Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Consequences of Faux Humanitarian Intervention

When NATO's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Canada this past week he tried to sell Canadians on an extended military commitment in Afghanistan beyond 2009. And to do that, he thought he could score political (and/or emotional) points by referring to our country's recent history as peacekeepers.

To critics of the mission, he said: "Please realize (that) in a nation like Canada, with such an enormous tradition of peacekeeping ... you are there for a good cause, and I know how dramatic it is if Canadian soldiers pay the high price, but I still say you are there for a good cause, you are there to defend basic universal values."

And writing for the Ottawa Sun, columnist Greg Weston laments that the Afghanistan war hasn't been sold properly to a public that overwhelmingly wants our mission to end when it's supposed to:

Rather than aggressively using the media to help frame the Afghan mission as a difficult humanitarian effort in a dangerous environment, Harper's failed spin machine has allowed the conflict to be framed by deaths, official snafus and other negative events. [Maybe that's because that's what's actually going on no matter how many happy puppy stories Harper tries to trot out? -catnip]
Whether the government can reverse the tide of public opinion on Afghanistan is a matter of some doubt, in part because the PM and his pointless grudge-match with the media are part of the problem. [And, in part because we shouldn't be there. Period. -catnip]

It's a "humanitarian effort", you see. It's about "basic universal values".

Except that it isn't and the public will not be fooled into thinking that it is.

Writing on the other side of the pond about the waning so-called "neutrality" of the UN and Tony Blair's part in that, Robert Fisk writes about the dangers inherent in the latest "humanitarian intervention" fiascoes:

The Iraq war has shattered the cause of humanitarian intervention endorsed by Tony Blair and directly led to the targeting of relief workers in conflict zones where they are no longer considered to be neutral, according to a former senior UN official.

[Ed. note: 6 UN peacekeepers were killed by a bomb in Lebanon on Sunday.]

In a speech in London tonight, Sir Mark Malloch-Brown will say: "The brutal truth is politics is making it harder and harder to serve victims' needs by reaching them with assistance or bearing witness to their suffering and thereby staying the hand of those who would harm them."

Mr Blair's belief in the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, or the use of force to advance moral causes, led to Nato's air war with Serbia to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovars, and later to British military intervention in Sierra Leone. The doctrine was also used to rally international support for the invasion of Afghanistan.

And what effect has that had?

Sir Mark, the former UN deputy secretary-general under Kofi Annan, however, points out that the Sudanese President, General Omar al-Bashir, has been able to use the Iraq invasion as the prime reason to delay acceptance of a UN force in Darfur. "Tony Blair and George Bush have repeatedly called for the right kind of action in Darfur only to be rebuffed as the architects of Iraq. Bashir has tried to make them his best weapon.

"It is not their loss of credibility that concerns me today, but rather that of humanitarian workers. The trouble is the two are linked," he goes on. "I have watched the work I used to do get steadily more dangerous as it is seen as serving Western interests rather than universal values."

While at the UN, he says, he would see the maps of Darfur showing ever-widening yellow circles that mark no-go areas for humanitarian workers. "Iraq is the immediate cause for this. And 9/11 the preceding trigger - but both come at the end of a process that has knocked humanitarian work off the straight and narrow of non-political impartial help ... bringing help to the needy."

Interesting that he should use the same phrase as de Hoop Scheffer. But the problem is that as far as conservative western leaders are concerned, western interests always trump those "universal values" and because those interests must be satisfied, the accepted doctrine is the use of military force - which they either fail to understand or refuse to admit as having a huge ripple effect.

Canadian troops are not on a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. We are not promoting "values". We're in the thick of battles in which 60 soldiers have now lost their lives. While politicians mimic Donald Rumsfeld who constantly complained about the lack of Good News™ coming out of both war zones he was responsible for, (and the record of achievements in Afghanistan is small as this current bunch of leaders try to convince you otherwise - with opium production fueling over 90% of the country's economy as tiny bandaids are offered as political solutions), apparently people like de Hoop Scheffer think they can tug at our humanitarian heartstrings to keep sending more troops to die into a country we've been at war with for 6 years now.

To what end?

That's the question more Canadians have been asking themselves lately and they're not satisfied with the answer.

I suppose history will judge our "will" as it does that of America in Iraq. In the US however, the main reason to call for the troops to come home seems to be that the war is being lost. In Canada, we have a different perspective: just how much good can we accomplish in Afghanistan?

We're different nations, the US and Canada, and we have different expectations of our roles in international affairs. (Well, we did until this minority Conservative government took over.) But what Robert Fisk has written about - the perils of the doctrine of "humanitarian intervention" and the way it has played out - whether that's the actual or perceived policy - and the effects it's having on the actual peacekeepers (such as those in Lebanon who were killed this weekend) is not something that western interests should overshadow on the international stage. If the people who are the most vulnerable and in need are not able to trust those who are trying to help them, who else can they turn to?

Bush, de Hoop Scheffer and Harper need to realize that war is not a "universal value" and that as the use of military force continues to make life more instead of less treacherous for too many civilians (with 90 killed this past week in Afghanistan alone, which Hamid Karzai rightly railed against on Saturday), the people that they all seem to feign care for are continually being harmed, not helped. They need aid workers. They need peacekeepers. They need true humanitarian intervention. They need to be able to trust.

How can it be right then, that these wars these leaders so want to push as being for a "good cause", be allowed to go on when the very people they are supposed to be benefiting are suffering so much? More of the same is not the answer.

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