Intervention

INTERVENTION....Jon Chait today:
Must I really explain why it's OK to favor some wars but oppose others?
Apparently so. In particular, Chait wants to explain why liberals who supported intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo might not support continued intervention in Iraq:
The key fact in Bosnia is that people were not, for the most part, "slaughtering one another." Serbs were slaughtering Bosnian Muslims (and later Kosovars). That's a situation in which American military force could clearly solve the problem. All we had to do was inflict enough punishment upon the aggressors to make them stop.

In Iraq, on the other hand, you really do have ethnic groups slaughtering one another. One of those groups, the Shiites, is mainly using the machinery of the state. The other group, the Sunnis, is using insurgent tactics. But the point is, we can't kill our way out of the problem, because success would entail not just persuading one side to stop its aggression but persuading both sides to make peace. And the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government shows no signs of wanting to make the concessions it needs to make for peace.
There's actually an even stronger case to be made here. Consider the Kosovo war. We came in at the end of nearly a decade of fighting in the former Yugoslavia, when the ethnic violence in the region was finally showing signs of burning itself out. We had the undivided support of NATO. The postwar occupation was conducted with plenty of troops. And since the end of the war there's been very little fighting and almost no casualties among the occupying forces.

In other words, it's about the best case you could ask for. Compared to Iraq it's a rose garden. And even at that, after eight years Kosovo is still far from stable. It's only barely a success story.

The lesson here is simple: Sometimes military intervention is a feasible way of getting what you want. Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it depends on whether you're willing (and able) to bring enough force to bear. That's why most of us who aren't named Bill Kristol support some wars but not others. In Darfur, for example, my hesitance about military intervention is related to the rosy scenarios I've seen bandied about too often: an awful lot of people seem to think that two or three combat brigades and some close air support is all it would take to fix things up. And maybe that's right. But I wouldn't count on it, and unless the West is prepared up front to commit two or three divisions plus some serious air power for an extended period of time, then I think we're just kidding ourselves.

The Powell Doctrine may be honored more in the breach than in the observance, but in principle everyone agrees that military intervention is a good idea only if (1) there's a military solution available and (2) we're clear-eyed about committing the forces necessary to do the job right. In Darfur, we probably have #1 but I've seen little sign of #2. In Iraq, we have neither. Regardless of whether there was ever a military solution available in Iraq in the first place, there certainly isn't now. And even if there was, President Bush has never displayed the political courage it would have taken to do it right. He wanted a quick and dirty war that could be fought without risking his political capital, and in the end he only got half of what he wanted. It hasn't been quick, but it sure has been dirty.

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