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The touching, eternal optimism of liberal hawks

danps's picture

As the response to the kidnapping of several hundred Nigerian schoolgirls has grown from hashtag activism to full blown international incident, the calls for action have become increasingly bellicose. Some of those calls have revealed (once again) a deeply rooted militaristic streak in America, one that transcends political affiliation. This time around the example starts in the UK, where last week Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett appeared to support bombing or invasion:

It is my view that there is a case for military assistance, but on a more basic level, there are things that we can do to support those who are begging for help. The British feminist movement has immense social media clout. We can all follow the Facebook group Bring Back Our Girls and use the hashtag. We can write to our world leaders, demanding that they offer assistance to rescue the girls. We can organise rallies and marches locally, as many others already have. We can support and listen to the Nigerian community here in the UK.

That paragraph has an interesting construction. It starts by at least tentatively approving bombing or invasion, but then details a number of non-military options for rescuing the girls. Interpretations may vary, but I got the impression she at least wanted preparations for bombing or invasion to begin and in addition to that for activists, governments and NGOs to continue to apply pressure on the Nigerian government.

But the bottom line is, she mentioned military action first. Given America's recent history with bomb dropping, cranking up the war machine for another round doesn't seem like a good idea. Glenn Greenwald said as much, and the reaction from some on the left was incandescent rage.

Bob Cesca decided to simply mischaracterize Greenwald, but that's about par for the course with him. Rebecca Schoenkopf cut right to the chase and went Godwin. Chez Pazienza literally dehumanized him ("he has no humanity") and also pulled off a neat trick. He linked to a piece of his detailing what an awful person Greenwald is, which includes the following numbered highlight: "Glenn Greenwald Is Almost Certainly Going To Call You Names at Some Point." Pazienza furnished that link in a post titled "Glenn Greenwald: Asshole."

Schoenkopf and Pazienza also gave hearty endorsements for bombing. First Schoenkopf, who apparently has been spending too much time playing Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell:

It is time to take out the Boko Haram dudes like you took out those pirates, and get those girls.

Seriously, just drone the shit out of em. Go get those girls.

But her understanding of the situation is actually more grounded in reality than Pazienza's you've-got-to-be-fucking-kidding-me level of naïveté: "There was no concession that maybe, just this once, the vast resources and technological prowess at the disposal of a superpower could be used for good."

Perhaps instead of hoping that maybe, just this once, this military adventure will be the one that finally gets freedom bombing right, it would be useful to reflect on how (darn the luck!) such actions have persistently refused to work out that way in the past.

Just a few years ago Libya was on the verge of genocide, remember? And we needed to drop lots of bombs to prevent that (no weaselspeak about NATO and leading from behind, thanks - without the US, the bombing wouldn't have happened). We are now too modest to boast about such benevolent intervention with a Mission Accomplished party, but we all know it worked out splendidly right?

The impulse to say "fuck it, send in the troops" is not confined to neoconservatives. There are plenty on the left who enthusiastically support it as well - provided it is done for the correct purpose. The fact that such interventions invariably make things worse, aggrandize the "war first" faction, and marginalize those seeking effective nonviolent responses doesn't seem to occur to those people, though. If we just keep fighting new Hitlers and preventing new Rwandas every few years we'll eventually get right, no?

I actually do agree with Cosslett up to a point, though. There is a case for military assistance - if it's made by, say, Belgium. Belgium seems like a peace-loving nation. They declined our offer to help bring Jeffersonian democracy to Iraq, and it doesn't seem like its people feel the urge to regularly take up arms. So if Belgium says "this is bullshit, we're going in," I'm willing to listen.

"But if every country decided for itself whether to do that, it would be terribly destabilizing!" Yes, but in case you hadn't noticed the US hasn't been much of a force for stabilization lately. Furthermore, that objection implies the US is the nation in charge of deciding when wars should happen; that we are exceptionally and uniquely qualified to judge when military action is appropriate. Liberals who - even implicitly - endorse that should acknowledge it puts them comfortably with the Bill Kristols of the world. As a card-carrying member of the vast left wing conspiracy, all I can say is: I did not get that memo.

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V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

...but curiously, I found myself wanting U.S. Special Forces going in to blast the holy fuck out BH; that is, until I thought about it, and didn't like that reflexive part of me.
I'm all better now... ;-)

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

You aren't the first to bring up Belgium's colonial history to me. Bringing up someone who dies in the 18th century is not exactly on point for a post on contemporary politics. Unless, that is, you believe that Belgium has some kind of long-simmering urge to re-establish an empire and is just waiting on the right pretext. Please do feel free to make that case!

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on was just your curious choice of Belgium as an example. Chill, not too serious, just a point in time...

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

The reply was to par4, but the comment section marks replies by indentation. IOW both of our replies to par4 are indented the same amount, so that's how you know they're both replies to that comment.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

Not a problem at all. You made your point with a considerably different tone than par did; if I'd been answering you I'd have done so with a corresponding tone.

Since I'm in the neighborhood, I don't have a problem with using nasty tones, name calling, and other uncivil rhetorical methods. I use them myself in case you hadn't noticed (name calling can be fun!)

But I expect those who use them to be thick skinned enough to handle it when it comes back at them. Cf. the example I cited in the post. Don't be horrified that Greenwald calls people names, then turn around and call him an asshole. Either play by that particular notion of propriety or don't.

Submitted by lambert on

... and his orgy of looting and murder in the "Heart of Darkness" is very relevant to the present day. And if Belgium did indeed "go in," I'd wonder who in the EU they were a proxy for. (And I was about to add Canada to the list of nations I'd consider, which I would, but the same proxy argument could still be made for them.)

Historical nitpicking aside, I think the logical point Dan makes is perfectly OK -- strike out Belgium and write in Luxembourg, or Iceland, or Costa Rica (aren't they the Central American country with no Army). The list of peace-loving nations is a short one.

Submitted by lambert on

... nor the Leopold I meant! :-)

* * *

Still, I do think the idea is a good litmus test. If the French want to intervene to "maintain democracy" in one of their former African colonies -- or the United States anywhere -- one looks askance. If Iceland offers to send in troops.... That's another matter entirely. This is actually interesting geo-politically; would give small states with peaceful "branding" an outsize role; of course the opportunity for corruption exists, but heck, they deserve a payback of some sort, and how well are "international institutions" really working right now?

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

That's why I'm not too mortified by the mistake. My rule of thumb for corrections/omissions is: does it change the thesis? In this case it didn't.

The "former colony" point is really important. Countries that are otherwise peaceful but that want to go back into places they used to rule can't really play the humanitarian card. So if Belgium decides to start an armed humanitarian mission in Congo I'll retract the Belgium part of my post.

Hadn't really thought about "peace branding" but it's an interesting idea.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Not keeping up with the Boko Haram thing, but I do find the viewpoint of some of the people mentioned here to be an interesting juxtaposition with the announcement this morning that Harry Reid wants to look into the repeal of the AUMF, which would render the bomb-everyone-all-the-time caucus comparatively toothless.

The noise in Cesca's head must be debilitating. I can remember a time when he got incandescent because of the GWOT, not its' further proliferation. Such interesting bedfellows he finds himself with these days.