In its issue of July 14, 2003, The Nation Magazine ran a "forum" on "humanitarian intervention," in which "twelve leading thinkers from around the world" were invited to discuss that subject. The character and limits of the selection of participants by the editors, and the associated assumptions, omissions, mythical history, and pro-imperialist biases of a fair number of these leading thinkers, are a regrettable indication of the sorry state of liberal-left critical thought in this country.
The most notable mis-selections of participants are David Rieff, Mary Kaldor, Samantha Power, Richard Falk and Carl Tham. Rieff and Power are New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New Republic, and mainstream media favorites, who, over the years, have accepted without question this country's self-appointed role as humanitarian intervener, while criticizing various flaws, usually a failure to act with sufficient celerity and force. Neither is a scholar or expert in the areas surveyed; both are activists who support a more aggressive and polished imperialism. Mary Kaldor came to the fore in the field of humanitarian intervention as a supporter of the Kosovo war, and she, like Forum contributor Richard Falk (also on The Nation's editorial board), was a member of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo (IICK), a European government-funded NGO that was part of the pro-Kosovo war support base. Carl Tham, Swedish ambassador to Germany, and co-chairman with Richard Goldstone of the IICK, is also a contributor to the Forum. Samantha Power was a "consultant" to the International Crisis Group, another government and foundation-supported NGO, whose board includes George Soros, Mortimer Zuckerman, General Wesley Clark, and former U.S. officials Richard Allen, Kenneth Adelman, and Morton Abramowitz (Power's first "boss"). All of this set of Forum participants supported the Kosovo war as valid "humanitarian intervention," and they continue to defend that position with alleged facts that are untrue along with mainstream myths.
As interesting as the mis-selections are the writers ignored by The Nation's editors. Robert Hayden, the author of Blueprints for a House Divided: The Constitutional Logic of the Yugoslav Conflict (1999) and numerous enlightening papers on what he calls "humanrightsism," more knowledgeable about the Balkans than the four named above, and a serious critic of humanitarian intervention, is missing. David Chandler, author of an outstanding book on the Bosnian intervention, and a very good recent book, From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention, is absent. Michael Mandel, the distinguished Canadian lawyer who has specialized in the Tribunal and is in press with a book on How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity, is missing. Denis Halliday, a former UN official deeply involved in human rights issues in Iraq, finds no place in the Forum. Noam Chomsky, who has written extensively on human rights issues is absent. Most dramatic, Diana Johnstone, who has even written for The Nation on the Balkans, and whose book on the Balkans wars, Fools' Crusade (2002), is an outstanding work, vastly more scholarly than the writings of Rieff and Power, and presenting a convincing anti-imperialist analysis, is also left out.
None of the other contributors to the Forum is an expert on the Balkans, and only two of them, Eric Rouleau and Stephen Zunes mention the area explicitly. (Rouleau, Zunes, Stephen Holmes, Zia Mian, and Mahmood Mamdani, have articles of merit in this Forum). As the real left has been marginalized and establishment lies and myths on the Balkan wars have become more entrenched in the country at large, important left positions can no longer even be presented for discussion in a purported liberal/left and anti-imperialist journal. (This is also true of In These Times and The Progressive, neither of which has reviewed Johnstone's book; and in the case of ITT, their Contributing Editor and specialist on the Balkans, Paul Hockenos, is a former OSCE administrator in NATO-occupied Bosnia, who displaced Johnstone in coverage of this area, and offers NATO-supportive analyses [see my Open Letter on Hockenos to ITT, http://www.zmag.org/openhermanitt.htm].)
As revealing as anything on the bias of the Forum participants is the fact that not one of the twelve ever mentions the 1991-2003 UN sanctions against Iraq as a human rights issue and source of a human rights catastrophe. Power refers to a "savage genocide in 1988, killing more than 100,000 Kurds" carried out by Saddam Hussein -- but the 500,000 Iraqi children killed by sanctions that Madeleine Albright said was regrettable but "worth it," and the million plus total, do not qualify as genocide or even deserve mention (nor does Power mention the unwavering U.S. support for Saddam Hussein at the time of the 1988 killings of Kurds). John and Karl Mueller, writing in Foreign Affairs, claimed that the sanctions were responsible for more civilian deaths than all the weapons of mass destruction in human history, including Hiroshima-Nagasaki ("Sanctions of Mass Destruction," May/June 1999). And Thomas Nagy and Joy Gordon have shown that these effects on civilians were a result of very careful and knowing U.S. and British policy actions (Nagy, "The Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply," The Progressive, Aug. 10, 2001; Gordon, "Economic Sanctions as Weapons of Mass Destruction," Harpers, Nov. 2002). But this catastrophe failed to impress Samantha Power, and is not discussed elsewhere in the Nation Forum on humanitarian intervention.
Power explicitly raises the question of how we decide when civilian deaths reach "a worthy threshold" that would justify humanitarian intervention. Clearly 500,000 children or a million overall do not qualify for her -- at least when the United States is the dispenser of death -- and this genocidal process escapes Richard Falk as well when he speaks of the 1990s as "undoubtedly the golden age of humanitarian intervention." Kaldor, who mentions the Kosovo war as "resolving a humanitarian crisis," never suggests that there had been a crisis in Iraq caused by the sanctions regime, and one that could have been terminated by a simple decision on the part of U.S. and British officials that killing 500,000 children was not "worth it." The fact that Power and the others in the Forum who discuss Saddam's abuses don't even mention the deaths by sanctions is testimonial to an overwhelming and internalized bias, and an indignation and benevolence channeled in accord with establishment priorities.
Falk and Kaldor do condemn the Bush invasion of Iraq, a military venture in which the establishment itself was split. Their condemnation is based in good part on "the abandonment of legal restraints on the use of international law, the heart and soul of the UN Charter" (Falk), and because it was "neither legal nor legitimate" (Kaldor). But their own support of the Kosovo war and war on Afghanistan (Falk, although vacillating here), both wars carried out in violation of the UN Charter, badly undercuts their present stress on legality. Forum participant Stephen Holmes says that "liberals have implicitly licensed our government...to throw evidentiary doubts to the winds and unleash lethal force on the basis of hearsay testimony and circumstantial evidence." Kaldor cites approvingly the IICK classic that the Kosovo war was "illegal but legitimate" -- legitimate "because it resolved a humanitarian crisis" and had widespread support within the international community. But this notion of legitimacy that overrides the law overthrows the rule of law, substituting criteria that are vague and subject to management by propaganda machines that know how to use straightforward lies as well as "hearsay testimony and circumstantial evidence" (the incubator babies killed in Kuwait, and Saddam's imports of uranium from Nigeria were both effectively rebutted only after they had done their job in facilitating war).
Was there a "humanitarian crisis" in Kosovo in early 1999 that justified military force? Was it more severe than the crises in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, or East Timor, or Palestine in the same time frame? There were some 2,000 killed in Kosovo in the year before the bombing war -- on all sides, with the KLA contributing its fair share (the British even alleging KLA responsibility for a majority of killings before January 15, 1999) -- but an agreement of October 1998 led to a withdrawal of most Serb forces, the introduction of over a thousand monitors, and greatly reduced conflict. A problem, however, was that not only were no restrictions imposed on the KLA as well as the Serbs, it was also belatedly disclosed that at this very time the U.S. was arming and training the KLA (see, e.g., Tom Walker and Aidan Laverty, "CIA aided Kosovo guerilla army," Sunday Times [London], March 12, 2000), and the KLA knew that it had a good chance of bringing in NATO arms by provocations.
Many more Kurds were killed by the Turkish army in the 1990s than the Serb toll of Albanians killed in Kosovo (even including those killed by the Serbs in the 78-day bombing war). Many more than 2,000 East Timorese were killed by Indonesian forces and paramilitaries in 1999 as Indonesia fought the UN-sponsored election process. Over 2,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli armed forces in Intifada II, and over a thousand were killed in the suicide-bomber-free Intifada I, as the Palestinians resisted a genuine ethnic-cleansing process taking place in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and numerous UN Security Council resolutions. But none of the Forum participants mentions the Turkish, East Timorese or Palestine cases, although half of them cite the Kosovo case as demonstrating a proper humanitarian intervention (and Zunes, Falk and Rouleau have written extensively on Palestine in their other writings).
The explanation of this double standard is obvious. In the Kosovo case, the United States was eager to go to war, and its half-baked and badly compromised claims of a humanitarian crisis were therefore seized upon by cruise missile leftists (CMLs) as well as the mainstream media. In the cases of Turkey, East Timor and Palestine, the victimization received active U.S. support by arms supply and diplomacy, and in consequence CMLs look the other way. They find it impossible to say that the United States actually sponsored and underwrote ethnic cleansing, as in the Turkish and Palestine cases, that it supported and protected a genocide, as in the case of Indonesia in East Timor, or that it has directly engaged in policies that would be called genocide if done by an enemy state (the Vietnam war, the Iraq sanctions). In her book, "A Problem From Hell": America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power never found the United States supporting, protecting, or engaging in genocide -- its only defect is that it does not always oppose genocide as energetically as it should. Here again, as with the travesties of Claire Sterling and Paul Berman, proper thoughts override blatant bias, numerous errors and sheer incompetence.
Only Eric Rouleau and Stephen Zunes among the contributors to the Forum suggest that peaceable options had been neglected in the resort to war in Kosovo (several who might have agreed with them don't address this question). Many CMLs, including David Rieff and Samantha Power were long-time campaigners for a NATO war in the Balkans, working on the basis of a mythical history of the struggles there that rationalized their uncompromisingly pro-war stance (for an analysis of many of these myths -- it was all the fault of the demon; the U.S. and other NATO powers were just innocents, coming in belatedly to bring justice; the honest Tribunal; Srebrenica's 7-8,000 murdered--see my "Propaganda System Number One," Z Magazine, Sept. 2001; my review of Johnstone's Fools' Crusade [http://www.monthlyreview.org/0203herman.htm]; or best of all, especially for Srebrenica, Johnstone's book itself).
Forum contributor Carl Tham asserts that "all diplomatic efforts had failed in an emerging human rights catastrophe," and Falk and Kaldor simply dodge the question while approving the war. But Tham makes a gross misstatement of fact, as he repeats the same major error made in the IICK's volume, The Kosovo Report. In reality, the United States was eager to go to war and had been preparing the ground militarily and politically for a year before it began bombing on March 24, 1999. At Rambouillet the aim was to get the KLA to sign on to an agreement that was designed to assure Serb rejection. The United States had helped arm the KLA, and the KLA correctly understood that the United States was going to serve as its military arm (and the two worked in close coordination during the 78-day war). Neither the United States nor any members of the EU had made any constructive negotiating or peace-making suggestions for the prior several years as the conflict intensified, and as noted, the United States sabotaged the possibility of peace by aiding and encouraging the KLA and imposing no restraints on its military actions from October 1998 to March 24, 1999. The Serb Parliament's last minute compromise proposals that would have granted a great deal of autonomy to Kosovo, and would have allowed a large international monitoring group to be stationed in Kosovo, were ignored (and have yet to be mentioned in the mainstream media).
Interestingly, it was in The Nation itself (June 14, 1999) that George Kenney reported the admission by a U.S. official that the United States had "raised the bar" in their negotiating offers to guarantee Serb rejection (requiring the NATO occupation of ALL of Yugoslavia) because the Serbs "needed a little bombing to see reason." That piece was published before the complete liberal collapse into the consensus view that it was the demon who was entirely at fault, so that any failure in negotiations must be to his account, and the contrary view is barely audible in the Forum. This evidence also demonstrates that Richard Falk's opening Forum sentence, proclaiming that the 1990s were the "golden age" of humanitarian "diplomacy" is nonsense -- as in the case of the inspections charade and maneuvering leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there was only fake diplomacy and real aggression.
Canadian OSCE observer Rollie Keith stated in 1999 that NATO's war "turned an internal humanitarian problem into a disaster," and UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, contended in 2000 that the war "has not solved any human problems, but only multiplied the existing problems." The State Department, OSCE, KVM monitors, NATO, UN and the British Parliamentary inquiry have all documented the same conclusion -- that the NATO war turned a serious problem into a disaster. But for Richard Falk and Mary Kaldor the Kosovo war was a humanitarian success that "rescued the Albanian Kosovars from the menace of Serb ethnic cleansing" (Falk) and "resolved a humanitarian crisis" (Kaldor).
The other CML's also express no reservations based on postwar developments in Kosovo. CMLs in general, following the official and media lead, and after their intense and passionate concern over the plight of the Albanians, have engaged in a remarkable eye aversion on developments in NATO-controlled Kosovo. Falk ignores the fact that it was the war itself that produced the worst Serb abuses against the Albanians and caused the latter maximum hardship. Kaldor ignores the facts that, not only was the resolution of the crisis costly to the Albanians, it created new humanitarian crises that continue to this very day.
President Bill Clinton had said that the war was designed to help make Kosovo "a multiethnic, tolerant, inclusive democracy." How dishonest and stupid to think that a war would help make for toleration, and that a KLA-influenced or even KLA-dominated society would serve multiethnicity! The war exacerbated hatred, and under NATO rule, Kosovo suffered from what Swedish analyst Jan Oberg called "the largest ethnic cleansing in the Balkans," with more than 2,000 dead or missing and over 330,000 non-Albanians driven out of Kosovo. Not only were a large fraction of the Serbs made to flee, so were virtually all other non-Albanian ethnic groups -- Jews, Turks, and Roma. The Roma had been treated relatively well under Serb rule. But under NATO-Albanian governance, 75 percent of the Roma had been driven out by the end of 2001, over 12,600 Roma homes had been destroyed and the remaining Roma suffered a "pervasive and well-founded fear for their personal safety" (Carol Bloom et al., The Current Plight of the Kosovo Roma [Voice of Roma, 2002]. The CMLs are oblivious to this massive and ecumenical ethnic cleansing under NATO auspices, or like Rieff dismiss it as mere "vengeance."
Under NATO rule the KLA was incorporated into an official police force, although the cease-fire agreement of June 1999 required that it be disarmed. Under NATO-KLA rule, Kosovo has not only been inhospitable to non-Albanians, it has been gangster-ridden, insecure even for Albanians, and with growth concentrated heavily in the trade in drugs and women. It has also been a base for KLA ambitions for a "Greater Albania" that would take over chunks of southern Serbia, Macedonia and other Balkan areas with Albanians. KLA-based destabilization efforts in these areas have already caused further conflict.
Serbia itself suffered enormously from the NATO war: probably a thousand or more dead and thousands injured, extensive economic destruction, deliberate bombing of chemical facilities that will cause medical problems for many years, and an immense refugee problem. The CMLs focus not on these disastrous conditions but on the fact that the demon was removed by the Serbian people and that Serbia is now a "democracy." They ignore the fact that Milosevic was overthrown in large measure by NATO military power, sanctions and the resultant impoverishment, plus a massive NATO investment in manipulating Yugoslav politics (an estimated $25 million via the National Endowment for Democracy alone). The result has been a new dependency, corruption as great or greater than ever, a media equally or more biased in favor of the ruling clique, a rapid sell-out of national assets to foreign corporations, implementation of a ruthless neoliberal and antilabor policy, and more political prisoners today than under Milosevic's rule. It is a broken, conflict-ridden, and poor society, its leaders in thrall to the foreign powers that destroyed it -- traitors reaching out with tin cups. This is a win for Clinton, Bush and NATO, but a loss for the welfare, pride, independence and democratic prospects of the Serbian people.
David Rieff was given space in an earlier "humanitarian intervention" forum in The Nation (May 8, 2000), in which he said essentially the same thing as he says now: his main theme has been that we shouldn't kid ourselves with the phrase "humanitarian intervention," because in fact it means "war." Let's call things by their right names! Is it not bold to admit this, and to note that European colonialists also claimed the best of intentions and a "humanitarian imperative"? But then Rieff tells us that those old colonialists really were genuine do-gooders! "In the nineteenth century, the twin goals of imperialism were stamping out slavery and bettering health through fighting disease and improving sanitation. Today the goal is guaranteeing human rights, preventing genocide and bettering human health through fighting disease and improving sanitation." No qualifications here, and at least no differentiation between Clinton and Bush -- all these folks have purely benevolent goals, so go for it, George!
In the next stage of his intellectual evolution perhaps Rieff will explain
that the slave traders were also simply trying to bring black savages
into the protective custody of white Christians. We can look for Rieff's
further advances in apologetics for imperialism in the next edition of
a Nation Forum on "humanitarian intervention."
First published in Swans
Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
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