Thursday, June 01, 2006

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

The driving forces behind the push in United States and other western nations in support for "Humanitarian Intervention" --- human rights/foreign aid/NGO's, the media, Hollywood, Christian activists -- have played a crucial role in the events that led to the independence of East Timorand are having a major impact on shaping public and governmental attitudes over the crisis in Darfur. In both cases, the rationale for diplomatic and militatry intervention was framed in humanitarian terms as opposed to strategic considerations (which seemed to have applied in the case of the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia notwithstanding the humanitarian issues involved in the conflicts there). It was interesting to read an op-ed in the New York Times this weekStrategic Victimhood in Sudan in which the author Alan J. Kuperman deconstructs Darfour-as-a-Morality-Play and explains what we libertarians have known for quite a long time, that when it comes to most of these civil war in Third World spots, it's all about power, stupid!
Darfur was never the simplistic morality tale purveyed by the news media and humanitarian organizations. The region's blacks, painted as long-suffering victims, actually were the oppressors less than two decades ago — denying Arab nomads access to grazing areas essential to their survival. Violence was initiated not by Arab militias but by the black rebels who in 2003 attacked police and military installations. The most extreme Islamists are not in the government but in a faction of the rebels sponsored by former Deputy Prime Minister Hassan al-Turabi, after he was expelled from the regime. Cease-fires often have been violated first by the rebels, not the government, which has pledged repeatedly to admit international peacekeepers if the rebels halt their attacks.
This reality has been obscured by Sudan's criminally irresponsible reaction to the rebellion: arming militias to carry out a scorched-earth counterinsurgency. These Arab forces, who already resented the black tribes over past land disputes and recent attacks, were only too happy to rape and pillage any village suspected of supporting the rebels.
In light of janjaweed atrocities, it is natural to romanticize the other side as freedom fighters. But Darfur's rebels do not deserve that title. They took up arms not to stop genocide — which erupted only after they rebelled — but to gain tribal domination.

Moreover, outside intervention tends to play into the hands of one of the sides to the conlfict and ends up prolonging it:
The strongest faction, representing the minority Zaghawa tribe, signed the sweetened peace deal in hopes of legitimizing its claim to control Darfur. But that claim is vehemently opposed by rebels representing the larger Fur tribe. Such internecine disputes only recently hit the headlines, but the rebels have long wasted resources fighting each other rather than protecting their people.
Advocates of intervention play down rebel responsibility because it is easier to build support for stopping genocide than for becoming entangled in yet another messy civil war. But their persistent calls for intervention have actually worsened the violence.
The rebels, much weaker than the government, would logically have sued for peace long ago. Because of the Save Darfur movement, however, the rebels believe that the longer they provoke genocidal retaliation, the more the West will pressure Sudan to hand them control of the region. Sadly, this message was reinforced when the rebels' initial rejection of peace last month was rewarded by American officials' extracting further concessions from Khartoum.

Also interesting and thought provoking are the reports about the current mess in East Timor which once upon a time was supposed to be a desmonstration of the way the "international community" could "do the right thing" by helping a an ethnic/religious minority free itself from the ruthless control of an auhoritarian regime. Instead, East Timor Becomes a Symbol of Upheaval:
East Timor was supposed to be a showcase for U.N. nation-building, a rousing symbol of how a downtrodden land could stand on its own with help from the world.
Instead, one of Asia's poorest countries became an emblem of upheaval as the army battled former soldiers in the capital and gangs burned homes and assaulted each other with machetes.
Australian-led forces, who came to East Timor in the midst of a bloody transition from Indonesian rule in 1999, are back to keep the peace in the capital. Virtually all government offices are closed, and many lawmakers have fled.
It's a sad departure from 2002, when East Timor declared independence in a joyous display of fireworks, traditional dance and drum music after a period of U.N. oversight and an infusion of international aid. U.N. chief Kofi Annan and former President Bill Clinton were among the celebrants.
So why did the former Portuguese colony descend so abruptly into brutality and political paralysis?
''These sorts of problems are absolutely common to newly independent, postcolonial states. They always have a lot of things to sort out,'' said Damien Kingsbury, an Australian academic and an expert on East Timor.
''The belief is always that independence is the end of the struggle, whereas reality independence is the beginning of the struggle,'' he said.
East Timor is an extreme case, a neglected territory where violence and deprivation became routine for many people during 24 years of harsh Indonesian occupation. Their hopes that conditions would suddenly improve after independence were all but impossible to fulfill.
''They don't see the benefits in economic terms,'' said Zhu Xian, who directs World Bank operations in East Timor. ''That probably generated a lot of frustration.''
He said many new nations lapse into violence five years after independence as an early surge of optimism fades and deeply rooted tensions overwhelm weak, untested institutions.
East Timor is no exception, despite the efforts of a transitional U.N. administration that drew nearly 10,000 civilian and military personnel to the country of fewer than 1 million people.
The territory was a key focus for the United Nations because militias linked to the Indonesian military killed, burned and pillaged after East Timor voted for an end to Indonesian rule.
Indonesian civil servants fled, leaving empty posts that could not be filled by untrained local residents. East Timor was left with only 20 percent of its secondary school teachers, only 23 medical doctors, and no pharmacists, according to a World Bank report.
Many buildings were quickly rebuilt under U.N. supervision, and advisers from across the world helped train lawyers, judges and the armed forces. East Timor held elections and adopted a constitution.
But some observers believe the United Nations left East Timor too soon -- U.N. peacekeepers pulled out a year ago -- and retained too much authority for too long.
Mario Viegas Carrascalao, an opposition leader and former governor of East Timor under Indonesian rule, said he had told U.N. officials that they should keep a robust presence in the region for at least a decade so democratic institutions could mature.
''We have to change minds, improve human resources, create an economic base,'' Carrascalao said. The large international presence scaled back in 2002, exacerbating already high unemployment rates.
After protracted negotiations with Australia over territorial rights, East Timor has yet to fully reap the benefits of oil and gas reserves under the Timor Sea. Its non-oil economy of coffee harvests and subsistence agriculture is stagnant and only a trickle of tourists visit.Also, the tensions between old independence fighters and those perceived to be sympathetic to Indonesia were never resolved, and they have flared up in the recent violence.
East Timor has sought to reconcile with Indonesia. But the lack of will to pursue prosecutions for occupation-era killings, or a reconciliation commission similar to that of post-apartheid South Africa, means there is no outlet for resentments.
Amid the euphoria of independence celebrations in 2002, President Xanana Gusmao delivered a warning that seemed to presage the recent violence in Dili.
''Our independence will have no value if all the people in East Timor continue to live in poverty and continue to suffer all kinds of difficulties,'' Gusmao, a former guerrilla leader, said. ''We gained our independence to improve our lives.''

William Easterly explains inThe White Man's Burden : Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good why East Timor and other global misadventures aka humanitarian interventions have failed.


Anonymous said...

Well you know Professor - If you really pressed the issue, the KLA rebels of Kosovo or the Bosniacs Muslims were not pure as Clinton sometimes implied. Indeed - even the Republicans of N. Ireland and the Provisionals, et al - were not always the pure innocent victims who only wish to protect themselves from conquest. Politicians say whatever they think works.

Global Paradigms said...

Anonymous... I totally agree with you re Bosnia/Kosovo. My point was that in the case of the former Yugoslavia one could have made an argument for intervention based on strategic considerations (European stability, transtlantic alliance, etc.). Btw, I didn't buy those arguments. I was opposed to the attack on Serbia. And yes KLA is a Muslim gang. Ireland is more a domestic U.S. issue. But you're right about who these guys are.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty funny that are political culture is such that, were you to appear on Russert, your skepticism on Bosnia - which is just reflecting you're being informed - would be viewed by Russert as something very radical. Today, on Meet the Press, he looked at Blix as if Blix were bonkers when Blix suggested some skepticism toward Iranian alleged wmd developments.