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The end of interventionism?


In the Boston Review, prominent scholar of international affairs Alex de Waal pronounces the end of the era of interventionism. His basis for this claim is two British government reports on the military interventions in Iraq and Libya. The reports render harsh judgement on these campaigns, citing inadequate planning and a lack of clarity about their actual goals. De Waal suggests that the inherent folly of military intervention is that governments erroneously believe that it is not really war. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The era of the West’s enthusiasm for military intervention is over. Two reports on Iraq and Libya—written from the heart of the British establishment and published recently—have delivered its obituary. Each is damning; together, they dismember the case for intervention in both its neocon and liberal-hawk variants. Although their focus is almost exclusively on decision-making within Whitehall—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Ministry of Defence, and, above all, No. 10 Downing Street—Americans will recognize many of the same ills afflicting their own government…

Herein lies the crux of the problem. The central failing of military intervention is not coordination, secretiveness, or dishonesty, though these certainly exist. At its core, the problem is the iron law of organized violence: intervention is war, and war commands those who choose to fight, however much they may believe they are its masters. This became evident in both Iraq and Libya in the failure to call a halt to military action when the original objectives had been achieved, the dismissal and denigration of options for negotiation, and the way in which militarism quashed any emancipatory aspirations that may have existed. In each instance, those who believed in quick, clean applications of force were deluded.

This was compounded by a catastrophic limitation of intellect and imagination. Senior politicians and security officials didn’t know much about the countries in which they wanted to intervene. But, rather than conceding this from the outset, they set a policy course based on faulty precepts, biases, and groundless assumptions. And once set on a trajectory of escalation, political leaders would not be deflected—neither by evidence of failure nor, ironically, of success. Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly described this syndrome as “from Troy to Vietnam.”

Image via Boston Review.