Monday, June 02, 2008

Ghost at the Humanitarian Banquet

David Rieff's weekend article in the NY Times Magazine, "Humanitarian Vanities," points out that the logical endpoint of much humanitarian advocacy--regarding the 'right to intervene' and more recently the 'responsibility to protect'--is ultimately nothing other than regime change. After all, if the famous 'root causes' are to be addressed, is that not through direct engagement with national authorities? Burma, Sudan, Zimbabwe--who has not dreamt of an end to suffering in these places?

Lasting solutions lie with the venal political class, folks, not aid agencies. And they must go, by any means necessary. Yet most aid agencies are averse to this language, Rieff points out, even though it is the logical conclusion of their interventionist ethos.

"After the Iraqi debacle, it is hardly surprising that we are hesitant to undertake interventions that may well involve regime change. And regime change — its moral legitimacy and political practicality — is the ghost at the banquet of humanitarian intervention. Use any euphemism you wish, but in the end these interventions have to be about regime change if they are to have any chance of accomplishing their stated goal."

I'm glad to see Rieff writing on these issues again; I've always appreciated and learned from his contrarian views. Here's a link to a critique I wrote of his 2002 book, A Bed for the Night, in the Parisian journal Multitudes.

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