps to operate unimpeded because our intervention would only make them worse.

The anyone-but-Great-Satan crowd care nothing for humanitarianism, but only want to condemn whatever the U.S. does, no matter what that is. Many are willing to defend any atrocity so long as committed by enemies of the U.S. They do also have a valid criticism that U.S. actions are unlikely to be motivated by pure humanitarianism, but to have elements of self-interest. But it is hardly realistic to expect any country to dispense with self-interest altogether. Another criticism of humanitarian interventions is the "realist" criticism, that the U.S. should intervene only when vital interests are at stake. But surely the lesson of the past decade and a half is that humanitarian crises do effect our interests, at least potentially. Failed states pose a threat to us because they are the places that harbor terrorists. Humanitarian crises pose a potential threat because the greater the crisis, the greater the threat of radicalization.

So, if one supports the concept of humanitarian intervention, why should it be limited to immediate crises? Why is neither past slaughter nor the potential for future slaughter grounds for intervention? Or, as some put it, why should there be a statute of limitations on genocide?

Well, one answer is that surely the primary object of a humanitarian intervention is to be effective. Intervening when a humanitarian crisis is ongoing or in immediate danger of happening can save people from slaughter. Intervention several years later will not bring the dead back to life.

Another answer is that humanitarian interventions tend to be labor-intensive, and soldiers are a limited resource. The object is not simply to defeat the army that is committing atrocities, but to protect the population from it. Routing a group of thugs that prey on innocents civilians is easy. Stopping them from simply scattering and spreading devastation in their wake is a good deal harder. A successful humanitarian intervention requires securing the entire country, everwhere and everyone. This calls for a lot of troops. And when troops are in limited supply, this necessarily requires rationing of them, which means reserving them for the very worst crises. And if there is not a crisis severe enough to justify humanitarian intervention, it does not logically follow that we should intervene in the next-worst spot. Much better to hold our troops in reserve until a need for them really does arise.

And the other argument against taking humanitarian interventions lightly is that they can go wrong, sometimes disasterously wrong. A humanitarian intervention that fails to secure the country is apt to lead simply to chaos and civil war. Even if successful, securing the country takes time, and war and violence often escalate in the short run. (I intend to pursue this matter further in future posts. Whoever advocates humanitarian intervention needs to take the possibility of failure into account. Only when conditions are so bad that failure is worth the risk is humanitarian intervention justified.

Coming up next: Discussion of real-world humanitarian interventions and possible lessons to learn from them.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

What if It Had Been a Girl?

I believe that the best and the fairest way for anyone who automatically thinks from a heterosexual perspective to evaluate the Mark Foley scandal is to ask a simple question. What if it had been a girl?

It can be very difficult, from a heterosexual perspective, to get a proper grasp of when a homosexual man's interaction with young boys is or is not appropriate. It is all too easy, from a heterosexual perspective, to fall into one of two errors. One is to become homophobic, to read sex into the most innocent interaction between a gay man and a boy. The other is to be dismissive, to fail to see sex in any association between males until it becomes so obvious as to be impossible to overlook.

Michelle Malkin exemplifies the homophobic approach. She takes the mere fact that Foley knew so many pages by name, could recount personal details about them, or made friendly gestures, as in itself sinister. This is, of course, the reaction of the Religious Right, of people who fear gay scout masters, school teachers, priests etc. It ultimately poses a danger, not just to gay men, but to all men. Make no mistake there are heterosexual child molester, too, and heterosexual authority figures who make inappropriate advances toward adolescent girls. Allow the paranoia to spread and sooner or later all men who associate or work with children or adolescents will be suspect. (In many ways, that is happening already).

I personally confess to the opposite error -- to having great difficulty seeing anything sinister in the "overly friendly e-mails.

i just emailed will . . .hes such a nice guy. . .acts much older than his age. . . and hes in really great shape. . . i am just finished riding my bike on a 25 mile journey now heading to the gym. . . whats school like for you this year?

How are you weathering the hurricane. . . are you safe. . . send me a pic of you as well....

Glad your home safe and sound. . . we don't go session until Sept 5,,,,si it's a nice long break. . . I am back in Florida now. . . its nice here. . been raining today . . . it sounds like you will have some fun over the next few weeks. . . how old are you now?

I am in North Carolina. and it was !00 in New Orleans. . . wow that's really hot . . . well you missDC. . . Its raining here but 68 degrees so who can argue. . did you have fun at your conference. . . . what do you want for your birthday coming up. . . what stuff do you like to do.

So, are these sinister on their face? Obviously we know now that they were sinister, that Foley had exchanged extremely explicit instant messages with other pages. And we only know the e-mails. We do not know the totality of circumstances between Foley and the page. We do not know how Foley behaved toward the page in person, which would mean not only his words, but his tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions and body language. We do not know what intermediate stages Foley may have pursued with other pages between the "overly friendly" overtures and the truly graphic exchanges. But given what we do know, once again, I can only ask, what if it had been a girl?

What if it had been a girl? The uproar would lack its homophobic undertones, but I believe it would be about as strong. The Religious Right surely would be outraged, considering their concern about discouraging sexual activity by teenage girls. The graphic IM's would probably be even more shocking if a female had taken part in them. On the other hand, the messages would be so shockingly unfeminine that it would probably be easier to write the girl who wrote them off as a dirty slut who led him on. Instead of an uproar over whether it was safe to allow gay men around young boys, there would be lesser uproar, but an uproar nonetheless over whether it was safe to allow men around adolescent girls.

But the ultimate question, to me, would be what of the "overly friendly" e-mails? Would the majority who is heterosexual see a sexual intent when a 52-year-old man e-mails to a 16-year-old girl, commenting that another girl acts much older than her age and is in great shape, asking for a picture, her age, what she wants for her birthday, and what she likes to do. And the answer, I would say, is yes, such comments, when addressed from a grown man to an adolescent girl would be sexual and inappropriate, especially if she complained about them.

Well, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. And imaging a "goose" in the "gander's" place is the best way for a heterosexual - including Foley's colleagues - to evaluate the appropriateness of his conduct.