THE MIDDLE East roils and one fact is certain: interventions end badly. For intervention leads to postwar reconstruction and postwar reconstruction leads to failure.
In the wake of the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and Haiti—to take but some examples—“stabilization operations,” “state building” and their terminological kin have become watchwords. If these undertakings are not part of an American administration’s opening agenda, they seem to have a way of entering it. Do not be fooled into thinking Libya is any different. So it is useful to explore how it is that states get involved in these campaigns and what happens once they do. Invariably, though hardly inevitably, they do so in the aftermath of two types of military operations, each guided by rather different motives.
The first is that set of humanitarian interventions that are often prompted by calls of those who are being abused and slaughtered, whether by their own governments or by militias fighting civil wars. These interventions need not, of course, entail military force. If one visualizes humanitarian interventions as a continuum, diplomacy aimed at resolving the conflict lies at one end, military intercession at the other and various nonmilitary measures in between. Even fervent proponents of humanitarian intervention believe that it should be the last step—one taken when other feasible and reasonable responses to mass atrocities have been tried and found wanting. This said, advocates of the cause do ultimately insist that when all else fails and a government is either unable to halt internecine violence or, worse, is engaged in killing its own citizens, military action is appropriate, even essential, to save lives and end suffering.