- MOHAMED BRAHIMI
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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