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http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1016573,00.html Iraq has wrecked our case for humanitarian wars The US neo-cons have broken the Kosovo liberal intervention consensus David Clark Tuesday August 12, 2003 The Guardian (London) At a superficial level, the split in the British left over Iraq reflects a long-standing divide between those who, in certain circumstances, are prepared to regard war as a legitimate instrument of policy and those who have often come close to opposing it in principle. With rare exceptions, the latter group has always formed the minority, and on this reading the current row will peter out, leaving the Labour party largely unaffected. In fact, something altogether more serious has occurred. For the first time, a significant section of the mainstream left has been forced into open defiance of its leadership over a decision to go to war. Many of these, typified by the resigning ministers Robin Cook and John Denham, were committed humanitarian interventionists who had supported the war in Kosovo. Pitted against them were many of their former allies, using many of the arguments they had developed together. It is the split within this camp that threatens to have the most enduring consequences. Before September 11, there was substantial agreement between them about the principles that ought to underpin a progressive foreign policy. There was consensus on the need to move beyond narrow realism by accepting wider humanitarian obligations as part of a responsible global citizenship. There was a belief that it was time to act on the promises contained in the universal declaration of human rights. And there was a willingness to use military force, in extremis, to achieve these objectives. Moving from rhetoric to reality would have radical implications for the state system as it had been historically conceived. If individuals as well as states had rights in international law there could be no place for the absolute inviolability of state sovereignty as a bar to the enforcement of those rights. What had been invented as a means of protecting weak states from the predatory interventions of stronger rivals had instead become a licence for despotic governments to brutalise and oppress their citizens with impunity. The disintegration of Yugoslavia into state-sponsored ethnic violence during the 1990s acted as a spur to this debate and convinced most of the mainstream left of the need for a new doctrine of humanitarian intervention to prevent the large-scale abuse of human rights. But the machinery of the international community proved unequal to the task. By the time the "ethnic cleansing" had spread to Kosovo, the call for action in the security council had run up against an immovable Russian veto. The intervention that followed therefore took place without formal authorisation. The rights and wrongs of this have been hotly debated, but the interventionists were at one in maintaining that the values of the UN charter should be upheld even if it meant bypassing its institutions, and they were right to do so. Those who opposed them indulged in a form of procedural fetishism by which a discredited veto system was considered more important than the prevention of crimes against humanity. They also relied on a static interpretation of international law that ignored its tendency to evolve in accordance with custom and practice. The international system must be capable of adapting in situations where those seeking to act against the worst human rights violators find themselves unreasonably constrained by the existing rules of diplomacy. That does not mean that humanitarianism should be allowed to degenerate into a free-for-all of subjective judgements backed by the principle of raison d'état . There is a need for what the Canadian-sponsored international commission on intervention and state sovereignty (ICISS) has called "threshold and precautionary criteria" to impose limits on the right to intervene. It is here that the humanitarian interventionists divided over Iraq. Those who supported the war often cited the ICISS report, The Responsibility to Protect, in their defence, but their case failed even to approximate the criteria it sets out. The requirements of "just cause" and "last resort" demand large-scale human suffering that cannot be averted by other means. The Iraqi regime was certainly vile, and had the case for intervention been made when Saddam Hussein was gassing his own people it would have been a strong one indeed. But there was no immediate crisis to be averted in 2003. The criterion of "right authority" requires, in the absence of a UN mandate, an overwhelming degree of international support. The coalition that invaded Iraq didn't even amount to the "quasi-totality" of Nato. But it is, perhaps, the stipulation of "right intention" that the pro-war interventionists have been most reckless in discarding, not because their own motives were questionable, but because of their alliance with US neo-conservatism. The neo-conservative approach to military intervention was set out with admirable clarity by Paul Wolfowitz in his infamous 1992 defence policy guidance paper: "While the US cannot become the world's 'policeman', by assuming responsibility for righting every wrong, we will retain the pre-eminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends..." The gap here could scarcely be wider. Humanitarian interventionists aspire to a world order based on the universal and disinterested pursuit of justice. Neo-conservatives are motivated by the selective and self-interested pursuit of their own geopolitical goals. This rapaciously ideological project starts from the proposition that the American social and economic mode represents the ideal form to which all other forms must ultimately comply. In what the neo-cons call this "distinctly American internationalism", US national interests and the interests of humanity are indivisible. It remains to be seen what happens when this assumption collides with the reality of an Iraq determined to make choices that conflict with the White House. As long as US power remains in the hands of the Republican right, it will be impossible to build a consensus on the left behind the idea that it can be a power for good. Those who continue to insist that it can, risk discrediting the concept of humanitarian intervention and thereby render impossible the task of mobilising the international community to act in the future. Indeed, the backlash has already started. At last month's conference on progressive governance, the assembled leaders rejected the section of Blair's draft communique supporting the principle that the responsibility to protect trumps state sovereignty. The problem is this: the interventionists who supported the Iraq war want those of us who didn't to believe that George Bush is a "useful idiot" in the realisation of Blair's humanitarian global vision. We can only see truth in the opposite conclusion. · David Clark is a former Foreign Office special adviser. email@example.com _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk