Monday, March 14, 2011

Libya Intervention

Daniel Larison, borrowed from Balloon Juice:
It is “essential” to American credibility and the stability of the region that Gaddafi be overthrown? The last time that interventionists were warning about the de-stabilizing regional effects of a dictator, we ended up with the Iraq debacle in which millions of people were displaced or driven into exile, and hundreds of thousands were killed. Widening and escalating Libya’s civil war into an international one are more likely to contribute to regional destabilization than anything currently happening in Libya. When did Gaddafi’s downfall become “essential” to American credibility? When Obama said that he “must go”? It wasn’t a good idea to say that publicly if there was no intention of following through on it, but this is a bit like saying George Bush was required to attack Iran because he included them in the “axis of evil” or else undermine American “credibility.” Careless rhetoric is unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean that U.S. policymakers have to treat it as if it were an ultimatum.
Mistermix goes on to say,
In the Ivory Coast, for example, the same kind of slaughter of civilians is being perpetrated by a callous dictator. The only difference is that he hasn’t publicly thumbed his nose at the US for decades, so Bill Kristol and the other neocons’ don’t feel butthurt enough to demand his ouster by force.
I touched on this point earlier. What occurs to me to add here, however, is something Americans have trouble seeing because they're inside the very fishbowl they're trying to examine. It's an emics/etics problem.

What I want to point out is how the creation of faux debates, faux outrage, and faux interests in the US, whether generated by 24-hour mass media/infotainment or by the anti-other-party rhetoric of the two political parties or by bloggers, serves to construct the "problem" to which the country is supposed to respond. Much of the time the US is responding to foreign policy problems that are at least partially of its own manufacturing.

When some commentator (David Frum in the case cited above) says that the US must respond in such and such a way to such and such a crisis abroad or lose credibility, it's not that the actual problem (e.g. Gaddafi killing his own people) does not urgently demand a response. It's that the problem is framed as an issue of "American credibility." And "American credibility" is simply shorthand for "my particular views about what the US ought to do."

When you spend a significant amount of time abroad, you may be horrified to see just how much such non-issues end up determining US action. And because the US is then responding to a mistaken characterization of the problem generated from within the fishbowl, the response often ends up a disaster.


MT said...
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MT said...

But how often is a cause or motive clear at the time or even possible to talk about with regard to decisions by legislature and committee? Maybe the horror is in being able to hear and read the commentators and imagine that what they say is what our agents in office think?