I have recently been having more than a few back-and-forth debates with my old sparring partner Jacques Delacroix concerning matters of foreign policy. The most recent debate has produced a number of great insights and opportunities to further enhance an understanding of foreign affairs.
Against the backdrop of this lively and hopefully continuing debate is the recognition that both of us are extremely ignorant human beings, and that we know far too little about anything to be in a position to command or direct institutions that are not based upon mutual consent and agreement. The one institution – government – that is widely regarded to be necessary for the use of coercion should have its monopoly on force widely distributed throughout various avenues of power and severely restricted by the use of legal precedent. This small paragraph essentially sums up the foundation of both libertarian and conservative thought in the United States, and as you read through this essay (or any other writings believed to expound upon conservative or libertarian ideals) I would highly recommend remembering this small but important fact.
Indeed, if I had to pinpoint the exact locus of difference between a Leftist and a conservative/libertarian, it would be this fundamentally opposite view of man that each camp harbors. Seldom have I met a Leftist who has not believed himself to be intellectually superior to his fellow human beings. This pompous view that the Left has of itself is actually somewhat justified. Leftists, by and large, tend to be better educated, more critical, more socially adept, and more intellectually curious than conservatives (libertarians are essentially Leftists with a pair of balls). This observation on the foundation of Leftist thought should not be taken to say that I think Leftists are evil or malevolent individuals. On the contrary, I believe that Leftist policies are ultimately flawed precisely because they are beholden to their hearts rather than to their keen and unceasingly curious minds.
Because of this flawed belief they have in themselves, though, Leftists often hold the Rule of Law (“men are governed by laws, not other men”) and specifically the federal constitution in contempt – unless it fits their cause. The Right, to be fair, does this as well (especially since the end of World War 2), but historically this disdain for the Rule of Law and federalism – which essentially requires that ideas be scrutinized by all of the various factions involved in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government prior to being implemented politically – has had its roots in modern Leftism.
It is apparent that Leftists still hold this contempt for the Rule of Law and due process today – the Bush administration’s assaults on civil liberty notwithstanding. Just look at its support for ObamaCare and the regulatory regimes that have been implemented by Washington over the past three decades. Look at its support for policies that erode federalism and individual freedom in the spheres of free speech and freedom to smoke, drink, and eat what you want. Look at Leftist support for policies eroding the protection of private property and contract. Look at the Left’s support for wars – be they on poverty, dictators, or trading partners.
Since the end of World War 2 this disdain for the Rule of Law has been shared by the conservative wing of the Republican Party. I must stress again the importance that the Rule of Law plays in checking the ambitions of men – no matter how well-intentioned the said ambitions may be. While this disdain among conservatives has largely been confined to foreign policy the awful truth of the matter is that conservatives have become more contemptible for the Rule of Law domestically with each passing day, and this worrisome trend stems, I believe, directly from its approach to foreign policy.
Delacroix exemplifies the conformist, establishment belief held by many, if not most, intellectuals, politicians, and everyday citizens concerning the Rule of Law and foreign policy. One of the most common arguments for intervention is that of the Balkans experience, in which the NATO systematically took apart Serbia’s military and saved countless Muslim lives.
Now, to be sure, the horrors of the Balkans – which has been a troubled spot for centuries – are grotesque and shocking, but that is not the point of disagreement between those who believe the US military should respond as rapidly as possible to the world’s problems because the dangers are so obvious and inimical to world stability, and those who believe we don’t know much about the world’s problems and should therefore slow down and debate the issue at hand – both in the halls of Congress and in public life.
Consider, if you will, the number of 10,000 dead in Sarajevo within four years time during the Balkans tragedy. This is regrettable, but compare this relatively small number to the number of dead in Iraq for the first four years of American occupation there. It was widely believed that prior to the Iraqi invasion its dictator harbored weapons of mass destruction and was actively funding terrorist networks that had just wrecked havoc on Western society. That is to say, the people who engineered the invasion and occupation of Iraq believed that they knew more about Iraq than they actually did, and they were wrong about it.
If these policymakers were on the board of a corporation, or they owned their own small business, they would have been punished for their mistakes without any coercion being involved whatsoever. Instead, what American society got from the irritable belief that some knew more than others and were thereby justified in their use of force was a heavy burden to bear and a lot of shrugged shoulders. It is no surprise, then, to receive this type of reaction from Delacroix and other interventionists on the constitutional avoidance of actually declaring war on the Iraqi state:
“[libertarians] will sometimes maintain that a joint resolution of Congress passed with a huge majority is not a proper declaration of war.”
Indeed, it is a common tactic among the Left to claim that large swathes of the people demand progress or reform, and that the only thing holding back such reforms are the Constitution and the Rule of Law. Delacroix’s blithe dismissal of congressional refusal to follow the law – however “technical” it may seem, is telling of the foreign policy establishment enmeshed within Washington’s political spheres of influence, which is weird because Delacroix resides in California.
There is more to this than just a condescending disparagement of the Rule of Law, though. Delacroix, a self-professed conservative libertarian, believes the number of dead and displaced is in itself a justification to flaunt the Rule of Law and our nation’s legal precedents. You can pinpoint the weakness in his argument by recognizing how he fails to see the other side of the conflict, which is especially important in foreign affairs where national security is not directly threatened. Indeed, he is quick to label Milosovic – a dictator and a human butcher to be sure – as the bad guy. With the blood of tens of thousands of dead people and the act of forcing hundreds of thousands to leave their ancestral homes on his head and hands, Milosovic seems to be – quite obviously to the more intelligent among us – the purveyor of all things bad in the Balkans during the ’90′s.
The question “why would somebody do such a thing?” is never asked in Delacroix’s (or many other advocates of a robust and profligate foreign policy) statement. Yet tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Serbians were also forcibly removed from their homes in the 1990′s – by Muslim Albanian and Bosnian forces and Christian Croatian forces. Tens of thousands of Serbians were murdered by the Albanian, Croatian, and Bosnian forces. This is a point that Russia tried to make prior to NATO intervention in the region. It is a point that was not acknowledged by NATO, and the West subsequently lost a newly de-socialized Russian society.
The Balkans mess is further complicated when we remember that the Albanians, the Croatians, and the Bosnians all suffered under largely Serbian rule during the iron-fisted reign of the socialist dictator Tito. When this factor is taken into account, can we accurately and confidently say that Serbians began the killing spree in the Balkans during the 1990′s? What if the killing started when these formerly oppressed minorities decided to enact revenge? To Delacroix, not only does the Rule of Law not apply to the actions of our political leaders, but it does not do so precisely because he is so confident that he is correct in analyzing the affairs of other states.
But what of the tens of thousands of Serbs who were displaced by the actions of the Albanians, the Croatians, and the Bosnians? What of the thousands of dead Serbians massacred at the hands of the other Balkan peoples? Not only did Western military action fail to account for these atrocities, the actions actually contributed to the further suffering of the Serbian people as they watched their homes and infrastructure get destroyed by NATO bombs, their sons get harangued by Western troops, their side of the story ignored by Western diplomats, and their reputation as a people sullied by a complacent and sloppy Western press.
Was it a good idea to go into the Balkans and stop the killing there? Perhaps, but the story outlined by Delacroix leaves much to be desired. What worries me most, though, is his profound disregard for legal precedent rather than his one-sided account of the Balkans crisis in the ’90′s.
Not content to bring up the Balkans alone, Delacroix and other interventionists are also anxious to bring up non-interventionist hypocrisy regarding the genocide in Rwanda during the 1990′s. Set aside for a moment the Rwandan experience, and marvel at Delacroix’s assertion that libertarians – who generally oppose foreign intervention due to the negative externalities involved – are the hypocrites, while the conservatives and Leftists who anointed themselves as saviors of the Balkans during the massacres in Rwanda are not even mentioned. He writes:
“Non-interventionists must also think that the slaughter of between 500,000 and one million people in Rwanda in 1994, over only three months, would have been even worse had the US (or others) sent a dozen warplanes to bomb a single radio station directing the massacre. [emphasis mine - BC] (The low estimate of the victims comes from the always cautious Human Rights Watch.) For me, it’s difficult to imagine much that would be worse than the attempted and largely successful violent liquidation of large minority of the population of a small country. By the same token, the continuing deadly ethnic cleansing of Darfur, in the Sudan, where rape is used systematically as a weapon of war, evokes only indifference among libertarians. By the way, the arguments for non-intervention in Rwanda, and now in Darfur, are such that it’s difficult not to think about racial prejudice: Black people in remote parts of Africa are eviscerating one another? What do you expect? That’s what they do!”
Well of course non-interventionists are racist. Why do you think we actively advocate for a robust and profligate foreign policy in other parts of the world, but not Africa? I am angry that Delacroix would actually put into print what non-interventionists only wink and nod to themselves about in private! I thought we only had to worry about well-reasoned accusations of racism coming from the Left, but Delacroix has, once again, proved me wrong. I can only hope he stops exposing non-intervention as racist before it’s too late!
All mocking aside, what I want to bring up here again is the “knowledge problem” that most conservatives and libertarians are concerned about and that I summarized in the introduction of this lengthy essay: we don’t know that much about anything, and even experts in their field of expertise only know a small portion of anything about that field.
In this particular passage I have emphasized an important aspect that I believe is at the heart of the disagreement between libertarians and conservatives/Leftists regarding foreign affairs. Delacroix seems to believe that a few warplanes striking a single, state-owned radio station would have put an end to the violence in Rwanda. His pretense of knowledge here seems a bit far-fetched.
Even if we set aside Delacroix’s far-fetched assertions, Rwanda deserves another look, if only because our elected leaders were indeed hypocritical on the matter. So I have to ask this question: which side of the Rwandan war should we have intervened on behalf of? It is not enough, I think, to assert that bombing one state-owned radio stations would have stopped the massacres in Rwanda. It is enough to stress that most foreign military adventures are done so on behalf of one faction and against another faction, so the question is a pertinent one. Or would Delacroix simply send our troops into Rwanda with no clear-cut goals – not even to kill a dictator! Furthermore, was there a dictator in Rwanda at the time of massacres? Who was in charge of the Rwandan state during this time?
I think it deserves to be mentioned that in the not-so-distant past the ruling Tutsi minority class was fairly brutal to the Hutu majority, and that the Hutu majority did most of the killing in 1994. I am not condoning the violence, I am only providing some brief clarity to the situation brewing in Rwanda prior to the genocide. Some people may be comfortable in choosing a side that is perceived to be “less evil”, especially in the case of foreign affairs where it is highly likely that one will never travel to a war-ravaged area and meet an individual who is susceptible to one’s judgement.
Perhaps there is some “raw knowledge” that we can exploit regarding Rwanda to gauge whether or not an effective airplane strike could have been undertaken there during the 1990’s. I would like to remind readers that this is a conversation being pursued under the acknowledgement that we are ignorant creatures, even specialists:
In 1990 a rebel group of Tutsi nationalists poured over from the Ugandan border (where they were driven after Hutu purges) to take over the Rwandan government (they succeeded in 1994, just after the massacres took place). From 1990 until at least 1996 (I will come back to this) – a civil war raged throughout Rwanda and intermittently spilled over into Burundi, Uganda, and even Zaire (as it was then called). In August 1993 the main Tutsi-dominated rebel group (which received help from Ugandan forces) and the Hutu-dominated government of Rwanda (which received help from Burundian, Zairean, and French forces) signed a cease-fire, but not all of the factions liked this, and fighting continued sporadically throughout Rwanda. In April 1994, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi (both Hutus) were assassinated, and the infamous massacre then took place.
An analogy of the Rwanda scenario can be drawn with the Yitzhak Rabin scenario in Israel: leaders who tried to make peace with enemies were assassinated for doing so (though the assassins of the Rwandan and Burundian leaders have never been identified).
The main rebel group and the government of Rwanda then immediately began to ensue hostilities. The Tutsi-dominated rebel forces eventually took control of Rwanda. The end date of the war is still disputed among scholars. Some think it ended in 1994 with the surrender of the Rwandan government. Some think it ended in 1996 after the new Rwandan government pursued Hutu refugees in Zaire. Some argue that the war is still ongoing today. I happen to think it is the latter.
So the assertion that the West may have stopped the massacre with an airplane strike on a single radio station seems far-fetched. It is very clear that the animosities among the Hutus and the Tutsi are real, and that the storyline concerning the massacre is much more complex than interventionists would like it to be. Keep in mind that complexities are often disparaged by hawks in the West when they argue for a robust bombing campaign, or an invasion and occupation of a state (remember the case for invading Iraq and toppling Hussein?).
We can actually take Delacroix’s calls to “do something” in Rwanda a step further and picture an alternative scenario being played out. Picture this three-step process: 1) Hutus pointing to the bombed-out shell of a popular, Hutu-friendly radio station and the presence of Tutsi militias wrecking havoc throughout the country 2) Hutu demagogues putting forth a theory that the Tutsis are working with Western imperial powers to impose their authority once again on the Hutu people 3) The previously apathetic now also take to the streets. Not only does most of the public believe that Tutsi factions are responsible for the assassination of two prominent Hutu politicians, but the West has just taken the side of the Tutsis…just as it did during the colonial era. The massacre may have been even worse if a single, state-owned, Hutu-influenced radio station had been bombed by the West.
Is it any wonder, then, that hawks generally disparage due process and the Rule of Law when it comes to foreign policy? Conceptually, what makes Delacroix’s argument any different from Leftist calls to “do something” in regards to the economy during a downturn? Both camps seem to think their ideas and their morals are above the law and their fellow citizens.
By the way, ten years after the massacre and continuing on into today, Rwanda is a multi-party democracy, albeit a fragile one. In terms of low-levels of corruption, Kigali is ranked 8th (out of 47) in sub-Saharan Africa and 66th in the world. A reconciliation process has also been undertaken, though problems with the DR Congo (formerly Zaire) and Hutu militias are ongoing. Compare this with ten years of an occupied Afghanistan or eight years of an occupied Iraq or 16 years of an occupied Balkans region.
All of this brings up the issue of Truth, of course. The evils of the world are to be regretted. Sometimes they may be enough for a military intervention on behalf of the American republic. The example of the Darfur seems fairly clear-cut in my eyes, though it appears that the people of the Sudan – with cooperation from Western governments – are handling their problems themselves. It would be nice, though, if the politicians and the intellectuals who advocate on behalf of these interventions would at least submit their expertise and their knowledge and their ideas – no matter how beautiful they are – to the cumbersome inanities of the Rule of Law and the messy process of constitutional government. I think the world would be a much safer, wealthier, and healthier place if this were the case.