In the news, the rulers of North Korea (watch out for major famines), Myanmar, and Zimbabwe wreak violence and starvation upon their peoples and profit thereby. In a better world, we’d find a way to talk it over, put together an expeditionary force, march in, topple them, execute the most deserving, and give those peoples another chance. Thanks to Republican cronyism, corruption, and stupidity, that sort of benign intervention is now off the table, maybe for another generation. Thanks, Dubya. [Dear readers: want to see Tim get thoroughly roasted? Read the comments. -Ed.]


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From: James Robertson (May 17 2008, at 22:46)

North Korea: any "intervention" there would mean war, which would lead to millions dead in Seoul.

Myanmar: The Chinese government is supporting that government's desire to keep aid workers out. I don't think it's worth risking a war with China to intervene "benignly"

Zimbabwe: It's raw chaos there. What makes you think a war there would go any better than, say, Iraq?

Nice try, but thanks for not having the means to actually play :)


From: Rafael de F. Ferreira (May 17 2008, at 22:52)

I don't mean to step up to defend Bush The Second, but there are other culprits behind the death of benign interventions. Today, the only (possibly) legitimate venue to initiate such actions would be the UN's security council. But two of the five permanent members are far from being democracies, and would obviously oppose interventions aiming to free people from their tyrants.

An alternative could be something like McCain's "league of democracies", but I think that any attempt to create an alternative power to the United Nations excluding Russia and China would accentuate international tensions to a large degree, possibly even reviving the ghost of the cold war.


From: Jim Hughes (May 17 2008, at 23:04)

So I assume that means you were a big supporter of Bush #1's humanitarian intervention in Somalia, and opposed to Clinton's withdrawal when we took casualties?


From: Robert Sayre (May 18 2008, at 00:21)

What is a good historical example of such "benign intervention"?


From: Mark Erikson (May 18 2008, at 01:56)

So, then... what standard must be met in order to go topple someone? X number of deaths inflicted on his countrymen? Who contributes the invasion force and authorizes it? Who sets up the government afterwards?

I agree that the US has made a lot of mistakes in post-war Iraq, but I do find it interesting that many of the people who denounce the Iraq war then turn around and suggest we go send troops to Sudan or Zimbabwe.

(Sorry if this wasn't quite what you were getting at, but this has been rattling around my head for a while.)


From: Karl-Heinz (May 18 2008, at 03:00)

In a better world you to not think that killing other people is a way to change killers mind. This is not a religious way of thinking, it's just the way it works imho


From: Shelley (May 18 2008, at 05:04)

Oh, I can agree, though I think you would find that "marching into North Korea" would not as simple as you think.

But why stop there?

Women in Saudi Arabia are executed just because they're in the front seat of a car with a man who is not their husband.

The Chinese suppress the Tibetan people; let's invade China rather than send it all our manufacturing.

The list goes on. The thing is, what is the factor that leads to a go, no go decision? Well, outside of those times when we have a mentally flawed president?

When a certain number of people have died? We had a thousand die in New Orleans because of neglect--should we be invaded?

When atrocities have been committed? Some of our best "allies" commit what we consider to be atrocities, every day.

In the meantime, should we conveniently forget how badly the West tends to muck things up when we intervene in Asia?

Should we also forget how even with the so-called might of our armies, we're losing the so-called "war" in Iraq, not to mention being responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqis. And let's not forget that little intervention that caused North Korea.

Speaking of atrocities, if we go by this measure, Saddam Hussein committed unspeakable atrocities on his own people, including deliberately gassing thousands to dead. Yet I don't think either you nor I agree with the decision to invade Iraq.

It is difficult to stand by and seem to do nothing, but when we've intervened in the past, the outcome is usually not very good.

Perhaps some day we'll remember what the UN really is for, and the fact that it has a standard for universal human rights, and agree, all nations, to actually support this standard in deed as well as when politically expedient. Then, maybe, the world as a whole will understand how to intervene. In the meantime, all we can do is what we can do, which is not make things worse.


From: Gunnar (May 18 2008, at 06:52)

its a when not an if, but it does require building a totally new force. read tom barnett who has the best, workable approach to decentralized security in our flat world

even better he calls the new force the "sys admin" force. the military we have (the leviathan) takes networks down, the sys admin force builds and maintains networks and so on.'s_New_Map

Summary of Key ideas:

1. Systems of rules called Rule-sets reduce violent conflict. Violence decreases as rules are established (e.g., the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding) for dealing with international conflicts.

2. The world can be roughly divided into two groups: the Functioning Core, characterized by economic interdependence, and the Non-Integrated Gap, characterized by unstable leadership and absence from international trade. The Core can be sub-divided into Old Core (North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia) and New Core (China, India). The Disconnected Gap includes the Middle East, South Asia (except India), most of Africa, Southeast Asia, and northwest South America.

3. Integration of the Gap countries into the global economy will provide opportunities for individuals living in the Gap to improve their lives, thereby presenting a desirable alternative to violence and terrorism. The US military is the only force capable of providing the military support to facilitate this integration by serving as the last ditch rule-enforcer. Barnett argues that it has been doing so for over 20 years by "exporting" security (US spends about half of the world's total in military spending).

4. To be successful the US military must stop thinking of war in the context of war but war in the context of "everything else", i.e. demographics, energy, investment, security, politics, trade, immigration, etc.

5. In recognition of its dual role, the US military should organize itself according to two functions, the "Leviathan" and the "System Administrator."

* Leviathan's purpose is employ overwhelming force to end violence quickly. It will take out governments, defend Core countries, and generally do the deterrence work that the US military has been doing since the end of WWII. The Leviathan force is primarily staffed by young aggressive personnel and is overwhelmingly American.

* The SysAdmin's purpose is to wage peace: peacekeeping, nation building, strengthening weak governments, etc. The SysAdmin force is primarily staffed by older, more experienced personnel, though not entirely (he would put the Marines in SysAdmin as the " Mini-me Leviathan"). The sys Admin force would work best as a Core-wide phenomenon.

6. By exporting security, the US and the rest of the Core benefit from increased trade, increased international investment, and other benefits.


From: jim winstead (May 18 2008, at 08:09)

maybe it's just me or i'm missing the intended irony, but that sounds almost identical to what w's plan for iraq was.


From: Mark (May 18 2008, at 08:23)

Who is "we"? The UN? Canada? Has the Bush administration threatened a veto in the UN if Canada proposed this? Why not TIAS.


From: David Smith (May 18 2008, at 10:47)

I'm sure you didn't intend to take a cheap shot or just whine, so please do expand on some of your ideas - who, where, when?

Exactly how do your plans differ from the actions that the US has undertaken in the past that you disagree with so violently?


From: Ken Hagler (May 18 2008, at 11:04)

If only the Busheviks really had put an end to "benign interventionism." I don't believe it for a minute, though, and in fact this post shows why it's not true--as soon as their faction of the Boot On Your Neck Party loses power, the other faction will be right there to continue doing the same thing.

Despite the lessons of the twentieth century, the US is still full of fools who think they can slaughter their way to utopia.


From: Aristotle Pagaltzis (May 18 2008, at 12:31)

I’m afraid this is an almost frighteningly naïve view, Tim. Please read Aaron Swartz’ short essay on The Intentionality of Evil.


From: Giacomo (May 19 2008, at 02:12)

The problem with Tim's argument is that this sort of "world policing" was already attempted in the XIX century and it didn't work. You cannot "slap" a country like you'd slap a child, you need to engage them culturally and make them grow politically, or you're just replacing a dictator with another one. Even Mugabe got to power with political support "from the west"; it's not clear how Zimbabwe could produce someone better at this time.

P.S. G.H.Bush's "humanitarian" action in Somalia was launched the day after he lost the election, mainly in order to saddle Clinton with it, and it's debatable whether it was such the disastrous experience that US media thought it was. NATO bombing in Bosnia was better, but again it's debatable whether it really stopped violence ("ethnic cleansing" genocides were pretty much complete by that time). Even UN ops often don't get it right; unilateral action will always fail because nationalistic elements and external enemies will coalesce against you. It's fantastic how the US produced one of the few XX century case-studies on this (Vietnam) and promptly repeated it in Iraq.


From: len (May 19 2008, at 06:38)

You could give trolls a bad name with that bit.


From: robert (May 19 2008, at 12:44)

The main problem, for those who have been keeping score, is that the only effective force the US has anymore is thermonucular bombs. As a conventional fighting force, the last war the US won was WWII, and that mostly because we had more materiel, including nucular bombs; not because we had more cohesive and effective soldiers or smarter generals.


From: M. David Peterson (May 19 2008, at 21:24)

"[Dear readers: want to see Tim get thoroughly roasted? Read the comments. -Ed.]"

You know what I respect about you Tim? You are who you are and you say what you say, regardless of the perceived consequence.

Of course, I disagree with your assessment. But I respect you for speaking your mind. Today, respect trumps difference of opinion.


From: F.Baube (May 20 2008, at 00:41)

It's not a bad idea Tim has. It's not in the UN Charter but then again neither is US peacekeeping. There is an emerging consensus that there are limits to sovereignty. Intervention worked pretty well in Kosovo because NATO got some cojones (and the Serbs proved mainly to be occupying bullies), but Rwanda et al. have been screwups.

A key is to ensure self-determination after regime change, rather than imposing the latest USA/IMF master plan a la Iraq. Put the government on hold, maintain civil peace, and stand back to watch. This could work in (e.g.) Zimbabwe because the opposition democratic political culture has not completely withered away.

There is a pie in the sky element for sure. But consider the collapse of Soviet political culture. In places like Czechoslovakia, the streets filled with ordinary people who were somewhat amazed to find out that everyone else felt the same as they did; there had previously been no way to know this because of limits on free expression. That is the kind of situation where discontinuous political change is both possible and desirable, and where an effective (and brief) intervention might just succeed. Replace their security services with your own, and not for too long.

But if the issue is deep ethnic strife rather than "mere" undemocratic rule, then all bets are off.


From: Marius (May 31 2008, at 23:52)

I agree that we should have an international peace keeping force. It's the only way to stop these conflicts.

And on the subject of WWII. If the russians hadn't wasted most of the German army on the eastern front, I doubt that the US intervention would have done much. Lets look at the numbers:

The Germans lossed 4.3 million soldiers in the Eastern Front. If you compare it with the total losses (5.5 million), you will see that the main battle was fought between the Axis and the Russians. The Russians lost 10 million soldiers, while the US only lost 0.4 million total (including the fight against the Japaneese)

I don't want to play down the US contribution, since they did a great job including giving vital supplies.


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