Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I Heart Mary Kaldor

Or, the Intelligent and decent Decent, a post in one act.

We've only mentioned Mary Kaldor once before which was a reference to her interview with Alan Johnson. tehgrauniad printed a frankly pretty crap and unrevealing interview yesterday. There is one highlight however.

More generally, the gap between the ideal of human security and the facts on the ground poses a conundrum of which Kaldor is all too aware.
"The international community makes a terrible mess wherever it goes," Kaldor admits, a sentiment she spells out in stark terms early on in her book.
"It is hard to find a single example of humanitarian intervention during the 1990s that can be unequivocally declared a success. Especially after Kosovo, the debate about whether human rights can be enforced through military means is ever more intense. Moreover, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have been justified in humanitarian terms, have further called into question the case for intervention."
A crucial and recurring problem for those who intervene, even those with the best of intentions, says Kaldor, is the psychological distance and the cultural barriers between the so-called internationals and the local population. Kaldor remembers an instance in Iraq where she was appalled by the insensitivity and arrogance of a young, uneducated American talking down to a highly qualified Iraqi with a Phd. While this was an extreme example, she sees the same dynamics in Kosovo and Afghanistan.


Being a nasty old reactionary, I seem to remember Archimedes or Pythagoras or one of those guys being cut down by some unlettered Roman legionary while drawing geometrical diagrams in the sand. It's the way it goes: brute force versus brains. The "highly qualified Iraqi" should be lucky he's still breathing. Have gun: can do without cultural sensitivity.

The Johnson interview is typical A'NTM'J - ie utterly bizarre.

Johnson: But it is legitimate to bomb sometimes, isn't it? What about bombing Serb positions to make them stop shelling ordinary Sarajevans as they shop in the market?
Kaldor: I was very unhappy about it at the time, and I am even more so in retrospect. I was in favour of intervention in Kosovo but I was very unhappy with the use of air-strikes. I just think it's unacceptable. I mean, what happened at Nuremberg was victor's justice. We should have also addressed Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The problem with the liberal internationalists and their alliance with the neocons is that they believe in wars for human rights so they have flipped over to the human rights side instead of holding peace and human rights together.


Please note that I don't support the "shelling [of] ordinary Sarajevans". However, mortar positions were shelled throughout WWI for example and the bombing/shelling didn't make them stop. There's an implicit claim in Johnson: kill them all, and they'll stop. It's not supported by history.

Update 4:50 pm Alex in the comments suggests that I was wrong about Sarajevo. It looks like I am wrong and NTM was right.

18 Comments:

Anonymous bubby said...

I like Mary Kaldor, she's a good egg. She clearly thinks about the moral complexities involved.

In sharp contrast amongst Decency in general there's a real unwillingness to think about the human consequences of war. Its all dealt with in a very detached way. Our cause is just so let's not look too closly at the moral dilemmas that unleashing huge and dreadful quantities of violence creates.

I remember Martin Shaw debating with, I think, ANTMJ, and Shaw suggested that killing "enemy" soldiers, in this case oblterating the Taliban, basically lightly armed peasants with B52s, daisycutters, napalm etc, in a massive one-sided slaughter- ( thousands or possible tens of thousands were killed in Afghanistan for the loss of a single US servicemen in two months in 2001)was morally questonable. I am fairly confident that ANTMJ just didn't see it as a moral problem at all, and that's much of Decency in a nutshell.

4/02/2008 11:32:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

What about bombing Serb positions to make them stop shelling ordinary Sarajevans as they shop in the market?

Did Alan NTM really say this? That's moronic. "Bombing Serb positions" was not the controversial issue. Bombing Belgrade (where they also have ordinary people, and shops) was.

4/03/2008 07:00:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Yep. He did. It's in the Decentia interview here (ed Alan Johnson, so it's hard to see how he could have been misquoted).

4/03/2008 07:07:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I was in favour of intervention in Kosovo but I was very unhappy with the use of air-strikes. I just think it's unacceptable

See, this is something that struck me during the Kosovo intervention. When there was a UN intervention in East Timor - quite rightly, too, a very urgent situation - I didn't hear anybody calling for strikes on Jakarta, the bombing of Indonesian insfrastructure, the levelling of bridges in Baguio City. Nor for that matter did anybody insist that UN troops have an unhindered right of passage on Indonesian territory. None of this was necessary so none of it was called for.

This comparison didn't get made very much during Kosovo, though, not leat because too many of the advocates of intervention were busy shouting "apologist for genocide" at those of us who felt that NATO seemed to be a couple of hundred miles further north than they ought to have been.

4/03/2008 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Al-Jazeera (Arabic) showed footage of villages, with civilians clearly in them, having the shit blown out of them during the Afghan war. Robert Fisk described seeing something similar. Given that none of the western media was actually in Afghanistan during the war, and that we know that the US military isn't terribly squeamish about civilians when the world's media is watching, I think its pretty safe to assume that it wasn't just the Taliban who were slaughtered.

4/03/2008 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Please note that I don't support the "shelling [of] ordinary Sarajevans". However, mortar positions were shelled throughout WWI for example and the bombing/shelling didn't make them stop.

Er, the shelling of Sarajevo *did* stop because the Cheshire Regiment, the Foreign Legion, and the Royal Artillery destroyed the mortar positions and opened the road into town in 1995.

4/03/2008 10:58:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Cian

That wasn't the point I was making. Clearly many Afghan civilians were killed because the US-UK decided to rely almost exclusively on air power. As Shaw puts it the risks in wars like Afghanistan and Iraq have been ‘transferred’ from our troops, whose potential loss is politically damaging, to their civilians. This of course is hugely morally problematic because essentially the US military is factoring in that this will incinerate a few Afghan villages even if they are sincerely only attempting to target Taliban and that this is quite acceptable. Generally the media were pretty nonchalant about that but would we have been so nonchalant if the 'collateral damage' had involved Westerners. I don't think so, which suggests that the lives of Afghanis are seen as much more dispensable, and of far lesser value.

Does anyone remember that right at the beginning of the Iraq War that the Americans attempted to assassinate Saddam by dropping a very large bomb on a restaurant in Baghdad. They didn't get Saddam but they killed a fair few innocent diners. The response of the American military was astonishing- no regret or remorse or even a recognition that what they had done might be seen as questionable. One wonders how such actions are seen by others in the Middle East.

There has been a progressive movement in most developed Western societies towards eliminating the legitimacy of using lethal force, even against convicted murderers. Personally I think this is part of a great progressive march away from barbarism. War is finally left as the last arena where killing is legitimised and that is why so many of us are very way of resorting to it, except as a last resort. I think the killing of enemy combatants, whether in one sided slaughters such as Afghanistan, or in situations where the soldiers have no desire to fight, such as the unwilling Iraqi conscripts in 1991 who were buried alive, napalmed or slaughtered en masse during their retreat from Kuwait on the Basra, does raise significant ethical issues.

4/03/2008 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Sorry should have been 'Basra Road'

4/03/2008 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous matt w said...

According to P.G. Wodehouse it was Archimedes who was killed by a common soldier -- according to Tony Conrad Pythagoras was killed by a bunch of democrats who caught him because he refused to flee across a bean field.

4/03/2008 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Was that for the same reason as the philosopher Natalie Merchant, who refused to tread on grass for fear that she would kill it?

4/03/2008 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Bubby,
I realise we're in agreement, sorry should have been clear, I'm just making the point that it was much worse than most people realise in the west (in the middle east its a different matter). They used AC-130s, essentially a flying gun platform, at night against villages, which is basically a flying gun platform and pretty indiscriminate in use. Al-Jazeera had people in Afghanistan and got footage of this happening a couple of times (which wasn't picked up by any western media outlets - not as sexy as Bin Ladin I guess), and there were reports of other places from refugees. They were villages where the Taliban were probably based, but so what. They slaughtered people for living in the wrong place.

War is evil, brutal and barbaric - air war doubly so. I think that a major problem in the west is that most of us are so removed from it. You can't have a clean war. Though you can certainly do a lot better than the obscenities at the end of Iraq 91, or Vietnam/Cambodia.

4/03/2008 08:15:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

I think that a major problem in the west is that most of us are so removed from it.

Isn't this where the parallel with Vietnam comes in. Not only was the draft affecting large number of (even some middle class) families in the US, the (relative) truth was on their screens every night. We had the same in Northern Ireland.

Since then the Pentagon and British Army have made sure that the media is strictly managed, and the human impact on the domestic population is minimised, and as hidden from view as possible.

War has become something we inflict on other populations, not our own.

4/04/2008 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

"Isn't this where the parallel with Vietnam comes in. Not only was the draft affecting large number of (even some middle class) families in the US, the (relative) truth was on their screens every night."

I think this is largely a myth. Vietnam was a bit better, but only a bit. The American journalists were still operating on the US side, so they largely didn't see the results of the American onslaught. Most Americans thought in terms of their poor boys (and still do), and the fact that Kerry and McCain are seen as war heroes pretty much sums up the US attitude. I think very few Americans understand the full scale of what their military inflicted upon Vietnam. I don't think any other war, including WWII, comes close.

"We had the same in Northern Ireland."

We really didn't. If you wanted to find out what was going on in Northern Ireland you were better off reading US newspapers (shamefully). And there was nothing stopping British journalists finding out what was going on.

4/04/2008 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

cian, I don't think we're arguing against each other here. Sure, we still got a mediated view of the wars back then, and they certainly didn't affect us as much as the inhabitants.

But the Pentagon and British Army have much greater control of media reporting now, and sanitise to a far greater extent. I mean, it was still possible then to go in after My Lai, and to record the aftermath, and this was seen on our screens. Add to that the iconic photograph of the napalmed child. Nobody saw much of the aftermath of Falluja.

Certainly Americans forget these things readily, and are prepared to forget them.

4/04/2008 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

They used AC-130s, essentially a flying gun platform, at night against villages, which is basically a flying gun platform and pretty indiscriminate in use.

Not really. The AC-130 has the smallest danger-close radius (i.e. how close to your own side you can call it in) of anything in the US forces' fire support. At Tora Bora they used it to fire single shots to cover one bloke running away from a helicopter crash.

It operates at night only, because it's a bloody great slow thing the size of a whale whose mission requires flying about at 500 feet over troops in contact with the enemy; most of its crew are there to work all kinds of fancy IR and millimetre wave radar sensors.

Of course, none of this helps very much if you insist on assuming any reference to "wedding" on the dog'n'bone is evidence of an Al-Qa'ida sales conference.

If you want to slice and dice your morality according to weapons systems, the generic guided bombs are much more worrying; after all, the whole point of the AC-130 is that it's a direct fire weapon - one whose user is directly watching the target. Now, whether or not a JDAM gets the target or granny is entirely up to whoever tapped in the coordinates, whether or not they are valid now as opposed to three hours ago, etc.

4/04/2008 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous matt w said...

ejh -- no, ah you're going to make me look up the liner notes from the album.

OK, the first of the two tracks is called "Pythagoras, refusing to cross the bean field at his back, is dispatched by the democrats" and from the liner notes "counting, after all, was the basis for the democratic vote, in which each citizen was represented by a bean. The Pythagoreans abhorred beans, and a legend persisted for hundreds of years that Pythagoras met his end when, being pursued by a mass of common people, he refused to cross a field of beans and was slain."

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has more on the bean prohibition, including a source that actually says that Pythagoras himself approved of beans. I don't think there's any support for the prohibition coming from the bean's role in democracy.

I don't seem to be able to listen to the CD because as soon as I put it on my cat flipped out, though this may be a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

4/04/2008 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Try her (or him) on Offenbach

4/04/2008 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous matt w said...

Hee. Nice story. Actually he's usually fine when I'm not listening to some kind of horrible noise (which in this case, I didn't say, was Tony Conrad's Slapping Pythagoras, which is basically a very loud drone).

[Incidentally fucking Blogger has decided that its word verification isn't going to cooperate with Firefox meaning that I have had to try three times and launch a new browser in order to leave this silly comment.]

4/04/2008 01:32:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home