11 July, 2010

Idealists and genocide

Catching up on the reading today, after a long day at "slobberfest," an annual get-together of Bassett Hound owners.  A few things stand out:

I like Walter Russell Mead.  He has a talent for systematization, writes well, and even when he oversimplifies he's engaging.  For example, his recent article in The National Interest.  It's a magazine I don't usually get around to, but seeing his name I made the time.  As usual, he makes a very valid point: that one of the greatest threats to human liberty can be naive pacifists or isolationists who are willing to stand aside while evil is done.  He calls them the 'goo-goo genocidaires,'
the willfully blind reformers, civil society
activists, clergy, students and others whose foolishness and ignorance
was a necessary condition for tens of millions of deaths in the last
hundred years.  Unreflective, self-righteous ‘activists’ thought that to
espouse peace was the same thing as to create or safeguard it.  As a
result, tens of millions died.  Unless this kind of thinking is exposed
and repudiated, it is likely to lead to as many or more deaths in the

This doesn't mean that war is the best--or only--option.  It doesn't mean we automatically ratchet up the pressure because we don't like how a government is treating its neighbors or its own people.  It often makes sense to get the best deal one can.  But it does mean doing so with a clear vision, not with the illusion that we are dealing with good people.

Mead raises the issue in the context of sanctions against Iran.  Personally, I have some doubts about sanctions.  Sanctions in general have a poor track record.  They can be a way of expressing opposition, or (if carefully targeted) they may make an undesired activity (building a bomb, for example) more costly.  But sanctions also play into the hands of nationalists who seek to justify themselves to their own people by pointing to the external threat.  Furthermore, doing something with more symbolic than real value it can encourage our own complacency. 

Oddly enough, the Security Council may have hit on a workable strategy.  Not because it will lead to the downfall of the Iranian regime (it won't) or prevent the construction of a nuclear weapon (it can't), but because it shows the Iranian government that there are limits to how far the Russians and the Chinese will go to protect them.

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