Military Intervention: Moral Imperative or Imperialist Reflex?

Boston / Morocco Board News-    There seems that to be somewhat of a parallel between the study of ethics in international relation and the study of international intervention. In fact, many in the epistemic community suggest that the field of international relations did not reach a level of maturation until it started dabbling in the topic of international intervention. The debate between opponents and proponents of intervention further engenders the strident ideological differences between Realpolitik and Idealpolitic theorists.

But even among stanch Realist like Hans Morgenthau, the moral argument in intervention was no longer being dismissed but was still being interpreted, and negotiated along with the argument of legitimacy. The international community was faced with the tough choices of saving human life without trumping state sovereignty and making moral decisions that are consistent with international legal stipulations. The problem was always trying to formulate an effective international standard of humanitarian intervention that lends its credence from an reasoning where intervention is found to be the least costly and the most politically and morally viable option

The prevalent attitude in the beginning of the Nineties was that intervention might be necessary to save lives and restore democracy around the world. After the debacle of the U.S forces in Somalia, all that enthusiasm about intervention faded away and was replaced by a feeling of caginess and ambivalence. The debate was still about whether military intervention was legal and morally appealing enough to override sovereignty notwithstanding the tainted reputation of the state in question. The failure to deal with Bosnia before the genocide, the deafening silence towards the conflict in Chechnya, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Rwanda, and the daily atrocities committed against defenseless Palestinians shows the kind of uncertainty, half-heartedness, and flat out political hypocrisy that drive decision making when a crisis arises. Professor Michael Glennon was describing that very mood when he said that “there are simply no rules anymore”, a statement that earned him lots of flak.  The reasons for intervention are becoming loosely defined, overstretched and given room for a multitude of “creative” interpretations that render making the case for intervention under the pretense of saving human life less stringent and with a great range of flexibility.
We can’t ignore this emerging new norm of intervention stemming from a collective responsibility to protect those who are being repressed and abused by their own governments. International law would only allow intervention if and when it becomes clear that people are being killed, raped or terrorized in a systematic fashion where the local government is either acting as an accomplice by dragging its feet to stop the aggression, or by perpetrating the crime. When there is substantial evidence of such act taking place, the state is deemed a failing state that has not honored its moral obligation towards its citizens and was unable to establish legitimacy with its people.
Non- intervention is supposed to be the state of default in international law. The laws are grounded in the idea that intervention is but an exception that is heavily regulated. The U.S intervention in Iraq took that rule and stood it on its head. The US did a lousy job bridling what looked like the reflexes of an imperialist going on a looting operation. In trying to make the case for intervening in Iraq, the U.S cited a whole bunch of reasons that were neither convincing of a clear and present danger, nor were they substantiated with credible evidence; their strength had less to do with fact and more to do with an engineered reality that preys on people’s emotional vulnerabilities.

Again, the US and its allies have completely skirted any talk about why are Salih in Yemen and Al Khalifa in Bahrain afforded ample discretion in dealing with their people as they see fit. Robert Gates has pontificated how the US abide by the essence of all international laws geared towards the preservation of human life and human dignity as the impetus of any kind of intervention. He has yet to explain what sets Libya apart from Bahrain and Yemen. Apparently what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander 
I happen to agree with David Rieff in untangling the convoluted mess around the issue of Bosnia. He contends that humanitarian intervention is just rich western countries sop to a guilty collective conscious trying to make up for the time the powerful looked the other way. Intervention was also a mere gladiator posture reminding others who the boss is. The leaked pentagon papers expose that fact in great details.
The ambiguity of language and the multiple narratives for intervention make for automatic inconsistencies and double standards tirelessly trying to make sense.  We ought to demystify language; we need to sharpen our defenses against this manipulative rhetoric. We need to be able to detect words that are engineered and tested in focus groups run by politically financed think tanks whose ability to persuade us to go to war is irresistible and attractive. President Obama, a Nobel peace winner, rightly mused that war is a manifestation of human folly. I am having a hard time reconciling that with what his legacy would read after he leaves office. The headlines are just too traumatic: “The president who fought THREE wars!!!”   

The controversy around intervention was not settled but merely moved from the center to the periphery. Theorists are still split between advocating for a rescue mission or a surgical intervention whose aim is to halt the aggression and stop the bleeding, and those who call for staying the course in order to eliminate the conditions that caused outside intervention in the first place and try to restore some sort of order. 
I do not give blank check endorsement to either side on the intervention debate; I take a hybrid position where sovereignty is given precedence. However, when governments engage in blanket killings of their people, sovereignty is automatically forfeited.  The best analogy here is that of a mother whose kid was removed by child protective services; the agency has to have ample evidence that the child was neglected and abused before it decides to step in. There is also ample evidence where this agency has destroyed families based on tips from unreliable sources and based on evidence that was not painstakingly researched.  It is time to start listening to people on the ground like Iranian activist Shireen Abaddy and grassroots level militants and let their informed opinion guide and inform international policy making.


Mr. Mohamed Brahimi is currently working for Harvard University as an associate researcher. He is a  founder of the Arabic- English “Al Arab News” newspaper that caters to Muslims and propagates the importance of civic engagement. He is also the founder of The Moroccan American Civic and Cultural Association, a not for profit organization that emphasizes the importance of Volunteerism and the quest to reach the level of mainstream society. Mr. Brahimi also serves as a Board Director in one of Massachusetts largest cap agencies whose mission is to fight poverty and homelessness and to empower minority groups




Comments (15)  

man en blanc
0 #1 Over 500 wars and counting. Dictatorships galore. Genocides. Famine. And endless miseries! GOOD JOB! THE BUCK STOPS WITH USA!man en blanc 2011-03-25 09:35
The U.N. was founded in 1945. I have always thought that headquartering that once-upon-a-tim e auspicious body in New York was a huge mistake! (Well, the US prevailed because bla, bla, bla, WWII, Woodrow Wilson's failed league of nations initiative decades before, bla, bla, bla)

But, bear with me here: if the United Nations were located in one of the hot zones on this planet, and by God, there are way too many just to contemplate, do you think we would be experiencing the onset of Armageddon right now?

You take a well-connected representative from, let's just say, from Burkina Faso, or Benin, or Yemen or Morocco for that matter. You send her/him to NEW YORK, the greatest city in the world, the coolest gig any peasant from some "loser"" country could ever dream of. And yet, he or she gets a SEAT at the TABLE!
Do you think they would ever dare to jeopardize their plum post by speaking out? the wife is pregnant! Automatic citizenship! KASHING!

America is the Queen of the puppets! And Man! Can she make them do funny things! It is no longer about Bahrain, Libya or Syria. The imperialist angle is no longer in circulation, and yet some people are still trying to peddle it!
Hell! Ghaddafi, Qadafi,(No Western country could ever spell his name. Score another one for Moamer, Muamer... I call him the G-Fi) is also screaming Imperialism! He still sees Omar Al-Mukhtar,(or was it Anthony Quin?) slaughtering the Aytalians!

The Arabs are century-impaire d! Hello! They cannot even agree on what century they want to be in! And it is getting beyond tiresome!

0 #2 A Necessary InterventionSlawi 2011-03-25 11:58
The Western military intervention in Libya is a necessary step to protect civilians from Gaddafi's atrocities. Armed with sophisticated weaponry, Gaddafi’s loyalists and mercenaries were about to commit a genocide in Benghazi and the surrounding areas. The intervention started in a crucial moment, at a time when the rebels were losing grounds and were in the verge of being crushed by the overwhelming fire power that Gaddafi's troops had.

Now with the help of NATO, Libyans will be able to defeat Gaddafi and his mercenaries on the ground. The battle is in a dramatic shift in favor of the rebels and soon we will see the beast Gaddafi, his sons and cohorts hanged or tried in the international court of justice.
0 #3 " Might makes Right"M.Brahimi 2011-03-25 22:34
man en blanc,
You think you pissed now, read "confessions of an economic hit man" and get back to me. I had very good knowledge of how the game was played, that book just cemented that knowledge for me.
The UN, on paper, has identified cases where intervention becomes legitimate
1- Failed states (Harming its own people, Syria, Bahrain,Yemen)
2- Rogue states (Clear and present danger to other states)
3- Renegade states (Taking what is not rightfully theirs)
As long as the UN lacks the coercive mechanism to make its resolutions binding, it will not be more than a social hang out for the self professed lofty in a sick display of pomp and hubris.
What you say is all nice and dandy, God knows nothing would be more vindicative than to see Gaddafi and his band of thugs perish. But at the same time, I am just too worried about what would become of Libya post Gaddafi. History is a nagging bitch in the way it keeps of repeating itself.
Dan Shaffer
0 #4 Child Abuse Metaphors and RealityDan Shaffer 2011-03-26 01:33
Mohamed, your child abuse/protectiv e services metaphor is an apt one, and suggests a baseline approach the United Nations/NATO should utilize when considering humanitarian intervention, though I would respectfully suggest that a different supra-national organization may be necessary to commit into HI actions. Why? As we've seen with China, Russia, and members of the Arab League, western-led HI actions in the Middle East and Africa - or anywhere - will always have to overcome calls of 'imperialism' that in most cases ring too true (especially when the West intervenes in oil-rich "bad guy" countries, i.e. Libya, and not in oil-rich "good guy" countries, i.e. Bahrain).

The trick is trying to create a globally-sancti oned military/police force with aircraft carriers, surface to surface missiles, well-trained apolitical professional troops, and NO STIGMA ATTACHED cards, who have a globally sanctioned mandate to protect people anytime, anywhere, regardless of the country or political "realities" that so often constrain everyone else...

A man's gotta dream, right?!
0 #5 Usa vs arab worldconspiracy 2011-03-26 02:48
Iran asked for petrol to be sold for massons with Us petrol co want to secure petrole cause petrol backs dollars ...( since end Bretton woods)wikileaks was the spark igniting the out for Israel the new europeean leader
Jamal Mouhtadi
0 #6 "The more laws, the less justice" ChurchillJamal Mouhtadi 2011-03-26 04:00
I think the Greeks summed it up best with, roughly, “the strong do what they will; the weak suffer what they must.”
Neither the state of international law, nor human nature, has changed significantly in the thousands of years since, except in the minds of international law scholars
Who in the international system has a monopoly of force? The US is the closest it comes (of course, the possession of nuclear weapons makes this not quite true, but the point is made), but no international body has any military force of its own. Thus, international law has no force behind it and no way to enforce its laws.
Who in the international system has the legitimacy to uphold the law? To some degree the UN does, but it is dependent on other states to provide the force to back up its legitimacy. Also, the UN suffers from serious legitimacy problems as well. The institutional structure of the UN makes it almost impossible for it to uphold the law. Who came to enforce the genocide conventions against Sudan or the Hutus in Rwanda? No one. The UN is a slave to its institutional structure which leaves it powerless in the face of politics to enforce its law. Does anyone really think that a body that did let Sudan and Zimbabwe serve on the human rights commission, and that allows power politics to dictate when and where it enforces the law, has a strong claim to legitimacy?
If law is to be LAW, it must be as fair, just, and equitable as possible. International law is all too often none of these things, as it all too often is trumped by power considerations
The Pentagon
0 #7 Who will foot the bill ????The Pentagon 2011-03-26 04:42
A cruise missile is worth $50,000 to $350,000... the ships that launch them are worth $2 billion+, why a are wasting ammo on Libya blowing up 1960 vintage soviet tanks not worth their weight in scrap metal ?! They didn't attack us this time, they don't have WMD's or whatever. The sacred mission of the U.S Military is the protect America and all American citizens... not the Libyans, Iraqis, Egyptians, Israelis, Japanese, Haitians, Somalis, etc...etc... and to add insult to injury, when we do intervene to protect civilians and save lives, the whole world screams AMERICAN IMPERIALISM !!!!!.... I say f- that, we should keep our miltary assets close to home and ready to *DESTROY*, anyone who attack or threaten us, that's all. We can't save the world, especially if the world doesn't want our help !
Moroccan Patriot
0 #8 Colonialists murdering and raping Muslims in LibyaMoroccan Patriot 2011-03-26 07:53
There is only one reality. That reality is the one observed by the average child living in Tripoli, Benghazi or anywhere else in Libya. The Colonialists are coming to rape his mother, steal the natural resources of his land and disenfranchise his people of their honor and dignity.

American Bombs, paid for by Arab Pimps who sell the honor and dignity of their people very cheaply comprise the entire leadership of the Arab world - NO EXCEPTIONS. Egyptian military units smuggling weapons into Libya, to be given to Mercenaries who are Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian to fight against Libyan military units that are simply defending their country. The weapons are sold by American CIA agents to the Saudi's and Qatari's who are desperate to continue their illegitimate rule of countries that have been pimped by their leaders for too long.

The Operation in Libya has nothing to do with helping the Libyan people. That is a narrative that can be believed by the brain dead who get their information from FOX news and those who have an IQ that is below their shoe size. The Colonialist forces are in Libya to secure the four main refineries. They want the oil. They want to protect their access to cheap oil, and they want to replace Libya's leader with someone that can better pimp their people. They want sick psychopaths that hate their own people, like the leaders of the Gulf nations, and the other North African nations. Khadaffi and Assad actually have some kind of dignity and refuse to be ordered around like 2 dollar whores - so the Colonialist forces are doing what they need to in order to forment regime change in those nations.

The Colonialist forces do NOT care about the Libyan people. They do not care about Muslims. If they did, they would not continue sending weapons to Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan where the governments truly hate their own people.
Aziz El Alami
0 #9 The US intervention in Libya is anything but humanitarian. Aziz El Alami 2011-03-26 09:57
There are far greater atrocities – much worse than those being committed in Libya – being committed on a daily basis in many other oil-poor countries (i.e. Sudan) or politically-con nected ones (i.e. Bahrain)… How could one explain the lack of the international community’s involvement in these countries if it weren’t for the facts that there are no immediate economical gains to be had or simply out of fear of upsetting the apple cart?

The US and NATO’s intervention in Libya, while selfish and cynical in nature, is necessary nonetheless.

On a not so serious note: Is it just me or does anybody else see Kaddafi as Carlos Santana in disguise? Way too many physical similarities if you ask me :-)

Final note: Welcome back Mr. Slawi – We missed your valuable interventions.
0 #10 A Win-Win SituationSlawi 2011-03-26 10:23
To those who say "who will foot the bill" I'll argue who will bear the cost of a non intervention in Libya, humanely and financially? What will be the cost of letting a criminal like Gaddafi in power. Do not forget that this "Mad Dog" like President Reagan used to call him is a convicted terrorist who has blood of innocent people on his hands. This guy was involved in the Lockerbie bombing, in the UTA flight 772, in the bombing of the night club in Berlin. He was giving safe heaven and financial support to terrorist organization like IRA, the Japanese Red Army, Red Brigades in Italy, ETA in Spain, Polisario.....H is time is up and he need to go.

While the intervention cost in Libya for the U.S.A is estimated between $400-$800 million. The benefit in the long run for the U.S. is tremendous. By helping the Libyan fighters free their country from a beast like Gaddafi. The U.S.A is investing for the future. This is a win-win situation for both Libyans and Americans. This will strengthen the relations between the two countries. Therefore the U.S. will be positioned in a prime spot to rebuild the Libyan infrastructure in the oil fields and other places. By helping the rebels taking over, U.S.A will overcome the Russian and the Chinese influence on Lybia. Do not forget that this is a fight for the economical survival for America. This is not "all nice and dandy" like someone tried to portray my comment on the subject. By intervening in Libya, the U.S.A did the right thing. This will help America to align its interests with its values.
0 #11 Maroc uniCasaoui 2011-03-26 23:37
The butcher of Tripoli Kaddafi must go, the Libyan people want him to and shame on any person coming here appointing themselves spokespersons on behalf of Libyans, the allies avoided a massacre in Benghazi, which was promised by Kaddafi himself.
Please stop the demagoguery and empty slogans and focused and helping the Libyans kick the Butcher of Tripoli out.
aloha from hawaii
0 #12 we know exactely what's going on, you know the dealaloha from hawaii 2011-03-27 08:29
please, i don't have to explain it to any one, first the no fly zone, second will be WMD, just like iraq and so on, the invasion will follow after, so they can suck dry libya out of oil and natural gaz, then the libyan poeple will be left with internal economic and political turmoil, just like they did to the iraqi poeple, yet the american tax payer will fit the bill , you take it from here, you know the deal.
0 #13 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Military Intervention: Moral Imperative or Imperialist Reflex?Rod 2011-03-27 22:17

I bet you if the US, UK and France did not intervene when Kaddafi was promising to seek and kill every rebel and their families in Benghazi and let him achieve his massacre, you would be saying right now that the west wanted him to massacre his people and they only cared about the existing big oil and gas contracts that they have with him (BP and others); The west already has full access to Libya's oil and Gas under the Kaddafi regime...
let's stop the hypocrisy
0 #14 who s playing who ?cordoba 2011-03-28 05:23
I would like to just put a realistic point of vue so things will be as clear as it should be.
how could you define an American ? i know that Americans are very caring and loving people , i understand that the gap between hard working people and elites have grown so much the last few decades. people can see it walking around streets and roads and neighbourhoods. .homeless..penn yless..jobless. ..some people can t even keep up with their own bills , bankruptcies and so many Americans have been living in poverty line, for what ?
i try to understand the necessity of protecting the American people and their interest in the world , but they also need to understand that every human have the same right to live their life and protect it as they do.
the whole world screams AMERICAN IMPERIALISM !!!!!.Pentagon have said...i hope that he did research what was happening the last few decades and the reasons why the whole world is screaming imperialism , remember you have said that, so you understand the reality that other human beings are facing through the injustice suffered even through world organisations like the UN , nato and other secret organisations .
Dan Shaffer said:
The trick is trying to create a globally-sancti oned military/police force with aircraft carriers, surface to surface missiles, well-trained apolitical professional troops, and NO STIGMA ATTACHED cards, who have a globally sanctioned mandate to protect people any time, anywhere, regardless of the country or political "realities" .
so if the UN as a world body could not be as independent as it should and its body being pressured by other powers and being manipulated by other actors depending on whos who so that the cause in perspective would benefit them regardless of the consequences , in this case this body cannot be fit to come up with a reasonable unbiased solutions regarding the matter in question.
Everyone have the right to live and protect the way they live none can deny you that right .
My opinion is that north American people are suffering because of what most of the politicians believe in and whom they are relied on.
All members swear to serve the interests of the United States, but there is an unwritten and overwhelming exception: The interests of one small foreign elites almost always trump U.S. interests.
i see that the US is being used and misused in a very devious way by an elite lobby that gives the first priority to its interests these politicians and others key players are pre-primed to roar approval for these actions whether right or wrong regardless of the American people s interest so that Americans will do the fight for them and they sit an watch from a far with a cola and popcorn bowl.
I know for sure that most of the hard working people in US don t have a clue about where and how their tax payer is spent.......
""we are people and nations so we could live and enjoy life and befriend one an other" history repeats itself......dif ferent actors with different spectators..... .people always suffer regardless of their age, gender,origin or nation on the hands of the greediest ,materialistic and schizophrenic puppets that serves each other on the name of peace .
0 #15 What would you do if you had the power to impact change?Observer 2011-03-29 06:43
I wish I could say with confident that the proverbial elephant in the room is once again ignored BECAUSE people usually focus on solving more manageable problems.

What was the time sensitive issue again?

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