[I]t's a mistake to focus too much on Iraq as a centerpiece of a debate over when to intervene. Humanitarian concerns, and even democracy promotion, were simply not why the BushAdmin went to war.That comes after her excellent explanation of how the war's key architects, especially Cheney and Rumsfeld, aren't really neocons, but rather nationalists who "want to sustain US hegemony by... by continually using US power to eliminate enemies and dissuade potential competitors." True enough. On the other hand, you'd be hard pressed to find any "intervention" by the United States done primarily because of "humanitarian concerns." Kosovo often gets trotted out as a "good" liberal intervention—done to prevent ethnic cleansing, as the story goes—but here, for instance, is how Sidney Blumenthal described the Clinton administration's thinking in 1999:
Kosovo was the central challenge remaining to full European integration after the fall of the Soviet Union. If the crisis there were allowed to fester and ethnic cleansing allowed to succeed, Europe would be inundated with refugees. The human tragedy would be appalling. This might well demoralize the center-left political parties, but right-wing ones would seize on the developments to gain influence, exploiting fears about increased immigration and asylum seeking. NATO would seem a feckless, purposeless organization: If it could not be mobilized to ward off this new threat in Europe, what use was it? The incentive for former Warsaw Pact countries to join it would be drastically reduced; NATO expansion would become an empty exercise.Notice that the fate of the actual people being massacred ranks far below strategic concerns—saving NATO, stopping all those filthy refugees from flooding Europe, and making sure the conflict doesn't spread outwards. Indeed, in his first radio address after his Senate trial, Clinton focused on the national security threat posed by Serbia, rather than humanitarian issues: "Bosnia taught us a lesson: In this volatile region, violence we fail to oppose leads to even greater violence we will have to oppose later at greater cost." Human rights, obviously, played some part in the selling of the war, but the fact that Kosovo really was important strategically—at least in Clinton's mind—explains why we went. It was a direct threat to the "liberal internationalist" order, much like Saddam Hussein was a threat to Dick Cheney's world order.
Moreover, the absence of U.S. power would trigger traditional rivalries among the European countries and hamper Britain's influence, given its link to the United States. Reform in Russia would be slowed down or derailed, as conservative political forces there would be galvanized by Serbian defiance of the West. And without the Balkan puzzle solved, Turkey and Greece might also be propelled into renewed conflict.
One could go on. And the HSR provides evidence that these things, along with economic development and human rights law, all work as far as making the world less violent. Meanwhile, the rapid spread of democracy in the 1990s has helped to curb war, and most of that has been accomplished without American invasions. The basic lesson here, it seems, is that "humanitarian interventions" are really a somewhat minor issue in the grand scheme of things. (Although I still worry that allowing things such as, say, genocide in Darfur undermines that order by setting a bad example for other would-be genocidaires.) So while I doubt that liberal interventionism can ever serve as a workable basis for U.S. foreign policy, the positive side is that it may not matter much. The hard evidence suggests that the most effective things the U.S. can do for human rights are, first, to stop fueling conflict abroad—regulating the global arms trade would be a nice start—and second, to bolster the international order that genuinely has done a lot for world peace of late.
A sixfold increase in the number of preventive diplomacy missions between 1990 and 2002 A fourfold increase in peacemaking activities between 1990 and 2001 An elevenfold increase in the number of economic sanctions in place against regimes around the world between 1989 and 2001 A fourfold increase in the number of UN peacekeeping operations between 1987 and 1999