Saturday, June 28, 2014


Tonle Sap, Cambodia. Via.
At Corey Robin's blog, an important post on an important problem for us in the post-Vietnam more-or-less pacifist more-or-less left, the question of the sense of a moral imperative to "do" something military in the face of mass slaughter and horror, against our hard-won knowledge that we don't want to be violent ourselves, whether from fear of the karma or the understanding that it just doesn't make anything better. Out of embarrassment at an unserious response, I tacked on something I hope is more thoughtful, and reproduce it below:

  1. Ross WolfeJune 28, 2014 at 6:06 pm #
    If it makes you feel any better, I regard Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia as one of the only successful “humanitarian interventions” in history.
    • YastreblyanskyJune 28, 2014 at 6:23 pm #
      Also Tanzania in Uganda 1978. Nobody’s ever really thanked them either.
      • Corey RobinJune 28, 2014 at 7:52 pm #
        Among liberal humanitarian interventionists, Vietnam/Cambodia and Tanzania/Uganda have long functioned as precedent-setting justifications for more general arguments re intervention. It’s an old trope in that literature.
      • yastreblyanskyJune 28, 2014 at 11:17 pm #
        Sorry, I didn’t mean to be flip. The actions certainly do not provide a useful precedent. What they were was more or less justifiable, at least in conventional international-relations terms, in a way no US action is ever likely to be.
        They were “successful”, I imagine, mainly because they were as unlike a US action as imaginable. They weren’t even meant as humanitarian interventions in the first place, but as conventionally legitimate national security actions: DK had been actively waging war against Vietnam from 1975 onwards, Uganda invaded Tanzania first to go after the encamped Ugandan rebel forces there before. There were no coalitions of the willing, Vietnam and Tanzania both acted in complete isolation from ASEAN/China and the OAS respectively. The armies were too poor for shock and awe. Wikipedia says it took Tanzania almost 30 years to recover financially.
        And then, how successful? It took seven or eight years after the war for Uganda to achieve any kind of stability; a repressive government that is always better than the Amin dictatorship no doubt, but hardly satisfactory, and still dealing today with the LRA insurgency. The Vietnamese invasion defeated the Khmers Rouges and stopped the terror, but stabilizing the situation took ASEAN diplomacy and civil war lasting until 1989. Many Cambodians still hate Vietnamese for liberating them from the killing fields, suspecting that it was only because of their wicked hegemonic designs , a suspicion that is not exactly groundless.
        It may be that “we” should just resign ourselves to not being able to “do” anything at all about emergencies like these. We could also be looking for peaceful ways of changing situations like Syria (at least the way it was a couple of years ago, before it was just another front in a generalized Mesopotamia war), like providing for refugees in a big enough way to depopulate the area under the dictatorship’s control: “Suppose they gave a war and everybody left.” Our overlords would say taking care of millions is too expensive, meaning there’s not enough money in it for the MIC cut, but of course it would be a lot cheaper than heavy munitions, air strikes, and operating bases, and we’d be able to sleep at night.

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