There are many flaws in the rationale employed by liberal hawks in supporting the use of military force for the putative benefit of the underlying populations of various military targets – from Iraq and Iran, to Burma.
For one, military force is a blunt weapon, and military intervention inevitably kills many of the same people that are, in the liberal hawks’ view, the ones that stand to benefit from the invasion/armed intervention/military strikes. Not only do innocent civilians inevitably die in large numbers due to actual use of force - referred to euphemistically as “collateral damage” – but the applicable infrastructure is ravaged to a degree that there are many excess deaths that result from the campaign itself, if not directly from live fire.
In Iraq, this accounts for some of the variance in casualty counts: whereas many tallies count only deaths from violent acts, others, such as the Lancet study, measure total excess deaths as a result of conditions brought about by the invasion.
Further, even the “enemy” soldiers and personnel that are killed, which are not counted in civilian casualty tallies, are, nevertheless, citizens of the targeted country. These men and women in uniform, or in the employ of the regime in question, have wives, husbands, children, mothers, fathers, extended families and friends – and they count too. One can say with absolute certainty that the lives of those citizens are not bettered.
Leaving aside the issue of the massive loss of life and maiming physical injuries suffered by the target population, if helping foreign people is a motivating force in informing foreign policy decisions, it is simply much, much easier and cheaper to do so in ways that don’t involve using the U.S. military in an aggressive capacity (or at all). Why don’t we fully exhaust the myriad opportunities to do so in non-violent ways before we even ponder if and when to bomb a given people for their own good.
For example, malaria kills vastly more people than terrorism (and is particularly malignant for children under 5 years old in Africa), and the weapons needed to combat this disease with a high degree of efficacy (mosquito nets) are cheap and easy to distribute. Yet there is much less “serious” debate and advocacy for taking easy, cheap, safe measures such as distributing nets amongst the liberal hawk set that is, instead, enamored with imagining new and better ways to use military force for the good of the [INSERT HERE] people.
As alluded to above, the added advantage of non-bellicose humanitarian interventions are manifold: For one, they don’t involve killing people, but rather saving lives. Second, the local population tends to appreciate the foreign intervention, rather than react with violent blowback. For example, as seen with US humanitarian aid to Indonesia post-tsunami, helping people in ways that don’t involve killing their neighbors, surprisingly, yields positive results in terms of generating good will.
Finally, as mentioned above, the costs are lower and, importantly, the outcomes are easier to predict and effectuate, whereas war is the mother of unintended consequences and ephemeral, transient successes – if that. Iraq and Afghanistan combined will likely reach the several trillion dollar mark when all is said and done, and yet the gains will be dubious at best.
At present, there is a massive humanitarian crisis in Pakistan due to catastrophic flooding. Despite the need for rapid and large scale humanitarian assistance, the world response has been tepid overall.
“Clean water is an urgent need,” said Maurizio Giuliano, a United Nations spokesman, who said the international agencies dealing with children and health were both suffering from shortages of funds. The United Nations, whose secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, flew over flooded areas of Pakistan on Sunday, has appealed for international donations of $460 million, but only one-third of that of that has been provided, Mr. Giuliano said in a telephone interview.
“There was a first wave of deaths caused by the floods themselves,” Mr. Giuliano said. “But if we don’t act soon enough there will be a second wave of deaths caused by a combination of lack of clean water, food shortages and water-borne and vector-borne diseases.”
He said as many as six million people were at risk of diseases including diarrhea-related illnesses and dysentery, typhoid and forms of hepatitis.
“We may be close to seeing this second wave of death,” he said. “The picture is a gruesome one.”
With a shortage of aid funds, relief workers were currently able to provide clean water to only one million of the 6 million people in need, Mr. Giuliano said. Many people had no adequate shelter or proper food, he said, and, as in any crisis, “children are among the most vulnerable.”
The US has been able to contribute to some significant extent, and this should be applauded, but more can and should be done. Not only has the US support thus far engendered goodwill, but where a vacuum exists, groups like the Taliban have filled it, which compounds the setback in terms of winning over the local population. In terms of counterterrorism, and improving our standing in a part of the world that we consider vital to our security interests in many respects,this should be a no-brainer. Not to mention, alleviating suffering is a good in and of itself. Even if we can do so without surges, shock and awe and exciting recycled new military doctrine.
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