Roger Cohen has a story in today’s NYTimes entitled “Score One for Interventionism” which argues that the Libya action, because it prevented a slaughter like in or worse than in Syria, has been a success. Ye Editor has some problems with Rogers analysis. Looking at VietNam, Iaq I and II, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and now Libya – Roger is hard pressed to come up with a good formula for assessing the value/worth of US intervention in foreign conflicts. Here Roger describe the qualifiers:
Beinart describes how even in his adulation for Schlesinger, he in time became sickened by the Vietnam analogy with its recurring prescription for inaction. Shaped by Bosnia, he backed the Iraq war. The pendulum had swung. Vietnam-induced excess of caution had given way to Bosnian-induced hubris.
I, too, fell under its influence. Mea culpa. Whatever the monstrosity of Saddam, and whatever the great benefit to the world of his disappearance, the war as it was justified and fought — under false pretenses, without many of America’s closest allies, in ignorance and incompetence — was a stain on America’s conscience.
However, this prescription for intervention is off. First, it fails to delineate how to arrive at “US Vital Interests”. Second, it skirts around the issues asscocaied with understanding the the full ramifications of intervention of on all the local as well as global stakeholders. Obviously missing in the case of Iraq, as the Sunni vs Shia and Kurdish vs various Iraqi tribes and factions simply were dismissed and not taken into account prior to the US invasion of Iraq[as Roger points out it was a largely US led coalition]. Finally, the means and Cost of Action with all the contingencies and collateral actions simply were not explored.
So it is no wonder that the US, the almost self-anointed final arbitrer of intervention when the UN fails to act, has such a spotty record in its intercessions for the past half century or more. Despite a sense of good will or mission:
In the end, I think interventionism is inextricable from the American idea. If the United States retreats into isolationism, it ceases to be itself — a nation dedicated, however much it falls short, to a universalist ideal of freedom.
There are no fixed doctrinal answers — a successful Libyan intervention does not mean one in Syria is feasible — but the idea that the West must at times be prepared to fight for its values against barbarism is the best hope for a 21st century less cruel than the 20th.
the US has failed to shape and sharpen its criteria and mechanisms for intervention in more than 100 years of increasing World Policemenship.